Sunday, October 30, 2016

Cracking the Heart Wide Open

I don't know how or why or really when it began...

But for as long as I can remember talking with my children, I have consistently started our days by asking all three of them the same question,

"How are you feeling in your heart?"

Sometimes, I'm greeted with a "meh--" or "not too shabby" or "pretty good" or "uh-may-zing!" And from time-to-time, a tear stained, "really, really baaaad, mama."

As much as I've tried to modify the inquiry, no other question I've stumbled upon, seems to as accurately and quickly convey exactly what's at the core of their beings.  And so even though it sounds strange to ask, I've stuck with it.

There is such a difference between asking someone how they're doing and asking them how their heart is feeling.  It's really the comparison of the cerebral and the visceral.  Or the contrast between what we think we should say and what we can't deny.  In that moment, you're either okay or really, you're not.

Lately, I've felt overwhelmed with bursts of emotion.  Blame it on my period, hectic family schedules, the introduction of two new jobs, the election cycle, friends I've been concerned about or a pesky head cold...but whatever the source, the wobbly feeling is the same.

And when my heart feels flummoxed, I find myself turning more consistently to prayer.

My friend made me prayer bracelets to help focus my fears, hopes and cries toward a saint and to help cultivate a more tangible connection to God when the insanity of the day takes over.  When I'm feeling agitated or unsure, I roll them on my wrist and start to ground myself in what matters. And I am quickly reminded of what the great Gandhi taught

"Prayer is not asking.  It is a longing of the soul.  It is daily admission of one's weakness.  It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart."

And so it is this concept that I try to communicate to my children when they have no words for why their hearts are heavy and their burdens seem unfair or all-consuming.  When we don't know which way to go, which path to take or why we have landed in the spot we find ourselves, it is best to receive with an open heart than to try to think your way out of what may have no answers inside of your finite being.

Essentially, the journey is to crack the heart wide open so that through vulnerability, you are in the best place to receive whatever is available to make your heart whole again. And this is hard.

But the work of the heart is where the magic lies.

Not long ago, a friend came to me with the tragic news that her family member was really sick.  I didn't have the words to comfort her or the ability to problem solve her situation or the guarantee that she would be okay today, tomorrow or many moons from now.  Losing someone you desperately love changes you forever.

But I did have the ability to pray.

And that is what I have done every day, multiple times a day.

Not knowing.  Trusting.  Believing.  Hoping.

The truth is that we are all broken.  We are all in need.

Intellectually, most of the time, we don't have the answers.

But everyone has a beating heart and knows instinctively when it is filled with joy and promise or dread and disbelief.

The journey is to stay so deeply rooted in the heart, so viscerally aligned that you draw from that source instead of any other when it comes to what is important.

After all, the cry of the heart is the only true barometer of the soul.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

It Starts with Me

This week was a bit of a doozy.

Between a change in work schedule, a sick kindergartner, a visit to the ENT with my sixth-grader (who shoved a paper wad into his ear and then added insult to injury by impacting it with a Q-tip), an anticipated visit from my out of state parents, working on my grad school course syllabus, and a few crucial missed items on a to-do list...I found myself saying "fuck" both with my inside and my outside voice...a lot.

And it felt good.  Really good.

Until, it didn't.

Somewhere in the debacle of wearing a headlamp and squeezing tweezers into my son's ear to capture the paper wad offender, I was agitated listening to the final presidential debate, playing in the background.

I paused.

Jesus Christ.

How did we get here?

When did it become acceptable for all of us to behave so poorly and to just expect the world to be forgiving?

When did a civil dialogue about the future leader of the free world become a free-for-all?

How did we allow this to happen?

I think that's when I realized, this isn't about them. It's about me.

It starts with the way that I cope with adversity and the choices I make to take the high road or to whine on the sidelines and cry foul play or "no fair."

It begins with my decision to accept responsibility for my actions when I've harmed another, both willingly and involuntarily.

It extends to the apology, even when it hurts to fess up and say, "I'm sorry that I've wounded and made you feel less than."

And it concludes with demonstrating concretely in my actions that my intentions are honorable and that I am willing to follow-through.

I've been so worried that my children are witnesses to the deterioration of one of the most important rights we have in our country...that I've forgotten that my husband and I are really, at the end of the day, their most important teachers. 

I'm not naive to think that the future of the country isn't in a precarious position depending upon who takes ownership of the Oval office, the House and the Senate in January....but I do believe that all too often, we abdicate responsibility and personal ownership for what we can do on our postage stamp of the world.

It's a lot.

Our voices mean a lot...not only in the voting booth.

It means a great deal in the workplace in how we treat our colleagues and how we collaborate or decimate the opinions of others.

It matters in our how we show up, even when we're tired or feeling less than.

It makes a tremendous difference in the lives of our children and how they learn to cope with what is unfair, unjust, or just plain hard in the world.

