Loosing and Finding Love…Unconditional

Anything is possible?

In his Weekly Address: Celebrating Fathers, President Obama spoke of the necessary building blocks of fatherhood, including quality time and structure. He also emphasized the importance of unconditional love.  His message really got me thinking about parenting in general, and in particular, about the ‘unconditional love’ part that is required to raise well-adjusted children with a healthy sense of self-worth, discernment, and empathy in today’s environment.  So, if the paragraphs below appear heavier (or longer) than normal, it’s because they are from deeply rooted personal truths that even I didn’t know existed, ones that clearly needed to be “loosed”.

Hence, the title of this post went through much iteration, to say the least. I settled on “Loosing and Finding Love…Unconditional” because I believe that it represents the process as well as the spectrum of transformation that is required to be effective at identifying love in order to receive it, and then to be authentic in giving love.  Better said, it is the current that undergirds and characterizes my journey as a mother, and a citizen of this larger human circle. Parenting not only requires that we manage the layers of distractions to deliver focused messages to our children, but that we deconstruct and deal with issues of the self  on an ongoing basis. It’s no wonder that I find myself constantly sorting through the tapes of my upbringing to understand how they inform me as a person, and by extension, examining whether their impact limits or empowers me to be an even better parent.

As a child, my family’s opinion was my primary filter. My parents and grandparents made choices that they believed to be in my best interest, while not sacrificing their own. What they said and did (or didn’t) mattered heavily to me, almost to a fault. So naturally, when they were less than affirming or validating, it mattered. I wanted to know that they would love me no matter what.  I wanted them to embrace me no matter what or who I became and even when my opinions or actions fell outside their views or expectations.  When the goal of their instruction was to make me more independent or build a thick skin, it only resulted in a greater emotional distance that became more difficult to close. Furthermore, when the exchanges lacked the intimacy that I needed to feel valued, it also mattered…a lot. Though the dysfunction of these truths didn’t register with me until later in life, I now realize that I struggled with my sense of belonging and self-worth as a child, and with what it meant to give and receive unconditional love well into my adult life.  There, I said it!

As I continue to work through these truths in my daily living and learning, I have to consciously work to bridge those gaps because ultimately I want to be closer and more accessible to my own children. That isn’t easy.  I’ve come to learn that before I can impart unconditional love to my children, I first have to release those truths because they prevent me from fully loving or receiving love. Though undoubtedly necessary, unpacking my emotional baggage is painful; however, it is also amazingly cathartic. In so doing, I’m learning that parenting is not a perfect science that can be mastered. Rather, it is a “responsible” art, which outcome depends on the many variables put into it and the techniques used…one learned by doing and even un-learning…repeatedly. This is a significant part of living Life As an Art Form.

I believe that the only way to make sure that we’re on the right track as parents and/or surrogate caretakers of children, is to uncover that which holds us bound or captive to painful pasts or vicious cycles, for they limit us; then finally, we must release, or “loose” it from those places so that they may forever lose their power which keeps us from receiving and giving unconditional love. Don’t be fooled; this is not a one-time assignment, but rather, it is an ongoing process that requires lots of forgiveness…and controlled breathing.  Relax, Relate, Release!  (Where are my Whitley admirers?)  It isn’t until then that we can name and model the behaviors that we seek in ourselves, let alone children. Then, and only then, will we have authentic relationship with our children.  Once I’ve identified the problem and put it in its proper perspective and place, I’m learning that it’s really okay to open up.  In fact, children want that! Giving them structure and boundaries doesn’t require us to be authoritative or infallible.  Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and human because we want them to, in turn, open up and trust us, is paramount. Giving ourselves permission to not be so thick-skinned that we come across as unaffected is a healthy and human thing.  It is that which connects us with them.

So, I’m learning to love without condition; to give my children my love simply because I’ve been blessed with their life, and because they need it to evolve as self-confident, empathetic beings.   I’m learning to give them my presence by engaging the many questions of their seeking. After all, I have been entrusted as their guide. I’m learning to give them my love; and as their maturity allows, I hope to continue to foster my healing as I share with them the most inconvenient truths of my own BE-coming. I believe that it is in so doing that our children will understand more about Life itself.  We’ve got to make sure that they know we love and value them through intimate time spent together, exchanges, and other small acts of love…even when we disagree and they leave us scratching our head. In the end, it won’t be about whether we’ve molded perfection, but whether we have helped to shape and nurture the minds and hearts of those who we ultimately release into the world, regardless of who or what they become. After all, at the end of the day, it’s all about the what? The love…love unconditional!

