A Practice of Presence

Let’s talk control. It would appear that against all my best efforts, I can control very little. What a blast to the ego!

Our systems and big picture human connections are sick. We are reaching critical level. Before, we could more easily deny and ignore, but now we are squaring off with this painful reality as individuals and communities. Both the reality and the perceived free-fall is terrifying.

Last week I shared part of my defense to this pain is feeding my mind, body, and soul with experience. I crave more and new and different experiences as a lifeline, as a connection to earth and others and creation, and a way to stay tethered to truthful goodness.

After six weeks of looking fairly ridiculous (but showing up anyway) to an urban/world beats cardio dance class, I finally settled into the attraction for me. (Let me remind you I grew up in a state where we were graded on square dancing and hip hop was resolutely implied as not for white kids, so reread the importance of that ANYWAY.) Sure, I’d like to reclaim some energy levels mamahood has zapped from me, and sure, I love the variety of people there. But those are all the flavor drizzle to the main event.

It is still about control; my ego-driven desire to white-knuckle it conflicting with my soul-driven desire to open palm it.

Once you cross the threshold into the studio, the world and all it’s beauty and brutality and present political shit-storm are left outside. There is only the floor and the sweat of your body, and the beats reverberating in your bones.

It’s a practice of presence. 

You cannot pretend to control moves you do not own yet. The only way to move forward is to learn. The only way to learn is to be completely present in your body and let your mind relax into that third-eye state of being. Dance cardio, then, isn’t about my body image or burning calories or building endurance at all.

For someone like me who spends a lot of their day floating between envisioning the future or escaping the present, this practice of presence is the muscle being worked. I recognize and do it often with my kids. Now it’s time to do it for myself.

Being present in the dance is an act of total disclosure to being in union with the flow of creation.

How perfect is today’s meditation by one of my favorites, Richard Rohr? Sure, he’s probably speaking metaphorically, however, I’m learning this through the application of trading control for presence in literal dance.

God is in us, because we are in Christ. As members of the mystical body, Christians actually partake in the divine nature of the Trinity. We do not merely watch the dance, we dance the dance. We join hands with Christ and the Spirit flows through us and between us and our feet move always in the loving embrace…

The Trinity is a participative mystery and all creation is invited to participate! But hand-taking, embracing, and breathing-with aren’t often immediately attractive to us. Vulnerability, letting go, total disclosure, and surrender don’t come easily.

Being present in the dance is an act of being present in creation. 

…the flow of presence that is the universe is a constant arising, a continuous act of creation. Creation of the universe, then, did not occur at some moment in the distant past, since time is not relevant on this level of things. Creation is a constant; the universe is constantly being created in the immediacy of the now. The world is arising endlessly anew. – Maitri from The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram

What a beautiful reminder. Just dance. Be in total disclosure to the process to remain present in the unfolding and continual arising of creation – including the restoration, celebration, and renewal of you.

As Rumi succintly put it…

Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion. 

 

 

 

 

A Practice of Reception.

Tonight my husband cooked us dinner. Like he does most nights. He followed it with solo facilitating bedtime for three children. Like he does most nights.

The lie is so quick to slide from my mind into the gut-pit of my belief system; that I am taking more than giving in this marriage, that I am stealing time for myself, that I am simply selfish and insatiable in my need for intake.

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Currently my need for intake is high. The more the world unleashes ugly, the more I need to seek out life-giving things to restore my positivity and faith in goodness.

While I sleep, my partner night parents. While he packs lunches (endearingly coined “f*ckin’ lunches” in our household as any parent of school bound children understands), I Netflix.

I already take so much. I am hesitant to ask for more.

Even so, I require more -at least in this season where my former belief and knowledge of government and humanity and decency are uprooted at least thrice daily. Part of my response to the breakdown is intake. Eyes open awareness. Notice goodness. Breathe in the blessing. Exhale the gratitude.

The space I take to write or exercise or chase sunsets or read is not a mainstream reality for many moms of young kids. I know this. The guilt trickles in easily. As if marriage were a one to one economy. As if comparing one household norm to another ever worked.

