The Broken Window

When I got home from vacation a few days ago, I noticed that something was wrong with my car window–the one on the driver’s side.

When I was arriving at the gym, I pushed the switch to roll the window down, and the window started acting cuckoo. It was suddenly off the track and leaning to one side and although I could still move it up and down, it wouldn’t close because it wasn’t lining up correctly on its track.

So naturally, I felt like this was a big deal, you know? I mean, I just returned from Florida, where it was warm, but it’s FREEZING in Indiana, and I thought to myself, “It’s too cold to drive around with a window that won’t close.”

With a feeling of urgency, I started to push the button more and more. “Forget the gym,” I said to myself, “this window must be fixed now.” I pushed the button up and down and began to try and physically pull the window off the track in an effort to slot it back in.

Now here’s the thing: I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT CARS. So I had no business thinking that I knew what I was doing. I just knew I didn’t want to drive the dang car with an open window in 40 degree temps.

Not surprisingly, my efforts were to no avail, and I ended up calling a mechanic. Upon examining the window, the first thing the mechanic told me was that it looked as if the window had simply slid off the track, which would have been an easy fix for him, but in my efforts to fix the window myself, I had actually broken the window regulator part in the process, and that would now have to be replaced.

The part was ordered, and he then put the window back on the track in its rightful position, but left me with a strict directive:

“Do not push the button up and down. The window will stay in its correct place as long as you do not press it.”

“Ok,” I said, somehow knowing this would be hard for me. 🙄 I seem to be someone who is good at doing hard things, but not easy things.

He must have read the stressed look on my face, because he then continued,

“And if you forget and press it, please do not attempt to fix it again. Just let it be until the part comes in.” 

Ok,” I said. 😳

On the drive on the way home, I said to Aliana, “Maybe I should put duct tape over the switch, so I don’t forget to not use it.”

Aliana, who is 10, reassured me that this was not necessary.

“Just remember not to touch it,” she said. I did a little internal psyching myself up. I said outloud, “Don’t roll down the window, Emily. You can remember. Don’t do it!”

I then enjoyed a very luxurious 24 hours of driving around in my warm car. I was determined to not touch the window, as I was thoroughly appreciating the warmth, dryness, and privacy of my vehicle. However, that feeling of gratefulness began to wane, (as gratefulness often does, if we don’t hold it close to our hearts) and was replaced with a sense of complacency within a few hours.

And then, as I was entering a parking facility the next night, I realized I needed to grab a ticket. Without thinking, you guessed it…I rolled down the window.

The window immediately went off the track , of course, and one side of the glass was now poking up in the air.

“Ugh,” I said to myself. I was simultaneously surprised I had forgotten while also fully expecting that this would happen.

I spent the next day driving around with the window open in rain all day. Everywhere I went, I was cold, rainy, and wet. I contemplated getting a towel to dry off the car and cold, wet steering wheel. Somehow, part of my ego argued against it.

“It’s all your fault. You forgot what you were supposed to do, and now you must pay the price,” the voice in my head said.

The next morning my mechanic texted me to tell me there was a delay in the arrival of the part. I was going to face an additional 24 hours driving around in the cold.

I began to once again think about how my annoyance with the window situation was all my fault, and it was happening as a result of two mistakes I made in my thinking: I tried to fix something I knew nothing about by myself, instead of being still and waiting. And then, after knowing I needed to practice a simple, new way of thinking, I had once again slipped back to my old ways of thinking, thereby breaking it again.

I knew that pressing the switch would result in a very unfavorable outcome. And yet, I forgot what I knew and did it anyways.

This got me thinking: how many times do we do this? How many times do we have a new, very important goal at hand, and we get complacent about it and then slip back into old habits and mindsets?

And the equally important flip side of that question is this:

How many times do we spend beating ourselves up for our mistake, instead of having compassion for ourselves and just deciding to do better and move forward?

Did I help myself when I decided I deserved to be cold and wet and rainy the next day? I was essentially deciding that I deserved to be miserable. I could have gotten a towel to dry off and put on some gloves and made myself more comfortable.

But instead, I wanted to grumble and punish myself.

Side note: I think I may be the only weirdo on the face of the earth that contemplates life like this when a window breaks.

But if I am that weirdo, I might as well share these musings.

To recap:

  • When something goes wrong, and we are not sure what to do, many times it’s in our best interest to stop DOING and just get still. In the stillness, we have the ability to think rationally, instead of simply reacting and breaking windows and crap.
  • When we are trying to think in a new way–whether it’s embracing a new lifestyle, new way of thinking, or new reality–we should realize that we may have moments where we revert to old patterns of thinking, especially in times of urgency or complacency.
  • When we make an error out of complacency or urgency, or addictive patterns, we must acknowledge the error, while having compassion with ourselves, so that we can move forward. Other people may not have compassion for us, which is why it is so important that we give that gift to ourselves.

