Thursday, December 15, 2016

Differently: A Season of Hope



“Oh Sam!” My head is in my hands.  It's been hours.  Hours.  Hours.

Every day I help Sam take notes from his History textbook.  The whole pedagogical point, I believe, is to teach students how to read material and glean for the most important points that they will then highlight to remember.  The filters required for such an undertaking though, require time, practice and interest.  It should be getting easier, faster.  

Neither is true for my middle son.  He struggles.  He clenches his fists, he cries tears of silent anger and fear.  He looks at me, sheer sorrow contouring his face, “It’s not my fault that I’m slow Mommy.”  I am silent.  After a minute cataloging my own shame at pushing this most sensitive child, I take his hand and unclench his fist.  

“What’s going on Sam?”  
“I just can’t do it like everyone else.  I can’t remember right.  I try but I just can’t.  I’m just slow.”  
“Sam,” I swallow hard and try again “you are NOT slow.  You are not anything but you.  And who you are is pretty great.”  

He nods, withdraws his hand and tries to look at the American Indians and consider the small section on the Trail of Tears.  Maybe he doesn’t believe it, but it’s my job to make it okay.  Because Sam thinks differently. 

“Are there words here in this passage that you aren’t sure of?  Do you know what all the words mean?”  Shakes head.  Okay, so give me one.  We look up “crop,” “harvest,” and “territory” in our student dictionary.  We talk about the meaning in the sentence.  And we re-read the passage.  His brothers are playing and laughing, Sam looks over at the noise, acknowledges it and sets his face forward.  He doesn’t want to be here anymore than I do, but it’s what’s necessary for him to learn.  

“So the tribe moved from Virginia to Oklahoma right?”  He nods.  “Why do you think the book calls it the Trail of Tears?”  Shrugs.  I move both Sam and myself to the huge map of the United States we have.  “Find Virginia.” He does and he traces the path from Virginia to Oklahoma.  He looks up at me with worry, “that’s a long way.”  I nod.  “They did that on foot?”  Another nod.  “That’s why so many people died.  All they were doing was staying in one place the way they always had.  Then one day they were forced to move.  That’s not right Mommy.”  He got it.  It took the better part of this weekend afternoon, but he got it.

Sam thinks differently.  

His brain processes information in ways that are visual and tactical.  It is a much longer way of learning than our fast-paced system allows for.  It means longer nights and varying methods other than memorization that allows an answer in and out quicker than a revolving door.  For it to stayknowledge, understanding—it has to be done differently. 

Because of the different way Sam thinks he may be the last one to answer, but he’s the first one to go to another’s aid.  He was the first of his brothers to receive a “caring band,” a rubber bracelet given between students at school acknowledging an act of kindness witnessed.  In Sam’s case?  It was seeing a child sitting alone at lunch and making sure he sat with him and stayed until that child was laughing and talking and feeling okay.  

He may forget steps in problem solving but thinks fast to stop a hurt before it happens: “But why did Api say that to you?” asks Jake  “JAKE!  Mommy doesn’t need to relive that.  She went through it once.  Don’t do that!” 

Sam has no shortage on love.  And I believe that being different has made all the difference.

I’ve written about my remarkable middle son before, and he still stuns me with his optimism and his sheer tenacity.  It’s easy, almost expected to boast about our child’s achievements, academic or otherwise, to demand excellence because its glory somehow shines a singular light on our own perception of our parenting.  But Sam tries harder, fights harder and thinks differently, and I have to tell you, in helping Sam, in teaching Sam, I’ve found myself learning a lot more about how to think of everything differently.  

And that’s what I’m inviting you to do this Christmas season.  Whatever you have done or thought or considered—do it differently.

It may be unusual to have a holiday post begin this way, but I don’t think so, not really.  This season of advent, of waiting, we consider the coming of Christ.  A man who was very very different.  Who sought not the high but the low, who spent time with the least to give them his best.  Who did not judge or condemn but shared love and promises of a hopeful future.  Then as now, different is difficult.  Different is scary
We need to be different.

Our thoughts about people, places, things—they need to be different.  We can no longer accept blindly what is told to us.  We have to search for another side to understanding.  We need to look harder at what labels we have placed and the jars in which we have placed our dreams.  Our categories need to be more fluid. Because when we open ourselves up to the possibility of difference, we find grace.  And we are all in desperate need of it.  Sam’s figured this out already.  I’m a much slower study. 

In one of the best shows on television, This is Us, the winter finale finds Randall’s biological father, William, in a Narcotics Anonymous meeting saying words that shook me hard: “I didn’t know if it was from God or what,” he said, “I did not expect God’s grace but now I had to open myself to the pain of it…to feel the joy of it.”


I had to open myself up to the pain of God’s grace
 in order to feel the joy of it.  

