So long, farewell…

Sunset over Grand Traverse Bay.

Dear My Sweet Hat Trick,

I am writing to inform you that you are being let go.

You were so good to me. I learned so much from you. You gave me a very safe space to practice sharing my story…and releasing it! Poof, into cyberspace my words went and I hardly ever knew what came of them. But, they are out there.

You came to me at a time when I really needed you. I needed a place to reflect on what it meant to lose someone I loved so very much and miss so madly. My dad. With each holiday and anniversary and birthday and little league game where he once stood, behind the dugout, waiting for just the right opportunity to give James an encouraging nod or ask Dan what happened in that last play, my heart breaks.

I can put the pieces back together now though. Funny thing about the heart – it regenerates. I’m sure of it. In the spaces left dark and cold by life and loss, love enters, settles in, and multiplies there. Hearts are really big. Much bigger than any of us can imagine. Hearts are resilient. They (literally!) take a beating day after day. Hearts are strong and tough, like warriors. At night, hearts restore themselves. If not at night, then in the daytime, or anytime when we are not looking. Our great big hearts bounce back from pain, fear, and hatred, and they make more room for love. And then, filled with love and forgiveness and gratitude, to ease the pain of all that hurts us, our hearts wait for our minds to catch up to them.

A heart’s love is abundant. A bounty, really. Believe me, I know. I tried protecting the open spaces in my heart, thinking there is not enough love for me, and sometimes even thinking that I was not enough – that I was not worthy of the love. Then, when I least expected it, when I thought I had it all figured out, the space filled with love again. Love doesn’t overflow from our hearts to the space that surrounds them. No, our hearts expand. It is true. For example, the longer I know Dan and watch the ways in which he gives of himself so generously and graciously, the bigger my heart gets. And, then there are the little hearts that came in to prove my theory. Three little, tiny, beautiful beating hearts – my original hat trick – filled the empty spaces right up and taught me that life is way too fragile, way too short, and way too fun to hold back. Even a little.

Thank you. I will never forget you. And thanks in part to my knowing just enough, but not too much, I think you may always have a special spot in cyberspace. You might have a new friend soon, like a blog sister or something. I’m not sure yet. There is something new coming, from me to the world, and while I don’t know exactly what shape it will take, I guarantee you that it will be about living and loving really super-duper to the moon and back BIG.

Take care my friend.
xoxo
Love, Anna

Rockabye Sweet Baby James

Ten years ago today at 6:39 a.m. a new baby boy, James Hodges Oginsky, was born. At the very same time, a new mother was born. That was me.

There are few things as precious as holding your newborn baby for the very first time.

That afternoon my husband – Dan returned to our little bubble of newborn euphoria after going home to take a shower. He burst into the room and said, “Our son must be a poet!”

Why? I asked.

“Because everything is in full bloom!” he responded.

I imagined the tightly closed tulip buds in front of our house. It was our first Spring there. I had no doubt that the tulips bloomed just for James. I would not be at all surprised if his first act on earth was to make the tulips bloom. I can still picture the bright yellow tulips welcoming us home from the hospital a couple days later. We listened to Sweet Baby James by James Taylor as we pulled into our neighborhood. We were so excited. As brand new parents, we had no idea what we were doing and I don’t think we cared.

So, I have been a mother for just about 25% of my life. This is the longest I’ve stayed at any job.

Motherhood thrust me into the fullest expansions and contractions I’d ever known. Before James was born I buried a lot of emotions deep inside my soul. I tucked all that was unpleasant neatly away. I learned that some things were better left unsaid. I decided that some feelings were meant to be kept to myself. That approach to life didn’t serve me well in motherhood. Suddenly, my emotions knew no bounds. Once our sweet and healthy Baby James arrived complete with all working parts, I could not contain my joy. At each and every one of his milestones, I beamed with pride. I soaked up everything he did in pure delight. I lived more fully and I felt more deeply. I expanded. And, I also contracted. I remember sitting at home with James, just the two of us. I was exhausted. I had never been so tired in my entire life. My bones were tired. I felt depleted. I was spit upon, sucked upon, and pooped upon. Dan and I were in a competition to see who was doing the most with the littlest amount of rest. Neither of us seemed to be winning. I had heard about motherhood from my friends. They said it was AMAZING. That told me that becoming a mom was the best thing they ever did. I wondered why my friends lied to me. It was hard. I was tired. Sometimes I wondered what I had gotten myself into. I shrunk into myself whenever I could, trying. Desperately. To conserve. Energy. I think being a mother is a lot like breathing. Sometimes I take deep, deliberate breaths, expanding my lungs to their fullest capacity. Sometimes I hold my breath, waiting, wondering what is yet to come. Sometimes I am out of breath. Most of the time, breathing just happens. I eventually learned that my friends didn’t lie to me about motherhood. It was everything they said it was. But, it is hard too.