We are all worthy of compassion and self forgiveness. And we are all worthy of having new opportunities and new results. So as we go about our day, let’s also remember this additional truth:

It is only in our brokenness, that we can actually see more beauty in the world. So maybe broken windows aren’t that bad after all.

The Softness that is Forgiveness

If anyone again asks me what it means to forgive someone, I will tell him or her this story.

It started when I was 32, in the summer of 2009. My husband, at the time, was from the Dominican Republic. We decided to make a trip there so his family could meet our daughter right when she was turning one year old.

We arrived in the hot month of June. The Dominican Republic is near the Equator, and from the moment we stepped off the airplane, I could feel the heat of the sun percolating on my pores. I had lost all my baby weight, but now was almost too thin due to not eating. My marriage was falling apart at the seams and I was unraveling too. The only thing holding me together was my focus on my child and her wellbeing.

“I’m so glad you finally lost weight,” my mother-in-law said to me in Spanish, with a widely genuine smile when I greeted her at the airport. While I knew that a person’s weight is not as taboo of a subject in the Dominican Republic as it is in the United States, her words etched a streak on my already decrepit spirit.

My mother-in-law never seemed to like me, but I could not ever seem to deduce why. Sometimes I thought it was due to the fact I was a foreigner. Other times I thought maybe I was unknowingly breaking some cultural rules or wasn’t submissive enough, in her mind, to be a good wife.

But ultimately the reasons behind her perceived dislike for me weren’t really worth spending time analyzing. I just had to deal with it.

During this trip, I tried to keep my daughter on a nap schedule. My mother-in-law told me this was ridiculous and that no child needed such a thing. I didn’t want to argue with her because I felt that would be a sign of disrespect, but I continued to put her down for a nap everyday at the same time, even though she would blast merengue music in objection to my decision.

I loved the Dominican Republic for so many reasons: I adored the welcoming nature of its people, the love I felt from my host family when I studied abroad there, the hospitality of strangers in the community, and the kindness and resilient spirit I witnessed in its people.

But I did not love my mother in law. I could not love my mother in law, no matter how hard I tried.

I looked at her and I saw pain. The pain of being an abused wife. The shame of being left by her husband. The guilt and oppression she suffered from so many losses.

And yet, I couldn’t find it in my heart to accept her in her brokenness.

The entire time we were in her home, I was belittled and criticized for being overly focused on my daughter. I was confused by the criticism that seemed to be contradictory at the time: one moment I was being told my schedule was ridiculous, but the next moment, I was called disorganized for not getting my daughter’s bottle ready quickly enough.

It was gaslighting behavior, except for it was my in-laws doing it, instead of my then husband.

As for my then husband, he remained silent most of the time, choosing not to intervene. When he would intervene, it was to side with his family as they were telling me what I was doing wrong in my mothering.

The last night we were there, I felt relief that we were finally going home. As I was rocking my daughter to sleep that night, my mother in law called for me to come talk to her. When I was done putting her to bed, I went to find my mother-in-law in the kitchen.

“I need to tell you something,” she said to me in Spanish, “something I should have told you before.”

I had a moment where my heart softened. She’s going to apologize, I thought. She feels badly for criticizing me.

But before my heart could soften any further, her words quickly transformed into daggers that were aimed at my heart, my self worth, and my ability to love.

“You are an awful mother and wife,” she said.

I gulped down air, feeling like I needed to run away, but instead froze.

“Do you want to know why?” she asked.

I didn’t answer, standing there without moving. Apparently I was now an ice cube, stuck in my tray, unable to transform back to fluidity.

“You have paid more attention to that child than your own marriage. So if my son cheats on you… if he has other women he wants to sleep with–that’s no one’s fault other than your own,” she said.

“You deserve however he treats you,” she stated, and finally stepped aside so I could walk away if I chose to do so.

I suddenly felt my legs melting. I bowed my head and exited the kitchen. I went upstairs and wanted to cry, but couldn’t. I didn’t have tears. I felt as if whatever bubble of dignity was still present in my spirit had been popped by a sharp needle and had oozed away.

Despite this terrible emptiness, I somehow realized a small push of determination to fight for myself was still present within me. I imagined myself putting on armor, lying down in it to rest, knowing that this was temporary. I just needed to remember that the armor was there to protect me.

The next morning we left the Dominican Republic. One year after that, I left my husband.

And then nine years after that, I walked into my ex-husband’s house to pick up my daughter, and I saw her face. When they told me she would be there, I was scared. Scared I would not know what to say. Scared she would take her anger at me out on my daughter. Scared that she would take me back to that day nine years ago in her kitchen when I last saw her.

But when I saw her face, I instead felt the strangest thing. I felt something weird, as she walked over to me and cupped my face in her hands and side kissed my cheeks, as is the custom in the Dominican Republic.

I felt a tenderness. I felt empathy. I felt respect. I felt seen.

I don’t know how that happened. I have no FREAKING idea. But I know that’s what forgiveness is. It’s a softening. A turning towards. It is not reconciliation. It is simply understanding. It is letting go. It is loving from a distance. It’s gratitude from learning the lessons the pain taught you.

