pausing in the tender spots

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I am chasing my two-year-old around the park as she tearfully chases another little girl with hair the color of the sun, proclaiming that she needs her stick. Of course I try to show her all of the other desirable and lovely sticks on the ground. But she’s not having it. She is in full on tantrum mode.

The mother of the stick holder looks on, not with a frown per say, but not with a smile either. I look to her for comfort, praying that she will say, “Kooky kids, don’t you hate when they act like little asses?” But she says nothing of the sort and I am left to soothe myself. Let me be honest, I don’t looove playgrounds or the majority of interactions I have on them. So I wrangle my little lovey muffin hellcat into her car seat as she arches her back and I feel mean and like I am at a rodeo wrestling a wild boar. Are there wild boars at rodeos? Clearly, I have never been to one.

I am also working on a website, rewriting an article, watching a video of my sweet brother being traumatized as he is sung to by a drag queen dressed as Bea Arthur on his birthday and dealing with a menacing zit on my chin that looks like a mini boob. So it’s no surprise when my son asked if he could go to floor hockey tonight, that my answer was, “If the angels are conspiring.” I’m in no mood to drive anywhere or think about dinner. Baseball is outside and relatively quiet which my sensitive soul can handle but floor hockey is in a gym with loud buzzers. Not good for a gal like me. And Mercury is in retrograde (I think), and I am menstruating (that is the proper term because I learned this in a 5th grade sex ed video where the young lasses from yesteryear had to use pretty powder blue belts to hold up their feminine napkins).

On Tuesday during yoga (which feels like it was 10 months ago) I smiled deeply when I heard Charlotte tell us to pause in the tender spots. Of course this is easier to do when I am on a floor in a dimly lit room with sweet smells instead of diaper aromas wafting in the air. But I have paused a few times today and let whatever was happening tenderize me. And it helps. Pause. Breathe. Welcoming all. Feeling what is sacred. Breath again.

As for my sanity, I plopped my little noodle on the couch and put the T.V. on so I could write. And it was fine. I give thanks to the powers that be for surviving another day mostly intact and the angels that are conspiring and helping me take my son to hockey.

 

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this is how it happens

tim-gouw-165094Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

We can practice love as a deliberate strategy to dealing with the pain of loss. It requires practice to respond to anguish with love, but it works. Each time a wave of grief threatens to tear you apart, ask yourself, “What does love ask of me now?”  – from The Four Things That Matter Most by Ira Brock, M.D. 

I used to never consider traveling back to the same place unless of course it was to see family and friends. I thought, why spend the money on somewhere I have already been? But now, if I feel a connection to a place, I want to go back and experience it again and again. Maybe it has to do with being parent-less and getting ready to put my home away from home, the house my mom lived in since I was a junior in high school with all of our family portraits on the walls, memories, and reliable snacks in the cabinet, on the market. I want centering, grounding, comfort. I want to experience that some things never change.

I just finished reading, The Four Things That Matter Most by Ira Brock, M.D. According to Brock, they are: Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you.

Today when my daughter was standing contemplatively at the sliding glass door in a sparkly princess dress too big for her and holding a stuffed Minnie Mouse, I could hear my mom sigh, “What a great picture.”

When I heard a bird singing but couldn’t identify what kind it was, I had to stop myself from picking up my phone and imitating the bird for her on her voice mail. She would get home from playing bridge, listen to it and laugh, call me back and say, “That’s very good, Linds.” I would then tell her that Will had been home from school the last two days to which she would respond, “Poor Will”. She would tell me she didn’t have a lot planned for the weekend and we would talk about her upcoming visit to Florida. I’d hang up but first, I would say, “I love you.” Even though, she would comment on occasion that she didn’t grow up saying this, and didn’t always find it necessary, I did it anyway and she did too. And I think she liked it, even though maybe it was awkward at first.

Yesterday, when I had lunch with a friend, a friend I adore and don’t see all that often, mostly because we are at different stages in life, but also because I don’t see anyone that often other than my kids and husband, she asked me with so much heart how I was doing.

That question again. A sigh, this time from me. I appreciate it. And if it doesn’t come, I am miffed, but when it does, I feel my answer is never quite complete, inadequate. Honest but not sufficient.

It feels as if I am dancing around the edges, as if my feelings are the lacy or sparkly border of a Valentine’s day card made out of pink construction paper. Getting to the center is where the meat is, the real message.

In so many ways, I am o.k. I feel at peace, mostly. And partially I feel this way, I think, because of all the I love you’s and thank you’s I said to my mom over the years.

