#BeReal

My brother has a theory about fear and politics.

He says that since the fall of the Soviet Union, we in the US do not have a common boogeyman. We used to fear and hate the Soviets, but during the 90s, the Wall came down and we lost our villain. So we turned on each other. Feminists, religious conservatives, homosexuals, immigrants, the poor, the rich—each took their turn on center stage as the new “boogeyman”. But the fear was never a consensus, so it drove us apart along political lines. When 9/11 happened, not even that united us for long—only long enough to dupe us all into one war we didn’t need to fight, driven by fear of what might happen.

Now we’re chewing on each other again and almost every single divisive political disagreement is grounded in fear. Gay marriage will ruin traditional marriage! Raising the minimum wage will tank the economy! The Hobby Lobby decision is the first step to women being required to wear burqahs!

Fear is everywhere.

Take the gun rights argument. You know Dana and I respect anyone’s right to hunt as long as they consume, and to own a firearm to protect their family.

We are not on board with high powered and semi- or automatic anything. We don’t see the point.

But folks will get all hot and bothered over their right to guns that have no other purpose than to turn  living things into a pile of ground meat. The anger is always laced with fear of what might happen. Like we might be invaded. Don’t ask by whom, no one knows. But we need to be ready.

I saw it with the border protests in town too. Lots of worry about disease. Horrible, awful, possibly incurable things like strep throat. Lice. Measles. People were whipped into a frenzy, one man yelling at the cameras that he had to protect the health of his kids, wife, parents.

No matter that there was an outbreak of measles in Temecula this winter, due to unvaccinated kids.

Maybe Guatemalan measles are deadlier?

That just might be true.

And then last week, the plane crash in Ukraine. I found out about it on Facebook, since we were on vacation. I read the article and then commented on the post: “Dude.” Which in Jen speak means “That is one f-ed up and sad situation.” To which the poster replied “So scary.”

Sad? Reprehensible? Immoral? Incredibly irresponsible and just plain STUPID?

Yes.

But scary?

We can take any situation at any time and twist it into a horror movie, but that doesn’t mean the horror movie will happen.

Of course, horror movie scenarios make money, for news stations and politicians. People we should be able to trust, people who say they stand for our good, are using fear of what might happen to boost ratings and win elections.

And we’re so used to it that we don’t even fight it anymore but let me tell you: this nation was not founded on fear. Good Lord, if the Puritans had stopped to think what might happen, they wouldn’t have gotten on the ship.

And the worst did happen, by the way, and they survived. That’s the blood that runs in our veins.

I’m done being scared. I want to live here, and now. I want to live in truth and light, not rumors and shadow. I am not talking about turning a blind eye to the state of the world and living in blissful ignorance. But I wish we could all stop looking at what might go wrong and start seeing what is going right.

We should find the courage to hold our leaders and media to this same standard. All we have to say is this:

We are not little children. We are God-loving folks and we are not scared of the dark. We work hard, we support each other and we deserve the truth. You think the truth is boring. You think we need a boogeyman. We have news for you: Main Street USA is about as real as it gets and our lives are not boring. They are beautiful and fruitful, even when they are hard.

That’s the truth.

So stop inventing ways to tell stories that try to make us feel like the world is blowing up and caving in on us all at once. Stop telling us about what might happen. Be real.

That’s our new hashtag: #BeReal. A challenge, a reminder and notice served that we aren’t buying fear for fear’s sake anymore.

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I Fainted at My Wedding. So?

There are two posts on this blog that get viewed almost on a daily basis even though they were published months and months ago: Dana’s Soup in A Jar and this one. And this one got so much play around Valentine’s Day that Shea and I were interviewed to be on an upcoming TV show about disastrous wedding days that turned into happy marriages!  Although since we don’t see this story as a disaster, and we like to laugh about it, we didn’t make the cut.

It’s June, which means wedding season is here. And this week we’re going with a wedding theme. First the replay of my wedding day and then my mom is stopping by Friday with some words of wisdom about marriage for all of us.

The story starts like this: I opened my eyes to the sound of my mom calling my name. I saw my dad’s face and realized I was looking up at him. He’s not supposed to be on the altar, I thought.

“Did I just faint at my wedding?” I asked. Then “I’m going to puke.”

Moments earlier, I felt it coming. I leaned over to my cousin and whispered “I think I’m going to faint.”

