Friday, August 21, 2015

When Little Bird Dies

I spent two days in a convent recently while my little sister took her first vows. It was beautiful, and a good place to get my head together. And it was a good place to let everything fall apart, too.
I’m mostly good with accepting things as they are, or, I always thought I was, anyway. But there are always situations that try my patience and sanity. Especially in the last year, I’ve discovered that I have a masochistically stubborn side, a part of my heart and mind that hates to give up with insufficient regard for self-preservation.  I’d been nursing a metaphorical bird, you see. Let's call her Hope. It was clinging to life when I found it, and I tended and fretted and watched over it ardently, refusing to accept the possibility of its demise. It was, after all, the most beautiful bird I’d ever seen—and I wasn’t about to give up on it.

But the bird kept changing. Its wings would change color, its character, its emotions. It would be healing one moment, barely hanging on the next.  The bird left me grinning with joy sometimes, and then weeping in agony just as quickly.

I brought my bird with me to The Motherhouse of the Little Sisters of Christian Charity in New Jersey, and while I was there, the wonderful nuns of SCC were gracious and kind enough to allow me to stay at The Villa—a donated mansion turned retreat house for visitors. 
My bird and I stayed peacefully in The Villa—at first—while I was caught up in the goings on of my family, reconnecting with my past, which, surprisingly, managed to remind me pleasantly of who I had become. I walked on the grounds with Sister Squared (my nickname for little sis), I prayed in a chapel, I dipped fingers to holy water for the first time in fifteen years. I was reconnecting solemnly with Self, questioning everything. Remembering everything.

Then, as I sat alone in the muggy coastal heat under a ceiling fan, contemplating dinner with the sisters, I got news that my poor little bird had flatlined. She was coding. Again.

My gut dropped. Last I had checked, her wing was broken, but she was hobbling along—perhaps on the way to recovery. I had hope for the outcome. But now, there she was, clinging to life once more. My precious little bird was suffering for breath. And so was I.

After a brief few moments of consideration, I felt something shift in my heart. I didn’t move to try and save her this time. I just sat and watched—heart aching—as she labored.  And I realized that I was exhausted from keeping her alive. That keeping her alive was killing me. I’d been feeding her my air for so long and now I was running out, and I found myself doing the unthinkable: I turned away and left her on her own.

Maybe she was meant to die, you know? Maybe she wasn’t. But the fact is, I couldn’t keep this vigil up anymore. It was depleting me, reviving her so often on my own. She had to want to live. And that wasn’t up to me. I had to release control.  The ultimate lesson—little bird was teaching me acceptance. No matter what.

Acceptance was harder for me than I thought. But being so separated from my life in Seattle, from the noise of it, the emotions of it, and surrounded by reminders of all that had helped make me who I am today gave me the inner quiet to begin accepting things with grace.


I guess we all have a bird we’re struggling and praying over, crying to keep alive. But there comes a point when we have to honor that maybe the bigger lesson is in its death. Maybe the miracles come after and they don’t look the way we expected. Maybe we have to learn to ask the hard questions with grace and prepare to let go of the outcomes. Maybe it’s all about unconditional faith.  You know….like unconditional love…the two go hand-in-hand. Not just for the sake of others, but every bit as importantly, for ourselves.  Sometimes, we have to let our little birds, the ones that are foolish enough to believe we can control one damned thing beyond the present moment, die so we can fully live. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Love of Self: A Lesson in Letting Go


It’s a pretty popular notion these days--loving yourself first. It gets tossed around so often that it loses its meaning. Or maybe we don’t understand it to begin with. Which sucks. Because being a human is hard enough without having to navigate the complex neuropathways of sufficient self-love.

What does it mean, anyway? How can we be certain we’re “loving ourselves first” at all? What if we THINK we are, but when it comes down to it, some of us have ALWAYS put someone first because it’s our default mode? It’s our core setting, when love is involved. But it gets especially tricky in matters of letting go.

Most of my life I’ve had to let go of the people I loved, for one reason or another, all out of my control. I never met my dad, my mom hitchhiked through my childhood,  my grandpa—the one source of normalcy and care I had—died when I was ten.  I had to let go of my family when I chose to love someone that didn’t meet their approval.  I had to let go of a partner after 8 years, my brother to an untimely death, my sister to the convent….there’s been a theme here.