Because in that reconciliation is healing.  Man, do we need healing.  Our hurts are high as a people.  Without allowing for the consideration of forgiveness, the idea that we can look at a situation differently, that no wo/man should be defined by one mistake, we can begin to feel grace.  And grace doesn’t always come softly as a winter snow.  It can come by fire.  

"If you are doing anything of worth, then the enemy is
doing everything in his power to make you quit.  The
pressure, the discouragement, the inadequacy all
is a giant ploy to shut you down. What are you going
to do?" Jennie Allen 
The one thing I know as I stumble older and learn to talk better, is that the enemy has already determined that any step toward grace, toward acceptance of a different way of thinking that’s inclusive rather than exclusive, means a step away from loneliness and pain.  So the fight is out there, and it’s hard.  “Be one of us.”  Everything points to it.  No one wants to be alone.  No one wants to be considered “different.” 





So no, grace doesn’t always come to us softly and quietly and gently.  If there’s a battle present that is being fought that is making you unable to turn your head in any direction at all, then it’ll come painfully.  And as that bond breaks freeing you from whatever has held you back?  Well, then there’s joy.  So great and so plentiful.  I want that for you.  We need to be different.

Different can be twisting a situation from rejection to opportunity.  That person you want to get to know better?  Who you keep asking out for coffee only to get a non-committal answer?  It’s time to let that go.  It’s not that she doesn’t like you.  She just doesn’t have the time to get to know you.  And that is freeing.  Because now you have the time to caffeinate with the friend you already have and deepen that bond or rekindle one altogether. 

Different can be action rather than reaction.  You have an opinion, a strong one about the refugee crisis.  Look at your week.  Consider what you could have done without.  The coffees?  The take-away meals?  The $22 pizza?  Calculate the cost and donate that amount to a service agency of your choice.  It was money you never missed.






Different is looking at another and finding commonality.  Right now what scares us?  Islam?  Blackness?  Whiteness?  Gender identity?  In my son’s classroom there are many nations, many faiths, many layers of difference.  But you know what?  When I ask another parent how her son is doing (because help me sister, I actually became a room parent this year), she tells me.  And it no longer matters that she is in a hajib, and I am not.  What does she represent to me?  A mother who is worried about her boy.  I get that.  We’re the same.  Under all that difference.

Different is loving anyway.  Remember the scene I described in This is Us?  Well, shortly after William’s beauty of remarks, another man speaks.  This one is white and talks of searing pain at being left behind suddenly and rejected absolutely.   Later we find out that the man who was speaking about pain and rejection is William’s lover.  

When asked about how the audience may perceive this shift for his character’s father, Sterling Brown said, “I think the writers came up with a really wonderful way of organically introducing that this man who has been an artist his entire life, who had gone through NA, who’s been fighting cancer for quite some time, was able to make a soul connection with someone. 

And the reason why it sort of speaks to me in that way is that any time you get a chance to introduce someone to someone that they already love who may be different than what they anticipated them being, do they rescind their love, or do they now have an eye-opening experience of saying, ‘Oh, man, I love this man. I didn’t see that as being a part of him. But now that I know that it’s part of him, I love him. I love him.’ So, I’m hoping that it’s a situation like that, where people who are very much enamored with William, when they find out this new aspect of his humanity, will stay right there in the midst of that love.”

What I took from this was profound, and I wish I could imprint it on every billboard in America: “Love him anyway.”  

In the nutshell of our souls, the fortune buried deep within?  The lesson we struggle so hard and violently from?   Love anyway.  

If you loved William before, nothing fundamentally about him has changed—except the gender of someone else he loved in his long painful life.  You can still love William.  Because he’s still amazing William.  And we can love our friends and family no matter who they choose to love because of who they are.  LOVE ANYWAY.  Any which way.

Love hard.  Love constantly.  And love absolutely.  But more than anything—love anyway.  Despite it all.  And because of it all.  You must love.

You are different.  Thank God you are different.  Thank God you think and walk and talk and act differently than I do.  Because of your difference, I am who I am.  What a horrible world if the colors were forced only to be primary and not a box of 120.  I hope there will never come a time that I am in a room with people who only think like I do; I hope I will always have the opportunity to be asked to think differently.



I want to tell you an old story I know.  Of a young girl, terribly young.  She was promised to a man who was much older than she was.  But he was in a good position in the community, it brought honor to her family, so she agreed to it.  It wasn’t the practice for her to have an education, so she didn’t have any real schooling.  

She didn’t understand a lot about anything, but she had great faith in her community to guide her and keep her safe.  She was so worried about messing up, disappointing someone, her parents especially.  So when she found out she was going to have a baby, she just didn’t know what to do.  She tried to explain to her fiancé, and he was shocked and angry.  She waited to find out what would happen, because to be so different meant causing a lot of pain to a lot of people.   A young (potentially) single mother was tantamount to being an outcast, for someone with little education and no means of financial support. 