I cannot control my Twitter feed. I can only control my frame of mind and my response to the world.

For me, part of setting that positive intention is getting elbows deep in splatter painted creative, interactive living. That includes my family and that also includes interests that are life-giving to me as an individual.

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For so long I thought I was stealing this time and leaving a burden. Recently, when I asked for the truth, I was given the answer I wasn’t ready for: no.

What I thought I was stealing had been freely offered all along. 

Sometimes the most gracious gift of all is the hardest to accept. Instead of a mindset of guilt and taking and chastising myself because “I already get to do so much”,  I have been offered a lightness to simply be me and be fully alive.

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I have been invited into the practice of reception.

C.S. Lewis warned, “You must have a capacity to receive, or even omnipotence can’t give.”

I am grateful for it. I am uncomfortable with it. I am learning to allow the vulnerability of being open to this practice of reception impact my life and shift the narrative of my perception.

There is no earning it. No reciprocating it. There is only allowing it to be.

 

I’m No Missionary: Letting God Wreck Our Life Anyway

I listened to a homily today while I faced off with one of the few things I can control: our family dishes.

Let’s have an aside before we begin, to high five all the priests across the land who can take us to hermeneutics of seminary, reveal something new about the Divine, and drive it to heart personally, all within twelve minutes or less. Listen and learn non-denominational microphone mackers to your liturgical brethren of the concise pulpit.

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The main point from the homily was that Mary, the mother of God-made-flesh, is an ultimate example of responding to God with a YES and becoming a part of that divine response. But even Mary wasn’t given the final game plan and had to live by faith as events unfolded.

In our circle there has been a lot of discussion and fumbling tries to understand what it means to be a current buzz-word – “family on mission” – and the practical ways this can play out for a typical Christian family in America where there is never enough time or money or energy or fill-in-the-blank with what your deficit mentality warns.

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There is a movement for our families to figure out how we allow our lives to be a yes here and now, with what we are already doing. This is clunky and full of half-starts, because changing culture is hard and when it comes down to it, we just don’t want the inconvenience of it all.

There is an ingrained sentimentality that if you do mission work “over there” then of course it will be uncomfy.

Of course there will be bugs.

Of course there will be physical, spiritual, and emotional opposition.

Of course I had day-visions of demons while living that summer in China.

Of course my husband almost died from malaria gone-too-far while we were missionaries in Malawi.

Of course our friend was stabbed for a cell phone and left to bleed out while his four boys watched when serving in Costa Rica.

Of course.

“These things happen,” we rationalize. It is all part of the missionary gig to expect risk. We have normalized this opposition so much we become blasé to the dangers.

But what about here?

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We want Divine yes-breath to warm and woosh over our life but we get irked when it frizzes our hair out a bit.

What is the disconnect to expect drama and sacrifice for the “over there” missionaries so much we anticipate it, and let’s face it, junkies for the high of those stories, but attempt to avoid risk and inconvenience at all cost as “families on mission” here?

You always tell us how brave we are to do foster care. We are and we are not. Mostly, we just told God we are okay with a messy life and we are figuring out the rest as we go.

You always widen your eyes and ask if teaching in an economically challenged middle school is something we always dreamed of. We laugh. After eight years of being in that community, my husband feels a responsibility to continue in those relationships, especially in this current political climate to be a person of kindness to his many teenage refugee students.

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We by no means have this figured out but we’re trying to be open and there is a cost. There is heartache and unknowing and measly paychecks to the way we are setting up our life here. Sometimes I find myself telling off God for messing with what could have been a very easy life.

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I am left to wonder how pushing away hardship from our lives all these years hardened our hearts to the plight of people over there and paved the way for fear to be weaponized legally and seemingly instantaneously.

I live from the gut so when you yell at me it is either the safety of my children or the safety of theirs, I have a moment of confusion and second guessing, because I am not addressing issues from a position of cerebral authority – which is the only position our culture upholds as true.

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I teeter for a moment before I remember that is a straw-man argument. I don’t buy into that. There is my family and there is their family and there is your family and there is enough for all.

