Archive | December, 2012

A Quick Look Back at 2012

31 Dec

carmelThere’s nothing like New Year’s Eve to inspire you to wax nostalgic over the past year’s events, and this year has been a doozy. For me, this has been a year of great change, great perspective shift and great blessings. I’ve weathered some of the changes better than others, but all in all, it’s been one heck of a good year.

The biggest change this year was in the area of motherhood for me. My oldest child graduated from high school and left to go away to college. Although he wouldn’t want me to say it, he reminds me a lot of myself at that age. He is doing well at college and finding his way to adulthood with little to no drama. He likes who he is and that is no small feat for a teenage male. My youngest child also entered junior high, so my days of parenting elementary aged children is over. I watch my nieces and nephews in the throes of raising infants, toddlers and elementary aged children and know it will be over quicker than they imagine. I enjoyed those days, and I look back with very few regrets, and that is a beautiful thing. The other big change for me was starting this blog. I was inspired by the father of a classmate of my oldest son who began a blog as he discovered he had cancer. He only lived a few months after his diagnosis, but his impact on my life is ever lasting. I began writing again, not just for myself, but for the public to read, and the joy I get from writing and sharing and learning is something I will continue to thank him for the rest of my life.

My change in perspective was the result of a dedication to spiritual growth this year. The process has been interesting, and for the first time in my life, I understand wisdom. I’ve always been a person who prized knowledge, and I still do, but now I understand that wisdom is so much more important than knowledge and when you have both, the result is pure bliss. I live and love better because of wisdom and I am grateful for the lessons I have learned and can teach because of this journey. The biggest shift was realizing that the life I have, although it’s far from perfect, is perfect for me.

Then there are the blessings. They are too many to count but there are a few worth sharing. We found out that our youngest child is one of the healthiest children in the city who has his life threatening medical condition. The term his doctor used was “rock star”. Who could ask for more than that? We were given a wonderful gift from a friend that blessed each of us. The friend wishes for the gift and the giver to remain anonymous, and I respect that, but I feel the need to publicly acknowledge that kindness because it was life altering and affirmed the goodness of humankind for us all. We are paying it forward in every way we can. There is also one more blessing that may sound strange to some, but it has been such a force for me that I have to talk about it and that is the internet. Because of the internet, I can share my thoughts and connect through this blog. Because of the internet and Facebook, I have connected with friends from my past and family across the country, and I’ve “met” people from around the world who care about and support each other in ways I never thought possible. Because of the internet, I have found positive and inspirational sites that have inspired me to become a better person. I know there is a lot of ugly and destructive material out there, but for me, the internet is a connection to what is best in this world, and I am blessed every day by its existence. There are many more people, events and things that have blessed my life this year, but there aren’t enough words to cover them all. Let’s just say, “My cup runneth over.”

I know that the “cup” is usually a metaphor, but in our home, we actually have blessing cups that my children made as part of their religious education. They made them just before they made their first communion. They are a symbol in the Catholic religion of the Holy Grail, the cup of Christ. Many children make them and never think about them again. In our home, we get them out a couple of times per year and fill them with chocolate milk, juice or water. We take turns going around the table to count our blessings. We also pray for blessings for others in our lives who may be struggling. It’s a small way to give back that gives us great pleasure.

So as we wind down the year and look to the next, I am grateful that the spirit and the internet have brought us into each other’s lives. I am grateful for words and the talent I’ve been given to use them. I’m grateful for my family, my friends and my life, and my wish for you is that your cup runneth over like mine so that we can bless others with our overflow. And if you’re lifting a glass at midnight tonight, I hope you’ll take a few seconds to not only be thankful for your own blessings, but also to pass a few on to those who need it. It’s a great way to end and begin a year. Thanks for being you and have a great day!

One mother’s plea

17 Dec

One mother’s plea.

One mother’s plea

17 Dec

words-chinese hopeThis is one of those blog posts that I have hesitated writing. I have so much to say and I struggle to put it in a coherent and flowing package. Friday I watched yet another news report about a shooting, this time at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut. I am dismayed by those who are quick to say that gun control is the answer, especially since the same day that children were shot in Connecticut, school children were attacked by a man with knives in China. China is having the same issue of school attacks as the U.S. and the same type of perpetrator, someone mentally ill.

