A Shooting Star – My Oldest Turns 17

It’s difficult for me to consider the swift ways of two years before my daughter graduates high school and everything in our household changes to a new normal without her. She’s a delight to have around.

I am a better person being a mother and wife. I never knew how “wanting it my own way” I was before kids. My character needed to be shaped and expanded around caring for another who was fully dependent. This wasn’t easy for me and with my second child I really started losing my mind, mostly in all things involving patience. But parenting my daughter for four years before her brother came around, I rediscovered my inner child who had gotten lost along the way to growing up, delighted in a being who thrived under such relishing, which was a joy to witness and found love in the look that said, “You’re my person.” And I wanted it to be so – ecstatic that it was. It’s been a journey, one with thankfully, little regret. (Mainly because I bought a small farm called “therapy” for ten years twice a week before I had children.)

Tea Parties
Stuffie Activities
Note Book Title

With all the positive, it didn’t shift my need for down time and quiet reflection. I wrote this short poem(?) in reflection of some of those days as a mother of young children when they need you and I didn’t want to be needed. And oh how they need you and during these seasons there is very little space for you.

I have loved sitting on the toilet in silence better than having one more stuffie’s tea party with Raven, Siamese Kitty and my daughter who will be a day older tomorrow.

She’s Got the Look

Having a teenager who now drives has oriented me to the fleeting passage of time. The ten plus hours of driving in the car together each week has been replaced by more time for myself to do what? Work, workout, or take a nap is usually slotted now. All of which I would give up to discover what music she’s now listening to because there are no more playlist take overs on our drive. And of course I could ask, but how boring compared to the experiencing. It’s like talking about a rock climbing route instead of scaling it. There also isn’t the spontaneous venting about school boredom (who actually LIKES school? Please.) or explaining the labs completed in Forensic Science. Of course we still talk. We have meals together but there is very little lingering with rowing, homework, and friendships interfering with family time.

I have loved driving you to Long Beach High School* better than the Taylor Swift concert which covered your voice.

Time is like a shooting star blazing across the sky – one moment there and the next, gone.

Be alert and watching or it will pass you by.

Happy 17th Birthday, one of my people.

(I know a few weeks late to you who this is directly written for but hey I momentarily lived in denial and thought maybe if I didn’t post about it it never happened. :-)). Here’s to me no longer living in denial.

Smiles before Screams… Dark Harbor Lurks

*name changed

With Weariness

The current wave of human shortcomings and character flaws found in the news these last couple months have left me pummeled like the time I was on Oahu at some beach innocently talking to my friend when a wave came from behind and threw me into the sand. I was scratched for days by the grit left in hard to reach places, undetected until a long hike or bike ride.

Amazon fires, binary positions about climate change, and the US military strike killing innocent farmers in Afghanistan. And then this week – Moreno Valley. Oh that smiling face. I do not know him but he could be mine. He might some day be mine. The lives of these middle school children, let me repeat – children, forever changed. One’s breath to never breathe again except through another body (organ donation) and at least two 13 year olds whose families I imagine are devastated (at least that would be the appropriate response) for the sin of their son’s fists and what these boys will live with for the rest of their lives.

The hate and greed in the world today is nothing new. In fact, one doesn’t need to look too deep into history to realize the atrocities human beings can do to one another. Think Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, King Leopold in the Congo, Hitler, Cecil Rhodes in South Africa, Cortes in modern day Mexico, Christopher Columbus or Andrew Jackson to name a few that come to mind. Over the last eighteen months I’ve read some the excellent books that drive home these aspects of the human condition. Non-fiction accounts: Evicted by Matthew Desmond; King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild; When A Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa by Peter Godwin; Born A Crime by Trevor Noah; Writing to Save a Life: The Louis Till File by John Edgar Wideman. Fiction accounts: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly; Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd and the classic by Wilma Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop, which touches on the ugly cost to Native American’s of pioneering settlements. There are obviously many more but these are the ones that have been in my hands recently.

Oh how we need to be transformed by something greater than ourselves.

When my heart cries out, sometimes putting pen to paper helps reorient me back to the realities of this world. The following was inspired this week by St. Teresa of Avila “bookmark” prayer.

Let human being’s decisions disturb you.

Let your heart cry out from injustices.

With people, your heart will break again and again.

God alone is unchanging, perfect.

With Him, unity and communion with the earth and all people is possible.

Whoever has God is complete.

God alone avenges the weak and helpless.

–Kimber Del Valle

Year of Jubilee – the Halfway Point

Getty Museum this April

My 49th birthday on February 20th at roughly 4:30 pm, officially started my jubilee year in my bedroom with hot soup, tissues and a heating pad for anywhere that would get me thinking about the goodness of warmth and not on how miserable I felt. Lucky for me, my rock star husband had asked close friends and family members to write descriptive words about me so I read these sunflower colored laminated book markers as I rocked and sucked my thumb tried to make the most of a miserable feeling day. The most surprising was my son described me as “wild” (he has no idea) and my niece, whose birthday is two days before me and born the same year as my son, described me as “zen.” Ying and yang – it seemed this might be a good year after all. Turns out, I’d recover in about two weeks and then a month later get the flu on a business trip, which may or may not have included holding my head, praying, and rocking on the airplane while trying not to moan or taste my breakfast a second time. The later happened as I waved at my daughter sitting with a friend who commented, “Hi Mom! Oh wow. You don’t look so good.” I didn’t and it would be about four days before I emerged to crawl to work and crawl home which became a routine for about three weeks. My weekends in between were filled with wild amounts of activity – sleep, sleep and a bit more sleep with a variety of chicken broth, chicken noodle soup or any soup that was given to me.

