Chaos, forgiveness and a new year.

15965463_10210997109299645_6020199336901915323_nOur home is chaos. Happy chaos. Most of the time.

Three little girls seven and under battle for the bathroom sink and mirror. Our four-month old infant nurses at night for forty minute clips. Our self-owned business is all-consuming at times.

Our youngest dog is blind in one eye from gunshot wounds he suffered before he came to us. Our oldest dog is fifteen and our middle dog recently braved major surgery and bone cancer and copes with three legs. Of course, there are those arguments and complications of every day life whose specifics you spare from media posts, blogs, and public consumption.

There are mornings where I oversleep. There are moments at breakfast where I scold my children to eat the charred toast I just burnt. There are nights I forget to pack lunches for tomorrow.

13669619_10209272042374050_281653640009791331_nOn the days where I feel like I’m running a nursing home for dogs and the nights where I am wiping ink off the closet door, I remind myself that this is holy chaos. I blinked and my dogs are in the sunset of their lives. In what feels like a single heartbeat, I will be turning around and handing my car keys off to my kids.

I recall a post-surgery medical prognosis fifteen years ago where the odds of ever having babies were bleak at best. I remember to myself that I prayed for this mess and I hold onto that memory of a prayer in the swirling chaos. These paper doll scraps that fill our floors, these cursed Shopkins creatures that I blindly step on, and these plastic, sticky remnants of doggy tea parties are sacred. They are a sacred mess. They are holy scatterings of blessings granted.

In the midst of everything, messy and holy, our second grader has a reading log to complete every single week.

In theory, the concept of the reading log is to read for at least twenty minutes a day. Every day. There are weeks that begin with me carefully selecting what books would be interesting to read. And there are nights where I wonder if I turned directly from page 2 to 10 if my daughter would notice. There are moments where I want to pull the book from her and read it out loud because its late and I am tired and she is reading aloud so very methodically slow.

In theory, we select books to read together. In practicality, she often grabs a book and reads. When I was preoccupied last week, she found a self-help book and began to read.

She was about twenty-two pages into this grown-up book before I realized what my child was reading.

“What are you reading? “, I questioned with the guilt of inattentiveness.

My daughter explained, “Mom I found this great book.”

“Maybe it’s too old for you?” I quipped.

“Mom it is about forgiveness. We all need that.” She explained, “Mom, we forgive for ourselves not just the other person. If not, it will weigh you down. You must forgive things that aren’t perfect. Things will never be perfect mom.” And with that my second grader walked off.

I had read that same book a few months ago and I did not receive that message so clearly.

Things will never be perfect. Perfection is not the goal. It is the sin. It is the thief that sneaks in and steals the present away. It steals the imperfect authenticity of the present moment away while we busy ourselves with trying to make it neat and shiny and look the way others tell you it should be.

15697645_10211764868463696_9045984699384931298_nI would not trade my rescue dogs for the pick of the litter. I would not trade my mess. I would only slow time.

My intention for this year is to make no resolutions. No resolutions here – just affirmations.

I will simply do my best to be present. I will be present in the mess and in those rare moments that work out better than expected. I will certainly fail at times. Many times. I will then try again and again.

Forgiveness is hard. Forgiving ourselves can be even more difficult.It is impossible to be present for others when we fail to forgive ourselves for being human.

There is a realm of possibility that lies just beyond our judgements of others and ourselves. I will forgive starting with myself. I will show up for myself, for my loved ones, and for those who are difficult to love.

Life is hard. It is messy and it is beautiful. It is all of the above. There is no trite answer just a million smaller ones. I strongly believe the best things in life lie outside of our comfort zones and right beyond the lines we draw around our expectations. To begin living continuously outside the lines is not just acceptable. It is brave and it is the goal.It is the hallway to transformation.

What are your intentions in this new year?

 

Forgiveness: An Essential Practice For Your Soul’s Sake

photo 1-3After dropping off our two oldest daughters at camp, my husband and I packed up our cooler and our two-year-old daughter and walked past the dunes out to the beach. That is what people do on vacation. They make an effort to relax.

Eight-hundred miles from home on a vast, vacant shore, we scooped up shells, built lopsided sandcastles, returned living sand dollars back into the sea, and swam with our daughter.

We floated in the calm seas under the balmy sun taking in the wild air. We were in paradise.

We were in paradise yet I was somewhere else. To the untrained observer, I was a mom peacefully floating along the Atlantic Ocean at low tide. Inside of myself though, there was a looming tempest swirling about.

