Laura G Owens ~ Writer

Humanity. Honesty. Sanity.

Category: Inspiration – Personal Growth Page 1 of 3

setting boundaries

How are you at dealing with difficult people? With setting boundaries?

Over the years I’ve noticed that my threshold for dealing with drama is remarkably low. Not that sort of “oh I’m getting older and less patient” low. I mean that chaotic people who seem to live for chaos make me intensely uncomfortable.

The last couple years I’ve been part of a spiritual book club at my Unitarian Universalist church. Now with COVID we meet through Zoom.

Our reading choices run the gamut of ancient and contemporary teachings. Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer’s interpretation of the Tao Te Ching. Currently we’re reading “A Year of Living Kindly.”

To sum up the latter:

Being nice is easy (polite and pleasant) but being kind is harder, that is — going out of your way to help someone, especially people who aren’t easy to like.

What this means is that you invite the lonely grouch to lunch. You bring a meal to the blatantly bigoted nasty friend. You clean out the elderly neighbor’s garage even as she criticizes every step. You listen to their incessant complaining, even about the minutia of minutia of the minutia.

The point of the book is that kindness takes time, energy, courage and infinite patience.

I take great pains to avoid spending too much time with extremely difficult people: the racist relative, the self-centered high maintenance friend, the incessant complainer and critic, the snobs, blowhards and narcissists, all people you might like well enough in small doses, but who are generally a pain in the ass.

During book club we also find ourselves grappling with what we’re willing to put up with people we love who do some pretty crappy stuff. Boundaries, and all that.

But frankly who am I to decide what one person should or shouldn’t put up with? Unless someone is being abused, then I can’t keep my mouth shut.

How my childhood informs my tolerance for difficult people and drama

Like everyone in my book club I think “to love” is better than “to hate,” and that to forgive is better than to resent someone forever. But unlike many in my group, I find myself exploring these topics less from a spiritual point of view, and more from a psychological one.

In college I majored in psychology mostly as a reflex to growing up in a somewhat dysfunctional family (to no one person’s fault I might add, and I was very loved). For years I thought I was semi screwed up and in turn I was obsessed with why I was the way I was (anxious, insecure, the quintessential people pleaser) and — with why humans sometimes treat each other in the most despicable ways.

My father and his first wife Peggy adopted me when I was a few months old. During Kindergarten Peggy met and quickly fell in love with a married-with-children well-established world wildlife photographer while she was on a bird-watching cruise to the Seychelles.

From her brief affair, my mother immediately left my father and five kids and never came back. She forged an exotic life away from being an elegant housewife and busy mother in a small upper middle-class NJ suburb, to wearing Birkenstocks, camping on the African Plains and shooting spectacular pictures for National Geographic and the like.

I’m told for a short time after my mother left that I stopped talking, which if you know me for even five minutes isn’t something I’m known to do (my family nickname was “motor mouth”).

My father, a remarkably demonstrative man for his era, made it quite clear that he loved his kids, although he admitted later in life that he was much too harsh with my out-of-control brothers.  A single working dad commuting an hour into New York City every day, raising a brood of five bereft children, despite family therapy and a grandmotherly nanny, is in the end, up against too much not to lose it from time to time.  

Two years after Peggy left my father remarried. His second wife Pat was a remarkable and resilient woman who brought with her, two wonderful boys from her first marriage. But by the time Pat came to the rescue there wasn’t much she could do to repair what Peggy destroyed.

I for instance, was a nervous bird, briefly mute and refusing Pat once told me, to hug back. My oldest brother Mark I learned after his death in 2012, started using drugs in high school, possibly even heroin (more on Mark later). And at least once he called Pat a c….t which isn’t exactly the foundation for the Brady Bunch.

My middle brother John, a sweet anxious smart introvert, battled a stutter, and my youngest brother Chris was picked up by police for selling drugs near a sub shop and hiring a prostitute. My sister appeared the most unscathed although I realized later in life, that wasn’t the case.

I have vague memories of the boys (probably not John) rolling dog food cans at our kitten down the aisle of our kitchen, their version of “hilarious” cat bowling. This was likely one step past “boys will be boys,” like when Chris lit firecrackers inside sunfish from our pond while my parent’s party guests looked on – and into behavior that teetered on sociopath. Seven years after my father and Pat married, they got divorced, a marriage for many reasons, was destined to fail.

