Winter is coming.
The gentle fall winds have shifted and its downright blustery and cold. Its dark so so early. Every morning it gets light so much later. I am feeling it, this downward energy. I am moving at a glacial pace, contracting like ice.
From now until the winter solstice all of nature is in a rapid descent into darkness and quiet. Winter is the time when all of nature goes inward. The trees have pulled back their sap. Many animals are hibernating or less active. Even the water in the lake freezes into stillness. This is the time of year when we too are called to rest, or to move more slowly, to sleep longer and stay by the fire. If we slow down just a little we can feel it—the pull to linger in pajamas or curl up to sleep a little earlier.
Of course, modern culture does not cooperate with this movement does it? In fact we are about to kick off the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Don’t get me wrong—I LOVE the holidays—the music, the lights, the food, the connection! But if we are not careful, the holidays can really deplete us at the time of year that nature is asking us to rest. Once upon a time when the depth of winter really did take over life, the holidays were about holding each other dear through the darkness, spreading a little cheer so we could make it through, giving us a little hope at a bleak and cold time.
Now, in an era of constant 24/7 connection, light and activity, that notion has taken off into a manic frenzy of gift giving and socializing on steroids. The pressure to buy piles of gifts and to attend countless holiday parties stretches our resources. We find ourselves running around, pushing against or completely ignoring nature’s signals that we are in a season of rest—no wonder so many of us get sick at this time of year!
I have said it so many times. The ancient medical classics tell us that one simple way to stay well is to follow nature’s wisdom. Look outside and see what the trees and animals are doing–and do that!
If you have a busy few weeks ahead of you, with lots of work, family commitments and social engagements on the calendar, you may want to work in some “winter practices” to help keep you balanced. Or, if you have a quiet holiday season planned, these winter ways can help you get the most out of winter’s break. Like the bulbs we plant in our gardens, if we winter well, we will have the energy to spring up when the weather warms up again!
Here are some very simple ways to align with the energy winter:
Sleep more. Give yourself permission to nap in the afternoon when you can. Maybe by the fire. Or pick one day (or more) a week when you will wake up with the late rising sun. Turn off your alarm and allow yourself to sleep as long as your body needs. Take advantage of the darkness and rest more.
Allow yourself to experience the dark. Electric lights make it hard for us to really understand the signals winter is sending us or truly experience winter’s energy. It becomes hard to turn off and rest with the lights keeping us in endless summer. Pick one or two nights between now and the winter solstice and dim the lights or turn off even half your lamps and use candlelight or firelight to cook and dine by. See how you sleep and how you feel the next morning.
Experience quiet. Turn off the TV, radio and internet. Try a social media fast for a few days or a week or more. Some of my friends have started to adopt technology free time periods at home—no phone, internet, TV or computer from 5:30-8:30 pm. If you try these things, notice how you feel in the absence of all the noise. Do you feel rested? Or restless and anxious? The restlessness may be a sign that you need a break from the stimulation.
Practice stillness. If you have a meditation practice, winter is a wonderful time to recommit to it. If you don’t, that’s ok too. You can create your own meditative rituals. Start small. Take 5 minutes a day and just sit quietly and breathe. I recently discovered a great free app (Calm) which offers short guided meditations and sends reminders to me to take a break. Or take 5 minutes to just drink your morning coffee or tea—no multi-tasking—taste what you are drinking and really enjoy it! Sit in your car for a few minutes before pulling out of the driveway and set your mood. Set your alarm at work and give yourself 5 minutes to do nothing. I have been using the time my computer boots up in the morning to close my eyes and feel my bottom on the chair and my feet on the ground. Start with small moments of stillness.
Take a hot bath. There is nothing like a soak warm water to remind us to rest.
And speaking of hot—Its especially important to be eating warm nourishing foods this time of year. If you are in the habit of grabbing a salad to go for lunch, try replacing it with soup. Warm breakfasts are especially important–oatmeal, eggs and even pancakes are so much better than cold cereal or yogurt. Below you will find recipes for my favorite warm foods. The pumpkin amaranth porridge is an amazing qi builder and seasonally yummy to boot. But let me also speak a few words in praise of congee.
Congee is an Asian rice porridge, traditionally eaten at breakfast but great to eat for any meal. It is easy to make in a slow cooker or crock pot and is perhaps one of the very best qi building foods out there. It’s wonderful when you are sick or recovering from any kind of illness but especially one that has done a number on your stomach. It’s both savory and sweet, easy to digest, delicious, nourishing, warm. You can make a bunch and keep it in the fridge, heating it up on demand. You can eat it in the morning and unlike oatmeal it doesn’t leave you sleepy! And its trendy too—I recently saw it on the brunch menu at Volt! Three cheers for Congee!