Time creates space. Space creates room to see the truth. I know that without the gift of time and space, it’s hard to learn to recognize the truth. And the truth is that you never need closure for anything. Things fall apart and the only thing you need to remember or try to do is put yourself back together. And once you do that, you may see that in your brokenness, you are strong. In your pain and bitterness, you have lessons. And one of those lessons might be that you may one day, after time and space, find yourself looking back on everything, with a very different softness about you.

And that softness is forgiveness.

One decade ago today

One decade ago, I was lying in a hospital bed in great physical discomfort as I was birthing my daughter.

This day is sacred to me unlike no other. My child’s birth was my rebirth. For this reason, her birthday is even more special to me than my own. She woke me up to the possibility of a new life and a new way of being.

She ignited a fire in my heart that I followed: a fire which burned through

injustice,

darkness,

and fear.

I took the ashes from this fire and buried them. I built walls to prevent me from veering off the path. I knew the new pathway I was creating required a significant commitment to growth, courage, and love–both for myself and for my child. I knew it was going to be hard, but that the reward would be great.

I am not being dramatic when I say Aliana saved my life. That statement is both a beautiful and ugly truth for me. It’s beautiful because it was because of my love for her that I took responsibility for my life. It is ugly because no child should have to enter the world, bearing a burden of such consequence.

The world of domestic violence is a dark one. People who live in it experience warped realities and emotional and physical trauma. There were three things that saved me: my love for my daughter, getting professional help, and about two people who knew my story and never gave up on me. Those two people told me everyday that I was strong and smart and that they believed in my capacity to do hard things. They reminded me of who I was when I forgot.

But if I hadn’t had that trifecta–I may not have left.

I feel that I am one of the lucky ones. Some people live their whole lives in an abusive relationship. Some get out, but they never heal or understand how they got there in the first place. They continue to repeat the patterns or form new addictions.

When you decide to take the pathway to healing, you will discover that it is simultaneously incredible and also brutal. You must be willing to be ripped open and dissected and put back together. Not everyone is willing. But I do believe everyone is able if they allow it to happen.

But they must really allow it to happen. All the beauty and all the terror– to allow it to wash over them, as Rilke says.

Today, people sometimes write to me and ask me for advice about how to help a friend or family member who is experiencing abuse and what I usually tell them is this:

  • Listen
  • Affirm their feelings
  • Accept their decisions
  • Set boundaries when necessary
  • Encourage the victim to get professional help
  • Acknowledge that leaving is very hard but it is the only way their children will know the love of a parent who has the capacity to love with her whole heart.

I am not a therapist nor do I know if the advice I just gave is the best or not. But I do know that conquering an abusive relationship is similar to conquering an addiction. That’s because all these crazy neural pathways are formed in your brain during trauma bonding. Research it. It’s a real thing. Stockholm Syndrome and stuff.

But if you actually DO it–if one actually leaves the abuse, the amazing thing is how quickly one can heal when you

  • Take responsibility for showing up in your life
  • Allow justice to be served by setting boundaries like you’ve never known before.

I am so lucky. I am so grateful. I will never ever EVER stop feeling grateful for my trifecta: my daughter, the professional help I received, and my two people who believed in me nearly a decade ago.

But it all started with my daughter. With me looking into her eyes and me saying to her, “I don’t want you to live like this.”

Beauty and truth. It’s what’s being served in our home, one decade later.

I love you, Aliana.

They did it for the James Beard Award

The other day I was at a really nice restaurant eating some delicious food with a friend of mine. We were commenting on how flavorful the food was and how nice the service was. The next time our waiter came over to our table, we decided to compliment him, as well as the chef. The waiter then proceeded to tell us about how the goal of the restaurant was as to do “x, y, z” things differently because “they wanted to receive a James Beard award.”

And then I just suddenly lost my appetite. Like, I wanted to regurgitate the delicious food I had just ingested. Something inside me had such a strong reaction to his statement: “we are doing this–making good food, giving you excellent service so that we can receive an award.”

Really?  That’s why you’re making this food good? It’s not about nourishment or providing healthy and delicious creations to your community?

And I’m really trying not to be judgmental here, because I want to approach this young man and this beautiful restaurant from a place of love for their food and love for the community they have built within.

But what I am trying to do is to point out that our intention for doing things is important. And, I am hoping that this restaurant does not go over to the dark side and turn into one of… them.

Who is “them,” you ask?

I’ll tell you about “them.” To be truthful, there’s all a little bit of us in them. But I need to tell you about “them,” so that you don’t completely cross over to the dark side and fully BECOME one of THEM.

“Them” includes people who work for their egos. Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, “But don’t we all need to work to provide for ourselves and our families and for a source of income?” Yes, yes, we absolutely do.  But I’m not talking about that kind of work.  I’m talking about the work that says, “HEY LOOK AT ME AND LOOK AT WHAT I’M DOING!”