Over the years I’ve noticed that my threshold for dealing with drama is remarkably low. Not that sort of “oh I’m getting older and less patient” low. I mean that chaotic people who seem to live for chaos make me intensely uncomfortable. Sensing the faintest whiff of high maintenance (e.g. people always in fights, narcissists, drama queens, constantly incensed or in need of excess attention) I will ever so politely back away until our interaction is seamlessly next to nothing.

My brilliant, funny, addict brother

My brother Mark’s opioid addiction grew worse after he hurt his back from a fall while working on an oil rig in Arizona. Mark was a big bear of a guy, Paul Bunyan-like, brilliant with a wicked dark sarcasm. I always knew he loved the family even in the midst of peddling his worst lies. He once sent a letter to Pat, the very same woman he battled and called the c-word, to thank her for taking care of me and my sister after Peggy left.

For years he worked as a public defender and later in private practice with a partner who I can’t fathom how he managed to keep his practice afloat while dealing with Mark’s obvious addiction. Still, his partner kept him on until it got so bad that despite repeated warnings, he had no choice but to turn Mark into the Bar, who after a review, revoked Mark’s law license.

One afternoon in December 2012 my father’s third wife Mary who I’d grown very close the moment we met, called and told me “You won’t believe this, but Mark’s dead.” An autopsy revealed that my brother died from opioids and advanced arteriosclerosis.

While I was gut-punched I didn’t cry. Not then, not at his service, not once in eight years.  I wasn’t angry at Mark anymore, but over time I grew numb to his lies and without realizing it, numb to Mark.

At one point in his addiction he was so far gone that during a flight home from Orlando after visiting (when during lunch with my toddler by my side and Mark’s client across from me in a booth, Mark slurred the whole time) the pilot had to make an emergency landing in Houston. Apparently Mark’s seatmate tried to wake him so he could navigate around his body to go to the bathroom, but Mark was unconscious.   

“Your son’s a big guy,” the ER doctor told my father and Mary, “anyone else with this level of alcohol and opioids in his system would be dead.”

Mark eventually landed in prison after three DUI’s (a felony in Arizona). Incarceration kept him alive for a while and when he got out he was sober. In time he started taking drugs again, then entered multiple re-habs paid for by my father and Mary. Ultimately Mark settled into using opioids at a level just low enough to fake being sober and function in society.

Years before he went to prison, during a Christmas visit to my house, after a few beers and whatever drugs he took that day, as usual Mark’s eyes rolled to the back of his head, the whites flashing across the room, and the inevitable pronounced slur rolled in as he amped up his crass humor, “So how the hell are you, Laura? Your patient husband sick of your bullshit yet?” Despite being horrified once he reached that level, I always laughed at his blunt comments.

Humor was stable, humor was who Mark was, sober or otherwise.

But as the night wore on, he’d stir the pot. He’d bring up issues about family members long forgotten or resolved. Because if Mark could dig up drama about someone else, the spotlight temporarily moved off him.

One night during a Christmas visit while everyone ran around cooking dinner in our crowded kitchen, setting tables, TV blaring, music on, without asking Mark took my toddler daughter for a night walk on the golf course behind our house. It was only for five minutes, but neither my husband nor I knew he took her, or that perhaps in the flurry of dinnertime activity, distracted, someone told him he could take her.  

I ran to the backyard, intercepted Mark and asked where the hell he’d been. As he walked inside he casually announced that he’d “hoisted Taylor on his shoulders to take a walk and with all that bouncing that she probably had her first orgasm.” Then he roared laughing, oblivious to my disgust at his irresponsible behavior and pedophilic words about his niece. In his stewed brain he actually thought he was funny. I wanted to kill him.

I never sensed any inappropriate looks or behaviors towards our daughter, but from that moment my husband and I never allowed Mark alone in the room with her. When I told my father what Mark said, he gently asked me if I was sure “I heard right.” My father wasn’t trying to discredit me, he was trying to process the most reprehensible comment, made by his addict son.

These were the years when Mark mysteriously needed to “get on my computer” to “check his emails” and then ask me to drive him to the nearest drugstore. This was the well-practiced ruse by which Mark stockpiled pills from here to Mexico. He found a rotation of more-than-willing doctors to hand out pain killers for his back.

A small part of me felt sorry him. I mourned his lost potential and the relationships Mark destroyed. He repeatedly broke my father’s heart and while he was in prison somehow caused a permanent rift with my middle brother for reasons I’m still unclear.