Related Inspiration:

“Unconditional Love” Music Video, Donna Summer feat. Musical Youth
“Send One Your Love” Music Video, Stevie Wonder (it doesn’t get any love-lier!)
Giving Unconditional Love Even When It’s Not Easy (psychologytoday.com)
Obama: Mother gave me the strength of ‘unconditional love’ – USA Today (news.google.com)

Check Contents Before Opening

Packing Only What Fits?

Every morning, I do a once-over of the children before they depart for school, and make sure they look solid. Before I consider them fully inspected, I give them that one last look from head to toe to confirm no hairs out of place; clean corners at the mouth; smooth, unbent collars; fully zipped coats; smiles all aglow; and covered necks and chests. “Child, don’t be taking no chances with this weather…can’t be coming down with a chest cold!” (Now say it in the most southern twang you can muster.) :o I’m beginning to sound like somebody’s grandma…probably got it from somebody’s grandma! Inspection now complete, they walk off, and I’m assured that they are all set. 

Once they leave, I settle into the domestic affairs of cleaning off the table and counters, and putting away cereal boxes and orange juice.  My eye catches hold of a small pile of school papers which contains unsigned permission slips and school announcements, some now moot because of past deadlines. These were all from only one of their backpacks, seemingly from a few days ago. How did I miss that? They probably snuck that past me, I thought. Darn it, I forgot to check the inside of their bags…again!  It occurs to me that I haven’t personally checked the inside of their backpacks in quite some time. I’ve trusted their little growing independent selves to handle this aspect of their organization, dismissing the fact that they may need a little help along the way.

In fact, I haven’t been checking on the inside of much, as of lately. Ouch! I consider the question of how often we check on the inside. Sometimes, my steady auto-pilot feature is so engaged, that I don’t do due diligence to my total self by checking on the inside, so by all appearances, it all appears well. This small example of not checking my children’s backpacks is a microcosm of our avoidance to thoroughly check the inside, and sift through the contents of our personal selves. By all appearances, we appear well, but beneath, lies an emergent self that is steadily evolving as it navigates through life and seeks to apply the wisdom gained over the years. It busily trods through life, hoping to present itself better, stronger, more equipped for the race with each new day, yet, it is bombarded with numerous messages, of things unattended, and of stories untold.

Left unchecked, this emergent self carries its ramblings, notions, musings, thoughts, hopes, dreams, and epiphanies under wraps, sealed, to be released probably never, and most certainly, too infrequently. Occasionally however, there is a need to check its contents. A thorough inspection is required to ensure that we have what we need when we need it. We may very well need to review its contents; discard what’s no longer useful, and replenish what’s needed. In my children’s backpack, it was the announcement of the school’s new SMARTboards, a middle school parent orientation, and a May field trip (which thankfully, I will submit in time). In a broader sense, however, a review might indicate that our priorities are in need of reorganization. It might be the realization that we haven’t tended to matters of the heart. It may be the acknowledgment that we need to nurture some personal connections, rest, or are on “to-do” overload, or that our bodies are lacking some key nutrients, exercise, and quality down-time. Perhaps life has become so routine and formal, so deadline-driven; but within, we are in need of some organization, prioritization, and yes, fixation…on the inside.

Check the contents not only to find what’s missing, but to also celebrate what’s in place; what you deem most important, what you’ve insisted on carrying, what propels you. Perhaps those things are glaringly evident, indicating that you are right where you need to be. Celebrate that as well, that you may give yourself permission to occasionally mess up on those things that show up on the outside. If your personal house – your very essence, your compassion, your storehouses of love, generosity, the very inner hearkenings of your heart, talent, art, ministry, gifts – is in order, who cares what everyone else sees?  Only you know the hard work that you put in to get it that way. Pack carefully, but don’t keep piling it on. Streamline often, to avoid getting bogged down by dead weight. Broom the crap, and groom the rest! Write the stories, and get it out one way or the other. Unleash the uneasiness that comes from avoiding what’s inside, and take joy in seeing it morph into tangible action. Experience the sweet joy that springs forth from releasing the pent-up frustration and seeming inability to move forward on said project, or action item.  Eliminate those things that add no value to what you say is most important to you – your values, your core, your master plan! Cultivate and enhance only the keepsakes – those contents worthy of keeping -  that you may rightfully grow into that beautiful beyond-emergent self, from the inside out!!

