Blog # 16
The Cobwebs of Failure
January 21, 2022
“Working out our own emotional baggage is the precursor to helping our kids w/ theirs.” – Kelly Corrigan
Blog # 15
Finding JOY in the face of suffering
December 28, 2021
Blog # 14
The Dance of Gratitude
November 21, 2021
We all know deep down that gratitude is good for the soul. There are scientific studies that illustrate the physiological and emotional benefits of a regular gratitude practice. So, why then does my brain struggle to focus my lens on things that I am grateful for?
Like many families, we struggled for several years with infertility, and like anyone who has gone through it knows, it is a painful journey. During this time, I struggled to cultivate gratitude. I found myself filled w/ bitterness and anger towards God and everyone that was able to start a family quickly.
I promised God that if He would bless us with children, I would be spend every waking moment feeling grateful for the gift of a family.
17.5 years and four kids later, I have so much to be grateful for. So many blessings. And yet, there are days when I only see the negative and feel deep resistence when trying to cultivate gratitude. I get pulled into the narrative that everyone else's life is so much fuller and better than mine. Sometimes, I feel like it becomes an intimate dance between gratitude and negativity bias. Dr. Rick Hanson describes our brain's tendency to allow negative experiences to stick like velcro and positive experiences to move through like teflon. In other words, we naturally tend to focus on the negative and see the world through this lens. I think if you have struggled with depression like I have, this is a familiar place to live. I have spent so many years filtering every experience through the lens of negativity that it is exhausting to carve out new neural pathways of gratitude.
Here are just a few of the specific areas that I have been struggling with lately:
I am so grateful that the kids are in school and resuming "normal" experiences, but find myself overwhelmed trying to navigate their social interactions. The game of being included/excluded from friend groups, and everything else that comes along w/ all of this drains me of my ability to feel gratitude.
So grateful to be able to send my boys to a wonderful high school, but often feel like everyone else is better connected and feel exhausted trying to manage/understand all the social groups.
Grateful that I am able to meet and get together with adults in the kids' communities, but feel surges of anxiety as I try to push out of my comfort zone and cultivate connections w/ new and even familiar parents of my kids friends. I do not want my own anxiety about these connections to spill over and impact how my kids feel.
I have been feeling triggered by some of the struggles that my kids have been experiencing and this continues to be an obstacle in my ability to access gratitude.
I am learning to embrace the notion that focusing on the things in my life that I am grateful for does not mean I am denying the pain or suffering or loss. Gratitude can be a burst of appreciation for being alive and having survived. We must cultivate it and tend to it. I must cultivate it and tend to it with a gentle nudge and grace when it takes work.
For me, the practice of gratitude begins with the process of self acceptance. When I can work on cultivating acceptance even in the midst of toxic negativity, this can help me to authentically tap into gratitude.
I accept ... that some days, being grateful feels natural and easy and other days, I face a deep resistence.
So, I just keep showing up. I keep finding small pieces of my life to be grateful for especially when I feel paralyzed by the overwhelm of it all. Lately, I started a practice of stopping several times throughout the day and noting something I am grateful for that happened in the last hour. When my heart is grateful, I am able to focus the lens of attention of the goodness within and around me.
With a Grateful Heart,
Blog # 13
Unpacking the Suitcase
October 21, 2021
Blog # 12
I am an expert liar about my mental health.
September 12, 2021
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. The Ed Lally Foundation advocates for a pro-active approach to mental health and suicide prevention through awareness and self-expression. As part of our efforts, I will be sharing several BLOG entries that speak to my experience with mental health struggles, specifically surrounding suicide.
Blog # 11
Stubborn Ants; Suicide Prevention Awareness
September 1, 2021
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. The Ed Lally Foundation advocates for a pro-active approach to mental health and suicide prevention through awareness and self-expression. As part of our efforts, I will be sharing several BLOG entries that speak to my experience with mental health struggles, specifically surrounding suicide.
Have you ever discovered an onslaught of ants in the middle of a room only to discover that they were all magnetically drawn to ONE tiny morsel of food? How do these little insects find that single crumb that is far from anything edible? This scene gets me every single time! I find myself furious at these small helpless creatures simply because they found that lone scrap!
Blog # 10
Too Much Too Soon.
August 5, 2021
Too much too soon.
BLOG # 9
If This ... Then That.
July 16, 2021
Are we really almost 1/2 way through July? How is this possible? How are YOU doing?
Blog # 7
It's My Quarantine, I Can Cry if I Want To
February 21, 2021
Blog # 6
Orbeez, Black Jesus, Listening, Bicep Curls, and LOVE
June 25, 2020
As I wrote this entry, I struggled to find the right words. I still have much to learn and so much more that remains on my heart. Like so many of us, I want to help move the needle of discrimination and take away the pain of those suffering. I desperately want to move myself, my family and my country out of despair and confusion. It is easy to get caught in the web of negativity and polarizing opinions and find myself feeling helpless and overwhelmed. So, I decided to share some thoughts and insights that have risen to the surface of my awareness over the past few weeks. I am pushing out of my comfort zone and allowing myself to be vulnerable. It is petrifying to put myself out there, so I hope that something I share resonates or at least lands gently on your heart.
