Flicker of Hope

Sitting with my daughter for story time this evening, she pulled out a book that we hadn’t read in a long time, entitled A flicker of hope. As my daughter read aloud the story of a candle who’s flame was slowly fading, caught underneath a dark cloud of doubts and uncertainties, I couldn’t help but draw direct parallels to what so many of us are feeling right now as we navigate this time. Under a dark cloud that feels it might snuff out our life light altogether…

In this story, another candle comes along that is burning brightly and notices the little candle that is struggling and she offers to share a boost of hope, and tells her that it would be tragic if her light went out altogether because she is carries a unique light that the world would miss out on. The brighter candle tells her that it is always good to ask for help, and to keep asking until you get the help that you need.

As the story continues the little candle learns that the candle who shared her flame with her also had her own struggles and had other candles that helped give her boosts of hope and light when she needed it most as well. By the end of the story I was teary eyed thinking about how applicable this story was in this exact moment, and how i wished that everyone could read this powerful story right now, in the middle of this mess of a season we are navigating as a nation.

Tonight as I pause for a brief moment of post story time reflection, I felt I needed to share this in hopes that it could be a little flicker of hope. We’re all in this together. We’re all struggling. And at any given moment, our flames could grow weaker and the threat could come to block our light altogether, and this would truly be a tragedy if that were the outcome of this trying time. There is heartache and pain and uncertainty all around us, and we can’t ignore the vulnerable place that leaves us all in. It is unavoidable. We are facing our own lack of control, having to face the unknown without a lot of resources and it is downright terrifying at times. And let’s be honest, our own fragility is being displayed in ways we would rather not have exposed. But we are not alone. There are other lights all around us. Some brighter, some dimmer, some slowly fading… and we have an opportunity right now to share ourselves, to offer a flicker of hope, in an otherwise increasingly dark world.

How bright is your candle burning at the moment? Is it bright? Do you see anyone around you who could use a boost? Is it dim? Is it slowly fading? Do you need to reach out and ask for a boost? This is your permission to be candid. If you have some extra to share, then share it. If you’re running low and need a friend, this is the time to ask.

The reality is that we all need help at times, and we all have a little extra to share at times, so why not let this moment be one where you dig deep and reach out!

Making friends with the skylight

Recently it has come to our attention that our 7 year old daughter is struggling with anxiety. Mainly at nighttime, which has made for many nights of being woken up by her sneaking into our bed in order to not be alone in her own bed. A couple of weeks ago however, we discovered she was also afraid of one of the skylights in our house that is placed right outside her playroom, which was making it impossible for her to go in and out of her playroom without going under it, so she had been avoiding it altogether.

We attempted to reason with her about both her fear of the dark and her fear of the skylight. We asked questions, tried to remain curious and open to her emotional experience. We shared our own stories of fears as small children and made suggestions about how she might face her fears. All to no avail. She requested that we “roof over” the skylight repeatedly, letting us know in no uncertain terms that she wanted it removed and that would solve the problem. Clearly she had thought this through, and as my husband pointed out, she was not wrong.  Removing the skylight would solve the problem. But what would that teach her?  What might be next?

A week ago my husband had the idea and went upstairs and invited her to sit with him under the skylight and talk about what she was afraid of and encouraged her to talk it through together. It sounded silly to me and like another fruitless endeavor to reason with a very emotional child. The next night however, when I came home from work my daughter mentioned to me that she had been spending time with the skylight and she sat underneath it and told it stories and talked with it, per daddy’s suggestion. And the following day she informed me that she had made friends with the skylight. She didn’t have to be afraid of it anymore, because they were friends. Just like that. She had faced it, befriended it, and shifted gears.

So as I sat with a client yesterday discussing what was causing the greatest amount of distress that he was feeling in his body, which he was able to identify as loneliness, I found myself repeatedly thinking about the skylight. Face it. Befriend it. I laughed in my mind at the notion of sharing this skylight story with my client and how it might sound trivial and contrite to his real struggle. So I avoided that analogy and just used the take away point, noting that perhaps he needed to lean into his loneliness and make friends with it so that he can better understand his fear of it.

Today i’m acknowledging that we all have a skylight or two in our lives. No shame in owning that. And while I can’t name your skylight, what it might look like or be, I am certain that often the things we want to run and hide from are the things that can teach us the most about ourselves and about our needs.

So in this brief moment, I’m challenging us to face our skylight, sit with it, under it or beside it, get curious and make friends with it.

 

Extravagant

Been thinking a lot lately about things that stand out. Personalities. Hair styles. Cars. Life styles. Behaviors. Words.

I grew up thinking that something that was extravagant was a negative thing. Superfluous. Not necessary. Excessive. As a result, on some level, whether intended or not, I believe I sought to fit in, not stand out. To be average and not too much or too little. To fly below the radar as much as possible.

