Certitude

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” – Steve Jobs

You know that feeling when you start to wobble? It could be riding a bike or stand up paddleboarding or going down the stairs too fast with your hands full but there’s a moment when it all starts vibrating and you think, “Oh no, I’m going to fall!” but you haven’t fallen yet. That’s how my family feels right now.

It started with my two-year-old’s root canal – his fever spiked, the dentist worked on the tooth and then put him on antibiotics. Just as that pain was starting to heal, my 6-year-old daughter came down with a head cold. Right as she started to kick that, my son’s fever spiked again so it was back to the dentist who finished working on the tooth and continued the antibiotics. Then his body signaled it was done with antibiotics by breaking out in a rash all over his body. Right as that began to clear, I caught my daughter’s head cold.

It was hard to put my finger on why all this feels difficult. It’s more than the aches and pains, although they aren’t very fun and different than the fear that I won’t be able to get my work done.

But I put a name to what I was grappling with when I listened again to an Unlocking Us podcast where Brené Brown talked with Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and prolific author. CERTITUDE

“People who’ve had any genuine spiritual experience, always know that they don’t know. They are utterly humbled before mystery, they are in awe before the abyss of it all, in wonder at eternity and depth, and a love which is incomprehensible to the mind.”

Our ancestors were more easily able to hold on to mystery in general and God in particular. Whereas we worship workability, predictability and answers. We like answers! It’s not good to think that way. It takes away a natural humility.

We created an artificial world in which we create circumstances in which WE KNOW.

You have to get away from Western over-developed countries to meet a different kind of human being who isn’t that way. Who don’t think they have a right to certitude.

Father Richard Rohr

Uncertainty is a great word to describe what I’ve been feeling as my family wobbles. I lose my ability to predict what the next day is going to look like, more or less, and I feel a little bereft without that. I start casting about trying to think of when this is end so I can get back to knowing.

And then I think of one of my favorite quotes from Mark Nepo, “When we stop struggling we float.”  I imagine just leaning back into this time of uncertainty, having faith that a dots will connect as Steve Jobs says in the quote for this post.

When life roughs me up I often find that it gives me a little bit of texture to hang out to. Almost as if when things are going too smoothly, time glides too easily through my fingers and I “routine” my life away. Difficulty keeps us close for a moment and life becomes more of an adventure.

There was a COVID case in my son’s classroom last week. Will his COVID test come back negative this morning so that he can go to school and I can go to my 11:30 meeting? It’s a mystery – and I’m so grateful I woke up this morning so that I will be able to solve it and go on to the next.

(featured photo from Pexels)

When the Clouds Roll In

One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art in conducting oneself in lower regions by memory of what one has seen higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.” – Rene Daumal

Twenty-three years ago when I was practicing to get ready for a five-day expedition on Mt. Rainier, my friend Jill and I went up to the mountain to do a day climb up to Camp Muir at 10,200 feet. It’s is a non-technical climb of almost 5,000 vertical feet starting on trails and then trudging up the Muir snowfield which is snowy but not glaciated. On that June morning it was a lovely 4-5 hour hike up with views of the mountain and surrounding peaks to the south. It was early enough in the season that there were a few people on the route but it was comparatively quiet to the really busy high summer season.

When we got to Camp Muir, we sat on a rock outcropping and were eating our sandwiches when we saw the clouds coming in. They started from below and then just rolled up the mountain, thick and gray. Jill had summitted Mt. Rainier the year before, I had attempted it but not summitted so even though we didn’t have a lot of experience, we had heard warnings of how conditions on the mountain could change quickly with dire consequences.

Jill and I started hiking down and very soon were enveloped in the clouds. It was so thick, we couldn’t see the route. If you hike straight down from Camp Muir, you end up off the snowfield and in dangerous glacier territory strewn with crevasses. So Jill and I searched for the wands left by the guiding service. We couldn’t see from one wand to the next one about 150 yards away so we developed a strategy. We’d hike down about 50 yards from one wand until we could just barely see it and I’d stay there while she went down about 50 yards until she could see the next one and then I’d join her and we’d walk together to the next wand. It took us several hours to get down but eventually we reached the paths and got safely to the parking lot.

