This Christmas I reflect with Gratitude on:

This Christmas I reflect with gratitude on:

(In no particular order…)

My Grandma

My Grandma has a comforting presence to me, her energy is a Mother’s love. She’s never ceased being amazed by the blessings and wonders each day brings – whether it’s snapping green beans on the back porch for dinner, catching fireflies in summer, gathering in her den enjoying conversation, feeding the ducks at the pond, the red roses in her garden, a tea party, or a “big adventure” to an amusement park or historical spot. In her presence, my heart has always felt safe and engaged in the wonder of the present moment. I and the world – are wonderful just as we are.

My Grandma has a deep love of Christ. I’ve always noticed the rosaries, bibles, crosses, and images of Jesus and Mary when I visit her. She shared her faith in a gentle and natural way with me, bringing me to church with her when I was a little girl, and speaking openly about how God is her strength and comfort and has carried her through life.

However it was never any words or images of Christ or the cross alone that ever meant all that much to me as a child or as I grew. It was always her, her loving presence and how it made me feel, that stood out as a Heaven on Earth. When I saw a cross, an image of Mary, or Jesus – it was always her I thought of. Therefore, despite growing up in the passionately atheist home of my parents (think Christopher Hitchens) and considering myself an atheist since birth, the cross, Jesus, Mary – Christianity has always radiated to me with the beautiful sacredness of love.

Taken at Grandma’s

Dostoevsky

I was 19 or 20 when I first read Dostoevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov. The novel highlighted the clear split between my thinking mind and my feeling heart. My heart connected deeply with the character Alyosha, an aspiring monk, and his mentor, an elder monk named Zosima. I was inspired by the beauty of their wise words, steadfast kindness, and the compassionate stance they tried to take towards every person they met. They quickly became my heart’s favorite fictional characters of all time.

However my mind sided with a different character – Alyosha’s logic focused and atheist brother, Ivan. My mind stood in awe and approval of Ivan’s arguments against the goodness of God, his courageous dedication to brutal truths and logic, and his sharp intelligence. My mind viewed Ivan as having the wisdom and the strength to find the harsh path of reality/the truth and to take it. My mind understood Ivan’s philosophy, words, and actions weren’t very beautiful, but the truth is the truth was the philosophy Ivan and my mind endorsed.

However it seems Alyosha’s and Zosima’s philosophy of love struck something deeper inside of me. A decade later when my inner world went pitch black, the memory of the beauty of their faithful love and compassion was one of the few lights I could find in me. The memory was a blinking arrow directing me to the goodness, the beauty, and the power of Christ like love. That light inspired me to pick up Brothers Karamazov again and then pick up the Bible. It was one the the earliest steps I took on this journey back to self.

Love all God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.

Father Zosima (Brothers Karamazov)

“What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.” 

Father Zosima (Brothers Karamazov)

My Children

I decided in high school, if not middle school, that I wanted to be a stay at home mom. Being a mother, and being with my children full time their first years, has always felt like a calling to me. So when I had my first child, my son, and I was able to stay at home with him full time I was delighted. It all felt like a dream come true!

And it was a dream, but it was also real life. My first year of motherhood was a colossal adjustment. My son needed a lot of attention, and he knew how to make that need known. The family encouragement and support I had assumed I’d received never showed up. It was just me and my husband and a very fussy baby. That lack of support cut me deeply, and was the start of the painful opening of my eyes to my own childhood. I took great care of my son, but horrible care of myself. I feel shame admitting this, but the truth is resentment towards him started to grow in me. And then a dread I felt in my very soul hit me – as I realized though he could not actually hurt me I could, and likely would, hurt him (I do not mean physically, just emotionally or damaging his understanding of love ,himself, or trust, etc.) And I did not want that to happen! My heart saw the innocence of his little soul and it was a rare time where my mind and heart agreed – there was no doubt that this little baby was more pure and innocent than me.