Thank you for taking the time to read. xo
Ava recently used some of her birthday money to order a kit of supplies that she then used to create DIY “stress balls.” The kit contained several different materials, including a bag of orbeez. If you are not familiar with them, they start out as tiny little round beads and you then add water. They sit in water and over the period of two to three hours, they expand and evolve into a more rubbery, smooth texture. They can be used for many beautiful and creative purposes, including table decor, sensory play or for our purposes, stuffed inside balloons to create a “stress ball.”
We had a bowl of orbeez beads that hadn’t been used for the stress balls yet sitting next to the computer. Despite passing by this bowl many times per day, I never really gave it much attention. Then, one day, I stopped and noticed that this bowl (that was filled to the top with colorful, smooth marble looking beads) … was now an almost empty bowl filled with teeny, tiny beads. The water had left them and they were back to their original state. It was a powerful visual to observe as I reflect on the recent turn of events happening in our country right now.
I have recently begun to ponder the times in my life that I have been granted the gift of racial awareness through an experience, a book, movie, podcast, netflix series or even just a conversation. I feel like the experiences and information I was given can be compared to those small beads, fresh out of the bag. When I lean into these pearls of wisdom, my awareness grows and I can feel a shift happening in my heart. Just like the beads expand with water, my awareness grows with intentional work. I can’t, however, expect movement to happen on its own. If left unattended, these pearls of wisdom will shrink back to those tiny beads.
How many times have I neglected these tiny beads of knowledge that once landed on my heart?
I was 22, naive and ready to change the world, while fiercely trying to figure out what I was supposed to do with my life. I nervously pulled into the parking lot of a run down brick building located in the middle of SE Washington DC. The campus was surrounded by iron fences and the school was protected by gates with padlocks. I was interviewing for a teaching position at a small Catholic School.
On my first official day, I walked up the stairs to my classroom and abruptly stopped dead in my tracks as I glanced up at the statue carefully placed in the corner of the landing. It was Mary holding baby Jesus and they were both black. In my entire life, I had never seen a black Jesus. I vividly remember feeling confused, mesmerized and in awe of this beautiful image in front of me. I had fallen away from my Catholic faith during and immediately after college and this felt like a strange coming home for my soul. As I continued up the stairs and walked through the hallways, I began to notice that all of the images of Christ portrayed him with dark skin. How had I gone my whole life and never seen or felt the presence of Jesus as anything other than a white man with a white mom and dad?
I embraced this new venture as a naive, somewhat ignorant, and strangely confident white woman. Back then, I just saw myself as a white teacher in an all black school. Nothing more, nothing less. Only in hindsight, can I appropriately reflect and recognize the complexity of these inter-racial dynamics and acknowledge just how privileged I was.
During my second year there, around Christmas time, Matt and I arranged for a dear friend to dress up as Santa and come visit my second grade class. Within a few minutes, we realized this was the first time many of these children had ever seen a “live” version of Santa. A white santa with a fake beard and belly. This Santa was met with fear, curiosity, joy and pure love. It truly was a transformational experience for me. The children asked Santa many questions and didn’t want him to ever leave but they never questioned the one thing I was most worried about; his skin color. This moment in time has always held a special place in our hearts because this friend who dressed as Santa passed away several years ago from brain cancer. I can still vividly remember the palpable energy that Drew created in the classroom that day.
I found myself being drawn into the world of these children and desperately wanted to connect with their souls. This experience informed the next steps in my career path, moving me to pursue a masters degree in School Counseling.
What happened to that fearless, confident young (naive) woman who set out to change the world?
Have my children ever seen or been exposed to a dark skinned Jesus, Mary or Joseph? Have my children ever visited a black santa? How would they react if they did? Why have I never questioned this before?
I wish I could go back and ask those families what life was really like for them. What made them choose to send their child(ren) to a Catholic School and what role did faith play in their life as parents and as African Americans?
Today, I try to hold these experiences close in my heart, acknowledge the beautiful tiny beads I was given at that time and continue to lovingly add the water of awareness and action.
Listening with the intent to hear. (This statement along with a video was recently shared by my friend ~ Janice Moore )
Earlier this school year, my oldest son was invited to participate in a Neighbor’s Retreat that created a unique opportunity for students and staff to come together in fellowship, reaching across social and racial groups. The invitation was met with trepidation and honest discernment. However, just as I predicted, the experience was both transformational and uplifting for him, despite the fact that he acknowledged leaning into the role of an observer. We were talking about this experience recently and I asked him to reflect on how it impacted his life and what this experience brings to mind with everything going on in our country right now. After a few minutes of reflecting on the friendships he made and the staff he formed new relationships with, I asked him if he was looking forward to participating again (if he is invited) this coming school year. After a long pause and much hesitation he said, “I feel like I don't have anything to say … and I don’t really have much to offer.” My heart sank. I was deeply grateful for his honesty but sad that he felt this way.
