It’s for the Best.

Happy New Year!

Ah, the holidays…another season has passed and Target has the Valentine’s candy on display and ready for us to stash away until February 14th. In a blink of an eye, the holidays have come and gone and I can safely say that I made it through my second Christmas without my dear old dad here to see his grandchildren’s faces light up under the tree. In some ways, I think this year was even harder than last. Last year, I knew it would be tough to face the holiday season. I dreaded Thanksgiving, I dug my heels in, and I served the turkey kicking and screaming. And crying. Facing the holidays this year didn’t seem like a big deal to me. I was actually looking forward to it and having lots of fun preparing for it. I didn’t expect to miss my dad so badly. But, there I was, one minute humming Christmas carols down the aisles (of Target), and the next minute feeling weepy at the sight of the holiday cards “For Dad.” Holidays really stir the pot. One can never be prepared for the one little, or huge, thing, event, or memory that will trigger sadness. Suddenly, a memory that I thought was neatly tucked away, rises to the surface. Out of nowhere, I remembered the morning after my dad died as vividly as if it were this morning. I woke up crying, laying next to my mom and sister in my parents’ bed. It felt like I had had a nightmare, but when I woke up, it wasn’t over. That morning, and for several mornings afterward, I simply did not want to get out of bed. I couldn’t imagine facing Visitations and the funeral. I didn’t want to see the sea of sad faces that awaited me. I couldn’t imagine life without my dad or with the new, very sad and hopeless version of my mom. I couldn’t imagine my kids’ lives without their Papaw. I didn’t know how we would all go on. I didn’t want to go on.

And here we are, almost two years later. In times of doubt, people often say, “it will all work out” or “it’s for the best” or “it’s part of the plan”. I know they mean well. I know these words are meant to instill hope and to comfort those to whom they are said. But sometimes, they just aren’t all that comforting. Now though, I think the people who say those words are right. It will all work out. Had I seen my dad’s death as part of the great, big picture, or as part of THE PLAN, I might not have feared getting out of bed. Maybe.

Over time, I saw that my dad’s death bestowed many gifts upon us. Like, if he had to die, thankfully he didn’t have to suffer. And, if he had to die that night, thankfully he was at home and not on the road with my son James, like he had been earlier that night, on the way to and from James’s guitar lesson. And, if he had to die that weekend, thankfully it was on Thursday, before my mom left for the weekend, as she had planned. And eventually, we were thankful that he lived a full life before he died. He was a father and a grandfather and those were two accomplishments that made his heart sing. I was thankful that I even had a dad – for 38 years. The biggest, boldest, most beautiful gift he gave us though, was the gift of life. Not just his life. Sure, in preparing for my dad’s funeral, the gifts he shared through his art and his music and his kind and gentle spirit were more obvious than ever. But, he gave us a second chance at our lives as well. My dad’s death shook me to the core. It woke me up. It made me think about what I was doing and how I was doing it and whether or not I wanted to keep doing it all the same way. My dad’s death changed the way I live. I am a much better, more peaceful, more balanced person now than I ever was before. I thank my dad for that.

Years and years ago I told my mom that I had heartburn. I think I was in college, so it was probably the mid-90’s. She went to her bookshelf, without hesitation, and turned to page 175 of Louise L. Hay’s book, You Can Heal Your Life. She read from a chart that listed physical ailments, their probable causes, and new thought patterns with which to proceed. She said, “You are holding on to fear, Anna. Say this: ‘I breathe freely and fully. I am safe. I trust the process of life‘.” Until my first pregnancy, when I experienced heartburn like none I had ever experienced before and only Tums even had a chance at wiping it out, I would repeat Louise Hay’s affirmation for heartburn, “I trust the process of life” over and over at the earliest sign of heartburn (I have a bad memory so I had to shorten it). My heartburn always went away. In all honesty, nobody really, truly knows that there is a PLAN. A lot of us believe there is. Some of us think it’s God’s plan. Some simply feel better thinking we’re part of something bigger, something like a plan, whether it be God’s or someone else’s. I think we can all agree that there is a process though. Everything we do is a process, from waking up in the morning to going to bed at night, we are in the process of life. I think our challenge is to trust in that process. When someone dies unexpectedly, or we receive a diagnosis we weren’t prepared for, or we get a flat tire on the way to work, or our kid refuses to eat his dinner, let’s remember the process. Let’s commit to trusting in the process. If we trust, we know for sure that everything will be okay. Life will unfold exactly as it was meant to. There is no need to worry or move forward in fear, just trust.