Thankfully my son, and daughter who was born 2 years later, are the best teachers of love I have ever met. Their authenticity, wonder, innocence, and the endless grace they show me reminded my heart and mind of something I had unknowing lost long ago – the belief in unconditional love. Suddenly unconditional love which was the most good, and beautiful thing, was also a TRUTH. If it was possible, then that meant it was a goal I could strive for. And I wanted to give that so badly to my children. I started learning about and practicing loving unconditionally – and found that is is NOT easy work. Being their mother and growing in this role has been the most terrifying, challenging, and meaningful work I have ever done. It was the very start of this journey back to self.

“I love everything best”

My Son

Fred Rogers

Until I became a parent, I knew almost nothing about Fred Rogers, his philosophy, and his TV show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I discovered Fred Rogers though my son’s favorite PBS show Daniel Tiger. I loved how in Daniel Tiger emotions and relationships were the focus. I loved the shows continual emphasis on all emotions being natural and okay – emotions are not hurtful or bad it is how we express them that can be troublesome. The show focused on teaching kids how to appropriately express their emotions.

This mindset about emotions made perfect sense to me, though I knew that wasn’t the mindset I lived by. My instinct was to label much of the inner emotional world as “silly” or “wrong”. My instinct was invalidating emotions. And because of that I struggled to figure out what my own emotions were deep down and had never learned the skill of appropriately expressing them. So I sat right next to my son learning about emotions through Daniel Tiger.

At some point I learned that Daniel Tiger was based off of Fred Rogers’ philosophy and his show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. So I started watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood too. I found his gentle presence and childlike curiosity and joy for life very moving. He seemed to radiate love and safety to me. He would often look at the camera and say some version of “I like you just the way you are”. This stirred up a great deal of internal resistance in my mind. I would feel frustrated, and I observed my mind instinctually retorting “But then how will they/or I improve?”. Sometimes my frustration would boil over and I would even tell my husband “I don’t really agree with that sort of….unconditional praise” and fumble around as to why that was saying something like “this world and the people in it need serious improvement, sorry but we most definitely are NOT okay as we are, and people need to hear and accept that truth and get to work being better.”

But alongside my inner resistance, I couldn’t help but notice part of me was actually very receptive to his message and felt touched by it. A soft and vulnerable part of me, I wasn’t used to seeing, was being brought to the surface by the very words that frustrated the thinking side of me. Sometimes even tears would well up in my eyes at his words of unconditional love and acceptance. I believed him! I believed that he, this stranger, would love me exactly as I was right then, despite everything I’ve done or will do. He would see me, he would listen to me, and he would LOVE me. That belief in the possibility of unconditional love was a powerful and stabilizing force to me. I aspired to be more like him myself, I wanted others (especially my children) to believe in and feel that beautiful love from me. Which sounds a lot life his message that I was likable just the way I was – inspired me to……”improve”. (I’m teasing my mind here, but I have come to learn the somewhat non instinctual truth that – Love not criticism leads to improvement.)

Fred Rogers singing “It’s You I Like” and saying this after “And that’s true. And you’ll find that the people who love you best, are the one’s you learn the most from. And the more they teach you and the more you learn the better feeling you’ll have about yourself and the world we live in”
Fred Rogers singing “There Are Many Ways To Say I Love You”…Followed by these words “As you grow I trust that you are finding many more ways to show and tell people that you love them. Those are the most important things that you’ll ever ever learn to do. Because loving people and animals and the world we all live in is the most important part of being alive.”

My Husband

This year has been a tough one for our marriage – lots of life changes and inner realizations and very little quality alone time together. At points it has felt like our marriage was a chapter in our lives, and it was quickly coming to a close. So it might be surprising for my husband to see himself on this list, but on reflection he shouldn’t be surprised.

In the second half of this year my inner struggles came more clearly to the surface than they ever have in my life. Waves of every emotion I’ve ever felt came out and it changed on a weekly basis. It was messy. Yet, somehow, he never judged me. He’s tried to be there for me even when I pulled away from him and expressed doubt about our marriage surviving this inner change in me. His focused seemed always on getting me back on solid footing. He reassured me he loved me and wanted to see me happy and healthy no matter what that meant for us. His focus wasn’t on what he had to gain or lose – it was my wellbeing. That is unconditional love, and it’s been a beautiful and inspiring thing to see.

