never stops teaching.
Journaling for awareness. Growing for life.
Gumption. I taught my daughter this word in the car this morning. She is nearly thirteen and experiencing standard pangs of self-doubt, fatigue, and emotion that can take her down that resolute rollercoaster without much warning. Her posture and voice in the morning tell me that everything feels heavier than it once did. It’s unreasonable to expect her to get up each day with the joy and confidence I know lives inside of her, but it is difficult to see those beautiful attributes sitting out our morning routine.
As she was getting out of the car today before school, I went for a quick pep-talk and suggested she might dig into her gumption to get her through the day. I explained gumption as her spunk, her courage, her resourcefulness and positive initiative. She smiled in understanding, but as she walked from the car, I watched her smile fade. My heart sank, and I seemed to get sucked back in time 27 years to Parker Jr. High School. I remembered with distinct detail, like you would food poisoning, the nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach as I walked into school. My gumption had been clobbered with questions: would my voice matter, were my clothes right, would I be completely embarrassing or get shut out when trying to blend in?
The often-painful, pre-teen right-of-passage comes with a fair amount of hazing from hormones and peers. And I don’t have an answer to this achy issue this morning, only a question. How, at any age, can we better honor our gumption? When it feels as though no one notices or cares, when facing an obstacle course of personal challenges, can we still hold out our courage and creativity? Can we experience that we are not alone and that we are enough?
To all those struggling to unearth their gumption, don’t give up. We need you. You’ve got the goods! Be patient and steady and go for the thing that makes your eyes light up or your heart sing. Not everyone will notice, but some will. And those are the lives you will touch and maybe change forever. One day it will be clear that it all matters. That you matter. For today, just give ‘em a little gumption.
Two weeks ago Monday, after the rigmarole of getting up and out in the morning—breakfast, school drop offs, a quick grocery run, and so forth—I took fifteen minutes to enjoy my cup of tea in the little garden bed in front of my house. I sat on the grass breathing in the steam from my mug and clearing my head of its busy thinking. There I noticed a little pink rose peeking out from under some heartier salvia branches. It was the first bloom on the young plant, tilting its head into the light. I was inclined to whisper, I see you, the way one might to a child playing peekaboo, but instead I just marveled at the quiet miracle of the vibrant rose that had been just a hint of life the week before. There was something about that moment in the garden that brought me and my cup of tea back out the next morning. And the morning after. I’d made a new friend or sorts and a new ritual.
If you’ve ever sat in a garden and felt your shoulders come down, then you know the feeling of relaxation that natural beauty can bring, the grounding connection felt by sitting on the earth. Maybe you’ve even felt the peaceful energy of the flowers themselves. The rose is thought to have one of the highest vibrational frequencies in the world. It is often used as a symbol of new life and balance. When life seems to be dishing out stress or complications, there are simple peace offerings like these blooming nearby, finding their way into the light no matter what the weather. And when we are still awaiting the tangible blooms of spring, the symbol of the rose can be used as a powerful mindfulness tool in daily life to safeguard against absorbing stress and negativity. Here’s how it works…
If you should find yourself confronted with someone who is angry, anxious, judgmental, or unhappy, take a deep breath and imagine a rose sitting between you and the other person. Instead of absorbing the negative feelings of the other as an empathetic gesture or an attempt to fix matters, imagine the feelings of the other person entering the rose. Offer your empathy and support to what is taking place in front of you. (You might even visualize a change in the color of the rose.) By allowing those negative feelings to enter the rose instead of you, you are left with your shoulders down, breathing deeply. Like the rose itself, you can reach for the light–that which nourishes you–and not be consumed by stress. What represents light in your life?
A mindfulness tool like the separation rose takes a bit of practice, but it can become a healthy ritual. Much like sipping tea in a garden. What ritual might you introduce into your life this spring as a symbol of new life and balance?
Happy spring friends.
She had a very distinct handwriting. Precise and elegant. We treasure recipes, post cards, and letters that preserve her script. That is why I knew who the card was from when it came. I was dreaming, of course—my grandmother has been dead for several years. But it was as real as anything.
