Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Kingdom of Heaven Is At Hand...Even If That Hand Is Freshly Manicured.

I don't believe God is an old man in the clouds. I think God is the space between every living cell in every living being. And though we are made of different cells, the space between them...I think that space is infused with Divinity, and I think that is what connects every living being in the Universe. We are all just a part of God. God isn't separate from us, He is the Connecting Force between us.

When I smell a flower, and can't see the scent, but know it is there because I can smell it...I think that is God.
Photo Credit: Kate Gale

When I hear a song, and don't have a distinct memory tied to it, but still get tears in my eyes...I think that is God.
When infant babies smile, though they have no memories or experiences to be happy about just yet...I think that is God.
The two utmost loves of my life

When I feel a breeze brush my cheek, and realize it is the same breeze that sways the tree branches above me, and the grass below me...I think that is God.

I also believe in Heaven and Hell. But I believe they are here, right now. Not some destination. Just as the wind can gently and lovingly cool me down on a warm summer day ((Heaven)), it can also meet certain earthly weather conditions, turn into a cyclone, and wipe out a city ((Hell)).
Photo Credit Dylan Stable

That is not to say God chose to put me in Heaven with a breeze, and the victims of Moore, OK, in Hell with a tornado. Rather, when I feel a breeze, I choose to Thank God, and enter the Kingdom of Heaven in that moment ((even if it is a 5 second, fleeting moment)), and when I drove through the destruction in Moore, Oklahoma a year ago, I acknowledged the Hell those people were going through...furthermore, I realized that even in that Hell, God was everywhere. But, in order to access Heaven in Hell, the victim must make that conscious choice. It is in the most devastating circumstances that we see God most easily, or choose to not see God at all.
Having been a traditional Christian for a couple of decades, I'm familiar with the verbiage used in the Church, and what I think is the more comfortable vocabulary for most of my friends. They would word it this way, "When God closes a door, He opens a window," or, "God is always knocking, it is up to you to answer."

Same thing. Different words, same message.
The people gathering from all over the country to help...God. The American Red Cross raising millions of dollars all over the world, and then the hands and feet of their volunteers...God. Even in Hell, there is God.
Realizing God is everywhere amidst horrible circumstances ((not caused by God)) is accessing Heaven.
Being unaware that God is around, and focused on the horrible times//situation//person//damage, and feeling like a victim is accessing Hell.
The people who were in that unfortunate set of circumstances, in Moore, during that horrific deadly tornado a year ago, who didn't see the help, who didn't realize the Love being poured in...they have an absolute separation of God and Self, and that is the Ultimate Hell.
Hell is not some fiery pit with a fictional cartoon character complete with horns and a pitchfork, dancing in fire...I would have to really try to believe something like that, and even if I really tried, I just couldn't. That seems so juvenile, so silly. We can see with our eyes pain and despair, and separation from God, right here, right Now. And seeing that, and not helping, but rather, coming from a place of self-righteousness, does more harm than good. Believing in a Hell doesn't make it real, and it doesn't save anybody. Donating money to natural disasters, donating time and service...that makes a difference. Showing people love, and opening people's eyes to the beauty all around them...that is the most effective way to "save somebody" from Hell. We don't have to wonder if Hell exists, or if Heaven is real. We can see it, and experience it. And we can make a difference.
I believe every thought we have is a choice before it is a thought, and most humans are unaware of the ability to choose their thoughts.
I think the first step for me was realizing I am not my thoughts. I didn't fully realize this until I was probably about 20. I think I've mentioned it before, but reading Eckhart Tolle's "A New Earth" changed my life, and the way I see the world.