About a month after I found out I was pregnant, the Twin Towers crumbled to the ground. In as much as I was overcome with joy when I learned that I was growing a baby in my belly, I was paralyzed with fear on September 11, 2001. I remember lying in bed with Dan the night of 9/11, wondering how I could bring a baby into such a violent, hate-filled world. I was mortified.

A lot happened in ten years. First, of course, Sweet Baby James was born. Dan worked a lot. James and I stayed home playing with trains and watching Oprah. I had a miscarriage. Dan took a new job and the three of us moved into a new home, closer to that new job. Another baby was born. And then another. My dad passed away. I fell apart. We got a dog. I put myself back together. We moved again. Over the last ten years Dan and I built our family. We were happy for the most part. We laughed. A LOT. We cried a lot too. The first day that James was to ride the school bus to kindergarten, Dan and I walked him to the bus stop. James walked up the steps to the bus and he didn’t even look back. Dan and I went home and cried together on our loveseat. Dan cries at most movies. I cry all the time. Our kids cry. Even the dog cries.

The last ten years seem so full to me. Then I think about other people and what they have experienced…getting married, getting divorced, fighting illness, beating illness, running big companies, starting small businesses, leaving jobs and finding new ones. Moving across the country. Moving overseas. Losing loved ones. Giving birth and adopting babies. It is all happening at once. We are all expanding and contracting in our own ways.

I have vivid memories of my labor with James. That could be because I’ve heard Dan retell HIS version of the story so many times. In his version, I slept through labor and POOF! The baby was born. In my version, he slept through my labor. Truth be told, he snored through my labor. When it was time to push, I woke him up. I put on some deodorant. We may have even brushed our teeth. I pushed.

The doctor asked if I wanted to feel the baby’s head.

I screamed, “I CAN FEEL THE BABY’S HEAD!” (this is true in both versions) and then POOF! James was born.

I remember how scared I was when we learned that James was jaundice. I had no idea what that meant, but it didn’t sound good. He had a little box in my hospital room where he bathed in fake sunlight. He wore infant sized sunglasses. Having to put him in a box instead of holding him seemed like the end of the world to me. Then, when our second son, Alexander, was born, he had his own little box too. In the NICU. He was in a medically induced coma for days. Then, that seemed like the end of the world to me. We didn’t hold Alexander until several days after his birth. We left him in his little box when we went back to our room at the hospital hotel each night. It didn’t feel right. All the images I had preconceived about the happy days after Alexander’s birth were blown to bits. James welcomed his baby brother enthusiastically. He stroked Alexander’s little head and whispered brotherly wisdom into his ears. And then there was Sophia. I don’t think anyone will ever dare to put our little Sophia in a box. The fact that the two very same people can have three very different children will never cease to amaze me. It happens ALL THE TIME, but still, how does that happen?

One thing that all three labors and deliveries have in common is Dan repeating to me, “Don’t push back. Let it flow through you…” That relaxed me. Well, you know, as much as one can relax when she is trying to give birth to a baby. Because I have to hear something several times before it finally settles in, he had to say that a lot. He keeps saying it, in fact. Of all the words of wisdom I’ve ever read or heard (and if you know me, you know that this would amount to many, many, MANY words of wisdom), I think this simple mantra is one of the most powerful. Don’t push back. Let it flow through you.

I never really imagined myself as a mother. Sure, I was a nice girl, but I’m not sure I was all that nurturing. I didn’t babysit a lot of kids. I wasn’t a camp counselor. Mothering didn’t come naturally to me. I distinctly remember the first time I ever helped a baby to fall asleep. It was during one of my volunteer shifts at a shelter for battered women and their children in D.C. The baby was crying. I waited for someone to make him stop. It didn’t happen. I picked him up and held him close and bounced a little, like I had seen the moms at the shelter do. I even patted his little diaper coated bottom. He stopped crying right away. After awhile I looked down and saw that he was sleeping and I thought for sure a miracle had taken place. I think that was one of my proudest moments ever. Soothing someone to sleep may seem like a small task, especially if you do it every day, but I still believe it is one of the most magical, miraculous acts of humankind.