“No, you aren’t,” she said with a sunny smile, and turned her face back towards the priest.

So I leaned over to my husband. “I’m think I’m going to faint”, I told him. “Ok” he said. That was it. Next thing, I’m looking up at my dad.

I was not drunk. I was not pregnant. And I was not scared.

I was hot. And kneeling. And trussed into my dress like a dang rump roast on Christmas Eve.

I enjoy telling this story to people. The reactions are fun. Some people laugh with me. Some shake their heads. But it’s the ones, usually single women, whose faces collapse in horror and pity that are my favorite.

It becomes a learning moment.

I fainted on the altar at my wedding. So?

“What do you mean so?!” one of my students asked me once. “All that money! All that planning! Ruined! I would be humiliated!”

I’ll admit that I had to do a magnificent job of shaking it off, a la Scarlett O’HaraI’ll think about this tomorrow. I could have let it ruin my day.

But I didn’t. Look at the pictures. If you didn’t know I fainted, you wouldn’t know it from the pictures.

Married!

Married!

One of my favorites!

One of my favorites!

Who fainted??? Party Time!

Who fainted??? Party Time!

Beautiful, happy bride. Beautiful, happy day.

But most important of all: Almost nine years, three kids and two dogs later, beautiful, happy marriage.

That’s what a wedding does—it begins a marriage. Despite the wedding industry’s best efforts, we don’t say “We’re having a wedding!” We say “We’re getting married!”

Besides, a wedding is just one day. Not even the whole day. I waited eleven months for my wedding day and spent too much money on the details of making it lovely. For what? A blur. One moment I was fainting on the altar and the next I was lying on a beach in Mexico.

And I’m not saying that weddings shouldn’t be big and sparkly and fun. All of the weddings in our family have been big and sparkly and fun. We love weddings!

But that day, when you wear the crazy expensive dress and feed people food they will not remember, pales in comparison to the day you hold your baby in your arms.

The love you feel for your fiancé at your wedding is nothing to what you will feel when your spouse gets up with that baby at 3 am.

You think it’s the best day of the rest of your life? It’s not. It’s just the first best day.

We learned lesson #1 about marriage at our wedding: It wasn’t perfect.  It was human and loving and beautiful. There was a moment it went a bit left, and then the moment passed, with the help and concern of our family and friends. Which is exactly what happens in a marriage.

When I look back, I regret nothing. Especially not the fainting. Because when we got home from our honeymoon and watched the video, we saw a  church hushed with concern. My mom’s good friend Lu, a doctor, walked up the aisle to see if she could help. My bridesmaids held hands and prayed for me. Except for my sister in law, who crawled underneath my veil, hairdo be damned, and loosened my dress so I could breathe. When I finally was up and seated on a chair, wobbly, teary, embarrassed, everyone applauded.

I fainted on the altar at my wedding. So?

Brides and Bridezillas, don’t plan a wedding. Celebrate a marriage. It’s a very different thing.

The first lasts a day. The second lasts a lifetime.

Heart Warrior ~ Guest Post by Shalimar Niles

You know when you meet someone and they radiate calm kindness and patience? The kind that actually calms your own heart just from being in their presence?

Meet our new friend Shalimar. She is one of Kate’s Girl Scout troop leaders and I was amazed by her before I heard the story she’s about to tell. We invited her here because this woman’s life is full of grace–grace given by God and then distributed outward in total love. She knows that God is not here to test us, but to see us through.

She was born on a Friday morning. 10 fingers, 10 toes, and a head full of hair. Her daddy followed her to the nursery, and I went to recovery and waited for someone to bring my baby in to me. No one came. For more than an hour I waited, when finally, my husband came in, empty-handed, to tell me.

Our daughter was 1 in 100. That’s the likelihood of having a baby born with a congenital heart defect, or CHD. The ultrasounds showed us a healthy baby girl, but she was born with a severe CHD called Pulmonary Atresia. We had no indication that anything was wrong, and yet, our newborn daughter was now in a race against time to fix her heart before she started running out of oxygenated blood.

Emma at one day old

Shalimar with Emma at two days old

Hours after she was born, she was transferred to a hospital that could give her the care she needed. My husband went with her, and so it happened, hours after giving birth, I was alone in my hospital room, in shock and recovering from a c-section.

