THE MATRIARCH by Susan Page

“At the time of her death she had been largely out of the public eye for a quarter century. What caused her, the wife of a one term president, to be not only heralded as a great first lady but loved?” son, George W. Bush

No matter your political leanings, Barbara Bush seems to have a universal appeal. She is tough and loyal and oh-so relatable.

I must admit I’ve harbored some envy for our 41st First Lady. She’s feisty and strong-willed and it seemed everyone around her admired her for it. As a member of the not-overly-sweet club of women in the world, it seems I prickle those around me more than arouse admiration. How does she do it?, I’ve often wondered. How does one fully embrace the life of familial matriarch while simultaneously speaking her truth, maintaining worldwide appeal?

Journalist and biographer, Susan Page, captured many of the things we adore about Bar (as she was nicknamed.) But the lovely first lady, with the ever-present string of pearls, held nothing back during Page’s interviews with her toward the end of her 92-year life.

Her relationship with Nancy Reagan has been a well-known feud. Backstabbing and public slights – the tawdry things reminiscent of Reagan’s tv career more than political position. Barbara doesn’t mix words in describing their ongoing struggle until the bitter end.

Discussing Nancy was something I assumed would be a part of this biography. But an unexpected part of the book came toward the last half. The difficulties Laura Bush had in developing a relationship with her strongly opinionated mother-in-law. The way in which Barbara interfered (…made helpful suggestions…) with the raising of her many grandchildren. The rules she laid down for each grandchild staying at her house during those summers in Kennebunkport, Maine (ie: Breakfast is served between 5-8am. If you miss it, you make your own.)

Reading about these difficulties didn’t diminish my respect for Barbara Bush, but it did let me off the hook just a little. Strong-spirited women have unique obstacles in life. Sometime those hurdles are cleared elegantly and without distress. But more often than not, feelings are hurt, relationships are broken if not severed, and a wake of turmoil is left behind the words and actions. Barbara suffered these difficulties like anyone else. At times she swallowed her words for the greater good. But many times she let opinions loose and had to suffer the unwelcome consequences and apologies later in life.

In the end, this made her even more relatable to me. She was gregarious and funny. She was also flawed and awkward. Ultimately, her fierce heart for her family came first and foremost. She was a fighting mad mama bear when her husband or children were unfairly crossed.

This biography is a good overview of the life of a first lady straddling the sedate role her generation championed and the opinionated aspects of her basic personality. We all walk through that confusing jungle at times. It’s nice to know the woman with a hearty laugh and a self-deprecating humor, stumbled and angered sometimes, but always loved without reserve.

Five stars.
The Matriarch, by Susan Page

reorientation

I am taking my cue from the Joshua Tree. I have heard that when transplanting a Joshua Tree you must face it in the same direction it was originally facing in order for it to survive. I don’t know if this is an urban myth (I’ll just keep believing it to be true), but I like the concept. We each need a point of reference in life. A familiar direction.

I’ve always been fascinated by the story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness. It comes on the heels of his baptism where he heard from above: You are my beloved on whom my favor rests. Evenso, I wonder if there was even a flickering moment when Christ thought, ‘Well I am pretty hungry’ when tempted to turn the stones into bread. The Devil is no idiot, that’s for sure. He goes straight to our most basal instincts. ‘Oh, you’ve been fasting for 40 days? How does this In-N-Out burger smell to you about now??’ I would definitely be tempted, wouldn’t you? And if a juicy cheeseburger doesn’t do the trick, how about fame and fortune?! Surely that would nail us all. It’s as if the Devil tempted Jesus by giving him 1M Instagram followers he could buy for the low low price of Selling His Soul to the Devil. And yet again – even though Christ was physically and mentally deprived from his fasting – he still resisted. “It is written”, Christ rebuked the Devil, “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” Once again, Christ overcame the temptations being leveled at him.

I can only assume that Christ heard – above all the noise of the Devil – his Father saying to him: “You are my beloved.”

When I accidentally eat more ice cream than I should, I am his beloved. When I am short-tempered with my husband for putting the pickles back on the wrong shelf in the fridge, I am his beloved. When I succeed and when I stumble, when I cry out and when I sail through a good day. My circumstances are not dependent on the simple fact that I am his beloved.