In April of 1999, when two young men attacked and killed several classmates, teachers and administrators at Columbine High School in Colorado, I, like most of the country, was glued to the TV coverage. At the time, I couldn’t think of anything more gut wrenching than watching the horror that was unfolding. I couldn’t understand children killing children. I couldn’t fathom how broken these boys had to be to do what they were doing. I couldn’t imagine being one of the parents of the injured or fallen, but even bigger than that, I couldn’t imagine being the parent of one of the perpetrators. My oldest son had just turned five and suddenly the thought of sending him to school was terrifying instead of exciting. I thought seriously about home schooling up until the point I registered my son for kindergarten, but I have always been a person who lives in more faith than fear, so off to school he went.

The events of Columbine changed me forever. On a practical level, it made me be more aware of my children’s surroundings at school and spurred discussions of what to do if a similar thing happened at one of their schools. It also changed my mind about kids having cell phones in schools. I used to think it was ridiculous and unnecessary; now, if the unthinkable happens, I want the last voice my children to hear to be mine telling them how much I love them. It’s also the reason that every morning I tell my children I love them when I send them to the bus or drop them off at school. Again, if the unthinkable happens, I want those to be the last words I spoke to them. Every morning may not be a bed of roses, but most of them are. I took the tragedy of Columbine to heart and dedicated myself to becoming the best mom to my boys that I could possibly be.

Since then, there have been so many attacks by young men, almost all with a history of mental illness, and it seems that Sandy Hook will be the same. While I mourn for those who have lost their loved ones, I do not mourn for those who have passed. I have a deep and abiding faith that they feel nothing but joy in a much better place than this. What I want out of this is not a gun ban or worse punishment or judgment. It’s time to look at the fact that we have some seriously ill people, particularly young males, that we try to medicate into submission and when they refuse to medicate, we either lock them in prison, lock them in a mental institution or wait until they are the perpetrator of the next tragedy. In any case, it’s not working. To understand how bad it is, read “Thinking the Unthinkable” by a mom who is dealing with a son who has mental health issues and the lack of true help she can access.

So what do we do? First, I challenge the medical community to make this a focus of study. We spend millions on sustaining sex lives when our parts don’t want to work anymore. What if we funneled that energy into making our brains work better? What if, instead of looking to pharmaceuticals to medicate the problem away, we actually looked for procedures that could cure mental illness? Please, if anyone with any medical clout reads this, let’s do what we can to cure mental illness instead of shoving medications at patients that they will only refuse to take. Also, for the lawmakers, when will you see that the patients’ rights must be balanced with the well being of society? In so many of these cases, the perpetrators were under psychiatric care and the doctor knew the patient was a danger to himself and others, but they were powerless to do anything until the patient committed a crime because of privacy laws. If someone is a legitimate threat, doctors should be able to contact someone to intervene before we have yet another mass murder.

Next, I challenge every parent to step up their game. I remember when my oldest was in high school and asked if he could do something that I thought he was too young to do. When I asked him what the parents of his friends thought, he told me that he didn’t know because most of his friends didn’t talk to their parents. Both parents worked and they spent very little time together. I told him that was the saddest thing I ever heard. We have family dinners at least once per week in the kitchen with the TV off. It is a time for conversation, for catching up and for connecting with those we love most. Some dinners are about current events, some about life events and some about religious or political views. We ask our kids what their opinions are and we share ours. We learn as much about them and their generation as they learn from us. Also, as the boys have gotten older, my husband has started spending more one on one time with each of the boys. It may be playing a round of golf with our oldest son. It might be woodworking with our middle son. It might be tearing apart a broken appliance with our youngest to see the inner parts. The activity doesn’t matter near as much as the time. That’s what children need, our time, especially when we feel like we have none. When my oldest was playing high school soccer, working, dating his girlfriend and carrying a 4.0 in all AP and accelerated courses, he was still expected to be at family dinner at least once per week. This month, he’s home from college and the same rules apply. It keeps him grounded and keeps us connected as he makes his way toward more independence, and I believe it has been our greatest gift to our children, aside from having a great marriage.