I know the first thoughts:  How could she be that dumb?  To get pregnant so young?  So now she'll never get a job or contribute.  I bet she doesn't even know the father.  And I'll be working just to feed her and her kids.  

But what if we looked at it differently?

A young woman scared.  Feeling that everyone will refuse her.  Worried about how she will provide for her unborn child.  Worried about what mother she could be when she was little more than a child herself? 

What if we saw her as someone who was trying?  

What if we saw her as someone who was about to embark on a most important task that we could help with?
  
What if we supported instead of assumed?

What if we saw her for who she was, not what we placed on her?

Because you know this young girl.  You know her story. 

Because that young girl was Mary.  And her baby came to find you.  Mary chose differently.  And when she saw her son choosing a road that she may have found unsafe, saw him healing others, only hearing about him because he kept choosing differently, it must have been hard.  But what would have happened to all of us had she not chosen differently?  What would have happened if she didn’t encourage her son to do the same?

God picked the most unlikely, the least of whom anyone expected anything from to create a miracle.  He chose an unwed teenager to be the mother of his only son.  He chose differently.

He wants us to be different too. 


He’s still searching for you, you know?  And you can be found so easily.  By thinking differently and loving well.  Because in removing the obstacles you have set in your mind you allow yourself the room, the permission, the fire, the grace and the joy to come to you.  And then just as much of a miracle born in the least of these, differences melt away in the light of the greatest of all. 

Its time.  It’s time to be different.  May the grace and peace of this season of possibility give you hope and courage.  Merry Christmas to you.  


Friday, October 28, 2016

Breathe Generosity: A Love Primer Part III



When you were little, you did this, before there were window crayons, cling-ons or markers you stood carefully and took in as much air as you could then blew it over cold glass watching in delight at the frost that met your warm breath.  Tentatively you began making patterns, knowing the heat coming from you, the same breath that caused the frost, would allow the cold to melt away.


In the first two parts of this series, I talked about the struggle we as people are having seeing and hearing one another.  Both are needed for understanding to be achieved, and that is the path to the ultimate goal: to love.  Without understanding, we don’t get to love and that would be such a huge loss for all of us.  Once we begin to set aside whatever might be holding us back from seeing another’s struggle or hearing another’s story, we begin to quiet the anxiety that seems ever present in our day-to-day struggles.  We begin to breathe deeply and live generously.
§

I am in the darkened room, standing facing her.  My clothes are folded on a chair in the corner.  I am aware of the old pair of underwear I have on that do not quite cover the soft unwieldy underbelly of three pregnancies that I am always straining to make smaller.  I am more aware of the strap on my bra that keeps sliding down my left arm, the color is between nude and grey without the benefits of either.  Jill, small and blonde, is regarding me carefully.  “Breathe for me.”  I close my eyes and try to do what she is asking.  I can sense her coming closer and placing each of her hands around my rib cage.  “Meet my hands with your breath.”  I tense, and try again.  “Okay,” she says.  “Okay.”  Jill steps back and looks at me.  “What’s happening?” 
“Well,” I say slowly, “I came here because I know my body can no longer carry the level of stress I have had for so many years.  I saw your therapy profile and saw that you emphasize breathing.” I pause, my throat feels sticky, and my voice quiet from disuse, “I was hoping you could teach me?”

In a way, it is an absurdity.  It should be intrinsic to us, to breathe, but somehow I don’t think so.  When was the last time you took a deep breath, from deep down in your center?  I am willing to bet that the last time you did was when you had a cold and went to see a doctor who listened to your chest with a stethoscope.  I also think that it wasn’t easy.  Not just because you were fighting the virus that had invaded your lungs battling for your air, but because you simply weren’t used to it.

As a young woman, I remember learning to hold my stomach in—the genetic insouciant part of me that refused any kind of taming into the ideal flat plane.  When I became aware that it required a kind of training to hold breath in, I stopped breathing naturally.  I do not remember the last time I breathed deeply and exhaled slowlyI feel that I’ve spent a lot of my adult life waiting to exhale.  This isn’t unusual for women.  I remember reading the beloved Little House books when Laura Ingalls Wilder reminisced about watching her aunt hold her breath tightly as corset strings were tightened, “They helped each other with their corsets. Aunt Docia pulled as hard as she could on Aunt Ruby’s corset strings, and then Aunt Docia hung on to the foot of the bed while Aunt Ruby pulled on hers.