There are seasons of growth and there are seasons of feeling tossed mercilessly. Life is very life-y sometimes. Loneliness, confusion, uncertainty, fear…they are just as unbalancing to us as excitement, achievement and self-reliance.

I believe I am a great deal like the Joshua Tree. My physical presence (where I live) as well as my mental and emotional presence (how I’m feeling or what I’m thinking) function best when I am faced in the direction I was planted. The centering balance in my life can be found in the simple phrase that God said to Jesus when he was baptised and to each of us at our moment of belief: “You are my child. You are my beloved on whom my favor rests.”

In the midst of life and all of its craziness, we can hold tightly to that promise, stopping occasionally to reorient ourselves to it. We can withstand the temptations of physical need, prideful pursuits of self-importance and materialism. By consistently claiming that divine identity, it turns us ever-so-slightly back to our primary rooting as a beloved child.

I need to be planted toward the face of God. It is comforting and reminds me of what is important and what is merely a cheesy hamburger disguised as egocentric temptation.

Does life seem out of balance for you right now? Are you rushing and attempting and conquering as fast as you can? Taking time out of your day – even for a short time of deep, cleansing breaths – to remind yourself that you have been chosen. God is showing favor for you today. You are his child. His treasure. His beloved. Now go live under that unending umbrella of love and grace.

Learning the rhythm of relaxation…

It was an unseasonably cool day today. I know I have a long way to go with the California heat (and truly, I’ve enjoyed the warmth of it) but it’s also nice to have an incredibly cool day with the windows open wide.

We are excitedly anticipating a big group of family coming to see us at the end of the month. But of course that means projects and to do lists. Admittedly, I love to have looming projects ahead. I love the challenge of overcoming and conquering the unknown.

But I am learning more and more the value of stopping. Sitting for a few minutes. No, not just sitting but sitting and unwinding the Monkey Brain of mental activity even when physical activity has momentarily stopped.

“Destroy the idea that you have to be constantly working or grinding in order to be successful. Embrace the concept that rest, recovery, reflection are essential parts of the progress towards a successful and happy life.” – Zach Galifianakis

We DVR’d and watched the CNN show, Chasing Life, last night. Dr. Sanjay Gupta travelled to Norway – in the midst of their three month period of 24/7 darkness – to find out where they find their happiness (consistently ranked the Happiest Nation in the World.)

It was fascinating to hear their stories. Stories thick with personal challenge and empathy for others. Kindergarten classes held in the forest with little play supervision. Can you imagine a U.S. classroom teacher allowing their students to climb high trees?! It made me cringe to watch. And yet the students developed such a strong sense of independence and self-confidence. Not to mention how they helped each other through the process of play.

Dr. Gupta interviewed a ski-survivor. After a horrific ordeal in frozen water…heart stopping for several minutes…she was now alive and participating in all sorts of sports. When asked if she was back 100% her reply floored me:

“I’m not 100% but I am 100% of what I need.”

Do I have 100% of what I need? It is a worthwhile question to hold close for awhile.

As so many others in the world, I have felt such a heavy loss with the sudden death of author, Rachel Held Evans. And just like others, she represents such a moment of hope for me. I was at a crossroads when I found her blog. Having been brought up in a strongly conservative christian church, I was feeling at odds with what I understood God to be and how He was represented within the Church as a whole.

Rachel merged the contradictions for me. She led me through the difficult process of letting go of human church expectations and pointed me more fully to the face of my Heavenly Father. To compassion and forgiveness. To acceptance of all humans as possessing equal value in the eyes of God. I was challenged to look at the periphery of life and notice those that were being left out of the public conversation.

I have been simultaneously grieving her 37-year-old-wife-mother-of-two-young-babies presence in the world while also feeling challenged. When such a strong human advocate leaves a void, how is it best filled?

And with any tragedy, it shook my priorities. I spend more mental space than I care to admit on what my next Instagram picture will be. It suddenly seemed so meaningless. I mean, let me be clear: being on Instagram is not meaningless. Finding inspiration is never unnecessary. Nor sharing inspiration. But the amount of mental space it takes up in my mind is silly.

Everyone knows blogging is dead. Yes. I realize that’s a commonly accepted thought. In my heart of hearts I think it might experience an uprise as people tire of quick and easy and return to a deeper delve into thought and ideas.