Once I became a mother Mark felt like an unintentional monster with a twisted sense of humor I could no longer trust. I was vehemently protective of exposing her to a drug addict, to an uncle who although he clearly loved his niece, had mastered, as addicts do, deceit.

After prison Mark claimed he’d quit using although I always heard the distinct faint slur, undetectable to anyone who didn’t know better. One morning in 2012 he called and asked me if it was okay if he came to visit.  “You sound like you’re on something” I told him right away. “No I’m just really really tired. I even had to check myself in to the hospital for exhaustion,” he claimed.

I told him he could visit but that he better not be on drugs, because I’d know. Nor could he stay with me or create drama with our stepmom Mary who’d he’d been fighting. I didn’t want my daughter exposed to any of that toxicity.  

Mark agreed and said he’d email his travel information. A few weeks later he was found dead on the community pool deck at his condo after a night hike in the hills, a new habit I’d told him I admired (as well as his recent pursuit of a degree in pharmaceutical law which I found perfectly ironic).

Our emotional pain tolerance

Clearly my brother Mark was more than just the “extremely difficult person” I mentioned earlier. He was an addict. He was menacing and toxic.

Difficult people on the other hand, are merely a thorn in our side. An inconvenience, annoying, insulting or exhausting. To extend acts of kindness to difficult people rather than simply being nice is noble.

But each of us comes from a different place of emotional pain history, and so our threshold, our boundaries, are wildly different.

For one person regularly interacting with an extraordinarily difficult person is a spiritual challenge to showing radical compassion. If we show enough compassion, patience, love and understanding, in time, maybe that person will be less difficult.

But for others, inching away from extremely difficult people is how we protect ourselves from what feels threatening – real or perceived.

The best I can do with extremely difficult people is to smile, to be polite, to listen for a bit. What I probably won’t do is establish a close relationship and spend lots of time with them. Not so kind — I know.

I recall a woman who used to live nearby who every time I saw her at a party, trapped at least one person for an hour or more so she could recount tales of her downtrodden life. Nothing good, nothing positive despite clear evidence to the contrary, only the world stomping on her at every turn, big or small, real or perceived, past or present — every tale was of woe.

And while I genuinely sympathized because I think she was lonely, I didn’t want to go down the same Rabbit Hole every time we met. So after 15 or 20 minutes suddenly I’d need some more wine or a snack. And off this woman went to find to find a new sympathetic ear.  If I saw her when I walked my dog usually I’d just smile, say a brief hello and keep moving along like I was in a rush. Again, I was nice, but not kind.

We can create boundaries with people implicitly or explicitly. “Do drugs while visiting then don’t bother visiting” is explicit and a must, unless we want to enable.  Inching away down the sidewalk while smiling and waving goodbye to the chronic complainer is an implicit boundary and a personal choice. It says, hey I want to be polite, but I’m not investing too much of myself into you.

Boundaries are how we teach people to treat us, and how we decide to treat ourselves. There’s no hard and fast rule here.  Boundaries are intuitive.

I know people willing to spend far more time with extremely difficult people than I am. I admire that. These people are saints. They reach into the lives of the most challenging over and over and over. They bear the brunt of snarly, hostile, impatient, cranky and critical, while also setting boundaries.

But I also understand why even if I extend an act of kindness to someone, perhaps deliver a meal or run an errand for a difficult neighbor or acquaintance, that I must bid that person goodbye before I get sucked in for too long.  

I must, to protect my emotional sanity, extend one foot of grace in the door, while I ever so gently pull the other foot out.

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“Bed alarm” – a poem to my father while he suffered through dementia

Published on the Feminine Collective

I don’t tremble, but they assume I’m Katherine Hepburn’s kind.
We share our Parkinson’s frozen mask, expressionless, involuntary
deceit of emotion.

My shuffling gait halts while I calibrate my balance, refusing my wife’s arm
even as my committee of limbs won’t comply.

Stiffening, my six-foot body cracks against the shower door that night.
Cubes of blunt glass explode. I am bare, crooked. Fetal once again. Read entire poem…

Photo credit: John Towner

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happiness

119 scientifically proven ways to be happier

One of my all-time favorite topics. Okay so maybe 119 ways to feel happier feels a little overwhelming. So cherry pick. Try two, or six or twenty….

This guest post is from Health Grinder.

Everyone wants to be happy.

We’ve all experienced it at different points in our lives. And the feeling is so good that it’s probably the one thing everyone can agree they want to have in life.

