Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Answered Prayers?

Lately a friend asked why I seem to have so much going on in my life at once. First let me just say that facebook presents a false reality that absolutely everyone is out having a fabulous life while we are home doing laundry (and in fact I spend the majority of my Saturday nights home doing laundry) but ultimately she’s right. I have had a lot going on lately because I am saying yes to everything. And here’s why.

The last few years, from 2010 on, were rough. My challenges were so huge and overwhelming, I was on the verge of losing everything. I endured a stressful, costly three-year court battle to save my dog, a restraining order on a violent and armed neighbor who threatened to kill my husband, losing my grandson for a year and a half, household disasters that cost us tens of thousands we didn’t have, and the list goes on. On top of that, during this time both my writing and singing career seemed to be dying a slow financial death. We were living on the edge of quiet desperation. Not knowing where to go, I went within, and I wrote, and I read. One of the books I read was Lit by Mary Karr. Karr talked about being broken down and broke in her own life, and how it forced her to her knees. Literally. She began to pray every day, and miraculously her life turned around. In addition to sobering up for the first time in her life, her first book, The Liar’s Club, soon became a New York Times bestseller. And things only got better from there.

Though I am a Baptist preacher’s daughter, my strongest sense of religion is perhaps my devotion to the written word. Nature is the only church I belong to. But finding myself at an all time low, I had nothing to lose by following her lead.

I began praying every morning, and meditating, even if for a few minutes. I didn’t know if I was doing it “right” by any dogmatic standards, but I was sincere in my practice.

Aside from praying for my loved ones (and sometimes my not-so-loved ones), I prayed to be my best self. I prayed for opportunity. I prayed to be given the chance to do good work in the world. I vowed that if opportunity was given to me, I would rise up to meet it. And I said thank you. A lot. No matter how bleak things were, there was always something to say thank you for. Months into this, what I previously considered my “luck” began to turn around.

After a solid year of praying, I am blessed with meaningful work. My dog has remained safely with me. My grandson came home. The violent neighbor got evicted – on Christmas. We were even “gifted” a free trip to Jamaica. Opportunities are coming my way right and left, so what else can I do but say YES to everything? I would be crazy not to.

Are these answered prayers? I don’t know. I don’t presume to be evolved enough to wrap my puny brain around the mystery of God. But what I do know is that words have power. Stating my intention every day changed something. I also observed that my days matched the energy I brought to them, and starting my day in quiet contemplation definitely brought good energy.

I have no evidence that there was someone listening on the other end of that cosmic line. The things I've experienced --gun violence, almost being killed in a fire, a catastrophic childhood, a father in prison -- sometimes made it hard for me to believe in any God, but my faith is stubborn. I have seen evidence of grace in my life. I have seen evidence of love, and of goodness. What else could God be but that?

So I will keep on praying. And saying yes. And saying thank you. And I suppose I should thank Mary Karr at some point.

*Another blog I wrote on The Power of YES.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The International Women's Day Hangover

March 8th was International Women’s Day. I celebrated by surrounding myself with brilliant, strong courageous women who inspire me. From morning till night, I was in the company of estrogen-laced greatness. Yes I was giddy and uplifted by the love, encouragement, and beauty of these women. All day my facebook buddies were touting  how happy and PROUD they were to be women. Yay for us! I got caught up in it. You could say it was intoxicating.

And then comes the morning after, also known as… the hangover. And with it, the sober thoughts.

Yes, I love being a woman. Sometimes. And sometimes it just plain sucks.
How could I say such a thing? Because although I believe in the power of positive thinking,  I don’t want to be in denial about the hard truths. If we don’t acknowledge them, we can not change them.

So here is my list of womanly things that SUCK:

It sucks ….

That we are still fighting for control over our own reproductive rights.

That I’ve had to look over my shoulder all my life walking to my car or getting in an elevator because one in six US women are rape victims.

That my daughter has to carry pepper spray.

That women in so many parts of the world aren’t free, don’t have rights, are chased by the virtue police, have to wear burqas, are stoned to death for minor infractions that men get away with every day.

That one in four women are victims of domestic violence.

Oh yeah….and since I’m feeling cranky, these things suck too:

That women are expected to be eternally thin and eternally young.

The various woman-specific cancers for which research is under-funded.
Bras and high heels.

Okay so I’m ranting. I’ll stop.