This hike makes me think of what we do when the clouds roll in. When we can’t see the horizon or any way points and everything looks white, grey or something in between. Do we look for the Divine waypoints marking the route? Do we ask our friends, therapists or other professionals to help us navigate safely through? Or do we keep walking in hope that motion will carry us down?

I think there as many answers to these questions are there are Wisdom traditions and personality types. But life has taught me that there are markers out there, just like the wands in the snowfield, if we bother to look.

The older I get the more I find it easier to stop and ask for Divine guidance. And when I have trouble discerning that, to seek out help from my friends. Whether it’s my ability to be vulnerable, imperfect or just because I know more quickly that I’ve lost perspective, I’m quicker to seek safety. When I’m having trouble finding my way, I have found that talking or writing about it helps me immensely.

The reason I remember this particular hike so well was the day after we returned the news reported that a 27-year-old doctor that had just moved from Georgia for a resident program in Seattle was missing after snowboarding on Mt. Rainier the same day we were climbing. The park rangers were out searching for him but in the days and week to follow there was no luck finding any sign of him.

Then the epilogue to the snowboarder story came for me about 3 years after that climb. The “nice guy” (from The Deep Story post) I dated told me that he had been hiking on Mt. Rainier the summer before with a friend and had gotten lost in the clouds. Knowing they were in dangerous territory, he set up camp and they waited out the night. The next morning rangers found them right on the edge of the Nisqually Glacier. And right around the corner, under a waterfall, was the body of the missing snowboarder who hadn’t been discovered for 2 years.  

While I drew parallels between my hike and life experience in this post, I don’t mean to infer any parallels or judgment on that snowboarder, a promising young man tragically lost too early.

(featured photo is of me and my parents at Camp Muir that same summer)

Spiritual Leaders

Gaining knowledge is the first step to wisdom. Sharing it, is the first step to humanity.” – unknown

Several years ago I had a friend who was struggling to keep his marriage together after it was revealed that his wife was having a long-term affair. From time to time he’d recount some of the help and advice they were getting as they tried to heal – from therapists, friends and books. One of the most insightful pieces of advice he got was from his pastor who sagely counseled, “You are going to have to say ‘good-bye’ to that marriage. If you two are going to go forward, you will have to build a new marriage together.”

It takes a special role to be able to drop truth bombs and still be heard. Friends might be able to do it, but often have a vested interest in offering up advice. More often than not, they offer idiot compassion as therapist and author Lori Gottlieb calls it. “Idiot compassion is where you want to make somebody feel better, and so you don’t necessarily tell them the truth. And wise compassion is where you really hold up the mirror to them in a compassionate way, but you also deliver a very important truth bomb.”

Therapists can deliver truth bombs but I think we often forget that our spiritual leaders have that capacity too. Given that church affiliation in the US has dropped below 50% for the first time ever, I wonder if we are losing touch with a unique group of people who want to help and also celebrate with us.

Twelve years ago when I was in crisis going through a divorce, I was lucky enough to find my way to a meditation teacher that helped guide me into that practice that has changed my life in many ways. And often when I have a spiritual question or even a lapse in understanding, I will go to my meditation teacher.

I also have the added benefit of relationships with a number of pastors since my dad was in the profession. They teach me again and again that our spiritual leaders whether they be pastors, rabbis or yogis have deep wisdom and history to access whether or not you agree with every bullet point of their theology.

When I asked my dad about that job/role/life calling as a Presbyterian pastor in the years before he died he said,

“I never would have imagined, at 20 years old when I finally made the decision to go in to ministry, I never would have thought that this is what my life would be like. I am so grateful to God for what that has meant, the number of lives that I’ve been able to be a part of. One of the unique things about ministry is that you are able to be with people in some of the most precious, important, holy moments of their life . . . birth, death, baptism, marriage, funeral, crisis. A pastor steps in to the middle of someone’s life at those unique times and that is pretty rare.”