Fragile health has been something I’ve grown accustomed to in my 40s, not to say that this was “fragile” but I can’t remember a time I’ve been sick for so long. Over the past five years, I’ve walked with several friends in their cancer journey and have said good-bye, see you on the other side of the veil, to three of them locally and within the last three months – two more distantly. For family, I’m no longer making memories with my father-in-law – his death several years ago. My wellness checks have occasionally yielded “abnormal results” or “come back for more tests” and I too have fleeting concerns about the C word – get sick for six out of ten weeks when you have an exercise habit and eat a diet that’s about 90% gluten, sugar, and dairy free you’ll be wondering if there is something depressing your immune system besides the flu. Turns out, I have lead poisoning with high amounts of mercury and two airborne chemicals, likely from my living environment in LA in the vicinity of oil pumping. Not sure how long I’ve had it but for the last two months when I’m in town, I drive 30 miles for treatment once or twice a week, which includes sitting in a treatment area recliner, IV connected, for two hours with moments of nauseousness, headaches or stinging and if it’s not too uncomfortable, a good book (currently Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage though I’m trying to enjoy her writing and not think about the fact that this marriage didn’t work out for her either), my journal (as long as my right hand is free to write), and for transparency sake at least two or three other items “just in case” (I.e. The Sun magazine, another book – The Climate of Monastic Prayer by Thomas Merton, or my laptop which is difficult to use since one arm is hosting the IV). My commitment to myself during this year has been to stop “pushing through” health issues thinking they will just be resolved. It took over two years to finally discover this “metal problem” which is why my body wasn’t absorbing certain vitamins – mainly antioxidants and why my stress levels weren’t going down despite a regular practice of meditation, work adjustments, and a month worth of vacations.

Santa Fe Beauty in February

Friendships have been adjusting as the reality that some of my deepest friendships have lacked regular contact. I was in a group for 16 years, The Graces, but with the death of Amy five years ago and the moving of Shannon a year later, a group that had been meeting once a month has now limped along with the three of us left in Southern California – though in June Shannon visited and we met at an early bird 6:30 am for breakfast to catch up. This year would’ve marked 20 years together. On a positive note, a group of long time friends merged what were two groups ten years ago into one so we can support one another during the parenting adolescents, widowhood, divorce, “rubber meeting the road” marriages and whatever else comes up during our once a month meetings. Also, a professional book club, which has been meeting quarterly for about six years has been incredibly supportive. As well, my own marriage during this half year has needed some composting and soil aerating. Dennis and I also had a difficult year personally. Our criticism/ defensiveness cycle reemerged after going on a hiatus for a number of years and we needed to change some things before it became chronic so we’ve been back in couple’s therapy. Thankfully, it’s been incredibly healing but a lot of emotional work.

Upaya in Santa Fe, late February

Some highlights – Since last July, I’ve been enrolled in a year long intensive writing program in Santa Fe with Natalie Goldberg and Rob Wilder, which has been life giving on so many levels — getting me out of the LA craziness, writing, deepening my meditation practice and meeting some great people. I’m hopeful that this experience will help me reprioritize some things professionally –creating more space for writing and creative projects. As well, I’ve never had a better year professionally. It is a wonderful experience to see all the time and effort I’ve spent learning and doing has translated into a more confident place of being. It feels so refreshing to be past “am I doing what I ought to be doing” and instead, know who I am so I can more easily make decisions about what’s important professionally. My new challenge is owning my creativity and doing more in that arena like blogging (last blog seven months ago), podcasts, more on the YouTube channel and finish my darn book, which is happily in the editing phase. I also led a workshop on meditation for a women’s retreat, which fed my soul. I’ll also be facilitating a women’s retreat in Spokane, WA later this year for a group of women who have been meeting together for several years.

Year-long Intensive Group Members
Santa Fe Beauty in May
Santa Fe Art. Beyond.
A close look revels snow — in May

For those of you who have either followed this blog for a while or know me, likely remember that I celebrate my birthday with adventures or outings. See last year’s post on my canyoneering trip and photography workshop in Utah with National Geographic photographer in April. (2020-the big 50 already in the planning stages for Ireland, Scotland and London along with mystery country not yet selected). To start my year of jubilee, I decided for a “fly to” concert experience since few things bring me more joy than music. Predictably, I couldn’t decide on only one I went with two. Lauren Daigle in Albuquerque and Celine Dion in Las Vegas. Full disclosure – LA tickets for Lauren Daigle were three times the amount of Albuquerque, where I was conveniently scheduled for my writing intensive the next day so Albuquerque won over LA. I bought VIP tickets for full engagement. However, as it would happen, my flight was delayed long enough for me to possibly miss the entire concert so using LAX’s busyness to my advantage, I jumped from my flight to another which routed me to a different city before going to ABQ which looked like I could at least get in to make the latter part of the concert. While waiting at the airport, I shared my sadness, anxiety, angst with a number of friends who all rallied around and were with me in all the suckiness of missing out on my well-planned trip. My friend, Shannon, aka Graces member, maid of honor and college roommate, text to me in a group chat, “One thing I will say about you entering year 49 this way, is that you navigating difficult choices (which flight to take?), weathering disappointment, reaching out in friendship, willingness to ‘come as you are’ to the concert [I had no luggage or time to check in to hotel – all carry-ons needed to be taken to concert including TWO coats because of course I brought a “concert coat” since I can rarely wear coats in LA even in winter] has borne fruit of hope, hope-fulfilled and blessing (concert, with-ness)…and I pray THAT will be multiplied more and more all year through…” Not a bad way to start my year of jubilee – a blessing, companionship, and music! Concert made about two songs in to opener with the unfortunate experience of walking past the entire center section with my carry-on bags and two coats while the sitting audience listened but couldn’t help but see me (confirmed by not one but two women commenting in the hotel elevator after the concert about my fashionable coat that they admired while I walked past them). In my 20s, the possibility of embarrassment would have caused me to miss the opener in order to ditch my luggage at the hotel but I LOVED the opener, AHI, who I would have completely missed to avoid embarrassment. As it was, I sought assurance from the people that matter most to me that even if I was seen as the “bag lady” from the concert I’d be okay. That saying about “sticks and stones will break my bones…” ignores the reality that we all want to belong and words deeply cut us which is why we need to have “our people.”