‘Pull, Ruby, pull!’ Aunt Docia said, breathless. ‘Pull harder.’ So Aunt Ruby braced her feet and pulled harder. Aunt Docia kept measuring her waist with her hands, and at last she gasped, ‘I guess that’s the best you can do.’ She said, ‘Caroline says Charles could span her waist with his hands, when they were married.’”  For Laura, who lived as fully as she wrote, corsets were torture, “Her corsets were a sad affliction to her….  ‘You should wear them all night,’ Ma said.   Mary [Laura’s sister] did, but Laura could not bear at night the torment of the steels that did not allow her a deep breath.”  But this is not about the vagaries of fashion that may or may not have harmed a woman’s health.  It is just about the ways in which we’ve been restricting our own air, and in so doing, limiting our ability to give to ourselves or to each other.

§
Without oxygen, we die.  It’s that simple.  Our respiratory system is amazing; we intake air and expel carbon dioxide.  But did you know that our brains require 20% of our oxygen intake?   Without it, cells begin to die off and we risk permanent brain damage.  While I was researching for this post, the question came to me time and time again:
Why are we denying ourselves the air we need to think clearly and behave in kind? 
We hold our breath when we are afraid, we take a quick intake of air when we are nervous.  We breathe shallow and quick in order to get through pain.  We accept the lack of depth and breadth and relief we may receive as not ours for the taking.  What do I say to my boy when he is so upset he cannot speak?  “Take a deep breath.  Let it out slowly.  Begin again to tell me what’s wrong.”


 A while back I was standing in my aunt’s kitchen and decided, on a whim, to tell her about the pain I felt in my chest.  Similar to pregnancy breast pain, sometimes the discomfort was bad enough to have to take something for it.  I’d lived with it long enough to be resigned to it, deciding I was getting older and that this was a part of it.  Nowhere was there a lump, no doctor’s imagery detected anything abnormal.  “But it isn’t normal, you know that don’t you?” she said.  I must have looked at her blankly because she turned from chopping onions and said, “your chest feels that way because the tissue is struggling for oxygen.  You aren’t able to get enough air to breathe, so it is pulling your tissue to try.”  I wasn’t getting enough air.  I wasn’t able to breathe fully.  And I had dismissed this as nothing?

Somewhere between running and jumping, blowing out candles on cakes and diving into the deep end, I stopped breathing and just held on and waited.  I decided at some point along the line of my life that breathing deeply and exhaling slowly was something I had no time for and wasn’t privileged enough to claim. 
Why is it so difficult to breathe generously?
The importance of it is well documented.  There is not a single emotional condition that does not benefit from breathing deeply.  It can reduce stress, pain (both emotional and physical), it can calm anxiety, offer focus, and give you energy.  To breathe deeply is to feel, to engage and to listen to our bodies, and in so doing, allow us to give generously to others by being as present as we can be.  (This correlation isn’t so strange; trust me?  Stay with me.)


If we are focused and calm, if breathing deeply and well offers us this ability consider then how things around us would change? We would see ourselves differently and in doing so be able to view others gently.  We would have the room, the lung capacity to value another’s pain with compassion and generosity.  We will not be fighting for air; we will not be fighting at all

 God breathed life into me (Genesis 2:7), why wouldn't I want to use it as fully as he intended?  To fuel the good of which I am capable?  The calmer I feel, the more centered my breath, I can look at the picture of struggle for my son without the irritation that he cannot understand despite the fifth time of telling.  I can breathe and tell him that it will be okay.  That he will get it.  Instead of being undone at the discourtesy shown me by my children’s principal, I can consider the motivation behind it and respond with thought and care.  And because of that self-care, because of that focus on keeping my brain alert and receptive, I can look beyond to find points where I can for/give.

§
When I heard the word generosity I used to think of two things: “guilt” and “money”.  The former I have in spades, the latter not so much.  Because of those meanings though, it becomes difficult to think of giving in any other way.  Time is as tight these days as money is for most.  So generosity almost becomes something that we begin to resist.  The pressure to be generous to hundreds of thousands of worthwhile causes known to us begin a cycle of anxiety and stress that I, at least, began to buckle under.  Once I began to understand though, that my very breath could help me focus, get my mind clear enough to see and hear what I needed to see and hear, generosity ceased being a burden and became a necessary means of connection.  For me it manifested in so many different ways:
Generosity is the moment I didn't decline the call and spend the next fifteen minutes reconnecting with my friend
It’s the time I picked up the phone dropped by the woman who spoke to me abruptly and treated me rudely in the parking garage and give it back without a word. 
It was offering a compliment for no other reason than sensing another's need for it.
It was identifying the need to reply as defensiveness rather than engagement.
It was stepping up to volunteer when no one else would.
It was offering more at church that I spent on coffee in a week.
It is avoiding that which will do me harm in thought, in speech and in action
It is choosing to spend the time in the quiet to listen, really listen to what is happening around me and inside me.  
Breathe in.  Breathe out.