And then there is that marriage thing. I understand that some marriages just don’t work out. I understand that sometimes we have to move on. I also understand that a marriage is not a 50-50 proposition. It is a 100%-100% commitment. It’s sometimes difficult, but it is a gift to your children to work through differences and be a united front. It teaches them that conflicts can be resolved and what really is worth fighting over. Figure out what legacy you want your children to remember and then become that person. And if your marriage doesn’t make it, please, please, please, leave your kids out of it as much as you can. I heard a quote once that said that every time you criticize your child’s other parent, you criticize half of their DNA. What does it do to a child to hear half of their DNA criticized? I will tell you. If they are at all sensitive, and most mentally ill children are, it makes them question everything about themselves. It creates tension and uncertainty and in some cases anger and rage. It serves no one. So please, spread as much love as you can to small children, to older children, to teenagers and to everyone you meet. We all carry burdens and kindness, even from a stranger, can change everything. Thanks for being you and have a great day.

Purposeful Living

13 Dec

Purposeful Living.

Purposeful Living

13 Dec much of what is rattling around in my brain and in my meditation and reading this morning has to do with purpose. I read an article about the screenwriter from the Twilight trilogy who said we are given a talent we’re supposed to share with the world. I read a quote this morning that said there are things you’re put on this Earth to do that only you can do because of your unique set of skills. I got an email suggesting that I take a quiz to find out my archetype aka life purpose/skills. Am I sensing a theme here? You betcha!

As a little girl, I used to pretend my Barbie was a stewardess; it was the word we used in those days, who was single and flew around the world. I never had a Ken doll and never felt the need for one. I was fiercely independent and head strong and smart. I could do anything. So how did I end up married, a mother of three and living in suburbia? I would say it is because of a series of fortunate events. In some ways, life kept knocking me down a peg. I found out that being smarter than the boys meant I didn’t get a lot of dates, and the ones I did get could be challenging, which explains so much about my first marriage. I found out being independent and strong minded, scared people off and more than occasionally offended them. I found out that being different could be liberating, but it could also be isolating, and if you wanted to be part of the fun on a Midwest college campus, you better find at least a few ways to fit in so you wouldn’t be miserable. So I conformed, some, but I walked away from college feeling like a whole and complete person, still head strong and smart, but with a little life knowledge thrown in too.

By the end of my first marriage, I lost that young woman and was full of fear. I questioned everything about myself. I lost my independent spirit and wondered why I was blessed with brains when using them seemed to cause nothing but struggle. I do not blame my first husband for anything. With the wisdom of hindsight, I realize that he was put in my life to help steer me toward the life I live today, and for that, I am truly grateful. My relationship with him helped me re-define who I wanted to be and the kind of man I wanted to be with, and that was a huge blessing because it opened up my life to be with my husband now of almost twenty years. When I started dating my husband, it only took weeks to know I would spend the rest of my life with him if he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. We bonded almost instantly and are still one of the most connected couples I know. When I married him, it was the first time in my adult life that I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was born to do something. I was born to be his wife. That really was a shock and a revelation, and even better, I found out that I was good at being his wife, or at least in his opinion I was, and that was new too.

Nine months after our wedding, after getting lucky on our very first try, I became a mom, and my life opened up in a way I couldn’t even fathom at the time. Our oldest child opened his eyes in the delivery room before his cord was cut and looked right into his Dad’s eyes. Then he turned his face and looked right into my eyes. I know it’s not supposed to happen that way, but it did. Even the doctor commented that he wasn’t supposed to do that, but he did, and he opened a place in my heart that I didn’t know existed. It is a place that has been touched only two other times since then. At that moment, some of my old fierceness returned, but it was covered in love. There was a time in my life I never thought I could take another human life. When I looked into the eyes of my children, I knew that to protect them, I could and I would.

