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F**K CANCER

This last season wasn’t an easy one. And that’s an understatement. Walking along someone as they battle the hardest fight they’ve ever known, wears even the observer down. Watching a loved one lose the battle, is devastating.

When we heard the words “Stage 4” a year and a half ago, we thought “Fight, fight, fight, at all cost!” (Ani DiFranco) But six months ago, the day after Christmas, when she fell and couldn’t get off the ground, we knew the battlefield had changed. Almost every weekend after, I prepared the kids for what they might see and drove the hour and a half to get to the hospital, rehab, or skilled nursing that she might be in that week. We’d hope we’d have some lucid conversation, maybe a laugh or too, paint her nails, and then set off back home.When she went home on Hospice, I could see she still didn’t believe this was her fate. She was grasping to keep her gloves on. I asked the nurse how much longer and she told me, “Come soon.” I declared “We are throwing Grandma a party!” And that’s just what we did. The family congregated around her hospital bed in the living room and although her eyes remained closed, I would give her a play by play of what was happening.

I had my children say their final goodbyes that night. They held her hand and thanked her for being such a great grandma to them. I was last, and as I laid my hands on her, I thanked her for loving my children so fiercely. She began to gargle, the first attempt of the evening to communicate. It was the best gift she could give me. She was gone four days later.

The preschool she taught at for over 20 years put on a Memorial Service for her two weeks later. They had Hawaiian dancers and kids running around, just as Grandma Linda would have wanted it. We were lei’d with flowers that smelled of the Islands and had food she would have eaten if she had taken one more trip back to her favorite place liked she dreamed of.

To say goodbye, or perhaps hello, we released butterflies. I’ve never been someone to look for others in symbolic gestures but I can tell you that every butterfly I see now makes me smile. I thank her. I wink. I appreciate the time I had with her.

Cancer sucks. Counting down the days until it is the end, is awful. I may have done things differently than she chose to do, but I can’t fault her for not fighting. She fought with everything she had.

We still have the graveside burial to do. It’s been almost two months now and I don’t see anyone pushing to make it happen in the scorching summer heat. Maybe in Fall, the season she enjoyed so much when she lived in Virginia, we will do it. I have a vial of her as well that I have vowed to take to Hawaii some day so she can go back to her favorite place. Until then, I have butterflies.

And with that, I add Linda Murray, my mother-in-law to my list of 31 Influential Women in my life, posthumously. We may have not always seen eye to eye, but anyone who advocates for my children the way she did, will always garner my respect.

Word of the Year 2016: FREE

The calendar year has once again turned over and I never wrote about my 2016 Word of the Year. Maybe it was too personal. Maybe I felt I needed to explain it too much. Whatever reason it may have been, I wanted to make sure I documented it before I moved on to 2017.

FREE.

When my mother-in-law first met me over 18 years ago, she called me a FREE SPIRIT. And I was. I was also fearless, a little reckless, and a lot selfish. But free spirit definitely sounded better.

As life would have it, marriage struggles, finances, cancer, having children, the basics of adulting, made me less free spirited and more heavy-hearted. I walked through death, divorce, and diagnosis with other mothers and saw that my joie de vivre was really just ignorance wrapped up in adrenaline.

And I became hard.

And hardness doesn’t look good on anyone. I needed to be released of this hardness.

So I set out to set myself free. But I found my freedom in the faith that had carried me through the hard. “The joy of the Lord is my strength” resonated with me. God’s strength gives me joy; my joy comes only from God’s strength. He (Jesus) even used MY word! “If you abide in my word you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth and the truth will set you FREE.” (John 8:31-32) And again in John 8:36, he says “If the Son sets you FREE, you are FREE indeed!”

What happened when I became free?

-I began to laugh outloud again. I love to laugh, I love to make people laugh, but I lost my laughter. This year I didn’t suppress it. Working with my students in Special Ed, I watched them feel their feelings. When something is funny, they laugh, loudly and without constraint. I wanted to be more like my students so I followed their lead.