I held her for the first time when she was two days old. At four days old we walked her to the operating room doors for her first catheter procedure, which was unsuccessful. At one week old, her due date, which also happened to be our wedding anniversary, she had another procedure, also ultimately unsuccessful. From that point on, she was intubated and sedated, her right leg was purple and had almost no pulse because of damage to the artery during her procedures. We were broken-hearted for our girl, anxious to get her well and terrified of how bleak things looked for her at the moment.

Prayers and support came pouring in from friends and strangers alike. Her story was shared and thousands of people were praying for her around the world. I, however, was not one of my daughter’s prayer warriors. I told a friend that I felt like a hypocrite for allowing, and even encouraging others to pray for her when I could barely speak to God. “This is the time to let us lift you up,” she said.

We call June 7th our daughter’s Happy Heart Day, because that’s the day that things started improving for her. She had open heart surgery, which was terrifying, but we had the hope that things would be better on the other side. The texts, phone calls, and Facebook messages were incredible, and did give us strength through those awful hours. All those people kept me close to God when I couldn’t do it myself, and they all have been able to witness the miracle that is our daughter.

Emma after her surgery

Emma after her surgery

She came home just a week after her surgery. On medications, and 24 hour oxygen, but she was home. And the medical miracles kept coming. Just a couple weeks after surgery, I started nursing her (which for being on a feeding tube for most of her life was amazing) and she began to thrive. She gained weight, she went on to oxygen just for sleeping and by the time she was three months old she was off all meds and supplemental oxygen. At 10 months old, she had a hole between the chambers of her heart closed, which improved her health even more. By looking at her, you would never know the challenges she has had to face in her young life.

I think the real miracles have been the intangibles. After being sedated and lacking oxygen her first month of life, she opened her eyes for the first time after her surgery and she was there. In the sense that I knew our worries about any brain damage were answered. She was delayed in rolling, crawling, and walking, and you could see the determination and grit in her face as she struggled in physical therapy to meet those goals. She is quite simply, a force of nature. Our daily reminder that miracles do happen, that God is with us even through the storm, and that hope we have in Him is real.

I live in a constant state of gratitude. I quite literally thank God daily that He saw fit to let us keep that sweet baby girl, who just turned two years old. A CHD is never truly cured, she does have more surgeries and challenges to face, and that is not what I dreamed of for my child. But as she healed, so did we, and I am certain that our strong family foundation, built of love and strength and faith will carry us through whatever may come.

Emma turns 2!

Emma turns 2!

 

 Tomorrow, Emma’s family and friends will wear pink to celebrate the anniversary of her surgery.

Happy Heart Day to Emma from all of us at Full of Graces!

 

The Summer of Discontent

May 19, 1994, Hofstra University

May 17, 1994 at Hofstra University

The summer after I graduated college was one of the worst times of my life.

Even now, 20 years later, after everything else that has happened, that statement is true.

I had moved home from New York, leaving my college boyfriend behind, something my head knew was wise, but my heart was struggling with. We hadn’t broken up yet, so there was the added stress of a long distance and very expensive phone relationship. My parents had put the down payment on a car, but I needed to make the monthly payments. Luckily it was only to the Bank of Grandma, but it was still a responsibility.

I knew what I wanted to do: teach. But I needed a credential to do that, which meant more schooling. I needed to find a job that would let me go to school, so I took a temporary sales job at Nordstrom’s, hoping it would turn into something long term. One Saturday, the assistant from my dentist’s office came to my register. I will never forget what I felt when she said “Wait. Didn’t you just graduate from college? What on earth are you doing here?”

It was the push and pull of transition and it was painful. I felt that if I didn’t find a way to stand on my own two feet, independent of my parents, and make my own way, with my fancy private school degree, then I was a disappointment. An ungrateful disappointment, since I had both earned and been given an amazing cultural and educational experience.

But the lure of dependency was strong. I knew my parents loved me and if I folded, they would have supported me. It might have caused big problems, but they would have done it and I knew it.

One night my mom laid a stack of bills in front of me. Her bills, not mine: the electric bill and the water bill. “You need to contribute by paying these bills”, she said. I will never forget how that felt either. I’m sure she thought she was introducing me to the hard reality of being a grown-up, but to me it felt patronizing, like she wasn’t treating me like an adult. And a part of me knew that wasn’t a rational way to feel, which made it worse.