I think trusting the process is especially relevant as we enter the New Year. I made my New Year’s resolutions and I am excited about a fresh start. A new beginning is upon us and it is filled with promise. What does 2012 have in store for me? If 2012 goes by even half as fast as 2011, it won’t be long before I know the answer to that question. In the meantime, I won’t get discouraged when I’m suddenly overcome with grief. I won’t give up when my plans are derailed. I’ll try not to worry when things aren’t happening as I had hoped they would. In the meantime, I am committed to trusting the process…I trust in the process of life.

Breathe

Breathe. This is what I keep telling myself. In spite of my best efforts not to do crazy this Christmas, the crazy is catching up to me. It actually might have overcome me. I might even be buried in it.

Breathe is what I say when I find a form that was supposed to be filled out and returned last week to school. Oops.

Breathe is what I say when a holidazed woman almost runs over me with her cart in Target.

Breathe is what I say when I almost run over someone else with my cart.

Breathe is what I say when the Alien Conquest Lego set I really wanted to buy for James is sold out. I might have said something else too…something a little less Zen. Thankfully there were other Alien Conquest Lego sets. And, I’m pretty sure he isn’t picky when it comes to aliens and conquests.

Breathe is what I say when two of my three children are sprawled out on the floor of Sears, at the head of a very long line of tired, not so happy looking customers (who could maybe use a little breathing themselves), screaming at me and refusing to stand up to exit the store. Breathe and Santa is watching…

Because every single second of my day seems to be accounted for lately, Breathe is what I say when someone asks me to do something I wasn’t planning to do. I wonder how I’ll fit it in.

Breathe is what I say when I look around a table where my dad should be sitting, but isn’t. I try to catch my breath as the reality of his absence soaks in. Again. I thought that the second Christmas season without my dad wouldn’t be so bad. But it is. I really miss him. The holidays seem even emptier this year. Maybe last year it still felt like he might come walking through the door? This year, there is no question that he is gone. I wonder if he would recognize that three year-old daughter of mine, who had just turned two the month before he died. Would he love her sass? Is he laughing his ass off up in heaven? What would he say when I told him that I was singing Christmas carols with my kids and James stopped us to run upstairs to get his guitar to accompany us? What would he think when I told him that Alexander said, “I think Nature should make an award for our neighborhood because it is just so pretty. This whole town is just so pretty!” last night as we drove home (from Sears!?!) My dad loved strong, spunky girls and women. He loved to share his passion for music and guitar-playing with James. He loved Nature and he loved those who also loved and respected it. He would be loving all of this. Breathe…

A few weeks ago, in the midst of an extremely stressful work week, I yelled to my husband, “Don’t forget to breathe!” as he walked out the door. He told me that was good advice. I think it is too. At the yoga center where I practice, the instructors say that breathing is the only function of the body that is both voluntary and involuntary. I am so thankful for that because sometimes I think I go days without breathing. That must be when the involuntary breathing kicks in. For me, these are quick, shallow breaths, pumping themselves in and out just to keep me alive.

The voluntary breaths are different. These are life-giving breaths. There is a difference, you know – between doing something to stay alive and doing something that makes you feel alive. These voluntary breaths nourish me. Try one. Mouth closed, inhale through your nose. Suck in as much air as you can, and then a little bit more. Now let it out. Slowly. Again, but with your eyes closed this time. And again. Do you feel more alive? Maybe a little tingly? If even for just a moment, these voluntary breaths bring us smack, dab into the present moment. These are the breaths I keep telling myself to take. Before my mind runs off into crazy, or mouth runs off into God only knows where. These breaths keep me right here, right now in the perfection of all these seemingly imperfect moments.