Recipes for Congree and my favorite winter breakfast–pumpkin porridge below!
Wishing you peace as we move into the quiet dark,
Congee (makes about 4-6 good sized servings)
1 cup of rice (any kind -white, brown, jasmine works)—I like to use the black rice that the Chinese call “forbidden rice”—You can get it at Trader Joes. Trader Joes just calls it “black rice”
6 cups of a liquid. You can use water but for more flavorful and nutritious congee, use broth for some of all of the 6 cups. Any kind of broth works great—veggie, chicken, beef, lamb.. I use whatever is in my freezer or fridge and sometimes mix leftover broths together. If I don’t have homemade broth, I use a low-sodium broth from the store.
Put the rice and liquid in a slow cooker on low for 6-8 hours. Or cook on the stove, covered, on the lowest setting, stirring now and again until you get a thick porridge like consistency.
You can eat congee just plain. Plain congee feels good when you are sick and there is not much you can stomach.. That said, the great fun of congee comes from the toppings. The Chinese top their congee with all sorts of savory goodness. Sliced pork, radishes and scallions is one very traditional option. I have friends who throw in hard boiled egg slices. I like to use left overs from the night before heated up – nothing like a little shredded baked chicken, broccoli or roasted root veggies on top. My most recent serving of congee was topped with a few pieces of leftover bacon, caramelized onions, roasted sweet potatoes and pickled beets from Number One Sons at the Silver Spring Farmers Market (those beets are addictive!). That was divine!
You can find all sorts of inspiration on line though I like to look in my fridge and use my leftovers to make a delicious mix. Yummy congee can be quite simple–sometimes one or two ingredients is all that is needed.
The idea is to have a good balance of flavors to balance out the sweetness of the rice–something rich like meat or mushrooms, something tangy/sour like pickled veggies, earthy tastes like root veggies, maybe something with a real kick like kimchee. Experiment and let me know your favorite congee combos–If I hear from you I will pull something together to share!
The leaves believe such letting go is love
Such love is faith
Such faith is grace
Such grace is god
I agree with the leaves
It is All Souls Day/el Dia de los Muertos/the Day of the Dead. My Mexican in-laws taught me a lot about this holiday the year I married. Juan and I spent a month in Oaxaca and for many years would travel there this time. I was blown away by the beauty of the holiday and the sweet relief of coming together as a community to grieve those we miss and to laugh and celebrate their lives. We built altars (called “ofrendas”) piled high with flowers, favorite foods and pictures, decorated graves, danced and sang, laughed and cried and held each other remembering with the same sweet sorrow the old folks who had died years ago and the little baby who had died just earlier that year. That was the year I learned that letting go does not mean forgetting. I learned that in fact, remembrance was the only way to let go.
It’s raining as I write this. The kind of cold howling windy rain that rattles the windows. There is no longer any doubt that we moving from the bright days of summer, through the awe-inspiring golden fall into the quiet dark days of winter. While I welcome the gifts of this quiet time of year (I love to wrap up in blankets with my book in front of the fire) if we are honest we see that his transition requires a lot of letting go.
You can see it outside in nature, the trees are letting go of their leaves. Birds are letting go of their homes and flying south, perennials are dying back. Outside so much of the natural world is dying or leaving or retreating. With less light the animals are less active. Everything is slowing down and getting down to the bare essentials. The light is quickly disappearing. I can understand why so many traditional cultures choose this time to collectively grieve and to practice letting go.
We modern humans are not so practiced with letting go and in fact, we resist it. At the day to day level, we resist letting go of activity and the hum of daylight and summer. We use electric light to keep going as though we have eternal sunshine. We also struggle with the bigger losses. When facing death, divorce, the loss of a job, or even the loss of the way we had hoped things would turn out, we often feel pressured to move on with it, to “get over it” and get back to the business of being happy and/or productive. Its as though we have no space for our grief as though it can’t exist side by side with the movement of life.
When you think about it though, its crazy because even the happiest and most joyous transitions in life involve some loss. My recent graduation from school has been exciting & wonderful. And yet graduating meant separating myself from a community that I love deeply and value greatly How many new parents grieve the loss of their old freedom and spontaneity(and sleep) in silence and shame because the world expects them to be nothing but overjoyed with their new lot in life.?