He may not be artful in day to day expressions of love, but when times were tough (which is when love is truly tested) he’s displayed his unconditional love clearly. While others, who I thought loved me and would always be there to catch me, fled or at best stood by with criticism, doubts, frustration, invalidation, and wordy advice he reached out with the strongest arms of love he has to try to catch me. And his effort, simply seeing his effort, did steady me in my fall and guided me to softer spot to land. Unconditional love came from an expected source unexpectedly – I clearly have some reflecting to do.

WordPress Friends

At the beginning of my journey back to self I assumed the major changes happening in me were a uniquely “me” experience. It wasn’t until many months into my journey, maybe closer to a year, that I began to suspect I wasn’t alone in this journey. That what I was experiencing was a human experience – like the experience of falling in love, or the experience of missing someone, or the experience of tasting good food.

That’s when I started this blog. I wanted to document my evolving journey ( a human journey) in my sometimes beautiful, sometimes good, but always true inner world. And in this blog I have done that, but this blog has gifted me so much more than I ever expected. It connected me to you! So many people have reached out to share their own experiences and perspectives and what they’ve learned on their journeys in healing, motherhood, faith, creativity, love, and life. I am overwhelmed with gratitude to everyone who has taken time out of their lives to show kindness to me – an internet stranger. My WordPress friends have given me the beautiful gift of feeling seen, encouraged, relatable, understood, deserving of compassion and loved. This blog created to document my journey back to self has become an essential element in my journey back to self.

I will be forever thankful to each of these people who reminded my heart and mind of the truth and power that is Love. That is God.

Fred Rogers – “Sometimes People Are Good”

Lyrics:

“Sometimes people are good
And they do just what they should.
But the very same people who are good sometimes
Are the very same people who are bad sometimes.
It’s funny, but it’s true.
It’s the same, isn’t it for me and…

Sometimes people get wet.
And their parents get upset.
But the very same people who get wet sometimes
Are the very same people who are dry sometimes.
It’s funny, but it’s true.
It’s the same, isn’t it for me and…

Sometimes people make noise
And they break another’s toys.
But the very same people who are noisy sometimes
Are the very same people who are quiet sometimes.
It’s funny, but it’s true.
It’s the same, isn’t it for me and…

Sometimes people are good
And they do just what they should.
But the very same people who are good sometimes
Are the very same people who are bad sometimes.
It’s funny, but it’s true.
It’s the same, isn’t it for me…
Isn’t it the same for you?”

The loving, gentle, true, and beautiful, perspective Fred Rogers shares in this song couldn’t be simpler, but it’s been so easily missed or forgotten by me . I find it is a perspective that encourages kindness, mercy and loyal love towards others and myself.

Quotes On Being Human

“Man is a mystery: if you spend your entire life trying to puzzle it out, then do not say that you have wasted your time. I occupy myself with this mystery, because I want to be a man.”

-Dostoevsky

“Discovering the truth about ourselves is a lifetime’s work, but it’s worth the effort”

-Fred Rogers


“Why do you run scattershot

begging for answers

when you are the essence

of all meaning?”

Rumi

“A human being is a spatially and temporally limited piece of the whole, what we call the “Universe”. He experiences himself and his feelings as separate from the rest, an optical illusion of his consciousness. The quest for liberation from this bondage is the only object of true religion. Not nurturing the illusion but only overcoming it gives us the attainable measure of inner peace.”

Einstein

“What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

“The Little Prince”, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

“This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond”

Rumi

“We are never confronted with a task that denies us our free will.”

Rumi

“In every one of us this morning, there’s a war going on. It’s a civil war. I don’t care who you are, I don’t care where you live, there is a civil war going on in your life. And every time you set out to be good, there’s something pulling on you, telling you to be evil. It’s going on in your life. Every time you set out to love, something keeps pulling on you, trying to get you to hate. Every time you set out to be kind and say nice things about people, something is pulling on you to be jealous and envious and to spread evil gossip about them. There’s a civil war going on. There is a schizophrenia, as the psychologists or the psychiatrists would call it, going on within all of us. And there are times that all of us know somehow that there is a Mr. Hyde and a Dr. Jekyll in us. And we end up having to cry out with Ovid, the Latin poet, “I see and approve the better things of life, but the evil things I do.” We end up having to agree with Plato that the human personality is like a charioteer with two headstrong horses, each wanting to go in different directions. Or sometimes we even have to end up crying out with Saint Augustine as he said in his Confessions, “Lord, make me pure, but not yet.” We end up crying out with the Apostle Paul, “The good that I would I do not: And the evil that I would not, that I do.” Or we end up having to say with Goethe that “there’s enough stuff in me to make both a gentleman and a rogue.” There’s a tension at the heart of human nature. And whenever we set out to dream our dreams and to build our temples, we must be honest enough to recognize it.”