It matters, this little slice of life.

And so, I turned off the television.  That's just jibberish.  It's not worth the anxiety it produces.  I'll spend my time hugging my sixth-grader, even though, he pulled a dip shit move by shoving paper in his ear.  I'll tell my husband that I'm sorry for being ridiculous over the gutters.  I'll call my mom back even though I know what she's going to say.  I'll help Kate make her lunch even though slabbing peanut butter on another slice of bread feels like moving through quick sand.  And I'll stroke my kindergartner's hair and give her ibuprofen as she nurses a chest cold.

Because, it starts with me.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Up Gravel Roads

Last weekend marked my fourth year running the Market 2 Market relay--a 78-mile race from the city of Omaha to the city of Lincoln.

It's a hell of a day.

You get up early, grab your running shoes, lots of water, toilet paper (for the porta-potties), the best and worst carbs available--i.e. gazads of peanut M+Ms, kettle chips, mint Milanos, good tunes, a change of clothes and if you're in a car with me, well, your strong constitution--I like to curse and tell stories that involve the word vagina and basically, how much I smell like one post my portions of the race.

Over the course of 12 hours, 8 people jump in and out of a vehicle as they take turns running their hearts out for 3, 4, and 5 mile staged legs, while their counter parts feverishly drive to the next exchange point to tag out a new runner.

I ran three legs.

It was the second one that nearly broke me.

I only had to run 4 miles...not a big deal.

But something happened as it got closer to my time to grab the baton.  I thought I was going to throw up.  I started to sweat and make stupid jokes.  I told my teammates that they could stay in the car...I'd be okay to see myself off.  It was as though my intuition knew that this run was going to be a bitch and I, its baby.

The sun was beating down and as my partner tagged me in, I rounded the bend onto a gravel road and four miles of fucking mental discipline ensued.

Let me begin by saying that I hate back, gravel roads.  They're uneven.  Cars drive on them and relentlessly kick dust into your eyes, face, mouth and lungs.  That's when they're flat.

I was on a never-ending up hill battle with a gravel road that was winning.

Even though I meticulously customize my playlist, my songs were even letting me down.  To top it off, a mile and half in, I saw the kiss of death...fellow runners started slowing down and then walking...while phenomenal athletes were passing me by with a cavalier thumbs up and a "way to go!" cheer.  Fuck me.

Just as I began to lose faith, I turned to see a giant cornfield butted up against a crystal blue sky, and a group of cows hanging out in the distance enjoying a lazy Saturday afternoon.  And it dawned on me.

Within the same day, hour, minute, moment, we're all here.  The sun, the sky, the cow, the walker, the sprinter, the grass, the trees, the corn, me...we all get to occupy the same space in the same plane simultaneously.  And while we take up room and experience all of it....we can endure it as a battle or we can sit in it and take it in for what it is, or we can transcend it and find the beauty in the blue, the cool air, the brilliant sun, the sweat, the strong legs, the gorgeousness and moment of a Saturday.

And so, I slowed down--way down.

And I looked around and gave thanks.

It was Saturday.  And I was blessed to spend the whole day seeing lots of countryside, small towns and people focused on their fitness, running with friends for lots of causes and many reasons.

This was a time of celebration and joy, even if it hurt.

In my final leg, I was running as the sun went down, watching the leaves fall from the trees, realizing that change is on the horizon and that in each moment, I have a choice as to how I receive it.

I can bemoan it, or I can accept it and find the places where it enhances me instead of threatens me.

And I can recognize that I am not alone.

We are all tagging each other on this journey...sharing a baton, encouraging through words, humor, hope, forgiveness and love....promising that even if we're scared to go on our portion, that there will be a cow or two along the path, the sun in the sky, the guy who tells you to "keep up the good work," and the belief that even if it's painful, it will end.  And you will be better for heading up the gravel road.

Moments after my leg, my fellow teammate, took this photo of me as I was scarfing down food, re-reading a note I wrote to myself as a reminder that I can do it one moment, one mile, one breath at a time.  It's one of my favorite memories from the day.  Along with the pics of the best partners a girl could ask for.  Here's to baton passing along the journey...

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Being the Verb...Becoming the Noun

No one lives in her head more than me.

I have an extraordinary gift for analyzing the shit out of nearly every mountain and mole hill I encounter...real or perceived.

I create hypothetical fantasties, proverbial pro and con check lists, wish lists, back-up plans, worst case name it...I've thought it through.

If you value intellect, discourse and lunatic-laden strategy, I'm your girl.

But if you want to get shit done, well...

Listening to one of my favorite podcasts while running errands, I heard the incomparable actress, Ellen Burstyn interview the equally incomparable activist, Gloria Steinem on "Death, Sex and Money."  Both women are in their 80's, staring down an impressive amount of life lived with both hope and regret.  With no intentions to stop working and living purposefully in the world, they purported a concept that I became fixated on...

