Cosmic Perspective

Northern Lights, aurora borealis, Iceland

Perspective is everything. We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.

I try to remember perspective and gratitudes, and how important both are for my sanity, ability for acceptance, and sense of peace. It’s not always easy, because life gets in the way. I’ve found though, that it’s important to be mindful to seek perspective when in the midst of anger, or disappointment, or irritation.

A recent evening in Iceland provided a rich opportunity for this practice. (By that, I mean it was a complete shit show). When I travel with the kids, I try to keep expectations low and plans fluid. We were four days into the trip, and so far everything had been outstanding beyond belief. The landscape was just breathtaking. We were meeting lots of new, fun friends. We were having amazing adventures hiking glaciers and walking behind waterfalls and going down into lava and ice caves.

We were also spending our nights under heavy cloud cover. No possibility of Northern Lights. Until one night, it looked like there might be a slim possibility. The kids and I explored the city and mulled our options over dinner. They were intent on seeing Northern Lights. So we decided to go for it. We popped into a tourism office as they were closing. Somehow I ended up paying more than three times what I had expected for the last remaining seats on a small van because everything else (cheaper large bus tours) had quickly sold out.

I love being spontaneous. Until I’m not dressed for the elements. And waiting an hour in the snow for the bus. Holding leftover miso soup from dinner that La Chica insisted I must bring back to the room. By the time we were picked up for the drive out to the National Park to search for Northern Lights, I was already a little grumpy.

The hours pass. The temperature drops. The winds pick up. The children get tired and cold and cranky. The soup gets spilled all over me so all 15 of my fellow tourists get to smell eau de ginger miso soup for the next 4 hours. I’m left with frozen fingers, only a cellphone camera, a Boy who refuses to get out of the van, and La Chica who is dead asleep. I’m a couple hundred dollars lighter. And a bit more than a little grumpy at 2am.

I decide I’m going to make the most of my few hundred dollars and I force myself to stay outside as long as possible. I decide I’m going to try to take photos on my cellphone even though everyone else with DSLRs and tripods tell me it won’t work. I decide to show them I’m just as stubborn as the aroma of soup is.

I learn from our very kind tour guide that the faint light wisps in the night sky aren’t delicate cirrus clouds, but are actually the Northern Lights. I learn from a kind tourist that this is usually what people see, faint white or light green swaths of light that really look like faint clouds. And if you stare long enough, the shapes and intensities shift and change–and that’s when they’re dancing.

I start to take pictures of the dark sky, and I’m stunned. I learn from these kind people that the lens of the camera pick up colors our eyes cannot detect. So I keep taking pictures with my stupid cellphone, and I see blues and greens and pinks.

I’m reminded that what we see in life depends on what lens we’re looking through.

I’m reminded there is light in the darkness.

I’m reminded that had I not paid too much for this intimate tour, I would not have learned how to see the Northern Lights, I would not have seen such magical colors and forces of nature, I would not have learned how to take pictures of these elusive lights. I’m reminded perspective is everything. I could continue to be grumpy about the price and the cold and the soup and the fatigue. And I had every right to be grumpy about each one of those things.

Or I could switch lens. I could see things as the person I want to be. I could be grateful for such an opportunity to learn to see the lights, to actually experience the lights, to have the opportunity to practice perspective. And I’ll be damned if I’m not grateful I recently upgraded my cellphone and apparently have a pretty kick-ass camera in it.

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Walking with Bad Decisions

bad decisions, grace, parenting

Recently I received a note letting me know My Child had made a Bad Decision. It took my breath away. Intellectually, we know our children are human, and will make Bad Decisions. We know we each made our fair share of Bad Decisions, and we still do to this day because we’re human. But when the note comes home and this Child’s Bad Decision leaps from your Intellectual Mind to your Real Life Soul, it takes your breath away.

The disappointment, anger, and sadness walk in and settles onto the couch and dares to put their feet up on the coffee table. I’m a yeller, I do it well when these friends come over. So the kids and I came to an agreement years ago. If they had something to tell me but were afraid of being yelled at, they were to warn me, “I have something to tell you, don’t yell.” And it works. I just need a warning and a moment to inhale deeply and steel myself.