So on this day that is Good Friday for Christians and the start of Passover for Jews, I dedicate the post to all our spiritual leaders that are willing to help us through the important moments of our lives. May we all find ways to support and honor them.

(featured photo is one of my favorite pictures of my dad)

Sunday Funnies: March 27

Another installment from my dad’s humor cards.

The backstory: My dad was a Presbyterian pastor for 40 years. He kept a well curated stack of humor cards – little stories or observations that he typed onto 5×7 cards. Then he wrote in the margins when he used that particular item. His humor was often an easy way to settle in to something deeper – by laughing and thinking about the buried truth in these little nuggets, it paved the way to an open heart.

When we cleaned out his desk after he died 7 years ago, I was lucky enough to stumble on this stack. I pull it out regularly to have a little laugh with my dear Dad. Now when I post one of them, I write my note next to his and it feels like a continuation.

Potty Talk

A woman in England runs out of petrol. She can’t find anything to carry gas in – until she spies her child’s portable potty. She walks 3 km, gets the gas and returns to the car. She is pouring it from the potty into the tank when a Cadillac pulls up beside her.

The window rolls down to reveal 4 men from Saudi Arabia looking at her with astonishment. They finally say, “Maam, we don’t share your religion, but we want you to know we admire your faith.”

The Flow of Life

Travel light, live light, spread the light, be the light.” – Yogi Bhajan

In 2014, I had worked up the nerve to have a child on my own. I’d chosen a fertility clinic, gone through all the screening and work-up process so by November 6th, I was sitting at my desk signing the last document I needed to begin the invitro fertilization process. I clearly remember that moment at my desk with my beloved dog at my feet thinking wondrously, “Life is about to change.”

Then the next day I got a call from my mom that my dad had died in a bicycling accident in Tucson. Sh!t! That wasn’t how life was supposed to change.

Seven years later I think through all the changes, big and small:

I have a beautiful baby girl.

My gorgeous dog dies.

My mom moves to be only 1.5 miles from me.

I miscarry a baby.

I get pregnant again and have a beautiful baby boy.

The pandemic happens.

My daughter turns 5 and goes to Kindergarten.

Kindergarten is virtual.

My son learns to walk.

And it goes on and on. Perhaps it’s because my kids change so quickly that’s making me learn to just enjoy the flow. One minute they have a habit that’s irritating me – like playing with water at the kitchen sink and getting it all over the floor and the next they’ve moved on and can now zip their own coats.

Yesterday I got a delightful message from someone I went to high school with offering me and my family free accommodations in Colorado for 4 nights in April. Yay – what a fun surprise. And it was also my dad’s birthday so he was close to my thoughts and I missed him.

The longer I go on, the more I realize that this is the flow of life – we go up and over some things and under others. It’s when I try to grab on to some branch to cling on and stay in one place that I suffer most. The more I work at my spiritual depth and faith, the easier it becomes to stay centered in the flow and live it all with openness and curiosity.

What a ride!

(featured photo from Pexels)

Sunday Funnies: March 6

Another installment from my dad’s humor cards.

The backstory: My dad was a Presbyterian pastor for 40 years. He kept a well curated stack of humor cards – little stories or observations that he typed onto 5×7 cards. Then he wrote in the margins when he used that particular item. His humor was often an easy way to settle in to something deeper – by laughing and thinking about the buried truth in these little nuggets, it paved the way to an open heart.

When we cleaned out his desk after he died 7 years ago, I was lucky enough to stumble on this stack. I pull it out regularly to have a little laugh with my dear Dad. Now when I post one of them, I write my note next to his and it feels like a continuation.

Children’s Letters to God

“Dear God, how do you feel about people who don’t believe in you. Somebody else wants to know. A friend, Neil.”

“Dear God, Are you real? Some people don’t believe in you. If you are, you better do something quick. Harriet Ann.”

“Dear God, count me in. Your friend, Herbie.”