It is almost unimaginable to think that the tiny infant I held for the first time ten years ago today was the James I now know. He reads before bed each night. He usually turns off his own light. Could this be the same child who didn’t sleep through the night until he was 18 months old? He doesn’t always order from the Kids Menu at restaurants anymore. He makes his own breakfast. It really does go by so fast.

It is a profound privilege to grow a person. It is simply astonishing to listen as a small child, my child, assembles sounds, then words, then sentences, and then stories. It is remarkable to watch as a baby takes command of his body. He reaches. He discovers his hands. He marvels at these hands as he learns to grasp things. He sticks his fingers in his nose. He learns to crawl, walk, run, and eventually round the bases and do a high-kick in karate.

It is a huge responsibility to grow a person too. Huge. I remember taking James to his well-baby exams. Eagerly waiting to receive professional validation of how he had grown. Hoping I gave accurate answers to the stream of routine questions. When the stats were in and all looked as it should, the pediatrician smiled and said, “Good job, Mama.” I blushed.

I don’t hear a lot of “Good job Mama”s anymore. Not that expect to. I understand that the outcomes are much harder to measure. And, really, most importantly, it’s James who is doing a good job now. He is an incredible kid. He is so sensitive. He defends bugs. He always has. Once when I swatted a bee away from Alexander’s head, and it died, James cried. We had a funeral. He has his dad’s short temper. He is freaky smart. He has a GREAT sense of humor. He believes in fairness and justice (unless it involves his Legos and his little brother). He is a lot like my dad. He even looks like my dad. When he was born Dan said, “I think you just gave birth to your dad.” My dad adored James. Tomorrow would have been my dad’s 65th birthday. It is still strange to celebrate James’s birthday and not my dad’s birthday too.

My mom sat in front of me weeping this week. She was remembering the day James was born. She said the forsythia bloomed at her house that day. She said, “do you remember that little box he was in?” I laughed. I told her I was writing about all of that. She said that she and my dad went home that morning and made a pot of coffee. Then they swapped stories about the early morning hours, when they became grandparents. I never thought I would find an adequate “thank you” for my parents, for all that they had done to support me and nurture me and help me along my path through life. But when I saw the way their faces lit up around their grandchildren, I felt like I had repaid them in a way by making them grandparents. As my mom and I talked and cried, it felt a lot like my dad was here too. He would have been crying with us, remembering the day he met Sweet Baby James.

I just thought of something. In ten years, James will be TWENTY.

And I will have been a parent for almost 2/5 of my life.

Now, THAT is unimaginable.

I thought feeding my kids was a huge responsibility. Um, how about getting a kid through puberty? And teaching him to DRIVE?

I thought sending James off to kindergarten was heartbreaking. What about COLLEGE?

Despite the fact that I’ve been a mother for ten big years, I am clearly still a rookie! I’m not real sure I am qualified to parent a tween, much less a teenager! But, then again, a lot of what I’ve done so far is to help prepare James for his journey through life. My Sweet Baby James is his own person now. If you don’t believe me, ask him. One of our favorite James stories involves Dan pleading with James, who refused to choose a favorite between rivals Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. Dan suggested that since the people who “breathed life into” James are Michigan State Spartans, James might take that into account before making a decision. Wouldn’t that be grounds enough to at least consider declaring an alliance to the Spartans too?

Not really.

James said, “But I breathe life into me now, Dad.”

Thankfully, it only took one amazing basketball season to convert James to a full blown Spartan. He rode piggyback on Dan and they jumped around the house cheering for the Spartans through the season. I loved watching James gain enthusiasm for the Spartans. Maybe it meant even more to me because it was something he chose to do. Eventually.

Perhaps the very best I can do is to be here for James, to stand by his side, and to again embrace the opportunity I have to bear witness to his growth and discovery. To give him the facts and help him to make his own interpretations. To help him with his homework. To help him get along with Alexander and Sophia. To make him laugh. To snuggle with him. To listen to him. To guide him. To protect him. To fight for him. To love him. To expand, to contract, and to make myself available, for the times when I am needed to rockabye my sweet Baby James.

James and me last night - the night before he hit double digits.

Happy 10th Birthday Buddy! I can only imagine what you’ve got in store for this world. I look forward to seeing how your story unfolds. Love, Mom

Keeping it Real on Valentine’s Day

Here we are – it’s Valentine’s Day. For some it’s all about love sweet love and for others, it’s just another day. When my daughter was born on Valentine’s Day four years ago, February 14 became a permanent LOVE day for me. I’m a sucker for romance. I love chocolate. Love it! I love roses and sparkly things, and I of course love my husband, but more than anything I love this day because it is Sophia’s birthday.