We came up with this arrangement because I want my kids to come talk to me about hard things, when they’re having hard times, when they’re in a bind and need a safe place to land or a safe hand to pull them out of a situation.

So I waited for My Child to come tell me about the Bad Decision. I waited and waited, and I realized the Child was not going to tell me. So we went for a walk. Because forward movement helps process thoughts. Because not having to look each other in the eye makes talking about hard things not so hard. Because being in nature helps us to remember to breathe deeply. Because being in the world provides perspective. Because it’s harder to end or avoid a conversation when you’re far from home and still need to walk back. Mothers know how to create a captive audience.

My parents and my Asian culture operate in a world where shame is their currency. Disappointments and anger are thrust upon you dripped with shame. Shame is the belief you are bad, you are a mistake. Guilt is the belief that you did something bad, you made a mistake. So I grew up believing I was my mistakes, I was bad, broken, not good, not worthy. It took a long time to understand I’m broken, AND worthy. That I make mistakes, AND I’m good.

So I knew the Child and I had to keep walking so that Shame didn’t catch up to us, and so that we could talk about making mistakes. We sat by the lake with our friend Grace, and created a safe place to talk about our values and how pressures and stress and fears create opportunities for struggling to do the next right thing. We talked about how things don’t always end up the way we want, and it can be heartbreaking, and we survive. We talked about how it was important to have a safe space to circle back to when things don’t turn out as we hoped, when we didn’t do the next right thing, when we’re faced with the natural consequences of bad decisions.

We talked about self-care, and doing the best we can, with each decision. And some days are better than others. We talked about making amends, forgiveness, redemption. We talked about how this was just the beginning of the long journey of life, where the Child will be faced with so many more opportunities to make decisions, and some will be harder than others.

I don’t think the Child expected a Fairly Calm Mother, I think the Child expected the Yeller. I know I didn’t expect the Fairly Calm Mother. But I just remembered how it felt, so many times, to feel full of shame, to feel I was bad, to feel I was the mistake. And I knew perpetuating that family dynamic was not the next right thing. And I found that it wasn’t so difficult to offer grace and acceptance because I knew anger and admonishments would not create a learning opportunity, would not create a connecting opportunity, would not model to the Child who I want to be, who I want them to be. I knew that blaming language does not solve problems, talking about solving problems solves problems.

I think of all my Bad Decisions, and how truly fortunate I am that my life did not swerve off a cliff. I think of how much time and energy was wasted in thinking I was the mistake, instead of learning from the mistakes I made. I think of all the grace and love and redemption I was fortunate to receive from friends and loved ones in the face of my mistakes. I want my kids to act like the people they want to be. I want them to see me act like the person I want to be. I want to be the safe place for them to come to.

There are the natural consequences of the Bad Decision the Child must deal with. The judgment on the side is optional though. Today we chose to deal with the appropriateness of the Bad Decision, and leave it at that. Today we chose to remember you can be a good person and make bad decisions. Today we chose to walk with Grace instead of Shame. I hope these are the kinds of walks we will continue to have with Bad Decisions, because we’re human and it’s what we do. Some of our best stories come from Bad Decisions, after all.

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The Truth About Snowflakes

snowflake, liberal, politics

Being called a “snowflake” these days is supposed to be a derogatory term, insinuating someone is so delicate they get offended too easily. Being a “snowflake” is supposed to mean someone feels so special and unique they are entitled to special treatment. Being a “snowflake” is supposed to mean someone’s not resilient.

It’s being used now to label and dismiss people who do not support the nation’s current administration and do not support this administration’s actions and agenda. Here’s the truth though about snowflakes. Don’t underestimate snowflakes even though they may look gentle and delicate in nature.

You find snowflakes in the fiercest of weather conditions and circumstances, and that’s precisely when they shine. Get enough snowflakes together, and they can wreak havoc, they’re a force to be reckoned. Blizzards, avalanches, slippery roads, school/work closings. Snowflakes, at the core, are just water particles, and they can take many forms that can change land formations–cold harsh ice, strong tidal waves, pouring freezing rain, hard sleet. Anyone exposed to harsh winters knows to respect snow. Work with the snow, and it is beautifully breathtaking and fun. If you don’t respect the nature of snow, accidents abound and you’re cold and miserable.