I looked him right in the eye and told him to hold tight to the notion that listening with the intent to actually hear someone is a gift that he is able to genuinely offer. To listen to others, see them, and acknowledge their pain is a powerful offering available to us as human beings. We talked for a while about the contentious banter that continues to go back and forth in today’s society, especially on social media. We talked about the rare and powerful act of listening with the intention to hear and NOT with the intention to argue or immediately offer your opinion.
What I know to be true is that he is able to engage in a meaningful and authentic conversation in what he considers a “safe” space at home. My hope is that each time he, or any of us, can talk with those that we feel safe with and in turn listen to others with genuine compassion and understanding, we are experiencing a small paradigm shift.
Sometimes, the most powerful moments of parenting happen when I realize my “teaching” moments subtly move me into the seat of the learner. When I am able to put aside my ego and genuinely apply the lessons I am imparting to my own heart.
I need to be a better, more compassionate listener. I want to be better at listening with the intent to HEAR, acknowledge and not feel like I need to have something wise to say in response. I need to let each of my kids embrace their own journey, at their own pace, in their own comfort zone. I will continue to provide a safe space for them to talk openly and honestly so that they can make their own mark on the world, whenever and however they choose to do so.
A wise friend recently reminded me of this simple, yet powerful quote spoken by Mother Teresa,
“The way you help heal the world is that you start with your own family.”
Bicep Curls for the Heart
Depression is a disease of the mind. Your mind will convince you that your life doesn’t matter and that you are worthless. I am waking up to the realization Racism is a disease of our society, of the systems that have landed us here. I am ashamed to admit that I am only recently understanding how pervasive and ingrained it truly is.
One can say - I understand sadness and loneliness but unless you have experienced the depth and despair of depression at its darkest moment … that moment when the idea of taking your life seems like a relief and the only option … the greatest power one has is to listen and try to offer support.
I can say - I understand feeling alone, misjudged or mistreated, but because I have not experienced the depth and despair of discrimination and/or racism, I cannot truly fathom its harrowing and devastating grip.
I don’t know what the world looks like or feels like without seeing through the lens of mental illness. It colors and shapes each step I take. I am waking up to the fact that our black brothers and sisters can only see the world through the lens of the pain and history of inequality, injustice coupled with their own personal experiences. It is impossible to separate our personal vantage point from societal structures.
Depression doesn’t fade away or get better on its own. It takes work. Hard uncomfortable work.
I am deeply grateful that I have been able to find my way back to the light. I have the privilege of access to medication, therapy and a supportive, safe place to do the work, and yet I still struggle from time to time. I often forget to recognize that the many members of our community have been carrying around a raw pain that can make it impossible to feel the light of acceptance.
Over the past few years, I have become open about my struggles with mental illness and my journey to wellness through mindfulness and meditation. Dan Harris describes meditation as “bicep curls for the brain.” I love this analogy because it reminds me that the practice of self acceptance and awareness happens little by little over the course of time, requiring sustained attention and dedication.
I am hopeful that the journey of learning about and leaning into racial awareness can begin to build biceps for my heart. The intentional act of adding water to the beads of knowledge and insight can build biceps for my mind. For my soul. I am hopeful that by continuing to make small deposits into my vault of awareness I can cultivate growth and movement in myself, my family, and ultimately the world outside my front door.
Strength to Love
I have been introduced to several books through the Ignatian Mission and Identity department at Loyola Blakefield and I want to conclude by referencing the most recent one, Strength to Love by Martin Luther King, Jr. On page 85, he shares a beautiful insight that I found comforting:
“When the sun finally passed completely beyond sight, darkness engulfed the earth, but in the east the radiant light of the riding moon shone supreme. We have experiences when the light of day vanishes, leaving us in some dark and desolate midnight - moments when our highest hopes are turned into shambles of despair or when we are the victims of some tragic injustice and some terrible exploitation. During such moments our spirits are almost overcome by gloom and despair, and we feel that there is not light anywhere. But ever and again, we look toward the east and discover there is another light that shines even in the darkness and ‘the spear of frustration’ is transformed ‘into a shaft of light.’”
Dr. King continued to speak profound and inspirational words amid dark, desperate and even violent circumstances. He never allowed the darkness to seep into his soul and turn toxic. He saturated his writing with scripture references and invariably found strength from his unwavering trust in God. He lived out and preached about the same Gospel that we read today. He allowed the same Jesus into his heart that my students from 20 years ago did.
I find comfort and strength from Dr. King’s words, especially his notion that we can always find our way out of the darkness.
Be still … in the darkness
And notice ... the beams of light that have the power to guide us.
I freely and willingly acknowledge that I have been gifted small beads of wisdom throughout my life that I only temporarily nurtured. I am just now waking up to the fact that those little precious beads didn’t get a chance to grow into something beautiful because I unknowingly let them dry up.
