Visit me at www.bookbirthing.wordpress.com to see what I’ve been up to!

IMG_0844

This is a photo that I took on Ellis Island, the portal through which almost all immigrants were processed as they came to America. It seems very hopeful to me, as the goal is in sight, but still: you have to cross an expanse of water to reach your final destination.

That has been my experience for the last three years; although this blog has been mostly silent, it’s been for good reason. I have finally reached the other side of a lifelong goal, which is writing, completing, and then pitching my own book!

My book is about vocational transitions and grieving (in short: vocational grieving), a process that most of us can relate to. It’s that awkward transition between a known country and an unknown one; that expanse between “the devil you know and the devil you don’t”; that chasm between what you had wished for and what you actually ended up with. About Walking a Mile in Someone Else’s Shoes: An Introduction to Vocational Grieving, Recovery and Transition.

I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing 48 ordinary (and extraordinary!) American workers, some of which are immigrant university students. 48 distinct, unique portraits of people from diverse backgrounds: male or female, married or single or celibate clergy, ex-priests and university professors, stay at home parents and blue collar and white collar workers, small business owners and entrepreneurs; Christians, atheists, agnostics. Each describes their journey to their dream jobs (or good-enough jobs) and back again, in their own voices and reflecting their own values, describing their awkward transitions, their triumphs, their tribulations, and lessons learned.

This is, in many ways, my dream job. To give voice to those who have suffered in silence, who have sacrificed for their families and their dreams, who have learned things the hard way and sometimes, through tremendous suffering. To observe the quiet dignity and honor with which people handle transition stress, and how their support systems loved them into, through, and around these experiences.

Because none of us has done this alone! Not even me.

Kudos to my loving and supportive husband, my patient and understanding children, and every friend who believed in me and supported my craft. Creativity is the language of the spirit, and every person who bolstered me while I wrote this book: I will be forever grateful to you!

Advertisements

On how if we lived in a peaceable society, I wouldn’t care whether every single one of you carried a gun.

guns

“And that the said Constitution be never construed to authorize Congress to infringe the just liberty of the Press, or the rights of Conscience; or to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms; …”
Samuel Adams
quoted in the Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer, August 20, 1789, “Propositions submitted to the Convention of this State”

I believe in small government.  That being said, you might assume that I am a conservative (which I am not); and that I am definitely not a liberal (which, also, I am not).

How can that be??

How can someone be neither a conservative, nor a liberal?

Is this an inability for me to commit to something?  To allow myself to be “pigeon-holed” or labeled? Or something more sinister?

Like, having freedom of thought?

Look, let’s admit it: not a one of us is TRULY a conservative, nor TRULY a liberal, at least not in the sense that Fox News or CNN would feel 100% comfortable giving any of us an open mic, and then walking away.

I am both a bleeding-heart liberal (I believe in providing enough tax money to run excellent programs to provide for, and support, people with disabilities, addictions, or the widows and orphans among us) and a fiscal conservative (let’s shut down those “programs” that have proven themselves unworthy of our tax dollars or where corruption has been shown to siphon off enough money to run a small island country).

I am both pro-life and pro-support of single and adoptive moms: let’s stop pretending that full-scale education and access to contraception has reduced the abortion rate, because it has not. Let’s make sure that all children – whether in the womb still or already born – have access to proper health care and food and shelter and education, because we are the wealthiest nation in the Western world, and if the tax rates were equalized among classes (percentages at the federal and state levels; short-term welfare for those who truly need it – let’s say five years?; and work programs to get able-bodied and -minded people working), we would have enough tax dollars to do all of it.

The gun thing?

If we lived in a peaceable society, where those with mental health issues or sociopathic tendencies were cared for, and truly looked after, I wouldn’t care if every single one of you was packing heat.

But we don’t.

The drug trafficking across state lines is out of hand: the meth problem alone has so overwhelmed state and local agencies that they are left scrambling to follow the breadcrumbs back to the labs in rural areas.  Urban murder rates are high, and climbing higher.  Domestic abuse assaults and murders are truly only being affected by grassroots crisis intervention programs on the local level, where police are well-trained to intervene in domestic assaults, and equipped to immediately arrest them; and then the DA can prosecute the offenders. Neglected, abused, and assaulted children are using their parents’ weapons against them, are committing violence because they have seen it become the norm.