We have fallen in love with our comfortable, un-inconvenienced lives more than our fellow man. Both within our own city, and certainly with those beyond our borders.

I consider Mary from my viewpoint of a mother who is obsessively in love with her kids. Even Mary had to watch her son be publicly humiliated and slowly murdered. Even she. Safety has never been the banner of living a life for others.

So people of the church. It is time to decide. How do we live now?

 

 

 

 

Saying Goodbye

You cried when we walked away, dear boy, and I let you.  More than wanting to shield you from sadness, I want you to know this is the bitter to the sweet. It is appropriate to feel this. You are allowed tears in this life. We cry for the loss of it all and walk away resolved in hope.

You said you were happy he gets to be with his Mommy and Daddy again because everyone should get a chance to be with their mommy and daddy.

I lingered on your face a little longer at this comment. I watched your eyebrow lower and the tiny dimple to the left of your lip flicker with thought.

We were a placeholder. It was always our job and our privilege to say goodbye so their family could be whole again.

You mentioned you’d miss your fun times playing together.

This says so much about you, dear one; the three year old you shared a home with these past many months was not always immediate “fun”. You drew all the goodness and calm and happy inside him to the forefront.

He was so ready to love, though, and you allowed his love a place to land. You didn’t realize it, but every time you received him, you mirrored an unspoken truth of identity to his spirit; he was important – he was still worthy.

Good people do this. They can look beyond a behavior. They can see a soul. They make all the goodness in others rise effervescent to the surface.

We left them there, your foster brother and sister, a newly reunified family at the park, with the wind rushing cold announcing a winter sunset.

You said goodbye to the kids and stayed near their stroller making silly faces as I gave updated bottle and rash ointment and clothing instructions to the adults.

Then we drove away and just like that they were gone.

People ask me how I can do this to you, sweet child. Allow other kids into your home to share your toys, your parents, your emotional space. Let you have to wait a little longer sometimes and ride an emotional wave of goodbyes.

I promise you, my love, that we will only place you in situations that will stretch you but not harm you. This is our family life and we’re in it together.

If I could give you two gifts it would be a generous spirit and a resilient heart; knowing that when you give there will still be an abundance and that feelings only strengthen your heart.

We get to have generosity and resilience because HOPE lives inside us. Hope is why you can love a child as your brother these many months, then wave goodbye in a park parking lot.

Hope.

That it will be restored. That there is a future. That the slow-burn of healing will outlast any resistance.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ…

We drove away and I could see you both in the rearview – you in the backseat and their family by the swingset.

You cried while the sky drizzled a million blessings on your head and I prayed wordless exhales of gratitude for you, my son, and hope for the son with his rightful family I just left at the park.

 

 

 

Why Fair Trade, Organic Clothes Matter.

No one wants to be the seven months pregnant lady, yelling at a Malawian sitting legless in a rusty wheelchair on the crumbling edge of a gas station triangled between a red dirt ditch, smoldering trash pile, and mango grove. But that lady, I was. Eyes fixated on the apple squishing at his lips.

Rain fell; water balloons bouncing off my own baby belly and bursting off my bony shoulder blades. Just me and this man, the boy and the apple, and the rain.

In my defense- if there can be a defense to this scene- I had just given that apple to the boy. The boy walked to the back and gave it to the man. The man held it up to his mouth and I lost mine at the confrontation this man had pimped out this boy for food and I was complicit in the scheme.

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That day was a blistering reminder we cannot remain blissfully ignorant of our transactions. What we do is part of a bigger picture.

That was almost ten years ago.

With the ubiquity of smart phones and simultaneous dawn of social media, immediate access to global information sits in our hand. As global consumers it feels either irresponsible or ignorant to pretend like we do not know how the way we spend our money ripples back to affect all those along the supply line.

I started an experiment in wardrobe purchases (because it was bothering me that I didn’t know if that clearance tank I got at the big box store was sewn by a woman fired for having a miscarriage on the job with working conditions that derived the death, or if those leggings sewn in Bangladesh were done by a man recently beaten for trying to unionize against false pay slips).