When the landscape is blanketed with snow, there’s a sense of peace, tranquility, hope–millions of snowflakes coming together to do what they do naturally.

Don’t underestimate a snowflake, and what one snowflake is capable of. And certainly do not underestimate the power of millions of snowflakes together. The weather forecast is calling for one hell of a snowstorm.

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Grace in a Tree


I don’t make new year’s resolutions because I don’t believe in waiting to make changes once a year. That just seems silly to me, seems to set yourself up for failure with a lot of heavy expectations and pomp and circumstance. I prefer to make changes when needed, as needed. And since these changes are usually about self-improvement or improving the quality of my life, these changes are needed on a continuous basis because I’m a bit of a fixer-upper.

I can always stand to be more patient and understanding. I could use some work on self-care and kindness. I am also on a constant quest for grace. To be more gracious, to give more grace. So I work on this daily, and some days are better than others. Sometimes I need reminders. I have temporary tattoos of “Grace” for a visual nudge. I even brought home an abandoned kitten I named Grace.

I expect the quality of my life will improve when I bring more grace into my life. I believe I should be more content and that life should be better if I offered more grace, if I was more gracious. And sometimes I remember that Shoulds get me nowhere except stuck. Just like what happens when you invite Grace into your home, and she gets stuck in your Christmas tree.

Turns out I had forgotten kittens are furballs on crack, intent on scratching new leather furniture and breaking glass ornaments. Turns out that you can invite grace into your life, into your home, but grace doesn’t automatically make your life or home calmer or better or more joyful. Turns out that having grace in your home simply means you’ve opened your heart and home to the opportunities of love, connection, sweet moments. And you’ve also opened your heart and home to minor destruction, lots of screaming and spray bottles, and frustration.

Turns out kittens are a lot like life. Some moments are better than others. The joy accompanies the pain. And things aren’t always what you think they will be. This all reminds me of a common misconception about meditation. Oftentimes people seek a meditation practice because they believe it will end their suffering. It is hard work, the being still and accepting, and when you think you’ve sorta got the hang of it, you realize there’s no end to pain and losses and hurts. But wait, I thought if I learned how to be still, I should not feel depressed or hurt again! But you do realize the experience, the suffering, is different. We have these expectations of outcomes once we master a skill or take an action, yet oftentimes reality is a bit different than what we bargained for.

Some years ago I started working on being vulnerable, authentic, brave. I needed to figure out who I really was, and I needed to like who I am. I also knew my past relationships failed in part because I had not been vulnerable, authentic, brave. So I did a lot of hard work, and I love the place where I am now, and I love who I am now. I also realized I thought I should have better relationships, should feel more joy, should be coupled successfully, once I was more vulnerable and brave.

And yet I find that I’ve also felt pain, also had to redefine success, also still have no relationship. But…I thought once I got there, was brave, was gracious, things would fall into place! And I’m reminded that I did fall into place. I’m right where I’m supposed to be at this moment, with Grace in my home reminding me to take down the Christmas tree.

Posted in Dating, Empowerment, Meditation, Mindfulness, Relationships | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

How to Heal Our Country


It has been 12 days since the election. I have been sitting with it all, not sure what to say, think, write. Everyone has something to say. It’s hard for me to take it all in, to sit and listen to all the opinions and facts and projections and fears and hopes and anger and glee. I wish I was a better orator and had the intelligence and grace to know how I feel and what I think about all this, and espouse eloquently.

Then I remember I am a writer, a storyteller. So I can do that, I can tell you a story. I will tell you a story, because the one thing I do know post-election 2016, is that I want each of you to write your own story instead of reading other people’s stories. This is the one thing I do know. My voice needs to be heard. Your voice needs to be heard. This is a story of how we got to today, and what we need to do tomorrow to keep writing our own stories.