So, now I begin to shed a warm and loving light of awareness on the past, present and future beads of knowledge. I will try to consciously align my struggles with those who have come before me and those who continue to experience the blistering pain of oppression. I will listen with intentionality, allowing the words of thought leaders and the plight of those still suffering to echo on my heart and move me to action. Although my actions are small and feel insignificant, I want to believe in the capacity of little acts of love that have the power to unite our hearts and cultivate a collective paradigm shift.
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
God bless you.
Blog # 5
A Tree Full of Color
May 17, 2020
As my mom was dropping off some treats for Ava’s birthday, she expressed how sad it was that the Dogwood tree in front of our house had died. She was standing at the end of our walkway looking directly at the tree that I had walked by at least 200 hundred times over the course of the last month. I had no idea it was dead. The trunk and branches are completely intact and if you look quickly, you may not even notice that there is no growth or bloom happening. In my defense, the tree is surrounded by lots of overgrown bushes that earn lots of disappointing looks!!
My spirit. Our spirit. The essence of who we are and how we connect with others and God. Our spirit may be unknowingly and slowly drying up without us even realizing it. Just like the tree, it still remains intact and at the center of who we are. But how often do we actually stop and notice it, water it, pay attention to its state? I would like to believe that I nurture my spirit each time I sit down to participate in virtual mass on Sunday or exchange heartfelt text messages with friends and/or family. But am I really noticing and paying attention?
That tiny little flame that glows inside of us … inside of me. Am I intentionally and actively sustaining its glow?
In the movie Trolls World Tour there is a scene at the end of the movie when all of the characters (colors) fade to gray and they are left feeling hopeless and lost. They feel as if their identities have been taken away from them. Poppy then *realizes* that everything they were searching for was already inside of them … their passion for music and each other wasn’t something that could be taken away from them because it exists inside of each of them. Once they became aware of this transformative sentiment and tapped into their inner flame, their spirits began to regain the color and glow that had been drained.
This scene deeply resonated with me, triggering a chain of thoughts that lead me to ponder … what is inside of me that might be fading during this time at home?
The reason I created this blog/site was to remind myself that in order to stay afloat, in order to retain my “colors” I must grab a hold of my anchor. My anchor is found at the intersection of mindfulness, mental health, and faith.
In his book, The Body Keeps Score, Bessel Van Der Kolk provides an explanation for how mindfulness can help us function better in all areas of our life. Basically, he says that mindfulness is “being able to hover objectively and calmly over our thoughts, feelings and emotions and then take our time to respond (62).” The part of the brain that helps us with this is the prefrontal cortex, which he says is kind of like our watchtower, “offering a view of the scene from on high (63).”
Why am I including this information here? I loved this idea of our prefrontal cortex serving as a watchtower! In my mind, I picture a lighthouse in the middle of a dark and sometimes stormy sea (my mind/body/spirit). When I can somehow manage to activate this part of my brain, the light will come on and show me the way to shore. It isn’t taking away my feelings of despair or frustration, but it is shining a light of awareness on the darkness in my soul, so that I can move out of that “stuckness” … is that a word? I can very easily get swept away by the tides of negativity and sink deeper and deeper into despair. Having lived with depression for so much of my life, I have often described this movement as “going dark.”
I want this light of awareness to illuminate so that I can keep my inner light shining. As we move into another week of the pandemic, here are some feelings and fears that threaten to drain the color from my soul …
Understanding and accepting the difference between feeling like a failure and just being ok with failing at a task (or two or three).
Being compassionate and kind to my body after eating too much and not exercising as often as I want to. This one was hard on day one and is still hard today.
Thinking about how we are going to handle moving into the next phase of this experience and not let worries about tomorrow suck the life out of today.
Being gentle with my reflection in the mirror. Furiously fighting through the cruel thoughts that make their way in when my emotional walls are down.
Embracing the part of me that whispers ‘turn it over to God’ and forgive myself when this is a struggle.
I think each of us have our own list of fears and feelings and my hope is by continuing to name a few of mine, you might be able to gently name your own.
If I can activate the light of awareness, maybe I can let the warm glow illuminate my fears and feelings … tapping into the healing potential of my anchor. Be still and notice. Notice my mental health. How am I intentionally nurturing this piece of the anchor? Notice my faith and ask myself ~ where am I today?
I have given much thought to these ideas because I want to be mentally and spiritually intact when the world around us starts to rebuild. We won't be able to re-enter the world as the same people we were back in February. I hope that I can shine bigger and brighter. I hope all of us can. I hope that each of us can find our anchor and gently nurture the areas that need our love and attention.
Some of us may not have any tangible accomplishments to show for the work we are doing, but we can certainly nurture roots that will ignite our spirit, keeping our tree alive and our soul full of color :-)
Be Still and Notice.
