Gratitude (in thanks for a hard-working husband)

Quarter-end crunch

and you’re working round the clock

like a donkey round the threshing mill–

sacrifice in each step.

Working like your dad,

but long hours away instead of long weeks at camp.

At home,

we celebrate our eldest daughter’s 12th birthday–

a dozen years of parenthood–

building a life together bit by bit.

I think of the early days of motherhood,

pregnancy and giving birth for the first time,

and those inexpressibly precious baby snuggles.

Remembering I rejoice

and celebrate having made it thus far.

The day, says my classy and clever friend Laura,

calls for champagne.

And although it takes two,

often moms get all the credit

for building their children’s bodies,

knitting them together in their wombs.

But I think of you, honey

working away in the office each day

so I can order in groceries–

paying for each apple, cake and curry I prepare.

And I realize our children’s cells

are built upon your sacrifice.

They are nourished by your love,

strengthened by your resolve,

encouraged by your perseverance

to believe that anything is possible.

So thank you…for working so hard

so I can be with our little ones

and celebrate with them

all the mess and glory

of being alive.

Fulness

I sit here at East is East

almost alone (the baby is sleeping on my lap)

but feeling the opposite of lonely

a perfectly satisfied fulness

an openness to everything:

the heat of the spices in my mouth,

the cool kiss of my iced Turkish Chill,

the spring breeze in the elegant drapes,

the warm orange glow of the lamps.

The vibrant aquamarine wall behind the stage

is filled with memories of musicians

from date nights past…

when that skinny little girl

with her starry-eyed dreams

met that philosopher boy:

tall, brown-bearded, bespectacled.

They met and fell in love

talking their heads off

over so many meals

from all over the world:

Ethiopian, Thai, Chinese, Italian, Irish, Mongolian and more…

car-less dates

walking the town

in search of truth, meaning,

and cheesecake.

They married and filled the restaurants

with tiny people who like spicy Thai food

loud, gorgeous, long-lashed children–

seven here

and one gone ahead to the heavenly banquet.

And now instead of that teenaged aching emptiness

–that lonely longing–

there is hustle and bustle,

a thunderstorm of pitter patters

and never a moment alone.

Today that skinny girl

still red-headed and freckled,

but a little more wobbly around the middle,

has escaped for a moment alone with her dreams

in the same café where,

sitting with her bosom buddies

she discovered the presence

of her latest warm bundle–

a blue-eyed moon baby

whose smile bursts her chubby face open

to glow.

And the girl

now a mom of 8

(how did that happen??)

is learning to dig deeper

underneath the choas

into the quiet space inside

where her spirit resides

and speaks poetry in whispers

(if you’re quiet you can hear…).

The Spirit speaks to her

in dappled sunshine through tender new leaves

and the scent of lilacs.

She buries her face in them

and is transported back to highschool–

to the village where nature spoke to her so clearly

and she filled her notebooks with passionate scribbles,

longings for the fulness she now has

in abundance.

Every “No” is also a “Yes”

Many people struggle with saying “no.” It is so hard to disappoint people, to imagine letting them down. It feels easier to take on added stress than to refuse someone and upset them. But this attitude can lead to burnout and resentment, and endanger the peace and well-being of the person giving. Boundaries are necessary to protect these things, and having healthy boundaries means being able to say “no” without excessive guilt or worry. 

Perhaps reframing things would be helpful to those who struggle with saying “no.” Within each situation where something is refused, another positive thing is chosen. Saying “no” to taking on an extra work project over the weekend means saying “yes” to quality time with your family. Saying “no” to joining an extra committee means saying “yes” to being able to take care of your own work and family, without getting so frazzled and stressed. Saying “no” to that late night movie means saying “yes” to gettting the rest you need. Every decision involves discerning and affirming your priorities. Decisions are a way to say “yes” to the life you wish to live…and that life requires the boundary of various “no’s” to maintain it. 

I think the key, which I am trying to learn myself, is to allow yourself to say “no” calmly, without the guilt or worry that can lead to harshness or sarcasm in order to protect the fragile boundaries around yourself. It is ok, and even necessary and good to take care of yourself and make sure that whatever you do give is given freely, with a cheerful and generous heart. We need to give this good example to our children and those around us. Love can only be given freely, and that means also having the freedom to say “no.”