§


In our family, the acted impulse to generosity has had a ripple effect.  One compliment has afforded more.  Encouragement is offered, consideration given—not all the time, but anything worth it takes work.  After the boys come home from school, we stretch a bit, and breathe.  After that, we pray—I hear their worries from school, what they were thankful for, and what they need help with.  Then we break and dive in to the variety of things we have to do.  What I’ve discovered is that as they watch and begin to listen, take the time to consider and reflect, generosity then can become as easy a state as breathing ought to be. 



In our pantry is our own food donation area.  When we go to the store, the boys noticed I’d buy canned goods or other items on sale and place them in the cart.  We store them for regular trips to the food pantry.  At this time of year, when Thanksgiving plans are beginning, many churches and community outreach organizations get incredible donations of both food and time for the hungry.  But they are in need all year round.  So this is an easy way to buy a little extra, (when you have the little extra in your grocery budget) for someone else.  (Lists are available for what items to store for donation. Or you can contact a local food pantry and ask.)  We have a donation bank in the kitchen and everyone contributes.  We take a look in a few months and decide which organization could use it, it makes us more aware of the need around us (and sometimes that need comes within our own family).  
Homeless shelters also need donations that can be purchased and kept in a similar way.  The children help by looking at grocery deals and have done some mental math to figure out how much can be purchased. 

I do a lot of online shopping, and with it, I get samples of perfumes, cosmetics, lotions and shampoos that I most likely will never use.  Instead of sitting in a drawer, all of these can be collected and donated to local women’s shelters.  Similar donations can be sent overseas to our armed servicemen and women.  These are just some ideas of how we could better serve one another once I was able to really breathe and center, focus and forgive.  And it all started when I was truthful about what was holding me back from engaging fully with my own life—when I was honest that I was holding my breath and began to exhale.
§
When I think of need there is so much.  I have been overwhelmed with my own: my children, marriage, father, and friends.  Stepping one ring out of that center into either television or the paper, social media or the radio: need is extraordinary and overwhelming.  The result of war, natural disasters, local violence and national rhetoric.  All of these pieces, like so many vines, dangle in my mind. 
Many experts recommend 10 minutes of active breathing practice/meditation/prayer daily.   When I started, I could barely make it to two.  I’m almost up to five.  It’s not easy to quiet my monkey mind from swinging from vine to vine.  As I mentally fly faster through dinner, commitments, homework, housework, work, what I have read, what I have thought of, what others may think, repairs that need to be made—my breathing is no longer long and steady but short and shallow.  It becomes a struggle, a struggle to take in air.  

©Yoga Journal
Click here for guided video on pranayama (yogic breathing).
When I first started yoga I was nervous, it was disastrous the last time I had taken it.  Prenatal yoga left me tottering from point to point like a very large egg.  I never wanted to go back.  But when I finally did, when the strain of my life demanded a response, yoga seemed to be an answer.  There seems to be no medical condition that cannot benefit from it.  And my teacher (and friend) Carolyn made it accessible to me.  But she started with breathing.  It was the core of the practice.  It made sense, because so much of yoga is about the core, the center, the heart that breathing would be essential to it.   Somehow, someway I lost it though.  And the only time I practiced it, thoughtfully, was in her class.  So now I was with Jill, starting over since I could not even begin on the mat.  “Think of your connective tissue like a tightly twisted towel,” she said, “you need to focus on unwinding those ridges.”

A wound towel.  Tightly twisted ridges.  Expectations, hopes, frustrations, disappointments, anger, fear—each one leaves its mark on us.  Each flick of the wrist leaves us with less time to recover, less space in which to consider or reflect before we come upon the next ridge to climb.  Exhaustion, resignation sets in and the thought of being generous with anyone, much less ourselves is out of the question.

Our world is fast.  Information is coming to us and at us from all sides.  Our hearts are broken and inflamed constantly.  But we can mend.  And no matter what happens in the next few weeks, we will need to heal.  Heal our hearts, our minds, forgive, try to understand another’s fear, and begin again to try to come together.  Frederick  Buechner wrote, “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen.  Don’t be afraid.... Like any other gift the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it.”  Remember and know that God breathed life into you, and he gave you that life to live abundantly.

Breathe in deeply, thinking of all the broken spaces that can be filled with hope and air, breathe out the hurt and disappointment that is holding you so tightly in its grasp.  Breathe in healing and kindness and out the negativity that you see reinforced all around you.  Breathe in light, breathe out the darkness. Breathe in grace—breathe out generosity


You can do this.  We can do this. Breath by conscious breath we can put everyone back together again.


I’m saying to you now that I see you, I do hear you, so please, take a deep breath and tell me what is wrong?  Tell me what is holding you back from being well and whole?  In the telling will be the key to all of it, when we focus our energy and release what is holding us back from each other we come clean.  And that’s the last piece of this series, the last chamber of the heart of it all.  Thanks for staying with me.  

Monday, October 17, 2016

Hearing Grace: A Love Primer Part II



Have you seen moments like this one?  A leaned in whispered tale.  A giggle.  A smile over a shared story. 