So, I’ve spent the last eighteen or so years being a parent; it has changed me and challenged me more than I ever thought possible, but I also know that it was exactly what I was created to do. I know that I was given the children I have to teach me as much as I teach them. They are so very different in temperament, drive and spirit, and I love them each more than I can express in words, and for a woman who loves words, that is saying something. They’ve made me face fears I never knew existed. They have challenged me to my wit’s end. They have loved me more than I ever thought I could be loved. They have taught me more than I ever thought I could learn, and I hope I have done the same for them because I feel like it is what we are here to do for each other.

Now they are nearly grown. In five and a half short years, they will all be adults, and my life will change again. When each of my angels came into my life, I welcomed them to the Earth and promised to do everything I could to raise them to be the best version of themselves possible. I still try to focus on that and remember that someday I will send them into the world alone. By then, I hope their bucket of self-worth is so full that the world will never be able to drain it dry and that their ability to be a positive force in this world is even greater. I hope they know themselves so well, that they will follow their heart and become the men they were put on this Earth to be.

On the way, I will see my career as a mom transform from caretaker to cheerleader to quiet affirmer to almost invisible support. Although it’s bittersweet because I have loved being the mom to my three boys, I hope I send them into the world with as much love as I welcomed them on the day of their birth. By the way, when I took the quiz about what archetype(s) I might be, I was 38% caregiver, 28% spiritual, 14% visionary and 20% other. In my book, those are pretty good qualities for a mom, but as I move away from the intensity of that role, I hope I can parlay the same qualities into encouraging everyone who reads what I write. Just as I believe in my children, I believe in each of you. You are unique and special and talented in so many ways. I hope you are sharing your talents with the world in the best possible ways. If you believe the news, we need it now more than ever, so step up, step out and do what you can to make yourself, your family, your community and your world a better place. Find the thing that opens up your heart, and you might even change yourself in the process. You might become the fired up version of you that the world so desperately needs. Thanks for being you and have a great day.

The Blessing of Overwhelm

11 Dec

stack of giftsToday I realized that Christmas is only two weeks away. We celebrate with my husband’s family in 13 days and because of work situations, my brother is flying in next week and we’re celebrating with him at my house in 11 days. The thought of everything I want to have done, could have done, should have done all hit me at once this morning, and instead of it motivating me to get to work, it paralyzed me. Instead of jumping in and getting to the tasks at hand, I couldn’t decide where to start, so I sat down and looked at facebook. Yes, I let the procrastination princess that lives inside me win. Yes, I did the childish thing instead of the adult thing, but what I read changed everything.

Nearly half of the posts this morning are about others who are feeling overwhelmed by the holidays. These are people, mostly women, who live in the United States, and around the world, who have this idea of what the holidays should look like and, by golly, they’ll do anything they have to do to make it look like that. Why? Why do we do this to ourselves? TV? Movies? Holiday Specials? Well, here’s what I have to say about that. Curse you Norman Rockwell with your perfect turkey, perfectly snowy yards and perfectly happy Christmas. Curse you Hallmark specials where everything always works out and no one ruins Christmas. Curse you Martha Stewart and your perfect trees, perfect holiday tables and napkin origami. Is this what Christmas is all about? No. Even Martha Stewart doesn’t have a perfect anything without a staff. If you’re a mom getting through the holidays without a staff, like most of us, it won’t be perfect, but it can be awesome. If you know me, I’m always the chick with the silver lining. I’m always the one who finds something good in the muck of life. I was made for the Christmas season and all of its sappy glory, so here it is.

There is so much suffering in this world. Some of it is beyond our control, some of it isn’t. Sometimes we get so focused on what is going wrong in our lives that we forget to look at what is going right. What if, for the next two weeks, for those of us who celebrate Christmas and anyone else who wants to join us, we just focus on what is important to do today and the joy we can put into whatever it is we choose to do? Yes, I have a list a mile long, just like everyone else who’s preparing for Christmas, but each day is an opportunity to move forward just a bit. Maybe the homemade sugar cookie dough gets made tomorrow and sits in the fridge until we get to it in three or four days. Maybe this year, we don’t make sugar cookies. Maybe all my gifts end up in bags because I don’t have three hours of wrapping time. Maybe the Christmas cards are late. Whose Christmas are we trying to recreate? Whose judgment are we afraid of? Whose standards are we trying to live up to? Is it our parents? I don’t know about you, but I remember the stress of my mom trying to have the perfect Christmas. I also remember the year my youngest child decorated the bottom half of the tree all by himself at age six. We had three huge clumps of ornaments and lots of bare branches, but whenever anyone asked who put the ornaments on the tree, my little one grew three inches and proudly told them he did it all by himself. That is a Christmas memory. That is the tree that I remember most.