That said, I’m still thinking about love today. I have been trying to imagine what love looks like? I have a few ideas…

This is a picture of Dan and me on our wedding day (August 16, 1997). This was after the ceremony in the backseat of our getaway car – the 1969 Chevelle SuperSport that he and his dad built together. His brother, Max, was getting ready to drive and my sister, Sarah, was riding shotgun. I love this picture. When I look at it, it reminds me of what it felt like to have our whole lives in front of us and all the people we loved most in the world around us. It felt like we could handle anything as long as we had each other. I was probably being goofy when the picture was snapped, but I think I look like I adore him. And he looks like he adores me. Love looks like this, I think.

Love also looks like this:

Oh my gosh, I love this picture! My sister took it last year after my niece’s birthday party. Maybe my mom took it? Anyway, I love that this moment was captured to enjoy for the rest of time. Or however long it lasts. No matter how I’m feeling, I can’t help but to smile when I see this picture. Look at it – my three kids laughing together in my arms and me holding them tightly as if nothing else matters. We are in our own little blissful mother and child utopia at that moment. It’s like a commercial for motherhood. All smiles, all laughter, all hugs!

I think love looks like this too:

Yes, I’m sure of it. This is from Thanksgiving, 2009. The last Thanksgiving we had with my dad. This picture captures the complete chaos that ensues wherever children go. We try to contain them, but they cannot be contained. Kids embody life in all of its glory, with their goofy smiles and random poses. Kids don’t worry what people think about them or whether they have food on their faces. If they don’t feel like smiling or looking at the camera, they don’t. No matter how you try to bribe them. They are impulsive and uninhibited and I love that about kids. They LIVE.

I think love looks like fun. In these pictures, love is about laughter and living and sharing and feeling connected to others. Love has its hair done, mostly, and it is dressed well and it probably smells good too. I just remembered my dad’s friend, Andy. At my dad’s funeral Andy shared that during their gigs (my dad played the guitar and Andy was the drummer), my dad would say, “We may not be good lookin’ but we’re sure looking good…!” Love looks good here.

We are BOMBARDED with images in our lives. Most of these images make love look good. In commercials and television shows and in movies we may see a glimpse or two of heartache, but mostly love looks good. And then there is Facebook! Love always looks good on Facebook. Okay, maybe not always, but for the most part, let’s be honest, with the exception of the picture I saw today of a cupid laid out flat with an arrow – presumably his own arrow – sticking up out of him and blood all around him (seriously People, why the face?), love looks good.

This is where my mama bear springs into action today, on Valentine’s Day, on Love Day. I know there are people out there, and you may be one of them, who see these images and think that what they see looks so good, beyond good, to the point where what they have in their own lives looks bad. Really bad.

So, we don’t typically post pictures of the moments, right before a wedding, when a bride might be acting a little bridezilla-ish in the dressing room, perhaps. I don’t post pictures of myself on days like today where I look like I have two black eyes because I stayed up way too late last night doing God only knows what because I hate going to bed when Dan is out of town. Concealer’s got nothing on these dark circles. I NEVER post pictures of the look on my face, every afternoon, when I am about to sit down for a cup of coffee, and the coffee is actually hot, and Sophia screams out from the bathroom, “MOM! WILL YOU WIPE MY BUTT?” And I think I might just go the opposite way, out the door, and away… To someplace warm, maybe? But far, where nobody ever asks me to wipe his or her butt. And, thankfully, I have not yet posted a picture of Sophia’s butt. And there are no pictures of less lovely grandparental moments, like when my son used to kick my dad under the table at restaurants and after about the six thousandth kick, my dad would look like he was about to blow. My son kicks me now. It’s karma for wondering how my dad could possibly lose patience with my perfect little son, while knowing full well that little kids kick hard. And, all those people on TV, well, we know by now that they are not even REAL anymore with all the millions of ways they are made-up and digitally “perfected,” so while their love looks good, it’s not REAL either.

I think this is so important to remember, as sweet spiritual beings, in our human bodies, surrounded by images that make love and life look so good and words (i.e,. “status updates”) that make it all sound SO GOOD, that what we see isn’t always real. There is a place where we can celebrate along with our friends and family members and even strangers, and that is a nice, happy place. There is another place where we begin to feel badly when we see people looking really good and hear that things are going well for them. We might feel like we don’t measure up, or wonder if there is something wrong with us because we aren’t looking or sounding so good – because while they are on a beach in Hawaii we are wiping butts in snowy Michigan. We might ask, “Why can’t I have that (that love, that family, that child, that spouse, that body, that house, that job, that vacation…whatever that is)?” That place is a little darker, a little sadder, and it doesn’t really feel good. Not at all. Sometimes we get stuck there. We might think it is our destiny to stay in that dark, sad, uncomfortable place forever.