A majority of these deaths are being caused by the prevalence of cheap – and easy to come by – handguns.

Don’t talk to me of spoons or pencils or cars, and how they equate to guns – that’s nonsense, and you and I both know it.

If we were truly a peaceable nation, I wouldn’t care if every single one of you was packing heat.

We don’t live in Revolutionary War times; hell, we don’t even live in Civil War times anymore.

So why people have multiple weapons in a single household – it’s beyond me.  Maybe the level of fear that our violent society has instilled in the average suburban father (or mother) is the cause.

I would love to believe that Socrates would appreciate the level of truth-telling that gets spread around the news agency…that freedom would have inculcated love, and understanding of our fellow man, and that would have turned our hearts towards each other. But you and I both know that isn’t true. Why do we need multiple Law & Order and CSI shows? Because our overall society is so incredibly violent that they never run out of ideas.

It is lack of love for our fellow man – even our own families – that has bred such violence. And only the reverse can change that. Only the realization that we are all connected, that if one of us is abused, neglected, or diseased with hate – that all of us are infected: only THAT truth can turn anything around. Fear creates separation, creates hate, creates violence and contempt, creates murder and death.

So until we are a truly peaceable nation, I would prefer if every single one of you didn’t have one. single. gun.

 

 

 

Life in Action

life and loveLife is about taking action, about weeding out and winnowing down that which corrupts us. Whether we are paralyzed by fear or pain, bad memories or relationships, anger or disappointment, the #1 person you damage by sitting in those (rust) spots is yourself.

Life in action. Take some time today, and then once a week, to look into the spiritual mirror and ask yourself, what should I get rid of? And to whom have I given the power to “make” me feel small, meaningless, belittled, invisible, scarred, less-than?

John 19:11:  “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore he who delivered me to you has the greater sin.”

Think about that: people who have come in and out of your life and left you more scarred, bear the brunt of responsibility for that.

What you, yourself, bear the responsibility for, is letting go. For forgiving.

John 20:22-23: “And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ ”

Tomorrow – or on the day that I die – I want to know that I released anyone who has ever hurt me, that I have forgiven them. That doesn’t mean that they will be spared of the spiritual consequences of their actions, but it means that if I am successful in this, I will travel this road lighter – and cleaner! – then I would have, had I held onto that pain.

I love the Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;

Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Amen.

–Reinhold Niebuhr

 

May you be blessed with Serenity, this day and forevermore!

 

 

Are you a Lily Pad or a Frog?

IMG_0504Going through a personal trial reveals certain things.

Certainly, at the very least, it will reveal your own flaws, foibles, fears, and frustrations.  Your soft spots (and rust spots!) will be revealed, and there will be people in your life who will either support you (the lily pads), or jump away and make noise because they can’t handle what you are going through (the frogs).

One of the most painful things that I have come to realize, is that your own journey will reveal those who can handle your situation, and those who can’t “hang.”

So, you have decisions to make: will you be angry and lash out at those who are frogs, or will you instead take a deep breath and forgive, and let them continue to be self-centered and selfish people who took the easy route, instead of walking through pain with you?

I say decision(s) because you have to continue to breathe, forgive, and move on with your day when people disappoint you; when their selfishness and immaturity exempt them from being a support to you.  Because, you see, I love both: I love both lily pads AND frogs.  I’m not going to dump a person because they don’t want to hear about my fears for my children, my anxiety about medical tests or treatment, or how my faith in people has been shaken – and my faith in God strengthened! – by my experience.

Certain – unexpected – people have reached out to me with phone calls, cards or conversations, just to check in and see how I am doing, or if I need anything.  Those lily pads are a comfort, because they are a Soft Place to Land.  They are being Christ’s hands and feet to me in a time of personal discomfort and future uncertainty.  I am incredibly grateful for the time, energy, and vulnerability that lily pads show, because it takes a certain amount of effort and availability to extend yourself in an uncomfortable situation.  I pray for those people to receive the same support and love from me, and others, if they ever go through a big trial, challenge, or hiccup in their life journey.  May they be blessed, as they have blessed me!