Though I'd definitely heard phrases like "This too shall pass," and even the less regal, "Don't get too attached," I didn't truly grasp the temporary-ness of not only my life, but the world. Everything is temporary; this world is transient. All it takes is walking through an old cemetery to realize generations existed before us, and we had no idea who they were or what they did. This can be depressing...or it can wake us up to the moment at hand.
Photo Credit: The Moravian Cemetery

Situations always arise, therefore, it is not the situation at hand that is the problem; rather, my feelings toward the situation that is the problem. Change my thoughts, change my feelings, change my life.
But how can I change my thoughts? I wish it was that easy. If only I could "turn off a switch" and stop my mind. It is way too fast. Thoughts come and go too quickly for me to even acknowledge each thought and tell it to stop. I can't keep up with my mind. It has a mind of it's own.
Tolle explained in "A New Earth" that his "aha moment" was when he was contemplating suicide. The thought, "I can no longer live with myself" kept repeating in his mind. He questioned,
Who is the "I" that can no longer live with "my self"? Are there two of me? Who is the "I" and who is the "self" that "I" can no longer live with?
Tolle is definitely one of my most influential spiritual teachers. He embodies peace completely. Watching one of his interviews, I could see how a viewer not familiar with enlightenment or inner awareness could find him incredibly boring. He doesn't get worried, mad, sad, or visibly happy. He is just peace, wrapped up in a body. Of course he wasn't born this way; he achieved this Zen like way of life through years of practice. And I often try to think about his approach when I am faced with a negative set of circumstances.
**Sidenote to keep it real...I said I TRY. I am so far from Zen it isn't even funny. But I'm aware of what it looks like, and blissfully aware of what it feels like, and I am trying. I am also aware that it is easier to feel and embody peace on a perfect day. The month of May is my absolute favorite. The birth of my daughter, Mother's Day, my birthday...the cool mornings and nights, and warm days, when I can feel the Vitamin D soaking through my pores...it is easy for me to feel like a peaceful little flower child when everything is going my way. But I must remind myself when I'm getting that speeding ticket, or have a conflict at home or work, or am dealing with a customer service agent on the phone sorting out bills...it is the stressful situations that are gifts from God to teach me how to embody peace at all times. Tolle wouldn't get upset in those moments. He's a Zen Master! Neither would Buddha, Jesus, or the Dalai Lama! But if I can just continue improving...I'm on the right track. Looking at these moments as gifts to help me become more Zen, more peaceful...that's how I TRY to see the situation (even if I'm unable to realize that until after the moment has passed).
Anyway, back to my "aha" moment this morning. Many of the spiritual teachers that inspire me have detachment to emotions like sadness, nervousness, and anger. And they also are detached from the material world. For a while, when I had less money, I found it was healthy to detach myself from material pleasures. I even kind of judged those that were attached to their mani/pedis, or expensive cars, or luxurious clothes.
But my "aha" came to me this morning, realizing, the huge advantage we as human beings have over other living beings. The mind is both a blessing and a curse. We have the ability to have positive, uplifting thoughts, and most importantly, the ability to realize God in His Infinite Wisdom. A tree doesn't think about God, or feel God or wonder about God...a tree just IS God, without the mind to be conscious about it. The mind is also a curse, because it can go in auto-pilot ((how most humans are functioning, without even being aware of it)), with negative thoughts, and no awareness of how to turn it off. The tree doesn't worry, because it has no brain to create worry. But WE ARE NOT OUR THOUGHTS. We have livers, that create bile, but we are not bile. We have brains, that create thoughts, but we are not our thoughts.
The logical next step is realizing if we can detach from our thoughts, we can achieve enlightenment and embody peace. I think when I began looking at life differently ((or as some would view it, my "hippy phase"...hehe)), I took the mindset of no more material pleasures. And if I have one, it is a guilty pleasure. I shouldn't enjoy it. But this morning, I thought, if I can control my mind, why not allow it to enjoy the earthly pleasures? Why not allow it to get temporarily attached to the things that make me happy? I know Tolle would say that attachment allows other entities to become part of my identity, and then I face a potential identity//ego crisis when that entity fails, dies, or disappears. But, if I can control my mind, can't I deal with it then//later? And enjoy the Now?