-I danced more. I love to dance. Part of my love of practicing yoga is that I feel like I am dancing when I move from pose to pose. It doesn’t matter that I’m not actually that good at dancing; the freedom comes in releasing the expectations of what it “should” look like. And when your 68-year-old mother asks to go dancing for her birthday at a drag queen street party, you dance.

-I rode a bike. (It had been 20 years since the last time.)

-I rode a camel. I thought I’d do that for the first time in the deserts of the Middle East, but the deserts of Palm Springs sufficed.

-I ran a mud run. And did 25 obstacles throughout it just like ones I did as a kid. It was exhausting and absolutely exhilarating.

-I tried out for things…contests, tickets, brand-enthusiasts, writing awards, even jobs I wasn’t nearly qualified for, and I got passed on most, but some stuck and the fun was in the trying and dreaming.

-I went to the snow, to the desert, to the mountains, to the ocean, to the South, to the woods, to the river, to the City, and to the lake. In other words, I didn’t sit and see the same thing. I was free to explore. I was free to have an adventure.

None of this is to say I am completely released. Everyday is an effort to not live in the bondage of fear or in a world of pseudo control. And some days I don’t have that effort. But I want my kids to know who I once was (minus the selfishness) so I aspire to be sillier, do things that scare me, and remember to smile more.

And in that, I’m FREE.

 

Unconditional Love

unconditional loveI fall back suddenly into the sand. I grab my mouth, checking to see if my weak tooth is still in my mouth. I taste a little blood, but mostly I am stunned. Stunned my little student’s head could pop up so fast. Stunned that it could hurt so bad. I can feel the tears start to form. I don’t want my students to see me cry, so when my co-worker sees that I am not sitting in the sand for the kid’s amusement, I grab my mouth again and run into the hallway.

Once alone, I let the hot tears fall. I first cry for the pain, and then I cry for the possibility of being toothless. But after those fears subside, I find myself crying because this is hard. Three years ago I would have never thought I would be instructing children with special needs. Now, here I am, spending my days (primarily) with three first and second graders who have Down Syndrome. I cry because I often feel like I fail them. I cry because I want to be better for them.

It takes me awhile to push the tears back down. I have opened up a fountain of feelings and I can’t seem to put the lid back on them. After splashing my red, puffy face with water, I look into the bathroom mirror and I am relieved I’ve worn my glasses today. They partly hide the emotions that have streaked down my cheeks.

Upon entering the classroom, I can see the students watch me to see how I am. Their little faces register great concern. My second grader grabs my hand and says, “Mrs. M, it’s your birthday and we’ve made you a party.” (Now, after two years instructing him, I can understand his speech perfectly and I hear his words so clearly, whereas others still look at me to translate him.)

He instructs me to sit down. The other two come closer and they are bearing gifts. They have wrapped up “presents” in baby blankets and doll diapers, ranging from old flip phones to plastic dishes. Little N presents me with a plastic cake and has assembled a pointer with a plastic hand to act as a candle. The children sing to me in loud voices and I start to cry again. This time the tears are not from the pain. This time they are from the unabashed love they are pouring upon me. When the song ends, they throw their arms around me and dog pile me to express their love even more.

I am blessed. I am loved. These children of God don’t know my insecurities, but they know how to love me…in all my imperfections. In all the ways I fail them. They have thrown me a party to remind me that in their eyes, I’m doing okay.

Transitions

transitionsI didn’t know how difficult the transition from SAHM (stay at home mom) to WOTHM (work outside the home mom) would be. I had nine years of waking up and wondering aloud to the kids “What shall we do today? The world is our oyster!” (As long as we remained within our budget and worked around nap times.)

It was not a cakewalk, staying at home. I hate to cook and planning what four people had to put in their mouths to nourish themselves daily nearly drove me mad. But when posed the question from outsiders of what my days consisted of, I would entertain them with stories of how one little girl could perform every song from Wizard of Oz or how one little boy could collect enough sticks to build his own fort if he chose to.

When my 2nd child entered the first grade, it was time for me to return to outside work. The problem was, the field I had been in for ten years (film) now saw me as an old dog. I no longer could (nor wanted to) work 17-hour location days or keep up with the LA pace. My kids had made me soft (in a good way). My 9-year respite had put me behind the curve and knocked me down the ladder, but neither the curve nor the ladder was relevant to me anymore.