Lauren Daigle
My concert coat aka non-practical one
This picture doesn’t quite capture the height nor depth of this pile of second coat, and two carry ons

Celine Dion was another destination concert scheduled in May. I’m no dummy so this time I drove instead of flew – taking advantage of car time to talk about visions and dreams with Dennis as well as answer some love map questions from Gottman’s book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.” I also took advantage of being the birthday girl by requesting we stop off the freeway to take in the art installation, “Seven Magic Mountains” by Ugo Rondinone, a request which had been shot down by my family on previous visits.

Celine
Seven Magic Mountains
So I may have also snuck in a “non-birthday concert” in April — Pink!

Looking ahead to the next six months, I’m really hopeful that I’ll be done with all the edits for my memoir, which I’ve been giving birth to for the last eight years. It’s been a laborious process – one I hope to end and move into infancy where I can attempt to get it published. As well, my daughter, Eden, and I are starting a new mental health platform for adolescents and young adults. We’ve called it scars.together – and will be addressing the issues like anxiety, loneliness, depression, and suicide that can be overwhelming when an individual doesn’t know how to navigate it. Our vision is to be with others on social media platforms to come along side and help others deal with anxiety, anger, loneliness, self-doubt, etc. when they feel overwhelming and disorienting. Adolescents have big feelings by way of the neurological development happening in their brain, mainly their “thinking brain” isn’t fully developed until 24 or 25. The digital culture, without guidance, has the ability to wire pathways in their brain that lead to isolation rather than connection – which we know is a main “staying power” for launching into adulthood. Essentially, I’ve already “won” so there is no risk involved as we plow ahead because to develop content, I’m spending meaningful time with Eden who only has two years left at home before I kick her out.

The intention behind this year was to slow down in my busyness so in February I began taking a day off from my private practice to write and work on retreat projects. This has been rejuvenating for me. I also practice a Sabbath once a week where we change it up with church, hikes, meals with others, games, or anything else that feels rejuvenating. I take more breaks in the day by walking around my building or walking to lunch. I engage in meditation and a writing practice which slows me down from being on the production hamster wheel. I’m hoping the next six months will be more of the same.

Relaxing at Sunset in our community pool

What I’ve come to realize with age is I had no idea how much I lacked the ability to hold onto complexities in the human condition and with situations in general. For example, cancer isn’t reserved for unhealthy or stressed out people, in fact how many people do you know who lived a long life but would never be described as healthy. To think that it’s your healthy lifestyle that frees you from this potentially devastating illness is a myth and really gives you a subtle “superior” posture when trying to comfort or be with those fighting against it. To truly be a comfort to those with chronic illness or illness not yet in remission requires an individual to recognize their own physical frailty and to interact out of that place.

Laguna Beach in June

Bad things do indeed happen to good people and seeking the lesson to be learned from the experience robs you of allowing your healing to direct what is gained. Whether it be greater capacity to empathize with others, greater capacity to capture the present moment, an ability to receive comfort from others – these examples are not lessons – they are new ways of being. And allowing a bad thing to change your character or capacity to feel or relate is much much harder than learning a lesson.

An O’Keeffe – her shading makes me weep

I’m grateful to be alive and have friends and family who have woven a net of safety beneath me so that I fear not what the future might bring. I know that I will never endure a trial or tribulation alone, no matter how big or small. I feel as rich as a queen – well, maybe this is because I recently spent an evening with wonderful people who are renting a home on Balboa Island. See pics…

No words needed
Is my envy apparent, yet?
Such a gorgeous home and location!
Lessons learned from my son’s cat – Snuggly: If you find yourself not fitting into the box you want to be in, make the most of it.

The Good Life

And yes…I flipped.
Partner on Left: Shannon W.
Rockin’ It
And getting in conversation before he becomes a teen – 18 months from now

Thank you for journeying with me. May wherever you find yourself be full of life and connection – majoring in the majors and keeping those things that are minor, minor.

Peace be with you.

A Year Ago Today

A year ago today, I was sitting around Danielle Montiel’s bed witnessing her breathe her last breath. Friends sitting, standing around the room. Alicia wiping her mouth. Her dad sitting near her head in his chair, walker on the side. Mynor holding her left hand, sitting on her left hip. Matteo, their nine year old son, in Mynor’s lap. Juliette, their daughter, sitting nearby, possibly on the closest chair. Sophia, their oldest at twelve, sitting at his feet, next to mine. I held on to her left foot. Holding it as I had done so many times that year, 2017, only then it was much much warmer than that Saturday morning. It had had life, vibrancy.

12:38 I think Mynor said it was. The time of death. The time her body passed from this world. Today, 12:38. I looked at my iPhone at exactly that time. I remember because we were looking to see how much time before we needed to get to the nearby theater, the Pantages – 22 minutes. Wicked was showing. She would’ve loved it and taken her whole family this time around. This year, Sophia has joined us for a couple events. Us, honoring her dad as a single parent who loves good things for his children and is outnumbered by two. Us, enjoying Sophia and knowing her mom and grandmother have instilled so much love of music – we love having her with us – honoring Danielle.

