Haven’t got time for the pain

We each have a story. Perhaps you are young and your story is feeling lost and asking What do I do with my life? Or perhaps you are older and you are asking the same painful question.

Your story might be an ugly divorce, a break-up in a relationship, wayward children, financial constraints, ill health or death of a loved one.

Then again, your story may be “and they lived happily ever after.” If it is, wonderful. But I doubt it. Chances are good you had to kiss a few frogs along the way and you got warts and it wasn’t pretty.

The truth is, life will always be filled with sadness and struggle. Now, don’t mistake me. I don’t actively seek out sorrows as you’ll read in a second. Life seems to present them whether we want them or not.

I’ve always realized that life is hard. On some level of my intellectual being, I got that part. But a new layer of awareness has entered front and center on the stage of my life, bowing like some Zen Buddhist teacher and asking with patience, “Got it yet?”

So here’s what I’ve learned of late. And it’s no great revelation. All the great spiritual teachers have taught and lived what I’m about to say. But this time, I got it to the gut-wrenching core of my being and I thought, “Oh, sh—. Really? Go away.”

You have to go through “it” – whatever “it” is in your life – to get to the other side. No escaping it. Accept it. Or not.

Not easy stuff. And the deeper insight I’ve had is this: I’ve been pretending to accept this pain in my life – putting on a good show – while secretly praying, “Please make it go away!”

When I was a little girl, I hated going to the doctor, especially for shots. I’d throw a tantrum and tell my mother “I’d rather go to the moon.”

So I find it one of the great karmic ironies of life that the last five years since dad’s stroke and other health challenges, I’ve been pushed headlong into the medical community, baptized again and again by a tsunami of doctors, drugs and you-name-it.

And I’ve wanted it all to go away. I’ve wanted dad to be healthy. I’ve wanted things to be the way they were.

But I’ve come to realize that’s the “little girl” speaking. She’s afraid. And in those moments, I try to connect with my adult-self and comfort my inner child. I tell her we’ll get through it. Because we always have.

The spiritually mature me has entered that new depth of being where I’m finally marching heart first into the sorrow. Soul first into the pain.

Not because I am masochistic or prone to melancholy. But because I realize that when done with love – and only love – this is the path to transformation. To new life. Perhaps to mysteries yet to be discovered.

Jesus was getting ready to trek off to Jerusalem and his death. But Peter would have none of it and said to Jesus, “Hey, man. You go there it means crucifixion. Let’s get out of here.” And Jesus’ reply? “Get behind me, Satan.” Jesus knew that Peter was like that scared little child who wants us to play it safe.

But Jesus also knew that the only way to the Resurrection was through the cross. Did he want it? Hell, no. Who would? But he did it with extreme love, knowing it was the one and only way for his resurrected body to shine forth, showing us, “This is how it’s done, folks.”

So right now, I’m frightened of all the pain now and ahead — in my own life and in the world. Many times I want to hide under the covers. Some FB friends recently told me I’m “fierce” and “invincible.” Their kindness has given me hope. But I rarely feel this way. Often I see myself as a dandelion puff being scattered in the strong winds of life.

But in the end, I feel we are all fierce and invincible. We just forget at times. We fail to recognize the courage always living inside of us, especially when we summon it with a powerful “yes” and march forward into whatever the sorrow may be, whatever the story may be.

If we don’t, we lose much. We become like the caterpillar that remains safe in its cocoon, that doesn’t want to go through the agony of breaking through its shell to become the butterfly its meant to be.

Like I said before. Not easy stuff. Here’s what Buddhist nun and author Pema Chodron writes:

“Most of us do not take these situations as teachings. We automatically hate them. We run like crazy. We use all kinds of ways to escape – all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can’t stand it. We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain.”

Am I there yet in fully accepting the sorrows in my life? Hardly. Sometimes I still run from the pain. But I am learning. And the more I can stay and embrace it, the more whole I – and all of us – become.

As Glennon Melton Doyle says:

“Your pain is meant for you, and there is no glory, except straight through your story.”

So forward. Take a deep breath. Move straight through. You’re not alone.





A season of acceptance

I share a personal journey here in the hope that it’s universal, that this resonates for you in some way no matter the source of your sorrow.