I know now, like I have never known before, that each of us, all of us, each and every single one of us, is worthy. We all measure up. We are all lovable. I want you to trust me on this one. I may have dark circles under my eyes and I don’t love wiping butts, but I am trustworthy. I can say with all the confidence in the world that you measure up. You absolutely, positively measure up. That dark place? You can go there if you must, but please don’t stay there.

We all hurt. We all have bad hair days. We all make mistakes. We are all learning. Please tell me we all have bags under our eyes? Sometimes? We all have not so picture perfect moments. Even if we don’t share them. Even if we pretend they don’t exist. Oh, they do. Some of us lie. Some of us are fake. Some of us aren’t keeping it real. All things considered, it’s not fair to compare our worst with someone else’s best, or someone else’s attempt to look their best. You know what? It’s not fair to compare. At all. When you compare yourself to someone else, for better or for worse, your own light dims. We need bright, shining lights on this planet.

On this day, this LOVE DAY, I would like to invite you NOT to compare your love or your life or your light to anybody else’s love, life, or light. If you are wondering what love looks like, like I was. Look in the mirror! What you see there is love. Don’t look online or in magazines or in books or on television, look at yourself. YOU are LOVE. You are worthy. You measure up! You have talents and dreams and a beautiful mind that can make them all come true. You are lovable. You are a knock-out and an AMAZING soul. Love yourself on Valentine’s Day. Be your own very best Valentine. YOU are what love looks like. Take my word for it.

Me and Sophia Pearl, my little love girl.

‘Tis the Season to be Crazy. Not.

This Christmas will be the best Christmas I’ve had in years. Nope, I didn’t find the gift of all gifts for everyone on my shopping list. I’m not expecting anything unusual or extraordinary myself. It’s not even about Jesus or Santa Claus or cookies or candy or carols. All the usual cast and crew will be present, so no special appearances are planned. This Christmas is different because I am different. I feel different. I am operating differently this year.

I’ve been making some changes in the way I live life in the last year or so, but I didn’t realize how much I had changed until last Sunday. It was Day 8 of my husband, Dan, working in his office from dawn until way, way, way, (WAY) past dusk. I knew he would be busy, but I didn’t know how busy. I wasn’t at all prepared for him to be gone as much he was. It wasn’t that he jumped ship without discussing it with me, I just couldn’t wrap my head around his need to go missing when I was expecting him to stay put.

We hosted a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday and our first-ever Pierogi Day on Friday (a longstanding tradition in Dan’s family) and he left for work on Saturday morning and didn’t come back. Much. In the meantime, as soon as my 5 year-old son Alexander swallowed his last bite of turkey on Thanksgiving Day, he began asking if it was Christmas. He wondered where our tree was. He wondered when our decorations would go up. He offered to put them up. He noticed other people putting theirs up. He feared we were the only people on the planet without Christmas decorations up (which we know isn’t true, but he is 5 and lives in a world where everyone celebrates Christmas and refuses to believe me if I try to tell him something different).

I spent Saturday night with some of my aunts and cousins on my mom’s side of the family for our annual Secret Pal Getaway and gift exchange. I laughed so hard and for so long that my cheeks hurt the next day. I stayed up way too late and was exhausted when I woke up the next morning. Visions of coffee danced through my head as I drove home on Sunday morning. I was tired, but touched by the Christmas spirit. My sister hosted the Secret Pal gathering and her house was decorated beautifully. I wanted my own twinkle lights. I wanted to put our tree up. I wanted to see Alexander’s huge smile when I put it up.

I polled the kids earlier in the week. We voted to stick with our artificial tree from last Christmas instead of going out to cut a fresh one. I knew the box was in our basement. I imagined it was heavy. I decided I would carry the damn tree up piece by piece if I had to because I was determined to put up our tree. Anna of yesteryear would have created a story that went something like “Dan is not home to carry the tree upstairs. We’ll have to wait until next weekend to put up our tree.” With a huge dose of Woe is Me, My Husband Works Too Much and a sprinkle of What a Jerk, He is Ruining Christmas. She could be unpleasant.