The most poignant moments of missing her this year feel so small compared to the huge gapping hole left in her family. Heck, holes left in the community. When you have over 800 people at your funeral there are a lot of holes in the whole. But for me, and my relationship with Danielle, I missed our weekly sessions of moving energy through her body and listening together. Few words were spoken in those times but just being together gave me a quiet I hadn’t realized I’d gained until we were absent from one another. I missed her at Easter in the park with her parents and Mynor’s extended family, including the Porters who were our ticket to an invite to this festive affair. Danielle would’ve showed up with her huge, joyous smile (she loved people getting together) and would’ve brought some amazing wine, cheese, and crackers, along with some other dish thrown together with whatever was in her frig. She likely would’ve also had some fun game that she just pulled out of the back of her car (waiting for the perfect moment to use it). She and I would’ve caught up as we didn’t always see one another regularly so we liked these family get togethers to do so.

I missed her when I heard about Sophia’s 13 year old mother/daughter trip with a group that has been meeting for years. Aunt Alicia stepped in but grief was there when it was a right of passage meant for celebration and joy.

I missed her on our community camping trip. She would’ve scouted out the nearest hikes and we would’ve gone. I could always count on her to help me plan these trips. She was my unspoken partner. My rock steady nature friend who interviewed the rangers and got the kids involved in the young ranger programs where ever we camped. I’d picked this year’s camping spot in August 2017 (one must book a year in advance) with her in mind – a perfect fishing site – hoping she would again be the master fisherwoman as she was at Rancheria Campground in 2016. I missed her at random dinners or playdates with her family. I missed her ease, her love, her gratitude for good things, and her friendship – not just mine but how she loved people I loved too. We were all so much greater with her around.

I’m left feeling so much more than sadness. Still disappointment with the limitations of medicine and God with His lack of intervention. I wanted her to be the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ robe and was healed. Instead, she was one of the crowd left behind as Jesus left to go with the disciples on the water – away from the land, the masses. Away from the unhealed. I’m still angry at His leaving us with premature death. Songs that Jesus has overcome the grave sit hollow inside. I’m human after all. Short-sighted in my desires for immediate relationship, I could care little for heaven when I see her family’s sorrow. How I ache for relief over the loss of one’s mother. Yet, little by little, they, we, us, are finding our way. Filling gaps. Being better people because she made us better.

We Miss You, Danielle.

Ode to My Tractor – A Reflection

I began writing this blog post long before the fires in California erupted and took lives, some of them families, property, and animals -so much devastation in both parts of the state.  I’m struggling with, “what’s the point,” but what I remember in my own life about devastating losses is that sometimes it was helpful to jump into someone else’s world in order to remind me that devastation wasn’t all there was in the world.  So I post this with what I hope is a humble posture regarding saying good-bye and reminiscing about a fire loss but recognizing the loss here it is nothing compared to the devastation that continues to rock the state and my past experience of my hometown area having tremendous fire losses that took property and lives too young to be taken from us.

What sixteen year old would ever admit, “My tractor grew me.” Yet, looking back, it may have.  It gave me chunks of quiet several hours long during my summer breaks when all other parts of my life were loud and chaotic.  I visited my tractor, two years ago this November.  It was a different type of quiet this time around.  Me.  Alone.  The rest of my family a half mile away at my childhood home.  I’d come back to pay homage – to the place I spent five years of my life – five to ten years old, within binocular viewing distance of my childhood home.  Those years grew me in significant ways and it wasn’t easy but there was something special about being among the early homestead houses, chicken coops, sheds and cellars that were lost once we moved to our new house.  There were hours of adventuring – exploring the half packed homestead, discarded goods in the sheds, and packaged treasures like Indian pennies, furs, and my first encounter with “naughty” – a marble statue of David, the Michelangelo replica.  Here, in this place, my first childhood adventure grounds my tractor was laid to rest.  So I came.  To acknowledge our sacred time together.  To reflect on my Western upbringing that hasn’t escaped my bones even in my Los Angeles area home, which hosts deer horns, coyote skins, and hides.  I’ll leave it at that.  What I eventually left with on this cold, scarf needed evening, was finding a piece of me that I hadn’t known I’d left – my nature stance – quiet, centered and observant.

I was about 12 when the Ford and I met.  For even though I’d seen my dad and grandpa driving around the golf course cutting the fairways hundreds of times, it was ordinary in the eyes of a young person.  Yet, when it became mine to use, we bonded like a teenager with their favorite pair of sneakers – unremarkable, yet so personal.  The tractor became a ticket to freedom, to money, to something all my own since I was the oldest and no other sibling got to drive before me.  On that first day, I showed up, Sears catalog in hand – extra height to see over the steering wheel.  My grandpa had the green velvet pillow to go on top – a pseudo-pad.  I swear that day I grew my spine closer to the clouds just so I could do the job – cut the grass on the 4th and 9th fairways.  

As I looked around, taking in the setting sun, and encountering the pieces of my tractor long put to pasture and trying to find that first vehicle love again – my eyes filled with tears of a yesterday that was long gone.  There would be no driving around the course, smelling cut grass.  Heck – the tractor no longer looked like mine with the added cage surrounding it now.  So much has changed since those days of driving around in circles, when some of the largest problems were steering clear of flying golf balls, testing my visual-spatial skills by experimenting with the exactness of “hitting the line” or driving around the small trees without turning mower into chainsaw.  Life hasn’t turned out to be an experiment.  Some decisions and situations haven’t allowed for freedoms, instead they have required nose to the grind and blinders of some sort.  When I was here, two years ago, I’d just found out my friend, Danielle, had a lump in her breast and was starting treatment.  We didn’t know she would only have one more fall in her bones.

