(Could it be) The End of the World (as We Know It)?

I watched the 3rd and final debate last night and I have something to say and it is this:

Donald Trump is a serious threat to our democracy.

When I heard Trump say that he would “keep us in suspense” rather than agreeing to accept the election results, I was horrified – terrified – and pissed off. The peaceful transfer of power in our country is the bedrock of our democracy. I cannot watch Trump take a sledgehammer to our country’s foundation without speaking up. I have voted in every election since I was old enough to vote. I have voted for Democrats and Republicans. Some have won, and some have lost. Each time I watch the inauguration, I pay attention to the outgoing president shaking hands with the incoming president on the steps of the White House to welcome the first family “home” -to the people’s house – the White House.  This is my favorite moment of each inauguration, and I get goose bumps of patriotism each and every time without fail.

Trump’s recent tirade about the notion of a “rigged” election, paired with his answer in the debate last night, are damaging America and its citizens by inciting people to consider some pretty radical and dangerous ideas. Take a few minutes and watch this clip from CNN showing Dan Bowman, a Trump supporter discussing “taking out” Hilary Clinton or a staging a coup of our government if she wins. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5H5EsG5Ebls

Divisive is not a strong enough word to describe this rhetoric.

This is DANGEROUS. ENOUGH is ENOUGH!

I decided that I would not vote for Trump last November when I saw him mock Serge Kovlaski, the disabled reporter that Trump had clearly known – and in my opinion – clearly imitated and ridiculed at a campaign rally. This example of his inability and unwillingness to own his actions and their consequences was enough of a leadership flaw for me – and that was 11 months ago! The list of transgressions since last November is long. He has insulted so many groups of people for so many different reasons that I will not list here. That is not what I want to focus on. It’s so very clear that he will not stop on his own volition, and I don’t want to waste my time and energy on him any more than I have to.

What I DO want to focus on – is what I can do – and what WE can do as individuals to make a difference.

It is up to us as to make the madness stop.

How you ask?

  1. Vote. Each and every vote matters. Anyone who lived through the Bush/Gore election knows this. Make your voice heard.
  2. Accept today’s reality. The reality today is that our options stink. The die has been cast in this election and these are the options. Pick the lesser of the evils and do the best you can for America. It matters!!
  3. Speak up! Too often, I have been quiet about issues involving racism, gender inequality, LGBT discrimination, gun control – issues that seem may seem political but to me are about human decency, dignity, and unity. To me – this transcends politics, so I won’t be afraid to speak my mind, share my feelings, and be open to having difficult conversations in order to effect positive change in my community, my country and the world we live in. I am encouraged when I see people standing up for kindness. Photos like this give me hope (posted today to Instagram by Cheryl Strayed, author of the book “Wild”) img_2511
  4. Raise our expectations. This is the hard one. I have had enough therapy to know the pain that can come from having unrealistic expectations. It is really unrealistic to feel we can do better? That we are better than this? Some of you may think me naïve for feeling this way. But you know what I think it makes me?? Pretty f-ing patriotic. I love our country. I happen to already think America is great. And I would argue that the vast majority of Trump supporters would not want to live in another country besides America. But we have a LOT of work to do and it starts with us healing from this NASTY election, remembering what this country stands for, and demanding our politicians and parties to hear us as we figure out how to move forward. So think about what you want – what you stand for – and be sure you ask for it in the future.

We can do better next time – because despite what Trump is threatening – there WILL be a next time.

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Joy…and Pain (or rather Pain…and Joy?)

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.

-Brené Brown

As a kid, I remember complaining to my parents about my various aches and pains – and my parents would often say “that’s just growing pains.” Man I didn’t realize back then what they really meant – that growing up is literally painful – not just physically, but emotionally. How do you tell young people what is ahead of them? That becoming an adult is incredibly hard. That change can be excruciating painful. That growth is HARD WORK and no one can do it for you. That each one of us is going to face heartbreak, loss, and hardships that we never thought we would be able to handle. And that even when we get through a tough time, there is going to be another one down the road, and then another, and another.

I think it’s like what some people say about childbirth – that if women actually shared how painful it truly is, no one would choose to be a parent. If children knew how hard it is to enter adulthood, they would likely try to join Peter Pan in Never Never Land where no one grows up!

I remember when one of my best childhood friends lost his best friend in a tragic accident during our freshman year of college. A few short years later, he lost his father to cancer. I remember him telling me the day of his dad’s funeral that maybe his best friend’s death helped him prepare in some way for his father’s. Over 20 years later, what he told me has stayed with me all this time. I have often thought about how strong he was at the young age of 21 to try to cope with his grief by relying on what he had learned about himself during what had previously been the tougest loss he had faced. He taught me something about how to grieve, how to cope with pain, and how to grow.