Deep breath. Ahh. For you, in the crazy of your days and even in the calm, I offer this great advice: don’t forget to breathe!

‘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.

New Beginnings and Miracles All Around!

When I walk into Staples, I am instantly aroused. The pencils, the pens, blank notebooks, sticky notes, whew! I love all of it. So, naturally, going back to school, or now getting my kids ready to return to school, is a very exciting time of year for me. I love making resolutions at the start of the New Year and I am a sucker for the promise of new blooms in Spring, but Autumn rings true as a time of new beginnings for me. I feel most invigorated and most inspired as the leaves begin to show signs of turning colors and the crisp scent of fall wafts through the air. This year, I am wide open, eager to welcome whatever this fresh start brings.

I have also been feeling nostalgic as my son Alexander prepared for kindergarten with great anticipation of joining his older brother, James, at “his” school. We do drop-off, as opposed to riding the bus, and today, when he leaped out of the car, I don’t think he could have been any happier. He was thrilled this morning when I confirmed that he would be going back to school today. So anyway, the other day my mom came over and we listened to some of her saved voice mail messages from the past (please tell me we are not the only saps who do crazy things like save old messages). With her summer tan aglow and her blue eyes sparkling, she said, “oh, this is one of my favorites.” I listened as my very own voice began to speak. I was crying. I said something like, “Hi Mom, this is Anna (sniff). James started kindergarten today. He got on the bus and he didn’t even look back (sniff, sniff)…” So many things came to mind. First, the image of my husband Dan and I coming home from the bus stop that day and literally sobbing together on our love seat. Second, disbelief that that little kindergartner would be entering fourth (say it with me, FOURTH!!!) grade this year. And third, both disbelief and disappointment that my dad wouldn’t be here to share in Alexander’s first day of kindergarten as he was for James. I pictured my mom sharing the message with my dad and both of them reflecting on the fact that their first grandchild was ready for kindergarten. That he got on the bus and didn’t even look back.

I know, I know – my dad is still with me. I do know that, I swear. But even with that knowledge, I yearn to hear the enthusiasm in his voice when I share these bits and pieces of my life with him. I want confirmation of his pride in Alexander, and frankly, in me. He was a great cheerleader, my dad. He would be (is) so proud.

With all my anticipation of a new beginning at the start of the school year – for my kids and for me, I find myself feeling sad too. And as with so many things I’ve experienced since losing my dad, I find that this is a time where bittersweet is about the best we can do. Do I sound like I’m whining?

Enter miracles. Yesterday was the first day of school and the morning was filled with miracles. I got up, showered, and made a delicious, nutritious breakfast for my little ones (as opposed to throwing a granola bar and string cheese at them with five minutes left before we have to run out the door). Then, I marched them outside for a First Day of School photo shoot. Nobody complained (I began to think something strange was afoot, bud didn’t dare question it). Everybody smiled. Everybody posed. I was in Mom Heaven.

We got in the car and Somewhere Over the Rainbow was playing on the radio. This has to be one of my all-time favorite songs. I was a somewhere over the rainbow kind-of girl as a child. The Coffee House version, by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’ has become one of the songs that remind me that my dad is always here with me and it has come on the radio at the most opportune times. As we pulled out of the driveway, we stopped to talk to our new neighbors. They were sweet and smiling and my heart was simply singing with joy. Then I heard my dad’s voice singing. My daughter had found my husband’s iPad on the floor of the car and somehow found her way to my dad’s recordings. AND, he was singing Summertime, which was my lullaby when I was a little girl. Let’s not even get into the fact that I have no idea how the iPad got left in the car, or how Sophia could have possibly found Summertime, especially since she usually goes right for Beyonce’s “I’m a Singlet” video. At that point, I knew my dad was speaking to me.