What I didn’t realize during the hours of circling without music or headphones since they didn’t work with the ear muffs – was that this simple practice would stick with me only through the form of meditation and contemplation.  A decade plus I mowed – around and around every summer.  And it’s interesting because though sometimes boredom entered into my circles, it wasn’t the primary experience.  My mind found what it needed to find in order to observe and be engaged.  I’d set about doing certain tasks – timing my passes correctly as to impede the least amount of golfers.  This sometimes meant slowing down slightly even though I’d be a half circle away.  Or I’d watch the magpies and robins along with the occasional deer.  I imagined my life ahead of me.  What I’d do – possibly be a teacher.  Who I’d become – a wife, a mother, a professional, qualities and character traits unknown.  What I never imagined was living in Los Angeles for almost 30 years.  Going through a relational desert with my husband for 10 years before finding abundant life again.  Burying friends from cancer.  Burying friend’s children, my own.  In my adolescent mind, I didn’t imagine my life without my grandmother but I’d made room for my missing grandfather, since he’d died suddenly from a heart attack in 1989 – I’d been 19.  I hadn’t imagined that either.  I prayed on my knees every morning that fall after he died – simply to acknowledge his memory and my huge loss of his human body not sitting on a bleacher in the gymnasium while I played basketball.  It may have given me permission to leave the Puget Sound area and make my way to Southern California where I wouldn’t be trapped in overcast for 90 days straight (the clouds set a record my sophomore year – most consecutive days covering the sun).

What I didn’t know while growing up, seated on my tractor was how much I’d miss the quiet, mundane and simply way of life.  There is nothing simple about Los Angeles except the sunrises, sunsets, and the waves at the nearby beach – but not my hometown beach because it doesn’t have waves due the breaking wall built during WWII.  Around and around I drove that tractor. The sun, the wind, and grass.  Lots and lots of grass.  My path lay before me.  Simple.  A clear beginning and end. No distractions from billboards, traffic and neighbors close enough to smell their nightly dinner and hear their occasional fights.

As I enjoyed the sunset here now in Washington, I took in more of my surroundings, hoping for lighting goodness through my camera. The cellar – where I found teapots and cups from China, my great grandmothers ring, and Indian head pennies.  The stone area had been off limits because it was a storage place for dynamite.

Tanks.  The days of my parent’s guppy breeding experiment.  Also, temporary housing for a pet mouse or a frog.  We never kept them long.  That’d be cruel. Taking care of my pony and horse meant building fences – with my dad.  Official title – moral support and beverage carrier.A season of homemade root beer.  The house only smelled better on the once a month homemade glazed doughnut days.

Evidence of another lifetime – outhouse and “concealer” for friend hide and seek.  After all, what kid feels comfortable hiding in an outhouse except the kids who’ve spent hours playing games with their siblings in them.

I learned how to spot deer here.

All that’s left of my barn…

Standing on the place where the barn once were, I swear I could smell the ash even though it was at least fifteen years gone.  So many fond memories – hours of “Pageant of the Masters” – creeping up to the ground hog hold trying to catch them with a box or bucket; petting my horse, reading in the loft, catching mice, swinging on the questionably safe rope, and getting away from younger siblings to do nothing.  It too communicated – much has changed.  For forever.

As I returned on foot before the sky turned black to my childhood home, I realized that though much has changed, I’m still in there.  Somewhere that girl who drove a tractor, rode horses, spotted deer, and sat – in quiet, she’s still there.  And though I live in the huge urban sprawl, I can make my own quiet, my own mundane.  It’s harder.  The pace of this city I live in is fast.  Yet, I don’t have to be fast.  I can let people merge in front of me when I drive.  I can learn the names of the farmers and their sellers at the market.  I can meditate on my balcony, which does look at neighbors’ homes and a condominium but also has some vegetation.  I can make a way to sit, observe and be.  But let’s be real.  It will never be as cool as driving a 1956 Ford tractor the color of fall sunsets.  And the piece of me that was lost there, here, can be carried with me in memories that remind me to keep on the lookout for my next pseudo-tractor, the next flying golf ball that needs to be avoided – even if it requires leaving the city often or sitting on the balcony with pine scented candles.

I’m finding that girl again.  Slowly but faithfully, she’s bringing me back to the goodness of driving in circles.  Often.

Seizing the Moment – Lessons from Nature and Cancer

Last year in California, we had a superbloom spring – where the flowers open in abundance when rain hits in winter or fall after a considerable drought.  For us in Southern California, we’d had five years of drought before we welcomed last year’s superbloom that brought millions of visitors to witness the hillsides and deserts in all their glory. With this year being a superbloom fail; instead, year one of drought, I’m grateful I trekked to the hills to witness the blooms.  It’s easy to disregard the urgency of such moments.  When I’m juggling all my aspects of doing life (self-employment, mothering two active kids, volunteer work, church, friendships, family, etc) it can be easy to tell myself, “I’ll catch it next year.” Or, “It’s not that big of a deal, it can wait.”  With my words I ignore a reality that is undoubtedly true – “seize the moment because it will pass.”   And with things of nature, this is doubly true.  The moment won’t come around in exactly the same way -ever.  And just like going to the gym and working out, I don’t think there has ever been a time where I’ve regretted missing sleep to catch an eclipse or sunrise or time at home over traveling all day to witness canyons and rock formations.  Adding to my sense of urgency is the reality that loss of life happens.  In the past five years, I have lost three good friends to cancer.  These were friends who spoke into my life, knew me over a decade – some two, and were significant encouragers in my personal and professional growth.  What they taught me, no matter how long they lived with cancer, is that there isn’t a guarantee for tomorrow and even if it seems tomorrow will come, there isn’t a guarantee for how much or how little pain there will be.  So if you can do it, and have the opportunity, better do it now before the window has passed.