My passion for my own career ambition melted into my desire for what would be best for my kids, thus I chose a job at their school to keep the same hours as them. I still write for a kid’s travel site (when all are in bed), allowing me to still follow my own personal passions.

The transition has not been an easy one. My husband and I are still figuring out what household chores look like now that we both work. Fortunately, we have two more set of hands now to add to the help.

transitions

There was no manual for my return. As a lifetime latch key kid, I hadn’t watched my own mother to see how this is done gracefully. My sister has been able to be a SAHM with all four of her children, so her experience has been different than mine. But I’m trying and I’m failing and I’m trying again to balance both home and work and homework and career, while still showing my kids that the world is our oyster.

This piece was submitted to The Village Magazine.

31 Top Influential Women in My Life: My Mom Bonnie

Happy Mother's Day 2016 31 Influential women in my lifeIn honor of Mother’s Day, I am inspired to begin a series called 31 Influential Women in My Life. (Mind you, not 31 days in a row; this may take me a year to get these 31 days out, but that’s ok. Grace.)

For some of you, it may seem an obvious pick to select my own mother for a list of influential women in my life. But unfortunately, more than not, I have met adult women who do not have a close relationship with their own mom. And even more sadly, are the women who have toxic relationships with the woman who gave birth to them. When the person who is supposed to love you unconditionally does not or cannot show her child love, I don’t know how one recovers from that. How do you turn to your own daughter and try to love her if you’ve never experienced unconditional love yourself?

Mothers Day 2016 31 Influential Women in my life

My mother and I (bottom) and myself as a new mother (top).

But that’s not my story. My mom is special. When she looks at me, I know I am (along with my sister) the most treasured jewel she has. Toni Morrison once said on Oprah that she learned her face should light up every time her children walk into the room, so they know, they know and feel, how loved they are. My mom’s face lights up every. Single. Time.

My mother is sunshine and a tiger all in one. You might think those two things don’t go together, but they do. Light emotes from my mother. When you are in her presence, rainbows and unicorns may appear. Beware: you will find yourself telling her your entire life story before you are cognizant of what you are doing. My mother loves a good story, and she believes YOUR story is just as important as any story she has ever heard. YOU are important to my mother. And although growing up, I was often annoyed with having to wait in the car while woman after woman told my mother their story, I intrinsically realized in those moments that women need other women for community, for support, for life. My mother taught me to be a good friend, to be a good woman to other women. Now I call myself a storyteller and that is in thanks to the many stories I heard sitting at the feet of my mother as she drew out a story needed to be told.

My mother’s belly burns with fire. She is the definition of an advocate. You want her on your side. When she is passionate about something, she can move mountains. I have seen it. Although her life long career was a nurse, she could have just as easily been a lawyer or counselor.

Happy Mothers Day 2016 31 Influential Women in my Life

I have lived away from my mother for 20 years now. It seems an unfair fate to have us separated for so long. We treasure the visits we do have, filling them with new memories while reminiscing of old beauties. I see her mischievous look in my son and her effervescent joy in my daughter. So in essence, I have her with me every day.

To say she influenced me is an understatement; my mom shaped me. I rise up and call her blessed. And call myself blessed to be her daughter.

HUSH…

I’ve never told this story out loud. I’ve been ashamed. The shame kept me silent. Twenty years later though, with an 11-year-old daughter to protect, I realize my silence can only do more damage. And now with the latest news of the pop star Kesha having to court order stay in her contract with Sony, a company that employs a producer who allegedly drugged and raped her, I couldn’t keep my mouth closed anymore. I may not be a fan of her music, but I am a fan of her courage.

Brene Brown, a shame researcher and author of some of my favorite books, writes “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it….Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

This is me owning my story…

In college I aspired to be a film director. While working as an intern for a big time production company on Sunset Boulevard, I was approached by an older, distinguished gentleman who offered to “advise” me on my career. He suggested we meet at his home in Beverly Hills (SHAME), at night (SHAME), alone (SHAME), still strangers (SHAME). Each SHAME represents a “Well, it was my fault because I made a bad choice.”