Why do they do it? Our culture rewards them. They are intermittently given accolades for their hard work and for the attention they receive from others. I mean, after all, they are doing the work, right?  They are in there, day after day, giving it their all.  They are doing the thing–whatever that thing might be–to the best of their ability. (What’s obviously not being examined, however, is why they are doing it.)

Our culture–our internet–our society LOVES celebrities like Kim Kardashians and Donald Trumps and people who continually put themselves out there, in order to receive something in return.  Those people are rewarded frequently with “likes,” “retweets,” and even AWARDS–fame, offices in politics, and 24-7 spotlight and access to microphones to say to the whole world whatever their hearts desire.

I’m not just talking about famous people of course either.  I’m talking about those in your community, your church, your workplace, and maybe even in your own family, who are operating from a spirit of “them.” They are working their butts off, and want someone to just pay them in return.  They deserve that, right?  They do good continually on the outside and for others…AND YET: it’s for the benefit of themselves and what they can receive in return: attention, acknowledgment, awards, etc. 

The spirit of them may look shiny and bright and perfect and good, but it’s actually kinda dark underneath.  It’s the birthplace of fear and of wanting love and attention from others because deep down there’s some emptiness.  There’s a fear of missing out and of losing acknowledgement, since the attention of our culture is so short spanned. The spirit of them measures success with public acknowledgement, words, attention–not growth.  It is not resilient.  It is not based on how far someone has come.  It is based only on what someone is doing right now and how loudly he or she is doing it.

And think about it–can you imagine if all the people in your lives working around you did what they did so that they could receive acknowledgement or attention or an award?  What if the main reason I was a teacher was so I could get an award?  What if, I showed up day after day and did my best performance in the classroom, for the sole purpose of being recognized? Would you want me to teach your child?  HECK TO THE NO.  Because what you want is someone who cares about teaching your child because she cares about your child and wants him to be successful. 

The people who are truly doing beautiful, good, and right things are not doing them loudly or saying “look at me.”  Instead, they are showing up, day after day, and doing the work and minding their own business.  They don’t have time to worry about attention, because that is not what they are there for.  They are there to do good work– work which positively impacts others and their community regardless of whether or not they receive accolades.  They draw attention to ISSUES–not to themselves.  They draw the attention to what needs to change for the good of the people–not about what needs to change for them to make their life easier.

And here’s the thing: every beautiful, true, steadfast thing I know of does not ever come from a place of them.  Like, ending a war.  Walking away from an abusive relationship. Deciding to get sober and stop using drugs.  Beginning a non-profit to help children in the community have a safe place to go after school.  Standing up for those who cannot fight for themselves, and addressing racism and sexism by taking responsibility. Those are ALL actions that are BEAUTIFUL and TRUE and HAVE DEPTH. They are all hard work, but do not ever come from a place of “them.”

So if we can just do one thing today, I hope it is this: can we acknowledge–whether that means give a voice to, or lift up, or honor– those who are there for the good of the cause, not for the good of themselves?  I, for one, am determined to not go down in history as someone who gave a microphone to someone who already had one.  I am going to give that metaphorical microphone to those who don’t necessarily think they need it, but who have a voice that needs the volume to be turned up on it because they are seeking change for the greater good.

I heard a quote this week, which I believe sums this sentiment up:

“Our metric for success, it seems to me, is off…  There are no reliable statistics for hearts opened or wounds healed.”– Josh Radnor

And guys, I’m all about the hearts opened and wounds healed. Let’s create a community where we can share the microphone with those who do not receive attention, but who are working for open hearts and healing.

Forgiveness and Stuff

Easter and I have a crappy history.  It all started back in Easter of 2006 when I woke up on Easter morning, curled up in a fetal position on my bedroom floor, after finding out my then-husband was having an affair.

There are no words to describe the feeling of a deep betrayal, but I will attempt to do so. Yes, there is shock, grief, anger, loss, etc. but there is mostly a bizarre emptiness that takes over you. It’s a realization that the water you’ve been drinking for years has been poisoning you, while you are unknowingly guzzling it, believing it to be clean. And you start to wonder why you believed and trusted the water to be clean in the first place. Could you have possibly known it was poisonous???

However, on Easter Sunday, 12 years later, I woke up feeling much differently.  I was excited to go to a kundalini yoga class that morning at a new yoga studio.  I hopped (no bunny puns intended) into my car and began to drive there.

What happened next was surreal.  As I was driving down a main road in downtown Indianapolis, I spotted a car in my periphery that was moving slowly towards a stop sign at an intersection I was crossing.  In the next second, I felt a devastating impact and held my breath as a car crashed into my back passenger side door.  I spun in my car, gripping the steering wheel, feeling the shock of what in the hell just happened and then finally screeching to a stop, with my vehicle perpendicular to the road.  I looked up, and saw the other vehicle slow down from the impact of hitting me. In fear, I felt myself wanting to make eye contact, but as I was looking at the driver, he suddenly pushed on the accelerator and kept driving.