Sixth months ago, I began only buying clothes for myself second hand or from clothing companies that were forwardly embracing both rights of their workers and healthy environmental practices. (Finding things for the kids has been much harder, but that is a discussion for another time and we basically live off kid hand-me-downs anyway.)

No more snagging the dress in the fun print off the clearance rack, barely slowing my cart  before heading to the bread aisle.

Peace out, Urban.

Current fashion also aided my endeavors thanks to the snap-crotch leotard-as-shirt making it’s rounds back from the worst depths of the early 90’s to the women’s department. Befuddlingly, these are “in” again and I spent a good five minutes gawking at the absurdity while having a real Hamlet style existential soliloquy moment via one-sided text conversation to my best friend. How are these a thing (again)! Resist, dear women, resist!

Putting that $6 boho shirt back was easy when holding the hanger I heard the lamenting wail of factory women world-round.

I know that feels dramatic and ridiculous and not every article of cheap clothing we buy here bragging about the sale we scored comes at the cost of someone else’s humanity, but….this is the way my brain works and I’m still banking it does more than not.

Yes, the cost is the cost. Clothes made responsibly cost more money to purchase. It makes more sense to buy staples and signature clothing pieces that will withstand the passage of time.

At thirty-four I know what I’m about and my sense of fashion is a little “quirky”, so I also often use the KonMari method and purchase clothes that lift my spirits. The balance to this expense is the reality that my favorite purchase last year is the gray tank I practically stole from the thrift store for 75cents and wear at least twice a week.

Transparency is beginning to happen because you and I as consumers are saying this matters to us. Companies like Target are listening and are making new initiatives in their responsible sourcing processes all the way from the agriculture where the raw materials are produced, to the humanization of the workers and are trying to change their practices.

This Christmas my stocking was filled with organic cotton, fair-trade socks and big booty underwear. Nothing says “I REALLY love you” from my husband than generously gifting extra soft, extra wide panties because we all know that’s what he’s going to bed with until these lovelies disintegrate off my body from overuse because I also have a slight problem with throwing things away.

 

I leave you with a quote I have rubbed smooth like a worry stone this past decade lifted from the journal of a wise, wise man, Thomas Merton:

” Therefore, if I don’t pretend, like other people, to understand the war, I do know this much: that the knowledge of what is going on only makes it seem desperately important to be voluntarily poor, to get rid of all possessions this instant. I am scared, sometimes, to own anything, even a name, let alone a coin or shares in oil, the munitions, the airplane factories. I am scared to take a proprietary interest in anything for fear that my love of what I own may be killing somebody somewhere.” 

Purchasing responsibly resourced clothes is potentially another one of those annoying group projects from school days where I carry the load of work while apathetic partners do diddly- where I conscientiously change the entire mindset of our family’s consumer purchases for the benefit of people I will never know and a future of our planet I will never see.

I’m okay with that. But, I hope with time, you’ll join me.

 

 

Welcoming Interruptions and Inefficiency

I have started this blog post exactly countless times.

I come to the pen or keyboard daily to construct bridges from words and to extract what needs a portal from the land of ideas to our concrete world.

It is this exact moment, as any mother in the long history of mothers will verify, that the happy baby can only remain that way through holds and the child capable of shimming up doorjambs to reach the nether tops of the fridge, who can burp the alphabet in one pass, is wildly incapable of pouring his own glass of water. Inevitably, the toilet overflows. Interruptions, invariably.

I have popped down our hill to the grocery store no less than three times the past eighteen hours, because while I can remember the queso fresco and green chiles and all the yummies to make kid quesadilla lunches feel like an event, I cannot make it back with the cheddar.

This is what my life feels like. A lot of hustle. A steady stream of interruptions. A lot of inefficiency and little productivity.

It is easy to become annoyed or pile on the shoulds. Falling asleep (again) on an Elsa duvet wedged between a sleeping child and a hard plastic doll feels like self-betrayal. During the daylight interruptions I had mentally promised to conquer. this. shiz post bedtime. Yet; sleep wins every time.