I drove through the gates marked “Beverly Hills,” up a long, winding road, and walked into a mansion overlooking LA. This is what “made it” looked to me at the time.

Upon entering, this man immediately tried to ply me with drinks. I didn’t want to offend him (SHAME), and my 20-year-old self said internally “I can handle this.” I took a few sips, but it tasted strange. He tried a glass of wine, then a cocktail, and thank God I had the where-with-all to casually place them down discreetly. At the time I was not known for saying “No” to alcohol when I was nervous (SHAME). Now, knowing what can be slipped into drinks, I’m even more grateful I didn’t imbibe.

After only a few minutes in his home, I deduced that I was not there to be mentored, bur rather to be the fly in his web. I did not want anything from this man other than his knowledge of his film experience, but he insinuated that I already owed him something for taking some of his time (SHAME).

I told him I wanted to leave. He blocked the door. I’m not sure exactly all that happened after that moment, but I know for sure that I threatened to scream and escaped with my clothes intact. I ran as fast I could to my car, my hands shaking as I tried to put the key into my beat up Chevy door.

I sped down the hill, through those Beverly Hills gates, and pulled over when I was a few miles cleared. And then I cried. I cried because I was mad. I cried because I was scared. I cried because I was ashamed.

This is not an uncommon story. It’s just a story that’s not spoken about very often.

I am even hesitant to tell it because it’s not as awful as someone else’s story. I was lucky. And someone might even say “Forget about it; you got away unharmed.” But I was harmed. Forever harmed. No one can describe that feeling of vulnerability and I don’t want another female to experience it.

When one woman is brave enough to stand up and say “That’s not okay what you did to me,” then we need to stand with her in unison and all together say “ENOUGH!”

Enough taking advantage of our being taught to be a “good girl” instead of what we should have done-scratched and bit.

Enough of the coaches, teachers, and mentors who soak in the power of adolescent girls who look up to them and then turn it perverse.

Enough times for when a woman does speak out and a federal court forces her to stay with a company who stands behind an alleged rapist.

Enough with men who see females and think they can take from them.

Enough of a society who looks the other way or even worse, shames the female for what happens to her.

Enough. Speak Up. #freekesha

Look For The Good

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It’s been one month since the tragedy that hit closest to me occurred and this is the first time I’ve been able to write about it. You see, until I write about something, I can’t fully process it. I’ve avoided processing this one because I don’t want to believe my little sleepy town could be the front page of the news and I am in denial that this is my children’s “new normal.”

On December 2nd, 2015, two terrorists walked into a meeting in San Bernardino, CA, and killed 14 people and injured 21 more. This happened a few short miles from the school I work at, the school my children attend, the school that has the word CHRISTIAN written brazenly on the exterior. I sat with my students, each with their own special need, listening to the sirens roar by, in search for this young couple, parents even, who chose to spread their hate. I felt like a sitting duck, fiercely protective of my students, and at the same time, wanting desperately to have my own two children within arms reach.

When my family was finally home, together, my husband and I listened on the scanner to see where the manhunt was. A street two blocks from our house was called out by the dispatcher. Terror crept in closer and closer to our supposed “safe haven.” Later, we were to find out that walking distance from our home, an apartment I drove by several times a day, housed items of destruction with deadly intent. Our idea of safety was overthrown, our quaint little town, desecrated.

Helicopters loomed low over our home for the next week; their constant noise was deafening and a continual reminder of what just happened. News vans filled our streets and our town which none of my Nor Cal friends could remember, was now seared in the country’s brain.

All along, no one would call it what it was: terrorism. It evoked terror in all of us. My eight-year-old boy who even at such a young age was concerned about and questioned the prior Paris attacks and Syrian Refugee crisis, asked the returning day to school whether “Bad guys would come again today.” My sixth grader came home questioning how a MOTHER could do such a thing. “What will happen to their baby Mama?” My children’s world was rocked and yet, my empathetic daughter was concerned for the child.