Blog # 4
May 3, 2020
Just like so many of us, the past week has been especially tough for me. The days seem to blend together as I find myself mindlessly tripping over muddy shoes, squishing ants and ignoring those projects that I promised to get done. I don't know about you, but any sliver of motivation I may have had a few weeks ago has gently dissapated. I am still fiercely leaning into gratitude and stillness, but my pendulum gets stuck in despair more and more. Despite my fading motivation, I still desperately want to write this blog and try to make sense of the confusion in my headspace!
I have been reflecting on other challenging times in my life and trying to cling to the lessons I learned in hopes that you might be able to do the same. I struggled to piece all of my thoughts together and as a result, this entry is really long, awkward and a bit choppy. Instead of overanalyzing and trying to make it perfect, I am just going to post it as is. That is the raw beauty of owning my own story ... and encouraging you to do the same. xo
I wiped away the tears of exasperation and reluctantly pulled into the parking lot of Don Pablos. Grilled chicken, rice, a bottomless basket of chips and salsa and the biggest margarita they had. This was the meal I inhaled after each and every fruitless fertility treatment. We recognized early on that we would need to find joy in the painstaking and dismal journey of infertility, and so this became our new tradition. Once we received word that the current treatment was unsuccessful, we would make plans to meet there immediately after work. I can still vividly recall the sting of sadness and loneliness, accompanied by the curtain of shame that would swallow me month after month. We had to learn to embrace the struggle as somethig other than failure. These setbacks were not failures, although it sure felt like it. We were learning to grieve the loss of what we hoped for and accept the outcome. This was one of those lessons that became clear only in the rearview mirror. We were incredibly fortunate that the treatment was ultimately successful and we were ready to begin the next chapter as parents.
Around this same time, I was hired by the Howard County Public School System as a school counselor and I was more than ready to assume the role as an expert on parenting! HA! One such area that I claimed to be an expert in was a program called “1-2-3 Magic” by Dr. Thomas Phelan. Basically, you (the parent/teacher) explain the behaviors that are acceptable vs. those that will be “counted.” No discussion or negotiations are used at the time of misbehavior, just straight counting. I learned about this strategy from a wise mentor and eventually began confidently presenting and implementing this program to teachers and parents. According to the research, this blueprint was all you needed to be successful in the classroom and/or at home. I shared it with Matt and remained confident that we would be kick ass parents once we implemented this program with our future kiddos. HA HA
We were blessed with four healthy children and each one cultivated their own unique response to 1-2-3 Magic. Here is a snapshot of how I remember things going as we tried this same program with each kid:
1, 2, 3 We named the behaviors, counted to 2 and occasionally sent him to time out when his behavior warranted punishment.
1, 2, 2 ½ 2 & ⅔, 2 & ¾, 3, 3, 3, …. Wasn't working so well and became more of a verbal wrestling match into “time-out.”
Counting to 1 was received with an intense stare, followed by a quivering lip and tears.
Just the idea of counting was received with a declaration that she will never be going to time out, so we didn't even bother.
I can reflect (and chuckle) at these varied reactions now, but at the time I was determined to enforce this program so my kids would be well behaved! Looking back, I can clearly see that their reactions were a cocktail of birth order, gender, and good old fashioned temperament. Despite knowing this intellectually, I still wanted clarity and understanding. I scrutinized myself, constantly measuring my self worth based on how my children behaved; how they performed. I still struggle to separate my worth from the successes and failures of my children.
We are all adapting to online learning and confined living SO differently! In our family, I am finding an eery parallel to when I (stubbornly) implementated 1-2-3 Magic! I am still as headstrong as ever, falsely trusting that each person will be able to do what is expected of them. This is just not going to happen. I am moving closer to accepting that this is not failure. There is a wide spectrum in productivity in our house. Some of us need only a gentle nudge and little to no guidance; some require many reminders, lots of encouragement and hours of guidance. I am still striving to meet each person where they are at without feeling defeated when things fall apart: without measuring my own self worth against my kids performances.
At times, I feel as ill-equipped to handle the unknowns of this experience as I did when we were standing at the brink of parenthood.
“ALEXA … OFF!!!!”
I screamed at Alexa so loudly that Matt asked me an hour later if I had apologized to her yet. :-) The noise of the music and the kids fighting and the work not getting done, and the internet cutting out … well, it was all just too much. It wasn’t just one thing, but all the moving parts that were closing in on me … louder than ever.
1-2-3 Breath. 1-2-3 Name it . Feel it. Lean in. There is no "magic" solution to any of this.
When I pulled into Don Pablos all those years ago, I was trying to acknowledge and accept the undesirable outcome no matter how awful it felt. We figured out that sitting (and eating) with our discomfort for a bit helped us begin to move from despair to gratitude. Then, we got up the next day and put one foot in front of the other.
So, I raise a margarita and celebrate all of us. Let's lean in and honor each time our expectations are shattered and acknowledge that this is not failure, even though it may feel like it. Cheers to all of us for getting up the next day and doing it all over again.