Stories are so important, aren’t they?  The fuel us in ways we cannot completely understand.  They inspire us and move us to action, to memory, to anticipation, and to love.  But stories are only effective if they are heard.  If you can fully feel their meaning and your attention has not been diverted to the other demands upon your time. 

In the first post in this series, I talked about seeing one another, truly seeing each other as the first step to loving each other back to wholeness.  But what if you do?  What if you do see your friend, neighbor, brother?  What if you walk with her and talk with him and have dinner together every night?  What if a call comes on a regular Sunday that this person is gone, has died by her own hand or killed another?  “But I just talked to him,” you say bewildered, “everything seemed fine.” Underneath every fine there’s a poor and inside every nothing is a something





We have trouble seeing one another, often we don’t look for the visual cues in our stance and demeanor, but we aren’t compensating with another sense—our hearing is also suffering.  Inexplicably, our senses have ceased to work together strengthening one while another goes underground.  Instead, they have jointly decayed in an age where the click of keys and a processing filter are the means by which we relate to one another. 

I see you in all of your infinite roles.  I know what it’s like to be “fine.”  I know what value we have placed on “fine.”  I realize the connotations of fine: sexualized and actual.  None of it is ever very fine.    Sometimes the “fines” thread together into a string of regret and silence that becomes a cord of rage.  And we have to stop and listen to its rhythm before it reaches that level of dissonance.  We have to hear and that’s what this post is all about: hearing and the reception of graceHere's some of each to consider.  

§

“I hate you God!  Can you hear me?  I HATE YOU!”  I am wrapped in a towel, finished with a shower and worn down as more hair has fallen out.  Leaving me tired, and in pain and feeling so very alone.  I scream a litany of offenses to the sky—my mother’s untimely death, my father’s alcohol fueled path to mental destruction, the trembling fault lines in my marriage, Joe’s inability to recover from being bullied, feeling completely lost and alone despite a large number of “friends.”  I sob.  I scream, I throw anything I can get my hands on.  “I did everything you have asked of me,” I say, “I’ve done more.  When is it enough?  Why have I stayed in one place spinning while everyone else moves?  Why?  Why me?”  I slump on the floor, as miserable a being as ever was.  I look up—waiting for a miracle.  



Sometimes, just sometimes, being heard is that miracle.

When I think back on this later, I don’t feel ashamed as much as I do indignant.  There is so much more that I think and do not say: how quickly I feel I have slipped from minds and hearts from those I have offered companionship and understanding and have not received anything in return.   How the giving of grace is, at times, a thankless endeavor.  

At Mass, our pastor talks about the state of our nation and the unrelenting disparagement of grace.  “How many of us wake up and say, ‘Oh Lord, it’s morning’ instead of ‘It’s morning, thank you Lord?’” He goes on to caution us against the rhetoric being thrown at us from both sides of the political aisle. 


And I consider, how many times turning to social media now is a veritable minefield of judgment, unverified links, grandstanding and shame.  As if I don’t read?  As if I didn’t already know?  As if the choices weren’t already on a scale of absolute impossibility?  And those are just my friends.  There is no engagement on anything else—the very air crackles with disappointment, gross manipulation, undirected outrage, confusion and despondency.

Fr. continues asking us to consider with our conscience, and in prayer who we vote for.  And, truth be told, also warns about the latest email leaks that show a contempt for the division of church and state.  Conscience.  Grace.
 
As Mass has ended and I move the boys toward the prayer candles, we light and pray, I say eyes tight, “Jesus, listen.”  Only to hear, “You know, I’m glad we had that little talk this morning.  I have heard you.  I’ve got you.  All will be well.” 

I remember once telling my aunt that I was so ashamed for being a remarkably selfish child where my mother was concerned, now that she’s gone I could never make up to her what she was for me.  The grace, constant and undemanding that she showered me with each day and I cast aside just as easily.  My aunt laughed and said, “all close relationships are like that.”  I remembered that.  My relationship with God is that close.  I can yell, and he will forgive.  The grace with which he has shown me is extraordinary: “On a good day enjoy yourself; on a bad day examine your conscience.” (Ecclesiastes 7:14-17)


All the days now in our country appear to be grey and bad days but in examining my conscience I see more concerns than my gender and my race.  I am worried about economic and domestic policy initiatives, defense and global terrorism that is escalating at an alarming rate, the rights of those who have nothing, the ability for gainful employment for many, for the protection and nourishment of the most vulnerable.  So when I look at my conscience, it is for these that I am scanning documents and voting histories, verifiable communication and that needs to apply to anyone who is standing and saying, “I will represent you.”  Man, do we need some good days.  More than ever, we need some grace.