A sadness always settles on me this time of year.

The light of long days dwindles and nature decays and dies. Leaves drift like scraps of paper to the ground, green grass begins to blur to brown, and an undercurrent of chill pushes into the early mornings.

The sadness this season, however, is deeper. It’s also about dad, seeing him decline. He is like a bent-over tree, whose branches bare themselves, whose roots have been withering since the stroke five years ago.

Now, as I sit with him here on the deck as he naps, he is asking me strange questions, erupting periodically as he rouses. Who took your camera? Where did those papers come from? What is that over there?

I look down at the college ruled 3 subject notebook next to me. Students are back in school now and will fill their pages with copious notes from courses in English, math or the sciences.

My notebook is filled with medical notes and appointments, logging dad’s health in bits and pieces, what has been done for his care, what more needs to be done.

I woke the other morning thinking of dad’s INR levels, the many phone calls for his IVIG treatments I had to make and other pressing medical issues that required attention. Who wakes in the morning thinking these things?

I am sad for all of it.

If I’m honest the sadness is not only about the loss of dad and who he once was. It’s also about the loss of the life I once had. I want to wake in the morning with time for creative writing, plan a day trip, splash my feet in the ocean, travel to Scotland or Spain. But even if I did these things, would the sadness go away?

Most likely not.

These words are not complaints or about self-pity, but a simple acknowledgement that sadness is part of life’s journey, a testament, I believe, to how well we love or have loved.

Whether we are a caregiver or not, decline and loss will visit us in one form or another. It will hurt. It will feel horrible. We will want to push the sadness away.

But in the end, accepting it is all there is. A delicate balance of not drowning in the sorrow, but allowing ourselves to float in it, to look up at it, like leaves drifting from their source and finding some peace with it.

In her book The Mermaid Chair author Sue Monk Kidd writes:

There’s release in knowing the truth no matter now anguishing it is.  You come finally to that irreducible thing and there’s nothing left to do but pick it up and hold it. Then, at last, you can enter the severe mercy of acceptance.”

I still struggle with this acceptance. Tears are always at the edges of my life, remembering that I haven’t had a coherent conversation with dad in almost five years since the stroke, recalling the dynamic man and inspirational speaker he was, and the times I would ask his guidance.

Yes, I am sad at all this and at its source is the welling of my heart knowing that days pass, seasons pass and everything dies in its own time.

But all I can do in this moment is walk over and pick up dad’s hand and hold it. To know the truth of this unrelenting sadness. To allow the pieces of sorrow to fall from my heart like the dying leaves.

To pray to enter the severe mercy of acceptance.




Surrender, Supergirl

“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


When I was a little girl I wanted to be Lois Lane or Supergirl. They were my role models — smart, sassy, fierce and they got the job done. I followed and devoured their escapades in the comic books.

Yep. I wanted to be a first-class reporter or have super powers to save the world. Maybe both.

supergirlTHIS lois lane








That was the life my childlike self had planned. Then, as I grew older, other dreams and plans took shape. Best-selling author? Inspirational speaker? World traveler? Rich and famous? Well, not so much fame. Intimidating. But money would be nice. I could help so many others and myself.

But the thing is, life doesn’t always turn out like we planned.

And what I’m learning in my ripe old age is an ongoing lesson for me — one I write about often — that I’m not in control.

That I have to let go and let God.

Now that’s nothing new. Everyone from the Twelve Steps Program to Tosha Silver http://ToshaSilver.com to St. Ignatius in his Suscipe prayer http://bit.ly/29uclHi have written and spoken about this.

But doing it? The actual act of really letting go and handing it all over to a Higher Power? That’s a whole other thing. It seems I surrender to acceptance of the life I have now and then take it back faster than you can say The Daily Planet or Kryptonite.

When you come right down to it, letting go is a process. And that process is humbling. Mucho, mucho humbling.

humilityLife hits us with the unexpected — a divorce, a death, a health challenge and there we are, detouring off what we thought was our chosen course. The life we planned or hoped for feels like a ship disappearing onto the distant horizon.

John Lennon said: “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”


But here’s the other truth I’m learning. Wherever I am — outside of that so-called planned life — is really OK. This is not a rationalization but a deep truth that if I surrender to the Divine, I’m exactly where I’m meant to be, no matter how many detours, disasters or wrong choices I’ve made.

