Carried by Joy

Keep knocking, and the joy inside will eventually open a window and look out to see who’s there.” – Rumi

The other day I needed a photo of myself. I used the search feature of my phone to find pictures and although I wasn’t entirely shocked, I was a little surprised that it only came up with 3 of me by myself in 7 years. Virtually all of my pictures are with one or both of my children. And a few were with my beloved dog, Biscuit.

What I like to eat, where I want to go on vacation, what I do with my days – all these things have been hijacked in my life as a parent. I wouldn’t name this time as the marker of high personal happiness in my life – but wow, is it filled with joy. And it has been joy that has carried me through times when I’m sleep- deprived, achingly tired and spent. Which is why I wrote about happiness and joy in my Pointless Overthinking post this week: Good Mood of the Soul.

Photos of the Week: June 4

In a week that ranged from rain to sunshine, sickness and health, nights that had restless sleep and nights we slept well, not only did I eat Dove chocolate to get through, but I also wholeheartedly adopted this wrapper advice.

My favorite picture of the week – little people casting long shadows. It reminds me of the beginning of Peter Pan where Wendy is sewing his shadow on so it can always be with him.

Backyard camping where the primary wildlife we saw was the cat trying to squeeze herself between the tent body and the rain fly.

I know what the boots are for – measuring who has collected the most water at the end of puddle jumping. But what are the umbrellas for?

Reading my tea leaves — I see love…!

How was your week?

The Right Thing To Do

We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” – Joseph Campbell

After I dropped my daughter and her friend at school yesterday, I kept driving towards my toddler’s daycare while an inner debate raged over whether I should take him to school. He had a cough that he’s 85% recovered from and never had a fever. I tested him and it wasn’t Covid. He was mostly fine but cranky enough that he’d likely not have an easy day. I could drop him off and still be within the guidelines of the school.

But I kept hearing my dad in my head saying, “If it’s the right thing to do, often it’s the hard thing to do.”

Not taking my son to daycare would definitely be the hard thing to do. It was a Monday morning and I had a day packed with work and things to get done. After spending a weekend primarily focused on my children, I was more than ready to switch gears to productivity.

Pondering why the right thing to do is often the hard thing to do, I think it’s because it requires a sacrifice. We give up our plans in order to help someone else. We give up our pride in order to say we are sorry. Or we are giving up the expected path in order to find a deeper answer.

But on the other hand, we gain a freedom of spaciousness within ourselves. It’s a little like telling the truth all the time and then you don’t have to remember all the lies you told. It’s also like forgiveness – where you free up that energy that you no longer have to hang on to. It’s got a payoff in inner unity and less worry.

When I turned the car for home instead of his daycare, I felt the reward immediately because I was listening to my inner voice. In this case it was the voice of my dad but it was also the voice of the wisdom within.

Listening to that voice is never easy because it always makes me wonder if I’m crazy to give up my plans to follow it. But I’ve found when I do, it always puts me into the Heart of life where I can be surprised by the joy. In this case, the joy of an uncomplicated day with my son.

What about you – is the right thing to do is often the hard thing to do?

(featured photo from Pexels)

The Joy of Repetition

Your life is an occasion. Rise to it.” – Suzanne Weyn

Recently I was talking to my 2-year-old about potty training. His reply was “I already went to a toilet.” And it’s true – he has gone in the toilet once.  About a month ago he got lucky when he wanted to try to potty before getting in the bath.

I tried to explain that there are many things we have to do repeatedly in life. So often I want to declare something to be “DONE!” only to have to repeat the task so I understand my son’s irritation about having to go potty again and again and again!

Talking with my mom about this, she flipped the question and asked, “How many things do we only do once in our lives?” Which I thought was a great way to illustrate that most things in life are done repeatedly. Even our mistakes take work not to repeat.

In addition to school and work, there’s also sleeping, eating, exercising, bathing, trimming our nails and hair, doing the laundry, cleaning. The other day I thought I’d swept the entire house of dirty laundry and gotten it all done – only to discover 2 hours later a small pile of dirty clothes stashed away by my 6-year-old.