We grieve because something precious, something we valued has passed or transformed. Its as natural as breathing. Grief can exist side by side with joy, but too often, we barely give it its due, so anxious we are to move on and just feel the joy.
So afraid of being swallowed up with sadness we stuff it down. Sometimes it stays buried but sometimes the grief is so big and we have no way to navigate it. It overwhelms us and we feel stuck and drowning in a wave that never breaks over us.
What happens to grief that is unprocessed? It gets stuck in our body and creates illness. The Chinese medical classics tell us that unresolved grief is one of the major causes of disease. It damages the Lungs and sinks or consumes our qi. It impacts other parts of our system too—creating blockages and taxing our ability to make energy. Sometimes we can be caught in a cycle of low-grade funkiness, and exhaustion or life loses its zest and everything feels flat.
So many traditional cultures understand that we need practices to help move our grief. We too can adopt some of those practices to help us more smoothly navigate life.
In the face of losses, big and small we can:
Give ourselves the space and permission to feel what we feel. We need to treat ourselves kindly and gently. I used to think that cultures that required mourning family members to wear black for a year were repressive. Then I learned the color was not meant to isolate but to help signal to the community that a little extra kindness was required. Wearing black said, “I’m working through a loss and need a little space.” No questions asked, no explanations needed. Just be kind—not for a day or 10 days but for a year or for however long is needed. Can we give ourselves the space and permission to work through our losses without predetermined timelines and expectations that “I should be over this by now”
Acknowledge the value of that which we lost and discover the pieces that we can hold onto—the “gems”. I was mired in grief after my divorce. In an effort to help me, my friends and family reminded me often that “I was better off without him” and tried to help me forget him. And despite their good intentions, from that mindset, no matter how much I tried to move on, I was stuck in anger and sadness. Then I found a new practice to help me move through the grief. For weeks every night I made lists of everything I valued about Juan and what our marriage had given me. Some of those things were gone, but others stayed with me—my amazing son, my new appreciation of spicy food, my love of Mexican art, an exploration of the Divine Feminine,, my home. Finding the gems allowed me to acknowledge what my heart knew—something precious (our partnership) had passed–and then to see that not all was gone. Through remembrance, I was able to focus on that which remained with me–permanently mine.
Create rituals of remembrance. As one of my teachers says, working through grief is not a “one walk dog”. We often feel the sting of a loss – especially the loss of a loved one for years—maybe even a lifetime. Creating regular (daily, monthly or yearly) spaces to acknowledge this reality gives us the space we need to keep going. This is one of the many things I love about the Day of the Dead holiday—the regularity of it. It comes every year and we have things we do every year—ritual and rhythm help life to keep moving.
Practice letting go in small ways. When I was really struggling with the end of school, I helped myself by cleaning out closets. No joke. The energy of letting go of clothes and other stuff I didn’t need, and the process of discovering what was of value in my closets helped me with the bigger task of discovering what I could retain from my school experiences even as I was letting go of my regular school routine and weekly community.
Working with our emotions such as grief, anger, sadness and fear can help us keep flowing and healthy, even in the face of hard times. Wishing you much coziness on this windy chilly day. Feliz Dia de los Muertos! May you find joy and comfort in remembrance of all you love!
For teaching me to sit
for knocking me off my ass
for relentlessly pushing me
for gently holding me
for showing me how to fail
for cheering me on to success
for urging me to be fierce and big and brave
for calling me to be humble
for never giving me the answers
for revealing possibilities
for honoring tradition
for delighting in creativity
for bearing witness to how I wobble without ever trying to fix me
for trusting me to stand up and wobble less
for never losing faith in me
for imploring me to trust my intuition
for forcing me to back it up with theory
for standing in awe with me
for making it clear
for allowing it to be muddy
for declaring me to be a beginner
for acknowledging my mistakes as learning
for welcoming me as colleague with wide open arms.
A deep bow. My heart swells with gratitude. My life has been blessed by yours.
Three years and two weeks ago I took a leap and jumped, following a dream, following an illogical and improbable yearning to be a healer (of the ancient sort), following something old inside me. At the time it felt like the end of a fantastic story, about finding the way home, making something happen despite all odds, about feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Girl follows dream. Ta da. The end!
The day that I started school I walked into a space I knew well but still felt foreign and a little bit intimidating. For years I had come to the school to see my doctor who rented space there, then for my own acupuncture treatments, to visit the book store and once even to take a workshop. The school enthralled me. It seemed a place of magic and deep wisdom. And as deeply as I loved it, it always seemed a little closed off and mysterious and strange. Despite those many years of entering and exiting, despite all the ways I had been tended inside her walls, the place did not feel quite like mine. When I passed the classrooms, the student kitchen, the back doorway to the garden, the chairs in the student lounge I felt like I was trespassing in someone else’s church. I had the sense that I was walking through someone else’s sacred ground.