An old proverb says that “God writes straight with crooked lines.” That means that whatever happens in life — no matter how we judge or perceive it as horrible — the Divine is turning it to our good. Always.

letting_go_by_bandico-d5s1eyhThat all sounds so good and wise doesn’t it? I talk a good game, but if I don’t practice what I preach, my words mean little.

So, as I sit here writing this, I’m struggling right now with surrendering to God a difficult, personal issue in my life. I really don’t have any answers.

No, I don’t have it figured out — any of it — and that’s frightening. That’s the “control” part of me speaking, the part that is clinging to my plan and agenda. But day by day, I pray that I am learning to be at peace with whatever is happening. And even if not, I’m growing.

Whether I’m struggling or accepting my life — if I’m open to it — I’m still growing.

In the end, I did become a reporter at a newspaper. I wasn’t Lois Lane and Superman was nowhere to be found to rescue me. I discovered I had to save myself first. Only then could I be of genuine service to others. I’m still learning that one.

As to Supergirl. Here’s what I’ve decided, about me and each and everyone of us. We have more super powers than she’ll ever have.

We may not be women and men of steel, but we have strength of heart — a courage and bravery that rises up in love on the darkest of days.

We pick ourselves up and fly to a new level of wisdom when life slams us sideways.

We look with x-ray vision into the hearts of others and offer compassion.

And in many ways, small and big, we are rescuing our own corner of planet Earth.

So this life I have now?

No. It’s not the one I planned at all. I always thought I’d write a best-selling book, travel the world and inspire others to find the Divine within. That was my plan. But instead, I am caring for dad who had a stroke, in early retirement living on a meager budget, writing this blog, still part of the great unpublished with my novels collecting dust, and wondering what’s next.

I don’t have a clue.

Many times I still question, kick and scream, wanting it “my way or the highway.”

Other days, I let go and trust that God is guiding me, leading me, even though I don’t know what the Divine agenda is. But I’m listening. Yes, dear Lord, in all humility, I’m listening.

So I take a deep breath. I trust. I relax. supergirl S on chest

I surrender. That’s what the big “S” on my chest stands for, in case you were wondering. I need to be reminded. A lot.


Caregiving: Many stories, one story

I cry easily. You can call it a fault. I call it a blessing. My heart is often moved to tears and so it was on this day of attending a Caregivers Retreat.

I heard stories. I “felt” stories.

And as I sat there, in that small circle of nine caregivers, I wept at our courage, our willingness to do the “hard” things in life for those we love, and our struggle to find self-love and self-nurturing in the process.

Before we shared, we were asked to write the name of the loved one we care for and then our name on a slip of paper. We placed these in a bowl on the table. We prayed. Then we shared. Many stories. One story.

One young woman has been caring for her husband who has a neurological, degenerative disease for the last seven years. She has reframed her life, calling it “monastic.” She sees her love and ministry to her spouse as a vocation, as a time of solitude and prayer.

women cryingAnother woman has a small child at home and is expecting another child. She helped her father as he died and now has a mother with Alzheimer’s living with her and her husband. She shared, “My mother is forgetting to take showers. She won’t wash the one sweater she wears every day and gets upset if I wash it.”

A woman in her 70s shared how after a few years of marriage her husband had a tragic fall and broke his neck. He is a paraplegic and she has been caring for him for the last 35 years, while she worked as a nurse and raised children. After her husband’s accident, she recalled standing outside in her garden, asking herself, “How am I going to do this?”

She said: “I’ve learned to tell myself today was good. Tomorrow? I don’t know yet. But today was fine and God was there.”

The Sister of Mercy who ran the retreat said that throughout all of this “God is in the mess. God is WITH us through the mess.”

But how do we find God in that mess? How do we feel that Divine presence and find peace when someone we love is in pain? How do we find balance when we toilet them, clean them, bathe them — how do we give them the dignity they deserve? How do we give ourselves the compassion and care we need doing all that and more?

We didn’t get into answers or solutions during this retreat day. But we listened and witnessed to each other. It was a safe space to express our anger — and there was anger — about why God would allow our loved ones to suffer. Why, as one woman shared, would God visit her mother with Alzheimer’s, her mother who could once arrange a meal in an elegant dining room but now could eat food only with her fingers and hands?