And  now, for some musical inspiration on the subject:
Bag Lady“, Erykah Badu
Lively Up Yourself“, Bob Marley

Just Can’t Keep it to Myself! (Pt. 1)

Though I had gotten my fair share of sleep the previous night, the onset of weather-related allergies made me feel unusually tired and groggy. My equilibrium was way off! I felt lopsided, and my head felt heavier than usual, forcing me to sit up long enough to grab the poncho that I had been crocheting and turn on the TV. It is rare that I get to watch TV during the “work” day, but I figured since my workday is pretty much all day, then that rule need not apply. Plus, I could no longer bear to stand without feeling off-balance. I toggled through the On Demand menu and settled at Oprah’s OWN Master Class, featuring none but Miss Oprah herself! As if that wasn’t enough, I felt like I struck gold when I saw that this was a two-part episode! (I believe it comes on sometime next week, but for those who can’t wait, part one is already On Demand.)

I came away with such incredible insight… beautiful nuggets, gems really…that I just couldn’t keep them to myself! Listening was like having a one-on-one with Spirit, through a wise old sage or modern-day griot; like having a private consultation with one who has already lived life as a great master teacher, one who was now taking the time with me to impart some life-altering truths, if practiced, and wisdom to get me geared up for the next leg of my journey. I came away from the session knowing that I was – still am – on the right track in this quest to live Life As An Art, masterfully and deliberately! It was the conviction and confirmation that I didn’t know I needed. What I gathered spoke so loudly to me. You better believe I had my notebook handy! I’ll do my best to capture some of these lessons below. Oprah’s words appear in italics. All else is courtesy of yours truly. :o

“You can’t survive in this world just believing in yourself…Your very presence comes from something greater.” One thing I liked about her sharing this particular truth, was her careful insertion that one, very decidedly, plays a role in creating the outcome, as “co-creators…co-creating life with a Creator”.

“The universe speaks to us always…first, in whispers, subtly…at first, it doesn’t seem to make sense…then the whispers get louder.” Then you have no choice but to act, right? This is how I was led to share this in the first place. So get quiet that you might hear, and then follow!

“Make a decision to do and be the best. Doing your best always puts you at the next level.” I believe this is especially true if you want to be effective. People know when you haven’t given them your best. Worse yet, is you know, so level up! Don’t settle for mediocrity, or with being average when you know that’s not good enough. Strive for excellence.

“Know your purpose, otherwise you’re wandering. The sooner you know, the sooner you’ll get to working…it feels like it’s the right space for you, where you feel most yourself.” Oprah’s is to inspire, to be a teacher, to teach and to learn. By this time, the hairs on my arms were standing upright! Could it be…? Be and act purposefully, ensuring that the things that you do are somehow aligned with this greater purpose. Be in tune, as well as attuned. Should you find yourself dreaming, then dream…on purpose!

“You are worthy.” You know I know, without a doubt! This isn’t being cocky, not one bit! I know that I’m worthy because I’ve been entrusted with the gift of life, to be used as an instrument, a conduit, a vessel, for helping others attain their highest selves. That gift is worth more to me than any accolade, publication, admission ticket, or any worldly validation…and oh, by the way, it’s not for sale. It’s worth? Priceless!

Last but not least, know that Everything is preparing you for the moment that is to come.” Oh, how sweet the sound! Acknowledge and Respect the Now!

Stay tuned for Part 2!

William Ernest Henley‘s “Invictus”

Missing Now

So when you find yourself becoming anxious about the “defining moment”, and how your Now moments will culminate, consider the lessons that you are learning, and need to learn, in the process.
*******

In addition to being a wife and mother, one of the things that I pride myself on is building a legacy for my children, one built on a solid partnership with my husband.  We do our best to regularly discuss our mutual and individual goals, purpose, and our respective trajectories on various components of our lives.  In our most recent powwow, I shared with him that while I felt good about the broader portfolio of writing that I had been developing, I was also anxious about what is to come, and what will transpire between now and then – when that elusive “defining moment” unveils itself.