But since the ultimate “DONE” is death, I try to celebrate that doing things repeatedly is a gift. A gift of the ongoing nature of life, a poetic reminder that life is a cycle, an opportunity to find a new song in the repetition.

And in my favorite example, breathing, my life has been measurably improved once I started noticing that every breath brings renewal and fresh air. Even in this task that is regulated by the autonomic nervous system and takes no real talent to do, can be improved when done with intention.

So, yes, my darling son. We have to do things over and over again. And if we are paying attention, we can even find some extra joy in these precious cycles of life.

(featured photo from Pexels)

Home

Stay close to those who make you feel alive.” – unknown

In the recent parent-teacher conferences I’ve had for each of my kids, I’ve gotten a feel for how my kids behave when they aren’t with me. It seems they are “go along to get along” people. Generally speaking, they follow the rules, don’t make a fuss, they don’t cry and they don’t get in trouble. My 6-year-old might talk a little too much sometimes but she gets her work done.

That’s not a big revelation since that matches my general approach to life. Although I am surprised that my two-year-old can do it at such a young age, especially because he’s never been told to. But hearing this is reshaping how I think of what my home is.

I used to think home was where our best-selves would shine through because of the love and nurturing there. I still think that – except that I’m realizing our best-selves are NOT our best-behaved selves, they are our most authentic, intimate selves.

Home is where we can take off our armor and practice speaking our truth. It is a place where it’s okay to have a soft underbelly and to let it all hang out. It’s where we can cry, have fits and let it fly (respectfully) when at home. Because, I figure, it’s the only way to get salve onto the sore spots and to receive sympathy for all the growing pains. It’s our place for practicing being leaders and followers and doing neither very well and learning.

Home is where we learn grace. We can cry when it hurts, express disappointment, find out what truly refreshes us, practice imaginative play, be bored and unscripted. Home is where we light our candles, pray for peace and then figure out how to find that in ourselves. It is where we can be held through it all.

While it seems that I’m writing this for my kids, the truth is, I’m finding great comfort in defining this for myself. Somehow typing out a list of place of where and how we will be received and held is making my slippers feel a little more comfortable. In the years of the pandemic where home became where we do everything, it seems I got a little disoriented about my purpose in this structure.

So, I’m setting this down for all of us. Home is not just where the heart is – it is where the heart feels safest to be open, glow and grow in all directions.

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)

Photo of the week: Jan 1st

We went for a couple of nights to a cabin on an island about an hour and a half from home. Although our circumstances didn’t change much – we went from being snowed it at home to being snowed in on vacation, our perspective did. Being all together in a different house with different board games magically renewed our spirit of joy and delight.

Fascinating view of a crane on a barge
This is an almost identical pose to a vacation picture I have from the summer – but instead of running in a tide pool on a beach, she’s running from a snowball fight!

Wishing everyone a Happy New Year with a renewed spirit of joy and delight!

Expectations

You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” – Mark Twain

On Friday, I was so excited to spend a morning with my toddler whose preschool was closed for a teacher in-service day. His sister had her last day of school before the holiday break so it would just be the two of us. I expected that he would soak up all the individual attention and enjoy all the fun we could cook up. I expected it would be a lot like spending time with my daughter when she was two-years-old and it was just the two of us.

What actually happened is that he spent the whole morning missing his sister and coming up with ideas like biking. I was happy to oblige only to find out the only route that he wanted to go was the one to his sister’s school so we could go get her. He wouldn’t listen to reason that it was too early to pick her up (after all, he is two-years-old) and my patience was frayed by not only his disappointment but also my own.

You know what they say – expectations are a bitch.

So I opened Dr. Brené Brown’s recently published book Atlas of the Heart to the section entitled “Places We Go When Things Don’t Go as Planned”

She does a beautiful job of defining disappointment – “Disappointment is unmet expectations. The most significant the expectation, the more significant the disappointment.”