Sophia said, “This is a Papaw song!” Putting to rest my fears that my little girl, who wasn’t quite two when my dad died, would have no memories of her Papaw. Then she said, “Mama, my butt is shaking and my legs are swinging!” I look back to see her moving to the music, Alexander glowing, and James clapping his hands and swaying his head back and forth. I was in awe. There was no doubt in my mind that my dad was with us. I so much as heard him say, “I’m here. And I’m proud.”

Later, I told Alexander that I wanted to tell him something very special. He looked up at me with his big, blue eyes and I said, “I have been really sad that Papaw isn’t here to see you start kindergarten because I know he would have been so proud of you.” He nodded and I continued, “And today, when we heard his song, I knew he was with us and I know that he is very proud of you.” Heart-melting smile from ear to ear on that kid. God, I love him. There must be so much wisdom in that little five year-old head. And even later, when we got in the car to attend his orientation, These Are Days was on the radio! This was the song that Dan and I danced to at our wedding. And through the years, it too has come on the radio when I’ve needed comfort the most.

So that is my morning of miracles. Later, when I was feeling extremely disgruntled, along with my tired out, over-stimulated children, and trying to get dinner together, a penny from heaven appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the counter. Nope, we didn’t save a life or cure a disease yesterday morning, but we were definitely in the midst of miracles. I spoke out and someone “up there” was listening. This all reminds me that we are always surrounded by miracles. Big or little, there are messages for all of us, everywhere, saying “you are never alone. I am here with you.” And all of that makes me even more excited for this new time of new beginnings…what’s next?!

The Possibilities are Endless!

I’ve never been much of a “Let go, let God” kind of girl. In fact, it seems that as soon as I sense that I have no control in a matter, I bear down, gripping more tightly than ever. I am not one to gracefully release it. I squeeze it, I hold it, I try with all my might to mold it into something I can control. My lack of control transforms into worry, to fear, to anxiety, and even to obsession. I sometimes lose sleep and I drive a lot of people crazy. You might ask, “How is that working out for you?” And, well, to be honest, it’s not.

As I stood in the shower this morning, obsessing over whether or not our recent move to a new home was a good idea, I decided that this obsession was something I needed to release to the Universe. We moved, there is someone living in our previous home, and there is no turning back. I can’t worry about whether my son will make new neighbor friends, or whether I will make new neighbor friends. I can’t worry about anything like that because what is done is done and only time will tell what kind of friends we will make or not make as a result of this move.

So then I started thinking about the move in general (I know I’m not the only one who does her best thinking in the shower). It all happened really fast and it truly wasn’t part of the “plan”. It went something like this: Husband comes home from work and trips over kids’ shoes in the doorway. Husband tries to put his bag down, but can’t because all flat surfaces are covered with laundry (in the doorway). Husband says, “I hate that our laundry room is in the doorway! I can’t wait to get out of this house!” I smile sweetly and agree that someday we might consider moving to a new house. Husband shares other examples of why he hates our home. I smile sweetly, and nod for good measure. Husband decides to “research the market” and begins work with a realtor. I stop smiling. Dan, my husband, isn’t the kind of guy who spends a lot of time doing research. When Dan wants something, he goes for it. Sometimes he moves so fast, it frightens me.

We thought we might move in 2-5 years. We considered buying land and building a home. We looked at land (meaning we all piled in the car, met the realtor at the land and Dan got out and looked at it while I tried to keep the kids from driving off without him). Dan got serious. We actually asked our babysitter to watch our children so we could attend an Open House for a promising new home. It was a wonderful home. All it took was one deep breath with space to do so and I was hooked on the idea of moving. I was ready to make an offer.