My mind had been spinning the night before the dream. I had been asked to meet a new challenge, one that might have felt pretty manageable had it not been ushered in by so many others. As a mother, it has been a year of “new” – middle school, new friends, even a new place to live while we renovate our home. “New” has meant discovering my youngest son’s long-term health issues and trying to help my middle son weather a negative classroom environment. “New” has included my daughter taking on pre-algebra and pre-pubescence, my husband taking on weekly trips out of town for work, and my father taking on chemo. So, the night before the dream, I’d had to reach deep into the well of shallow reserves to find what is necessary to go on being the positive and resilient mother. On the outside I was cool and level. But inside I was a mess of questions. How will I solve this one? What is the best path? How can I be sure they each get enough of what they need from me? Will he be ok? Will they all be ok? In body? In emotions? In self-confidence and self-understanding? When my head hit the pillow, I knew rest would not be possible if I went on badgering my tired mind with questions. So I followed my breath in and out, releasing one question at a time, until I was free to sleep. And then I dreamed.
I dreamed I was collecting the mail from the mailbox at the end of the driveway that leads to the door of our current rental home. As I walked back toward the house, flipping through letters and bills, I came across an envelope addressed to me in my grandmother’s handwriting. I did not tear it open but ran inside to find my husband and my mother standing there. I showed them the envelope, and my mother remarked that it did not have a return address and was postmarked from 2012. The year my grandmother died. There was discussion on how this could be possible. Where had the letter been for the past six years? Had it been lost somewhere? Or intentionally held back until now? After strange dream sequences of trying to trace the path of the small white envelope, I finally opened it. Inside was a Mother’s Day card, and my grandmother’s perfect script read, “Your love is big enough. Just keep believing and keep doing what you’re doing. I’m proud of my Chris.” I woke and sat up in a daze. My face was wet with tears. I jotted down the words I’d read in my dream. I wondered if my subconscious had conjured up the notion of receiving a card from my Grandmother out of a longing for her. Or had some part of her, of who she was and all that she stood for, with luminous warmth and endless generosity, known that I needed her?
We all have days when we feel stretched a little too thin or like we may come up short. We may even question our ability to be who we need to be. I’m grateful to be able to call my mother in moments like these—she lovingly assures me of what I intuitively know, that I’m right where I need to be. Present. Incredibly, this past week I received that powerful message from my dear grandmother as well.
The great mothers of your life might be a phone call away. Or maybe some of them would have to reach through space and time, into dreams and deep intuitions, to deliver you a message. It is my belief that my grandmother has done that for me. She sent me a Mother’s Day card. She found a way to reach me, because her love is big enough. And if she can do that, then love knows no bounds.
Anything is possible. Just keep believing and keep doing what you’re doing.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the Mamas!
I had a dream the other night that I was rowing out on the ocean in a little wooden skiff. My youngest child was in my lap. The water was calm and all was well until the boat began to leak. Holes sprung up everywhere. One then another. The water was suddenly a powerful ocean with a deep darkness below it. I worked frantically to try to empty the water from the boat with the small scoop of my hands, not succeeding before I woke myself up.
It’s not like me to have anxiety dreams, but then the last couple months haven’t exactly been typical. They’ve brought about challenges that I haven’t been ready to write about before now. I guess it’s because the whole world is experiencing challenges, and as Humphrey Bogart says in Casablanca, the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Still, it’s the stories of perseverance that enable most of us to get up each day with faith that all will be well in a matter of time. So I guess it’s time to talk about my damn allegorical boat. It still has holes in it, but there’s time.
My seven-year-old developed neurological issues over the last year, primarily involuntary facial tics. At first we didn’t think too much of it; lots of children have tics. But the tics grew in number, severity and frequency, and by the end of August, my little guy was diagnosed with a chronic tic disorder. He couldn’t calm his body enough to sleep or settle his eyes enough to read. I spent every day doing medical research and learning about different forms of therapies and medications. I met with neurologists, psychologists, nutritionists, and herbalists. The doctors had conflicting opinions and widely varying advice; nothing was straightforward. And everyday that ended still without clear direction, felt like another hole in things. My child was growing frustrated and had questions without answers. Holes. Classmates made comments, the checkout woman in the supermarket stared, blameless children mimicked. More holes. I wasn’t sure I’d ever have hands powerful enough to patch things and keep him afloat. I held him and told him, “Don’t forget who you are and that you’re awesome.” I hoped for a miracle.
And there were miracles. Maybe not the kind that fix entire boats, but the kind that can patch one hole at a time.
