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?

 

Knowing A Blessing From A Curse: And Why It Really Doesn’t Matter

farmer1An old Chinese parable tells the story of a farmer and his horse:

An old farmer was working in his field with his only horse. Somehow, the horse broke free and ran away from the farm. The farmer could not find the horse anywhere.

In hearing of what happened, neighbors from the village visited, offering their condolences and said, “What a shame.  Now your only horse is gone.  What bad luck. How will you live, work, and prosper?” The farmer replied: “Who knows? We shall see”.

Less than a week later, the farmer’s horse returned. He returned to the farm with a pack of eight other wild horses.  The farmer and his son corralled the horses.

The news traveled throughout the village. The neighbors came to visit the farmer. “You are fortunate!” they proclaimed. “What good luck.”  Again, the farmer softly said, “Who knows? We shall see.”

The next morning the farmer’s only son set awoke to train the new wild horses, but the farmer’s son was thrown to the ground and broke his leg. He quickly became sick with fever and pains. One by one villagers arrived to visit the sick son. “Oh, what a tragedy. What bad luck. You must be very sad”.  they said.  The farmer calmly answered, “Who knows? We shall see”

5226587_sAcross the country, a war began. The Emperor’s men arrived in the village demanding that young men come with them to be conscripted into the Emperor’s army.  As it happened the farmer’s son was deemed unfit because of his broken leg and poor health.  “What very good fortune you have!” the villagers exclaimed as their own young sons were marched away. “You have good luck.” “Who knows? We shall see!”, replied the old farmer as he headed off to work his field alone.

As time went on the broken leg healed but the son was left with a slight limp. Again the neighbors came to pay their condolences. “Oh what bad luck. Too bad for you”!  But the old farmer simply replied; “Who knows? We shall see.”

The war ended but the other young village boys had died in battle.  The old farmer’s son was the only young man to have lived. The neighbors said: “Oh how fortunate we are, you must be very happy”, to which the old farmer replied, “Who knows? We shall see!” 

In my own life, there are those days where everything seems to fall apart. Although I am aware that I leave little marginal room for error or adjustment in a tightly-packed schedule fully, the slightest shift in planning can ripple throughout the day.

Yesterday, I had a huge deadline and a few hours to accomplish my goal. I arrived at work with three hours to accomplish that work, about five hours of work ahead of me, and anxiety in the pit of my stomach. About forty-five minutes into my work, I get a text and a phone call. My sitter is sick. I have to return home to the kids.

Driving home I felt this sense of defeat. My defeat and negativism was wrapped firmly in a sense that I knew best. My day was crap. I hadn’t accomplished anything and I was feeling sorry for myself.

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I arrived home. The sitter left. I began to wash dishes and reason inside my head that these things happen. About twenty minutes into my time at home, there was a horrendous noise. It sounded like twenty-toilets running at once coupled with a train approaching our house. A pipe had burst and began leaking down through three floors of our home. Water poured from the recessed light fixtures, out the air-conditioing vent, and down the brick fireplace.

I was able to shut off the water in our basement in less than ninety seconds from when the leak started. There was damage but not the catastrophic kind. It could have been worse, much worse.  I had this overwhelming feeling of thankfulness that I was home. Had no one been home, the damage to our home and danger to our three dogs could have been significant. Had our sitter been home, she wouldn’t have known where the main water valve was and how to turn it off.

I shouldn’t have been home and yet I was. I couldn’t help but feel that someone or something was looking out for me. What I had foolishly thought was a curse (in having to return home early) was a blessing.

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This blessing in disguise was a much needed kick in the pants to my ego. In this fast-paced, technology savvy world where we believe so much of life is within our control, this is not always the case. And perhaps this is a good thing. The day was a reminder of faith.

Although we can’t foresee what God or the universe has in store for our days ahead, it isn’t our job to be all knowing. In my life, concentrating on what will happen and what it all means robs me of joy in the presence. Having faith allows me to do my best in that moment.

What may seem like a curse may be our greatest  blessings. And the inverse is sometimes true. Sometimes the universe saves us from ourselves and our own choices. Sometimes we walk down the wrong path of romantic partners, career choices, life choices, and the powers that be redeem us. We are spared from short-changing ourselves.

For me, not getting caught in the trap of interpretting that moment-to-moment significance in my own life is about relinquishing control. It is about falling back away into the safety net of faith.

