Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"A Woman of Substance"

Vacation was FABULOUS this year - 10 glorious days on the island of Maui, just me and my youngest daughter. It was not only a great time to rest and relax, but also a time for each of us to prepare for our next steps in re-birthing... she to college for the first time, and me to new freedom with both daughters out in the world and just puppy left at home with me.

Most days were the same for us on Maui - wake up around 6 am, have breakfast on the lanai by 7, then hit the beach by 8:30 or 9:00, to swim in the ocean and bake in the sun until we grew hungry for lunch. After lunch it was either go to a new beach or swim in the condo's pool, maybe do a little light reading or some very light shopping until supper time, after which we would try our best to read, watch tv or a movie... and end up falling asleep by 9:00. It was a great routine!

One day, we drove out to Kaanapali beach, some distance from our Kihei condo, and in a much pricier neighborhood, judging by the Hyatt, the Marriott, the Westin and the like. After a few hours on the beach, we strolled through the resort grounds and even snuck into one of the ritzy pools (don't tell anyone!) On the way back to our much more modest digs my daughter surprised me with this comment: "Mom", she said, "I'm glad we're not rich."

Clearly that is a subjective statement, for "rich" depends upon one's context. I know there are many for whom a trip to Hawaii would seem like the height of wealth, and there are countless for whom my home, my car, my lifestyle, my children's college educations can only be pipe dreams. And yet, walking through the opulent resorts, past the meticulously groomed gardens and the amazing water features, we felt significantly out-classed.

When I asked my daughter what she meant - who wouldn't want to be rich? - she replied, "I'd much rather have a mother who is a woman of substance than a woman of means." She went on to thank me for values imparted which focus on what she identifies as "substance" rather than on money.

I am grateful for that perspective. Grateful, and a little bit humbled by my daughter's wisdom. It is easy to mistake possessions for power, to confuse money for value. And while I rejoice in blessings both personal and material, I hope to live in the perspective that says "substance is more important than means"...at least until the next time I sneak a swim at the Kaanapali Hyatt.

Monday, August 9, 2010

"A Very Happy Un-Birthday"

Well, I missed it. I missed my own "half-birthday", August 6th! I had been thinking it would be good to celebrate in some way the mid-point to this year of Re-Birthing for me. I thought about it in June. It crossed my mind in July. And then I totally spaced it out until today!

This forgetfulness is not a total tragedy. Clearly it is possible to celebrate Re-Birth in every day, and August 9th is as good as the 6th for a Happy Un-Birthday to me! So where have I been, (and more importantly), what have I learned in this six months of Re-Birthing?
  1. I have learned that moving on (even a little) in the direction of God's desires for me is like Jesus walking on the water! It is good to recognize progress made and to rejoice in every success we achieve.
  2. I have (finally) realized that an "All or Nothing" approach to life is counter-productive. Perfection is highly over-rated and focusing on it robs us of so much of life's wonder.
  3. I have come to reject the lock-step, one-size-fits-all approach to transformation. If change is to be lasting it must be personal.
  4. I have learned that observation is not the same as judgment, and that nobody can observe themselves objectively. That is why we need community!
  5. I have begun to recognize the intertwining threads of my life - especially when it comes to emotions and fears. You cannot pull one without affecting the others.
  6. I have seen how limiting my own judgments can become. I can be an artist (or anything else) if I decide to see the beauty of my creativity, and if I believe that anything is possible.
  7. I have learned to practice prioritizing. It is a waste of time to major in the minors.
  8. I have improved my ability to stay fully present to the presence of God in the present. This requires hanging in with myself and then letting God be God.
  9. I have realized the folly of trying to run from change. The best response is to rejoice in the opportunities change presents.
  10. I have found that every beginning begins with an ending. Life is all about saying "goodbye" in order to say "hello".
  11. I have recognized the crazy-making patterns of thought. No more "what ifs", "if onlys", or "comparisons" for me!
  12. I have affirmed the importance of Sabbath and the practice of agility. We all need to take time to remember what time is for.
  13. I have discovered that to follow my desire for re-birth is to keep that star in my sight. It requires me to follow to places I cannot even yet imagine.
  14. And... I have learned to celebrate every step along the way. Every dream, vision, and goal deserves a life of joy at the moment of its conception and throughout its path to completion.
Not bad for six months! Let me return again to the prayer which sustains me and propels me onward, this prayer for Re-Birth:

