Saying Yes.

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While I am not a huge fan of most reality TV, I have on occasion watched it, including “Say Yes to the Dress.” I understand the sentiment of wanting to find the so-called perfect dress for your so-called perfect day. But something about the show just rubs me the wrong way. It’s the way it emphasizes the importance of having a wedding over the work of being married.  That one day is just a tiny pebble in a huge mountain terrain.

Today my husband and I are celebrating our thirtieth wedding anniversary.

Thirty. Years.

I often can’t even believe it. I was only 21 when we met. Married at 23. I was so young. So naive about what being married meant. At 14, I had watched my parents’ marriage end, seemingly out of nowhere. Obviously, it wasn’t out of nowhere, but they had kept the unraveling away from us and I was a typical self-absorbed teen so my radar was mostly focused on my own little world of friends and school. 

Because it felt like their divorce came out nowhere, I entered my own marriage with this nagging belief tugging at me: that my marriage would inevitably end at some point. Finally, (about 14 years into my own marriage) during a session, my therapist said something to this effect: “I don’t know how you did it, but you managed to find the right person for you at a very young age. That’s not why you’re here.”

I felt such a huge relief wash through me. I knew that she was not a psychic and I knew her observation didn’t guarantee marital stability but having a professional give me permission to let that nagging worry go was freeing.

Many friends look at our marriage and marvel at how we do it. Like we have a secret that we won’t share. I honestly don’t know exactly how and why we work.

I do know that he has always supported me in anything I have wanted to do whether it was insisting that I use the bonus he had just received to go to a writing retreat while he stayed home for a week with our two young daughters or encouraging me to become a yoga teacher, reassuring me that we could indeed afford it. 

I do know that we both encourage each other to have lives of our own, understanding that we can’t be everything to each other. We’ve taken separate vacations so he can do car stuff and I can go with girlfriends or attend writing and yoga retreats.

I do know that he always has my back. That the welfare of me and our daughters is always his priority.

I do know that he lets SO many things just roll off his back like when I am cranky or afraid and take it out on him.

I do know that I try to show him that same support and acceptance that he shows me.

I do know that he makes me want to be a better version of myself.

I do know that instead of saying yes to an extravagant dress, we said yes to our marriage.

And we continue to say yes to our marriage, to our family and to each other every single day.

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We Belong to Each Other.

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Image found via Pinterest.

Sacred celebration* is essential, especially amidst the ruins.

Yes, there is pain.

Yes, there is grief.

Yes, there is rage and despair.

But look around. Who is there with you? Who is helping you keep your head above water? Who is treading water next to you, far from the safety of shore, out in the deep end of life?

The deep end is where life gets juicy. The shallow end is known. It is comfortable. But when you push off and wade or dive or plunge into the deep end, that’s when you grow. That’s when you become who you are meant to be.

And when you look around, eyes wide open you’ll see that you belong to everyone and everyone belongs to you.

We belong to each other.

We belong to the earth.

We belong to our ancestors.

We belong.

We are each other.

Our hearts belong to each other.

So, the sacred celebration happens each time we recognize this essential truth.

I hold you in my heart.

You hold me in yours.

And I am grateful.

* Inspired by the prayer written by Thomas Banyacya Sr.

There’s Power in Love.

royal wedding

When I watched the royal wedding of Princess Di and Prince Charles, I was 16 and in the throes of my own first love.

I watched it through those rosy colored glasses as if it was a real life fairy tale though a part of me stepped back, arms crossed and thought it seemed too good to be true.

Of course, it was.

She was only three years older than me at the time. At sixteen, being in love meant it was all about me. How it made me feel. How often I thought of him. How many times could I fit our initials on the cover of my notebook so everyone would know I had a boyfriend?Everyone would know I was in love.

More importantly, everyone would know that I was lovable.

Now that I am almost 53 and will be married (not to my high school sweetheart) 30 years this summer, I know love is not about me. It is about us.

How can we lift each other up? And thus lift up those around us?

How can we be there for each other?

What do we need from each other?

How can we be that safe place to land at the end of each day for each other?