Many of these helpful ideas are found in the book Boundaries: When to say Yes, How to say No, to take Control of your Life by psychologists Dr.’s Cloud and Townsend. I believe I have written about this book before because I found it so eye-opening and transformative. After discussing boundaries with various people– family, spouses, children, co-workers, etc– the book ends with various tips and questions to see how you are growing in your ability to maintain your boundaries. The best quick check for responding to a request was this: if you hesitate to say “yes,” the answer is “no.” You shouldn’t have to force yourself into things because of fear of disappointing others or appearing badly. 

Remember, every “no” is also a “yes”…a “yes” to what you are able to do, what you desire to do, what makes your life better, what helps you feel free. Of course we should practice generosity and strive to live affectionately with those around us, but in the security of knowing that their love for us doesn’t depend on our unconditional “yes” to every request. And hopefully by learning to say “no” with confidence, we will also greatly respect the “no’s” of others, and never receive them with bitterness or resentment. 

It’s all about attitude!

The more I think and read about happiness, the more apparent it seems that it’s all about attitude. The way we look at things affects the way we feel about things and therefore how we respond to different situations. For example, the other day I was chatting with my close friend Monique on the phone and mildly complaining about a few of my kids being particularly contrary lately. It was disobeying in silly little things like being told not to playing in the new pop up laundry baskets lest they break (instead she put them on her head) or not going out down the icy back steps (she went out the front but came in up the back…grinning!). Instead of commiserating, Monique looked beyond the behavior and simply pointed out a different view. “Well, she is just asserting her independence in little things. She listens about the big stuff, right?” True enough.

That got me thinking about finding some more legitimate ways for the kids to assert independence, make positive choices and take responsibility. After all, these are skills we want our kids to develop for their future. One of the things I want to work on this year is learning some new recipes, so I thought I would let the kids flip through cookbooks and choose a new recipe before we ordered groceries from Save-On (which is such a life saver!). Perhaps helping choose a recipe will help them take more ownership for the new food instead of being so suspicious of it. A girl can dream, right? 😉

Another thing I did was make sure to spend a few minutes consciously playing with them…lego with the big girls, listening to a story read slowly by my 6-year-old, snuggling with the little ones…because a little undivided attention goes a long way to strengthening bonds. I am certainly more prone to cheerfully listen to someone who is affectionate with me, rather than dismissive and bossy. “Catch more flies with honey,” as they say!

Trying to be calm and positive certainly helps my day go better. Crazy Land is still chaotic and loud with 6 kids, but focussing on being happy within it helps me cope better and be a little more peaceful. I saw the fruits of that today. Last night my accountant hubby got home late from his epic year-end workload and wanted to visit a little after a long day crunching numbers and making tough decisions. Sometimes love means saying yes to that goofy zombie romance movie at midnight (Yes, there is actually such a film!). So of course in the morning was a pretty convincing zombie myself. But I had a choice…walk like one all morning and speak in growls, or tell myself it was a brand new day and not think about the  (lack of) night before. I put some cheerful morning music on You Tube, brewed the coffee and sang happy songs while I cleaned up from breakfast. I manged to fool myself into feeling energetic (so gullible!) and had a good day.

If I hadn’t made the conscious choice to embrace the day and be happy, I would’ve wasted it being tired and miserable. But focussing only on the negative blurs our perceptions and limits our vision. Reality is both light and shadows, and the contrast can enhance its beauty, if we just take a deep breath, pray and choose to see it that way. Look for the good and you will find it. It’s all about attitude!

Happy as a lark!

Right now I have the amazing blessing of being on a week’s workshop with other lovely Catholic women. We are doing a beautiful course on marriage and family, with talks on friendship, faith, empathy, effective communication, and practical workshops on making a house more of a home among other things. 

Besides all this, we have free time in the afternoons, so several of us took a lovely walk! When I’m in the woods, roaming about and eating wild  thimbleberries and huckleberries, I feel 10 years old again, and happy as a lark. 