Recently, during a meditation, I saw my mom’s death from a distance. And thought to myself, wow, it really was beautiful and surrounded by swaths of light and love. In fact, it was light and love. I also heard this message, this is how it happens.

With my son home sick from school, I looked at our fruit bowl and saw so many browning bananas. Like the little spots of discoloration popping up on my own skin. I thought of an easy recipe for banana bread, one that I had found on line last Spring when I was home visiting my mom. She loved it. And then another time when I was back, I asked her what she wanted for breakfast – meals being one of her few sources of pleasure and variety in her day – to which she replied, sweetly and enthusiastically, “I think I’ll have some of your banana bread.” I told her regrettably that I didn’t have any but that I would make some for her again. Anything to perk her up and see sunshine on her face.

So much has changed, so much so that it feels as if giant boulders have been shifting around inside of me trying to settle into their new places. I am letting the experience change me. I wouldn’t want to be the same person I was before. The experience of losing my mom has taught me to be more loving, more understanding, just plain…more.

And that it is never inappropriate, mushy, overly sentimental or too much to say in any way we are able to, I forgive you. Please forgive me. Thank you and I love you.

soft heart, strong back

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While we are called to show strength during times of struggle, we are also required to surrender to softness. We simply can’t only muscle through. The way through is a soft heart and a strong back, my friend Stephanee told me when I shared with her my struggles over being so sensitive and emotional so many years ago.  Soft heart, strong back, beloved author, Elizabeth Lesser, reiterated during a retreat I was on last week in Sedona.

Where there is fear, there is love and softness seeping into all corners of our lives. It pours through our windows as sunlight and shows up with friends over tea (or wine) in front of a warm, amber colored fire.

Welcoming the way of softness is an invitation to come home and rest. To come home to our hearts, to ourselves and really listen, honor, and accept what we are hearing and who we are.

We are wired for connection. We yearn for true support in our families and community. We want to help and be helped so we can all rise up together.

The way of softness is tender and big-hearted. It is brave, deeply open and spacious. It can also be extremely vulnerable and uncomfortable at times.

Softness is about taking care of ourselves by simply noticing our crazy buzzing thoughts with what Elizabeth Lesser refers to as “unconditional friendliness”. Softness is about melting into who we are and showing up with our battle wounds, scars and tears. And when they flow, not wiping them away or apologizing but letting them be seen.

Softness is learning to look at and accept the imperfect perfections we are born with. This radiant softness is brimming with limitless possibilities for hope and positive change.

I think it takes both strength and softness to look hard and honestly at our stuff and make peace with our own personal limitations. So many of us feel inadequate. Like Keven from This Is Us.

I know the people closest to me love me unconditionally but when I was little and I sucked at math, got in trouble for “issues with self control” and held a pencil wrong, I didn’t always feel all that lovable. Now I make an ugly cheese plate for company, still suck at math which is now called finances, and get really nervous before I speak. Sometimes, I still fear being unlovable. And no one can accept and love these parts of me unless I accept and love the heck out of them first.

So I’m just gonna go ahead and start claiming what I’m not good at. Let’s get that out of the way first so what we can pay attention to what we are good at. No distractions or disillusions. Let others help us in the areas where we need help. Isn’t this the sign of a good leader anyway? That they know how to pick the right people. The people who’ve got our backs and support and love us through all of it. The ones that are better and smarter then us at certain things? The ones who are willing to meet us soul to soul while putting comparison and competition to the side.

Which reminds me…

Right before I left for Christmas break, the first Christmas without my sweetest mom,

I was having a royal messy and crazy-ass moment when picking up my kids from my friend’s house after getting IV fluids to help flush out a nasty virus that was wreaking havoc on my body. As I opened my car door, plastic cows came tumbling out. My daughter was still in her pajamas. And it was late afternoon. A friend earlier had told me I looked terrible. I was bleary eyed and hungover after taking Nyquil the night before. And then my very neat, aesthetically pleasing friend whose tampons are even pretty, picked up a glass in my cup holder that contained some melted chocolate and two to three, I can’t be sure, half – eaten, glazed munchkins, and said, “Lindsay Bomstein, this is why we love you.”

I heard her say it, I really heard it and laughed. And maybe for one of the first times in my life, I didn’t feel all that embarrassed by it.

And while I was on my retreat last week, as we sat around in a circle, I sat up, spoke and once again the hot tears came spilling out. Oh jeez. Again, in front of all of these women I don’t know.

But you know what? Some of these amazing women came up to me and told me that they admired my tears. My openness. My ability to cry and be seen. Holy shit, really? Yes, really. Because that is me. And you need me to be me as much as I need you to be you. That’s all it takes. Who the hell wants to be impressed by how together we’ve got it? I want to be impressed by how together you don’t have it but that you still smile and love the heck out of life. So remember the next time you have to show up and you feel out of sorts that what you deem as your imperfections may just be the most authentic, beautiful gifts you have to offer. That and your soft heart and strong back.