I watched the royal wedding this morning and it felt different. Not only because I was older with thirty years of marriage under my belt but because Meghan Markle is different. She is 36, divorced, biracial, a feminist. She has a voice, a point of view and is not afraid to use both. And it seems that these are just two of the many things that Prince Harry loves about her.

It was a joy to watch the wedding this morning because it didn’t reinforce stereotypes of a woman being saved by her prince and it felt reassuring to see two people standing side by side ready to face the world together.

As Bishop Michael Curry said:

“We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world, for love is the only way. There’s power in love. Don’t underestimate it. Don’t even over-sentimentalise it. There’s power, power in love.

Today’s royal wedding reminded me of the power of real, strong, mature love, the kind of love I grew into from the weak, selfish, rosy-colored love of my teens.

As I watched, it felt like a balm to the wounded soul of the world.

It felt like a reminder that we are in dire need of these days.

A reminder to believe in the redemptive power of love.

 

Why I Make Myself Watch “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

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When I first read “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood over 20 years ago, it was a disturbing yet fascinating read. But it felt so far removed from my life.

Not so today.

I just recently caught up on the second season with my daughter who is home from college. It’s like I needed her moral and emotional support to watch.

Several friends have commented that they just can’t watch it. That it makes them literally sick to their stomach.

I get that. I have the same reaction.

So, why watch it? Why put myself through that stress?

The same reason I look at my own shadow. What I don’t acknowledge comes out in other, insidious ways.

Watching “The Handmaid’s Tale” is a glimpse into society’s shadow. It’s a glimpse into what happens when a group of privileged, white male religious zealots decided to impose their beliefs on a nation because they think they know what is best.

It’s chilling and hard to watch because, as a woman, I see versions of that exact thing happening today:

  • the heartbeat bill passed in Iowa
  • Pence’s bill requiring a funeral for miscarriages
  • not allowing abortion in cases of rape or incest
  • denying birth control to women
  • panels comprised only of white men making decisions about women’s health
  • anti-LGBTQ bills
  • women getting paid less than men for the same job
  • the misogynistic hatred spewed at women on-line who dare to use their voice

The list goes on and on.

It’s not merely a pro-choice versus “pro-life” debate. It’s about the subjugation of women. It’s about denying women full autonomy over their bodies and lives.

Which is exactly that happens to the women in”The Handmaid’s Tale.” They are vessels for procreation and servitude and for enacting the values imposed on society by the men in charge.

Yes, it is disturbing to watch.

Yes, it sends chills down my spine.

Yes, it makes me sick to my stomach and afraid for not only my future but that of my daughters and possible granddaughters in the future.

But burying my head in the sand is fruitless. It’s why I watch and read a wide range of news sources, to see what everyone is thinking, saying, hearing.

It’s less about “keeping my friends closer and enemies closer.” I don’t like to divide the world into such factions. But it is about keeping my self open to all viewpoints, all ways of thinking, all beliefs.

That is why I make myself watch it. Then I enjoy a nice (large) glass of wine afterward.

 

Mother’s Day 2018.

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When my daughters were little I used to want to celebrate Mother’s Day with time alone. They’d bring me breakfast in bed along with the cards and gifts they’d made then either my husband would take them out for the day or I would go out.

Back then, that is what I needed. Time alone to recharge, to remember who I was besides “Mommy.”

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Now, my daughters are 21 and 24. They just finished up this semester at college and both had trips to go on this past week. Katie attended a LeaderShape conference and Emily went on an Alternative Break where she volunteered on a Native American reservation in South Dakota.

All those years ago I couldn’t even picture having all the time I now have. Now, all I want is to spend time with them. Today, we went to a restaurant for a vegan brunch then browsed the bookstore.

Right now, we are all just hanging out together in the family room, watching “The Good Place,” pausing it to talk then playing it again.

And it’s been the perfect Mother’s Day.

 

“Tully” is the Perfect Movie for Mother’s Day.

Warning: If you haven’g seen “Tully yet, A) Go see it. B) Spoilers ahead so read this after you’ve seen it.

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Image found via Pinterest.