Plus, happiness makes us healthier, lets us live longer, and be more productive.

So how can you be happier? In life, love, relationships and even work.

We’ve dug into tons of research studies to help you find the answer. Here are 119 ways to be happier. See which ones you can incorporate into your life.

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Jesus

Losing her religion

First published on Purple Clover.

I have no doubt I helped destroy my daughter’s faith in God, although I still believe.

As Tina grew up, my higher power shifted from a His Will Be Done Christian to a genderless “divine force in the universe” with good intentions and a wry sense of humor. It’s pretty hard for kids to grab on to God when God is radiant healing energy crossed with Mother Theresa and George Carlin.

Tina insists losing religion isn’t my fault, that she started questioning back in middle school. She tells me not to worry, that she finds hope and comfort knowing she can “question everything in the universe” and then sit back and “consider the infinite possibilities.”

Wonder is her worship now, and I’m thrilled she has the same unquenchable awe I had at her age. But when Tina told me she didn’t believe in God anymore I was heartbroken. I felt like I’d stolen something from her, like I gradually chipped away at her faith until she had nothing left but skepticism…

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On Grown & Flown

walkingI’m delighted I found Grown & Flown, a website and blog about parenting older kids (ages 15 to 25).

Grown & Flown recently published my essay “Why I Stopped Worrying If My College Daughter Was Lonely”

Tina is a thousand times more self-loving and grounded than I was at her age. This is probably why I keep asking if she’s lonely; I’m projecting my 18-year-old unsettled feelings on to her. At 18 I was still emotionally damaged from childhood, anxious and terrified of every new situation. I didn’t enter college as my own best friend and I was always trying to fit into some group or some version of myself.

If you’re interested, you can find the full essay here.

 

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Stop letting seniors off the hook for saying horrible stuff

We’re all guilty of this. We slip out a horrible or ignorant comment, cringe, then wish we could take our words back.

Before I was became a mom I once asked a very pregnant friend who mentioned she was going to the beach, “Do pregnant women go to the beach?” “I mean I know they can but do they want to? What kind of bathing suit do they wear?”

“The kind made for pregnant women. Maternity,” then she shot me exactly the you dumb ass look I deserved.

But for the most part unless you’re a horrible person, these verbal gaffs are just innocent ignoramus blunders.  Foot in mouth. Hopefully we apologize, eat crow and move on.

But what about senior citizens who regularly say outrageous stuff simply because they think they can.

They do it because we think “they’re too old to change.”

Nonsense.

I once had a beloved relative who I loved dearly for her warmth, charm, sense of humor, elegance and full on unapologetic moxie.

I remember the day she screamed “Asshead!” across a golf fairway to former Bears coach Mike Ditka because he accidentally hit his golf ball too close to her putt. I’m sure he didn’t hear but the fact that she waved her golf club in his direction surely got her point across. (Coach Ditka hobbled over on his painful hips and apologized). I had to keep myself from laughing in case my amusement pissed her off even more.

“Asshead” was also this relative’s favorite expletive when people cut her off on the road.

But as full of charming moxie as this wonderful lady was, there was a line she crossed for me. Not often, rarely in fact. But once was too often.

She casually referred to black people as “coloreds.”

One time as “that darkie.” She never said it to black people but about black people. She also collectively and with ever so slight disdain, sometimes referred to “those Jews.”

Again this was rare, but it only takes once to shudder.

Out of respect for her age and our relationship, when she said “that darkie” I politely interrupted and asked how she managed to raise six kids who weren’t racist.

“Oh I’m not racist,” she said calmly. “I know plenty of black people I like.”

That she thought “darkie,” a word abandoned by even the overt modern day racists, was okay because if you “like plenty of them,” you like enough, is a level of convenient ignorance I can’t ignore.

This relative was a warm sophisticated smart lady. She lived among well-aware class suburbanites. She read books and newspapers. She religiously watched the nightly news. She and her husband, (equally privately racist) visited historical monuments near and far, sites stained with our nation’s enslavement.

Of course she knew “colored” and “darkie” were racial slurs.

But to keep the peace, most of us (myself included) usually shrug off senior citizen’s racist words because we’ve given up.”That’s the way some of the older generation is. They’re too old to change.”

No one is too old to change. Old dogs can learn new tricks.

Listen, I get as we age we want to put less energy into filtering our words. At 80, 90+ years old we’ve earned the right to not give a crap what people think.