And then she delves into expectations. The whole section is so illuminating but here is the part that caught my eye:

“When we develop expectations, we paint a picture in our head of how things are going to be and how they’re going to look. Sometimes we go so far as to imagine how they’re going to feel, taste and smell. That picture we paint in our minds holds great value for us. We set expectations based not only on how we fit in that picture, but also on what those around us are doing in that picture. This means that our expectations are often set on outcomes totally beyond our control, like what other people think, what they feel or how they’re going to react. The movie in our mind is wonderful, but no one else knows their parts, their lines, or what it means to us.”

Dr. Brené Brown – Atlas of the Heart

And the antidote to this disappointment? “Communicating our expectations is brave and vulnerable. And it builds meaningful connection and often leads to having a partner or friend who we can reality-check with.”

Reading over this, I thought of all the expectations that come with holidays – like that someone else will love the gift you got them or that loved ones will be able to perfectly see what you most desire and give that to you as a gift.  With little ones, I expect that they will treasure the gifts I spent time and money to get them – and not just the box that it came in!

While I couldn’t reality check my expectations about our morning together with my two-year-old, thinking through this process has helped me immensely to uncover my own hidden expectations. And then to recognize in turn how they lead to disappointment. It also made me see that my expectations that he will ever have moments of acting like a first child are completely silly. This helps me relax into the beautiful relationship that we do have so I can enjoy the time we have together for what it is, not what I imagine it should be.

Photo of the Week: Dec 18th

After a week of the entire family being sick, I was surprised to flip through my phone and see that I had several photos to choose from – mountains, snow, Christmas decorations, shopping.

I choose this one because it spoke to me of the drop-by-drop flow of happiness. I captured this moment in a store where my toddler was hiding and laughing while wearing pants that say “peek-a-boo” on the waist band.

Sometimes, even if or especially if, I am dragging through the week muzzy-headed and achy because of a cold, it’s great to remember the joy of the moments when it all came together perfectly and we laughed!

Surprised by Joy

To get the full value of joy, you must have someone to divide it with.” – Mark Twain

I was reading a meditation this morning from Listening to Your Life by Frederich Buechner and he was making a point of differentiating joy from happiness. Happiness, he said, is man-made and one of the highest achievements of which we are capable (a happy home, a happy marriage, etc.). And he goes on to speak of joy:

But we never take credit for our moments of joy because we know that they are not man-made and that we are never really responsible for them. They come when they come. They are always sudden and quick and unrepeatable. The unspeakable joy sometimes of just being alive. The miracle sometimes of being just who we are with the blue sky and the green grass, the faces of our friends and the waves of the ocean, being just what they are. The joy of release, of being suddenly well when before we were sick, of being forgiven when before we were ashamed and afraid, of finding ourselves loved when we were lost and alone. The joy of love, which is the joy of the flesh as well of the spirit. But each of us can supply his own moments, so just two more things. One is that joy is always all-encompassing, there is nothing of us left over to hate with or to be afraid with, to feel guilty with or to be selfish about. Joy is where the whole being is pointed in one direction, and it is something that by its nature a man never hoards but always wants to share. The second thing is that joy is a mystery because it can happen anywhere, anytime, even under the most unpromising circumstances, even in the midst of suffering, with tears in its eyes.

Listening to Your Life by Frederich Buechner

Reading this made me think of my most recent moment of joy. It was last night. My kids and I had gone for an after dinner walk to see some cool mushrooms that my daughter had found. But in the 2 hours since she’d discovered them and I took a photo, they’d been removed. Then it started raining and my son fell down and scraped up his palms. The whole escapade was a little bit of a disaster.

So we got cleaned up, ready for bed and snuggled on my bed reading books. As I got off the bed and as I turned to pick up my son, I bent over him pretending (but not having to pretend much) that I was too tired to carry him to his bed. We all dissolved into laughter, me bent over like that, my son folded underneath me, my daughter on the bed beside him.

And we laughed all the way into his bedroom where we all sang, even my toddler, Brahms Lullaby as he settled into his crib.