§

I haven’t seen you in awhile.  Running into you at the coffee shop was such a great treat to my day.  I watched you from my seat in the corner.  I saw you park, and clench your hands on the steering wheel.  I saw you take out your phone.  I saw you grimace and put it back.  There’s no smile on your face or proverbial spring in your step.  

When I wave you over after you’ve gotten your order and ask you how you are, you smile, a little strained around the edges, the light not meeting in your eyes, “I’m fine,” you say.  I smile in return, a little uncertain on where to go or how to get there.  You don’t seem fine.  Nothing says fine.  But you look harried and worried so when you say we should get together, I nod and wish you a good day.

Later, when I am thinking about it, and you, I wonder what has happened.  I can guess any number of things and experience has taught me that all of them are wrong.  Yet, when my husband asks me what the matter is, I say, “Nothing.”

These two phrases.  “I’m fine.”  “Nothing.”

I often think if I could give a gift to everyone it would be talk
therapy, because then we could see our motivations, and
we could go so much easier on the world when
we finally figure out why we're not easy on ourselves.

How many times a day do we say them?  Perhaps we alternate between the two.  Are you really fine?  Is there ever really nothing wrong? 

I understand why we do it.  We don’t want to be a burden on anyone else.  We don’t want anyone to know what is burning.  We cannot let anyone in on the things that make us wound so tightly we can’t see.  We know when we ask that we don’t want the burden, we don’t want to put out the fire and we don’t want to get involved in the unraveling.


§


I am guilty of my lack of hearing, my deafness towards myself and others is a constant that I am trying to eliminate.  My mind wanders towards dinner and chores as my smallest son shares the monumental discovery of his day.  I nod because I know what’s expected of me.  My action suggests my presence is active.  I wonder as my friend is speaking if I will have time stop at that store or get that one thing.  I look at my phone as I sit in the back row to “check” instead of hearing the speaker who has taken the time to prepare this talk.  I allow the subtle drone of the television wash away the words of my husband who just wants to know how I am feeling.  I silence the voice I know to be God’s and do the exact opposite of what has been requested of me.  I do not want to knowI do not want to seeI do not want to hearI do not want to feel.



Sue Klebold knows this pain.  She recently wrote a memoir that discusses exactly what she never heard her son Dylan say.  Her book goes into painful detail of her hearing loss leading to a greater one—the loss of her son.  Even before Columbine, how she lost him bit by bit.  Does this mean that you or I are ultimately at fault for the suicide or the shooting?  No, I don't believe so; I do believe that they give us another glimpse of how lonely we feel, how isolated and how misunderstood.  Guilt accomplishes a lot…but none of them for the good of any
A November post from my FB blog page with an idea of why
a young person might become an extremist.

Sometimes people commit acts of great sorrow to send a message but even that is a misnomer.  I think that often, those very people were the ones who were taken by the hand and heard by the organization who asked them to act.  No one else was willing to take them in, no one else was willing to listen. 
created by SweetFace Design
Grace saves everyone.
In the end—in the beginning, we have to hear.  And in that action, we offer amazing grace.  At Mass each week we say, “I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do.”  



The act of verbalizing this, for me, means that I am saying that I have not done everything I should, in both my sight and my speech; I confess this to my community so that they can hear me.  By sharing my lack of observation and action to them, they can hold me up in prayer so that I can do better, that I can be a servant of grace.  And this is exactly what hearing grace does. 

We are a world in catastrophic pain.  We do not listen to understand; we listen to reply.  Our desire, deep and ephemeral is to be heard. Have you read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone?  One of the most amazing moments in the tale is when Harry finds the Mirror of Erised.  His headmaster, Dumbledore, tells him that the happiest person in the world could look in the mirror and see himself exactly as he is.  He could use it, in other words, as a regular mirror.  For Harry, robbed of his family as a baby, he sees his heart reflected to
The inscription reads "erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi" which
means "I show not your face but your hearts desire." 
him in their joyful reflection.  Erised after all, is Desire spelled backwards.  Seen, heard, valued, understood. 











If we can have those two senses come together—sight and sound, even if we are too weak to produce them ourselves, if we can do it for another, we reclaim their worth from the shadows of life and pull them to the light.  We tell them, simply, that they matter.  We thank them for being here and being who they are. 
   


Gratitude and grace come from the same Latin root: gratis.  Please hear that.  Grace and gratitude are from the same root.  So the act of hearing is not only an act of prayer but of thanks.  You are thanking the person with whom you share those words, whispered or shouted, fear-filled or exuberant, you are thanking them for their very presence.  That makes them important.  That makes them matter.  And when you do that, when you hear them, you are saying that they are important and that they matter.  Sometimes, that’s all it takes.  That may be all it takes to save a life and in so doing, save our own.

§

How many days has it been since you heard your friend?  

How many ways have you dismissed her pleas to be heard?  

Can you hear her trying?  

Why then are you standing off to the side and letting her struggle?  