I think this sense of urgency is one of the gifts these women left me with.  I’m trying to live now with a, “Don’t wait.  Do it now while you can.” These pictures from last year’s superbloom remind me that I didn’t wait.  We got up before the sun, drove the 1.5 hours and beat the weekend crowds in order to witness and enjoy these poppies at the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve.  I find mentally marking these type of remembrances, when I did something well and didn’t let the moment pass, encourages me to look for the present moments when I want to skip over something that needs to be savored, or taken in, or leaned into so the “it’s too much effort” belief doesn’t win out.  This year, I’ve created space to “take in” – a canyoneering trip, a trip to Italy, a 30 year class reunion, a writing retreat in New Mexico – twice, and our yearly camping trip with 40 other friends.  And yet, I want to make sure I’m not forgetting that each mundane, every day moment calls out to be “taken in” because if I wait until these “big events” – well, I’m missing a lot of life.  And as I’ve walked through the valley of the shadow of death during these past five years, I know that each day is truly a gift and I hope I can do it justice by living well.  In the name of Beth, Amy and Danielle, I want to honor the gift they weren’t given – more time.

May you also seize the day, capturing the moments of your life by paying attention and finding what there is to enjoy.  As well, may you be encouraged to shift as I’m trying to do, to live more “urgently” with time because we never know what the future holds.

 

 

Good Friday

Good Friday.  It’s a day I’d rather ignore.  Too uncomfortable and sobering, especially the Good Friday service where year after year I’m unable to leave with dry eyes.  However what feels different about this year is I’ve been sitting in a bit of a Good Friday since January 6th when my friend, Danielle, passed away leaving her three children and husband (and all of us who loved her) to move through life without her.  I’m reminded in this moment that even though I knew her body would feel better, she wouldn’t be suffering, and she would be going to be with her Heavenly Father, in those last moments, I didn’t want her to leave.  I didn’t want her breath to slow until it was no longer.  I didn’t want to lose this three dimensional self – that could be hugged, touched, kissed.  And yet, just like Jesus, she breathed her last breath surrounded by people who loved and knew her.

In past years, I’ve been wrapped up in the excruciating pain and humiliation of Jesus’ Good Friday experience.  I’ve related to his cry, “Take this cup from me, Lord,” especially sitting with so many who’ve suffered tremendously.  But this year, I find myself at the bottom of the cross – feeling abandoned and disappointed.

My thoughts go something like, “This is all you got?  Hanging from a tree, crucified? Where is your promise?  Where is your victory?  You were supposed to raise our status – take us out of oppressive Roman rules and culture.  Instead, you’re dead on a cross.  Hanging.  Lifeless.  What use were you?  Why did you even come – raising our hopes, drawing us into your compassion, your healing power, your promise that God was your Father?  We were fine without you, 32 years ago.  We were managing.  Now, deflated.  Full of despair and hurt.  You’ve abandoned me, all of us really.  Was I crazy to believe in you?  Was I crazy to believe your promises that God’s Kingdom was being made new?  That God was a kind and loving master? That you would free us from Roman oppression.   We are at their mercy, not yours.”

If I were there now, beneath Jesus, I may walk away in disgust.  I’m not sure I would have lasted to see his body wrapped and put into a tomb.  I might have missed Jesus’ own feelings of abandonment, “Eli Eli lama sabachthani?” which is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  I know this to be true, my sorrow would have been laced with disappointment.

With Danielle’s journey of cancer, we hoped for time, for even just one successful treatment but we were given none of it – only one brief respite with markers falling before they stormed back a month later worse than before.  During her fight against cancer with failed treatment after failed treatment, I found comfort studying the life of John the Baptist, who spent his whole life serving God only to be beheaded because a girl requested it.  Then there was Herod’s violence against the sons born within the window he’d suspected Jesus was born – thousands died because Herod was afraid for his status as King.  I’m left with questions: What kind of God brings this type of violence to innocent people and individuals who love Him and spend their whole lives serving Him?  My conclusion for today is that He is a God who isn’t as simpleminded as I am. In other words, I can’t even come close to having a mind like God.  I cannot reconcile His ways.

In truth, I don’t want to rush to Easter.  I don’t care Jesus rose from the dead in the moments of my Good Friday experiences, just like those who live in Good Friday due to the suffering of this world, helpless to know the day when they will emerge to Easter.  And for some, it will never come here on Earth.  Good Friday happens over and over as grief washes over parents who’ve lost children, husbands their wives and wives their husbands, and most disheartening, young children their mothers or fathers.  I think of the refugees who have no place to rest their head, the foster children who endure feeling unwanted in a system bound to fail them, the sexual minority persecuted by the church commanded to love their neighbor as themselves, the environment groaning from overuse, pollution, and neglect and the list of atrocities encountered in human and environmental life goes on and on.  In Good Friday moments we all feel the despair, the abandonment, the lack of response to our cries for relief.  In these moments, I don’t care that I will see my friends, family members – my son, in heaven.  I’m still living here – with my feelings of abandonment, betrayal, even disbelief over what “God has allowed?”

Where does my hope come from, here at the base of the cross?  I’ve learned it does come from Yahweh.  He showed His presence to all those people scoffing, grieving, and feeling abandoned or disappointed at the foot of the cross in earth’s momentary darkness, the ripping of the temple veil, the ground shaking and the rocks splitting open.  I believe in a God who holds complexity in mind-blowing ways.  I believe in a God who can from one perspective, abandon, yet show up.  Who can give, yet take away.  Who can heal, yet allow death and physical pain.  Who can convert, yet allow executions.  Who can adopt, yet allow neglect and abuse.