As another woman shared her story, I kept hearing her say again and again, “I keep holding my breath.”

Her words rambled in my heart. This is what much of the last three years has felt like for me since dad had the stroke — holding my breath.

So, as we were given some free time to walk the grounds and gardens, I reminded myself to breathe. Just breathe. That a conscious, deliberate breath was a “yes” to life and a “yes” to myself.

group-of-women-holding-hands-aarpI am still learning, like the rest of us who shared this day, that the most challenging part of this journey is acceptance.

I am learning to accept and “be” with what is, no matter what it is. Whether it’s being present to dad’s pain, to watching his decline, to getting him in the car with his walker and to a doctor’s appointment, to the dread of what any given day might bring.

To the acceptance of the small joys — dad’s eyes lighting up when he sees me, his smile, to hearing him say “I love you.”

Most of all, I continue to learn to let go. Again and again. Of what I can or can’t do, of my hope that others would help but they haven’t (even though I’ve asked), of my own expectations of myself. Of my desire to run away from it all, as many today expressed so painfully.

And yes, I am learning to take better care of myself. Naps. Walks. A good book. Some days it’s easier than others.

In the end, we spoke of choice. About everything. The choice of owning our feelings, to our choice to care for those we love and to care for ourselves as well.

And so, I am choosing. I choose to care for dad because — in my own soul of souls — I feel I am being asked by the Divine to do this right now, to “be” this right now. Many others today felt the same. Many of us felt it a “privilege” to care for those we love.

I am also choosing to love myself, to have more self-compassion, to do “small” things that give me joy.

cargivers brave and dedicatedAt the end of the day, we were asked to take a slip of paper from the bowl and to pray for the person being cared for and the caregiver. I am doing this. Not just for her and her loved one, but for caregivers everywhere.

And as the day ended, I was no longer crying, but thankful. I was in gratitude and awe of our bravery, our courage, our individual and collective journey.

Most of all I reminded myself to breathe. Just breathe.

Moment to moment to moment.

(Blogger’s Note: I have intentionally not used names and changed story details in respect for those present at this retreat.)



Our holy flaws

Don’t ask me why I did it. I was in college. It was only for six months and I needed the money. My intent was to shift my career from writing to psychology. And a deeper part of me really did want to be of service. So at that time, it seemed a good idea to become a houseparent for 12 chronically mentally ill adults. That experience was one of the most challenging — and growth-filled — of my life.


Vincent-de-Paul-with-poor-at-tableCharlie sat at the dinner table with the other 11 — the apostles of “things not quite right” — as I put out the bowls of vegetables and salad, the plate of chicken. He reached for the bread and stuffed two slices down the front of his shirt.

“Charlie, there’s plenty of bread. You can have more if you want,” I said.

“No, that’s OK. I need these.”

I learned not to argue. Charlie had just been released from a lifetime of institutionalization and was now in this group home. In his mind, grab what you could now or there wouldn’t be any at all.

Carla started babbling in her German accent about the year 1945, and how on this particular day, she had been taken to the park by her mother, but it had rained. She was a savant and had the most uncanny ability to recall what had happened in detail on any given date or year.

The rest just chowed down, even as I tried to teach them to use the correct utensils and a napkin. Again, fruitless. They did the best they could given their challenges and backgrounds.

Often, in the middle of the night, Rita would pull the fire alarm, just for kicks. She liked the attention and excitement and even better, the firemen rushing to the stately three-story mansion, now converted into this group home. I think we eventually installed some kind of device that made the alarms accessible only to those in charge. But I don’t remember.

I do recall Mary, though, who would knock on my door in the middle of the night. She was an infantilized adult woman, who wore gobs of lipstick and makeup, drowning in jewelry around her neck and wrists, and always had questions for me about sex. I would tell her to go back to bed, that we’d talk in the morning and she would meekly walk away. Perhaps she just wanted to know I was there. To protect her.

Why do I share these stories? Because for whatever reasons, I’ve been thinking about the people I was serving — and the rest of us — and asking myself: Is there “really” a rest of us? Yes, they had unusual behaviors and mental challenges to the extreme. Some were heavily medicated. Others had spent lifetimes being shuttled from psychiatric hospitals to institutions.