Yet, that morning, when I arrived as a student that building transformed for me, instantly opening up and welcoming me home. For the next three years every time I walked through those doors, I walked into an adventure. Within those walls I broke down, forgot everything I knew, got confused, lapped up knowledge, fell apart, put myself back together, railed and sputtered in frustration, discovered something new, opened my heart, printed out homework, took a risk, took a breath, sobbed, started over, waited for exam results, paced, laughed, giggled, danced, hugged, tried again, made tea, had deep and soulful conversations, had silly and outrageous conversations, got quiet, heated up my lunch, read poetry, prayed like crazy, fell apart, put myself back together, grabbed food from the fridge, bought a soup, sat at a picnic table, traded notes, held a hand, told a joke, laid down on the ground, got up, got fascinated, tried and failed and tried again, laughed, learned, pushed myself, pushed someone else, held the space, held someone else, fell apart and put myself back together…and somewhere along the way I began to learn the beautiful mysterious art of Chinese Medicine.
Through it all, from the very first day three years ago, the kitchen, the hallways, the classrooms with the moving tables, and the piles of chairs, the front desk and the bookstore, the couches in the front, the picnic tables, the garden, the library, my locker, the yellow walls with purple trim, even the stairwell, it all became mine, deeply fiercely mine–as familiar to me as my own bones, skin, hair. The landscape of transformation. My safe and sacred space. My nest. I unfurled there. I blossomed. I loved it there, lingering as long as I could when the day would end. I could never imagine leaving.
Two weeks ago, as I was walked into school on a weekend to see my acupuncturist I noticed something. The yellow and mustard walls in the stairwell, the purple banister, it suddenly felt strange–even alien. Like I was walking through someone else’s church, welcoming–but not quite mine. This space had held me through a lifetime of transformation already but something had changed. I knew then it was time. I had been dreading leaving but the space now belonged to others again. My transformation would continue elsewhere. So I scheduled my check out.
Three years ago when I had lunch with my then new friends (now soul sisters) Rebecca and Malgosia I told them, “I fully believe that I won’t finish, I can’t imagine how I will complete this crazy program but I would never forgive myself if I didn’t at least try. So here I am…”
Here I am.
There were many days when the only thing that kept me going was that I loved to be there.
Today I treated my last patient in the student clinic. I handed over my files. I filled out way too much paperwork, said how I wanted my name on my diploma and requested my transcripts be sent to the licensing boards. I smiled alot and held back tears. “Congratulations” they all said. “You are ready” they said. “We will miss you” they said.
Tonight, I walked out of that beautiful and strange space, the one that no longer feels like home, but still feels sacred and magical and special. As I walked down the stairs in the yellow and mustard stairwell, I leaned on the purple railing and slowed. “Thank you” I whispered with each step down. “Thank you for holding me.”
I paused then and turned to the woman in the lobby. “Good night” I yelled. “Good bye” I whispered.
And then, I opened the door to a new beginning.
I know of course that the very personal sacredness of this place was created for me by the magic of a group of 30 amazing healers — the ones who started with me on that day 3 years ago–the ones who held my hand and held the space and kicked my butt and dried my tears and shared their notes and shared their lives. I know now that the reason the space never felt quite right before was because they weren’t there yet. I love you guys. This is for you.
Its 4:45 am. I am sitting at a pool watching you swim laps with your friends. Last night I said, “Its your birthday….Its OK if you skip practice.” But you turned to me with a smile on your face and said, “I love to swim and l love being with my friends…I can’t imagine where else I would be on my birthday.” This says it all kid. You go all in, you joyfully rise to the challenge, you do whatever it takes. You show up and do your work. You attack life.
I am so inspired by you. This is the year you decided you wanted to make it to Zones and then proceeded to put over 650 hours in at the pool to make it. Along the way there were meets that took up your whole weekend, practices so hard that you could barely get out of bed next day, missed sleepovers and parties and homework squeezed in between eating and swimming. But every time I said, “You don’t have to do this…” you looked at me with a smile and said,”But I want to…I don’t want to miss it”
This was the year that you discovered that optimism and positive thinking changes everything. When you felt like a rock star you showed up as a rock star. When we sat in complaint it all fell apart.