Thanks for reading.
Be Still and Notice.
Blog # 3
A Baking Experiment and a Pendulum
April 13, 2020
Mom, do we have ingredients to make Banana bread?
Oh boy. This should be interesting :-)
Within ten minutes, the kitchen counter was covered with every bag of sugar, powder and measuring tool that we own.
“Is this yogurt expired? It looks a little chunky.”
“What kind of sugar should we use? Why do we have so many different kinds?”
Standing at the counter were two teenage boys desperately attempting to assert their independence while simultaneously reverting back to their childlike ways. As the boys fought their way through the breadmaking process, I marveled at the fact that they hadn’t killed each other and discretely snapped a few photos of this unexpected experiment :-)
As the bread began to bake and the delicious aroma of fresh baked banana bread slowly seeped through the house, I cautiously allowed myself to feel gratitude for the creation of this new experience in our kitchen.
Some say that cooking is an art and baking is a science. That baking involves exact formulas that must be followed, and every ingredient has a purpose. I am not an expert with either, so I defer to anything that is simple and involves as few ingredients as possible.
Being at home right now feels a little bit like a baking experiment. We know what needs to be done and why; what ingredients should be included (hand washing, masks, social distancing, etc.). We just have no idea how long this experiment is going to take and what the final product is going to look or feel like. All this time in our house kinda feels like we are desperately trying to create something; “bake” something that will turn out ok. I can confidently say I have failed more times than not, and worry about the missteps.
My struggle now is to move away from the feelings evoked from these “failures,” and not get stuck there. How can I acknowledge the suffering that is happening in my heart, in our hearts, and still actively feel gratitude for the blessings in my own kitchen?
We are experiencing small losses that if not adequately acknowledged could form a collective darkness. I find myself getting lost in the confusion that arises as I try to recognize my own personal suffering and compare it to those that are worse off. In her podcast, Unlocking Us, Brene Brown emphatically instructs us to “give ourselves permission to feel hard things.” She reminds us that burying our feelings will suffocate them and ultimately, these emotions will show up in our body and/or our behavior.
In other words, our suffering needs room to breath so the underlying pain doesn’t metastasize.
When I began to shed light on my own struggles with depression and anxiety several years ago, I was terrified and paralyzed by the fear that I would be judged. Like many of us, I was a true master at hiding my struggles and sharing my truth was acutely uncomfortable.
I spent considerable emotional effort clinging to the notion that my suffering wasn’t nearly as “bad” or painful as others and therefore, it wasn’t worth sharing. I would tell myself that God had far more important things to worry about than me. He certainly did not need to hear about my frivolous problems.
The “problem” with this inner dialogue is that it denies us the opportunity to name our sufferings and unite us with the pain of others, including Christ. Refuting our own anguish does not dissipate the intensity of the emotions.
As I navigate my way through the long days of this pandemic, I am trying to maneuver the emotional pendulum that is pulling me back and forth. I find myself fluctuating between gratitude and despair, desperately seeking the stillness that will come when the swinging subsides. But when and how does this stillness come?
It feels like I am riding on a seesaw ...
~ Blessed to have so many choices for all of us to watch and/or binge on during this quarantine … then feeling guilty for saying “yes” to another show and lacking the desire and motivation to engage with the kids when the tv is off.
~ Recognizing that spending time on Social Media brings me joy and evokes compassion for others as I soak in the heartwarming stories, video clips, walks down memory lane, etc. ... and an hour later can pull me down a rabbit hole of shame feeling overwhelmed with guilt for not gathering (or forcing) my family to do creative and fun things together.
~ Deeply grateful for the health of my kids and then experiencing anger when they whine and complain about being bored, despite the many activities I have suggested that they try.
~ Grateful for a full pantry, sad for those that barely have enough to eat, followed by irritation with my kids for complaining that we have nothing to eat.
~ Thankful for the awesome opportunities to experience different online masses (while in our pajamas), and immensely struggling to keep us connected to our faith outside the constructs of comforting rituals and routines.
~ Blessed to have Zoom calls and a patient husband to talk to as the days unfold, but still feeling a profound loneliness that causes my soul to ache.
The pendulum continues to swing back and forth, slowly and gracefully one day and fast and furious the next. If I lean into the motion, allow myself to spend quality time on both sides, I can eventually find the stillness that exists in between.
In the stillness, I can notice and name the feelings. I can feel the peace that comes from spending time in prayer. I can unite my own suffering with that of society without playing a game of comparison. I can breath.
Especially now, the profound suffering of others can take our breath away. I try to hold tight to the belief that we are each called to attend to the greater good in our own way. Some days my calling is to tend to the suffering in my own heart, in my own family. Other days, my calling is to support the kind and beautiful efforts of others. Then there are the moments when I am able to attend to the suffering of others through personal action. The pendulum continues to swing and I lean in wherever my heart leads me and needs me to be.