My friend Erin and I had drinks together this week, and as we often do, we spoke about our lives, our struggles, and the lessons we are trying to learn. I did a terrible job trying to re-tell this wonderful story that teaches a great lesson about overcoming pain. I looked it up later to share with Erin, and decided I wanted to write about it in my blog, so here it is!

I hope that the author Sofo Archon of The Unbounded Spirit blog doesn’t mind if I share his story. His entire blog post can be found here.

The story begins when a young woman who is going through a very painful experience and reaches out to her wise grandmother for help:

“Her grandmother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to boil. In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil; without saying a word.

In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl.

Turning to her granddaughter, she asked, ‘Tell me what you see.’

‘Carrots, eggs, and coffee,’ she replied.

Her grandmother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The grandmother then asked the granddaughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard boiled egg.

Finally, the grandmother asked the granddaughter to sip the coffee. The granddaughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma. The granddaughter then asked, ‘What does it mean, grandmother?’

Her grandmother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. Each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.

“Which are you?” she asked her granddaughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

Think of this: Which am I? Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity? Do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?

Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and hardened heart?

Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you. When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest, do you elevate yourself to another level?

How do you handle adversity? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

May you have enough happiness to make you sweet, enough trials to make you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human and enough hope to make you happy.

The happiest of people don’t necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the most of everything that comes along their way. The brightest future will always be based on a forgotten past; you can’t go forward in life until you let go of your past failures and heartaches.

When you were born, you were crying and everyone around you was smiling. Live your life so at the end, you’re the one who is smiling and everyone around you is crying.

May we all be like the COFFEE.”

Here are some painful truths.

  • When we live a life where we are open to love (any kind of love – not just romantic love), it is certain that we will experience pain at some point in the future. Not just possible. CERTAIN.
  • We are each responsible for how we cope with that pain, how we grieve, how we heal, how we grow. It is up to each of us to decide if we want to be the carrots, the egg, or the coffee.
  • There is no “pain contest” where anyone wins because their hardships are greater than one another. Who would want to win that anyway?? Each of us has our hardships, and it doesn’t help anyone to try to compare whose burden is greater.

I kind of hate the phrase “Everything happens for a reason” because it is too trite. I rephrase it to say “Everything happens for a reason if we take the time and put in the hark work to make meaning out of our experiences.” Too long to inscribe on a coffee mug, but still true. coffee

My intent is not to bring everyone down with this post – sorry that if it’s a bit intense! My intent is to speak the truth, and to encourage everyone to own your choices. I have not always made the right choices – that is FOR SURE. And you know what – I am CERTAIN that I am going to make more mistakes, and I am certain that I am going to experience more pain and loss in my future.

What I have tried to do is stop being a victim, and to own the decisions I made – or didn’t make – that got me to where I am, so that I learn my lessons and can move on with my life. One of the best compliments I received recently was from a friend who told me I was “wise.” Wisdom is healed pain. It hasn’t been easy – and it has been a lot of work up to this point. I have worked with a therapist/coach for years, and my work is ongoing and never-ending.  And it has been so incredibly worth it.

Just like the grandmother says in this story, when we are like the coffee, we change. We grow. We are able to let go of our heartache and our painful pasts. We are able to heal, and we remain open to love. We have the ability to experience joy. We can be happy with what we have, and we can look forward to a bright future. It won’t be perfect – but it will be ours.

“I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”

From the poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley

 

 

 

Survive and Advance

Remember the 1983 National Champion NCState Wo...

Remember the 1983 National Champion NCState Wolfpack (Photo credit: E. A. Sanabria)

It’s almost the end of April, and March Madness is now well behind us. I was so inspired by watching “Survive and Advance” on ESPN last month that I can’t resist writing about it. I watched it again today, and now I am ready to put my thoughts into words.

“Survive and Advance” is one episode in ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, and it is about NC State’s NCAA basketball 1983 championship season led by Jimmy Valvano. While some may say I am not exactly a “true” basketball fan, I AM a fan of a great story, and the 1983 season was exactly that. Some say it is one of the greatest sports stories of all time.

Growing up in Charlotte, NC in the 70’s and 80’s, I couldn’t help but become a fan of ACC basketball. This was the era of Michael Jordan & Dean Smith at UNC, Jimmy Valvano at NC State, Coach K at Duke…a time when players stayed in school until graduation. This was the most amazing era of college basketball in my lifetime, and it was taking place all around me in North Carolina.

Watching “Survive and Advance” was both nostalgic and inspiring for me. When I was in fifth grade in 1983, I had no idea of the significance of what happened…but watching this documentary helped me to realize the impact of that season. Even the title alone, “Survive and Advance,” is inspiring. In those three little words, he summarized everything I was trying to say in my post “Onward,” about forward progress.

Here are some of my musings after watching “Survive and Advance” for the second time.