I took myself to the movies yesterday morning. I slipped into the theater for the 10:10 showing of “Tully” reminding me of how I used to go to the movies as stress relief when my daughter were little.

The movie swept me further back to that time of my life. The lack of sleep, the isolation, the monotony, the joy, the boredom. That feeling of every nerve being on edge from being pulled in ninety different directions throughout the day.

Marlo (played by Charlize Theron) is about to give birth to their third child. She is already stretched thin and her son Jonah, labeled “atypical” by doctors and “quirky” by teachers, is both a blessing and a challenge. After Mia’s birth, Marlo finally breaks down and gets the night nanny that her brother offered. Tully, the nanny, says she is there to care for her and helps her not only with the new baby, but also bakes Minion cupcakes for her son to take into class, gets the spark back into her sex life with her husband Ron and just generally brings the spark back into Marlo.

As Marlo comes back to life, I found myself crying. I remember those times so well. When I watch videos of myself back then, there is always this empty look in my eyes. I call it my Stepford-wife look. Part of it is being self-conscious and uncomfortable being filmed.

But it was more than that. The occasional movie couldn’t offset all the energy I gave to motherhood. My own spark was so faint back then. So when I saw Marlo reviving hers, I cried. I wished I had my own Tully back then. Then I thought that we should all be our own Tully. Be that inner voice guiding us back to ourselves.

As it turns out, that’s exactly what Tully was. There was no nanny, just a piece of herself that Marlo conjured up to remind her of who she was. Tully was her maiden name. Tully was her.

At first, I thought I didn’t even see it coming just like in “Sixth Sense.” But obviously I did. I sensed it without quite understanding the turn the movie was about to take.

I didn’t feel tricked or manipulated. It was exactly how it needed to be.

It’s the perfect message for woman and girls everywhere, whether they are moms or not, to take care of ourselves.

To put our needs first sometimes.

To listen to what we need.

To let that inner voice guide us back to our spark, to fan that spark, no matter how dim and faint it may be, so that we have a light to shine onto our families and out into the world.

Leaning in to Joy.

Things are going good right now. Great even.

My almost 30-year marriage is strong.

Our daughters will both be done with college by this time next year and are making their way out into the world.

I love creating and holding space for my yoga students.

I am connected to my writing on a daily basis.

I’ve lost over 30 pounds and feel amazing and strong and my back keeps getting stronger every single day.

My best friend of over 30 years moved less than a half an hour away so we get to play whenever we want.

I have a beautiful community of women to lift me up toward my best self.

I love our home.

So, it’s all good.

So, why is this there this sense of unease lurking at the corners of my life? This sense of don’t get too happy, too content because that’s when the rug will get pulled out from under you.

It happens. I know it happens. Loved ones die, marriages end, diagnoses are made.

It happens all the time so it’s only matter of time before it happens to me, so I better be prepared. Better be vigilant and not get too complacent or too smug in my life, in my joy.

The first time I heard Brené brown describe “foreboding joy” I felt chills. That’s me. I do that. all the time. Of course, I never connected it to vulnerability. I didn’t know that the antidote to it is gratitude.

Now, when I feel the shadow of foreboding joy hovering over me, I take a breath and practice gratitude.

I lean into the joy.

I make a conscious decision to choose joy in that moment.

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Image found via Pinterest.

What If It Isn’t Up to Me?

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I heard these magical words on the “Serenity, Now” episode from the podcast “From the Heart:Conversations with Yoga Girl.”

Rachel Brathen talks honestly about her back pain and her struggles with blaming herself when it goes out every 3-4 months. This time it happened when she picked up her baby girl.When she saw her chiropractor he said that of course she had to pick up her baby and suggested that maybe her back going out or not going out wasn’t up to her.

Wait, what?

Not up to her?

If it’s not up to her then maybe it’s not up to me, either.

Maybe it’s not to me when my own back goes out.

Maybe it’s not up to me to make sure everyone is happy around me whether it’s my family, friends or students.

Wow.

How self-centered this is.

Up to me, me, me.

What if it isn’t up to me?

What a relief.

I hear those words and I feel I can take a deep breath for the first time ever.

It’s not up to me.

What is up to me?