Be the verb until you become the noun.

I began to tear up on my way into Trader Joe's.

This simple example of living has unconsciously permeated the way I DO everything in my life. 

I had no idea how to be a mother and so I just started mothering.  I got up when the baby cried and nursed her.  I made sure that they had help with their homework and cheered on the football field.  I listened to piano keys bang out notes that made sense and others that were getting there.  I showed up.  Day after day.  Year over year.  Until one day, I legitimately felt like it was fair to call me a mother.  Not a perfect one--not by a long shot--but a who mothers.

Five years ago, I wanted to inhabit my body again.  I bought a pair of running shoes.  Loaded some songs on an iPod.  Borrowed a Garmin and tried to make it around the block.  I ran nearly every day seeing the sun rise, my shins catch on fire, my hips hurt, my back ache, pounds shed and my confidence restored.  I just went through a dresser drawer and decided to donate several of my race shirts.  Looking at the overflowing bag, I felt like I could call myself a runner.  Not an elite athlete--but a who runs.

At the same time, I started running, I began publicly writing a blog..."Kelly's Hot Mess."  I felt like a fraud...but I was desperate to no longer be an isolated, stay-at-home mother and to have some accountability with putting pen to paper or keystroke to the web.  Over 600 posts later, I feel like a writer.  Not a Penguin press-worthy author--but a who writes.

And so it is, that in spite of myself, the best things I have accomplished have come when I just start doing them, especially, when I have no fucking idea WHAT I'm doing.  When I listen to that tiny part of my heart that says, "just try it for five minutes...if you hate it, you can always stop, what do you have to lose?"

In the doing or the being, I get out of my head and back to my heart and my hands and my legs and slowly, bit by bit, me as the verb, eventually, becomes me as the noun--one I can claim and identify with.

As I watch my 6th, 4th and Kindergartner growing up, taking on new challenges, with far less baggage than me, I realize that this process of doing until we become is the only way that true change ever manifests itself. 

No one is ever ready...EVER.  We must stop using that language.  We need to strip it out of our vocab.  The best teachers and lessons have almost never come when we are ready.  They greet us when we least expect it, primarily because we bothered to show up and welcome them into our worlds....mole hills and mountains alike.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Thief of Joy

It's Saturday morning at 8am. 

I'm on day two of my period.

My five-year old is jumping on and off of the couch screaming that she wants cereal.

I'm half-heartedly yelling back, "go get it yourself."

There are random piles of laundry that by this point in the game are most likely an interesting composition of clean, dirty, sort of worn--could be worn again--but likely smell because they associated themselves with the stinky offenders.

Something happened downstairs with the tub and now, we have water to contend with.

My husband has already made me promise that I'll hold down the fort while he listens to the game and tackles a couple of outdoor projects that are not going to take care of themselves.

The garden is a fucking mess.  I'm serious.  Why in the Sam Hell did we think that planting watermelons, tomatoes, cucumbers and strawberries was a good idea? It seemed like a cute concept in the spring.

There is this one sticky spot on the kitchen floor that I'm afraid to touch and no one else seems to be bothered by it.

I'm running a 78-mile relay race a week from today and am questioning whether I'm a lunatic....maybe they'll have other geriatric runners like me that can team together and mall-walk their portion?

In January, I'm joining Creighton University as adjunct faculty in the field of conflict resolution.  I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to lead a class, but am also anxious that my sticky spots on the kitchen floor will grow and that sooner, rather than later, the city will put a "Condemned Property" sign on my front door.

Just when I think that I'm making progress, I realize that it's only a mirage.  I'm actually four steps behind...everyone else has a better body, home, bank account, five-year plan, kitchen floor, tampon jar and kindergartner who makes her own eggs and bacon while dutifully brewing an Americano for her sleeping mother.

And then, I remember this Mark Twain quote...

And I know that women across the world are lamenting who they are, what they bring and who could do it better.  And all the while, we're bit by bit stealing the bursts of joy and happiness that we singularly, individually get to experience, simply by deciding that other people do it better.

And it's a fucking crock. 

The whole lot of it.

Everyone bears sticky spots throughout their life.

Sticky spots are the rent we pay for being human and as I know best, for being crazy, busy, imperfect, loving, 'off-the-charts trying our hearts out' mamas.

And it's's more than okay.

So, please visit me, but don't expect much in the way of tidiness.  In fact, the only thing I can promise you is a smile and a really good cup of coffee. 

Friends (who don't live with me) tell me that a day will come where there will be time to clean and have space to host fancy dinner gatherings.  That time is not now.  That time is down the road when you'll be longing for this time back.

I can't imagine longing for this chaos back, but I'll trust them and try to cling to my bits of joy, even if they are sticky and relentlessly jumping on the couch.