This discussion gave way to the whole concept of “Now”, and begged the question of whether I was truly living in the Now.  I’m sure many of you have heard a lot about the “fierce urgency of now”, and its characterization in speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and later, President Barack Obama.  Then, there’s also  The Power of Now , by Eckhart Tolle (by the way, I have not read the book, though it is part of our home library).  My insight on this subject, however, takes on a less political, but definitely more personal meaning as I contextualize it against the backdrop of my life anxieties.

So many times, we become consumed by our own angst, which occurs as a result of our preoccupation about what’s to come – the future, the what-ifs.  As such, our success and happiness are hinged in the conditional.  The attainment of our deepest desires becomes dependent on a condition.  If we could only lose ten pounds, get our hands on more money, find the right mate, were there instead of here, had that job instead of this one, if only we had more time, if only we got published :o, then, and only then would we realize true happiness.  Inarguably, we could all use more time and resources (financial or otherwise) to iron out the kinks, to improve and implement our plans, but we actually lose time when our minds overlook the Now. Moreover, we miss the beauty around us as well as the opportunity to create meaning.

While it is important to plan, and to work toward a certain goal, we must develop a deeper understanding of how our Now moments fit into the larger plan.  A series of Now events must take place along the journey before we can proceed to the next level.  Furthermore, the cultivation of, and engagement in, these moments as well as the required stillness will surely prepare us for more, for greater, for the destinations that lie further ahead.  Too much anxiety about what’s to come only heightens our sense of paranoia, resulting in fitful nights of sleep, thereby causing an unshakeable anxiety which ultimately renders us unable to move forward anyway.

So when you find yourself becoming anxious about the “defining moment”, and how your Now moments will culminate, consider the lessons that you are learning, and need to learn, in the process. What you take away from them may very well define how you will handle what you call success.  Appreciate how this Now moment is preparing you for what’s to come.   Being in the Now teaches us some important lessons, including not taking our success for granted, humility, and patience.  Also, it quietly affords us the reflection that we may not have when the rapid pace of success takes off!   Now you know what I know: Now is a very necessary path in the greater unfolding of our ultimate dreams, hopes, and visions.

Now is fleeting, so hurry…you don’t want to miss it!

 

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New Lessons for Our Daughters…on Sisterhood

On Sisterhood

After a rather long day of shuttling to and from various appointments and obligations, I’m worn out!  I can’t wait to hit the hay, but I’m desperately trying to just get a few minutes to write, even if it means I only get to write a line or two, in between barking commands at my children, picking something up that I’m sure I’m not the first to walk over…again, or the hamster-on-a-wheel activity of loading yet another load of laundry.  No Chocolate Communion for me tonight!  I did manage to scoop up some discounted Valentine’s chocolate at the local Target, but they’re not for me, they’re for the children… at least that is what I keep telling myself. :o

One of today’s highlights, if not the highlight, was talking to a long, but not lost, friend.  I’m not sure that we started out as friends when we first introduced ourselves to each other in high school, but thanks to social media, and the power of the written word, we’ve been able to reconnect beautifully and authentically, without the backdrop of the banter, gossip, or foolishness that often characterizes the years between ages fourteen to eighteen.  My high school experience was a flash in the pan anyway.  I came away with very few relationships that I would maintain between then and now.

This friend was not among the few; however, our trips of motherhood, marriage, and life in general, reconnected us in a way that required no explanation, no pretense, and no justification.  The unique journeys of womanhood color our now-friendship in a way that is meaningful, and vibrant.  While we’ve taken some different routes, our journeys have taken us to similar places in the development of self, and some of the stops along the way are familiar to us both.  I have a few friendships like this one, each as unique as the individual.   These friendships have become the backbone of what I call my sisterhood.  Its members represent an extraordinary network of uniquely gifted women, each enterprising and skilled in their own right.  Though they themselves aren’t friends with each other, they are all my sistah gal-friends.  They strengthen me in ways that I never thought I’d come to need or acknowledge. This small sisterhood enriches, encourages, and empowers.  Whether giving advice, lending expertise or sharing experience, there is a tremendous amount of reciprocity in terms of what each party is willing to give to, or take away from the table. In these relationships, I feel valued and confided in, and I arrive at an epiphany that we…first as girls, now as women, were taught very limited notions about sisterhood, and its relevance. 