So it was rather annoying that the bulk of my childhood I received comments often about my smile and my cheerful expressions on my face. Even earning the nickname smiley at one point. It bothered me that people commented on my smile. I did not want to be noticed. To stand out.

A number of years ago, well into adulthood I read a book with the word exuberance in the title. The author told a bit of biography of Theodore Roosevelt and his love for and passion for forests and national parks and how he fought valiantly for their preservation and protection during his presidency. And I found myself nearly captivated by his drive and determination and his unwillingness to be derailed despite others views or scoffing at his hopes and expectations. He was not only passionate but he was exuberant. Which the dictionary defines as “the quality of having energy, excitement or cheerfulness”. While reading I found myself inspired and even impassioned, by his zest for life’s purpose that felt contagious.

Perhaps excess isn’t always bad.

Today I was listening to a song entitled extravagant, in which it described a love that didn’t make sense, that was unthinkable, above and beyond. I couldn’t help but pause.

If something that is extravagant is unnecessary and excessive. If exuberance is above and beyond expected, superfluous. Then wouldn’t something like extravagant generosity or exuberant expressions of compassion be encouraged, even celebrated?

Perhaps the goal should never be to blend in or fly below the radar. Not to say ones goal should be to be center stage or on display. But perhaps a more candid and honest expression of ones self should be encouraged. Less filtered. Perhaps when it comes to love and compassion, extravagance could be modeled, and portrayed as what it could be in full expression, beautiful.

I don’t think I’m advocating that extravagance be expected or demanded. But what if it were modeled on occasion. Without being magnified or downplayed. But simply seen. And felt. Witnessed. Experienced.

We have new neighbors in our neighborhood. And when they moved in they hung these brightly colored aerial swings in their large tree in the front yard. The first time I saw them I thought it was unique and strange and perhaps a bit dramatic to have multiple very colorful swings in their front yard tree. However I soon discovered that most evenings when I went walking I saw their daughters hanging and swinging in those swings. Night after night. Laughter abounding. Creative expression visible.

Extravagant? Maybe. Exuberant? Definitely. Negative or a bad thing? Not a chance.

Perhaps what felt unfortunate for much of my childhood turned out to be fortune after all. Despite my best efforts I couldn’t really adapt my facial expressions without really modifying my outlook on life in a negative way. So as quietly as possible, I owned my facial expressions. And I smiled often. And I smiled even more when someone commented on it. Cause that was me being me. For it just was what it was. And it seemed the sooner I accepted that. The sooner I was able to just be me. Sometimes too much. Sometimes not enough. But always true to myself.

Now that I have a daughter who openly prances around the neighborhood dressed up as a princess or a warrior or hula dancer or a magician, I find myself encouraging her self expression and her unique flare. I don’t ever want to stifle that. If exuberance comes natural to her. I pray it always will. Without encumbrance or shame.

I’m sure there are some who still describe me as over the top or unnecessary. Perhaps even excessive at times. But I feel okay with that now. At least I’m channeling my energy toward generosity and compassion and not resentment or judgement. A decision I would make and will make, again and again.

Impromptu

The other night as I was finishing up at work in the late evening after a long day of clients and chart notes, my husband text me to prepare me and let me know my daughter was “wired” and “running laps” around the house. I responded with one of my great ideas and suggested that he take her out on a short bike ride to help get all her wiggles out and then I would be happy to get her to bed after. He countered my proposal with the offer for me to take her out on a brisk bike ride in the cool fall air. I swallowed my own advice and said I’d be home in 15, have her ready for me.

I did a quick clothes change and threw on my running shoes while my daughter snapped on her bike helmet and donned her raincoat, and we were off. The air was crisp and the ground was damp from earlier rain. The sky was a vivid blue with hues of orange and pink beginning to color the earth around us. My daughter rode fast at times making me pick up my pace. At other times I lead the adventure and she followed close in tow. It felt like we were free, unencumbered, no schedule or routine, no agenda.

I was surprised by how such a simple decision to blow off stories and bedtime routine, to instead zip off through the neighborhood and down along the river, just the two of us, made it feel like we were in some kind vortex or universe of our own. I was surprised by how present I felt, how joyful my mood, and how the spontaneity of the evening seemed to set us on a trajectory of exuberance for adventure. My daughter had squeals of delight each time we raced to the next point along the path and she won. Even as the sun slipped below the horizon and darkness slowly descended, it was just the two of us, racing against time, soaking up the final moments of the day. It was bliss.

I vow to make more time for moments just like this. For spontaneity. For saying yes. For adventure and zeal. For laughter and racing. For unscheduled moments of joy. These are the moments that bring the meaning and the memories and balance out of all the other moments where we are scheduled to our max, down to the last minute, racing the clock to be on time in the morning for the start of another day with back to back to dos and places to be.