I am not good at vulnerability. While I don’t believe in divulging everything to everyone, I would like to go back to a time that I was more open and honest with my blog readers. A braver time. I think there are areas in my life that might be similar to others. Things we tend to brush under the carpet and smile relentlessly.

Wouldn’t it be easier if we tried to work through some of that together? There is a place for frivolity and fiction in life. It’s good to sit back and relax. It’s necessary. But I’ve spent too much time in the realm of easy lately. Self-examination has fallen by the wayside; too wide of a pendulum swing.

Iron sharpens iron we are told. I need your input and advice. I value it. I need to re-learn to do life in partnership with others.

Drawing from Dr. Gupta’s discoveries: Challenges give us confidence and self-worth. It stimulates creativity. Spending time in nature, exercising, developing deeper empathy for others – all foundations of happiness.

I’m up for the challenge. How about you?? We need to take care of each other.

 

Prayer as a Tool for Social Justice

I have been thinking a great deal lately about the fringe of society. The Us and Them. The Others. The disenfranchised.

The following items were a part of three separate readings that (…isn’t it always the way…) seemed to speak directly to my current line of thinking this week. Don’t you always love those ‘accidental coincidences’??!

I read an interview with Melinda Gates regarding her new book, The Moment of Lift. She was explaining some of the ways in which she determines which issues she can get behind and advocate for funds and resources. Birth control in third world nations. Child vaccination in Africa. These are some of the areas in which she has advocated for and given tremendous resources to. Without provocation about religious beliefs she offered:

Faith in action to me means going to the margins of society, seeking out those who are isolated, and bringing them back in.

I have to admit – my initial, gut reaction was to think, ‘If only I had a tremendous amount of wealth and could enjoy giving it away to issues and people who are in the greatest need.’ I envied her money. Not because of the amount of things I could do with it but the ways in which I could freely give it away. It’s good to give $5 to a charity, but how great would it be to actually SEE the difference your resources are making in the lives of those in great need?! I coveted her Giving joy; the endorphins that flood our hearts when we can contribute significantly to someone in need.

And then she continued:

The starting point for human improvement is empathy. Everything flows from that.

It brought me to a recent conversation with my dearest friend, Monica. We were sitting together on the back porch over a bowl of fruit and commiserating over the stumbling blocks the Church in general is facing today. We reflected on our own ideals and how they’ve developed over time. “The difference is when you have an actual face to put to the issue. When you’ve befriended someone who struggles with acceptance in a certain area and now, the issue is no longer an issue. The issue has a name and a face and a good heart and soul.”

The starting point for human improvement is empathy…Melinda stated. Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone. Empathy is drawing upon an understanding of what they must be feeling and struggling with because you have wrestled with a similar internal war.

Our life experiences have helped to shape us into a better human being (if not immediately than eventually, if we’re lucky.) But those same life experiences are there as resources for us. Ravines of empathy, waiting to be dipped into. To remember the shame or the disappointment or the ostracization that happened – and what that must feel like for this person standing in front of you. Or that group of peoples mentioned on the news. Being willing to step back into that personal struggle is being brave and kind and compassionate and…empathetic…to those around us.

My physical world is very, very small. I don’t interact with that many people on a day to day basis. It is a season of life that has very few day-to-day characters. So I asked myself: how do I show empathy and how do I go to the margins of society?! How do I, in my small physical world, bring into the fold the marginalized? The struggling?

A few days later I read a small paragraph from a Henri Nouwen book that enlarged my understanding of prayer. We must pay careful attention to the compassionate presence of the Holy Spirit. The intimacy created by the Holy Spirit who, as the bearer of the new mind and the new time, does not exclude but rather includes our fellow human beings. In the intimacy of prayer, God is revealed to us as the One who loves all members of the human family just as personally and uniquely as God loves us. Therefore, a growing intimacy with God deepens our sense of responsibility for others. 

When I go to God in prayer I am stepping into a circle with all of humanity. All of humanity. The homeless that are so prevalent on our California streets. The mother of three. The neighbor. The stranger. The person of decidedly different political opinions as me. As soon as I open my heart to God with my small needs, my deep hurts, my worries and concerns and thanksgivings – I stand with all my fellow humans, there. Together. We are drawn to each other because the Holy Spirit makes it so. We are on even footing. Each unworthy of the grace that has been poured over us in vast supply.