This was a blossoming year for you–in so many small and big ways. You brought your A game to interactions with friends, and navigated some tough situations with consideration and kindness. You made some hard choices. You struggled with people who disappointed you but came out finding your way, always with kindness. Even with me. Even when you were angry beyond words, you kept at it until you could say what you wanted to say kindly, standing your ground, searching for words but telling me “I HAVE A RIGHT TO MY FEELINGS”. No matter how badly you wanted to win, you made friends with your competition, joking on the blocks, hugging before a tough race, coming home from each big meet with new buddies to text about sports and movies…and girls.
You are solution oriented. When I have been too tired to see straight, blurry eyed from studying you always have an idea to set things right–whether its cleaning the kitchen or ordering out food or curling up to watch a movie.
When life gets hard or we have a difficult challenge to face, you remind me that life is an adventure, a game to be played with gusto, a gift.
Some people think I am crazy for driving you to these early morning practices but what they don’t know is how much joy I get from watching you laugh on the deck and start the morning by jumping feet first into the deep end. Secret is, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
Happy birthday dear Max. I love you so much.
Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.–Ferris Bueller
Tomorrow marks the first day of my last trimester in my acupuncture program. The proverbial beginning of the end. My very last class is a mere 15 weeks away. Shortly after that I will graduate and begin a whole new phase of my journey.
It feels miraculous really, to have made it this far. It seems like just yesterday when my heart ached because of how deeply I longed to go to school to study this magical medicine. For years, I was bogged down in a swamp of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. It seemed that I would never start.
But start I did. I am so profoundly aware of how the Universe has conspired to allow me to be here, to allow me to keep walking this path. It was nothing short of magic how part-time work and car pools and many other small every day miracles lined up making it possible for me to keep walking through those doors. As a result, every day I was at school, no matter how tired, or grumpy or stressful, I held as gift.
Oh its been a journey! School has put almost unbearable strains on my time and health. There have been moments where I was challenged beyond my wildest dreams, times when I was pushed right to edge. And oh how I have desperately missed my neighborhood community which faded into the background while I studied! And now with just 15 weeks left I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
But lets be clear. I am not sprinting to the finish line. No, I am sauntering. Savoring the last delicious bits of these glorious three years. Drinking it in before this dream that once seemed impossible, changes into a new one.
I have come to know when I am in the presence of something precious. I am so grateful for my teachers, for my classmates, for the experiences that have radically transformed me.
I have no idea what the future may bring–what gifts and challenges my new adventures will offer. I don’t know what this phase will transform into. But I do know that this setting sun, this ending time, this space of transition, this last juicy sip is to be cherished not because of what lies on the other side but simply because it will one day no longer be here. Slow down I say. Look around. Take it in. Let it seep into your bones again and again. Its not yet time for goodbye.
And so, acknowledging how far I’ve come, how close this next milestone may be, I shift my eyes from the horizon, from the light at the end of the tunnel, from the future that is rushing towards me at break neck speed and I focus them on the only place I need to be.
Here. Now. Right in front of me. With a fresh notebook and brand-new pens and a grateful heart.
For my beloved cohort–you ragtag band of magical people! I love you beyond measure. Thank you for holding my hand as we walk.
If the only prayer you ever said was “Thank You” that would be enough–Meister Eckhart
I woke this morning with a heart light and full of gratitude.
It hasn’t always been this way. There have been days–very dark and heavy days–when it was a struggle to rise. Days when I felt so sad or so beaten down or just so overwhelmed or riddled with fatigue or pain that I wondered if I’d ever know joy again. But rise I did. Because its the only thing to do. One foot in front of the other–one breath at a time.
I used to think that happiness was the result of accomplishment or tying things up neat and tidy, of accumulated pleasures or wealth or good health but now I know that happiness comes simply from walking the walk and opening up to all that we see along the way, the glorious and the ugly, the cozy and the uncomfortable. Happiness rises up slowly and glows from inside when I simply bear witness to life happening all around me. So simple really. I almost missed it.
This spring I was blessed enough to attend another birth. On the way to the hospital we had to drive through the Mall filled with tourists here to see cherry blossoms and monuments and museums. As we drove through the milling crowds I wanted to roll down my window and shout, “Hey–you–someone is being BORN over here and you don’t even know it!” There are miracles happening all the time–we just have to open our eyes and pay attention.