The power of having a dream:

On Day 1 of Jimmy Valvano’s time at NC State, he told his team “I know I am going to win a national championship.” It took him a few years before he did exactly that. His 1983 team spoke of him as a dreamer, a dreamer with a real vision of what he wanted to achieve, and the ability to paint the picture for the rest them so that they felt it was achievable.

“How do you go from where you are to where you want to be? I think you have to have an enthusiasm for life. You have to have a dream, a goal, and you have to be willing to work for it.” – Jim Valvano

The importance of practice:

Each season, Valvano would have his team practice cutting down the net as if they had won the National Championship. Over and over again. This is not a normal kind of practice. This is beyond practicing the fundamentals. This is practicing being a WINNER, being a CHAMPION…so that when the team ended up on the brink, they could shake off their nerves because they already knew what it felt like to win.

The love of family:

If you have ever seen even a 30 second video of Jimmy Valvano, you know he was a passionate, Italian, family man with a large, passionate, Italian family. He credited his father for his success, saying:

“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.” – Jim Valvano

The power of emotion:

I don’t know any man or woman that has watched Jimmy Valvano’s ESPY acceptance speech without shedding a few tears. If you haven’t seen it, please take a few minutes to click this link and watch it start to finish. If you have seen it, watch it again. It is worth it. My favorite Jimmy V quote is from this speech, and since seeing it again recently, I think about this almost every day. While battling terminal cancer with just a very short time to live, Jimmy V expressed himself as passionately and eloquently as ever before. I want to feel things as deeply and passionately about my life that Jimmy V felt about his, and his speech inspires me to this day.

“To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.” – Jim Valvano

So, “survive and advance” everyone.

Keep moving forward.

Laugh, think and cry. Every day.

Dream big.

Practice.

Love your family, and hold them close to your hearts.

Onward

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” – Steve Jobs

My New Year’s post is a little belated this year. The past few weeks have been an emotional roller coaster for me…marked by the tragedy in Newtown, the holidays, the sad news about the Russian adoption ban, attending a close friend’s mother’s funeral, and then the excitement of attending the Notre Dame/Alabama National Championship game. The game (painful as it was to watch), gave me some ideas of how to articulate my thoughts and feelings about the start of 2013, and where I am in my own personal journey.

The day after the game, the University of Notre Dame posted this on their Facebook page: “Thanks to Notre Dame Football for an outstanding season. It’s been quite a ride. Onward.” That summed up exactly how I feel – about the game, and about my life. Of course I was disappointed at how Notre Dame played, and I had wished for a different outcome. But, overall, I appreciated how amazing the season was, appreciated feeling the excitement building each week, and appreciated the opportunity to be at the Championship game, win or loss. At the end of this crazy season, despite the whooping by Alabama, Notre Dame football is better off than they were a year ago, and that is “forward progress.”

I love this concept of the “forward progress” rule in football. My loose definition is this: no matter how far the runner or receiver is pushed back by his defenders, forward progress means the ball is placed at the best possible spot – the furthest point he was able to make it before going down or out of bounds. Even if he is pushed back 10 – even 20+ yards…WAY behind the line of scrimmage, the refs pick that ball up and put it back down at the best possible spot, and the next play begins.

Now this is where I get serious…because this post in NOT about Notre Dame football. I want my life to work like the forward progress rule! And I think it can if only I can see it that way. As a concept, forward progress sounds so much better to me than the idea of “starting over.” Who wants to go all the way back to the beginning just to cover all of the same ground again? How exhausting. Not me – I want to KEEP MOVING, to figure out what I need to learn from what just happened by healing, learning, making my adjustments, and moving forward.

A few weeks ago, I was devastated by the news that Russian President Putin signed an adoption ban, no longer allowing US residents to adopt children from Russia. You see, after a long discernment process of over a year, adopting a 2-3 year old from Russia had become my “plan”. I had completed my home study this fall, and was ready to submit my application to US Immigration, only to find out a few days after Christmas that this was no longer going to be an option for me. My heart literally ached (and still does) for the 650,000 children in orphanages or foster care in Russia, and every day I pray for the 50+ families that have already been placed with their children, that they are able to complete their adoptions and take their children home. That said, I have been thinking nonstop about what happened, and trying to figure out what to do and how to move forward without having to start over from the beginning.

I don’t make decisions like this easily or quickly, and when first hearing the news about the ban, I truly felt like I had wasted over a year of my life. I felt emotionally drained, feeling like I had to go back to be the start. I felt lost and overwhelmed. Remember how mad you would get playing Chutes and Ladders or Candy Land (or Uncle Wiggly for the board game fanatics out there that can remember that one)? The end of the game is in sight, and on the last roll, you end up on that awful spot that makes you have to move back all the way back to the start.