Dan hopped online as soon as we got home to look at the house again (he was not ready to make an offer). After weeks (months?) of looking at houses and prioritizing our needs and desires, and coming to terms with the fact that the “perfect” house wasn’t out there and that a compromise or two may be necessary, a new listing appeared on the screen. There was an Open House there that day and it ended one hour from the time we saw the house online. From the virtual tour on the screen before me, it looked as if it was built for us. From the tile work on the back splash to the incredible timber framing on the ceiling. My dad was a timber framer. It felt like he had a hand in this, like maybe he had found the house for us.

I fully expected Dan to come home to tell me he just bought a new house. We all know, in the world of real estate, especially in Michigan, things don’t usually happen that quickly. So began the agonizing process…would it work out? I began to bear down in fear, in anxiety, and then I remembered that I was evolving and the new and improved Anna would recognize that there were many variables that she could not control. So, I took a plunge – I let it go. I waited. And in the end, it did work out and we all love our new home (I especially love the shower).

And the funny thing is, this wasn’t part of “the plan.” We took a detour. I love Emily Dickinson’s gentle invitation to “dwell in possibility” and each time I see this quote (which is often), it is like someone, Emily perhaps, is giving me permission to let go. To step. Away. From the plan. To open right up, throw my head back and my arms in the air, and look out at all the possibilities.

There are dreams buried deep inside me that I have long forgotten or given up on, and why? Because I’m not sure where to fit them in. Because I can’t figure out where they go in the plan. Because I’ve been so busy trying to control every little detail of my life from when I will get pregnant to when my last child will leave home, that I don’t allow space for things to simply unfold. From this moment forward, I am scrapping the plan. Who really knows what the future holds? Since my dad died, seven women I love and care very much about have lost a parent. Death isn’t planned. It sometimes comes when we least expect it. It jolts us. It breaks our hearts. Sometimes we have to start over.

Little by little I am learning to let go in ways that I never would have imagined. I was okay letting go of some little stuff, but now I think it’s time to let go of the big stuff. I’m sure Dan and I will still have to plan, but I’m playing it a little more loosey-goosey from now on. No more obsessing over the things I can’t control. Years ago, when I first heard the Serenity Prayer, it made so much sense to me. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. It sounds so simple, really. But for me, especially as I get older, it’s been really hard.

I think in some way, my tight grip on life is born of love. It comes from good intention. Somewhere along the line, I began to believe that trying harder and holding tighter was a sign of my love, or of my commitment to someone or something. Reflecting on life and death and what it all means, thinking about moving when we had planned to stay, and even seeing so many of my friends suffer through the loss of beloved parents – all of this is teaching me that letting go, even a little, and opening to possibility, isn’t a sign of loving less or caring less. I think letting go may even open a pathway to loving more. When you let go, it’s all out there. Rather than limiting myself by hanging on, I might actually find that I can love more deeply, more richly, and more truly by letting go. I’m still figuring this out. Maybe that in and of itself will take a lifetime. Maybe I’ll never figure it out. But I feel pretty certain that when I do let go, the possibilities are endless.

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.

Eureka!

Guess what?! I struck gold!

While maintaining that the main objective of this blog is to share some of my experiences on this journey through life, I will admit that I have been hoping that anyone who reads my blog finds something to take along on his or her own journey as well. We are all in this together! I only say this now because if you are reading this, you are someone I care about or someone who someone I care about cares about and I really want you to pay attention.

So today is all about sharing my gold. I am very new to this, so bear with me. I am no expert, I can’t take credit for it, and I’m not even sure I fully understand it, but I think I am on to something HUGE! I am beginning to see that any journey worth taking (i.e., life) must begin with a healthy practice of self-compassion. Of course, like many things I’ve encountered lately, this is something I have read or heard about in the past and thought, “Well, of course! Duh!” while not putting it into practice.

My last post was about truth and how being authentic, or honest, might be painful, but can open the door to compassion for others, and for myself. I knew I was balancing on the very tippy top of the iceberg because I couldn’t keep up with my thoughts on the matter. Since then I have learned a little more about self-compassion and how there is so much more to it than a simple acknowledgment that all is well.