And despite their warts, their jumpiness, their avoidance, or their denial, I love my frogs too.  Because I understand that not everyone can help me to carry my fear, my burden, my anxiety, and my future uncertainty.  I consider it a blessing that Jesus continues to show me examples of frogs in the Bible: Jonah, David, doubting Thomas, and the others.  Even Peter denied Christ three times, and he was (besides Mary) probably the closest person to Jesus!  So I love despite.

Maybe, sometime when I emotionally evolve a little more, I will learn to love because of, not despite, their frogginess.

May your day be blessed, no matter how choppy your water is!

 

Let Your Flag Fly High! (or, Much Ado About Everything)

flags NYC  Recently, a family friend, a Christian, came out. As a fellow Christian, I could have seen this as a complicated sequences of events that were mine to judge or to make commentary on; to closely examine and then to discard.  Much ado is made nowadays about the state of a person’s sexual identity, and as Christians, we are told by Pat Robertson that gay people are “terrorists” (well, if I watched Pat Robertson…).

If I allowed Pat Robertson to speak for me, I would look like the craziest person in the world.

I allow scripture to speak for me instead: 1 Corinthians 12:4-8 “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

What is MY truth?

What is written on MY flag, what am I putting out into the world as my message?

John 3:16  “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Not: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, but only for straight people.”

Not: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, but only for people who could hide themselves and their sin adequately.”

Not: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son for those who don’t make anyone uncomfortable, for those who are the same as you.”

Romans 3: 23-24 says: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”

I am a sinner.

YOU are a sinner.

WE are all sinners!  And that is why we need to lift each other up, closer to grace, closer to the light of God, closer to our goal of heaven.

If I compare my sin to yours, and say, “Yes, I may be a liar, but YOU, you are a shoplifter!”, I am missing the point entirely.

If I compare my sin to yours, and say, “I may be a gossip and a divisive person, but YOU, you are a homosexual!”, I am missing the point entirely.

Because NOT A ONE OF US DESERVES THE GIFT OF HEAVEN AT THE END OF THIS LIFE.

There is no way to get to it but through the help of Jesus, and through His love and compassion for us, through the Cross and Resurrection.

There is no way to see heaven but to fall helpless at his feet and admit, “I am a sinner.  I do not deserve Heaven.  I do not deserve your Love.  Help me, Jesus, to love you and everyone here, and to need you more!”

This is how I must operate, out of love, compassion, and an admission that I am a sinner, too! :  John 13:34-35  “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

If the flag of my heart were to fly high, for all to see, what would be on it?  The cross, a heart, a smile, a hug?  As a Christian, what is my burden, what do I place at the feet of Jesus?

If we wrap our arms around one another, it is ever so much easier to get to heaven.

When we lie to ourselves about our own sin and its consequences, we shorten and corrupt the grace that has already been offered us by Jesus’ death and resurrection.

When we ignore the log in our own eye, and point out the splinter in someone else’s eye, we fly the flag of hypocrisy under the name of Christianity, and we shorten and corrupt the grace that could flow through us, to all who are around us.

Love conquers all:

1 John 4:8:  “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.…”

What is on YOUR flag? What are you projecting to the world?

Whom have you “decided” to love?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grieving Well

Image

     Our family pet of 12 years recently died of cancer.  Lacey the cat developed a tumor on her side which grew very slowly for about four months.  When she started acting strangely (eating less, sleeping more, restlessness), we took her to the vet and she had two injections, one an antibiotic, the other a steroid.  The vet told us it would just be temporary relief; that it was definitely cancer; and there was no point in putting her through an operation, because the cancer would just grow back.  She did very well for two or three weeks, and then the tumor grew larger, and more aggressively.  We did everything we could to make her more comfortable; she wasn’t in a lot of pain, but it was difficult for her to do steps because a finger-sized portion of the tumor had grown from her side into her joint.  We carried her up stairs, moved her food and water to the kitchen, and each of our family members made a point to spend more time petting and talking to her. 