To be present.

Present to my family.

Present to my friends.

Present to my students.

Present to my body.

Present to my writing.

Present to each moment.

Surrender the need to fix and just be present to what is.

 

The Company of other Writers.

Write Smart, Write Happy

Today, I find myself sitting at the bookstore cafe with a grande soy chai, notebook and laptop open. Not an unusual scenario.

What is unusual, these days, is for me to be drawn to a book on writing. A book that promises to help me “become a more productive, resilient, and successful writer.”

Now, I used to devour these books daily when I first knew I wanted to write. It was how I taught myself to write. I read books on writing fiction, writing essays, writing from prompts, writing practice, the writing life, writing goals. You name it, I bought it and read it. What I didn’t do was write very much.

Oh, I’d write Morning Pages and I filled notebooks with writing practice gleaned from Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones.” I loved how she made writing so much more accessible by declaring that just as an athlete practiced drills or a pianist practiced scales, a writer also needed to practice. It bought writing back from that lofty pedestal I had placed it on. It took the fear out of it by calling it practice.

I hunkered down into my writing practice for years, filling notebook upon notebook. The problem was, I got stuck in practicing. Don’t get me wrong. It served me well. I learned to put pen to page and write under pretty much any circumstance. I learned how to make space and time for writing in the life I was currently living ( a stay-at-home mom with young children) instead of waiting for the perfect time. I learned to write past my censor.

But I didn’t use what I had learned to actually get in the game of writing. When I finally began writing stories, taking classes and workshops, that’s where the bulk of my learning took place. Writing and finishing stories taught me how to write.

I’ve written dozens of short stories, some published, some not. I have a completed novel-in-stories (looking for an agent). I am well into my second novel, about 6o,000 words into the first book of a YA fantasy trilogy and am beginning to gather notes for a memoir on writing and yoga.

So, with all that writing under my belt, why  do I find myself drawn to this particular book today?

Because it’s a process.

Because I am always a student.

Because I am not afraid to be a beginner.

Because of course I want to be a more productive, resilient and successful writer.

Because now I know that I can read a book like this but, more importantly, I know I have to follow through with action: writing, querying, submitting, reading, setting goals and meeting those goals.

I know there are no quick fixes or shortcuts to being a writer.

I know that merely reading about becoming a successful writer is not enough but I am humble enough to be open to advice from others along the path.

I know that I am willing to put in the hard work necessary. And these kinds of books feel like my own personal cheerleading squad, telling me I can do it. Telling me that I am not alone.

Telling me that it’s okay, that we can walk this path together.

I am grateful for their company.

Saying Yes = Taking Up Space.

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An aunt once said to my mom that I shouldn’t be going to the movies alone in the middle of the day. That there was always housework to do. My mom totally defended me, saying that I worked hard and deserved to take time for myself.

I felt judged and shamed. This came to me because of the struggle to say yes I wrote about recently. Sure, it’s hard to say yes usually because of fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of failure. Fear of (fill in the blank yourself).

But there’s this other, insidious reason I struggle to say yes.

Saying yes means taking up space in the world.

Saying yes means claiming my space in the world.

Saying yes means I think I deserve something that I desire, for myself.

It’s okay if we say yes to others. We aren’t questioned or judged if we say yes to being PTA president or making brownies for the bake sale or watching a friend’s baby. When we say yes to helping others we are a good person. When we say yes to ourselves, well…that’s selfish, right?

Women are taught to be nice which usually means saying yes even if we want to say no. We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. We are taught to stay small literally (hello diet industry) and figuratively.

Hillary Clinton was extremely popular in polls as First Lady, Secretary of State and Senator. But only after she had achieved those positions. When she declared that she wanted those positions, her popularity plunged. How dare a woman want something for herself? How dare she want power? How dare she take up more space than we are comfortable with?

I am 53 years old and still struggling with this. It’s getting (a little) easier. Just being aware of this tendency opens my world up a little more

I’m learning to say yes more more often, not out of obligation but because it is what I want, whether it’s a new adventure or a movie in the middle of the day.

I’m finally beginning to believe that the world is big enough to hold all of me.