I need more moments like this. Impromptu, joy filled and unfettered. I think we all do. In a culture where routine and schedules, predictability and protocol drive us into order, we desperately need a counter balance. Otherwise we become rigid, stressed, irritable and tethered robots. And we miss out on the gift that life has to offer. We miss out on joy. The peculiar thing about joy is that it cannot be scheduled or contrived. It really only happens in the midst of fleeting moments, where opportunity and participation meet and the result is a spontaneous combustion. In smiles and laughter and squeals. In silliness. In togetherness. In attuned presence.

Joy

I picked up my daughter this evening after work. I was subtly surprised by her poise and how much sense she was making as she talked about her day and about how she felt. She seemed so grown up all the sudden. She seemed to have independent thoughts and strong emotions that weren’t just temper tantrum driven. She seemed convicted of what she believed and how she felt but not for the purpose as rebellion as it usually seems. She seemed confident. No reason not to be.

When we got home she crafted a plan and invited daddy and I out onto the trampoline. I needed to change my clothes. She said she would wait. She wanted to jump as a family. She wanted to sing. She giggled and grinned. She was in her element. Leading the pack. Orchestrating her symphony. And for once I didn’t feel bossed around or commanded. I felt invited to participate in something of joy. Spontaneous combustion.

I was online later and saw a painted canvas referencing Elizabeth Warren standing up on the senate floor. Persisting. She was warned. Repeatedly. Nevertheless she persisted. And I felt myself swell with pride. And then I thought of all the times I have banged my head against the wall as My daughter pushed back at my ideas, at times ignoring my requests altogether. How she often commands her own agenda and stays her course regardless of the consequences. I thought of how many times I have driven to break that in her, describing her as stubborn and unruly and difficult or impossible.
The irony was not lost on me.

Somehow present in the moment that this evening brought, connections in the car over the day of a 5yr old, followed by squeals of laughter on the trampoline and wrapped up by singing in the dark as she went to sleep “I love you a bushel and a peck, a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck” I found myself caught up in the joy of life. The little moments that make up the big themes. The small lessons that create life’s calling and dreams.

She teaches me more and more each passing day. About adventure and creativity. About persisting. And becoming. About determination. About love and acceptance. About getting wrapped up in joy.

I am inspired to stand beside, encourage and only gently challenge. To not hold her back or stifle her desire to soar. To recommit to being a guide, to accepting her for all that she is in her determination and exuberance for life. To open up to again to spontaneous joy and self expression. To choose grace and gratitude for this journey.

Beautiful chaos

I have the morning off today. I slept in. I went out for a walk. I got coffee. I sat by the river near our home. Thoughts swirling through my mind. Like they usually do. But this time with a long enough pause to articulate some of them. 

I recently watched a modern day Sherlock Holmes episode in which he described his experience of sensory overload by vividly articulating the cacophony that he hears at any given moment in time. It resonated with me deeply. 

I previously wrote a post on why I listen. And this morning I was thinking about why I share. I voraciously listen. To books. To articles. To TEDtalks. To clients. To friends. To family members. To politics. To religion. To nature. To silence. I soak it in like a dry and brittle sponge. Daily. Hourly. 

When I listen. I learn. I grow. I expand. I create space within myself for another. Another person. Another belief. Another emotion. Another story. I become inspired. I become thoughtful. I become curious. And ultimately I become connected. 

In all the listening. To all the noises around me. I simultaneously feel a sense of chaos and of beauty. Of overwhelmed and of purpose. Of cacophony yet intricately woven within, of meaning making which becomes euphony. 

The more I listen. The more I want to share what I hear with others. Ask anyone who knows me, friends and clients alike. They will tell you how I share. Songs. Articles. Book titles. TEDtalks. Comic strips. Sermons. Art work. Experiences I’ve had. I share. Because I can’t help it. It’s in my DNA. 

As I get older I am becoming more comfortable owning who I am. How I function and what makes me tic. And in my own experience of blossoming, I am finding that I can’t help but invite and even challenge others to do the same. A bud must eventually open. Or it dies all closed up tightly and never having expressed itself. That is tragedy of the most offensive kind. A life unlived. 

It is in the nature that is chaos all around us that we are able to witness beauty. I don’t know that we would honestly see beauty as we do, if it did not exist alongside and within the chaos that enshrouds so much of our life journey. That has given me such a profound sense of hope and healing in my own journey and this is yet another reason why I share. How could I not share hope? How could I keep that to myself? It would be the equivalent of the bud that never opens to blossom. 