I wasn’t floating in the calm, warm sea. I was re-living a week ago in my mind.

My husband and I recently had the experience of being deceived by someone we trusted – a person we trusted with our household, our rescue dogs, and our children. The feeling was awful.

I was angry. I do anger well. The letting go of anger part – not so well.

I was angry at being lied to. I was angry at being played for a fool. I was angry at myself for not trusting my gut and not confronting the lies earlier out of convenience or comfort. My head was bursting with shoulda-coulda-woulda’s. I replayed conversations in my mind and second-guessed events in my head. I was torturing myself.

Once the deceit was revealed, I had tried to take the high road. I just didn’t expect the high road to feel so low. I just couldn’t seem to let go of the anger and the hurt.

I then realized this: It is not about my response or the expected emotional outcomes of high and low roads. It is about forgiveness.

The thing about forgiveness is that it is noble in theory yet difficult in practice. In conceptualizing forgiveness and truly grasping what forgiveness is, it is perhaps best to acknowledge what forgiveness is not.

Forgiveness is not a free-pass. It does not mean we return to the same circumstances. Forgiveness does not mean we will trustimage that person again. We can learn from a moment and not return to it. We can forgive but not forget and that is acceptable. Forgiveness must not always accompany forgetfulness. Forgiveness, however, most always tends to precede forgetfulness. The memory, nonetheless, does not dissipate. We just must not wear our hurt around our necks, on our sleeves, and on our skin. We must acknowledge it and then tuck it away.

Forgiveness is not an eraser. It doesn’t wipe away the hurt. The practice of forgiveness doesn’t minimize what has happened.

Forgiveness is not a do-over. It doesn’t change the facts or alter the past but it does change every moment forward. It alters our future.

Forgiveness even alters our present. Forgiveness forces us to be present in the moment. Forgiveness releases us from reliving the past. It removes us from the future and our forethought into getting even or setting the matter straight. It returns us to the present which is the greatest and the only gift we have.quotes-forgiveness-tony-robbins-600x411

Forgiveness is not a one-time action. It is an attitude, a continual practice. Forgiveness is a state-of-mind. When you truly contemplate it, most all of our journeys in this life are adventures in forgiveness.

Forgiveness isn’t exclusively offered for those who are sorry. We must forgive others even when they aren’t remorseful – especially when they are not remorseful. Forgiveness isn’t about the other person’s True-forgiveness-is-when-you-can-sayacknowledgement of guilt or wrongdoing but about our ability to accept apologies we will never get and to move forward. In the words of Oprah Winfrey, “True forgiveness is when you can say, “Thank you for that experience.”

Perhaps experience is at the root of forgiveness, especially self-forgiveness. Forgiving oneself may be the hardest type. Although guilt is one of the most purposeless emotions, it remains one of the most paralyzing. Yet in the midst of our own tempest of regret, we must look to the anchor of experience. Experience sheds meaning. Although we are powerless over the past, we are not powerless over our perspective.

Failures can be our greatest teachers. Our missteps can be some of the most important steps on our life journey. If we allow the anger of others to teach us forgiveness, the apathy of others to spark compassion, the cruelty of others to give way to kindness, the deception of others to ignite flames of truth, and the violence of others to birth peace, a greater transformation has occurred only on the other side of a struggle whose summit was marked by unbridled forgiveness.

imageForgiveness is not for the weak-minded. It is so easy for most anyone to uphold a grudge and to hold on to anger. Anger ulcerates the soul. Holding onto anger is corrosive. Holding onto the hurt is paralyzing.

Anger is a sneaky thief – robbing us of present joy and stealing our precious time.  Anger slams the door to hope. Anger constricts the senses cutting off our ability to perceive, to connect, and ultimately, to thrive.

Forgiveness is indeed an attribute of the brave. It is releasing yourself from the chains of hurt and allowing all that the universe has to offer you at the present in.

Forgiveness is abandonment of a past that could not be any different. It is the act of ceasing to re-read a chapter that will not read any differently no matter how hard we try. Forgiveness is about moving onto the next, new, unwritten chapter Unknownilluminated by hope, by potential, and by an unburdened perspective to allow the opportunities of the present into your soul.

In the calm seas of that August morning, I floated along with my arms outstretched and earnestly prayed to a forgiving God and an all-knowing universe to release the burden of failing to forgive and witness me in offering up my forgiveness fully.