I have never felt such great sadness and fear about our country and our world and our literal existence with any previous election. My preferred candidate has not always won, and I have not agreed with everything any president has ever said or done. I’ve gotten angry, but I’ve never felt such alarm in my heart as I see how divided we’ve become as a country, as a world. I suspect this storyline is familiar to you too.

It does not matter who I voted for. It matters that our country is a democracy, and I don’t always get what I want. It matters that our country values freedom of speech, so that I can tell you what I’m thinking and feeling, and you can tell me what you’re thinking and feeling.

This matters because we’ve stopped doing that. We are here today because along the way, we began to shout at each other instead of talking with each other. We stopped looking people in the eye. We stopped sharing coffee and walks with people. We stopped remembering we are more similar than different. We forgot we belong to each other.

As our lives became busier, and as we created and stayed in echo chambers of our making, as we shared memes and sound bites, as we read click bait headlines, we began to see the world in Other Groups. Blues and Reds. Whites and Browns. Haves and Have Nots. And so many more Me and You Groups. And we haven’t stopped to take the time to notice what color their eyes are. We haven’t stopped to take the time to find out how their fears developed, how their families have thrived, how they’ve struggled. Instead of making eye contact with each other, we stare at the headlines and memes on our phones. We have forgotten our humanity.

Everyone in every Other Group feels invalidated. Feeling like you are not being heard leads to knowing your needs aren’t being met. Fear and anger fester and grow. And we start calling large swaths of humans some horrible names. Racists. Chinks. Misogynists. Faggots. We ascribe and project characteristics to people we don’t know. We don’t know who these people are, what their stories are, what color their eyes are. We don’t know how they got to their place in that Other Group. But we think we already know all about them.

And so here we are today in the storyline. This is a democracy so we have to accept election results whether we like it or not. Acceptance does not mean you like it. This democroacy also means you may be delirious with joy and hope for the future. This is a democracy so you can say and do what you can appropriately to try to have your needs met. This is where you change the words you are using to tell your story. This is the really important part.

I understand we have to talk things through with like-minded and trusted friends to process our feelings and formulate our points of view. I understand we need to read about current events. Do all of that. Then do more. Read more. Read more about the history and context of each issue you are passionate about. Read things from different points of view. Read it all with an open mind and a skeptical eye.

Then do two things. One is to do good works. I know we take comfort in sharing hashtags and changing profile pictures and wearing safety pins. I know there is comfort and support in solidarity. But do more. Make the time to write and call your elected government officials. Make time to volunteer with causes you care about, whether it’s working a phone bank or stuffing envelopes or raising money or organizing rallies or boycotts. Just do something. Make time to impact the passage of bills you do not agree with, or with bills you do agree with. I don’t care what you agree with. This is the beauty of a democracy, I may not agree with you, but I urge you to do what you believe in. Protesting and rallying is important to let the world hear your voice. Showing up is only the first step though. It’s not enough. If you don’t like how policies are being made, find out what you need to do and who to contact to have your voice heard.

You must do something other than comment on Facebook or discuss at a cocktail party or march with a sign. You do not get the right to bitch about something if you don’t do something about it. Do something. Do something real and meaningful and impactful. Do works that impact issues and policies. Stop worrying about characteristics of people with opposing points of view. The latter does not impact change. Be a change agent. This is your country. This country is part of your story. Write your story.

And as you write your story, be mindful of the words you choose. This is the second thing you must do. Words matter. They have meaning. Words can hurt, words can heal. Use them carefully. Use them to connect. As you gain a greater understanding of the issues you care about, as you do good works, go and meet real people in the Other Groups. Go and sit with them. With one of them. With some of them. Bring coffee. Bring cake. Bring grace. Ask her name. Ask for his story. Keep your mouth shut so you can look into her eyes and listen to her story and pain and fears and failures and struggles and injustices. Find out how he got to this place in his life where he believes the things he does.

Take the story in. Do not judge. Take a deep breath and be still. Holding someone’s story is sacred work. Holding someone’s story means accepting this person as who she is, without judgment. When we judge, we are not connecting. We are building a wall greater than any wall any president can build. When we judge, we are perpetuating the stereotypes of an Other Group. “See, she’s so elitist, she doesn’t understand. See, he’s so uneducated, he’s too stupid to comprehend. How can they possibly think that way?”