And once again I have a late addition to my dad’s list. The other evening, I was pushing both my kids in a stroller up a steep Seattle hill. We were making steady but slow progress because the combined weight of the kids and the stroller is 100+ pounds, when I heard my daughter say:

“Hi God, It’s me, O, with my mom and brother. We love you. Thanks for helping us with our lives. A little help goes a long way. Please help my mom with the hill. She needs it.”

Seeds of Faith

Believing is all a child does for a living.” – Kurtis Lamkin

The other day my 6-year-old daughter called for me. When I came into the room, she was holding her little brother because he’d tripped and fallen. When I took him from her and started checking for injuries, she huffed off.

When all was calm, I checked in with my daughter. She said that I loved her brother more than her. I told her how much I appreciated how independent and helpful she was. Then I listed all the ways we show our love and the privileges she gets because she is older. She nodded and said, “ At his age, you can see the love he gets better.”

Something more than the obvious sibling rivalry and jealousy struck me about that statement. After I sat with it some time, I’ve found such a precious seed of faith in that statement. Like if we could all trace back the roots of what we believe to the essential moments where we start to believe in what we can’t see we’d find seeds from moments like my daughter expressed. Faith in others, faith in love, faith in the Divine,

It’s as if I’ve been privy to watch her operate from within her God spot for all the years until now. She’s been operating from the natural trust that came with being so fresh from the Source. And now I’m witnessing her growth and awareness start to cover that over so that instead of operating without thought from her Seat of Unconscious, as I believe Jung would call it, my daughter is feeling out the ground on the other side.

While this leaves me with a sense of loss, I recognize it as a natural moving forward. Most of us cannot stay in a life free of ambition and embarrassment, fear and worry. We move away from that spot of grace that can bring so much peace and then have to work our way back, again and again.

But it strikes me that as she moves in and out of that unencumbered spot, the awareness is a gift of its own. It makes me conscious of my own God spot as well as hers and allows me to recognize when I need to help water and nurture her seed of faith — and my own.

The analogy of a tree that grows deep roots resonates with me. For my kids to stretch tall in their beliefs, their roots need to grow deep down. And I need to have faith that they will have faith.

(featured photo from Pexels)

The Formula

One filled with joy preaches without preaching.” – Mother Teresa

When I would golf with my dad and a stranger was added to our group, I always found it interesting to see how people would react when they found out that he was a pastor, or retired pastor. Of course, not everyone asked but more often than not it would come up. I remember being out golfing with my dad once and my dad’s ball ricocheted off a tree and very luckily landed really near the green. The guy golfing with us said something like, “Wow, the Big Guy really is looking out for you.”

My dad just laughed. I think it’s fair to say that he didn’t think God spent any time worrying about his golf game. And he was so good humored that sometimes it was hard to figure out how he approached life because he made it look so easy and delightful.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about all the in-depth conversations we had, especially in those years right before he died suddenly in a bike accident at age 79. What I’ve concluded is that there were three things that came together so that he appeared to glide through his golf game … and life.

First was his attitude. Wherever my dad was, he looked around for what he could do to help. So when golfing, wherever the ball landed he’d think it was great because that’s where he could be useful. And it wasn’t just his ball – when I would hit in the woods, as I frequently did, he’d be the first person tromping in there to help me find mine, laughing and good-naturedly joking all the way.

Second was his faith. My dad was sure he could hit from anywhere because his faith had taught him his work was in partnership with God. If he had to hit out from a bed of pine needles stuck between three trees, he would try. He didn’t expect that God would make it easy but he did think that God would make it meaningful.

Third, was his personality. He was such an enthusiastic, caring person that you just wanted to be around him. He never entered a room with an authentic compliment for those he greeted. And his eyes were almost permanently crinkled from the delightful twinkle in his eyes. He’d make you believe that you could also do anything, especially with him by your side. And he believed he could do anything because he had God by his side.