In that moment of transformation, there was no parting of the sea, no tidal wave, no dark storm clouds, no lightening bolt from the sky, or burning bush in the dunes but I had magnanimously returned to the humble sea. No longer was I living in the past but I was right there in the water. I could taste the salt air. I could see the pelican overhead flying underneath a brilliant, open sky. I could feel the coarse sand of photo 3the ocean floor beneath my feet. I could hear the laughter of my husband and daughter’s chuckles flutter through the air. I could see paradise for what it was – not necessarily an external place but a state of peace within.

I had returned to the present where I hoped to stay. I knew though that it would require more than hope alone. It would require hope coupled with practice.
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Stolen Cars, Sinking Ships, and Anger

Life is too short to hold a grudge, also too long.  ~Robert Brault

sinkingThey say you should never go to bed angry. I am not exactly sure of who the “they” are but its apparently ancient wisdom from generations of Zen grandmothers or from other civilizations that predicted calamity and walked amongst alien visitors. I even saw this saying spelled out on an Etsy macramé wall hanging a few weeks back. I agree. You should always stay up and plot your revenge. At least that’s what my stubborn German-side tells me. Okay, not really. I wholeheartedly believe in letting go of your anger yet from time to time I am guilty of disobeying this. Monday night was one of those disobedient exceptions.

I aim for calm and collected but every so often I miss and land somewhere between sarcasm and the valley of the bitches. Fueled by lack of sleep and the demands of tending to our bus company and writing and raising children, I find that my husband and I can argue over the strangest things. A small quarrel about how to handle an issue at work metamorphosed into an argument about what the talking plastic lizard that sits atop our infant daughter’s bouncy seat was singing. I was certain it was repeatedly saying “red, yellow, and blue”. My husband, Joe, asserted with certainty that it was singing “red, yellow, I’m blue.” Maybe he thought the lizard was depressed. He said it was because parts of his Fisher Price plastic lizard-self are blue.

It was insane talk between adults at 11:05 at night. He retreated to bed. I stayed downstairs and started to wipe down the counters and put toys and other junk away.  I then thought just leave it. I can clean it in the morning. Who will see my kitchen before sunrise anyway? Little did I know I would have detectives and police at my kitchen countertop in the next few hours.

I went upstairs. I began to fall asleep. It was the earliest I had been to bed in months. Fast-forward twenty-five minutes. We awoke to a noise outside our window. One of our dogs was growling at the window. We own a transportation company and it’s not unusual for drivers to be picking cars up at our home. It is unusual though when all assigned cars have already been picked up to hear someone in your driveway. My husband started down the stairs. I had the most suddenly horrid feeling deep in my stomach. I called to him to wait. We heard the screech of tires as our Escalade furiously sped away. He turned to me and said what we both already knew. Our truck was stolen.

We contacted the police. They found our other Escalade ransacked in the driveway. We soon learned that they had taken financial items and car keys. We wondered if they’d return. After dusting for fingerprints and collecting evidence and even tracking the car into Newark, we got an answer to our question. They did return.

Ever since this has happened I have been processing it. There’s a lot to take away. I’m not the overly optimistic type but I do acknowledge that within this chaotic tempest, there were some silver linings. There was the silver lining of kindness and accountability. There were people doing their jobs and doing them well. The West Caldwell Police Department went above and beyond to protect our family and stationed police in our driveway. Mayor Cory Booker reached out to us personally and interceded in getting our vehicle returned to us.

Most importantly, there was that thought of going to bed at night. I keep thinking back to when I went to wipe down the counter and that strong, clear thought that no one would see the kitchen before 6 am. I made a similar assumption in holding onto my anger at my husband as I went to bed. I assumed he’d be there in the morning to be angry at.

The truth is that we never know what can happen in the night or from one hour to the next. At that very moment that I pleaded with my husband not to go outside into our driveway, I thought of our fight from less than an hour ago. My anger seemed trivial and meaningless, and it was.

seasSometimes seemingly bad things happen because there is peril in this world. Sometimes seemingly bad things happen and they put the good and important things in perspective. Cars and trucks are all replaceable but our spouses and are family are not. Anger and so many of our emotions and what we become fixated on is unimportant and so temporary. We know this and yet it’s so easy to lose this truth in our hurried lives.

So many of life’s answers remain within us but remain as disorganized as my kitchen at eleven o’clock at night and they become buried under the mundane and complexities of everyday life. Life has a curious way of re-organizing these truths and putting them back where you can find them.

Don’t go to bed angry. They say anger is one letter short of danger. There is truth in this. Anger is fear topped with madness. It remains corrosive to our souls. The small, miniscule things are the very things we need to take the time to repair keeping in mind that the smallest of leaks have sunk the greatest of ships.