Life is a gift and I am so grateful that I have made it 44 times around this great sun. Its been nothing short of an adventure. Every great adventure has scary moments and times when you think that the hero(ine) won’t make it. Every adventure has cliff hangers and moments that are so breathtakingly beautiful or painful that your heart (my heart) breaks wide open. Every adventure has moments when the loss is so heavy and dark you think (I think) it’s over and then a tiny light glows somewhere and somehow its not so dark and then out of nowhere there is majesty and brilliance and something no one expected. I am so grateful for it all. It has brought me here. And I welcome what comes next, the good, the bad, the ugly, the sublime.
I’m closing my eyes on this night with a heart so overflowing with love and gratitude. Because I am living a life that I am creating, the life I always wanted. Because I work side by side with amazing extraordinary people and get to partner with them to profoundly change the world. Because in my work I get to nurture the potential in others. Because I have a child who is kind and happy. Because my entire life I have walked side by side with loving friends and family who have carried me, danced with me, cooked for me, dreamed with me, dried my tears. Because I the older I get the more convinced I am that gnomes really do live in the forest. Because seriously, life is nothing short of magical. Because it is all miracle. All miracle.
(Hey YOU! Yes YOU! Someone, something is being BORN over here! Don’t miss it!)
I am so blessed. So truly blessed. And so grateful for another day and a chance to start another year.
Several Times in the Last Week
Ever since Happiness heard your name
It has been running through the streets
Trying to find you.
And several times in the last week,
God Himself has even come to my door-
Asking me for your address!
Once I said,
I thought You knew everything.
Why are You asking me
Where Your lovers live?’
And the Beloved replied,
Indeed, Hafiz, I do know Everything -
But it is fun playing dumb once in a while.
And I love intimate chat
And the warmth of your heart’s fire.
Maybe we should make this poem into a song-
I think it has potential!
How far does this refrain sound,
For I know it is a Truth:
Ever since Happiness heard your name,
It has been running through the streets
Trying to find you.
And several times in the last week,
God Himself has come to my door-
So sweetly asking for your address,
Wanting the beautiful warmth of your heart’s fire.
-Hafiz as translated by Daniel Ladinsky
The morning you were born and I held you in my arms, I knew I was all in but I had no idea.
I suspected that part of my job was teach you not to be afraid. But I had no idea that you would teach me to let go of my fear too. You taught me to ride a loop rollercoaster & to throw my head back and let myself feel like I am flying. I never would have had the courage to do that if it wasn’t for you. Being your mom, I have become braver than I ever thought I’d could be, speaking out, standing up, trying new things–all for the sake of you.
I thought it would be part of my job to teach you to never give up. But its you who taught me. This summer you worked with me patiently until I learned to do a flip-turn, encouraging me to stay with it even when I struggled, even when I thought it was no use or not important. It was because of you that I haven’t given up–even when life has gotten impossibly hard. You taught me to just put one foot in front of the other and keep going. You inspired me to push on to keep going–all for the sake of you.
I was sure it would be my job to teach you to work hard, buckle down and have discipline. But it is you that gets me out of the house early so you can hit the rink or the pool in the wee hours, putting in your hours, breaking down your shot and your stroke so you can meet every goal that you set in front of you. And truth be told, over the last 12 years I have worked harder than I ever imagined I ever could without even thinking twice. It’s for you really.
I had no idea that the tiny child I held in my arm 12 years ago today would have taught me so much, given me so much, challenged me so much. I had no idea when I held you that I was holding in my arms this amazing potential–that the person I was holding would grow up to be the kind of person who patiently helps younger children with their butterfly stroke and their starting dives, the kind of person who gives his own money to the hungry, the kind of person who stands at the end of his friends lane and cheers his head off to keep him going through 200 painful meters of fly at top speed. I had no idea that the baby I held was the kind of person who would get in the pool and swim 180 laps straight the week of Junior Olympics (when everyone else with any sense was resting) to raise money to build an elementary school in Honduras. I had no idea that the baby I held in my arms would call me out when I was being a hypocrite or challenge me to think of things in a new way. I knew only one thing. Love. And truth is that is all I know now. That is the only thing to know.
I love you so much Max. I am so grateful for the hours we spend reading together, watching Glee, in the car chatting or listening to music. I am grateful that you talk to me when you are upset–especially when you are upset with me. They say these years can be the most difficult as you push away and establish yourself as a young man. I really have no idea–but that’s ok. Because I had no idea how much I would love you and how much that love has pushed me forward, no matter what.
I have no idea what the next few years will bring, but whatever it does I am all in.
Happy 12th birthday.