And thanks to Melissa Biggs Bradley for creating opportunities for connection around the world. She mentioned the self-determination theory in an email last week from Sebastian Junger’s new book, Tribe, that really spoke to me. The theory “holds that human beings need three basic things in order to be content: they need to feel competent at what they do; they need to feel authentic in their lives; and they need to feel connected to others.”

And to connect to others, we’ve got to feel our strength and also soften up a bit too.

love is love is love

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photo by Abby Paterson

“Sometimes our intuition shines brightest in our darkest moments.” – Molly Carroll from Trust Within;Letting Intuition Lead

While getting a pedicure a few weeks ago, I felt wholly taken care of. It was such a treat. We will call the angel woman giving me the pedicure, Alice. (She must be an angel to work with feet every day). Her touch was gentle and tender and she had kindness flecks like little remnants of star dust in her eyes. She told me about working hard and how she loved her kids.

Something about recalling this memory now feels sleepy, like a lullaby, like falling asleep as a child surrounded by stuffed animals and celestial mysteries swirling around my nighttime ceiling sky lit up by glow and the dark star stickers.

I miss my mom. I miss being a daughter. But here, here is love and I’ll take it. In whatever form it arrives. My mom’s love is not contained, it is everywhere. It is in these hands touching me and the color in my son’s eyes.

It brought back memories of my friend Phyllis, a woman I  met when I was in my early twenties when I volunteered for Hospice. She quickly became a dear friend and a spiritual teacher. I gave her weekly massages and spent cherished hours chatting with her about everything under the sun.

Once, she told me about a trip she took to Lourdes, France. Lourdes is a sacred pilgrimage site known for it’s healing waters and miraculous cures. She spoke of how loved she felt when the women there got her dressed after she bathed in the magical water. Their touch, she said, was patient and careful as they graciously put her clothes back on. It seemed that when she spoke, she was reliving the experience and how each moment was marked with an infusion of sacredness and grateful attention. We paused together marveling at the thought of this, the thought of every action being created from love, light and a deep sense of gratitude and peace.

As Alice massaged my feet a few weeks ago, my shoulders dropped and I relaxed completely in the oversized leather chair, the one that massages and vibrates (sometimes so much so that it makes me wish I had worn a sports bra). I let go. I stopped thinking so much. And I just allowed this transfer of energy, of complete kindness from a stranger, to swirl out of her fingertips and into me.

I feel this too in yoga when my teacher friend comes around while I lay still in savasana and she cups her palms on the sides of my face. It is hard to explain but it too feels celestial, almost other worldly, and it feels like grace. And home. I feel like a child again. Tears often well up in my eyes and a smile springs to my face.

I feel this in the morning when the sun slowly wipes away the sleepy sand from her eyes as I lay on the couch next to my kids, our legs intertwined with blankies and my nose rests on their soft sweet smelling heads.

Love.

Love is available to us in so many different ways. And I cannot help but believe our loved one’s spirits shower down on us through blessings manifested in our dreams, beauty, and kindness.

Life, inevitably at times, is overwhelming and sad. In these moments though, we can still give love, receive love, and be love. Because we always are, whatever our mood or station in life, part of this web of interconnection. Part of this loving exchange of energy and part of what makes good things happen. You provide love and you receive love. You are love.

This exchange happens with your permission and participation. If you are curious, open, and accepting. And if you allow it. The dream you had, it was a miracle, a blessing and a gift. But only should you choose to see it as such. Your mind may interfere but your heart knows. Maybe all we really have to do, no matter what we’re doing, is be love.

how are you, today?

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Sheryl Sandberg encourages us to ask people in mourning, “How are you, today?” By emphasizing today, we acknowledge the bumpy nature of grief.

Sometimes, I think, asking, “How are you, right now…in this very moment?” may be even more appropriate because one minute you are fine washing the dishes, thinking to yourself about the awkward but funny comment your child made earlier (maybe you should stop referring to private parts by their correct names), and the next, you find yourself in a puddle of your own creation wondering what on earth to do next.

It has been three weeks since my mom died of metastatic breast cancer. Three weeks wrapped up in what feels simultaneously like 24 hours and 3 months. I knew this time would come and often wondered what it would feel like when it did. In the time forever marked as after. That picture was taken after my mom died. That was the kids’ first birthday after we lost her. 

