Friday, December 27, 2013

friday five: not so festive edition

At RevGals this morning the Friday Five asks about the family traditions of Christmas, particularly as they pertain to the necessary adjustments when families begin to take new shape through losses and additions. Except for one, I find that I can't really answer the questions posed because they simply don't pertain to my/our new reality. That doesn't mean that the "five" hasn't spurred a whole lot of reflection. If anything, it has spurred perhaps a bit more than I would like to consider.

The gist of it is this. Our general experience--that of my husband and me--is that Christmas tends to happen without us. It is problematic that we don't live near any of our family, but that seems to underscore an emotional reality. When we are able to enjoy holiday time with our daughter or son and their respective families we are accommodated. We have never been invited to join either for Christmas Day. Some  years we have managed celebrations before or after, but the heart of the day has never included us. 

This isn't uncommon for divorced fathers, even when geography isn't an issue. When I was growing up my parents divorced when I was 13, and with rare exceptions Christmas Day was celebrated in the home of my mother. Even when Mom remarried and moved to another state, my brothers and I trekked to her abode,  relegating my father to second-class status. This happened for all kinds of practical and noble reasons, but it was perpetuated because my brothers and I made the convenient, self-justified choice of keeping my father second. Through those years my father enjoyed being part of the lives of the families of the women with whom he shared his heart, and I like to believe that those bonds offered balm for his battered family soul. The truth includes the reality that we never put him first.

I  have no children to bring to the present equation. My husband's family is now mine, so I am experiencing his place in the equation as my own. As he laments being "the hind tit" in the life of his children (his words) I feel a double dose of pain--his, as well as mine. Add to that my own, later-in-life perspective and new empathy for my father's experience, and regret taints the mix. What was once my favorite holiday has become a source of deep pain and longing for inclusion. We have few friends who might embrace us, taking the edge off the isolation we feel, and so we muddle through. 

I wage a debate within myself about speaking up, of being honest about feelings. The one time my father shared his feelings with us was on the occasion of my mother's remarriage.  Still carrying a torch for my mother he lambasted us for not considering how the day affected him and showing some sympathy for him. I seem to recall that my brothers were dismissive of his tirade, and frankly I don't remember how I responded to him. During a recent conversation with my daughter-in-law about managing the "family juggle" I mentioned that they hadn't been to see us since they were married three and half years ago. She acknowledged that truth with silence, a far better response than excuses or empty promises about different patterns in the future.

Somewhere in the mix we hold a share of responsibility in how this plays out--family dynamics are a reflection of all the players in the pool. I suspect we all lack the courage to face and address whatever hurts lie beneath, or attempt to clear the clouded air that perceptions, accurate or otherwise,  have created. Somehow or other we haven't learned how to love adequately, either, so that respecting the dignity of each others feelings can be something that is honored and cherished, rather than held hostage (which is sometimes how it feels). 

I don't have answers, but I do know that honesty and effort need to be part of whatever will help move us through our present experience of feeling marginalized.  Most importantly, love will need to lead the way. For that, I pray.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

remembering the family

There are surprisingly few posts on facebook this morning recalling the loss of life in Newtown a year ago. The usual news outlets that show up on my page are quiet, and individual posts are scarce. It's been a long year since that fateful day, and maybe there's really nothing to say that hasn't already been said. Except this.

Nancy and Adam Lanza's family. 99.9% of the stories refer to the 26 victims at Sandy Hook without reaching out to include Adam's first victim, his mother. 26 is an accurate number reflecting the loss at Sandy Hook Elementary School and tells part of the story, but the whole story includes 28 victims. Yes, I'm including Adam in that number because he, too, lost his life by his hand. But it is Nancy that is so frequently excluded, as though to punish her for the actions of her child. It seems that a scapegoat is necessary on occasions such as this, and since she cannot speak for herself she is a convenient target for blame. It's not up to me to determine her culpability, though I don't hold her responsible for Adam's choice.

This morning I am writing because I am mindful of the Lanza family. They lost two of their own, and because of the circumstances surrounding their deaths the family's grief is unbearably private. Is there anyone reaching out to them? Is there anyone offering support when the "if only" questions plague their days and haunt their nights? Have they been shunned by friends, and when this, and other anniversaries break into their cycle of healing do they experience the setbacks of interrupted trust and the kind of isolation over which they are powerless to alter? I wonder if, unbeknown to the rest of us, there is a solidarity among surviving family members from situations similar to this who have no one else to whom they can turn to express their needs and inch toward some kind of normalcy now denied to them. 

As compassionate a culture as we can be we are perhaps more cruel to those who don't deserve our disdain.  Our penchant for exclusion comes with a price that we all pay, though some more tragically and dearly than others.  Today is a day to remember that victims surround us, ready and eager to be survivors through the generosity of compassion each of us can extend.  Tomorrow is the day that we begin to extend that memory toward a commitment in practice.

It is my prayer for the Lanzas, and others who trod the path they travel involuntarily, that hands and hearts are reaching out, that prayers are offered on their behalf, and that peace may fill their hearts and days sooner than later.