I grew up in a family where I did not witness strong, affirming, ongoing relationships between my mother and other women. I was taught, explicitly and implicitly, that women were not to be trusted, and that relationships with women weren’t even worth the hassle.  Undoubtedly, this perspective informed the way I viewed myself in the company of women, and as a premise, I did not seek relationship with women as friends.  As such, I reserved a special brand of  cynicism on the subject, and never really thought about how this behavior would impact my own daughters, were I to have any.

Well, two daughters later, though not necessarily because of them, I’m convinced that a sisterhood of women, even if only a handful, is essential for women to live authentically. Rather than shun the idea of sisterhood, women should deliberately forge relationships with other women. This isn’t to say that women should force friendships to exist where they may not; however, I am saying that we should make a conscientious effort to develop and nurture relationships that offer a potential for further growth and self-actualization.   Ultimately, if there is any substance or connection, these relationships will become effortless. It will be like talking to an old friend, and picking up where you left off, or somewhere new altogether but with a common destination in mind.  I find this much easier when the other party is also rooted in something greater than their own limited, human self. Also, when the desire to become richer as a result of these connections supersedes one’s need for self-preservation and ego, authentic relationship will abound. 

I hope to provide my daughters with examples of authentic relationship, and a newer and more sensible understanding on the subject of sisterhood.  While I don’t have the ability to rewrite my earlier lessons on this subject, I can write volumes for them on the subject through lived experience and examples. My ability to nurture and fortify the relationships with the women in my life will be the ultimate proving ground.  Certainly, they will come to rely on each other, first as sisters, but ultimately, I want them to understand the importance of reaching beyond biological lines to seek and maintain authentic relationships with other women throughout their life experiences.

Some musical inspiration on the subject:

“In My Daughter’s Eyes”, Martina McBride
“Daughters”, John Mayer
“I Hope You Dance”, Lee Ann Womack

Yes…Joy, and Then Some!

"Moms Rock!" (Amelia Island Sand Art)

It’s Day 4 of my youngest child being sick with what looks like a wicked virus, or stomach infection.  Hopefully, she turns the corner today because she’s quickly becoming a poster child for Huggies Pull-ups.  She’s become very clingy, so I’m on borrowed time, even as I type.  The last few nights have been punctuated by frequent changes of diapers and full clothing.  I’m awaiting the next explosion, so I’m going to try to get this in before the thoughts escape me. :-)

I’ve been mulling over my last post, titled  “It’s ALL PurposeFULL“.  In that article, I explored the questions that we often have regarding the mysterious nature of the life-changing events in our lives, including “Why?”, “Why me?”, and “Why Now?” My goal then was to provide assurance that we ultimately become better and fuller selves as a result of the more difficult, inexplicable events that occur in our lives.  This isn’t to say that we should have to experience loss, tragedy, or hardship to self-actualize, but rather that, the occurrence of these situations in our lives wisen us and enhance our potential to live and love more authentically.

Perhaps I took you to the conclusion a bit too quickly, without letting you in on the middle of the “journey”.  While I will never share with you sordid or personal details, or provide you with a blow-by-blow account of the events in my life that shape those truths (certainly not in a blog forum), I can tell you that during those moments in which I questioned the mystery of life, and God himself, I often felt alone, misunderstood, isolated.  My faith and hope seemed to be shaken, lacking, questionable.  To this day, I will maintain that it was not the actual death of a loved one that shook me the most. Unlike many, when my grandmother (my first true mother) passed away, I had an amazing sense of peace and understanding. As she neared the end of her life, she agonized over increasing physical pain and articulated on numerous occasions the gratitude that she had for a life well-lived.  My grandmother believed wholeheartedly that she would be in a better place.  Her death was only physical to me. I maintain a relationship with her that most would not understand. I miss her dearly at times, but most times, I feel that she is with me.