I believe I serve a God who doesn’t ask me to put away my Good Friday feelings – to pretend Easter has arrived prematurely.  Yet, I believe that God asks me to remember His promises, including He will never leave me nor forsake me, that He’s making all things new, that Palm Sunday happened as He foretold it, and that Easter, though unsatisfying to my earthly self who, had I known Jesus, would miss him tremendously and wouldn’t care about the Holy Spirit coming because I’d want Him – his person, gives me hope in the unseen.  And it is in this space – holding onto Hope, while feeling abandoned and disappointed that I sit at the foot of the cross acknowledging something much, much greater than myself.

To God be the Glory.

When I Grow Up, I Want to be Danielle Montiel: A Year of Being.  Together.

 

By way of introduction, Danielle is a good friend.  We’ve known each other for a long time, we did Thanksgiving one year at her parent’s house, primarily because she married one of my best friend’s brothers who had invited us along.  Fast forward about five years and we spent two years in a couple’s group with several others, we camped and travelled once or twice a year with our families this last decade, we had a deep appreciation for one another and I felt “goodness” in my soul when I saw her but we weren’t necessarily in weekly or even biweekly contact until this past year.

A few things you should know:

She’s amazing – seriously.  Before cancer, she could do handstands and back flips- leftovers from being a gymnast (yes, in her 40s).  She was a gourmet chef effortlessly, whipping up whatever was in the kitchen and having it taste divine.  She was profound, observant, kind, generous, intelligent and had a combination of laid back and disciplined that few people could pull off.  She was so gracious in how she approached situations and people.  She single-handedly got a new charter school, the joint vision of her brother-in-law, Steve Porter and good friend, Jason Baehr, up and running.  She was a doer and yet she appeared to flow so easily between the doing and being, recognizing that while one does, one needs to be.

This past year, she transformed me spiritually without having a clue she was doing so (I didn’t have a clue in the middle of it).  I’d committed to a year of practicing the spiritual discipline of being and she and I together were engaged in a touch therapy I’d been briefly trained in (a modality I practice with friends, not professionally.).  She showed me the beauty of dependence, of asking for one’s needs, of moving slow together and not rushing to “get somewhere.”  See what was so clear to Danielle, but what I didn’t get (at least initially) was that our time was about being. I wanted results – a better sleep, loosened muscles, coordination improvement after her brain surgery.  But for Danielle we never tried to get somewhere, she let me know she enjoyed the company, the nurturing.

What I gut-achingly miss the most is feeling her body.  I learned her arms, her legs, her back.  Over the months, we grieved, through our acknowledgement of changes, ineffective chemotherapy, which resulted in the cancer stealing her strength because breathing was compromised not to mention the chemotherapy and radiation side effects.  Much later, we grieved the arrival of the breathing machine and what it meant at the same time we rejoiced she could breathe better.  We grieved that the spiritual images given to us during our time together never promised healing.  The last image she spoke about (our last months had very little speaking in them) was a dollhouse with open rooms that she could come and go in without being trapped in one place (possibly a foreshadowing of her visiting us from “behind the veil).”

I confess, I wanted to be miraculous.  I wanted her to heal so we didn’t have to live with worry.  I wasn’t so naive that I declared it to be true – that God was going to heal her through our time together.  While my posture might leave doubters declaring, “No wonder she didn’t heal oh ye of little faith,” I don’t think either one of us felt that way.  We were united in the very core of why we were together – to seek God’s will and to trust that He was with us as we were with each other.

I doubt I’ve done something more important in my life than sit with Danielle – listening. She showed me a part of myself that has rarely shown itself – being while helpless, dependent, powerlessness, with absolutely no power or control to change the outcome, only to impact the process. I needed her to show me our time wasn’t worthless even though I couldn’t heal her.  Even when I couldn’t help her sleep through the night, she gave herself over to the process and showed me what it was like to enjoy one another while being dependent and vulnerable.  I see now, our time together was an intimate pause in our lives.  It grew me.  Facing into death with her – feeling the muscle decrease in her arms, hearing the struggled breath, and shifting movements – going from lying flat, to being propped up by pillows, to sitting in a recliner, to siting straight up in a chair – all of these things we faced together – acknowledging with words and without what this meant for God answering our prayers.  Oh we hoped – we asked for healing for the chance to once again lie on the massage table but we didn’t proclaim false hopes or optimism like, “I can’t wait until you are strong enough to walk Juneau again” or “I can’t wait for this year’s camping trip when you will have enough breath to go on some longer hikes.”  In this, we were steadfast, “God’s will be done and we invite His Presence to be with us.”  The last several months we were together, she slept while I worked though she asked to be woken up each time so she could spend more time with her family after I was done.

I learned from Danielle that my beginner’s training was sufficient for us.  Danielle taught me that I didn’t need any special tricks or powers to pull out of a bag – what I was doing was good enough.  I didn’t believe her at first.  Wasn’t there something I could do to miraculously bring more comfort to her body?  Shouldn’t I know more?  When her body had declined to a place we couldn’t use the massage table I had a perfectionist panic – What if I don’t know what I’m doing and hurt her?  So I said to her, “okay – if things get too hot (my hands combined with the energy in her body creates heat), you let me know and I’ll stop.”  She very gently looked me in the eyes and said, “You’ve never hurt me before.  I doubt it will happen now.”  I met her gaze, nodded and answered with a bit of guilt in my eye for having been trapped once again by my perfectionism and said, “True.  Let’s get you more relaxed.”  See here with Danielle I was finally bearing witness and embodying what I’ve known for decades — being is about the good enough – otherwise what takes the place of being is often an anxiety that is focused on performance and outcome.  Perfectionism or focusing on “doing it perfect” can’t digest the present moment; instead it’s there to eat up the present moment for something obtained in the future.