     In the midst of all of this, I was getting testing, going to doctors, and processing through the diagnosis of a benign brain tumor.  I would have dreams about going to the vet for shots.  I joked to my husband that Lacey and I were “tumor twins.”  I reminisced about how we had adopted Lacey from a no-kill shelter; she had been the best pet we had ever welcomed into the family.  Her sweet disposition was evident to everyone who met her; and on those nights when I was too anxious to sleep, or the headaches got bad, she somehow knew that, and would come to comfort me.

     On April 23rd, I sent my son to the basement to find her.  I hadn’t seen her for five or six hours, and knew she had gone down to the basement at some point to use the litter box.  While carrying her upstairs, the tumor ruptured.  A hole about four inches deep opened up in her side, and she was clearly uncomfortable.  Even the color of her eyes changed, went from clear and piercing yellow to a cloudy and muted yellowish-green.  We knew it was time to have her put to sleep, but there wasn’t anyone at either of the local vet clinics and she wasn’t in horrible pain, so we decided to wait until the next day.  She sleep fine that night, but didn’t move from her spot on her blanket on the couch. 

     We had each of the kids say goodbye to her that school morning, and took photos with each of them next to Lacey; my oldest daughter had a stomach ache, so I let her stay home and keep Lacey company while I got ready to take her to the vet’s office.  We walked down the hill (we are temporarily a one-car family) with Lacey in a 31 bag, and checked in to the office.  My daughter cried from the moment we walked in there, her eyes just leaking tears, so I tried to comfort her by reminding her of all the funny stories of Lacey and her playful/spooky ways.  She really was going to miss Lacey, because our cat had been around for as long as she could remember.  In her old age, Lacey would often wander the house in the evening, often ending up on my daughter’s bed while she read books.  There was a kindness in her that is common in old, wise cats; she was gentle with the kids, even when they were toddlers and would chase her around, or pull her tail before I could get across the room.  My children have each spent time reading books out loud to Lacey, and she always stayed for the ending.

     After asking the vet if it was okay to stay, my daughter and I came back into the room after they gave Lacey her Propofol injection, watched her relax; we nervously laughed when her tongue popped out of her mouth and wouldn’t go back in. The vet and her tech then returned and gave her the final injection that would stop her heart.

     We petted Lacey as she slipped away.  My daughter and I were very sad; she and I are kindred spirits, we have always had a love for animals and their place in our life’s journey (she was my kid who refused to eat meat for a few years, starting from when she was a toddler; it was probably a texture thing, but I liked to joke it was because she knew where meat came from!).  The vet asked if we wanted her cremated, but we had already found a spot in the backyard for her.  We bundled her back into the blanket, placed her into our fancy bag, and walked back home.  We decided to wait until later in the day to bury her, and to have a short ceremony.  My daughter decided to write a poem for the event.  After safely depositing Lacey’s remains in the shed, we walked to a cute little Italian place for lunch, and spent some time together, talking about anything and everything.  It was a lovely segue to the rest of the day!

     We had our funeral for Lacey that afternoon (we had had other ones in the past, because of how short a life that hamsters have!), we had a nice, subdued dinner, and that was that.  The end of a pet era.

     This experience (the first time I had ever had to have an animal put to sleep) made me reflect on some things: the role of tradition in the transitional moments of our life (birth, puberty, marriage, death); what it means to grieve “well”; how to fit the reality of death into our spiritual concepts and beliefs, and what life means because of death.  I believe that most Americans do not grieve “well.”  Many people avoid funeral homes and funerals, instead sending their regrets via card or flowers.  Many families do not bring their children to churches and funeral homes for the ritual of sending a loved one off to their eternal rest.  Many people do not speak of death at all; maybe it’s superstition, maybe it’s upbringing, maybe it’s fear or avoidance. 