I scroll through the squares and start chastising myself for why I haven’t figured this be a woman, be a wife, be a mom thing out yet. I readily forget the lady reading in a hammock with hot cocoa is in her twenties without kids.

We are here, muck deep in mid thirties. Sweating children, cheating time, and praying for rest. Still, we dream.

Can the presence of divinity and social change begin with tiny domestic acts right here? We are audacious enough to believe they can. Right here, in the emergency run for Iron Man pull-ups, in the swaddle of a crying baby, in the quesadillas cut just so and the interruptions for water refills.

This year I look forward to more writing and an attempt to be more zen about interruptions. I rest in the fact that during this phase of life, living big means tiny acts at home, for the tiny humans here and for myself. Little increments at a time. Together we will make a whole life.

To my fellow thirty somethings (or 40 somethings) with all the children and all the ideas and none the sleep and little the money, a word from a poet:

be easy. 

take your time. 

you are coming

home. 

to yourself. 

-the becoming   wing by Waheed

Love and a little more ease to your hustle and mine.

 

10 Things I Wish I Knew the First 30 Days of Foster Placement

 

ONE. This is messy and broken work on the inside. It will also show up messy and broken on the outside. If the kids are young (and especially if there are young bios in the house) there will be a constant onslaught of food on the floor, and broken toys, and ruined clothes, and dirty dishes piling up. It will feel crazy on the inside and crazy on the outside. This is normal.

 

TWO. Black out the calendar. This is not a time to be room mom or do playdates…yet. Start small. Stay home. When the kids can play safe together venture into the backyard. When you can all play safe there, venture to a small fenced in park. These are bunker down days. It will not be your usual pace. You’re used to functioning at a high capacity; from a productivity level it will feel like you are accomplishing nothing. This is normal. You are actually doing quite a lot of important foundation work.

 

THREE. The anxiety of new placements for kids often expresses itself in their bodies. Runny diapers and faucet faces while their stress levels are high is a natural body reaction. The constant snot on furniture and people and your sweater and everything will probably feel gross and stressful while colds spread through the household. It might add to the feeling of chaos internally and externally. This too is normal.

 

FOUR. Create a family language with foster and bio kids of public space and alone zones. All toys and items in the living room are for everyone to use. Bedrooms can be where they have toys that belong to them they don’t have to share as well as a place bio children can go to take a break from foster kids if needed.

 

FIVE. Our certified babysitter family members want to help. Often, however, the behaviors and high-attention needs of our foster kids are overwhelming and out of their know-how to handle. It has been a more beneficial (and relationally healthy) use of our time to have our certified family spend special time or do special outings with our bio children and to use respite families or daycare providers who have foster specific training if we need babysitting help for longer than an hour or two.

 

SIX. Consistency is key. The kids are learning. Even if it seems like they don’t know anything about self-regulation or body awareness or food organization of social interactions or simply how to lay down to go to sleep at night. They are watching and they are learning. Stay consistent. You might not see results yet, but nothing can replace putting in the time and effort now at the forefront to gain the connection and structure and responsiveness and felt-safety the kids will have a few months from now.

 

SEVEN. Have a behavior plan before you are both standing in the thick of it. Have your script ready. Know what you will say, what you will do, and what the child will do. We all imagine ourselves to be a hybrid between Mary Poppins and Karen Purvis; in the heat of it, we are not. Don’t get caught reacting. Know what you will say and do for redirection, direction, and behavior interventions.

 

EIGHT: Set up relational boundaries and expectations with the bio parents early.

 

NINE. Don’t feel bad contacting your social worker about things big or small. They are here for you.

 

TEN. There will be nights you will go to bed in a panic or storm of doubt or near tears wondering “Did I even look my bio child in the eye today? Did I hold the foster kids enough today?” There will be moments when strangers ask you why you do it (foster care) and in the midst of the hard you will come up blank. For the life of you, you cannot remember. Don’t be alarmed. It feels hard because it is supposed to feel hard right now. I recently heard a seminar by Lorraine Fox, a professor with years in the field, who reminded us that love is not the results. Love is the effort. The results are not ours. Only the try.