By the time I had the tree upstairs, my mom arrived and my sister and niece arrived shortly thereafter. Right before my eyes, the tree was assembled and the stockings were hung by the chimney with care (I’m not kidding). Alexander carried our ornaments upstairs from the basement and soon my three kids and their sweet little cousin were decorating. We played Christmas music. It was completely spontaneous. I hadn’t planned for any of it to happen (like Anna of yesteryear might have). It could not have been more perfect.

Thinking about my ghosts of Christmas past makes me cringe. I was a 5’10” tower of stress. I wanted everything to be perfect. But because I didn’t know what perfect looked like, I drove myself crazy striving to attain the unattainable. It was a vicious cycle because no matter how hard I tried, or how much I bought, or how much I donated, or what I baked, or how pretty I made the package, it wasn’t good enough. I always fell short of my own unrealistic expectations. Nothing I did ever was or could be enough. I was never good enough.

I had visions of what our Christmas should look like. We should take a long drive out to a beautiful, snow-covered Christmas tree farm singing Over the River and through the Woods as we drove. We should take a hayride to a delectable Evergreen forest and select a fragrant fir for our home. We should enjoy hot cocoa by the fire afterward… The last time we went to the Christmas tree farm, we walked around for what seemed like hours. We were about to give up on finding our perfect tree, then spotted one at the last second. We were freezing, the kids were crying, and Dan’s arms were aching from carrying our little one. It was not picture perfect. I will give Anna of yesteryear credit because she was able to go with the flow in situations like that one. She saw the humor in how unpredictable life could be. She even had fun when things weren’t picture perfect. She adapted her visions of perfection and knew that what was perfect one time, might not be perfect the next time. I still think she might have filed away all that was imperfect somewhere in her heart or in her head. I think she used it as motivation to make everything else even more perfect.

Now I know that nothing is perfect, but those sweet, special, spontaneous moments that happen, not because I wait for someone else to create them or because I create them, but because those perfect moments occur naturally, all around me. I like that kind of perfection. Sometimes it is messy. Sometimes it means that all the ornaments end up on the lowest branches of the tree because that is as high as a kid can reach. Sometimes it means that not everyone is there as I would like them to be, and sometimes it means that people I never expected to be there, show up. Appreciating this kind of perfection requires me to let go of expectations or visions or yearnings for that other kind of perfection – the elusive kind.

I feel liberated. I still have my moments and it is only December 7th so there is a lot of time left to go crazy, but my motivation is completely different now than it has been in the past. I’m having lots of fun wandering around town admiring twinkle lights and listening to my kids laugh when Alvin and the Chipmunks sing their Christmas songs on the radio. I’m not attached to the outcome of Christmas. There is no voice in my head saying, “you should have bought this instead…she will hate that…he already has one of those…those cookies are burnt…that bow isn’t straight…those ornaments are too low…oh screw it, next year we’re going to Mexico for Christmas.” Nope, none of that. I’m doing the best I can. I know Dan is doing his best. I know my mom and my sister, while dreading another Christmas without my dad as I am, are doing their best. I’m not going crazy because I know that everything, in all its chaotic Christmas splendor is absolutely, positively perfect just as it is. My wish for you is that you know it too.

Don’t Be Afraid to Sparkle

It was never my intention to be preachy or sanctimonious while blogging. My only intention was to share some of the highlights from my journey toward a deeper connection between my mind, my body, and my spirit. To be clear, this is an ongoing journey. I have wondered if sharing my thoughts is a worthy pursuit and I have decided that it is only my job to share because sharing is what I do best. Determining the worth of what I share is your job. Today, it may be worth nothing to you. Another time, maybe I made you laugh, or think, or cry. It might be different every time. Once, when I shared my doubts with a very sweet friend of mine, she said, “If you can touch just one person with your words, isn’t that worth it?” To touch just one person would mean a lot to me, so I will continue sharing. But this time, I’m putting on my preacher’s robe so please forgive me if I sound sanctimonious.

Here is my sermon: Don’t be afraid to sparkle. I stole that from the Brave Girls at http://bravegirlsclub.com/. A lot of different people have said it in a lot of different ways. One of my favorite ways comes from a print that hung in Your Heart’s Home, a place I stayed while visiting Sedona, Arizona in January. It is attributed to Nelson Mandela and it goes like this:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our Light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the Glory of God that is within us.
It is not just in some of us, it is in everyone.
And as we let our own Light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, Our Presence automatically liberates others.

www.bravegirlsclub.com

When I first read this, from the print, it sort-of took my breath away. I had spent most of my life feeling as if I didn’t measure up and that I wasn’t good enough. The idea that my deepest fear was not that I actually was inadequate, but rather, that I might be powerful beyond measure startled me. Could it be true? Well, the print said it was true and according to everything I had been taught, prints, books, authors, teachers, parents, coaches, talking heads on television, and any and all “experts” don’t lie. I, like just about everyone else I know, was trained to look outward – beyond myself, to look to other people and to look to other things to see if I measured up. What I have learned is that if I look outward, I am sure to find that I am inadequate. There is always someone who appears to be better, smarter, stronger, faster, thinner, prettier, and more clever than I.