I think I’ve managed to let go pretty well.  But I’m also pretty sure that life aims these experiences directly at me for some very important reason—much to do with loving myself, almost like it’s helping me rid my DNA line of any remaining tendencies to hold onto people when it’s no longer a good idea.  That whole “let it go, if was yours to begin with it’ll come back…blah blah.” Or maybe it won’t. Or maybe it was never yours to begin with and that’s the part you have to accept. Problem is, I also have one very strong generational trait I’m deeply proud to have inherited—a powerful capacity to love.  And with that comes fierce loyalty, protectiveness, dedication to others’ happiness and the harmony of interrelationships.  If only it didn’t come with the deep ache of loss, as well.  But it does. 

And where does that all add up to loving yourself? I guess it’s simple enough: If choosing someone else’s happiness means negating yours, you’re not putting yourself first. If holding onto certain people inevitably detracts from your well-being, you’re not loving yourself enough. 

I was running down the stairs of my apartment complex this morning, mulling over some things, when something like a fast-forward movie reel started playing in my head. It was every loss I'd known, and then my Grandmother, and the women that came before me, the impact of their inability to love themselves first. And I saw the last of that trait wanting to die in me—the universe offering me the chance to put an end to the practice. And some words popped into my head as loud and clear as they could get: “Your whole life has been a lesson in letting go.”

I got to the bottom of the stairs, slowed down to a stop and then rushed to my car just before the tears began.    


Those times I am NOT meant to let go, I’ll know. It’ll probably be abundantly obvious…no guesswork involved. But there are still a few lessons to grasp in loving myself first—and enough—that needed my attention.  I’m sure I’m not alone. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Kryptonite



No matter how untouchable we might believe we are, there will always be something in life—whether we’ve struggled with it eternally or we encounter it unexpectedly—that proves to be our kryptonite. These chinks in our armor are some of the most critically important experiences in the way of growth.  They throw our sense of reality into disarray. They take who we thought we were, however tough we believed ourselves to be, and turn it all upside down, making us question our own power.

The ultimate equalizer--no one is impervious to the trial of suddenly manifested vulnerability, and through such a brutal process, new weaknesses are weeded out and identified and, ideally, decimated. It can be a hellish thing to endure, and nearly as painful for the people who love us, but facing these demons is essential, or we'll never be safe from them.

Kryptonite is a rough-edged soulmate. Through it, we find a different kind of strength, some paramount feat of inner power that we’ve never had to use before and weren’t at all prepared to exercise, but it appears, nonetheless, for better or for worse.  Even if we fail a dozen times before calling up the strength we need, that’s not important—the failures are part of the armor—layers of hard won, iron clad understanding.  It’s the greatest and most agonizing opportunity in the universe.   And somewhere along the line, we will have to find a new sense of power, maybe even practice it over and over until it sticks. Until it becomes the new us. Until our kryponite is nothing more than a stone.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Need Vs. Want and the Strength to Know the Difference



Life hits you over the head with some serious realizations when your heart is open. I’m not a psychologist (though that’s in the works, actually), but I've always been intrigued and curious about the inner formation of the Self and have read and read everything I could get my hands on trying to understand my upbringing, my Self, and those I love. Those connections that span back to childhood can really take root, control who we think we are and how we proceed with loving others as adults. Especially in matters of relationship foundations. Namely, the Need vs. Want Foundation. At least, that’s what I’m calling it, anyway. This is no text book article, folks, but, I am a human—and one who contemplates herself deeply—so I can at least understand me. Mostly. ;) And I have a theory. The Need vs. Want Foundation is one I've mentioned to friends in the past, something I hold as very important to me. Here's why...

NEED: Need, whether you're an endless well of it yourself or require that others need you, is disempowering. It's a trap, one that says that if we are needed then we're safe. We won't be alone. Or perhaps we bond with others out of a sense of need. Both options feel wrong to me. And it seems like they're rooted in a fear of abandonment--one we've experienced as a child or been traumatized by somehow. Actually, according to modern psychological findings, it’s a fight or flight based reaction—our bodies cannot discern between the innate fear of abandonment and an actual physical threat. Until we’re aware of it, anyway.

I saw a lot of examples of needing to be needed growing up. I was raised in an old world kind of way. You had a role. And, in these specific cases, they functioned in a more frantic sense, one that screamed, “You must need me. If you don’t need me then who am I? What's my worth? What identity do I have?” If your husband or children did not need you, for instance--even well into adulthood--what was left? Being wanted? And who was going to do that after you'd spent so long strong-arming people into needing you? These thoughts have given me perspective into both myself and others. I've tried to apply this understanding to old pains while navigating relationships (recognizing an unhealthy dose of the "need" factor) in adulthood. It helps me to maintain compassion...with boundaries in place.