Not exactly. The free-to-finally-be-yourself movement, you know, the “When I’m Old I’ll Where Purple”movement, isn’t about letting down your racist hair.

It’s about the freedom to be who you want to be in your mind, body, spirit and flashy gold lame shoes. It’s about dancing like no one is looking, but they are looking.

What seniors rightfully earn is respect for their impressive years, fortitude, and their contribution to our nation, families and collective wisdom. Every generation should bow to their elders for what they endured and sacrificed.

Seniors have earned a level of mild crankiness, should they feel cranky with pain. We’ve earned our eccentricity for oddly matched clothes we believe expresses seasoned or tired confidence. We shorthand politeness in favor of blunt talk to get to the point. Maybe we’re a beloved pain the ass.

But basic decency doesn’t have an expiration date. None.

I don’t think seniors should be allowed to pull the “Well I’m old so I’ll damn well say what I want. Not in front of you or God forbid in public.  No, “colored, nigger, darky, “faggot, A-rabs, Kikes, Spics or Orientals or hey you girlie”

I don’t care if grandma or grandpa are pushing 107. If they’re of sound mind, they need to join us in this century. If they can’t change their views (too old to change, frankly, that’s a load of crap). Then they need to keep their mouths shut.

People are fighting their asses off for civil rights and unfortunately more often these days, for their literal lives.

The Sort of Sad 

I’ve been seriously depressed. Very sad people generally just hole up quietly and don’t bother anyone because they don’t have the energy.

But low simmering sad people who aren’t clinically depressed but who hate their life and really hate that you love yours regularly get a pity card (“Oh that’s just Fran. Ignore her comment about how you always look tired. She’s always miserable. I feel bad for her”).

Sure, if someone lost her job or has a child hooked on drugs or was just diagnosed or is in chronic pain or God forbid lost a loved one, clearly the right thing to do is to let her spout off for a while.

But I told my stepmom years back, even a paralyzed guy in a wheelchair is an asshole if he always acts like one.

“But maybe that’s why he’s an asshole,” she said, “because he’s in a wheelchair.”

But there has to be a statute of limitations on using sad to say whatever we want because at some point sad is no longer an excuse, it’s just a bad personality.

So here’s the thing, being politically correct can be filled with land mines. Not giving a crap is less work.

So sometimes I think we let the non-pc mouthy types off the hook because maybe like us, they’re nervous about what’s okay to say.

Transgender. Gender non-identifying. Bi-curious. Able-bodied. People of Color. African American. Native American.

It’s hard to keep up.

Let me suggest if you can’t keep up ask someone or Google. And if you make a mistake because someone defines herself in a way you didn’t know, it’s okay.

No one has this all figured out. Political correctness is a moving target.

But basic thought for what is clearly or likely offensive only takes a tiny bit of common sense and decency.

 

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The Pulse tragedy. What finally made me cry

#OrlandoStrong

#OrlandoStrong

After my city’s tragedy, the world’s tragedy, I didn’t cry.

Oh my eyes welled up a little, but I was too shocked, too devastated, too in despair to fully release my horror.

I could not cry because perhaps if I did, I might not stop.

For years and reasons that no longer matter, I’ve learned to place layers of protective emotional covering over my heart. And so throughout my city’s beautiful candlelit vigils, throughout the crowds of sobbing, the overwhelming grief, the tearful hugs, the piles of flowers and the carved crosses lined with victims’ names, I did not cry. 

I do not want to sob.

Still, we must honor our fallen and our hurting, even, especially, if the tragedy is close to home

But how I do this, or you do this or they do this, really doesn’t matter. How we sit inside each stage of grief is for the individual to decide.

I write.

I watch briefly, the stark gruesome news. I painfully swallow the Pulse reality in measured small doses. I cannot imagine the overwhelming sorrow the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends, lovers, daughters and sons bear now and forever.

There’s no formula for how each of us heal. When I feel drowned in the details of that night, the night that happened 30 minutes from my home, I turn off the TV and radio.

A mother of 11 protected her son. She died. He did not.

A daughter, only 18 and the youngest victim in the shooting, escaped safely out of the nightclub until she ran back in to save her friend. In moments of gunfire she texted her parents and begged for help. As she huddled in a bathroom stall the gunman came in and she was shot in the arm.  She might have lived, were she not hit in that artery and waited and…

My daughter is 18.

I listen to the stories, to the surreal hell the survivors endured while their friends and others died in pools of blood inches away. Brain matter, one said, on her clothes.