He remarked to me several times that people had said to him that he’d led a blessed life. He knew his life had plenty of trouble. Thinking back to my early years when we lived as a family for almost 6 years in the Philippines after Ferdinand Marcos had declared Martial Law, I’d concur that my dad faced plenty of obstacles. But in the end, he agreed he’d lived a blessed life – not free of ups and downs but full of meaning and love.

That’s the formula that I’ve come up with from my dad – love where you are at, believe you are not alone and care for others along the way. I don’t know if the guy we golfed with gleaned any of that but I know even now, seven years after his death, my dad continues to inspire me to do the same.

At the Core

Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.” – Henry Ford

Last weekend we drove about 15 minutes down to Shilshole Bay on Puget Sound to see a dock where sea lions like to congregate. It was packed with sea lions – usually a dozen on the dock and I counted a least a dozen more swimming in the water.

Every once in a while, a sea lion would launch itself out of the water in an attempt to land on the dock. The new weight would make the dock roll one way or the other causing all the sea lions to bark. But there was one sea lion in the center who was doing most of the work to keep the dock level. It would lift its head high and shift its weight this way or that to stabilize the dock again.

It made me think of how impactful what is at the center is. As I was pondering what was at my core, Life, in that beautiful way that sometimes happens, delivered the answers to the question I’d just uncovered. In this case it was through the latest the Unlocking Us podcast about living into our values. In it, Brené Brown had an exercise to determine our core values.

Her research shows that when in a tight spot, most people call on their one or two go-to values. So on her site, there is a pdf of about 120 values. Her recommended approach was to circle the ones that called to you and then distill them to the two values that encompass what is central for you. It may change over time but this exercise was to identify what is key for right now.

Doing the exercise, I came up with faith and usefulness. Faith, which for me encapsulates confidence, courage, adventure, integrity, spirituality, openness, love, optimism and gratitude. Usefulness I thought did a good job of rolling up my other values of reliability, learning, kindness, growth, family, and independence,.

Over the years I’ve done a lot of work to strengthen my physical core. It has enabled me to carry heavy loads up mountains and I feel it most now when I hoist my toddler onto my shoulders. But thinking about my core values, faith and usefulness, I realize that they are what I go to again and again to power me when I have to dig deep. Like with the sea lions, when I am living into my values, they are the center that brings me back to level when the world is rocking.

Happily Ever As-Is

How simple it is to see that we can only be happy now, and there will never be a time when it is not now.” – Gerald Jampolsky

This week with the COVID quarantine and life interruptions that come with it – I’ve decided that happier ever after doesn’t exist. I blame the optimist in me that snow-balled me so I didn’t realize this until age 52. The optimist is always sure that the minute, day and week are going to go as planned and the grass is going to be greener after every milestone.

To be clear, I love my life now as a mom of 2 young kids. It’s delightful – they are bright, shining examples of love, light and inspiration.

And yet… I’m also always waiting for them to change. As an example, my two-year-old son likes the home-field advantage when he poops. He’s worked out how to be at daycare all day long without a dirty diaper and not poop until he gets home. Lucky me.

And my 6-year-old daughter frequently loses it when introduced to a situation where she has to play with kids in an unstructured environment. The two years of pandemic have meant she’s missed out on a lot of practice of that negotiation of rules and expectations that come when kids are playing and no adult is leading the way.

I know that both of those things will change sooner or later. I will potty train my son and work with my daughter on role playing and she will eventually get some more practice and mature.

This leaves me in great tension. How do I love my life as it is now and also long for things to change? It’s a paradox of life. It’s also why I’ve come to believe that happily ever after doesn’t exist. Because there will always be something that isn’t ideal and I’m waiting to change. Or something that I love that will also change. Or a disruption, hurry or maybe even… a pandemic that adds extra curve balls.

The funny thing is that I’ve gotten pretty good at appreciating the surprises that come with life. I’ve come to trust the Divine hand that holds mine and reveals in change and disruption what I need to learn. It’s just taken me until now to realize that there will never be a time that doesn’t come with unexpected twists. So I’m leaning into practicing “happily ever as-is.” It has a lot fewer expectations and even more delight.

(featured photo from Pexels)