As a kid, I couldn't see the forest for the trees. But now I know better. I know that manipulation and mental (sometimes even physical) bullying is a means of controlling others so as not to feel out of control (with a whole host of complicated emotions that go along with it). The most tragic aspect of all this is the core belief that you—in and of yourself—could not warrant loyalty or love short of someone else's dependence. Codependence, some call it. People can develop dependent or even hurtful behaviors practiced to keep others around, but that's a short term solution. And it doesn't work. Not really. The nature of a need is only temporary--and once it's fulfilled, it's discarded. Need is not the answer. Want is the answer.

WANT: While I may have resented and feared the above behaviors when I was younger, mistaking them for evil or hateful traits in those I loved, as the years go by I view them through a different set of eyes, I can better grasp a controlling nature for what it really is…childlike fear. It's heartbreaking. And as a result, I've long since made it a point, subconsciously but determinedly, never to need others. For a while I viewed this as a weakness on my part, a lack of vulnerability. But now I understand that I was applying a kind of strength I required, something I’d learned without realizing.  Before entering into any kind of intimate relationships, whether friendship, familial re-connection, or romance, the idea of “needing” or “being needed” must be considered. It's not the right base for me, and I don't believe it benefits others, either. Need is no kind of foundation for anything. Rather, I choose to be wanted. “Want” is a deliberate choice. Want is not based in fear or ego (which are one in the same, I believe). Want comes from recognition of someone else's goodness and loving them for it. Being wanted is unconditional. It does not require emotional games be played, it does not require reparations be made or obligations be met. Being wanted is good enough, in and of itself. Being wanted has a backbone. Pleasure in being wanted, rather than being needed, means that we rely on our own strength, our own self-love, to endure and ensure our well-being. Other people may act as a support, give us comfort and healing when things are painful and heavy, but we should not require someone else's dependence in order to overcome pain or know happiness. We should not base our actions on a need for others or a desire to be needed by them. Both are imbalanced, both lead to abuse in order to maintain themselves. Avoiding “Need” is much easier in theory than in practice, I know. And if you are like me, drawn to heal and fix and end the suffering of others, this compassion can have its pitfalls. If we do not maintain a sense of self, it can lead to a kind dependence of its own. One that requires everyone else be happy, first, before we allow ourselves the same. This, of course, is ridiculous. But it's a tough habit to break.

We forge our identities from a young age, often pulling value from the outcomes of those rewarding talents which come naturally to us, from those gifts that seem to easily define who we are and please others. But if we believe these things are our Self—that reactions from the outside will fill us up, we’re wrong. These are not our core selves. Only part--a good part--but not the whole.  If we do not believe ourselves to be enough, at root, then we will always need or look to be needed.  The false self v. the true self, the mask vs the real, is a constant struggle for humanity. Are we willing to accept who we truly are and love that person in the raw, most vulnerable form, wonderful imperfections and all, knowing that others—at least the ones worth keeping around—will do the same?  Do we dare acknowledge that a person can be wanted, without being needed? Because when we can, we will. Be wanted, that is. And it is beautiful. It is solid. It is lasting. Want and be wanted. Love unconditionally.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Decade for Truth

We’re raised in a world of perceived absolutes and extremes. Solid colors are often the rule, even when it comes to being “open minded.” I've seen people who take the hard-line approach, with a black and white morality that has no flexibility, while others trade the stick straight and narrow for a canyon so wide that nothing matters and everything matters and nothing is real and everything is real and honestly, I get lost in the metaphysics of it all. 