I cried a lot that summer. I had no idea what to do. I had no idea how to make anything happen. I have never felt more lost, or afraid. I wanted to be an adult and start the rest of my life. Sometimes. The other times I longed for my life to be the way it was in college, when life was one big adventure.

We are welcoming a new crop of college graduates into the world this month, including one in our family. I would bet that most of them are feeling the stress of this transition. Some of them will handle it, but for others, it will feel like the floor is falling away beneath them.

Last night Teresa and I were discussing a job offer she received. She only graduated two weeks ago and this was her second offer this week, so she’s already got me beat by months in the job arena. But still, there was a moment when she broke down. It’s a lot, facing a real job, making real money, paying real student loans, taking on a car payment and finding health insurance. Wanting so badly to move out on her own, but realizing that this particular job will require her to live very quietly for a few years for a bigger pay-off down the line. That’s a hard thought for someone who has been living the good college life, where gel mani/pedis, designer jeans and nights out are the norm. Not that I’m criticizing her, because the girl has been working since she was 15. But she is processing the truth that life is going to replace fun, for a little while.

She’s scared. This is where the proverbial rubber meets the road. Can she do it? Can she be a functioning adult in this world? Can she meet her own expectations of success?

We know that she can, and will, but that doesn’t matter. She needs to know it.

So to her and all the scared, faltering, frustrated college grads out there, here’s is what I wish I had told myself twenty summers ago:

It’s ok to be scared. A little bit of fear is a motivator. But be careful: too much fear will paralyze you. It will make you reach for what is safe and known. It will trap you in a limbo between childhood and adulthood and weaken you, and you will not break free of it until you are strong again.

That could take years. We all know someone who got stuck there, and what it cost them.

Don’t be afraid to step away from what is known, because great things happen in the unknown. And nothing is forever. The days of having the same job for fifty years are long gone. If you hate what you are doing you can make a change, but it’s always better to make a change from a position of power—so get that first job, give it your all and see what happens next.

Have faith. Lean on God. And remember that no matter what, someone loves you. We love you.

Good luck!

May 16, 2014, University of Southern California

May 16, 2014, University of Southern California

 

 

 

Suffer Well ~ Dana

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We’re just a couple days away from Mother’s Day, a day to honor and celebrate moms, and grandmas, and aunts who raised us, and the women we know who are doing a spectacular job of mothering. It’s a day of breakfast in bed, made by dads or other moms, and little hands, a day of flowers and jewelry, a day of sappy cards, maybe a day at Disneyland, or a day just relaxing in the back yard.

But for many, Mother’s Day is also pretty tough. I’ve watched Facebook over the last few days. A good friend and teammate is reeling from the loss of her grandma, the matriarch of their family, just two weeks ago. A friend of mine from junior high, who lost both her mother and grandmother three years ago, posted a picture of Winnie the Pooh, her mom’s favorite character, and talked about how hard this time of year is for her. My volleyball coach from 9th and 10th grades posted pictures of his mom with his children, with the sentiment that it has been 5 years that she’s been gone, but that it seems so much longer. My cousin texted me, “Mother’s Day sucks” as she will be “celebrating” the third Mother’s Day without her mom. And this year, Mother’s Day, May 11th, will be the one-year anniversary of the death of my father. Big, heavy sigh.

It’s quite the tightrope walk, isn’t it? On Mother’s Day, I will wake up with a heavy heart. I will remember each and every detail of May 11th, 2013. I won’t dwell on it, but it will still be there. On these days, it’s like we’re wearing sunglasses. We see our lives unfolding before us. We will experience joy, honest, true joy, on this holiday… but all through the lens of feeling loss. It’s a tightrope walk between joy and suffering. Those of you who know loss know that this is true. Suffering. And yet, my girls will have cards and presents for me. I will be so loved and cherished. And I will gush all my love right back on them. We will meet my mom at the cemetery. We will cry. But then we will go back to her home, where we were on this day last year with him. But this time we will swim in the pool. We will build the new desk she bought for her office. I’ll remember the time I bought her the Mother’s Day card that read: You’ve been just like a mother to me. Oops. And we’ll laugh. And give her presents.  And eat good food. And maybe make homemade ice cream.