It’s not just me in my bed at night. It’s not just me as I drive in the car alone. It’s not just me. I stand together in those few moments with you and with your neighbor and with your questions and challenges. For a few pristine moments we are one. One humanity surrounded by a holy presence that makes us each equals.

It is from there that my decisions must be made. Be they political, or simple, or religious or complex. Prayer brings us to the feet of Empathy and that is where our choices flow out.

To top it off, a friend recently posted a well-known quote from Thomas Merton (American monk, 1915-1968)

Our job is to love others, without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.

I still struggle – wishing I could make a BIG difference in the lives of others. Wishing I had the resources to pour into others, like the Gates. But instead it is meant for me to stand reverently in the presence of you. To link arms with all of humanity for a few moments of complete unity before God. And to allow that encounter to inform my empathy throughout the day.

Current philanthropists, passed Catholic monks. I have learned from them all this week. Even – a comedy duo with a big Netflix hit. -ha!

How about a little Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin to round out this post?

You and me??…we are homies.

Lessons from the Pretty Polka Dot Pink

The Polka Dot Plant. (Hypoestes phyllostachya)

As a general rule, I always suggest people do a quick google search about a plant before they buy it. That way you will know whether or not you can supply what the plant needs: proper lighting, space, etc. But of course occaaaaaaasionally, you just see a plant in the store and want to grab it and bring it home.

Such is the case with this hypoestes. I mean – you had me at pink, right?

After buying it, bringing it home, planting it…I then sat down to add it to my journal of plants that I own. I keep a journal of one-page notes on what each plant prefers for lighting, watering schedule, quirks and even historical data where interesting. I later add notes as a ‘best practices’ for what the plant didn’t like and how (or if) I remedied it.

So it wasn’t until everything was all said and done with this pretty pink plant that I read that one of the downfalls of the hypoestes is their short-lived life. (ugh! head thump!) After a polka dot plant flowers, it will go dormant and then die.

WHYYYYYYYYY?! Why did I bring home a plant with a short shelf life (one or two years max) just to fall in love with it and then have to let it go?!

Just my luck, I moaned, reading the snippet aloud to my husband – complete with a heavy sigh and dramatically rolled eyes!

However…if there’s one thing I have said repeatedly: Plants teach me things. I immediately felt myself detaching from this plant (‘Oh you’re not getting ME to love you! I know you’ll break my heart quicker than others!’) until my meditation practice gave me the old shoulder tap.

Isn’t the whole goal of a meditative practice to live in the now?! Aren’t we to let go of the past and realize we cannot control the future but we can focus, instead, on the here and now?? It seems like such a kitschy comparison but for some reason, it really settled into my thoughts. I’ve spent a few days living with this concept.

You see, I’m someone who finds a writing pen she likes and then buys a whole packet of them on Amazon for fear I’ll run out of the original one I bought and they’ll either be out of stock or – gasp! – no longer making them. I find a pair of jeans that fit perfectly and immediately go back to the store to buy two more. I like to know I have back-up. If you study the enneagram, I am a 5. Fives are constantly balancing their resources. Whether it’s the resource of time or sleep or favored Post-it notes. So a plant with brevity initially made me very uncomfortable.

Until I was reminded in the most circuitous of ways that I simply cannot guarantee any level of ‘resource reserve’ in life.

I breathe in for 6 counts. Hold my breath for 4 counts. Breathe out loudly for 6 counts. I feel the rise and fall of my stomach as breath fills my lungs, then rushes its way out of my mouth. Repeat.

Disappointments are inevitable. Excitement and expectations run furiously through our lives. Our hope is not just in the future. Hope can be found throughout our daily lives. The everyday-ness of living. We take advantage of things we love in the hopes that they will always be available to us. The thought of losing them is paralyzing. But we must bring our minds back to the joys right in front of us. They are plentiful and they are worthy of our appreciation.

I must empty my lungs in order to draw my next breath.

The depletion of one thing allows the new situation to emerge.

Life is a cyclical process. Be it a polka dot pink, an ancient Parisian cathedral, or a mom trying to get the PB&J made fast enough before her crew heads out the door.

Rest in resources unseen. There is Someone refilling our reserves daily, if only we’d stop to notice.

PLACEMAKER by Christie Purifoy

I am currently reading this beautiful book by Christie Purifoy, Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty and Peace. The book releases in mid-March 2019 and will be a soothing balm for our overly-stressed, multi-tasking souls.