Well, I felt like that but a whole lot worse. Life is a lot more complicated and emotional than a board game. Once again, I had to give up on the vision I made in my mind of what I had expected to happen. I had to process the loss I was feeling. I had to admit that despite every effort I had been making to have control over the process, I actually had no control. Having children, like life in general, is not geometry – there is no such thing as a straight line being the shortest distance between two points. That is not how life works.

In our own ways, we are trying our best to move the ball forward, to get to the goal line whatever that may be. We all have incredibly squiggly lines on our journeys, don’t we? At this point, my path has zigged and zagged all over the place. There are so many obstacles in our way – and sometimes we have to run out of bounds to avoid getting clobbered. Sometimes we actually get clobbered, and have to get back up, wounded and sore, take time to heal, breathe deep, and get back on the field. We take our lessons learned with us. We take the memories of those that we lost with us. We cope, heal, and start to realize that we are better people because of those lessons learned, and because we were loved by the ones we have lost.

This is my most recent picture of the Notre Dame Grotto, one of the most beautiful, peaceful places on Earth.

This is my most recent picture of the Notre Dame Grotto, one of the most beautiful, peaceful places on Earth. The Grotto gives me a great deal of comfort at times like these.

I love the idea of picking up the ball and placing in at the best spot, and NOT going back to the start. Instead of starting over at square one in my journey to motherhood, I realize now that I have gathered a great deal of knowledge about adoption that I didn’t have a year ago. I have met some amazing people, have made new connections, and have been “practicing” my risk taking abilities. I know myself better. I am continuing to try to embrace vulnerability as a strength, not as a weakness. I have dipped my toe into the “arena” (remember my reference Teddy Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena speech from my post “One Year Later), and now realize I am ready to step in with both feet firmly on the ground.

I have the courage to tell the “world” out there my story, not just my closest friends. I did NOT have that a year ago. That is forward progress.

Onward 2013.

Unbroken

I do my best thinking when I am running or writing. Or maybe I do my best feeling when I am running or writing – I am not quite sure. I think it’s both – it’s all about the mind/body connection, so I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to get off the couch or out of bed and get moving each time.

In any case, I just got back from a 3 mile run, trying to work off my vacation calories, and I found myself thinking about my friends Jane and John, and their 7 year old daughter Sophia who was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in April of this year.

This is Sophia!

Jane writes a journal on Caring Bridge that not only keeps her friends and family updated about Sophia’s treatments, but also provides us with inspiration and laughter. Talk about vulnerability (see my last post) – Jane shares her fears, her hopes, and funny stories about their journey, and when Sophia writes, her sassiness shines right through.

I was thinking about them because I recently read Jane’s post that was titled “Unbroken.” Jane is reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, a book that I just happened to finish reading a few weeks ago, and she wrote about the parallels between Sophia and the POWs in the book. I enjoyed the book – and was definitely inspired by Louis Zamperini’s amazing story. It is hard to imagine how a person could overcome what he did – but that is not what this blog post is about.

This post is about my amazing friends, John and Jane, whom I have known for almost 20 years, and their increbile family who inspire me on a daily basis with their strength, their vulnerability, their humor, and their overall outlook on life, sickness, family and spirituality.

When I read Jane’s post about how Sophia is getting through her toughest week of treatment, it cut straight to my heart. In Jane’s words, “This kid has toxic poison flowing through her veins and she is still kicking butt.” Like Louis, Sophia has an incredibly strong will, which Jane says keeps them strong as a family.

This child is only 7 years old, and yet she already seems to know who she is, what she is made of, and consistently musters the strength to battle this serious disease. It is truly inspiring to me, and moves me to tears on a regular basis. Sometimes happy tears, sometimes sad tears. Sometimes both at the same time like what is happening to me now as I write this. Sometimes I am sad that they have to experience the pain of what is happening to them. But then, I think it’s because of this sadness that I am so moved by their strength and vulnerability as I realize how much we can learn from them.

Jane uses the word grace on her Light the Night fundraising page to describe how Sophia is enduring her illness and treatment. It is apparent to me that grace is present in their entire family – and shared with their friends and family. There is a higher power at work here – I know this because I can see it and I can feel it.

Their spirit is truly unbroken…and in fact seems stronger to me than ever before, because whether they realize it of not, I feel strengthened each time I read Jane’s journal, each time I see a photograph of Sophia and her siblings, Jack and Christina, each time I read about something funny Sophia did or said, and each time I hear the latest about the Anonymous Monkey Sender (AMS) and his/her antics.

Christina, Jack, Jane, Sophia & John

Their family and friends are walking in the Annapolis, MD Light the Night Walk to raise money for the The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society on October 27th Use this hyperlink if you would like to support Team Sophia: http://pages.lightthenight.org/md/Annapoli12/TeamSophiaMcCaul.

While I can’t be there in person, my heart and spirit will be with them.