As I scrolled through my camera roll, pausing to examine the photo of the boys “fighting” through the banana bread making process, I didn’t give any thought to the mess and mistakes they made or the arguing that occurred, but I did recall the yummy bread they created and the fruitful seed it planted in their inquisitive hearts.
As I continue to steer the swaying motion of my pendulum as it swiftly moves between gratitude and despair, I am learning to settle into stillness one breath at a time. This stillness could be the most important ingredient in my baking experiment, allowing despair and gratitude to serve a purpose. Giving our hearts permission to fully experience and lean into all the feelings will ultimately create something beautiful.
Be well everyone.
Be Still & Notice
BLOG # 2
No Wrong Note
April 1, 2020
I burned the bagel. Not once, but two times. In a row.
As I turned the knob on the toaster oven, I repeated to myself don’t forget about the bagel … I walked upstairs to change the laundry and called out to anyone that would listen “Don’t let me forget to take the bagel out of the toaster oven!” Okay mom - we won’t let you forget.
5 minutes later the smell of a burning bagel permeated throughout the lower level.
Now we were down to ONE single bagel and I was determined to NOT burn the bagel. Again.
And then I did it. I burned the very last bagel.
Feeling an irrational rage rising within me, I threw burnt bagel #2 in the trash and prepared a packet of oatmeal. I stomped up the stairs, dropped the bowl of oatmeal on the bed of my teenage son and loudly declared, “I burned two bagels, so here is your breakfast.” and maturely stormed out of the room.
According to Miles Davis, there is no such thing as a “wrong note.” He reminds us that “it’s not the actual note that is wrong, but the note that you play after that matters the most.”
What note comes after two burnt bagels?
A mini temper tantrum and secret wish that someone else would step in and be the grownup for the day? Maybe. Maybe not.
I feel like our days can be loosely compared to how it might feel to compose a piece of music. Most of the day is filled with random, loud, irrational notes thrown onto a scale. None of which make much sense at all.
When we learn the simple notes of a song like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” it immediately registers when we hit a wrong note. We know the song in our heart and our hands have to slowly and patiently follow.
Most of the time, I know when I have hit a wrong note. I feel it in my gut and take control of my heart. What I don't always know is what note should come next.
I opened up my email to find a message from a teacher indicating that all students should know if they need to do a retake of a test that was given before school let out. Out of nowhere, I blew up at my daughter, accusing her of not keeping up with expectations and demanding that she figure this out right now.
Her face dropped and her eyes filled with tears. She ran up to her room and slammed her door.
I hit a wrong note and it was painfully off tune.
I was desperately trying to persuade my youngest daughter to finish her assigned work, which included listening to a read-aloud on my laptop. She was fighting me and covering her ears to show me she wasn’t interested in listening. :-) I responded by raising my voice and demanding she sit down listen to her story or she would go to time out.
My wrong note was loud and off key. It was deafening.
My 14 year old was playing Minecraft on our family iPad despite knowing the expectation was that he wasn’t allowed to play any games until all work was done or at least started. Since this had happened other times, I lost all of my patience, grabbed the iPad and slammed it on the couch. Mature, right? Yup. An incredibly erroneous note.
Ok so now that I have pulled back the curtain on my impeccable parenting :-) ... I want to share how I mindfully created a melody from a string of wrong notes.
I walked up to my daughter’s bedroom and climbed into bed with her. I named all the feelings that I was experiencing, admitting I was having a hard time understanding and knowing how to handle everything right now. Once I started admitting my fears and worries and offered a heartfelt apology, the energy between us softened.
Even though I wanted to win the war with my 6 year old, I spent bedtime that night owning my behavior and sharing how I was feeling. I told her I was feeling overwhelmed by all of the tasks that were being assigned and when I feel overwhelmed, I lose my patience. She was able to open up to me about how she was feeling about having to do so much work and we laughed about our silly behaviors. We also agreed to make a different plan for the next day.
With my son, I asked him to join me in praying the Examen (shared daily on Loyola's YouTube channel) and after a few eye rolls and grunts, he reluctantly agreed. The act of listening to and (parallel) praying started to melt away the ice that had formed between us over the past week. One powerful part of the Examen includes the act of reflecting on what areas you have fallen short and need to ask forgiveness for so far in your day. I turned to him and asked him for forgiveness for losing my temper. This experience of exchanging forgiveness was quietly powerful and shifted both of our moods.
Before I was able to figure out how to play notes that might produce a harmonious sound and could naturally follow a string of very wrong notes, I had to name my own suffering and bring it into the light of awareness. I had to spend time with the feelings and fears that lead to my outbursts and angry reactions.
I wrestle with anxiety around what the teachers are going to think if my kids are not performing well or don’t complete their online work. Name it.
I feel disappointed in myself for not having a better handle on expectations and follow through with the kids. Feel it.
I feel ashamed that even with the gift of time, I still struggle to finish tasks that I start. Name it. Feel it.
I feel embarrassed and angry that I burned the bagels because my mind got so easily distracted and overwhelmed. Name it. Feel it.