I also remember having a conversation with my oldest child about Santa one year and being told that he knew Santa was real. When I asked him why, he asked if I remembered one Christmas when he got a guitar and several other things he had asked for. I did and when I told him so, he said that was when he knew Santa was real because he knew I would never spend that much on Christmas. Whatever works, eh?

Then there are the gifts. I remember some of the gifts I’ve gotten and many more that I’ve given. The ones I remember usually have an emotional significance or had a great reaction, like the year my kids got a trip to the Sugar Bowl to watch our home town University of Cincinnati Bearcats play Miami at the Superdome. Watching them figure that one out, especially since they thought it might be a joke, was priceless. The most memorable gift I’ve ever received would probably surprise most people who know me. I don’t wear jewelry much, but my favorite gift is a necklace that my husband, then boyfriend, bought for our first Christmas together. It’s a blue topaz heart necklace that I will always treasure, not because of the value or the look of the gift, but because of what it represents. When my husband gave me that necklace, he told me that the color of the heart in the necklace was the color of his heart before I came into his life. Does it get any better than that?

So what if we strive to have a holiday season that brings more joy and love that represents the Divine birth we celebrate? What if every preparation step we take is done with the Spirit of Christmas in mind? And if it doesn’t fill you will the Spirit of the Season, what if you give yourself the permission to let it go or even say no? I would be willing to bet that there will be more gifts of love and fewer of debt. There will be more traditions of togetherness rather than busyness, and there will be more moments of joy and love than of overwhelm and sadness. Yes, there will be people who do some things better than we do, but what if, instead of focusing on doing everything the way Martha Stewart would or having a picture perfect moment worthy of a Norman Rockwell painting, we concentrate on being the person who loves the best we can, because isn’t that what Christmas is about? Isn’t it about loving humanity even more than we can imagine? And what if, instead of trying to pack all that good will into the next two weeks of the Christmas season, we start today and commit to sharing that love for the rest of the year and not just in the month of December? We would change ourselves, our communities and the world, and we won’t be so blasted overwhelmed. So, off I go with my list in hand. I’ll do what I can with the greatest amount of love I have, and maybe we’ll cross paths along the way and stop to wish each other a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Season’s Greeting or Fantastic Friday. Maybe I’ll even get my Christmas cards mailed on time because after all, it is the season of miracles, right? Thanks for being you and have a great day.

What are you worthy of?

7 Dec

words-chinese hopeI know several folks going through difficult times. I’ve been thinking about them and praying for them a lot lately. Some of the situations are medical, some emotional, some financial. I also know several folks who are doing very well. They are healthy, emotionally sound and happy and financially comfortable. I wonder sometimes why some people seem so blessed and others seem to struggle. Sometimes, the ones who struggle the most seem to work harder than the ones who succeed. What makes them different? Is it just luck of the draw? Is it education? Or is it something else? I’ve been asking that question a lot lately, and I’m not sure if I have the answers, but I have had some interesting thoughts, flashes of intuition and ideas to share, so here goes.

I don’t know about you, but I think there is much more good in this world than there is bad. I think that bad news currently sells better than good news and that our society has come to believe that facts and reality are negative and that we just have to deal with it. My answer to that is bull****.