Ever since I was a wee child I have a thing for gnomes. Not the ceramic kinds that live in British gardens but the magical kind that ride on birds and build houses in trees. I spent almost 3 years of my life (between the ages of 8 and 11) tromping through the woods with field journals proving the existence of these little woodland creatures. Gnomes, it seemed to me, lived in a simple but abundant world full of comfort and love and nature and goodness. I wanted to live in that world. Proving their existence meant that I too could live in such richness. Close to the earth, with everything I need at my fingertips.
While I think about gnomes often, it is rare that other people do. So I had to pause when I saw the email from the Washington Capitals of all people advertising a “Nicklas Backstrom Gnome Giveway”. Normally I delete those emails from the Caps. Being in school now we have no budget for hockey tickets and I don’t like to be tempted. But I was curious. I mean, who makes gnomes that look like hockey players? I opened the email to see what it was about.
Nicklas Backstrom is Max’s favorite hockey player. Max loves the way Nicky passes and moves the puck around, elegantly setting up plays. When he is on his game it can be a little like watching the ballet.
Max said, “Mom, when the Universe combines my favorite hockey player and your favorite magical creature it must be a sign”. Or maybe a wonderful excuse to throw budgets and concerns about school nights spent in the city to the wind and instead do something joyful and spontaneous. Perhaps it was the gnomes calling us, but we miraculously found last minute tickets for a cheap(ish) price we haven’t seen in years. Yes–the tickets were high up in the rafters but we were going to see a hockey game!
Max and I rode the metro down to the game with delight. This unexpected hockey game, these wonderful little gnome dolls we would get at the door, it all felt like such a luxury, a miracle. We were royalty headed to that game, rich and carefree. We got to the game really early so that we could be among the first through the gates, collected our gnomes and headed down to glass to watch warm-ups. It’s such a treat, especially when our seats are in the uppermost tier to get down to watch the players so close up. What a guilty pleasure to be so close to such speed. We hung out behind the goal while they warmed, flinching as the pucks hit the glass, marveling at the strength and speed of the players. It was already a full night of juicy goodness by the time the whistle blew ending warm ups and the ushers moved us out into the hallway. How could it possibly get better?
We got in line to to ride the escalators up to the top tier to our seats so high in the stands. “Mom,” Max laughed. “Let’s act really crazy so we can win the Ameritel Move of the Game”. That’s a contest where the spunkiest of fans in the Upper Tier win tickets to move down to the the Lower Level. “OK” I giggled with enthusiasm. “Let’s get our silly on!”
As we turned the corner, about to step on the escalator, a stranger in the crowd touched my sleeve. “Are you on your way up to the 400s? ” he asked. And then, just like that, he handed me his tickets. “Take these for you and your son. They are great seats”. He was invited up to a meeting on the club level and didn’t want his tickets to go to waste. He wanted someone to enjoy them. He picked us. And suddenly we were rink side–just rows away from the glass.
“MOM…We just won the Move of the Game” Max said. “Not the Ameritel Move of the Game but God’s Move of the Game.”
Tears filled my eyes. God’s Move of the Game. So simple. Be joyful. And everything moves.
It is so easy to believe we live in a world of scarcity. In a world were there is not enough–enough time, enough money, enough love and support. It is so easy to believe that we live in a world where comfort and joy are things that are earned through hard work and struggle. Everything about the way our culture is set up seems to suggest it.
And yet, as a child, tromping through the mud searching for tiny footprints I learned that joy and goodness were right outside in my backyard. The gnomes’ world of abundance and simple treasures was always accessible–it was simply a matter of stepping into it. I could get lost for hours in that kind of abundance. And then I grew up.
It is a relatively new practice for me to learn to see abundance everywhere–to let go of my stories about struggle and open my eyes to goodness that arrives when we show up and do our work (whatever our work may be) with pure joy. To see the spontaneous meetings with friends as gifts. To see cancelled plans as a chance to finally catch up on a long neglected project.
Truth is Max and I would have had the night of our life sitting up high in the 400s. We would have screamed for the Caps, cheered their goals and mourned their loss with the same level of fury and abandon. We had already felt like we had won. And that I think is the secret.
Something from my childhood was calling to me this night. A message bubbling up–From the gnomes…From God…From the kindess of strangers and my own wise heart. A metaphor perhaps reinforcing this practice.
We live in abundance. Already. Right now. Not tomorrow when the house is cleaned and the homework is done. Not next year when the bills are paid. Not 10 years from now when my practice is busy and full. But now. Now. Now.
Open your eyes and step into it. The view is amazing.