Sitting with these feelings, fears and anxieties is part of my meditation and prayer. And since I have been using a music metaphor, I feel like this mental exercise can be described as my mindful refrain. A kind of mental exercise that brings peace and clarity to my otherwise unpleasant melodies.
Be still. Notice, name and feel all of it.
Hey, maybe next time I put the last bagel in the toaster oven, I will set a reminder on my phone and if that doesn’t work, I will remember my oldest son’s kind response to my outburst, “Mom, it’s ok. I actually like oatmeal.” As Miles Davis said, there is no wrong note.
BLOG # 1
Into the Unknown
March 24, 2020
Into the Unknown …
Are you out there?
Do you know me?
Can you feel me?
Can you show me?
Where are you going?
Don’t leave me alone ...
How do I follow you into the unknown?
These lyrics taken directly from Frozen 2’s Into the Unknown reveal an uncanny raw truth. We are all entering the “unknown” and intimately getting to know our inner voice, that ringing in our ear. How do we prepare our hearts to enter this vast unknown? We can start by taking the sage advice from Elsa’s sister Anna and just “do the next right thing.”
What is my next right thing? Be Still and Notice. This is my lenten project. Or at least, that is what I am hoping :-) As Matt’s uncle, Father Pat Lamb said in his homily last weekend, “this is going to be a different kind of lent.” It sure is Father Pat. It sure is.
Last year during Lent, I wrote about leaning into discomfort and embracing “boosts” to my spiritual journey, including listening to the Catholic Channel in the morning. Oh, how I took for granted the freedom I had to be in my car listening to the thoughts of others! This year, I have struggled to bring awareness not only to Lent, but also how to keep my Catholic faith alive with little or no structure.
I continue to lovingly observe all of the beautiful live stream prayer groups, divine mercy chaplets, etc. but for me, all of these “opportunities” just evoke anxiety, causing me to feel even more overwhelmed. This is where my next right thing kicks in. Breath. Be still and know that I am God. Be still and notice. Notice all the feelings, all the emotions, all the fears. Notice what and where the feelings are the strongest.
It is scary. Name it. It is uncertain. Name it. I feel anxious. Feel it. I feel overwhelmed with the vastness of time that needs to be filled. Feel it. I feel inadequate as a homeschool teacher. Feel it deeply. I feel so sad for everyone that is suffering right now. Feel it deeper.
This Lent, I have landed at the intersection of mindfulness, mental health and spirituality. For me, these three paths exist in communion with one another. For me, one cannot exist without the others. Each time I wholeheartedly try to go “all in” with any one of these separately, believing that I am capable and competent … I fall short.
I believed that if I went all in with mindfulness, I wouldn't need to treat my depression or anxiety any longer. I claimed that if I talked openly about my mental health and shared my story, then I wouldn’t need to see a therapist or practice intentional self-care. I claimed that if I volunteered for everything that I thought needed my help, attended all the church functions and went to daily and weekly mass, I could be free of the paralyzing grip of anxiety.
I could not have been more wrong. By shining a light on my stubborn tendencies, I have started to become aware of the prison that I had built around my soul. In order for me to truly free myself, I need to embrace any and all paths that lead to healing and wholeness. Can I stay connected to my Catholic faith while embracing mindfulness? Can I advocate for mental health awareness while stuck in the weeds of spiritual confusion?
For now, I try to embrace that sacred space that exists in my heart, providing a way out of the prison of self doubt.
The Corona Virus has certainly loosened my grip on this wellness quest :-) I know many of us feel this way, so how do we find our way in and out of the unknown? Maybe we can start by noticing and naming the feelings ... begin to release their power and practice self-compassion.
Living together as a family of six, I continue to witness (and experience) six completely different reactions to the quarantine.
Be still and NOTICE.
I notice that I begin to feel a tightening in my chest when I read through endless Google Classroom threads with what seems like a thousand different instructions and expectations.
I notice that I feel inadequate when I see other parents posting about the creative and fun activities they are doing with their kiddos at home.
I notice the rise of anxiety and restlessness that comes from being inside with my kiddos from sun up to sun down leaving little or no opportunity to fill my well.
I notice that despite the gift of time, I struggle to stay engaged and interested in the repetitive games that my kiddos want me to play. Then I notice the guilt that rises within when I don’t enjoy these games the way they want me to.
My prayer is that God’s love for humanity and each of us will find us in our moments of stillness. That the warmth of self compassion will wash over us when we find ourselves at the intersection of uncertainty, fear and feeling overwhelmed.
Into the unknown. ~ Elsa
Just do the next right thing. ~ Anna
“It is how we embrace the uncertainty in our lives, that leads to the great transformations of our souls.” ~ Brandon Trean
Thank you for reading.
In November of 2017, I wrote and published my first blog entry. This was the very first time I had ever shared my story. Although I have retired this site in order to create a new one, I am including this so that I can always remember how and when my journey towards healing through mindfulness began. xoxo