That gets us nowhere. We’re back to shouting at each other, talking over each other, forgetting that we don’t all have to agree all the time. We need differences of opinion. We also need to remember that it’s easier to compromise with someone we validate, while it’s easier to dismiss someone we don’t see as human, as someone who belongs to us, to you. We each have a right to our opinions and beliefs. We don’t have to agree with them. We do however have to find a way to work with them if there’s any hope for humanity.

We all have flaws and fears that mold and create our beliefs and behaviors. We are all messy human beings. We all get swept up in things. It’s time to stop and be still, and breathe. And get to work, one connection at a time. Actively getting involved both within your own Group, and getting to know and understand the Other Group. The only hope for salvation for all of us is real change on an individual level. We must write our stories with humanity and grace and kindness. We each have a responsibility for this.

There are no easy answers. There is no quick fix. There is never enough grace. Especially in the face of outrage and despair and anger and fear. There is work to be done. A lot of it. Choose your words mindfully, pack a lot of kindness and grace, and start writing the rest of your story, the rest of our country’s story, the rest of the world’s story. One of our greatest storytellers, Garrison Keillor’s famous line is: “Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.”

Do that. Take good care of yourself, do, and I mean do, good works, and keep in touch. Reach out to the Others, connect, stay in touch. Please do this, because I really should not increase my alcohol consumption long term, and I’m not sure how much more of this I can take.

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And Then There Was a Teen



Dear my sweetest son,

I’ll wake tomorrow with a teenager in my home. I’ve seen this day coming for a while now. I’ve seen you grow taller; taller than your friends, taller than your grandmother, then taller than me. I’ve heard your soft voice turn into a deep baritone. I’ve heard your giggly belly laughs turn into deep, loud chuckles.

I had no idea what I was doing when we brought you home. I remember panicking in the back seat as I watched you squirm in the car seat. I literally had no idea what I was supposed to do with you when the car stopped. I had no idea what I was supposed to do with myself when the car stopped. I had no idea what I was supposed to do with my life, your life, the world, when the car stopped. It was the slowest, longest drive home.

I held on tight to the scheduled feedings and sleep training rules and beneficial music and language classes. I held on tight to anything I was told I was supposed to do so that I wouldn’t drown under the weight of such serious responsibility. I held on tight to the rules and shoulds so that I wouldn’t fuck you up.

Through the years, thankfully for all involved, especially your pediatrician, I exhaled and learned to trust myself and you. Turns out despite my questionable parenting and character flaws, you are an amazing human being. I’ve watched you grow comfortable in your own skin. I’ve watched you cultivate a quiet confidence in your own being. I’ve watched you do really hard things, really scary things, and I’ve watched you realize you’ve survived them all. I’ve watched you work so hard at learning coping skills, at learning to sit in negative feelings, at learning to accept things aren’t fair. I’ve watched you take the high road when it would feel so much better to lash back.

I’ve watched you face disappointments and rejections and failures. I’ve watched you suffer losses through death, ridicule through teasing, longing for a person you’ll never get. It’s in these moments my heart breaks for you, and it fills simultaneously. It fills with pride that you are navigating life’s ups and down and turns with an amazing maturity, acumen, resilience.

I watch you make decisions based on principles and values. I watch you demonstrate kindness and empathy and grace. I watch you see there are grays in this world, that good people can sometimes act like jerks, that good intentions aren’t always enough, that there are rarely any singular right answers. I see you struggle with the nuances of life.

I see all of this contrasted with the moments where you’re being a kid. When you lash out at your sister and call her names as you seethe with anger. When you get caught up in silly kid play and someone gets hurt. When you come up to me and ask me for a hug.

And again my heart breaks with pride and love. You have done so much amazing work in actively deciding who you want to be. You have done so much work in owning your feelings and your actions. You thanked me the other day for doing such a great job in raising you. I need to thank you for being such an amazing son, an amazing young man.

You forced me to be a better person in every way. Thank you. You make the world a better place every day. I can’t wait to see how you continue to impact this world with your love and thoughtfulness and kindness and grace.