To be more specific, if I live my life completely detached from the material world, I am not going to get a manicure or pedicure. And I usually don't, because it's not worth the money to me. A Tibetan monk goes decades without experiencing earthly pleasures. They seem to have the whole "peace and Zen" thing figured out!! But, I am not a Tibetan monk, and I never will be.
Photo Credit: Mitchell Kanashkevich

But this morning, as I was enjoying my morning coffee on a wooden porch swing, admiring the birds, squirrels, and watching the breeze blow through the trees, I had an "aha" moment of my own. In my life, I can indulge in a mani//pedi, and be present, and thoroughly enjoy it. Appreciate the person rubbing my feet. Appreciate and admire the color I choose from the wall of choices. Feel happy and ::gasp:: slightly attached to my new prettier fingers and toes. And, when the polish begins to chip, and come off, rather than think "I need to get another!" or "What a rip off, it only lasted a week!" I can think, "Well that was lovely. I'm so grateful to have had that experience. It is ending now, but it was wonderful while I had it." Then focus on the next experience at hand, which might have nothing to do with that mani//pedi whatsoever.
Every day of every week, and every year of my life, is an opportunity to discover on a deeper level, Who I Am. I think I am very familiar with my Soul, and I have felt conflicted with a personality. I blame it on being a "Gemini" ((which I think still holds some validity!))...I have eaten a Vegan diet, and I have eaten Culver's burgers for days. I can be very calm and peaceful, and I can flush my man's phone down the toilet in a fit of rage ((in my defense, that was 8 years ago)). I can rise above gossip and not make comments, but I can also dish dirt with the best of them. I guess, I'm human, and I am flawed.
I am also a chameleon! My surroundings dictate how I am going to act, and what I am going to say. I can blend with the sorority, I can blend with the crunchy granolas. I can relate with my plastic surgery patients, and I can relate with my feminist friends. I think ultimately, I have a unique ability to relate with almost any person, on many different levels. My favorite part about this blog is that people who read it choose to read it... it is not required reading to be my friend. So, I don't feel like I'm pushing my spiritual beliefs on anybody ((unlike some religions that literally knock on your door)). However, if I am at a dinner table with traditional Christians, I have the vocabulary and the history to relate to them on that level. For that matter, I have many friends who are politically conservative, or have other fundamentally different values, and I know when to not bring up certain topics, and I definitely know how to be respectful in their company. This blog allows me to express how I feel without the societal filters I put on when I know my audience will take issue with what I have to say. And I can always default to, "If you don't like it, don't read it."
Purging my musings out of my head and onto the glowing screen helps me go deeper within. Reading what I've typed, backspacing, and re-wording, helps me to realize how I actually think and feel. I could easily put all of this in a journal, and I do keep one for the thoughts I don't feel like sharing ((though it has been sparse lately...I find I go to that journal when I am upset, and I go to the blog when I'm discovering something about myself, or happy and want to share my feelings of joy)). But sharing these thoughts also opens the conversation with friends who I might not have known to start the conversation with, or complete strangers, who, thanks to technology, can become friends through the world wide web.
If you've made it this far, thank you for dedicating so much of your time to getting a peak into my mind. And as I type this, I remind myself...all of these thoughts are a product of my brain. The One aware of them, that sees them as clouds passing in the sky...that is actually Me. I end this Now with a big deep breath.

This was quite cathartic. Thank you.



Sunday, May 11, 2014

Dear Mommy,

Dear Mommy,
You'll have to excuse my lack of effort last year on Mother's Day. I had become a mother 6 days prior, and if memory serves me, I had just come home (to your home, that is) from the hospital that weekend.
But the past year, in being a mom, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for a full year...
...I've realized how lucky I am to have a mom in you.

You were a college educated woman in a career, and when I came into your life, you gave that up. I didn't think about that kind of sacrifice before. When I was younger, I thought being at home rather than "working" would be a pretty sweet and easy gig. That was because you always made being at home so comfortable and sweet. You were busy cooking, cleaning, bill paying, errand running, appointment setting, party planning, the list goes on...and I was busy eating your food, making messes with all my toys, and running up grocery and medical bills...all the while, fantasizing about someday being a mom with my American Girl dolls.