I’m just saying it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. We have to be better, fight harder, strive more than our counterparts. Here in the US, opportunity abounds and I can pursue any dream I want, but I’m still looking over my shoulder every time a new bill threatens my freedoms, every time a stranger walks behind me, every time I turn on the news and hear yet another report of a missing woman who happens to have a really suspicious creepy boyfriend, and I can never forget that women around the world are still oppressed.

Ever since Eve took the rap in Genesis, on some level we’ve been cowering, apologizing for our gender. We bought the lie, and forgot who we really are. I mean…think about it. We CREATE LIFE in our wombs! We are capable of connecting with others at deep soul levels. Our intuition is astounding. But in many ways we are still in that victim role. We haven’t yet stepped into our power, or as my friend Amy says, awakened to our greatness.

So yes, let’s celebrate, but not because the struggle is over. Let’s celebrate all that is good, the progress we’ve made, and the road ahead that we have yet to walk together. Let's celebrate awakening to our greatness.

I am proud to be a woman, proud of all we’ve come through and survived, proud to carry the suffragette spirit in my veins, proud of all the women I am honored to call my friends. And I will be proud to continue to stand up for women, everywhere, until we are equal, free, and safe all around the world.

Happy Hangover Day.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

We Are Stardust

Last week I had “one of those days.” You know the kind, where everything is going wrong and everyone is on your last nerve. Work was stressful, my kids were fighting, even my cats were fighting. Before I blew a gasket, I packed the kids in the car and headed off for yoga, breathing in and out, counting to ten.

I ran in and laid my yoga mat down, then rushed my warring boys off to kid-care in the gym. I returned just in time to see one of my fellow yogis literally pick my yoga mat up and toss it to the side, as she preceded to take my space.


Breathing… I asked another woman who saw this if she would mind moving up about 6 inches so I could have someplace to put my mat. She said no. She needed all of the space she was occupying and all the space surrounding it.

Thus began my inner rant – dividing myself from “those people” – the ones who don’t get what yoga is all about. “Those people” I assured myself, “are ruining my experience, and my whole Saturday!”

I wanted to see myself as separate from these defensive, space-grubbing narcissists. But then I remembered that we are connnected…

Joni Mitchell sang it 40 years ago, “We are stardust…we are golden…”
This is not just some hippie-dippie statement full of moonbeams. There is actually some real science behind it.

Astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson explains it this way:

“The atoms of our bodies are traceable to stars that manufactured them in their cores and exploded these enriched ingredients across our galaxy, billions of years ago. For this reason, we are biologically connected to every other living thing in the world. We are chemically connected to all molecules on Earth. And we are atomically connected to all atoms in the universe. We are not figuratively, but literally, stardust.”

In other words, I am connected to every person in this Universe, even the ones I don’t like. They way that I respond to others will affect me just as much (if not more) than it affects them.

So I breathed, and calmed myself and found another space to occupy.

People may have horrible manners and display sefishness, but we are connected. They are, we are, I am connected to everything in the universe, and made of the very same matter. Whether I like it or not.

And just when I want to struggle against the fact that this is true, here’s something else Tyson says, “The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it. ”

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Living in Possibility

Last night my husband Troy and I saw Cirque de Soleil Totem. This is the third time I’ve seen a Cirque show, and every time I am moved to tears. Yes, I am awed by the spectacular beauty and their superhuman feats… but it’s more than that.

As we were walking to our car after the performance, Troy said, “If the world would just stop fighting, we would see more miraculous things like this.”

And I realized that this is why I was so filled with emotion. Our world is weighted down in fear. Fear separates us, and causes us to fight each other. Fear causes us to fail. 

But on this night we saw no fear. We witnessed the best in humanity, from every race and creed, from all over the world. And I know these artists could not possibly do what they do if they had a moment of fear in their hearts.

When this woman is dangling 100 feet in the air from her partner’s foot, she’s not thinking about falling. She's not thinking of how dangerous this is. She can’t afford to think that way. She believes she can float in the air, supported only by a human foot, and she does. She is living in possibility.

There is no room for fear in this scenario. No fear. And they fly...

It made me wonder why, as we enter every new endeavor or relationship or creative pursuit, why are we so often filled with fear? Why are our hearts so filled with doubt?

What if we lived in possibility and belief…all of the time?

Could we fly, like these miraculous performance artists?

What if?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013- My Greatest Teacher

Just after Christmas, as I was cleaning my room and desk, I found a sealed envelope in which I had written my prayers for the year. When I opened it, I was astounded:

Though I had all but forgotten this written prayer,  it had been answered. Maybe not in exactly the way I expected, but answered nonetheless.
I was able to do the work of my soul. Though my book has not (yet) sold, in the wake of Newtown, I worked for gun reform all year. I never saw that coming, and yet it was the most important work I could do - and had to do.