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Within that safety net, there is a plan. It would be maddening to attempt to try and figure out that plan. It would be impossible to understand all of its detailed connections and meanings but having faith that there is purpose in each event, seemingly bad or seemingly good, is key.Faith doesn’t mean we will be spared from suffering. It simply means that suffering is for a purpose and that purpose may be something we do not fully understand.

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Life speaks to us in our blessings. Life shouts to us in our setbacks and tragedies. Sometimes things in our life are multi-faceted. They are both good and bad intertwined and infinitely joined but fully coated in purpose.

I recently listened to Amiira Ruotula-Behrendt speak about faith and the universe. She suggested what if the universe had three answers in store? And those answers to any of our prayers or questions were: 1) yes, 2) yes but not yet  and 3) I have something better in mind for you.

In the year ahead may your sorrows be short lived and your joys be infinite and may you always have a sense of purpose to hold strong to and enjoy the present.

Halloween, Risk, and Conquering Fear: Tales of a Peacekeeper

RWEI have always loved Halloween. It is the holiday with an edge to it. October carries with it that kind of crisp coldness where you start to see your own breath in front of your face. You are reminded of your own electric humanity. You’re alive. Trees shed their leaves. Nature is unveiled and yet there is  a looming sense of mystery. We know we cannot see all that is or all that is about to be.

Halloween is about making statements with confidence, with exaggeration. and with art. Statements are not made with words but with fabric, with expression, with attitude, and concealment.

My love of Halloween could be because I love candy too. Ah, the rush of sugar. There is something to be said for the rush of a good scare too.  I don’t mean the tragic type but rather that adrenaline boost that surges after you exit the roller coaster ramp frazzled and shaking and wanting to do it all over again. These are the things I miss.

This Halloween I will try to remember the value behind trying the things that scare me. Perhaps the days of roller coasters and zip-lining are behind me but there is something to be said for stepping outside of our comfort zone. Maybe Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best, “He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.”

When I left my work as a clinical social worker to help my husband build his company, I came to his business with what I believed to be a varied skill set. Undoubtedly, that was true yet in so many areas I found myself knee-deep in uncharted territory. As a life-long, gold star people pleaser, I have always dreaded confrontation. I dreaded it even when I knew I was right. For most of my childhood and well into my thirties, I had gone to great lengths to avoid confrontation even when I had a valid point to make. ‘Flight over fight’ made sense to the peacekeeper in me.

In my new work, I found myself in daily confrontation. It was an integral part of my job description. Building a business is about building bridges and relationships but it is just as much about the fight. There is a struggle to build something. It is not easy. Perhaps that it why it so challenging and rewarding. I found myself having to stand my ground and push forth with vendors and professionals, the general public, the media, and unprofessional professionals of the most unscrupulous, calculated sort.

I found that the daily struggle was a boot camp for my sensitivity. These tiring confrontations and uncomfortable arguments often fought with a trembling voice proved to be so valuable. At the days end, I felt spent. My soul would even sometimes feel bruised but over time I became stronger. I became smarter and more accurate. There was something new and brilliant in my wheelhouse. I knew myself better in a new way. I learned how much I didn’t know about myself when I thought I knew almost everything there was to know about me.

I learned that I was often hiding behind the guise of peacekeeping because the fight for what was right seemed too steep and scary to climb. The truth was that I was too scared too act. I was scared of weakness and terrified of failure.

I also learned that I am a better person for pushing myself. I am a better business owner. I am a better boss to those we employ and whose families depend upon our success. I am a better life partner. I am a better mama bear to my children, and I am without question a stronger soul. I am a contender and I am formidable.

Taking risks is about unwrapping all of those God-given presents that you didn’t even know were given to you. For some, they may be about unwrapping the ability to own their own thoughts and words and about gifts of confidence. Other may be discovering the gifts of forgiveness, humility, humor, or kindness. For all of us, there are so many different gifts to be revealed and developed. There are limits to be overcome. There are always walls to be pushed out, and ceiling to be broken through. As MLK suggested, sometimes we just need to see the first stair of the grand staircase to take the initial step. We get one life to do it right for ourselves, to honor the memory of those who have gone before us, and for our children who will go beyond us.

In recent years, the trembling voice has faded but I find there is always a new risk to be taken and uncharted territory to be covered in most all directions. And there ALWAYS will be.

Happy Halloween, Happy All Saints Day, and Happy All Souls Day!

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.