I shudder and then I move away from the words, from the horror of that night. If I don’t I feel helpless and paralyzed.

And so I grieve by activating, by renewing hope through action. I give. I relentlessly support gun control, again and again and again.

I look for signs of recovery. I look for billowing strength.

And those signs are everywhere in Orlando.

You can’t step away from the wallpapering of sad reminders when it’s your town, and yet you don’t want to step away from the showering support from all over the world.  The world is blanketing our community in love.

It was finally this Keep Dancing Orlando video shared on Facebook the other morning, this, that made me weep.

The joy despite the sorrow, allowed my tears to flow.

Our City Beautiful is the world’s epicenter of fantastical fun, of imagination, of diversity and always, not just now, of support for our LGBT community.

And so we rise and once again — we dance.

#OrlandoStrong

#OrlandoUnited

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Remember. Advice to my daughter as she graduates high school.

throwing cap in the airRemember to stand tall.

Shoulders back. Head up. Carry yourself with the spectacular you are. The world will treat you as you expect to be treated. You are mighty and deserving.

Remember that humility is not the opposite of confidence. Humility is to ask, to listen, to learn and to grow.

Remember to apologize. Do this. You must.

Remember to forgive yourself and them. This is very hard. Be patient.

Remember that you’re no one’s fool or doormat or plaything. It is better to be disliked than to dislike yourself.

Remember that true friendship must begin with trust, the rest is gravy.

Remember to speak your truth. Some will hate you for this. Do it anyway.

Remember that beauty is by chance, that character is painstaking and earned. Do not compromise on character, ever.

Remember that your body is a gift to nurture and to share as you decide. Do not compromise your body, ever.

Remember to be safe and smart in your choices.  One mindless decision can alter your entire life.

Remember to create your image on your terms, not his, or hers, or theirs. The media must not define you. You must define you.

Remember that joy is the point of life, it really is. Let no one convince you this is selfish. Joy without harm, is the point.

Remember how much you are loved. It is big. It is wide. It is forever.

Remember that hostile mean hard people are sometimes in pain. I forget this, often.

Remember that kindness is the most important “thing” you can give another human being.

Remember to be open to the “other.” Celebrate diversity because doing this I promise, will make your life feel more compassionate, connected and alive.

Remember to travel to “strange lands,” to eat “strange” foods and to delight in other cultures.

Remember to ask life’s big questions and then to sit comfortably in the not knowing.

Remember that science and faith are never at war. One fills the gap where the other simply cannot. And when you think about it, isn’t that wonderful?

Remember to have faith in the unseen and in the possibilities.

Remember that all men and women are created equal. You are not special. But indeed, you are.

Remember that wonder is life’s greatest free entertainment. Wonder never needs a screen or to re-charge its battery.

Remember to forge your own path. It is yours, and it will be surprising and glorious.

Remember to live your life with unquenchable curiosity. Be giddy. Be ridiculous. Be a wise-ass around the ones you trust, around the ones who understand your family’s twisted humor.

Remember to be courageous and to pick-yourself-up again, and again, and again.

Remember when you fall, and you will fall, to ask for help. The strong ask.

Remember to ask God, anything.

Remember that your version of God is yours to decide.

Remember that the good in your life will return, because good always returns.

Remember that the Golden Rule is perfect. It is divine. It is the way.

Remember to be a voice for the voiceless, for there are millions in our world who need yours.

Remember to laugh and to laugh and to laugh and to laugh. And then to laugh again.

Remember that when you need to cry, do it. Do it unashamed. Do it big. Sometimes our weeping puddles become our only relief.

Remember to be grateful. Gratitude will give you strength and healing. Gratitude for merely the soft warm wind against your tears is sometimes your only, and I mean only, comfort.

Remember that although I don’t always say this, or feel this, or remember this:

That most people are good.

That life is good.

Default to that. Live that. Feel that. Convey that.

This will lift you. I promise it will. And then my sweet girl, you will soar.

Love always,

Mom

 

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One reason I love life (but the point where my grace ends)

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One of the many reasons I love life is the unexpected synchronicity that happens all the time….

Driving traffic-clogged I-4 at 6:50 this morning to get to the YMCA prayer breakfast, I responded (okay, yelled) at the radio because a well-spoken but clearly wrong (by the discrimination yardstick) Baptist Minister explained to the radio host why his speech should be protected and isn’t discriminatory (e.g. denying a wedding cake or photography service to a same-sex couple about to get married is protected speech he argues, based on his Biblical beliefs. But, denying the same couple a hamburger, or accounting services etc he says is discriminatory).