The next moment was filled with uncontrollable crying as I dialed 911.  (Crying is my jam. It’s just what I do.) A police officer stopped and pulled over next to me.  I assumed he was the one who had been called to come to the scene, but I was wrong.  He told me he had just gotten off duty, but would stay with me until the assigned officers arrived.  He told me to call someone to come and get me, since the car was undrivable, and to begin calling my insurance company to tell them I was the victim of a hit and run.

I continued to let the tears flow, while talking to the insurance company, feeling the release of the trauma and shock as the next two police officers arrived.  I replayed everything that happened in my mind as I retold them about the vehicle crashing into me.  I found myself wanting to apply blame…to someone.  Who would do this?  Who crashes into someone, and just drives away?  Who looks at someone who is clearly in fear and/or pain and just keeps going?  Who floors their gas pedal because their fear of dealing with the hurt they have caused, outweighs the courage to face the damage they have done? 

Since I couldn’t answer those questions, I then looked at myself.  Was there anything I could have done to prevent this from happening?  Even though I had the right of way, could I have possibly anticipated that he wasn’t going to stop?  Why didn’t I get a good look at him?  Why didn’t I look at his license plate number?

And then I started to blame the city:  Why aren’t their cameras at every intersection to record this crap?  Why didn’t anyone come out of their home to help me?  Why was there only one person along the way who stopped to help?

As the tow truck came along, the driver listened in to the conversation I was having with my friend who came to pick me up.  “Who does this?”  I asked her.

“Someone high.  Someone who has a warrant out for their arrest.  Someone who doesn’t have a driver’s license.  Someone…afraid,” she insightfully said.

“Someone who drives a Buick,” the tow truck driver chimed in, as he handed me a piece of the offender’s car he found in the street.  I looked at it.  It was the Buick symbol.  A piece of the person.  A piece of the vehicle which had crashed into me, on this bright Easter morning in 2018.  I cringed, but took the piece of the car as a clue to the piece of my pain.

A week later, I am sitting in the sunroom writing this post to you. At this moment, I realize there is much to be grateful for. I am grateful I am physically okay.  I am grateful for my friend who came to help me and for the police officers and the rental car employees, and for my insurance company.

I look at my daughter, thankful she wasn’t with me, and yet, terrified of the thought that she could have easily been sitting in the backseat at the point of impact.

But overall, now that I have some perspective, what I am reminded of is this: blaming others does not solve problems. What solves problems is doing the work–turning inward and acting on what we are called to do. And what else solves problems is deciding to act with compassion that is founded in truth, justice, and community.

I recall the moment when I looked over at him, and he floored the gas and drove away. That moment, to me, symbolizes all the moments when we look at someone in pain, and choose to keep walking.

We’ve all done it. We’ve all been the guy that drove away.

When we see homeless people on the street and somehow think they are not worthy of our attention, we are the guy that drove away.

When we hear the voice of someone in pain, speaking out about the injustice he or she feels, and yet we ignore it, we are the guy that drove away.

When we choose to not see others as being as valuable as ourselves, we are the guy that drove away.

When we choose to ignore those that we perceive to be different than us, we are the guy that drove away.

And please, don’t for one second, think that I’m “a good person” or “noble” for thinking this way. I’M JUST AS JACKED UP AS EVERYONE ELSE. I’m simply calling the sentiment into the light that “I am the other.”

It’s painful. It’s hard. But it’s a truth worth examining. And it’s what I believe DOES solve problems. The faster we can accept the reality that hurt people hurt people, the faster we can do the work and start to protect those who are suffering in our community.

And the faster we can actually begin to forgive.

Should I Stay for the Kids?

When a couple is in a committed relationship, and one of them is contemplating leaving, he or she may ask him or herself questions such as, “Is this bad enough for me to leave or good enough for me to stay?” However, when that same couple is in a committed relationship with children, there is a much more disconcerting thought that may enter his or her mind: “What would leaving do to my children?”

I am 41 years old.  I am divorced.  I am clearly not a psychologist or a relationship expert.  I am not going to furl data or research at you.  However, I have had the privilege of witnessing profound personal growth in people who were willing to dig deeper into the layers of this aforementioned question:  What would leaving my children’s father or mother do to my children?

When I hear people ask this question, I also hear the following underlying/interconnected  questions:

  • What would it do to me to see my children suffer through this pain?
  • What would it mean for my children to come from a broken home?
  • What will happen to me as I explain this to other people?
  • What will people think of me for leaving a marriage or partnership that doesn’t look “that bad?”
  • Shouldn’t I be able to tolerate it, at least until the children get older, so that I can give them a “stable” home life?

These are really hard questions that I am sure many a therapist has heard in their offices. These are questions that have been written into journals and secretly tucked under people’s mattresses where no one else can find them.  These are questions that are whispered in quiet corridors where lovers meet to have affairs that feel more comfortable to them than leaving the status quo.  These are questions that people ask themselves as they drink a bottle of wine every night in order to go to sleep, because numbing out is easier than answering these questions.