So there I was, looking outward, at the print, and all I saw was “…who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?” And I thought, “Right. Exactly.” Then I saw, “Actually, who are you not to be?” And the first thought that came to me was, “Fuck yeah! Who am I not to be?”

And a new Anna was born. Well, really, that little Anna, that little seven year-old Anna as Ken the Angel Life Coach calls her, came into her own. She was there all along, but over time, her light grew dim and eventually went out altogether. Instead of skipping down aisles in the grocery store like my little Sophia does now, singing her own songs, and twirling to her own tune, instead of sparkling, little Anna went still. She was silent. I grew so comfortable waiting for other people to speak and listening to what they said, that I lost the ability to hear my own voice.

But here’s the twist: my light was shining all along, I just didn’t know it. I couldn’t see what everyone else saw. I saw a big gray blob where others saw kindness and warmth and well, light. If I did see the light, or even had a little glimmer of hope that it was still there, I squelched it immediately. When I heard a compliment, I blew it off. I said things like, “Oh no, that messed up pumpkin cheesecake with the crack down the middle? It didn’t turn out right (even though it took the extreme skills of a domestic goddess like myself to extract it from the special spring form cheesecake baking pan).” Or “No, no, my house isn’t spotless (because I got up before the sun to clean it), it’s a mess.” Or, “Oh yeah, thanks, but you must be losing your eyesight because I look fat (despite the fact that I did just receive the “I LOST TEN POUNDS” ribbon at Weight Watchers and I had to work like hell to do that).

I wonder, when you give someone a compliment, like “Oh my God! This cheesecake is to die for! Did you make it? Can I have the recipe?” and her response is “Uh, yeah, well, you can, and hopefully yours won’t have a crack down the middle…” how do you feel? When that happens to me, I feel a little like shit. On the other hand, when I give a compliment to someone and she accepts it graciously with a smile and a thank you, it warms my heart. This is a small example of what I think it means for this person to let her light shine, thereby giving me permission to do the same.

Try it.

Oddly, giving compliments isn’t nearly as hard as accepting them. So try both. In this time of giving thanks and getting ready for all the winter holidays and traditions that come with them, try both. In this time of what sometimes seems to be never ending to-do lists and no matter how hard you try or how late you stay up, you still feel like you’ll never finish all there is to do (both imagined and real), try both. In this time of minimizing Herculean efforts to make magic and memories that will last a lifetime, try both. Give compliments and accept them. Play around a little. See what feels good. Try it because if you close your eyes for a minute and imagine a world where we all let our lights shine, where each of us was liberated from our darkest fears, and where we celebrated and honored one another’s grace, wit, and charm, I think you would see an incredibly beautiful, colorful, wonderful, super sparkly place. Complete with picture perfect cheesecake.

I will meet you there.

Beautiful Days

I’ve had some really neat opportunities lately to gather with large groups of friends, family, and mostly strangers. These are opportunities that weave in and out of my life frequently, really, but for whatever reason (three kids, large dog, messy house, mounds of laundry…?), I don’t always notice the magic contained within them. Thankfully though, I’ve been paying attention. I’m so excited about these miraculous little moments, that I had to share…

It all started at a U2 concert a few weeks ago. I was with my husband, Dan, and a group of our very dear friends. The concert was held in Spartan Stadium, which is, to be frank, sacred ground. Dan and I met at Michigan State University our sophomore year, so naturally MSU holds a special place in our hearts. It’s where we fell in love and decided to take on the world together. Over the recent years we have made many memories tailgating with friends on campus and attending football games. We are MSU fans, yes, but first and foremost we are Spartans (there is a difference). And, we take that very seriously. And, we have lots and lots of fun.

I like U2, but I wasn’t a huge U2 fan when we planned to attend the concert. For me, U2 was secondary to a night with great friends in East Lansing. I love music, but I don’t usually remember lyrics or bands or any of the important details. I hear a song and I love it or hate it, and then each time I hear it after that, I remember what was happening when I first heard it, or when I heard it again and again, or the way I felt back then. A lot of U2 was played in college and hearing their songs reminds me of that time in my life. It was such a carefree and exciting time. I felt like an adult, but I was really still so sheltered from the rest of the world, from reality, from true responsibility. So anyway, there we were with our MSU friends in Spartan Stadium and life couldn’t get much better than that.