The further I get away from her death, the more I feel like I am leaving the precious and intimately sacred space where time stands still and you are entitled, expected and even encouraged to be all consumed by the enormity of the loss. Friends and family wrap you up in a warm and protective cocoon. Thank God for that cocoon.

But time soldiers on. And eventually, you have to emerge leaving the safe and nourishing shelter as a completely different creature than the the one you were before you started the unwelcome but necessary journey.

You are a changed being now. You will never be the same. You start to acclimate slowly. You return home or the people you love go home. Work, school, plans, and chores resume and sometimes the familiarity is comforting and sometimes it just feels wrong. No, no, no this can’t be, I can’t be laughing and talking about Halloween costumes, my mother just died! In her house! And we were there. And it was intense and beautiful and heartbreaking but beautiful. Sometimes. Sometimes it was and is just plain sad.

I have been creating quiet, restful moments during the day. Grief requires this. And these are the moments when I relish the relationship my mom and I built and revel in the one we are still building.

As Thomas Merton said, “Silence allows many sounds to reach awareness that otherwise would be unheard.”

In this fruitful silence, I notice one palm tree swaying to it’s own breezy music while all of the other trees stand still. I hear the peck on the glass and turn to see a yellow finch trying to fly through the window. I am comforted, soothed.

Sometimes I talk to her out loud. Or I’ll say something to my kids that sounds just like her. Like the other day, as my son played piano in the dark, I walked into the room, flipped on the light switch and said, “A little light on the subject?”  How many times over the years did I hear her utter that expression? I love her expressions with their touch of humor and reliability.

As I feel the presence of my mom, I also feel more and more like her. And I remember the times when she would laugh and say to no one in particular, “I sound just like my mother”. Her mother, my grandmother, Nana, whom I also adored, still adore, and miss.

This week, my oldest turned 11 and my youngest daughter turned two. Our silly and sassy little caboose with brown hair, brown eyes, and a killer grin makes everyone in the room smile. Just like her grandma did.

When my brother said the day after my mom’s service that he knew he would be o.k., my sunny friend Derek enthusiastically said something to the effect of, “Well that is something!” And it is. Because sometimes it is enough to know that we are growing in the right direction. That in this moment, no matter how bumpy and how much we ache for the people we love, we know they are o.k, and ultimately, we will be too.

 

i can just tell

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photo by Phoebe

Dear Blog, it has been four weeks since my last post. Bless me Father for I have sinned, it has been four weeks since my last confession. As a kid, I was always majorly intrigued by confessional scenes in movies like the one in Flashdance! The dimly lit space I imagine smelling like Frankincense, the mysterious presence behind the partition, the downtrodden expression on the confessor. Dancing, welding, confessionals, leg warmers, hot dogs. For some reason, I recall hot dogs, am I right about this? And the ice skater friend with the sweaty boyfriend and the pervy father. What a movie!

My current state of mind in this particular moment is supremely grateful for my friends, my husband and kids, my mother-in-law, our various babysitters, my siblings, my aunt and uncle who live near my mom, my mom’s friends, her caretakers and nurses, and the random stranger angels that the universe has kindly thrown my way. Like the one at the airport who saw me with the most loving and knowing expression in her moon shaped, chestnut colored eyes. I was alone with my three kids standing on line to get a boarding pass for my “lap child”, sobbing. After saying goodbye to my sweet mom and one of my closest and best friends who came to spend a couple of days with us, I was in bad shape. Always in airports.

This friend who came a visiting, asked if she could do anything to help while we stood talking in the kitchen. Well, there is one thing. I told her she could take my mom’s Cocker Spaniel, Betty, to the vet to have her anal glands expressed. She had been scooting on the floor and her bottom was clearly in need of attention. A google search informed me that this is not something human beings have to worry about, fortunately.

But the visual of my friend backing out of my mom’s driveway with my 7-year-old daughter in the back and the dog in need of anal expression riding shotgun, is a vision I will not soon forget. Nor will I forget the look on her face when I told her I would need to get her prepared for the appointment with gloves and goggles. Fortunately, that was a joke. But talk about angels, she is the real deal, that Sal and I love her very much.

When I got up to the ticketing counter, the woman with the kind eyes, said, “I know how you feel, I haven’t seen my mom in two years.”  When I asked her how she knew that I was crying over my mother, she softly said, “I can just tell.”

Angles of all sorts are getting me through this time. Especially in airports. Must have something to do with wings and flying. But I take great comfort in knowing that when life is hard, we are never truly alone. And that we are supported by seen and unseen forces. I believe we are very much loved, appreciated and divinely guided.

And every glance, text, email, voice mail, hug, gesture, card, shared meal, walk, are the bones that hold us up. As Glennon Doyle Melton says, “We belong to each other.”  We really do. I can just tell.