Now that I spend time at home, and time at work, as a mom, I realize part-time is the ideal situation ((for me)), and as a full time 2nd grade teacher, you didn't have that option. I also now realize your retirement is dependent on how many years you've spent in the district, and you gave up over a decade just to raise us, which sets you back quite a bit. And anytime it comes up, you always say "I was lucky to get to be with you girls," or "I'd do it all over again," or "I don't have any regrets." I appreciate you so much for making that sacrifice, and not being a martyr about it. Thank you.

Thank you for encouraging us to play outside in the rain. And for going out with us, with a film camera, and documenting it.

Thank you for orchestrating and planning family vacations, holidays, and birthday parties. I didn't realize the amount of time involved before the event. I just have the memories. And I know that's why you did it.

Thank you for being involved in the community...and getting us in the paper for a Weiner Dog race. Or maybe, thanks a lot? This is kinda lame.
Thank you for buying the supplies for every lemonade stand we ever had, and teaching us the importance of a work ethic from an early age.

Thank you for loving animals, and caring for all the pets we had. Various fish, a bird, a cat, dogs, ducks, a bunny for a summer, shoot...you even took in the turtle my friends got me as a gag gift in college. Now that we have an animal menagerie of our own, I appreciate all the work that goes just in keeping those creatures alive...and you even brought Sophie to Pappy Playday! HA!
Thank you for playing Tea Party with us.

Thank you for kissing all of my booboos, cleaning up all of my body fluids, and tickle scratching my limbs when I didn't feel good. Thank you also for making my outfit complete with Calamine Lotion and a Bow while I had the chicken pox.

Thank you for, in the words of 2Pac, making miracles every Thanksgiving.

Thank you for making sure Santa stuffed our stockings, every single year, including this Christmas past. I love knowing I'll have a AAA membership and black eyeliner come December 25. Thanks also for listening so well throughout the year, and being such a thoughtful gift-buyer. Most years I open a gift I completely forgot about, and am excited all over again. And thank you for matching pajamas.


Thank you for the awesome birthday cakes, matching invitations, and fun birthday parties. Thank you for teaching me the importance of a good thank you note when the party is over.

Thanks a LOT for being such a babe. It's hard having such a hot mom.

Thank you for scrapbooking. Thank you for teaching ME how to scrapbook. Thanks for all the purchased supplies, and COUNTLESS times you've raved on every page I created. Thanks for the retreats ((lame as they are, they are some of my favorite weekends ever)). You are really creative, and you have instilled that in us.
Thank you for helping me with all my college essays, and for riding me a little hard even though at the time it seemed annoying. Thank you for being proud of me.
Thank you for keeping stuff like this?!
((Here is one your mom kept from you.))
Thank you for being there. And for all the times you were there and a camera wasn't, thank you for those, too. And for all the times you bent over backwards or jumped through hoops, especially the ones that I don't remember...thank you the most for those. I know Lilah Grace won't remember a single thing I've done for her yet, and while she is completely worth every ounce of effort, I want her to know that I'm giving it my all. And I want you to know, that I know, you have given us your all. And I'm so grateful to have such a strong relationship with you. Thank you for the buttery nipple shots when I turned 21, and thank you for the Shirley MacLaine book I got in the mail this year...thank you for showing me that there are layers of you that I have yet to discover. Thank you for being my mom when I needed you, and for getting progressively cooler and an even closer friend as the years have gone on. Thank you for showing me how strong and independent a woman can be, while still truly putting her family above everything else. Thank you for leading by example, and actually having it all. You're beautiful, but down to earth. You're funny, and smart. You have close female friendships, a strong and loving marriage, and everybody at work loves you. I can't imagine my life without you, and knowing you live every day without your parents makes me admire you that much more.

Oh yeah, and thanks for giving me Life.
I love you, JacJac. You keep me laughing, and make me better.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

7 Surprising Realizations After Being a Mom for 1 Year

May 6, 2013. 