My family was blessed with good health, Stitch is still with us, and we have peace and resolution.

And this, the answered prayer I didn't think was possible : my grandson Ayumu and daughter-in-law Aya came home from Japan. They moved back in with us. Ayumu enrolled in preschool and learned to speak English and ride a bike and fly on his scooter alongside Evan. My daughter-in-law excelled in school and got her green card. This was beyond a dream come true.

At the same time, this year my career fell apart. I now had two little kids to take care of, and as they adjusted to this new living situation, there was a lot of love/hate. Lots of slammed doors and yelling and making up. My days were filled with time-outs and potty-training and driving to and from two schools. Between them and my activist work, I had no time to write, or do much of anything else, but at least I had work coming up. And then all the work I had booked for the summer began to cancel...boom, boom, boom like dominoes falling, until everything was gone. And with Aya and Ayumu returning home, we had two more mouths to feed. I started hustling, sending out hundreds of resumes, sending my new book out hoping to sell it- and nothing. I was crushed. Scared. Broke.  Though Troy was working 6 to 7 days a week, our bills had doubled and soon we were upside down financially. Our ship was sinking.

There were many fearful days I thought we wouldn't make it. I worried we would lose everything. We had to cut loose a few things just to stay afloat; mine and Troy's super-expensive health insurance and our home phone line were a few of the casualties of summer. I feared our house would be next. But what happened was that those times drove me to my knees, which was exactly where I needed to be.

I immersed myself in prayer and meditation. I prayed for courage and wisdom. I prayed for balance. I prayed to find my way out of fear and back to faith. My prayers (or thoughts, whatever works for your belief system) were once again answered. Stepping out of fear restored me, and though we still didn't have the money we needed to right our ship, I felt peace, and chose to believe that it would all work out.

When I focused on the lack and the problems, it only grew larger, looming over me every waking moment, keeping me up at night. But when I put my focus on gratitude, when I put my energy into faith, I slept. I felt happier. I breathed easier. And though the bills were piling up, I stayed present in the moment. I reminded myself: The lights were on. We had food in the cupboards, coffee brewing in the morning. In the present moment, we were okay.

So here we are at the end of the year. Thanks to Troy's hard work, our bills are getting paid down. We are stable. And in a few days, our family's new healthcare plan kicks in. Obamacare is saving us $700 a month- this is a life changer!

Winter came, miraculously, with an unexpected free trip with the kids to Vegas and Disneyworld (thanks Wilson Phillips), and then a free trip to Jamaica for my 50th birthday. Free! These were events I could not have possibly imagined six months ago. The year ended with my daughter getting her Masters degree in psychology, and a new job possibility for me.

Do I believe in the power of prayer? Hell, yeah.

I also believe deeply in the power of our thoughts, our intentions, and our words.

2013 was both my savior and my greatest adversary. But I know that every adversary is a great teacher.

Here is what 2013 taught me:

Everything eventually works out, somehow.
I am always okay.
Life regenerates after loss.
Fear and worry is a HUGE waste of time.
Asking for what I want from life, and believing I deserve it, is essential.
Daily gratitude is as important as oxygen.
Love heals everything. Period.

And the biggest lesson of all: No matter what each year may bring, there is always a gift. Always. 

In that spirit, I greatly anticipate 2014, and vow to embrace every moment. I will stay rooted in gratitude and love, be clear with my intentions and my words, and keep exercising that faith muscle.

I am grateful for the beautiful circle of people (all of you) that surround my life, and the love that holds me up. I hope to do the same for you.

Here's to a beautiful 2014. Let's embrace it- all of it.

Monday, December 16, 2013

I Had a Crazy-Beautiful Dream....

circle around the moon
The other night I had a beautiful dream -- one of those crazy-beautiful dreams that you never want to wake up from.

I saw many people walking over a green grassy hill, coming toward me. Just a few at first, and then there were hundreds. They were all colors, all faiths. They gathered together and began to speak of peace. They were going to change the world, and end violence, and stand up for children. There were warriors and patriots and parents, some whose children were taken from them, but these parents had faith. They knew their children were angels in heaven, and for a moment I swore I could see their wings shimmering above us. 

Faith leaders began to appear one by one. Muslim, Christian, Jewish…wearing colorful robes and yarmulkes and taqiyah prayer hats.
They were both women and men and this made me smile. They laughed and talked and embraced each other like great friends. They spoke to us and said that together we would usher in peace and end the culture of violence, and we believed them. 