I wanted to be like that. I didn’t want fear and anger to consume me. But I knew I was changed. A car exhaust back firing made me duck. A lingering helicopter brought me right back. Like a mantra, I repeated “I was not given a spirit of fear, but a spirit of POWER, LOVE, and self-discipline.” (Taken from 2 Timothy 1:7)

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I was reminded of the often-quoted saying of the wise Mr. Rogers “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

So I looked for the good.

As I was tucking my son into bed one night, I asked him how he was handling all of this and if he had any questions. He asked, “How did they do it?” I said, “Is that really the question you’re asking?” “No,” he replied. “WHY did they do it?” I told him there has always been evil in this world and there always will be. But there is so much good son, so much good. Look for the good.

And with that, I told him about how one man covered a fellow co-worker with his body and told her, “I’VE GOT YOU.” And he did. He died so she could live. And then I told him about the police officer who began to clear the room at the scene. The people who could walk out on their own trembled in fear that more could happen. The officer calmed them down by saying, “Try to relax everyone. I’ll take a bullet before you do, that’s for damn sure.” That is the good. Humans being human: loving, compassionate, life giving, and life preserving.

I hope you don’t have to have these discussions with your 8-year-old. I hope their childhood innocence is preserved longer than my child’s was. But even in a less dramatic situation, I hope you remember to “Look for the good.”

It’s out there. I will not let those 14 people’s lives be taken for nothing. I will not let our lives be shrouded in fear and contempt. I will look for the good and even take it one step further and I will try to be the good.

 

 

 

Glory in God’s Gift of Girlfriends

This article was originally titled “Why Jen Hatmaker should be our new best friend” when I was in the first stages of writing it. But I have found my own group of women who I call “my church.” They have lifted me through some of my hardest days; like, literally, carried me. You need a group of women too. Don’t envy someone else’s group on Instagram. Go and make your own and revel in the Glory of God’s Gift of Girlfriends. But still, there’s a lot to learn and chew on in Ms. Hatmaker’s writing.

Obedience isn’t a lack of fear. It’s just doing it scared.”

Jen Hatmaker, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess

jen-hatmaker

A friend of mine attended a Jen Hatmaker conference this year in Santa Barbara (insert jealous emoji here). She took a great picture with said speaker and “just because they were leaving at the same time,” took another one together at the end of the day. Now I’m not one to put people on pedestals, but for goodness sakes, that woman seems like a whole bowl of fun. I’m not saying let’s nominate her for sainthood, but it does make me think, “There are some good reasons we should all want Jen as our new best friend.” (Written in bullet point fashion, because we are all too busy to read complete, drawn out thoughts. Can I get an amen?)

Words of Wisdom (Jen Hatmaker-style)

-She convicted us in her book “Seven” but we knew we needed to be convicted, so it was all okay. Many women I speak to are afraid of raising entitled children. I don’t want my child’s biggest question to be “When will I get an iphone like my friends have?” But how do we change that? How do we form children who are empathetic? How do we continue to be empathetic battling our own selfish desires?

“I’m going to bed tonight grateful for warmth, an advantage so expected it barely registers. (…) I won’t defile my blessings by imagining that I deserve them. Until every human receives the dignity I casually enjoy, I pray my heart aches with tension and my belly rumbles for injustice.”

Jen Hatmaker, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess

-She’s prepped me for this year (cue dramatic music), MIDDLE SCHOOL! In her words…

“Reader, tell me there is no worse three-year period in the human experience than 6th-8th grade. I’m scared, but I’m prepared.” -Jen Hatmaker: Some Things I Wish Would Just Go Away

-She has a wrist tattoo, and a tatted up husband. Working at a conservative Christian Reformist school, I may be the only one employed there who has a tattoo, or at least a visible one. I also love my tatted up husband. He’s like a walking art exhibit wherever we go. Unfortunately, some people don’t have the same art appreciation. She bridges that gap.

-Jen landed a TV show while wearing braces. I had adult braces for 18 months. Hollywood was not knocking at my door during that period.

Interrupted was one of the first Christian books I felt like I really related to. It helped me in leadership (not taking anything personally from church higher ups) and confirmed that we don’t have to be khaki-white collars (although if you are, that’s fine too.)