Either way, I've shared in a range of these beliefs at one point or another. My systems of thought have been in limbo, impassioned, influx…I've been sure of what I believed as deep as my soul, then uncertain of anything at all. But intense self-reflection and introspection mixed with harsh realizations and tragedy tend to alter us. For me, they created a sort of uncertain hybrid that might be okay with not knowing. I mean, I think my belief is that I don’t know what I believe, that I don’t think any of us do. I mean, we feel things. We can feel them strongly enough to build a whole life philosophy around them, but do we really believe them? When the foundations that hold our fragile systems together are shaken, toppled, crumbled into dust, what’s left is a harder lesson. It’s truth. It’s individual truth, which is often merciless and full of turmoil.  Seeing ourselves as we've truly been, as opposed to the way we wanted to be, the way we strove to be, or the way we believed ourselves to be, seeing ourselves…down to the raw…that vision is a religious moment. It's a spiritual experience. That is agony and terror and a miracle.  In fact, it’s one of the only things in life 
I can consider a miracle—clarity. A minute free of blinders, when my defenses and self-delusions are gone and I see what I've done, what I've been doing. And how. And why. All the lies I've told myself to sooth old wounds, unraveling the times I was sure I'd found enlightenment. All the patches I wore--the ones I'd used to “heal”, the ones that looked pretty but concealed an infection of hurt that spread beneath my skin even still, they didn't stop the old voices from replaying, they didn't resolve actual feelings or take away the sting of memories I couldn't bear to face if I couldn't bear to face them. 

Sadness, anger, weakness and flaws---uncertainty—these are gifts. But the ability to process and feel these things is the only means of unwrapping them. Sounds cliche, but I've had to abandon a good deal of fingers-in-the-ears optimism over the years in order to locate the source of some thorns. I found that stubborn idealism could be every bit as close-minded as utter pessimism.There was a balance in my own truths, many and unpredictable as they are. I've embraced those ridiculous parts about myself. I've acknowledged the sad parts, I've comforted the angry ones. 

Funnily, I actually know far less than I used to think I did. And then I know less and less every day. I’m constantly unknowing what I was certain of before, and that’s okay. I mean, it sucks. But it’s okay, because knowing everything, having all the right answers (or believing you do) is exhausting anyway.  I’d much rather break down and cry like a loon than convince myself I’m fine--that everyone is juuuust fine--when I’m not. Even if life is. Because that may not be my truth at the time. 

And this is the decade of truth, scary and otherwise. Passionate truth. I’m embracing it.   

xo
Jen

Sunday, September 28, 2014

What is The Light Series: For New Readers



First of all, I just want to do a little (big) dance and flying kick-a-pow in celebration of Simon and Schuster taking over The Light Series. I am now an S&S author, and proud of it! And in celebration of this, we have new covers, a soon-to-be-box set and all kinds of fun activities planned. But for those who have yet to read the books, maybe you're asking what The Light Series is all about (without spoiling things)? Well, here we go....

Imagine that you’re a simple woman, helping your grandparents run a little convenience store in your home town when all kinds of creepy things start happening to you.  You don’t feel safe in your own home or out in the woods or anywhere else for that matter, but you have no idea why or what on earth is going on.

This is how The Light Series begins, with one woman—Lillian Hunt—who thinks she’s losing her mind. But things aren’t always as they seem, right? Or maybe they are, and that’s the scary part.
In book one of The Light Series Trilogy, (Seers of Light) Lily faces a huge learning curve and a major life change in the form of a group of gifted souls who have to initiate her into this strange new world before some serious stuff goes down.  Lily is a bit on the over reactive side, partly due to her temper and partly because of her gifts, but her conflicting emotions make it tough to decide who is good, who is evil—especially where it comes to two men in particular. She has no idea what secrets came before her, what mysteries are ahead, but she’s too passionate to turn back.

Book two, Whisper of Light, is written from a different point-of-view –that of a normal human woman named Nicole Abbot, with ties to Lily’s group. Still, you see how different she is from the forward, outspoken Lily, and you see how every polarity of personality is necessary in their world. Nicole, through virtue of her troubled family life, is an important witness and inevitable player in the series.

Circle of Light takes it back to Lily again, but now we see something special is brewing in the relationships of all the characters, in their loss, in their love, in their anger and release...something taking more and more shape as a whole. The Light Series is about connected lives and destinies and the outcome of our actions when we choose love over fear (or the opposite).  I could say I wrote these books more for me than anyone else, but they’re also written for you guys, and there’s bound to be a character (goofy, sexy, nerdy, passionate, you name it) in this series that we can all relate to as ourselves.  The books are classed as paranormal romance, and they're at times scary, at times romantic, at times incredibly dorky, but I hope the series is something that gives you hope and inspiration and comfort when life gets complicated. 

Here are the new covers. I love them.  What do you think?