You, God, have placed your Truth in my inner being;
Therefore, teach me the wisdom of my heart.
Forgive all that binds me in fear, that I might radiate love.
Cleanse me, that your light might shine in me.
Fill me with gladness; help me to transform weakness into strength.
Look not on my past mistakes, but on the aspirations of my heart. Amen.
(From "Psalms for Praying", by Nan C. Merrill, Psalm 51)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

"Never Put Off Until Tomorrow..."

Years ago I received a card from my sister, who was trying her best to help me to lighten up a little. The card showed Lucy from the Peanuts gang, dispensing her famous psychiatric advice, and it offered up this little bit of wisdom: "Never put off until tomorrow what you can put off until the day AFTER tomorrow!"

I kept that card for many years because it made me laugh. But also because there really is some wisdom in Lucy's advice. It is not just about "putting off", or avoiding the unpleasant tasks we face. It is not just about procrastination. It is also about prioritization. How many times have I let the insignificant crowd the really important out of my day? How many times have any of us "majored in the minors"?

In the movie "City Slickers", Jack Parlance plays a crusty old cowboy who lives by his own code of ethics, what might be called "Curly's Law", summed up in this little bit:

Jack Palance in City SlickersCurly: Do you know what the secret of life is?

Curly: This. [holds up one finger]

Mitch: Your finger?

Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don't mean shit.

Mitch: But what is the "one thing?"

Curly: [smiles] That's what you have to find out.

Curly's Law, Do One Thing... It's a variation on Lucy's prescription and my own intuition. In order for me to find out what my "one thing" is, I have to go through a continual process of prioritization. I have to find out what is major and what is minor, each and every day. And then I have to surround myself with people who will support my majoring in the majors and letting go of the minors. Because I don't want to put off until tomorrow what I can easily put off until the day after (or the week after, the month after, the year after, the decade after...) tomorrow.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

"Good Grief!"

We seem to be engaged in grieving at my house these days. It is not that anyone has died, nor that anyone is about to kick the bucket as far as we know. But still, grief seems to be hanging thick in the air. And it is about to drive me crazy!

Because this grief is ambiguous. It has not yet revealed itself because that which we grieve has not yet come to pass. We are engaged, you see, in anticipatory grief. For my daughter, it is the grief of moving out into the world (even in a limited and still protected way as she begins her first year of college). For me, it is the grief of watching (and not being able to help) her becoming a young adult.

It has taken a lot of my energy, this anticipatory grieving. It is no wonder I've been tired and cranky on these hot summer nights. It takes a lot of energy - it is almost a full time job - to keep repressing, denying and ignoring my own grieving. Especially since my denial has run smack dab into my daughter's clinginess. It makes for an unflattering and totally tuneless duet.

Good Grief. This weekend we decided to do something about it. We decided to go away together - for just one night - and give in to the grief, to find out what there might be in it that could be construed as "good". So off we went to Bandon, where we were promised a "beachfront" room just steps away from the ocean, where puppy could run to his heart's content as we cried or prayed or watched the waves. After a couple of stops to walk the beach or swim the dog, we finally arrived at the hotel. Only to find that it was (a) NOT on the beach, (b) not even a room with a view of the beach, and (c) not even a very nice room! Don't you just love it, when the universe sends some minor irritation to distract your focus and let you vent! I really did not want to spend the money on that falsely advertised disappointment... so after another run at the ocean, we called it a day and headed for home. And of course, we discovered once again what a really great confessional the car makes when driving through the dark on a lonely road.

Good Grief. We did not need to spend a night in a motel room. We did not need to "go away" together. What we needed, in turns out, was to "stay around" together. To stay with ourselves first of all - in all our ambiguity and crankiness and fear. And then to stay with each other - in our laughter, our tears, our hopes, our dreams, our anxiety - even in our grief. Because it turns out, that is what makes for "Good Grief". It is our ability to recognize it, to accept it, to share it, and to trust that it will not overwhelm us as long as we are able to stay around, together.