I remember this time, a year ago, being both anxious and excited...stressed, and at peace. I felt more conflicted than usual, which is saying a lot as a Gemini. When LG was born, and I couldn't hold her for 16 hours, I still felt pregnant...and as though my hard work in labor for 22 hours didn't bring me the reward of holding my baby, like I'd hoped and expected...which leads me to my FIRST of SEVEN realizations, since becoming a mom. The past year, I've learned a lot. Here are some highlights.


The first lesson I learned, within the first minutes of becoming a mother, was that things don't go as planned. My natural birth lasted about 12 hours, my epidural birth lasted about 10, and the vaginal delivery never happened. The dreaded, feared, and self-judged c-section, under emergent circumstances, occurred at 9:05 that night. Going skin-to-skin and holding my baby immediately after birth, didn't happen. Relying on my partner to give the first feeding and diaper changes, did.

Just a good smell of that fresh baby scent, and a gentle kiss. Then, they took her away. My heart broke into a million pieces.

I want to be the kind of mom who goes with the flow, more so than I want to be the kind of mom who sticks to a strict plan. Plans change. Plans fall through. That used to be the kind of thing that really bothered me. When I try to emulate the ease and flow of water...gently making it's way around whatever rock//burden//obstacle is in the way, rather than obstinately arguing with the roadblock...that is the kind of mother I want to be. That is the kind of mother I feel God is calling me to be, with the life lessons He gave me during Lilah Grace's birth.


My biggest fear with having a baby so soon after getting married, was of course, financial. I think most parents are worried about having enough, and being able to provide enough. I've heard it said many times, if somebody waits to have enough money to have kids, it'll never happen. That's true. Even with insurance, we will be making payments on Lilah's NICU bill for the next 5 years. She had a febrile seizure last January, and we will be making payments on that hospital bill for the next 4 years. Without a doubt, medical expenses are astronomical, and that's an entirely different conversation all together. 

But I look at these payments the same way I look at our mortgage, or other bills. It comes off the top, it's the first thing that gets paid, it just is what it is. Of course, the little girl can EAT! And food is expensive! And diapers, and childcare for the days I work. But these don't cross my mind regularly; it's just an accepted way of life now. Again, I've learned to "go with the flow" and just flow around the obstacles. We have less money, but we aren't starving! We live in a perfectly sized house for our little family, and it's filled to the brim with love. Before having Lilah Grace, I had much more freedom with how I spent my money. I believe we will feel more liberated as we get older, more settled, and progress further in our careers. Until then, we enjoy the simple things, and acknowledge that the most important moments truly are priceless. We stay home most nights, take walks, and get a lot of free meals with our nearby family :) 


I admit, I totally miss sleeping in. It's happened once in the past year. ONCE. My parents watched Lilah Grace over night, and I didn't have to get her first thing in the morning. She is an early riser, and it took her over 6 months to sleep through the night. I used to work 5 days a week before her arrival, so I'm used to waking up early, but I really loved those weekends when I could wake up to my own biological clock, rather than my iPhone alarm, or even the sweet babbles of my precious angel. I wouldn't TRADE it for the world, but I miss that kind of a morning. What nobody warns you about, as new parents, is SURE you can get a babysitter for a fun night out, complete with drinks, but the night isn't the tough part! That next morning, you're on again. Shift starts back up at 6:30, in our case. And Baby doesn't know if you have a pounding headache, and frankly, Baby doesn't care. 


I've managed to give myself permission to sleep maybe four times, ever, while LG has napped. This is the only time I can get anything done throughout the day! And I feel like her little coos could start up at ANY minute after we hit 1 hour of snooze time. Which means, even as I'm writing this blog, I'm typing a million words per minute, wondering if the washer will buzz before she wakes up, so I can at least change the laundry before we start the afternoon together. Who knows. But I set little goals for myself during her naps, and knock them out, with incredible diligence, because when she's awake, I'm focused on HER, and I let her pace set my pace. 