While I️ don’t know the answers to these specific underlying questions, what I️ do know is this: OUR CHILDREN NEED US, NOW MORE THAN EVER BEFORE.  And when I say “need us,” I mean need US–the real, most true version of ourselves.  If we are in a relationship that does not offer us the opportunity to be the most REAL and TRUE version of ourselves, then staying in that relationship CANNOT be what’s best for our children.

When a mother walks into her home, and feels like she can’t be herself, that has a negative effect on the little people in her home.  When a girl looks into her daddy’s eyes and sees a person who does not love himself, that actually has a negative impact on that little girl’s mental health. When anyone walks into his or her own home, feeling broken-hearted because love doesn’t live in his or her marriage, his or her children will FEEL the effects of this sadness.

I know kids.  When I come to school to teach, and I seem frazzled for whatever reason, one of these insightful little people will come up to me and say, “Have you had your coffee yet?” BECAUSE THEY KNOW THINGS.  I don’t really wear makeup much anymore to work, but the first day I stopped wearing it, a five year old asked me the minute I stepped into the building, “What happened to you and where did your pretty eyes go?”

These are children–some of the most curiously perceptive people on our planet.  They FEEL things in the air and see between the lines.  They know when we are trying to distract ourselves from our lives in order to avoid living it.  And they definitely know when we don’t love ourselves.

They can also sense when our lives are unfulfilled.  They can feel when there is an emptiness in our hearts.  Our children know when we are pretending, and if we continue to show them that pretending is okay, they will begin to start pretending and stuffing their feelings down, too.

And one of my mantras for this year has been: there is no power in pretending.  We do not want our children to believe it is okay to behave like someone they are not. When we push down who we are and what we want, in order to avoid causing other people to experience pain, we aren’t actually LIVING, and are in fact, BETRAYING our truest, highest selves.

We must start to understand that there is a way of being that is authentic. And in this space of authentic living, we will find that what is good and true and right for us (and I got this line from Glennon Doyle, because she’s a genius) is going to be what is good and true and right for “our people.” And our people include, but are not limited to, our children. Now, this does not mean our children will not suffer pain. Divorce is painful. Painnnnnnnful. Heartbreaking, in fact, for adults, children, and members of the extended family. But–and I️ cannot ask this question enough-is it our job to protect our children from ever experiencing pain and heartbreak? Is that truly what being a parent means? Or, does being a parent mean to hold our child’s hand and show them how to be their truest selves, even when it’s hard and not popular or right?

Could it mean that we are actually doing our best parenting when we teach them that they can walk through pain and come out stronger and more resilient?

I️ don’t know about you, but for as much as I️ hate seeing my daughter in pain, what I️ would hate even more would be for her to never know the lessons that pain can teach. That grief can teach. That heartbreak can teach.

Perhaps if our children can learn to withstand heartbreak and grief and pain, they can learn to sit with others and have empathy for them, too, when they see them walking through the same. And when our children can learn to hold space for each other and practice empathy and compassion, they can change this very world.

Maybe Love Isn’t What I Thought

I bow my head in preparation for Namaste, as I hear my yoga teacher say, “As you go about your day, open your hearts to love.” I cringe. Yuck. I can’t. I don’t want to. When you love, you hurt.

************

I am four years old. I am sitting on the countertop of my parents’ kitchen in Kokomo. My mom picked me up and sat me there because she is about to give me a spoonful of cough syrup. I ask my mom, “What is love?” She looks at me strangely, and cocks her head to the side as she ponders a response.

“Love is…caring for someone. Like, me giving you medicine now. That’s love.”

************

I am 25. I sit in the women’s Bible study at the Baptist Church. I look up at the pastor leading the study. I like her because she tells me what to do and I have been searching all my life for someone to just tell me what to do.

“Love is a choice,” she says. “Pray for your husband. Show him love in your actions. You will not always feel like loving him. But you can make the choice to be loving.”

***********

I am 27. I am lying in bed in my apartment in Lexington, Kentucky. It is 1:00 am. My husband is not responding to my texts. I wonder if he is coming home. I feel crushed because I know in my soul that he simply doesn’t give a damn about how his actions affect me. The words from the Bible study echo through me, “Love is a choice. Make the choice to be loving.”

And so I do. Again and again. If this is love, I hate loving.

***********

I am 34. I look into my boyfriend’s eyes. He tells me, “I more than like you. I think I’m falling in love with you.” I repeat this back to him and believe it, because I feel it. I know it is a feeling, though, and feelings can be fleeting.

When we break up 9 months later, I channel my inner Whitney Houston and tell him, “I will always love you.”

**********

I am 35. I do not speak to my ex boyfriend anymore and barely remember loving him. He is a memory.

**********

I am 33. I see my daughter running at the pool at the YMCA. She slips, falls hard to the ground and has a concussion. I cradle her in my arms and carry her out of the building. I drive her to the doctor. She vomits and then falls asleep as I am driving. When I arrive at the doctor, I run in and tell the office staff through tears, “She has to be seen! Right now!!”