Placemakers is for the home lover. The outdoor admirer. The family gatherer. The story collector. For the past decade I have felt very strongly that one of my biggest roles in life is to create a welcoming home. My regret? That I didn’t embrace this role stronger when my children were young. Perhaps that is a natural occurrence for many of you as well. When your babies are young, there is so much clutter and lack of sleep. As they mature, there seems to be nothing but running and doing. Concerts and sports events. Home tends to be a quick landing spot between the lines of your to do list.

But the older I get, the more I realize the respite that is home. It has been my passion to create a soothing and calm place for Scott to land after a 12-hour day at work. Even in writing that line I am aware of how genteel and old-fashioned it sounds. Perhaps even egotistical. I balk at the pollyanna nature of it, but I know in my heart that it is the mission I have been given. Does this sound anti-feminist? I certainly hope not as I stand here a proud feminist. We too often acquaint progressive women’s rights with doing and becoming. But the true essence of the movement is to create space where women can become anything they wish to become – which does not exclude the role of supporting and encouraging those we love. But it isn’t all done just for my family. Beauty and consistency makes my own soul feel calm and settled.

We plant seeds or saplings in neat rows. We prune limbs, and we tend the soil. We do not make the trees, but we make a place for them.

I did not have a word for the role I play until Purifoy so elegantly termed it: placemaker.

When I was first married and moving into our apartment (my first home ever away from my childhood home and college dorms), I found great pleasure in creating a homey home. I remember one of my friends came over for the first time and as she left she commented: “Your home doesn’t look like you just moved into it. It looks as if you’ve lived here for years.” I considered this a huge compliment – and still one of my favorites.

For friends and family to find a place that evokes feelings of warmth and welcome – that is my greatest joy. I am (…to a fault and the butt of many jokes…) constantly tweaking things around our home. And now, with the California weather, our backyard is merely an extension of our physical house. I am invigorated by dirt and the care of each plant and tree. I grieve when they die and I feel empowered when I can help to save them.

Making and tending good and beautiful places is not a dishonorable retreat. It is a holy pursuit. We were never meant merely to consume the gifts of creation. We were made to collaborate. We were made to participate. This book is an invitation to reconsider your own relationship to the ground beneath your feet and roof over your head.

I expected this book to be a pretty addition to our coffee table. How surprised I’ve been to find the girth of insight and encouragement I’ve found between its pages. A book that I could probably ‘whip out in a day’ has become a slow and methodical read – filled with underlined words and many pauses for reflection. And sometimes shouts of ‘YES!, that’s exactly how I feel!’

You can pre-order the book now. I strongly suggest you rush to your favorite book-selling site to grab one for yourself.

Meanwhile, I continue to read…

mundane joy

“We all need the reminder that the next generation is watching and waiting to be inspired by the love story of ordinary life lived out faithfully.”⠀

It really doesn’t matter your age – there are always younger-than-us beings who are watching your face. Checking to see when your eyes get panicky or your brow wrinkles with concern. What makes your smile curl in mischievousness or your pupils widen with delight.⠀

If we are always showing only our best – the glitziest parts of our lives – how will those we are mentoring (even unknowingly) learn the pure joy found in ordinary moments? The simple, everyday things that make our souls feel warm and welcomed home? ⠀

How will they know the vigilant process of working through disagreements with our spouses and loving (if not currently liking) them throughout? Or what about the long-suffering patience of growing with your children through their various stages – needy, obstinate, then sweet?⠀

Lifting the veil on our ordinary lives allows those behind us to see that boredom and monotony are one of the many rhythms of life.⠀

We have a responsibility to set a good example for the next generation. Sure, of bravery and doing hard things. But also of being persistent and consistent through the ordinary and the routine – even when it’s tedious and mundane. ⠀

We are walking each other home, Rumi tells us. That’s a pretty good resolution for 2019: showing up to load the dishwasher or run the extra mile with someone who needs a trusty pacesetter. We are all in this glorious life adventure together. Let’s step out of our lane occasionally and walk side by side with the companions we’ve been given in life – from co-worker to grocery store clerk to neighbor next door. Don’t rush through or shirk back. Step up beside and walk together for awhile. You have a great deal of knowledge to share. And if you’re lucky, even more to learn.