It started with this article that Ken the Angel Life coach asked me to read. And, of course, I didn’t read it when he first suggested it. I was too busy (or, enter Twilight Zone theme music – this is something my parents always did when I was a kid – I was resisting it…). Anyway, here it is Self compassion may matter more than self-esteem. So, basically, this woman Kristin Neff, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, researched self-compassion and found that (drum roll) it matters more than self-esteem. Sorry, I am feeling punchy. In all seriousness, there are elements of self-esteem that are desirable and those that are not. Cultivating self-compassion allows for all the desirable elements and none of the undesirable ones. This is really important for those of us raising children, and even more important for those of us shuttling said children from competitive sport to competitive (insert sport or other event) in hopes of instilling a strong sense of self in these children. We all want the best for our children and frankly, it seems to be a bit of a crap shoot as to whether or not we are achieving “the best” in our efforts. Only time will tell.

Cultivating self-compassion is not just for our children though, my friends. The article mentions Neff’s recent book, Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind (William Morrow, 2011). Being the book whore that I am (punchy!), I immediately searched for Neff’s book on amazon.com. And this is where I think I found gold. As I poked around, I found a multitude of other books about self-compassion and…weight-loss, among other things. The funny thing is, I even remember writing about how my own desire to lose weight, or get fit, or however you want to say it, would need to come from a place of self-love, rather than self-loathing, in order to be put into action. I knew that then, but somehow I haven’t incorporated it entirely into my journey. Just last week I was telling someone about my inner punk who keeps insisting on french fries. Um, call me crazy, but I don’t think calling myself a punk is very compassionate?!

According to Neff, compassion entails recognizing suffering and feelings of kindness for those who are suffering, so that eventually we feel an urge to help or stop the suffering. Compassion also means understanding that we all suffer, that suffering is part of the human experience. Read: when you are suffering, YOU ARE NOT ALONE (I am yelling for my own benefit). Self-compassion involves all the same things.

I think one of our challenges is to show the very same compassion we show toward others to ourselves. And, I think this is what I really meant in my last post…that by virtue of practicing compassion toward others, I learn to practice self-compassion. It sounds so simple, but if we’re being honest, we know it is not that simple. I know not a single soul who lets herself off the hook with the same gracious spirit in which she would let me off the hook. Or her children, or her mother, or the grocery attendant at VG’s. We are all so hard on ourselves. We come by it naturally though. We live in a very competitive society. We grew up competing in sports, competing for good grades, competing to get into college, competing for jobs, competing to raise perfect children…we are competing all the time. Have you ever told someone what a bad day you are having only to have them respond with the details of their own much worse, much more complicated, much more trying bad day? We even compete for compassion! I’m not saying that participating in healthy competition doesn’t have value, of course it does. It is worth mentioning, however, that a competitive culture such as ours encourages us to feel as if we don’t measure up to others when we fail at something. Perhaps recognizing that sense of failure as “suffering,” instead of proof that we aren’t good enough, opens our hearts right up to understanding that as humans we all suffer, we all fail, and we are all worthy of compassion.

Speaking of suffering, I have to say that celebrating Father’s Day without a father sucks. There is no way around it. As I practiced self-compassion this weekend, I first recognized how lucky I am to have had a dad worth missing. He was such a great guy. I thought about all the little kiddos out there who don’t have dads and I realized just how blessed I am to have had my dad for 37 years. I started to think that maybe it was time to suck it up, you know, that this was my second Father’s Day without a father so I should be really good at it by now. But then I thought of myself as a little girl. I know that no matter how old I am, there will always be a little Anna inside me, longing to run to the solace of her daddy’s arms. He had the biggest, strongest arms. He gave the best hugs. I miss those hugs…

That little girl will never be expected to suck it up. That little girl is suffering still. That little girl has my utmost compassion. And that too, is golden.

Liar, Liar Pants on Fire

I haven’t been much of a blogger lately. I can’t seem stick with one idea long enough to see it through. But since this is my travel journal (on my hat trick – mind, body, spirit journey), I decided to just write something. Anything is better than nothing, right?