Finally I arrived at the mega Orlando First United Baptist church for the YMCA prayer breakfast. I ran into the packed room, saw our Oviedo YMCA Exec Director at my table and I said loudly to him across the noise,

“I just drove like a bat out of HELL to get here!”

Just as I said this I turned around and seated right next to me at my table is a lovely young pastor with my town’s local New Covenant church. (But you know God has a stellar sense of humor, so goes the saying “Because God made (insert what/whoever you think is worthy of God’s sense of humor).”

I asked the Pastor about his church, told him I’ve heard good things about his pre-school. He shares a little about his church (Anglican). He asks me where I go (Unitarian Universalist). We both make polite conversation. Pastor asks me if my husband and daughter attend UUU (mostly no and I tell him why and why I left my Methodist church. Fond memories and deep gratitude for my daughter’s programs and our religious roots I explain, but I had increasing discomfort, and my new church resonates better with my views).

I tell Pastor a tiny bit more about my church all the while trying to be diplomatic and respectful, yet honest.

Oh yeah, hi there, Mr. President

Then our speaker gets up. Lucas Boyce (Dir of Business Development and Legislative Affairs for the NBA’s Magic). Lucas wrote “Living Proof: From Foster Care, to the White House and the NBA” and is clearly living proof for character and faith and belief in himself (and bold courage).

Lucas inspires us with several stories, each underpinned by his faith and that moving from a crack addict prostitute mother to foster care to life with a loving adopted mother who encouraged him informed his life’s trajectory. Lucas built the life he dreamed as a child (with thanks to God first he said) the moment he saw the White House (and after he saw the coolest airplane ever in the movie Air Force One).

Somehow on his pathway to become a lawyer he became a White House intern/page during President GW Bush’s term. One day President Bush did a quick photo-op on the south lawn with the pages. Twenty-two year old Lucas, not yet groomed on the basics of Presidential how do you do said something like “Hey yeah, how are you? but closed with, “I’m praying for you Mr. President. It’s a just cause (post 9/11 reference).”

The next day President Bush told a staff member he was impressed with “that young man” and to hire Lucas right away. From that moment Lucas’s life moved exactly where he wanted it to go.  

The crowd, all 1,000 of us, gave Lucas a deserved standing ovation.

Passionate. Inspired. Full of faith and conviction.

Believe. Pray. Worship. Inspire others. These are the fuels that feed our compassion and hope and propulsion forward.

BUT while you pray and inspire others, please know this:

The majority public opinion believes that religious beliefs should NOT allow legal rulings to protect speech that denies well-behaved (ruly), shirt-covered citizens service.

So clergy if you must deny officiating a same-sex marriage because it goes against your Biblical beliefs, you have the right as a religious institution.

(However,  I will never believe it feels truly righteous and holy and God-infused, authentic to one’s spiritual core to deny marriage to a loving couple).

Our nation’s individual views on God (and God’s will and use of our free will) is all over the place yet all of us in small moments of respect and grace at round tables can listen to the one another. I truly want to hear someone’s concerns over same-sex marriage however, when the legislative hammer comes down and denies service to our citizens due to sexual orientation, I immediately stop listening. 

Red Barber did his job, so can business owners against same-sex marriage

The radio interviewer then asked the Baptist Minister….. “I know this is a different issue but baseball announcer Red Barber nearly quit announcing for the Dodgers after desegregation and Jackie Robinson started playing. But Barber changed his mind. He knew he had a job to do. Can’t business owners against same-sex marriage simply serve someone and do their job?

The Baptist minister said for him no because it violates his speech.  At that moment the minister said no and denied service to a SS couple, is the moment I don’t believe he worships the same God — I do.

Okay, disagree with same-sex marriage if you must, but your job as an American heterosexual citizen afforded rights is not to deny to others, the same services/benefits YOU enjoy.

We are not, any of us, born chosen or special because we are heterosexual any more than we are born chosen or special because our eyes are blue or brown or hazel.

(To help illustrate the real life wrong in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Let’s use our heart rather than our head. Picture your adult child, deeply in love with her long time same-sex partner. One day both giddily head to the only bakery in their tiny town to order their dreamed-about wedding cake, budget tight but they’ve got just the cake picked out in their head. Lo, the baker-owner Frank who has known these ladies since they were little and used to give them free sugar cookies every Sunday says sorry ladies, I love you both but I can’t bake your wedding cake, my beliefs don’t allow it).