I got to know a neighbor at a football game, and discovered that she has walked the same road I am on, her son now nearly grown. She was able to take me by the shoulders and say, “I understand,” and truly mean it. She was able to say, “It gets easier.” She patched a hole.
When my son’s teacher saw that it was necessary, she brought the class together to talk about everyone’s differences. As an example, she told the class that sometimes she shakes her leg under her desk when she’s nervous. My son heard this and it made him think of his tics. In that safe space, for the first time, he raised his hand and told his classmates what he was going through. It was a little miracle. Another hole patched.
Then I ran into a friend in town, and because that day the holes were too big, when she asked me how I was doing I couldn’t keep the water out. I finally let myself cry about it. Funny how when you open up you make room for the good stuff to get in. Not only did this friend have a referral for a doctor that I wouldn’t have to wait six months to see, but when I went to see that doctor, I learned that she not only has professional expertise, but personal experience with tic disorders. With a true guide, another big hole was patched.
Lying in bed with my little guy one night, trying to help his body quiet enough for sleep, I said, “You’re so patient buddy. Soon your body will be peaceful.” He put his nose to mine and said, “I know, Mama. My body may not be peaceful, but I am.” And my heart leapt. He reminded me that no matter what we go through, peace is a choice every day. It’s a choice even when you can’t control your own movements. It’s a miracle.
While tic disorders like this one are not the result of specific stress, symptoms can intensify under even benign stress. And in our culture where anxiety is in the air when you walk outside like the secondhand smoke of adult technology and distractions, we could all use a reserve of inner peace. So this mindful mama is on a mission for her family, and slowly my little guy is becoming the captain of his own ship. He asks me to take him to the high school track to run sometimes—he can feel when his body needs to get into rhythm. He asks me if we can meditate before bed. He’s listening to what his body needs. With the right doctors and my kiddo’s ever-positive attitude, we are learning how to navigate this ocean.
A month ago I was trying to figure out how to help my son look and feel like everyone else again. Was there a singular medicine with no side effects or a therapy that was the cure? No. But now my perspective is different. Maybe my son isn’t meant to look or feel like everyone else. He’s perfectly unique. And his tics, less severe now, are a reminder to me that we all need to be seen. It’s more important to be at peace with exactly who we are than to try to be what others deem as “normal.” Like many children with chronic tics, my little dude is extremely bright and creative. He has an active mind and a tender heart. I have no doubt that he will do incredible things in this world, knowing how to conquer hurdles with that bright smile on his face. Everyday I tell him and my other two kids, “Remember who you are and that you’re awesome.” That’s the whole thing really. This is not a journey to become something else. It’s a journey to become the best version of ourselves.
We all have holes. But they will not put us under. There are miracles.
Last week I introduced a new guided-meditation in my Soul Story Workshop, one intended to help us navigate our way through obstacles and find meaning within our experiences. The result was powerful. I share the meditation below in the hopes that it might help guide a few more out of the dark.
Sit comfortably. Close your eyes.
Begin to take slow deep breaths, in and out through your nose.
Allow your shoulders to relax. Allow your torso to soften.
Find the rhythm of your breath. Allow the breath to breathe you as you bring your awareness into your heart.
Call up an area of your life where an obstacle is present.
Imagine this obstacle as a dark room. Seat yourself in this place. Be present to it.
Think about when and how this obstacle began.
Are you alone in this place? Or is there someone else in here with you?
Acknowledge yourself and how you feel. Acknowledge that no one, not even those in this place or ones like it, can speak to your exact experience.
Can you name what you might need to move through this place?
Ask yourself if this is something you already have inside of you?
Here in the dark, call to mind a feeling of being loved.
Call to mind a feeling of experiencing compassion.
As you call to mind feelings of love and compassion, imagine you are now holding a flashlight in your hands. With love and compassion, you can now spread a beam of light around the dark room where you are present to your obstacle.
As you move that beam of light around the room, what is revealed? What details come to light?
Could there be something to find here?
As you move your light around the space, silently ask the question: What am I meant to discover?
Can this place reveal a gift or an opportunity that has been in hiding?
With light now in the room, can you see any purpose to this obstacle?
What perspective might there be to gain on your soul’s presence here?
Can you change your story, not by changing the circumstances, but by letting something touch your soul? By finding a new possibility within your obstacle?
Slowly begin to move your toes, your fingers, your shoulders.
Slowly come back into the room and open your eyes.