  
    
    
   

Ode to Gentle Hands

Gentle hands that touch

with a love strong and deep

know the body is no mere shell

for the soul,

but an outward expression of its being.

And when these hands soothe

calm and comfort,

when they restore dignity 

to the broken frailty of an aging body

by the gentleness of their touch,

they affirm with silent symphony 

that each person is precious,

body and soul.

For when the vessel is bent and broken,

light shines through the cracks

and love bursts forth in beauty.

  

Exactly As You Are: Loving Your Spouse Unconditionally 

Yesterday I wrote a guest post for my friend Bonnie Way on her blog The Koala Mom called “Exactly as you are: Loving your spouse unconditionally.”

Here is her intro and the link in case you’d like to check it out!

Today, contributing writer Anna Eastland is sharing what she learned in a late-night chat with her husband about loving your spouse unconditionally.

No matter how well you know your spouse, every now and then you learn something new, like a new skylight opened and illumined a corner of their soul you hadn’t seen before. You have one of those unexpected midnight conversations where you are allowed to enter an unexplored recess of their heart. How do you respond to this intimate revelation? With love.

Loving Your Spouse Unconditionally
  

Why Posting an Imperfect Post is an Act of Freedom

Lately my husband and I have been on a theology kick and read to each other before bed…until we get totally confused, inspired or one of us ends up drooling on the pillow (usually me!)…It’s been really interesting, and definitely gives us something new to talk about beyond how’s work and what did the kids do at school today.

Tonight we were reading about freedom, and it made me ponder what it really means to make a free choice, and how it relates to the stifling danger of perfectionism in writing…as perfectionism leads to the inability to make definitive choices and complete things. (Yes, being writing-obsessed, I manage to relate pretty much everything back to blogging…just ask my husband).

Anyway, the author described the misconception of freedom as the ability to make an endless succession of choices, without any of them ever being permanent and definitive. The idea that having options equals freedom, and the more options, the more free you are. “But why not?” you might ask…”Doesn’t that sound good?” The thing is to apply this idea and see where it leads. Here are some examples of how it changes, sometimes subconsciously, how we make decisions:

“I’m not going to choose what to study, because that way I can choose to study anything at all. I’m keeping my career options open.” Yes, and your empty wallet…Being open to the possibility of all jobs but having no job = unemployment, not freedom.

“I’m not going to choose someone to marry, because that way I can marry anyone at all…I’ll be so free.” Or so lonely and jaded, because it takes one real heart to love you and keep you warm at night, not several billion theoretical ones.

“I’m not going to post anything on my blog (ah, finally, blogging!) until I have something perfect. As long as it’s in my draft box, I have the freedom to keep changing it. It won’t be permanent.” Ah, yes, that horrific word….permanent! We are so afraid of it. It implies commitment, confidence, strength, endurance…yikes!

But tell me, is having a draft box full of unexplored possibilities really freedom?  Nothing wrong with drafts, but to really mean something and come alive they need to be released, imperfections and all, into the world. You need to say as a writer (or painter, photographer, chef, etc), “This isn’t perfect and I’m ok with that. It’s not perfect but it’s mine and I stand by it. This is me.”

That one irrevocable act of posting your little poem, photo, story or ponderings is a greater expression of true freedom and honesty than that of hoarding your drafts like treasures, choosing to hide them away lest they not shine as brightly in the light of day as you’d like. I think it was Julia Cameron who said that you need to be willing to be a crappy artist in order to become a great one. So be yourself, stand by your work, make a permanent choice to share your work and in that way really own it. Post that thing you’ve been hiding away so jealousy. Chances are what’s closest to your heart will resound in the hearts of others as well.  

A Father’s Gentle Strength

Being a father is being strong enough

to sacrifice everything for those you love…

constantly giving your all for your family,

bearing your little ones up with the gentleness

of someone powerful enough

to put others before himself.

Having a father is knowing you are never alone—

that there is always someone to hold your hand

and walk with you through the paths of this life

and into eternity.

How blessed are my children to have a father like this!

Thank you God for creating men who know how to love like you.

Help me always remember why I fell in love with the man

who is the father of my children,

whose love for me has become flesh

and walks among us.