I know she is going to be fine, but I am afraid. I love this baby. She’s all I have. It doesn’t matter what she does. Love isn’t in the doing when it comes to her. It just is.

***********

I am 39. I tell a man I love him. He is not my boyfriend. It is…complicated. I tell him not to say it back because I am afraid he doesn’t love me back. But then I realize I don’t care. I realize I can love without receiving love in return. This is both a good thing and a bad thing.

It is good, because it causes me to love without expectations. It is bad, because I forget that I am worthy of being loved in the same way.

*********

I sit in hot yoga class. I am 40. My teacher repeats the same mantra at the closing of class. “Open your hearts to love.” I realize that I am not cringing this time though. Maybe that’s progress.

Perhaps love is not simple. Maybe it is layered. Maybe it is light and it is dark; sadness and laughter. Maybe it’s supposed to be scary because it requires courage. I am still terrified to love; but I begin to think that love is a lot like faith. When you have faith, it does not mean things will go as planned; it simply means you show up and are open to what may flow out of you and to receiving what comes back.

*********

Today, a week before my 41st birthday, I lie at home in bed, and take out a book I have been trying to read for some time, Marianne Williamson’s Return to Love.  “As we demonstrate love towards others, we learn that we are lovable and we learn how to love more deeply…We will always learn what we have chosen to teach.”

These words are words I can now understand, but they are still hard to swallow. I want to love but not stop loving myself. Perhaps that is the whole point: what you put out will come back to you. In some way. In some form. No love is wasted.

What I’m Thinking About

During the last hour, the following thoughts have popped in my head: 

  • How do I unclog my bathtub drain since my landlords are being unresponsive?
  • Why did I ever let my daughter watch the Disney Channel WHY oh WHY oh WHY just shoot me
  • I wish that someone would deliver me Doritos
  • OMG Irma and Harvey. What can I do to help Florida and Houston? Me being stuck in bathtub water pales in comparison to that. 

But these thoughts don’t compare to a bigger thought that’s been on my brain: how can I fight the hate and racism I see aimed at people of color in this world? What do I need to change? And how do I convince more white people that this is important? 

It seems that many white Americans were shocked by what happened in Charlottesville. Among the people of color I spoke with, shock was not the primary emotion expressed. They have been fighting the battle against hate, stereotypes, and inequality for SO LONG. This is the narrative they have experienced. 

But here’s the thing. We white Americans need to realize it’s OUR story, too. It’s the story of our country. It’s a story that involves us taking responsibility for the disparaging inequality in our country that is fueled by hate, fear, and stupidity. 

I think that even the most “progressive” white people haven’t taken adequate time to really stop and examine the stories of the  victims of police brutality that have come into light over the last couple of years. I don’t think white Americans, including myself, have paid attention enough or felt enough empathy to FIGHT against the discrimination that is aimed at our brothers and sisters of color everyday. Every. Single. Freaking. Day. 

It concerns me that we are fueled by fear not based on facts. 

It concerns me that there are people in this country right now who have a disturbing idea of what love is. There are members of the white supremacist movement who say they are in it because they just love white people and love their country.  I’m speaking to white Americans now when I say… do you hear how disturbing and disconcerting that sounds–to use the word, love, to give you permission to hate? 

I was at a meeting last week where the topic of discussion was racism and inequity. A white woman had a sudden revelation. She raised her hand and said, “If people of color could have won the war on racism by themselves, it would have already been won by now. White people really need to see that. We need to join the fight,” and I looked at her in wonderment because I knew she was right. White Americans need to feel the urgency of this problem.

Part of doing the work and fighting the fight, is acknowledging that many institutions have policies in place which allow racism to occur. And the reason those policies are there is because racism is a pervasive and insidious beast. Have you seen this graphic? 

(Via Showing Up for Racial Justice)

Look at that damn triangle there. Look at the statements both inside and outside of it. ALL of this needs to be examined and carefully looked at by White people, including myself. 

How many times have people of color told their stories of inequality, prejudice, and discrimination to white individuals, and they haven’t believed them? How many times have white people stated that white privilege “isn’t real” or even that racism isn’t real? 

Do you know what happens when you, or a member of your family has experienced trauma, disparagement, or even violence, and you tell your story to another person and he or she doesn’t believe you? Or doesn’t think it could be “that bad?” Or tries to tell you a story about something that happened to him or her as a way to get you to stop thinking about what happened to you? 

I can tell you what happens. You become hurt, scared, or even angry. When you speak of personal or familial trauma, disparagement, or violence, and your story isn’t acknowledged or taken seriously, it can    actually make the trauma worse.

This is why I can’t tolerate someone saying, “All lives matter,” in response to “Black Lives Matter.” It’s like me standing up and telling you that I want to speak to you about women who are victims of domestic violence that need help, and your response is, “well all women need help.” 