I have had other losses that bore a sharper sting than I could have ever imagined. Those jarred me to the core, leaving me to question where I went wrong, and whether this was some sort of karma.  What was life trying to teach me? I grew jealous and bitter as I witnessed others around me, realizing the very dreams that I thought were mine just for the asking. At that time, I could not see a plausible explanation for any of it. It seemed that my dreams were always on hold, always waiting in the wings, but for some reason or the other, it wasn’t quite time for them to materialize.

Fast forward to the “now”. I wouldn’t change it for the world! My past experiences, good and bad, have launched me right where I am now.  In this very moment, I can be a source of encouragement for those that have gone through similar situations.  More importantly, my soul continues to heal as I share the stories with others, especially wives, mothers, and daughters.  I come alive as I reveal the anguish of that difficult moment, and share the joy in knowing what I believe that moment was designed to teach me.

By the way, I’ve been hurled on once (good thing I wasn’t making a hat at the time), and performed two additional diaper changes since I started! It’s going to be a long, but beautiful day! It can only get better. :-)

Girls Clapping to Miss Mary Mack

It’s All PurposeFULL!

Ever asked “why”, “why me, or “why now”? Of course you have, as has anyone who is truly living.  We go through things in life that leave us dumbfounded, speechless, at a loss. We find ourselves having more questions than answers. No amount of schooling or living seems to have prepared us for the moment that seems so ambiguous, so vague, so meaningless, so incongruous with what we’ve witnessed, experienced, or ever anticipated thus far. We struggle to find answers and make sense of the moment, thinking that perhaps after a good night of sleep, it will all be clear. Joy comes in the morning, right? Well yes, but that’s just part of it.

I’m not here to convince you that everything will make sense, or that somehow the lightbulb will instantly light up amidst your tragedy, loss, suffering, or other life event not necessarily defined by loss, but perhaps by rejection of some sort. However, I do believe wholeheartedly that, in the final analysis, it all serves a purpose, whether by design or default. The stars do line up, and the epiphanies and discoveries do follow…in time.  Eventually.

The purpose seems to be that of self-actualization. Ultimately, amidst our grieving and coping, our tearful cries and quiet whispers, our rage and tranquility, and our futility and fortitude, we find a stronger voice. We learn something about ourselves, that until now was undefinable, undiscovered, and certainly underdeveloped. We discover gifts within us, tap into amazing coping abilities, learn humility – how can we not be humbled by the order and timing of things – assume unparalleled strength, and dispel myths that we once believed to be true.

Just when we think that we can take no more, we find ourselves morphing from fragile to uncompromising. We transcend beyond our situation and become faces of hope, as we share our stories of triumph. We conquer our situations as we are forced to go within. We transcend our circumstances by finding consolation and comfort in the knowledge that many have come before us that have endured far worse, and managed to make it through. We find our resilience as the carpets of comfort are pulled from beneath us. As we reach out and across, we learn that we don’t have to go it alone, and we learn to finally understand the meaning of community, and its necessity. In the process, we redefine our networks.  Lines of friendship and family become blurred in the process, but we find amazing clarity in the truth that we must connect…with each other, and are not designed to suffer in silence, or rely on our own wit to get us through the situation.

In the end, we learn to love more authentically. Our need to open up trumps our desire to retreat into our shells during our most difficult moments. Our dissatisfaction, disappointment, displeasure, disengagement, disenchantment with half-fulfilled hopes, and dislocated hurt, anger, and pain brings us to our knees, while we are forced to acknowledge that we are in need of a personal touch, an affirming voice, and an encouraging heart. This is when we know we are growing, becoming our truer selves. We are actualizing, becoming connected. Yes!

As we become unglued from our own seats of seeming security, from the places which we sometimes occupied for too long in our roles…as parent, wife, husband, or lover, son or daughter, and even employee, we find freedom in the expression of our most sincere feelings, joy in the liberation from not having to do it all, and light in the exposure of all that once remained suppressed. We emerge victoriously and assuredly, albeit through some very painful processes and lessons.  This is especially true if we live with the acknowledgment that life is trying to teach us something. In turn, we become whole, grounded, humble, resilient, uncompromising (where it counts), resourceful, and confident. We become ourselves, as we were designed to be!