But Charlie, like most of us, just wanted to know he would have enough. He lived in a world of scarcity and so often aren’t we caught up in the same? Will there be enough money, food, time, health? Fill in the blank. Like Charlie, many of us reach out in fear and lack when abundance is right in front of us.

Carla had an uncanny gift to tap into a dimension that seemed to have no time. And if we live in the present moment, indeed there is no time. Rita simply wanted attention. Granted, she took it to drastic measures, but who of us in our lifetime hasn’t pulled some “stunt” to get what we felt we needed? And Mary simply wanted reassurance that the “little girl” in her was safe.

I believe we all carry parts within us that we often would rather not acknowledge. That we would like to push away. We would rather not see what we call the “crazy” in us because that would be all together too unacceptable. But the truth is, we are a combination of many graces and blessings as well as curses and flaws.

And even that word “crazy” is a misnomer because who is to say what is sane and what isn’t? How can we say what is “whole” or “holy” and what is not?

Yes, the individuals in that group home were flawed — at least according to the hopepsychiatric world — but aren’t we all flawed in some way? We all come to the table of life with our struggles and challenges, some with more severity than others.

In hindsight, I am thankful to those with mental difficulties at the group home because they became my teachers. They revealed to me an honesty of spirit in their mental and emotional challenges, one that was authentic, painful and struggling.

And they came to show me that the Divine is always saying “yes” to us with great love — over and over and over again — no matter our limitations. No matter if we are scrounging for a piece of bread or setting off a fire alarm. Or simply trying to get through another day.

This, for me, is cause for great rejoicing. And great hope.




Let it be

“Doesn’t everything die at last and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild precious life?” — Mary Oliver


I ran into Sally at the store the other day. We had been in a spiritual/prayer group together last winter and at the time, she had mentioned her father who was ill. She had been managing his care while he was in a nursing home.

I hadn’t seen her since that group ended and when I saw her, I asked about her dad.

“He died two months ago,” she said, sobbing.

women-huggingI hugged her and listened.

“It was so hard and so easy at the same time,” she said. “We were praying at his bedside and I was in tears, and I felt him go. I knew he was out of pain … still … I cry a lot these days.”

I felt my soul split open, wanting to spew out a river of sorrow. Her father’s death was triggering my own feelings of anticipatory grief about my own father who had a stroke two years ago.

Sally asked about my dad. I told her that for now, he was OK, but declining with each year. And I told her that I knew her experience would soon be mine.

“It will be painful,” she said, “but you will get through it. Let me write down your dad’s name so I can pray for him and for you.”

We said good-bye and I left the store, even more saddened. Meeting her and learning of her father’s death felt like a wake-up call, a gentle nudge from God. For whatever reasons, life has spared me the death of a close loved one. And Sally was a visible reminder to me of my story right now — one that each day knocks closer on the door of my heart.

For me, it continues to be a lesson in acceptance. And to be honest, I’ve never been good at it. I’m not good at letting go, especially of those I love.

I write a good deal about letting go because it’s a lifelong lesson for me. Lately, however, I have come to consider that perhaps it’s not so much a matter of letting go, but rather of “letting it be.” Wayne Muller an ordained minister, therapist and author, writes:

When we die, we need not let go of anything. Death will come when it comes. We are simply letting it be. And it is the same with life. We need not let go of our illusions of immortality. They will go on their own soon enough. But if we can mindfully accept it all simply as it is — we live and then we die — then there is nothing to do at all, only to let it be. This acceptance brings tremendous freedom.

These are fine words. And I yearn for that freedom that Muller describes. However, in this moment, they are just that —  words and not experience. I can only hope they uphold me when my father dies. And I pray I also find strength in God and the support of those around me.

But here’s the irony. Even while I wait — with grief, with dread — I also experience each moment with my father as precious, as new. When I am caregiving and with him, I find life somehow is born again, even in the face of impending death. And this, strangely, is a gift.