When she sleeps, I'm a hustla, baaaaaby.


I hope I can look back in 5 years, and repeat that mantra. I hope my whole life, I'm growing spiritually. I think that's the point of existence. The more I think about age, the less I think it matters. I think Life Experiences age us. It can be for better or worse, depending on who we want to be. I think having a soulful partnership (read: NOT necessarily a marriage) teaches us about Life and helps us grow. I think having a painful break up expands our potential to love, and helps us grow. I think experiencing death ultimately reminds us that Life on this realm is not eternal, and reminds us to appreciate those that matter most to us, and to let them know. Education certainly adds wisdom to our lives. I think travel opens the mind to new cultures, religions, ideas. Point being, I think it's entirely possible for a 50 year old to stand next to a 20 year old, and depending on their life experiences, the younger could have more wisdom. That's not to say I think that's the norm...I think most people with age have more wisdom, because they have time on their side. Age gives us an edge, because it gives us the time to have those experiences, but if we're not SEEKING experiences, we're wasting our time. 

I digress. Lilah Grace has offered me an entirely new experience in this Life. She hit the "refresh" button for me, and has given me fresh eyes, seeing the world in a new way...absolutely full of wonder.


((THANK GOD for the village))

The old phrase is true. When I looked around the room for her first birthday, I was choked up, hearing our family singing "The Weight" and feeling the love that each person in our tribe has for LG. It's not like I have to ask or encourage anybody to love her; they all love her helplessly, and individually. Each person in her life has their own unique relationship with her, and that has very little to do with me.  

I RELY on my tribe. George helps out a lot. A couple nights a week, he'll put LG down for the night. Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, he takes her to the nanny. And he works his butt off every day, to help provide a life for our little family. Both our sets of parents AND grandparents give a lot of their time, money, and love, and we are richly blessed as a result. When Papa G goes out of town for work, I still stay at my folks' place. Both my mom and his mom pick LG up from the nanny regularly. The phrase "it takes a village" helps take the load off my shoulders. I'm not doing this alone; we are all doing this together.  The satisfying feeling of celebrating occasions, and loving this little angel, with my tribe is much more rewarding than any feeling of self sufficiency. 


Sometimes I'll feel like I've entertained LG for hours during the stretch from dinner to bath//bed. But it's only been 30 minutes. And then, I realize that an entire month has flown by, and what do you know, now I have a 1 year old little tot. Where's my newborn baby?!

The advice I heard most often a year ago, was "it goes by so fast, enjoy every moment." I'm grateful for that advice. This time has already flown by, and I think if there's one thing I've done well, it's been being present, and not taking a day with LG for granted. Cumulatively, I'm certain I've spent hours just staring at her little mouth, milia-covered nose, and those dimples-for-knuckles. My five senses are completely enamored with her. Staring, listening, SMELLING, feeling, and even tasting...nibbling those sweet chunky thighs. She puts me in a complete sensory overload.

I know I won't get this time back. I love each and every day I've had with our little girl, and look forward to the many milestones and Life Lessons that are ahead of us.

HAPPY FIRST BIRTHDAY, SWEETHEART. Our lives are so much richer with you here. We love you so much. I loved you from the time I was a little girl and played dolls, pretending I had a baby...and I will love you forever. Love never dies.


"Goodnight my angel, now it's time to dream
And dream how wonderful your life will be

Someday your child may cry, and if you sing this lullaby,
Then in your heart there will always be a part of me...
Someday we'll all be gone,
But lullabies go on and on,
They never die,
That's how you and I will be..."
-Billy Joel

Our little human rights baby.

Little LG celebrating Mama's birthday, last Memorial Day! Her first dip in a pool!

Papa G made sure LG listened to a few albums in their entirety, immediately after she was born...
Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys,
OK Computer by Radiohead
The White Album by the Beatles
Pitter Patter.

The first of HUNDREDS of strolls!

I love you, Lilah Grace!