“Unfulfilled Dreams” Sermon, Martin Luther King Jr.

” The human shape is a ghost

made of distraction and pain.

Sometimes pure light, sometimes cruel,

trying wildly to open,

this image tightly held within itself”

Rumi

“Everyone longs to be loved. And the greatest thing we can do is to let people know they are loved and capable of loving.”

Fred Rogers

“We are all so much alike… and yet we’re all so different! I find myself rejoicing at the endless variety of human beings, and that’s partly, I know, because your differences from one another tell me that it’s all right for me to be different in many ways, too.”

Fred Rogers

Share in the comments any quotes about being human that speak to you. I’d love to read them.

“It’s You I Like”

Lyrics:
“It’s you I like,
It’s not the things you wear,
It’s not the way you do your hair
But it’s you I like
The way you are right now,
The way down deep inside you
Not the things that hide you,
Not your toys
They’re just beside you.
Cause it’s you I like
Every part of you.
Your skin, your eyes, your feelings
Whether old or new.
Hope you will remember
Even when you’re feeling blue
That it’s you I like,
It’s you yourself
It’s you.
It’s you I like.”

I discovered this cover of Fred Rogers’ It’s You I Like while making a playlist for a loved one. I was searching for a song which expressed how I feel towards them. And this song captured that to me in a deep way. In a vulnerable way. It expresses something my heart knows and feels, but I struggle to express and live in life. Expressing this feeling to someone else is important to me, and true to me, but very difficult for me (even if simply doing it through someone else’s song like this). It is an emotion that is hard for me to grasp and express at all. And I suspect, in real life situations, hard for me to grasp and accept from another when expressed towards me. But that is the magic of this song, it reaches me. It brings tears to my eyes. I accept it, I feel it for a moment. And I remember that moment.

When I reflect on my experience of this song it is complex. Is the song being sung to me? Or am I the one singing the song? Is the song a parent singing to their child? Or a child singing to their parent? I hear it as first being sung to me, but somehow it has a magic that frees me to be more fully myself for a moment, and what I find is I am somehow the voice who was singing the song in the first place. Singing that song to myself, everyone else, and everything. Somehow I have lost and forgotten part of who I am.

My heart finds so much comfort and peace in the unconditional love expressed in this song. And I believe through hearing it, my heart builds up a sense of trust and safety. Which allows my heart to feel increasingly empowered and free to sing it.

Fred Rogers – “The Truth Will Make Me Free”

These are the words from the video above:

“The truth is inside of us, and it’s wonderful when we have the courage to tell it.

Singing: What if I were very, very sad
And all I did was smile?
I wonder after a while
What might become of my sadness?
What if I were very, very angry,
And all I did was sit
And never think about it?
What might become of my anger?
Where would they go, and what would they do
If I couldn’t let them out?
Maybe I’d fall, maybe get sick
Or doubt.
But what if I could know the truth
And say just how I feel?
I think I’d learn a lot that’s real
About freedom.
I’m learning to sing a sad song when I’m sad.
I’m learning to say I’m angry when I’m very mad.
I’m learning to shout,
I’m getting it out,
I’m happy, learning
Exactly how I feel inside of me

I’m learning to know the truth
I’m learning to tell the truth
Discovering truth will make me free.

Are you discovering the truth about you? Well I’m still discovering the truth about me. That’s what we do as we keep on growing in life.”

Fred Rogers television show Mister Rogers Neighborhood was intended for children. And he spoke so beautifully to the child’s heart, he was often able to awaken the inner child that still lives within adults. His gentle, compassionate, and understanding presence along with his wisdom has been/is incredibly inspiring and comforting to me in this journey.