I will never have a greater success. Some moments I chuckle out loud and marvel that I might have actually done something right. The moment you were born and they placed you on my chest, I cried. I felt the world shift. In that one moment everything changed. Part of that was probably the fact that I’d been laboring for almost 24 hours and I was grateful I could finally stop pushing. But mostly it was because I felt everything inside me shift. And settle. For the first time in my life, I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I was born for that moment.

I want you to take these lessons you’ve learned, and recognize all the moments where you’re supposed to be. And be kind and graceful in those moments. Be courageous and helpful in those moments. Always remember it’s OK to be scared and brave at the same time, and that taking risks is the only way to live fully. Do good works and do hard work. Do all of this even when you panic and have no idea what you’re supposed to do with your life. Eventually life will unfold as it will, and my God, it is a glorious life.

You already embody so many truths of this world, truths that took a lifetime to learn for me. You kick ass in all the ways that count. I can’t wait to continue to witness your growth as my son, a brother, a citizen of this world. Now please, remember to use deodorant daily and stop harassing your sister.

Happy 13th birthday, my sweetest love.



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Grace in a Box


I do not go to church often because I don’t seem to find God there. I find Him at the beach, I think we are kindred spirits. I also find him at Holy Cross Abbey during silent monsatic retreats. Some years ago, I discovered during a retreat, that God comes to you. Indeed, He does.

I attend these retreats not because I’m a religious person, but because I’m a spiritual person, and sometimes I need to reset. I go to ground myself. Re-center. I go to dig deep and find the reservoirs of grace and forgiveness and loving kindness that I have buried deep in me. I go to meditate. To still my thoughts and to practice Being Here Now. Each time I go, I find that God does come to me.

I’ve been struggling to find Grace. I gravitate towards people who seem to have an inherent baseline of grace in their DNA. I have an inherent baseline of impulsivity and absurdity. So I am always working on grace. Practicing grace. Remembering to invite grace to be my friend and come to happy hour with me.

On this retreat, God came to me, and brought me grace. Meet Grace. This is what she looks like today:

See, I recently had to put my 20-year-old cat down. It was the most traumatic decision of my life. I never wanted to be put in that position again, to have to decide to take a life even when I knew intellectualy it was the right thing to do. La Chica, however, thinks I’m much more resilient than I really am, and has been begging for another cat. The Boy only grunts these days, and he too grunts his agreement. I stood firm, No cats.

Then, after hours of hiking, hours of sitting by the Shenandoah River, hours of reading, hours of meditating, all in silence, a fellow retreatant pops up and asks, “Want a kitten?” I had been looking for God, and once again, God came to me.

This was the cutest, cuddliest, meowiest kitten ever. She seemed about 6 weeks old, and starving. She was found in a bucket in a horse stall in an abandoned barn. There were no signs of her mother or siblings. The foxes would surely feast on her soon. I explained why I couldn’t take the kitten, but we both felt bad returning her to the barn and to an almost certain fate. We decided to hold on to her for a bit and ask the monks what we should do.

As we walked, I asked the retreatant her name, “I’m Grace,” she said. Well, that did it. I’m a big believer in signs, and a woman named Grace offering me a kitten in a place that is sacred to me cannot be ignored. You don’t just turn down the gift of Grace.

So my heart was torn. I melted for this cat. Yet I didn’t want to be put in the position to potentially put another pet down again. I realized that fear was living 12 years from now, and I needed to Be Here Now. The next right thing was to bring the cat home. Today is what I have, and I was literally holding Grace in my hands, and Grace was meowing at me.

On this retreat, I was reminded about many things through meditation, reading, and Father James. I was reminded about unconditional/conditional love, trust, faith, empathy, being human. About enjoying moments and people and things for the value of those moments and people and things, and not for an end goal or future outcome. Those were all wonderful and timely reminders. But as I sat in those, I knew God had not come quite yet, until she did.

I came looking for God and Grace. They both came to me in their own time, as they always do. And Grace came home in a box.

Posted in Meditation, Mindfulness, religion, spirituality | Tagged , , | 13 Comments