I cannot remember which song Bono was singing when I looked around and felt something magical sprout from deep in my soul. I was surrounded by thousands of people and whether or not we were presidents of our local U2 fan clubs, we were all there in Spartan Stadium for the very same reason: to hear U2. We swayed together, we sang together, we came together as one for a few hours on a summer night, and it was beautiful. A Beautiful Day, according to U2.

I tucked that moment in my heart and life went on as usual until last weekend. For the last several years Dan and I have made the trek from wherever we are in Northern Michigan to Glen Arbor for the Independence Day parade. The first year we were in Glen Arbor for our family vacation. We liked it so much, we keep going back! In all fairness, I don’t recall meeting a parade I didn’t like, but this parade is special to me. I’m sure it has something to do with my kids going crazy about it, plotting their candy grabbing strategies, and talking about all the fun for days afterward. It’s also something we’ve been lucky enough to share with my mom and we’re all about making new traditions. There is also a Spartan float (truck) and well, we know how much it means to me to be a Sparty. As we stood there in the sun, my husband, my kids, my mom, and me, with hundreds of other people, watching the parade go by, my soul started to stir once again.

I didn’t care much for history when I was younger, and I’m nowhere near a buff now, but somewhere in between lies a place of deep appreciation for the past, gratitude for the present, and trust in the future. I like that place. I love connecting the pieces of the past to the present and thinking about what is to come for me, my family, my community, my state, my country, my world…our world. The stories, people’s stories of how they began, and what motivated them, and where they went with it all fascinate me. Standing on M-22 in Glen Arbor, Michigan on July 4, 2011, it felt as if all of it – past, present, and future merged into one single moment. A fantastic moment where all of these virtual strangers came together to celebrate independence. We weren’t individuals or even parts of groups with which we typically identify. We were one. The military vehicles carrying Veterans and service men and women and their families, the flags waving in the wind, kids clad in red, white and blue, and my favorite – a young woman, stopping us all in our trackes, as she beautifully belted out the Spangled Banner from the Boon Doggies float, these are reminders of what it takes to gain independence and to keep it – they connect all of us to one another and to our shared history as Americans. Another beautiful day.

The third and final moment in this story occurred last night. This was more of a series of moments though. Dan’s cousin, Michael, was set to marry his bride, Jennifer. Dan and I dropped the kids off with one of their beloved grandmas and headed to Saginaw for the ceremony. Already, the feeling of oneness began to set in as we rode and I thought about how wonderful it would be for Mike and Jenn to experience their wedding day surrounded by friends and family, just as Dan and I had almost 14 years ago. I don’t know Mike that well and I had never met Jenn, but I was very excited for them. It was neat to think of myself, so many years ago, being welcomed to the Oginsky family with many of the same people around me, and to imagine Jenn having a similar experience.

Once the music started and the moms were escorted down the aisle, I was a little misty-eyed. I know I’m not the only sap who cries at weddings. When Jenn’s dad delivered her at the end of the aisle, I saw her say, “I love you Dad.” My eyes flooded. For a split second, I thought I was going to lose it and I knew I would probably be one of the few who completely loses it at a wedding, especially someone else’s wedding. But then that a bit of warmth spread from deep in my soul and I was overcome with gratitude. I threw up a prayer of thanks, grateful for Jenn and her dad that they had that moment, and grateful that I too had had that moment with my dad, even though her declaration reminded me that the hug and “I love you” I yearn to give my own dad now isn’t going to happen.

Jenn was beautiful, Mike looked handsome, and their bridal party, friends, and family sparkled in the radiant glow of the love shared by the bride and groom. It warms my heart thinking about all the different people who traveled to the wedding to share in the love and the beauty of the day. Again, separately, we were family, we were friends, we were the people who worked to make it all happen, but together we were one in Jenn and Mike’s love. I am grateful to have been part of it, to have been touched by that love. Another beautiful day.

I trust that these profound moments of connectedness will continue for me, and I hope that I will recognize them. I hope that I will remain open to these moments – to being touched by something. To the little spark in my soul that comes from singing in unison with thousands of people in a place that I love, from standing with my family cheering for the Glen Arbor Kazoo Corps in the Independence Day parade, and from witnessing the marriage vows of two people in love. All in all, it makes for some truly beautiful days.