Many years ago, a woman, named Odette moved into my house. She taught me about faith and courage, a special kind of faith and courage. See, Odette was separated from her babies. They were tens of thousands of miles away and they were held apart by immigration and economics and seemingly impossible obstacles. For the longest years, Odette didn’t have her own babies close but she helped me raise my baby. She was his auntie and favorite babysitter. She sat at my table and told stories and told him to eat his vegetables and cooked and sang in my kitchen while Max and I danced. And sometimes after we put him to bed, I’d hug her and we’d cry together, thinking about her girls so far away.
One spring night, in a fit of possibility, a group of us held a party of the most magical sort. The girls were sick but we thought, in a moment of optimism, we could get them here. We raised thousands of dollars that night as bands played and we danced and mamas and papas stuffed money into shoe boxes. Thousands that could pay for their care and would one day help bring them home.
It was a long way from that party to the homecoming, to the magical day that Odette wrapped her arms around the girls she missed so much. Odette never gave up faith. There were many more moments like that party. Small moments (and big pushes) that paid expenses we never would have thought an immigrant mother could bear. Through networks far bigger than those here in our little neighborhood, through the courage of a friend who used all her super powers, through lawyers who work miracles and through hundreds of people who gave something tangible and real, those girls found their way home to their mama. In the darkest of days, with the worry and the pain, Odette and her girls were being carried in the arms of all the mamas who loved their babies.
Yes, through that experience, I learned about faith. Not about a kind of faith that is ethereal. The kind of faith that comes when hundreds of people recognize that their own divine generosity and create the way forward with a dollar or two or ten, their talents, something tangible. Love enfleshed.
When I was deciding to go to acupuncture school, my greatest fear was that I would lose my job or my health insurance, for one reason, and one reason alone. I had visions of myself at Max’s bedside, unable to pay for care he might have needed, imagining that desperate, helpless feeling I know many impoverished mothers know, that feeling of not being able to help him get well, that feeling of having to watch him suffer for lack of resources. When he cut himself on a rusty fence, when he banged himself up in hockey, I doubled over in gratitude for the insurance and the money in the bank and I paralyzed myself from moving forward with questions about WHAT IF? In those moments, Odette’s story reminded me that there are no guarantees, other than that love shows up actively in some way shape or form. If I was faced with the worst, well, I would need to have faith in God. I knew that sometimes that God shows up as a network of mamas. I one-by-one counted my band of soul sisters who would stand fiercely with me if my boy was in danger and leapt. I haven’t lost my insurance or my job but I know if I did we would find a way.
If I had any doubt about this lesson, my first day of school, my teachers gave me language to understand it clearly. They taught me to not refer to my child as “mine”. They said, the children belong to all of us. It is their world that we are creating together. While Max he came to the world through me, he is not mine. He is ours. All the babies are ours. And we are all the mamas.
Yes. Faith is love enfleshed. And Love is not a sentiment. It is an action.
I have been recently reminded of these stories and faith that is love enfleshed by another story. This is the story of another mama, this one someone I do not know–though I love those who love her. She is living a version of that nightmare of mine. She is afraid for her child’s life. She cannot wait for insurance to kick in. She is not sure how she will get her the treatment she needs but she is doing everything she can. And yet, while she labors to birth a new life for baby, she saw that she was not alone. She spoke her prayers out loud, and the Universe answered not with a fancy big solution but with a simple network of mamas and papas, aunties and uncles, love enfleshed into action. Women and men contributing small amounts, in partnership with the mama who birthed her, building a path forward for her daughter, (our daughter) brick by brick. Creating, together, a world in which she can live. In the last few days, her friends, family and strangers have raised money for several days of the treatment that can save her life.
Watching it unfold gives me so much hope, so much faith, moves me to tears. And yet there is more to do.
Sometimes I get so overwhelmed thinking about all the children of the world who suffer and I think that I cannot help all of them. And then I remember if I just do what is in front of me, it is enough.
Right now, in front of me, there is a precious child named Asia. She is our child, brought to us through her mama, named Mani. If you have found your way here, she is in front of you too. She is yours.
This is a kind of faith. Love enfleshed. Love as action. I lean into it and want to see it grow.
I was born on the 18th day of September. I have always loved the number 18 and been delighted how it, through ancient Hebrew, connects to the word “LIFE”. I wonder right now what would happen if we all took whatever prayers we may be whispering and enfleshed them with LIFE in the form of $18 or some other multiple of 18. How many more days of healing might it create, not just for Asia but for but for all of us who will be healed when we see prayers answered in the most simple of ways.
You can be part of this here. You can whisper your prayers for LIFE and then answer them.