That’s love? 

Postscript:

“The man who broadcast Jackie Robinson’s first season with the Dodgers recalled that, as a boy in **SANFORD, Florida,  (Red Barber): “I saw black men tarred and feathered by the Ku Klux Klan and forced to walk the streets. I had grown up in a completely segregated world.” Red Barber confessed that when he learned the Dodgers would field a black player, his first reaction was to quit his job.” (Society for American Baseball Research).

When we don’t know any better we don’t do better. Once we know better, we must do better.

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Feeling joy: living intentionally to re-wire your brain

joy, living intentionallyAs it turns out, we humans adapt pretty well to feeling awful or to living the less dire but equally joyless neutral and numb existence.

Kids, relationships, jobs, falling finances and health vie for every inch of our energy. For some, crippling pain or depression or anxiety or loneliness overshadows sensations of joy, stifling an existence that is designed for pleasure.

Soon the moments of joy we do notice become special occasion exceptions rather than our rule for living.

Embrace hedonistic happiness

And yet, as humans we’re designed to pulsate with pleasure, to feed our craving for self-gratification (hedonistic happiness) and to pursue a noble meaningful purpose that elevates our mind and opens our heart for the greater good (eudaimonic happiness).

And yet our happiness can be notoriously fed or doused by the company we keep.

Misery might love company but positivity is contagious and a habit like any other. If we align long enough to people who recite reasons why life is out to get them we reinforce a rut of joyless and pained living.

And while we don’t necessarily need to abandon every negative person in our lives (although a toxic relationship dump is a grand idea in some cases), we can become immune to their soul-sucking (however unintentional) vibe.

This emotional protection is, in a poetic sense, what Herman Melville in Moby Dick referred to as our “insular Tahiti,” a self-protected encapsulated practiced place of peace and joy we strive to live, despite external chaos.

Humans notice the negative: breaking patterns

All of us can unlearn parasitic patterns of negative thought that erode our well-being (thoughts that literally affect our health). I’m not suggesting daily pep talks or posting sticky note mantras on the fridge will radically change your well-being (although these can’t hurt), I’m suggesting making our thoughts and actions intentional, habitually feeling grateful and engaging in happiness-stoking activities that literally re-wire our brain from our human tendency towards the negative, to the positive.

Humans, explain evolutionary psychologists, have a natural negativity bias in order to survive earlier threats. When man spotted a lion (negative) he ignored the carrot (positive) because he knew the carrot wasn’t a threat and would likely be there tomorrow, but he might not there tomorrow if he ignored the lion.

We simply adapt to our day-to-day positive experiences (we wake up rested, the sunrise is stunning, we eat a nice breakfast, our child is dressed on time, our dog is loyally loving us, the traffic flows for a change, purple flowers cover the highway median, our headache is somehow gone).

We tend to notice the negative that interrupts the web of positive that makes up the majority of our day.

We can however re-wire our brain. Experts in the field of positive psychology often cite that “neurons that fire together, wire together.”  In other words, engage in happiness activities (what you truly love) over and over and over and you re-program your brain towards a positivity bias, and you feel better.

We now know our noggin is far more pliable than we ever imagined.

No longer do we need to become our doctor’s diagnosis and we can bathe our mind and body in feel good, healing and calming chemicals by, for example, spending time with others, feeling genuinely grateful and showing empathy towards others.

Walk barefoot on the sands of a quiet beach at sunrise, sync with the ebb and flow of the ocean as you whisper thanks to a divine and you will simultaneously relax your mind, breathe in spirit and soak in the earth’s abundant healing electrons (called “grounding” with 15 years of evidence to back its benefits).

Intentional living means we focus on the many everyday moments that continue to go well.

We can tap the healing powers of our natural world to create emotional and physical well-being.

We can use what we now know of neuroscience to maximize our brain’s capacity for joy.

We can embrace the unseen forces in the universe for our own good and the good of others, call this force God, divine, or if you prefer, energy.

We can merge science, our natural world and spirit to elevate our mind and body to a place of intentional and habitual joy. This isn’t a prescription for nirvana or bliss, that ethereal place we imagine only for monks, it is a real-life prescription for better living, through better feeling.

Image credit: Maggie McCall

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