The one thing I keep coming back to is truth. We receive a lot of different messages about truth, like the truth hurts, honesty is the best policy, and the truth will set you free – just to name a few. In yoga there is satya, a commitment to speaking the truth. On this quest of mine, toward a deeper connection between my mind, body, and spirit, I think the truth is very important. Plus, “truth” keeps creeping up on me, and that means it needs some attention.

As I’ve thought about truth, I’ve mostly been thinking about if and when and how I share my truth with others. Will it really matter if I speak up in a situation where my truth is pounding on the door of my throat to get out? Is it worth it? Will it make a difference? I’ve been thinking about how being honest, or authentic, might impact the people around me. Recently though, I discovered that the most powerful, and maybe even the most important, thing I can do with truth right now, is to be honest with myself.

At some point, in the last ten years or so, I went to my mom with a dilemma. I think I was complaining about someone. She said something like, “You know Anna, they say, that when you have a complaint about someone, it is usually because they remind you of something you don’t like about yourself.” (By the way, who is they anyway?) All I really wanted was for my mom to agree that whomever I was talking about sucked and that I was awesome. But no, like any good mother, she challenged me to reconsider the situation. I vowed never to complain to her about someone else again.

In the back of my mind, anytime someone irritates me, I can hear my mother’s voice and I wonder, what does it say about me, that I am bothered by this person, or by his or her behavior? And then I wonder whether I really want to know what it says about me? Typically, my answer was no. This reminds me of the court scene in A Few Good Men where Jack Nicholson’s character screams on the stand, “YOU WANT THE TRUTH? YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!” I didn’t think I could handle the truth, or maybe I just didn’t want to deal with the truth.

No matter what my mom says, I decided that some people can be just plain irritating. But when I raised something similar with Ken the Angel Life Coach he said, “you spot it, you got it,” meaning, once again, that if something someone did triggered an emotional reaction in me, it was likely because I saw myself in them, or in their behavior. Then I was in a pickle. It was time to dig deeper. I will save you the heartache of the details of my digging. Again with Ken’s help, this little gem of wisdom is what I found: rather than stomp away angry or hurt, or spend hours of therapy or sleepless nights trying to figure out exactly what it says about me that this behavior bothers me, if I were to show compassion toward the person behaving badly, so to speak, I might just open myself up to having deeper compassion for myself.

More relevant than what it says about me to be bothered by punk-ass behavior (just off the top of my head), is the idea that in having compassion for the punk, I open myself to compassion for myself. I’m sure this can work in a lot of different ways, but on the simplest level, for me, it means that I choose not to let the punk bother me, to maybe think, “Wow, I bet he is having a hard day, poor guy…” or whatever, then move on, letting myself off the hook for anything I (think I) may have done to deserve being bullied by a punk. His choices are not about me.

On a deeper level, this might mean that my own inner punk needs to be let off the hook. I recognize punk-like behavior because I know I can be a bully and I don’t feel great about it. Instead of leaving the punk thinking, “what an ass,” (therefore, I must be an ass), I might just recognize that he is what he is in that moment, as am I. Whew, I’m getting a headache. I think I need to stop before it gets too complicated…

Along the same line, today I read something about how forgiveness opens space once held by hurt in our hearts. Space for what? Love? Fun? Compassion? I think this is really powerful stuff. I know there are a lot of things, hurtful experiences, that I have been holding in my heart for a very long time. I guess I have been protecting them there. And while I’ve been able to move on in my life, I am finding that any little bit of grudge I hold toward someone else, or something else, is a waste of energy. My precious life energy. And I need that energy for my three crazy kids and our big yellow dog. I need it for myself!

So, now I see that the truth, whether it be about me or someone else, really does hurt sometimes. But I don’t have to hang on to the hurt. Feeling that hurt and being honest about it, rather than denying it or questioning it or saving it for later, really, truly sets me free.