Jen hatmaker

-She encourages us to step out of our fear.

“Brave moms raise brave kids,” Honestly? I like a little grit in my story. I often feel suffocated by my generation’s insistence on safety and control and perfection and hegemony. I genuinely like my kids to be a little wild and free.” -Jen Hatmaker: Brave Moms Raise Brave Kids

-But, she then gracefully chides us that

“Our children are humans and deserve to be treated respectfully. Discipline doesn’t include raging, screaming, abusing, neglecting, humiliating, or shaming our kids. God never treats us like that. That sort of discipline never “produces a harvest of righteousness and peace.”

Jen Hatmaker, Out of the Spin Cycle: Devotions to Lighten Your Mother Load

-She wears turquoise jewelry. Enough said.

-She’s willing to admit that adoption is hard.

-In Interrupted, she was convicted to place her brand new cowboy boots at the altar when the pastor asked for them to give their best for the homeless, for Christ. That story stuck with me. Not to praise her, but to convict me. Am I giving my best? Or am I giving just enough?

-When she spoke at IF this last year (where the vision was to Gather, Equip, Unleash), she let out some real gems. The following statements are my takeaway from her session…

         Jesus measured greatness by SERVICE, not by POWER.

         Tell our neighbors “We are for you!” We serve a kingdom that cannot be shaken; nobody can threaten it. We do not need to be Jesus DEFENDERS, but REPRESENTATIVES.

         Mercy will cost you. Discipleship hurts. We will feel it and it will become our burden…But then we will LIKE IT.

         We need to do MORE than Serving Safe people and Blessing Blessed people.

         And my all time favorite (because perhaps I can relate to it the most), “I’m not precious, sweet, or kind. That’s fine, I’m other things.” Hallelujah for the other things.

-But the thing I would talk with her the most over sweet tea and picking at the local antique store, would be how in our fear, and in our lack of compassion, we are not raising missionaries for the next generation. That scares me, it saddens me, and it convicts me to do better, try harder, and get down on my knees and pray more.

Sidenote: This article was written before the attacks on Paris (11/15). Fear is among us, but it cannot rule us. Check out this article on Trekaroo Why We Travel: To Raise Compassionate Global Citizens. These mamas choose to continue to travel, despite fear. It resonates with me and with how I want to raise my children.

 

 

Word of the Year…Revised

I began 2015 with a strong word: TRUST. I thought it was a word that gave up control. I thought it was a word that would encompass the changes that I foresaw were coming. I was convinced that if I just trusted God, the universe, the “plan,” anything ENOUGH, it would all work out; things would fall into place the way they were supposed to.

Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on which way you look at it), I still had my greedy little hand wrapped around any control I could find, thus voiding any trust I thought I was putting out there. I took a word that I thought I could “throw at the feet of Jesus” (please excuse the Christianese), and leave there. I found myself in the muck still trying to duck dive for any hidden control.

My word needed to evolve…

I would not be exaggerating to say this has been the most hellish year of my 40 years here on earth. Wish I was being dramatic, but without divulging my dirty laundry of a life, this year made me want to run. Run far, far away. So my word merged into WAIT. Exactly what I did NOT want to do. But I didn’t have a better plan and surely, with waiting, I would not try to retain any more control. Yes, to wait is still being active, exercising patience, but it’s docile at the same time. I had no “right” direction to go, so all I could do was wait. But it was still about ME, me waiting, me putting in the self-restraint to wait. Me…controlling.

I didn’t go. Well, I haven’t left.

But then wait merged into SURRENDER.

I surrender all, I surrender all, all to Thee, my blessed Savior, I surrender all.

That’s the song I heard the day I found my new word. There’s nothing after surrender. There’s no control in it. There’s no chance of control. It’s throwing my arms up and proclaiming “Take it, cause I’ve got nothing.” Complete surrender, ironically, brings complete peace, because the lack of control is refreshing. I thought it’d be scary; it’s liberating. It’s not on me anymore. If my life goes down this path: it’s okay. And if my life goes down the other path-that’s okay too.

A state of complete surrender is all God wants from us and it took me a year of brokenness to get there.

 

Don’t give up.