Danielle also spoke into me about an identity I hadn’t claimed in myself.  So casually she shared with me a story about a Christian healer she’d gone to hear speak and was greeted by a member of our congregation via a handshake.  Danielle said to her, “You have warm hands like Kimber, you must be a healer.”  The gal had laughed and said, “I’m a massage therapist.”  I haven’t experienced my hands the same since.  See I do talk therapy professionally, I only do touch therapy as a hobby, yet here she was calling something into being for me.  “I’m a healer.”  I wear this declaration now as true.

My deepest regret is I didn’t share this with her because I didn’t know it until she’d died.  See I feel as if I’ve lost a patient who was a dear friend.  But it’s my hands that miss her the most.  They long to be with her, to touch her feet and create energy shifts up her body, to feel warmth, not the inability to create warmth as I experienced as she passed from this world when my hand was on her leg and I felt only coldness.  It was then that I knew what I’d miss the very most – being.  Together.

My year of being has made its way into my bones.  I have a category, a new way of existing.  I’m grateful.

Danielle, if your reading this now — I miss our times together.  You’ve marked me, changed me for good.  I love you, friend and please visit me – with Amy.  And my son.

Eleven Years Ago…

Yesterday would have been Baby Long Beach’s 11th birthday.  (His name has a story…for another time.)  It’s hard to know quite how to acknowledge his day.  We did so quietly before going out to celebrate a new girlfriend with a dear friend with some of our best friends – friends who were there at the hospital when Baby Long Beach died.  Our living children walked around the block after shaved ice while the adults engaged in storytelling and “get to know you” dialogue.  I think he smiled upon us from heaven.  He too would have enjoyed walking around the block and I imagine at 11, he would have even ran.

Here is a reflective piece — 10 years ago.

Dear Baby Long Beach,

You would’ve been one today.  I wish I was writing about all of your “firsts” in your own journal – first word, first sitting up, first army crawl, real crawl, maybe steps, but Eden didn’t walk until around 13 months so who knows. Instead, I’m writing in tears, unable to see the paper, trying to recall what you felt like in my womb, not really caring if my pen positions the words on a line, I imagine if you’ve really landed in the place where age has no relevance and forever is well, forever, then it simply doesn’t matter how I write, only that I must write.   I write hoping you might somehow read these words, hear my heart, and know you aren’t forgotten.  The family continues to be (a wreck) in recovery.  We are pregnant.  I’ve announced to my work this fact.  They were with me during the tragedy, now at the tail end of my employment, they celebrate.

We made chocolate cake. Lit a candle.  Eden blew it out and declared you loved chocolate cake with Jesus.  She is still sad you’re not here to play with her.  She still imagines you emerging from birth as a playmate.  You weren’t a part of a celebration where you could smile, maybe tear up, overcome with loudness caused by the enthusiasm of the crowd singing Happy Birthday.  If I could have more courage, I would have invited friends over to celebrate your birthday with us.  As it was, we kept it small.  I didn’t want to dissolve in a puddle of grief.  I didn’t want my longings to get bigger.  See, I can picture you now, sitting in your high chair, pointed hat on your head which you keep trying to pull off.  But I keep trying to distract you with your periwinkle blue balloons, matching your light grey-blue eyes, that I imagine you with – not as deep as Eden’s, maybe more like your uncle Brian’s.  You would have your big sis right next to you saying, “Aren’t you excited? Look at that balloon! And the cake!”  She’d be our helper, trying to keep that hat on until you blew out the candles and we’ve captured the moment on camera.  I don’t want to imagine the chocolate all over your mouth, all down your shirt, on your pants and hands right alongside the goofy grin from having your first taste of sugar.  I don’t want to imagine your feeling like mine – mine in the way of a child knowing his mama is a safe base – the feeder.  I want you to feel like I can calm you when others can’t, like when you are startled and you look around for me before I gently remind you that you’re okay in the arms of another.  I want to feel the exhaustion, mainly in my back, from you holding my fingers in your hands while you tootle around.  I want to hear your knees hammer the floor with the splat of your palms hitting the wood floor – crawling.  Maybe we’d go to the park, maybe not.  But I know we wouldn’t be sitting here around this table with only one enthusiastic being – and she’s happy only for the cake – she’s feeling the sadness that rests right below the surface. She’s named it, “I wish Baby Long Beach was here.  I want him to see his cake that I made”.  I know there would be presents.  There would be joy. At least my mind thinks so.  I think there would be something else lurking.  The death of another kind.  The death of a marriage. I believe we would’ve been on the same boat headed down the same ol’ river that carries us and our bad habits along with the current.  I think I would be exhausted.  I think I would be mentally leaving – writing off Dennis again and again.  I don’t think I would be discovering how I can create change, how I can get off the boat and not get swept away.  I’m doing that now.  I’m trying to get off the boat- joining hiking groups, asking Dennis to help with Eden’s care while I finish my post-doctoral hours – all ridding myself of resentment and loneliness.  I wouldn’t be in a pregnant state again as I am now.  Yes!  You have a younger brother.  He’s due late January- the 24th.  I’m committed to this- making your life matter, making your death mean something.  Isn’t that what our children do for us- make us better?  Make us less selfish? Make us realize that life isn’t solely about our needs- but others as well?  I want that.  I want to be better, to have my character shaped by you like I have Eden.  Eden has made my tongue less sharp, more gentle.  I’ve become more nurturing, more attuned to other’s needs.  Son, I’m still in process.  I’m still learning what your death will mean, but I’m getting there.  I’m not afraid to feel.  I’m still allowing your life to mean something. Happy Birthday, Baby Long Beach.  We love you. We remember you.  Please visit when you can.  Eden swears she saw you as a butterfly- the one that landed on her hat and stayed with her as we walked to the park.