This coming week begins a month of buzz for the The Light Series, with a boxed set being released and new covers and just a fresh start.  Authors and readers will participate in a big Facebook blitz of fun media and giveaways on Wednesday, so follow me on Facebook to participate. I’ll be interviewed on the radio, a podcast, some vloggers and bloggers and reviewers will chime in with their opinions, as well. So tune in to learn more and enter to win your own copies of the books. Oh, and by the way, you see the Goodreads Giveaway on the right side of this blog? You can enter there, as well. And tell your friends.


Check out some reviews on the Light Series page of this blog, on Goodreads, Amazon or Simon and Schuster to see what other readers are saying about the series. But most of all, if you love it, talk it up, spread the word! 

Peace Out My Friends,
Jen

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Dreams and Runaway Trains

I never thought of myself as someone who has premonitions of things. I wasn't one of those people who dreamed about something specific only to have it happen the next day. I don't think I've ever really seen a ghost or definitive proof of anything otherworldly with my waking eyes.

But. But then again, sometimes I think life's visions aren't so blatant. They're not so spelled out for us in neat, massive sky writing. Sometimes, when you dream things and they hit you hard or stick with you forever, I think those are important things...even if we don't know why for a long time.
So far in my life, I've had two such dreams. One I wouldn't understand until recently, and one profoundly and immediately obvious. For example, the week I was to leave Missouri for Seattle, my heart was breaking. It had been two years since I'd split with my long-time significant other, but we remained best friends and as close as family. We'd basically grown up together, and I knew that saying goodbye would be one of the scariest, most difficult things we would ever do. Still, I was determined to be brave and move on to this new stage, to wipe my chalkboard clean of old mental residue and figure out who I really was. I needed to go away.

I remember laying on a blow up mattress in my ex's living room the night before we were to drive to Washington state, and just as I was about to drift off, the black of sleep turned into a stream of running water, and then the stream branched off in two different directions, with the message loud, clear and emphatic. Heck, I could even hear the water running! In fact, it was so shockingly loud that it shook me fully awake and sent me scrambling for my laptop to write an email entitled, "DO NOT OPEN UNTIL THURSDAY" (the first day alone in Seattle) for my ex to read. In it, I said that I'd had a dream and I knew I was supposed to share it and it was loud and clear: When you truly love someone, it doesn't matter if you grow apart, because that person is in you, they're a part of you and they'll always be close, no matter what it seems like. It was exactly what I didn't know I needed. And I was incredibly grateful.

Fast forward a year and a half.  I'd been thinking about an old dream--one I'd had when I was just a young teenager and predominantly charged with the care of my little brother and sister.

In the dream I was holding a young John's hand (he was probably eight or so at the time), and pushing my baby sister in a stroller. We came upon some railroad tracks, and seeing a train speeding towards us, I rushed us from the tracks only to find that we were walking on another set of them, same scenario...rushing train. Starting to panic, I hurried them along, but new tracks always emerged, and a new train sped toward us. Finally, with five or six trains barreling down on us, I turned behind me in desperation for some escape. But instead of freedom, there was a brick wall.

So many trains, relentless tracks, and a brick wall...and me, thirteen or fourteen years old, with a toddler and little boy. In that moment, I knew there was nothing I could do. I remember saying, "God help me." And then, as the worst was about to happen, I woke up.

You never forget a dream like that, though I just couldn't understand what it meant. My need to protect my brother and sister ran deep and started young--quite without any alternative. I was their caretaker and teacher. It came with the territory and it would extend into my adulthood. I was willing to be a human shield if I had to, and, in a lot of ways, I was.

But, in the end, no matter how much I wished I could keep them safe, it would reach a point where this was out of my control. The pinnacle of this realization came this past winter when, at twenty-five, my brother left this world. I felt so helpless, I was so helpless, to protect them now.

Thinking about that old train dream again, I'm pretty convinced it was more of a warning than anything else. Things would be hard. Then they'd get worse. And worse still. And eventually, we'd run out of tracks and I'd have to admit that I couldn't protect them forever. That we couldn't keep running away from the things that hurt us. Eventually, I'd have to stop with my back to a brick wall, face those trains with courage and release it to God. We love, but we have to let go. We can only stand back and pray for the best.

Maybe that was just how it had to be.

Anyway, strange things, dreams. They don't take a psychic to understand, just some awareness, or perhaps a few decades. So don't forget those dreams. You know the ones. If they don't make sense now, tuck them in your back pocket for later. You never know when their time will come.

Here's hoping I dream of joyful things tonight. I wish the same for you.

Love,
Jennifer