I sit with clients each and everyday, listening to their stories. Their hurts. Their confusion. Their longing. Their loses. And my heart leans in toward all that chaos. Cacophony. And then there is a pause. A long, meaningful pause. A sitting in silence. An honoring of heartache. And then I cannot help it. I feel a sense of hope within my being that I cannot stifle or contain. It’s tiny bubbles effervesce. Sometimes in words. And often times in a simple presence. 

I believe that we all contain within us the capacity for chaos. We also contain the propensity toward rigidity. And often times life compels us to dance between these two poles. We swing between our chaos and our rigidity in attempts to control life’s happenings and circumstances. And for most of us, we reach sheer exhaustion at some point. Which necessitates pause and often times seeking of support or outside perspective. 

It is most often the case that we utilize all our resources. We expend all the energy we have. And we reach out only in desperation. Grasping for something to hold onto. We recognize our interdependence as a human species. We acknowledge our fragility. Our vulnerability. And it is within that moment that we become susceptible to change. Perhaps it is our desperation that creates the opening. Whatever the origin, this is where the real work commences. We’re ready to acknowledge our real desire for our situation to change. And without our knowing it we embark on our personal journey of changing ourselves within the safety and connection of another. 

This is why I listen. This is why I share. 

We forget this in our modern day self sufficiency that compels us to function as independently as possible. We ignore our inner longings for intimacy of being known by someone else. Of being seen and heard for who we are. Of experiencing a connection that provides a literal meaning for breathing. 

Connection is so vital to the human heart that it will literally stop beating in its absense. Relationship research has shown us that the most vulnerable among us, children and elderly alike, literally give up the will to live and their heart eventually stops beating in sheer protest of isolation and lack of human connection. 

For many of us we have experienced pain and the raw tragedy of being hurt by another human being. And in our self protection we withdraw. We pull back and we attempt to live life with protective armor. But we don’t realize that we do not function healthfully in isolation. We do not thrive in isolation. We slowly begin to lose hope and identity. We cannot blossom without connection. This can be argued philosophically. But in actuality it cannot. The science is simple. We need an other. 

This is why I listen. This is why I share. 

I simply cannot imagine a life lived any other way. 

Genuine Moments

Tonight, to commemorate the end of a very long week, I carved out some time, took a book with me and drove down to our health club where I slipped into the hot tub for a nice long soak. There was an older couple sitting across from me and a middle aged couple down from them, each of them talking amongst themselves, enjoying their relaxation together. I was perfectly content to find my corner spot, settle in near two jets and bury my nose into a good read.

I tend to pay little attention to the world around me when I am by myself and off duty, especially when I am absorbed in a book. This is one of the reasons why I love solo time, as it juxtaposes the way I spend the bulk of my week; engaging with people, listening empathically, making eye contact, sharing intimate moments around life’s joys and sorrows.  I am privileged to work with individuals, couples, and families and to unpack relationship concerns and our inherent need for interpersonal connections, and the consequences of isolation. I love what I do. Truly.

I also wholeheartedly love being alone. I find rest when I’m alone. I find solace. It is where I recharge and where I allow myself to check out. Sometimes I think quietly. Sometimes I write. Sometimes I run. Sometimes I read. I have come to know that this time is not merely a luxury of self-indulgence, but rather a necessary reprieve to provide balance to the otherwise very extroverted mode of being. I am at heart an introvert. Being alone is where I regroup and find the grounding to send me back out into the world of people.

On this particular night, I wrapped up my soak time just as the pool time hours ended. I gathered my belongings and started to walk out. As I was about to exit the pool area the woman who had been in the hot tub across from me with her husband, was walking out and we both exchanged smiles and musings along the lines of “have a good evening”. Then as I was half way through the door she turned back to me again and said “By the way, it was so fun to see you reading your book and at one point quietly slide into laughter. What a fun moment to witness.” I smiled and mentioned something along the lines of it being a hilarious book and worth the read. She seemed uninterested in the book, the title or more information of its nature. She just repeated “it was a fun moment to witness.”

As I walked toward my car I kept repeating back what she had said and found myself smiling at her observation of me. I couldn’t help but share the exchange with a girlfriend, commenting that I was taken back by her genuine reaction to seeing me quietly laugh. I don’t know this woman, nor do I know what made her catch that moment in such a way that made her share it with me, but I couldn’t help but feel some small sense of connection with this perfect stranger. Our exchange reminded me that we need more of these moments of authenticity. We need shared moments of meaningful interaction with perfect strangers, that leave us feeling connected. I was reminded of a fact that I often find myself preaching to my clients; that we need others.

So tonight, I wanted to capture that moment and share this moment with all of you. Perhaps we are in need of a reminder that there is connection in small moments, albeit fleeting and seemingly small or insignificant, shared moments that leads to a smile and a genuine sense of human connection.