     I believe that death is as much a part of life as LIFE is.  That the reason we should cherish each day that we are allowed to have, is because tomorrow may never come.  That each time we leave a person, it may be the last time we see them, so we should try (TRY) not to leave them in anger, or with angry words or thoughts.  I myself have broken this rule many times…but there are things I have experienced that have reminded me of the fragility of life.  The death of the mother of a good friend, in her sleep: not getting to say goodbye.  The death of the child of a good friend in an accident: not knowing it would be the last time she would see her vibrant child, not getting to say goodbye.  My father having a stroke, all of us frantic that he wouldn’t make it back to the States in one piece, or as he used to be; and the fear that created in some of his children, things left unsaid.  The death of my grandma Nunni in a hospital, on Mother’s Day many years ago (I think I was 12?); not getting to say goodbye.  The death of my husband’s aunt in Wisconsin, a lovely woman who had always welcomed my large, boisterous family into her home; the last phone call to her, but not being able to hug her properly before she passed away. 

     At the University of Wisconsin, I graduated with my B.S. but also a certification in Gerontology.  I learned during that long, hot summer of endless classes many useful things: how to recognize (or create) family traditions around death and dying.  How to come alongside others as they grieve loved ones.  What NOT to say to a family member after the death of a loved one. 

    I took a course at university that focused on Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief, and how NOT to short-cut them.  D.A.B.D.A. : Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.  I learned to recognize the stages.  I learned that grief is not linear, but a circle that loops back on itself, and that stressors can knock you back into a previous step that you thought you had mastered.  I learned again what I already knew, which is that death is a much a part of life, as living is.  That everything lives, eventually dies; that accepting that, feeling the pain when it is happening and not burying it with busyness, substances, or food can substitute healthy grieving.  That grieving well is an art, not a science.  That coming alongside another person AS they grieve, can be as much a transformative experience for you, as it is for the person who has lost a loved one. 

    That to children, animals are people.

    That telling them HOW to believe about animals and their deaths is probably not a good idea, or how and when to grieve.  

    That the deaths of beloved pets and family friends is practice for the inevitable death of close, loved ones whom your children will have to grieve.

    That talking to your children about death AHEAD of time (using teachable moments, such as coming upon wildlife that are dead, and explaining the natural end of ALL life) will open up the door to communication about life, death, God, eternity, and our role in ecological balance and stewardship of the earth.

     That death is neither unnatural nor to be feared, but to be understood and accepted.

This will be a gift to your children, one that they will pass on to their own children.  Wrestling with the concept of life and death, talking about it openly, can become a family ritual for you.  If you are ready.

    

My Other Half

Image

          I am (thankfully) married to the man who showed me what imperfectly perfect love is.  Not only does he love me, flaws and all, but he selflessly loves our children (and my parents!) as well.  Does he sometimes drive me crazy?  Yes.  He is one of those “absent-minded professors” whose ability to turn off the outside world has been honed to a fine edge now that he is in graduate school.  He needs to be regularly reminded to take out the garbage.  He doesn’t remember to take our cars for inspection every year.  Those things all pale in comparison to the way that he cares for me, in all sorts of ways.  He never complains about work, even when a project is driving him crazy.  He chooses to go back and forth to Florida for a work trip IN ONE DAY so that he doesn’t have to spend the night away from us.  He can talk me down from the symbolic ledge that my teenagers sometimes push me onto.  His sense of adventure and fearlessness for trying new things has rubbed off on me.  He jumps in for tag-team-parenting, and stays up late so that we can spend as much time together as possible, even though he gets up an hour earlier than me and is not a night-owl.  I could seriously go on and on, but won’t, as the sappiness would just choke you at some point.

     I will say this: he takes his role as head of our family seriously.  He protects our family time and interests.  He thinks ahead, financially and otherwise, in a way that I am not able. 

    We are yin and yang.  God knew what He was doing when He led me to my other half.  And I have to let God orchestrate our relationship, even when it means I have to change for the greater good of our family.  ESPECIALLY when it means that.  Because much of imperfectly perfect love is accepting that the other person was put in your life in order to improve, shape up, and mold your self.  And vice versa. 

    So I won’t be lazy or resentful about becoming a better person.  Because my husband hasn’t been.  And so he has led the way to individual change, even if sometimes I went there kicking and screaming. 

    I so love my imperfectly perfect man.