Then, because dreams are crazy and can take any turn they want, there was a superhero, and beautiful TV star standing in the crowd, holding a candle and radiating joy, and then my childhood idols Jackson Browne and Rosemary Butler were suddenly there singing, and all of us sat like children on the grass, listening to their songs of hope. 

And through it all I could hear bells ringing. Twenty six bells, ringing and ringing and echoing across the country, and that’s when I realized that there weren’t just hundreds of us, there were thousands and maybe millions all over America, ringing the bells and lifting our voices together in hope - and then a choir began to sing, "Go tell it on the mountain that healing is everywhere."

At the end of my dream, a beautiful woman wearing a yarmulke stood before us and spoke of a new world that we would co-create – all of us together. We looked up and we believed her. She told us all to come close and we did. She told us all to hold hands, and we did. And then we began to sing together. Hundreds of people of all races. Reverends, Rabbis, Muslims, Buddhists, Jackson Browne, the superhero and the beautiful TV star, all holding hands and singing together a song we had never heard before and yet somehow we knew the words, as though we’d always known, “I will be a sanctuary... I will be a sanctuary…”

And the best part of this dream was that when I woke up Sunday morning, after blinking my eyes a few times, I realized…it wasn’t a dream.

It actually happened.

That night there was a beautiful circle around the moon, and I knew the peace we spoke of would become truth. I drifted into sleep again, knowing I would have many more crazy-beautiful dreams.

* On 12/14/13, the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook tragedy, Moms Demand Action, Brady Campaign, OFA and IKAR co sponsored the REMEMBER. RECOMMIT event at the Federal Building in Los Angeles. There were over 70 similar events all over the country.

Shakeel Syed (Muslim Shura Council) Rev Sandie Richards, Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels, and Rev Louis Chase.
The Reverend and the Rabbi

The beautiful TV star: Marcia Cross and her husband, marching with us for peace.
The Superhero: ready to spring to action to protect children.
Standing between my childhood idols Jackson Browne and Rosemary Butler

the hundreds who appeared over the hill

LaWanda Hawkins of Justice for Murdered Children imagines a future where her group has no more members.
The amazing, generous, social activist Jackson Browne

the ones who will usher in change

Pastor Ruett Foster and his wife, whose seven-year old son Evan is an angel now, asked us to make this world better.
All faiths, bowing their heads together.

Rabbi Aaron Alexander, Reverend Ed Bacon, and Rabbi Sharon Brous  (and Rev John Cager of 2nd AME) part of our beautiful closing program, helped us to envision a better world, and told us it is our duty to be responsible for one another.
*** Thank you to Erin Doyle Debi Champ  and Mark Noad for above photos

Join us: www.momsdemandaction.org 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

You'll Find What You're Looking For

This morning, while meditating at the end of my yoga class, these words came to me, "You'll find what you're looking for." And at first I didn't get it, because I wasn't actively "looking" for anything right at that moment, except peace. But as I ruminated on it, I realized these words are true. I have always found what I'm looking for.

When I approach my day looking for beauty, I find it everywhere. Likewise, when I walk into the world expecting trouble, rude people, traffic...I generally find it.

 This rule applies to all of us.

If you look for grace and kindness, you will find it
If you look for conflict and trouble, you will find it.

If you look for goodness in a person, you will find it.
If you look for a reason to be disappointed, you will find it.

If you believe that work is hard and grueling, you will find that it is.
If you believe that work is a blessing and a godsend, you will find that it is.

If you believe the world has shortchanged you, you will find that it has.
If you believe that the world is abundant and plentiful, you will find that it is.

When we fight and engage in conflict with others, it's because that's what we were looking for.
When we find ourselves surrounded by love, that's what we were looking for.

So as I was driving home, these thoughts were swirling about in my head : Why don't we stop looking for reasons to defend ourselves, and start looking for beauty in the world?
Why not look for goodness in others?
For reasons to be grateful?
For peace?

And this song came on the radio:
It's Christmastime; there's no need to be afraid
At Christmastime, we let in light and we banish shade
And in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy
Throw your arms around the world at Christmastime
But say a prayer to pray for the other ones
At Christmastime

And at that moment in front of me was a car with the world's best bumper sticker:

"God Bless The Whole World. No Exceptions."

I'm always looking for meaning, even in the smallest moments.
In that moment, I found what I was looking for.