Why aren’t you actively engaging with her and confirming her importance to you?  

Why are you including her at all if you won’t?  

What is stopping you from showing her the grace that is hers and the gratitude that is yours



Sometimes our “hearing” in this increasingly digital age of tweets and posts and status updates, is that.  A chance to yell to the world that you are hurting and to please acknowledge it.  Sometimes though, it is not so pronounced, the desire to be heard.  And sometimes it is said that it is the quiet ones you have to watch out for—but that isn’t always true, hearing is far more nuanced than that. 

Under a smile or a thousand different spinning plates may be a person who is hurting far worse than the one staying silent.  The reason for the spin?  To keep the emptiness out. Because there is no one to hear just how hard it is to keep it all going.   It’s complicated, isn’t it?  Social media is the tinnitus of the modern age.  The white noise that covers up what is really being said—the resounding deafness we all have.  Let me explain.


I know I have written about the perils of social media before, but now especially now when we are facing such crisis, such hurt, such misunderstanding, the anonymity and usage of social media platforms to distance one another is overwhelming.  

I so want to hear your story.  



Yours.  I do not want to hear about you through your political link.  You do not wish to be shamed for my assumption of your choices that I have not inquired about.  We are shouting with these posts, we are not talking to each other, and worse still, we are not giving our friends the opportunity to respond.  We have allowed the insentient to take over for conversation and virtually eliminated any understanding.  A computer screen is now an auditory canal.  The potential for missing the story—for hearing the hurts or celebrating the joy is limitless.     We cannot allow this to happen.  We have to hear each other.

§

When we make friends no matter where on the spectrum they are, we fall in love.  That's what's so great, we think love is reserved for romance, but we fall in love with friends, and the deeper the bond the deeper that love.  When misunderstandings and hurts and anger happen, that's when the heart breaks a little bit more.   


The broken pieces I have of my heart, when friends who I no longer see daily or talk to even weekly have ignored my posts of my children, these I have tucked away and tried very hard to protect.    It can feel as though they've chosen not to show me grace--and that hurts.  I'm conscious however of not hurting them in return.  The part of my heart that allowed them in has its own muscle memory, and that aches.  Until that ache passes completely and that love is gone, I will continue to like pictures of their children and accomplishments of their family.  It's the only way I can make social media work. 

The bigger the love, the harder I am trying to be heard, the more painful the hurt.

I don’t think it is so different for you.  In fact, I’m willing to bet that it isn’t different at all.  You don’t feel heard.  You are tired, tired of rhetoric and links and people telling you how you must feel.  Your voice cannot be isolated from the din going around you, so you’ve withdrawn it, rusty and restless it sits and wait in shocked surprise when it is used to tell your story for an eager audience ready to listen to it.

§ 

We have gotten so far away from it—hearing one another—that there are courses for it titled “active listening.”  Especially useful in conflict resolution, the participants are taught how to silently engage with what is being said and to repeat it to the speaker to verify what that is.  If you are shaking your own head reading this, know that I am too.  It seems like common sense.  And yet it is so profoundly absent in a world where interruption and agendas and self-prominence reigns: ideas that have their root in disconnect. 


Hearing is all about connection. 

Our brain hears sound “360 degrees around the head” and makes discernment of what those sounds are, often at the same time.  Even with an understanding of how hearing works, however, we seem to be missing its connection to the human heart.  Studies now show that as your heart begins to show signs of failure, your hearing can also be lost.  Your broken heart can directly affect your ability to hear. 



So how do we stop our hearts from breaking?  Start it now, hear what is being said, pull it to its bare boned truth.  Understand it.  Feel it.  Say what you’ve heard and in your reply you offer grace and thanks for allowing that moment to be. 

§

I believe that the shared whispers of goblins and journeys on playgrounds and front porches, the tightly whispered confession in a church basement, the joyful shared song in a car, the quiet lullaby—all these that I have seen and witnessed and been a part of, all of this is grace.  All of this is hearing and prayer.  All of this is love and another piece to find each other again. 


Please remember, underneath every fine there’s a poor and inside every nothing is a something.   It’s our job to both find it and let it out.  To whisper words of grace and offer gratitude.  Sit with me for that coffee, please?    And you can tell me how not fine you are.  And then it will be fine.  Because in the act of telling, you are allowing yourself to sit with the pain of the “not fine.”



When we do that we can breathe a little easier, and walk a bit straighter.  Being present in life means seeing and hearing all that goes on in it and through it.  Once those two pieces come together—the being seen and the hearing of grace, we can begin to look within to see what has blocked us from forming the bonds with each other that we need to survive.  We can breathe generosity.  Thanks for staying with me, that’s what is coming next.  Breathing in, exhaling out, and living generously. 

“Peace I leave you; My peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled; do not be afraid.”  I hear you.  Grace.