 

prayer; dear some something

james-douglas-730photo by James Douglas

Prayer. When I was little, I prayed. But it was really more of an OCD. My own version of If I die before I wake…was an anxious plea to keep myself, family and friends safe, healthy, happy, and alive. If I didn’t perform this prayer the same way every single night, right after closing my eyes but before drifting off to sleep, I feared something bad would happen.

Unfortunately, something bad happens whether you pray or don’t, have an OCD or not.

I never learned how to pray. And I didn’t know whom or what I was praying to exactly.

But I did it anyway. It soothed me and felt essential in some curious way.

I didn’t see my parents pray. If they did, it was personal and discreet, perhaps it was something done at night or first thing in the morning behind closed doors.

When I was younger and heard someone say, “I’ll pray for you”, it sounded like an insult. But, “You are in my prayers”, sounded more inclusive, gentler and not so judgemental.

Tosha Silver in her exquisitely beautiful book, Outrageous Openness, seems to echo this sentiment when she writes that worrying about someone is the worst energy we can send them (and ourselves). She writes, “It’s simple instead to learn to send blessings as soon as worry begins. Just hold the person in your mind filled with light and happiness, see them peaceful and content. Do it day after day. That’s the single most useful gift you can mentally offer anyone you love.”

I also read somewhere that while meditation (and or stillness and silence) is listening to the divine, prayer is talking to the divine. To be in a relationship requires both; talking and listening, giving and receiving.

But every dawn of every new day, my definition of prayer expands. It is deeper, wider and more forgiving. The particulars are irrelevant. All that matters is that I do it. Prayer to me is inviting sacred meaning into my day.

And now when I think back to my dad admiring the desert sunset with a gin and tonic in hand, swaths of orange and purple sky embracing him, I see him in prayer. My mom, on the beach, sitting in her chair, toes in the sand, drinking up the sunshine as waves play and roll around in the background, feels like prayer. A positive intention, a wish on behalf of a loved one or stranger can also be prayer. Singing Happy Birthday around a cake lit with the soft glow of candles and smiling faces, prayer. Art, prayer. Walking for charity, collective prayer. Writing this blog, prayer.

While reading the book Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist, I loved the visual she offers of imagining a bottle of vinegar and oil. When we pray, her friend Geri says, “pour out the vinegar first – the acid, whatever’s troubling you, whatever hurt you, whatever is harsh, and jangling your nerves or spirit.” I am worried, scared, sad. 

And then what you find underneath is golden. There, lies the oil. There, the divine is working. There, we are not alone. Please give me strength. Please provide comfort and peace to those I love.

We get to bring our whole selves to prayer. We are honest and naked in prayer with nothing to prove and nothing to hide.

I am reminded of Anne Lamott’s book, Help, Thanks, Wow, The Three Essential Prayers. We pray when we or others are in need. We pray to give thanks. We pray when we are standing in the midst of sacred awe.  And sometimes we pray simply because we don’t know what else to do.

“Most good, honest prayers remind me that I am not in charge, that I cannot fix anything, and that I open myself up to being helped by something, some force, some friends, some something. These prayers say, “Dear Some Something, I don’t know what I’m doing. I can’t see where I’m going. I’m getting more lost, more afraid, more clenched. Help.”

“These prayers acknowledge that I am clueless but something else isn’t. While I am not going to go limp, I am asking for the willingness to step into truth.”

Prayer is said to be powerful. I used to think that meant powerful as in the realm of magic and miracles, powerful. And while that might be true, prayer is also powerful because of what it does to the person praying.

In a recent article in Outdoor Magazine, neuroscientist Andrew Newberg writes about his research on prayer. “Newberg found that prayer allowed his subjects to more ­quickly and ­efficiently achieve flow, that coveted state of mind most commonly described as being ‘in the zone.’ During flow, a cascade of neurochemicals descend into the brain, including dopamine (which regulates pleasure), serotonin (which reduces stress), and norepinephrine (which activates the fight-or-flight response). The brain also undergoes electrical changes.”

Prayer is good medicine.

Prayer for me is no longer an anxious plea. It is a letting go, a ride on the crest of a breaking wave. It is an open arm surrendering, falling backward onto a field of velvety green grass. Prayer is resting. It is being carried. It listens, it holds, and it is always an option. Sometimes, it is the only option.

Admittedly, I still pray, hoping to keep the bad at bay, but in addition, I pray to be given the strength and courage to endure whatever happens. I pray to be of service. I pray as a way of showing up.

I pray to stay open.

And, slowly, prayerfully, I am learning.