Let’s start with the financial, because I think that’s really the easiest. Anyone can live above their means, and most can live within them, if they are willing to take a good look at themselves and what they spend. Poor people work hard, but so do most of the rich people I know. Some of the wealthiest people I know work many more hours than the poor folks I know and they give more to charity. The difference isn’t always in the amount of money that people make; it’s how they spend it. Also, I know several people who make very little money in terms of today’s income levels that have no debt and pay cash for everything they buy, including cars and houses. Yes, there are those who have huge debt and would be bankrupt in less than six months if they lost their income, and sadly, in our country, that has become more the norm, but those are decision made by individuals to put themselves in those situations with no thought of what tomorrow might bring. This is coming from someone who watched a 401k disappear in 2001 when my husband was unemployed for over a year and we had a newborn with special needs. Been there; done that; burned the t-shirt.

Then there are the skinny people. It took me a long time to realize that skinny doesn’t always mean healthy. I know a few skinny people that have a bowl full of medication that they take. I know some who are overweight who take no medication. I know women who look beautiful on the outside that are also beautiful on the inside, but the stories of beautiful women with eating disorders, and drug and alcohol problems are everywhere.

Finally, there is the land of the emotions. I don’t think anyone would disagree that there is a whole lot of crazy out there, but there is also so much good. We hear about the disturbed college students who buy guns and use them. We don’t hear about the hundreds and maybe thousands of college students that are making a positive difference every day around the world. We hear about the drug addled mothers that do unspeakable things to their babies but not about the parents that adopt drug dependent and other special needs babies and raise them to be productive members of society.

So how do we help the pendulum swing toward the good? How do we create a wave of goodness that overwhelms the bad? We become part of the good and share it every chance we get. We all have priorities. Sometimes we tell people what our priorities are, but our actions tell a much different story. Want to know what your true priorities are? Write down everything you do for a week or better yet, a month. You’ll know what your priorities are and what you see may surprise you. If you’re struggling, I would almost guarantee that your priorities don’t match up with your actions, but you can change if you want to. If you’re struggling in any area, begin to work on mastering yourself because it’s the only thing you can master. There are so many people out there trying to save the world and that is a noble cause, but how many are trying to save themselves first? Saving yourself and developing self-mastery is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, but it will give you a depth of strength, love and courage you can only imagine, until you do the work.

If your health is your area of struggle, find a healthy lifestyle you can live with. If it all seems overwhelming, do what health and wellness expert Kathy Freston suggests and “lean” into better health. Pick and choose from different experts. Create your own health plan. Record what you eat and your exercise. Find an exercise you enjoy, whether it’s walking or running or kick boxing or yoga or a combination of something else entirely. You might even want to keep track of how much you sleep and how much water you drink. Changing or improving just one habit per month can change your life in the most positive ways.

If you struggle financially, write down every penny you spend. In the first month, I guarantee you’ll spend less because you don’t want to write down the dumb things you normally spend your money on, and when you add up what you spend, you’ll change your ways. As you begin to pay attention, you’ll make changes. As you make changes, new ideas and materials and maybe even mentors will show up in your life. If you ask successful people, you’ll find out that they didn’t do it themselves. They had help, sometimes in the most unusual ways, but you’ll also find out that they got to where they are by daily actions.

I have a long way to go to get to where I want to be; it’s amazing how action, no matter how small, seems to bring blessings. I’ve been amazed at the information, mentors and help that have flooded our lives as we make positive decisions and then act on them on a daily basis. In the worst economy in my lifetime, according to the news, we’ve learned to thrive financially. We’ve nearly paid off $25,000+ in credit card debt in about three years, just because we made financial health a priority. In the midst of type 1 diabetes, of having a child with a compromised immune system and two with food sensitivities, we’ve learned how to be healthy. From mental abuse in my younger years, I’ve grown to be more emotionally sound than I ever imagined I could be. I’m not bragging, because, as I said, I have a long way to go, but I hope that for those who are struggling, you can understand that there is hope. There is a way out. There is a way up, and the best news is that it doesn’t depend on anyone else because it all starts with you. For those who are struggling, you can make it better. Take that first positive step and then take another and another. Before you know it, you’ll be in a place that is so much better than where you are today. It is possible and you are worth it. Not sure which step should be your first? Try turning off the news for thirty days. Instead of watching someone else’s bad news, create some good news of your own. Thanks for being you and have a great day.

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