Like seriously, what in the actual HECK is causing people to not listen right now?  I would say it is time to fight this war on racism, but the thing is, it has BEEN the time to fight for such a long time, that now it’s actually a time for urgent responsibility. I cannot ask you to fight with me if you don’t take responsibility-responsibility for the violence, discrimination, and inequality in our country that is surviving because it’s fed by statements like, “don’t blame me.”

Please. Please have the courage to show up with urgency. 

We are in this together

I’ve been writing a ton recently, but all of it feels too personal or too fresh or too dark or too much to share with the internet at this moment. 

And yet, here I am now, in my bed, trying to sleep, and I suddenly feel the need to write something. So I’m typing this blog out on my phone, and I guarantee you there will be typos and awkward sentences because I may not even proofread it. 

You guys, my students come tomorrow as I am entering my 18th year of teaching. I am excited. We (the teachers) are just as nervous and have just as much adrenaline as the kiddos who walk through our doors. And it’s because of one reason: we want to make this year their best, and we know how important that first day is for setting the tone of the school year. 

So here I am, thinking about those kiddos, and thinking about my own kiddo who is nervous.  She doesn’t want to go to school because she’s kinda wired like me in that she is a ball of nerves. But she’s doing it anyway, and took photos of all her school supplies because she absolutely loves school supplies, and she’s thinking of how this new school year is always a chance to start something new. 

Every school year, I am nervous, because it is new. And every school year, I am excited because it is new. It’s a rebirth. It’s a new opportunity to show up and hone my craft. It’s a new chance to be real and loved instead of shiny and perfect (Glennon’s words, not mine). 

This summer I participated in the Hoosier Writing Project and met a group of teachers who inspired me to keep writing and to keep teaching. I also traveled to Mexico for a yoga retreat in a remote location that was only reachable by boat.  At home, I went to the farmers’ market and went to the pool with my daughter. I cooked and I wrote a lot of stuff that was the darkest and deepest stuff I’ve ever written. I met some interesting men who weren’t right for me. I argued with my daughter but also let her sit on my lap as much as she wanted to. I let her watch a ton of television and I didn’t feel guilty about it. I took my dad who has Alzheimer’s and my child on a vacation to California and I felt so many emotions during that trip that I had forgotten how it feels to be so up and down. I cried at the airport when two TSA agents didn’t understand why the airline needed me to walk my dad back to the gate. A TSA agent named Svizak came over to me, and said, “We will make this situation work. We are in this together,” and showed me such kindness that I cried even more with him because I felt safe and understood.

That was my summer. It was lovely and beautiful and hard. And now, I am ready to begin again. 

We have got this. We can make anything work. We are in this together. ❤️ 

Happy Re-Birth Day to Me


9 years ago today, after laboring for 30+ hours, my daughter, Aliana, was born via Caesarian section at 7:50 am. After experiencing what my OB-GYN proclaimed to be a freakishly challenging pregnancy, that included sciatica, kidney stones, preterm labor, and gestational diabetes, it was mind-blowing to me that a human this extraordinarily healthy had actually been percolating inside of me for nine months.

On this day, June 15, 2008, I was 32 years old, yet I was just a shell of a person.  I had no personality, no likes or dislikes, and no idea how I had gotten myself into the mess of an abusive marriage.

And now I had this tiny, gorgeous human with a full head of curly black hair, that was staring at me with the deepest coffee colored eyes I had ever seen.  And somehow, those eyes were the only thing that ever could break me of my numbness.  You see, I could no longer disassociate from my life, because that would mean I was disassociating from MY OWN CHILD. 

In the intensity of her gaze, I imagined she was saying to me, “I am here.  I am LIGHT.”

Her existence broke me into a million pieces so that I would be somehow be forced to make a plan to put myself together again, because her eyes–HER LIGHT–showed me that she needed a mama who was whole, and that mama had to be me.

One day, I was giving her a bottle when her father entered the room.   I don’t remember what I had said that upset him so much, but he spat on me.  His spit ran down my face and dripped onto my shirt.  I didn’t react, as I knew that would make it worse, but Aliana did. She screamed at the top of her lungs and she no longer wanted the bottle.  Her screams and her terror reminded me of my own terror–reminded me that I needed to finally be terrified in order to be her mother. My heart of darkness slowly began to crack, and I allowed her light to seep into me.

Her birth was my rebirth, so in many ways, this day, June 15, is sacred to me and forever will be. It is a day that I was also born, as this baby was the one who brought me back to life.

Sometimes people say to me, it’s unfortunate that you and your ex husband conceived a child together, because that means you have to still communicate and can’t be completely unattached. What people who make these comments don’t understand is that if I hadn’t had my daughter, I might still be living in that marriage. Aliana’s existence propelled me into a completely new level of life, because I finally loved a person so much that I didn’t want her to live the way I had been living.  The love I couldn’t feel for myself, I could feel for her. 

Something deep inside of me knew that I could never be the mother she needed unless I could fully be myself, and the journey to self discovery started with her birth. 

Changing lives is serious business, and this girl wasn’t even planning on getting into that business; the universe simply deemed it so.

And for that I will always be thankful. Happy birthday, Aliana.