Because that’s what we have to do. We have to suffer well. My cousin said that my dad would be mortified if he knew I was going to have a crappy Mother’s Day because of him, but I also think that there would be a part of him that would be happy to be missed, oh so dearly.  So we suffer well.

Many of my friends have told me that after 3 years, after 10 years, after 15 years, they still miss their parents, that once the first year is over, it isn’t necessarily “all better,” like society tells us it will be. But life doesn’t have to be all better. We learn to experience joy, to love our children, to laugh at movies, to enjoy our partners.  So we suffer well.

We know that our loved ones are “in a better place.” We take solace that they are in heaven where there is no more pain. We rejoice that we will one day be reunited with them. And yet, the hole that they have left in our hearts is still vacant, never to be filled.  So we suffer well.

 

The Moon

Have you ever been loved well by someone? So well that you are secure that person will receive you and will forgive your worst fault? That’s the kind of security the soul receives from God. When the soul lives in that kind of security, it is no longer occupied with technique. We can go back and do the rituals, the spiritual disciplines, but they are no longer idolatrously followed. We don’t condemn people who don’t do it our way. All techniques, rituals and spiritual disciplines are just fingers pointing to the moon.

But the moon is the important thing, not the pointing fingers.

~ Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs

We are entering the end of Lent and Holy Week is fast approaching. This is a Christian’s most sacred time, when all our pretensions should be stripped away, and we reach for the poor, the humble, the hurting both outside and inside ourselves.

Don’t get distracted by the pointing fingers. Everything we need is inside of us. Just look to the moon.

Because what is the moon?

A bright light shining in the darkness.

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It’s Not a Competition ~ Dana

I’ll admit, with great pride, that I love Facebook. I love status updates. I love check-ins. I love pictures and videos. And I really love hashtags.

But in the past year or so, I’ve read different blogs and even heard some friends talk about how much they hate Facebook. The complaint is usually the same, that all of their friends’ Facebook lives are fake, that they only show the good, beautiful, staged moments, and that it makes them feel badly or even guilty about their own messy, imperfect lives.

To those people, those who feel inferior because their living room isn’t as clean as their friend’s, or because their Christmas tree didn’t look as pretty, or because their football-shaped Super Bowl cake came out looking like a big brown blob, I have one thing to say: Stop. Just stop.

It’s time for life to stop being a competition. And those of you who know anything about me, you know that I am a fierce competitor. If you and I play Yahtzee, you’re going down. I mean it. But our everyday lives need to stop being a competition.

When we look at our friends on Facebook with jealousy we are doing two harmful things:

1. We are devaluing our own wonderful experiences. If you can’t see the beauty in your children and proudly post their chocolaty smiles and whacked-out hair, if you haven’t noticed the stunning sunset on your drive home and revved up the colors with an Instagram filter, if you haven’t taken a selfie while you’re out somewhere fun on a date or at home with your cat, you’re missing out, friend. You’re missing out on the glorious beauty that your life has to offer.

2. We are neglecting to find joy in others’ happiness and accomplishments. I don’t know when it happened that we stopped celebrating each other. But I don’t like it. I don’t know when it became more fashionable to say, “You’re going to have the perfect wedding, aren’t you? I hate you.” (Yes, someone actually said that to me at my bridal shower.) I don’t know when friends stopped being friends and loving each other, but if you find yourself feeling that way or saying those things, I don’t think that I have room in my life for you anymore. Harsh? Yes. But so is the word hate.

I guess, too, that I am fortunate that my friends on Facebook post their fails as well as their wins. I’m part of a great group of people that has the ability to laugh at ourselves and our misguided attempts at cooking, family pictures, or bath time.

Try it sometime. It’s liberating, really, to post a picture of yourself in your volleyball camp t-shirt from the summer of 1990 and no make-up because you can’t believe how much your 9-month-old daughter just peed on you:

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It’s rad to brag about your swollen feet at 33 weeks pregnant. Because it really is amazing how freaking big they are:

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You’ll get a lot of good recipes if you post a picture of your failed attempt at making your own pizza dough from scratch:

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And when you post a picture of your infant crying her head off at her daddy’s tenure presentation at the college…

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…your friends will cheer you even more when you finally get a magical picture like this:

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Oops, I mean like this:

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#winnerwinnerchickendinner #boombaby #youshouldseetheother12picturesitooktogetonegoodone