In his decline, I am learning to live attentively and deeply in the moment. And when he dies, I will offer thanks for my father’s life, one filled with countless examples of loving service. He truly has taken Mary Oliver’s quote to heart and lived life; he has not wasted one precious second in his desire to serve and help others.Letting-go21

Dad is not always coherent and the last week or so, every time I mention something — no matter the topic — he says “Let it happen. Let it happen.” He used to offer this advice when I would be troubled about the outcome of any given situation.

I believe this has been dad’s way of telling me to “let it be.” With such a teacher, how then, can I not be in gratitude? And how, when he dies, can I not keep from crying — in both joy and loss?




First love

Sharing this personal story feels tender. Exposed. And yet, I heed writer Anne Lamott’s words: “Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked.” So, yes, writing this is risky. But it also might resonate with you or reach into your own heart in some way. Here is the story of my first love — and the lessons I learned along the way.


first love 2When I was 19, I fell in love. Seven years older than I was, he was handsome, funny, creative and spiritual. It ended badly. Painfully.

Still, he opened a new world to me. He introduced me to the wisdom and beauty of Hermann Hesse, Kahlil Gibran and Viktor Frankl, to Judy Collins and her Wildflowers album. Because he loved “Desiderata” I placed a poster of it on my bedroom wall; he read me poetry by Rumi and I devoured it. I wrote him love letters on pink stationery.

He was an artist and invited me into a spiritual and creative space that did not exist within my small circle of friends.

My heart was his and I felt the ecstasy of that first love. And then the bottomless pit of abandonment and betrayal. I blundered through it all. I was so young. And because I had no solid sense of who I was at that age — because I handed my power over to him — I blamed myself when he left me for someone else. What had I done wrong? What had I said? Wasn’t I pretty enough? Wasn’t I good enough?

I weep for that young girl. I want to hug her. I want to comfort her. She just didn’t understand. She didn’t know that this experience she called “love” was nothing more than filling the aching, empty hole within her with someone outside of herself. She didn’t realize that she needed to fill that emptiness with her own love and her own beauty and worth.

As I’ve grown in age and hopefully wisdom, this is the one truth I’ve learned that remains solid and unwavering: We need to love ourselves first and foremost. We are — and always will be — our own first love.

So what does that mean or look like? Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says, “To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.”

I agree. Loving ourselves means accepting all aspects of who we are, yes, the joyful, bright, loving, creative sparks of the Divine within, but also those parts we’d rather hide in our messy humanity, those painful and dark feelings that dwell in our shadow side.

When we offer ourselves the space to simply “be” with whatever is happening within us, whatever it is we’re feeling, we love yourselfsit down at the table of our heart, with all those parts of our being and “break bread” with the entirety of who we are. We hug those orphaned children of our soul — the sadness, the pain, the anxiety and loneliness — and offer them our hospitality. We learn to welcome the stranger within.

In allowing this, we become more whole. More present. We begin to love ourselves. And others. We know we’re not alone in our sadness or pain or whatever it is we’re feeling, because we are in solidarity with others throughout the world who share those same feelings. We are in this thing called “life” together.

And sure, there are times when I jump ship, when I’m not loving myself as I should. I go for that extra slice (who am I kidding — slices) of pizza, think those negative thoughts, tell myself I’ll exercise tomorrow. And actually, that’s OK. I know I’ll do better the next day. Or the next. Part of loving myself is learning to be gentle with myself. Not to beat myself up when I feel I haven’t lived up to my own expectations. It’s all part of that self-acceptance.

To some of you, all this “love yourself” stuff might sound glib. More spiritual mumbo-jumbo. Perhaps. But one thing I’ve learned as a “human” being is that we tend to be hard on ourselves. We don’t often cherish the priceless beings we are. And doing that is very much a process, not a goal. We are always in the midst of growing into the love we so very much deserve.

I don’t know what makes me think of my first love today. It was so long ago and he rarely comes to mind. Perhaps it’s the gentle rain outside. The wisp of a memory tucked inside the heart that escapes once in awhile to remind me of self lovewho I was then and who I am now.

As painful as the parting was those many decades ago, I wish I could thank him for the tender gifts he gave me. I pray he is well. Even today, when I hear Judy Collins sing “Michael from Mountains” I think of him and a poignant feeling drifts through my soul. And I bless him. I bless him for being part of my life’s journey. I bless myself for all I have become.