Friday, December 13, 2013

friday five: december's random

our living room several years ago 
From Karla at RevGals:

1.  How are you?  How can we pray for you?
Since we were without Internet access for a good part of the day for last week's Friday Five I didn't even get a chance to play my own post, which posed this question! I'm overwhelmed, inspired, energized, enthusiastic, physically dealing with a very stiff and painful neck, and generally unprepared for a Christmas that will be different from any other I've known.  This is a rough Christmas. We have no money to spend on anyone, and it is likely that the only gifts under the tree will be what comes from my mother, and maybe something from our kids. It depresses my husband in a big way (in spite of trying to talk to him about creating our own good memories and making lemonade out of lemons), and it saddens me. I am cross-stitching ornaments for our grandsons, and that will likely be the only thing we are able to give. And maybe some truffles that I make.  How might you pray? For peace with what we have, and better times soon.
2.  On another level, I am sure that many of you have treasured Christmas ornaments.  Tell us about one of your more treasured, and why it is special.
Eight years ago my best friend was diagnosed with a cancer that she did not survive. Kathy lived in St. Louis, and I was fortunate at that time to have the freedom to travel there once a month on a weekend to visit with her and do what I could to help her as she fought her battle. A lot of people in Kathy's life pitched in to make her life run as smoothly as possible and feel as normal as possible. At Christmas that year she gifted many of us with angel ornaments, to thank us for being angels to her. This angel ornament was her gift to me, whom she dubbed as the Angel of Angels. 
3.  Since I have started in a new call in a new city, I have a new guilty pleasure called Shubies which is a store of wine, cheese, craft beer, gourmet foods, fun kitchen gadgets and more, besides a bakery/lunch counter.  I am currently enjoying an (overpriced)  kale-avocado-goat cheese pressed sandwich on cranberry sunflower seed wheat bread. O.M.GOODNESS.   What is one of your current guilty pleasures?
In another turning-lemons-into-lemonade moment about a month ago I learned how to make truffles/cake balls.  Although I enjoy popping one into my mouth here and there, they look so decadent that I can't resist giving away and enjoy seeing eyes go wide at their appearing.
4. I picked up a beautiful hank of handspun wool in heather grays and purples in October that I am sending my sister for her birthday this month.  I have been looking forward to giving it to her.  What is something (tangible or less tangible) you are looking forward to give in the next few weeks?
As noted above, we have no money to buy anything to give this year. I am making ornaments for our grandsons, and if I can squeeze out the time I will make them Christmas pillowcases (none of our family live near us, so everything must be shipped). My mom made pillowcases for us when we were kids (I still use mine at Christmas!), and at her request I made some for my goddaughter's kids a few years ago (I had made some for her and her sister when they were kids). I've got the materials to make things, so I'm going that route this year. We'll probably share some goodies from the kitchen, too. 
5.  We must have random words for a random sentence or story, right?  So, here are your words (or forms of) to use in a sentence or two:   earth, cranberry, codfish, kettle corn, pitcher, love, joy, hope, peace, Santa, artist.
With a pitcher of wassail for refreshment decorated with an artist's rendering of Santa, we strung the tree with garlands of cranberry and kettle corn, woven with seasonal yearnings for love, joy, hope and peace.  The codfish remained in the refrigerator for another time.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

a funny thing happened on my way to a homework assignment

A few weeks ago I wrote about a "small business boot camp" seminar/workshop that I attended. There were a multitude of gifts from that day, one of which was a follow-up one-on-one coaching session with Amber Hurdle, executive coach extraordinaire and creator and facilitator of the boot camp. When I met with Amber for that session she invited me to participate in a more in-depth, group coaching opportunity that began this week. There are eight sessions all together, held via conference call and include people from as far away as Utah, Nevada, Arizona and Ottawa, and as nearby as a friend and mentor just down the street. Each and every person in this group qualifies for rock star status in one way or another, and I am humbled and honored to be in their company.

To make the most of this opportunity Amber gives us meaty homework assignments. I'm not writing today about the grist being ground in that mill, but something that happened as a result. The processes that we're engaging to do the work to help ourselves achieve success as small business entrepreneurs isn't new to me. I've encountered it in various places along the road of my life, from YWCA development programs to Pampered Chef coaching calls with my director (and reinforced more broadly by the corporate office). What is different is that I am in a different place, and as a result everything looks different. Contexts are altered, lessons have been learned and perspectives have shifted. 

After our session the other day I revisited some of my homework and had an a-ha! moment. A couple of them, actually. I shot Amber an email to share with her some of my reflections about what had happened, and she replied with encouragement, enthusiasm, and affirmation. In recent years I have felt deprived of much affirmation, so when it comes I take a long drink from the offering of it and savor it. As I took heart from Amber's affirmation this morning I decided to pay that forward, and committed to taking the time to offer affirmation to others as I encountered their posts on facebook. 

It felt good. A few people responded with words of gratitude, others "liked" the post, and a few others did not respond at all. That's all fine. I didn't start the effort for reciprocation, but to give. And shock of shocks, the effort of itself gave back to me. 

You may recall a post a few weeks back about my struggle with maintaining energy levels as a result of constant pressures and stresses. After leaving a slew of affirmations on people's facebook pages this morning a reserve of energy opened up. I did some thorough kitchen cleaning, some laundry, and vacuuming. I'm getting ready to take Juliet for a walk, to help her shake loose some stress of her own. I'll be baking shortly for tonight's church supper, and then head out to tackle a bunch of errands. Much of this is in the course of anyone elses day (or half day!), but for yours truly it's a landmark shift. All because I gave. 

This isn't rocket science. For me, however, it's scraping off layers of accumulated crud from an extended period of hardship. It helps me cope, at least for today, in a way that lets the light shine in with more brightness and clarity. It helps me turn my face to the sun and the love that is out there in the world. It is a shift of energy that in turn helps restore the alignment of my being, much like massage impacts the natural balance of dogs. It is healing, and blessed, and I am grateful. So very grateful.


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