The Secret Mission of Gratitude

1901879_4037357788033_2012436466_n(This is written as a response to a post on facebook- for those who cannot see it, my aunt was given a very special gift on the Buckeye Cruise for Cancer.)

The events leading up to Teresa’s Special Gift…

The Backstory…

Technically, my aunt and uncle are my mother’s cousins. They attended my mom’s wedding and were my eldest brother’s godparents. In a way, they have become my godparents too, as they have been completely supportive of my son and I. I seriously could go on and on about their compassion in action, not just towards my son and I, but towards many others, as well.

Last summer and over the past year, when my mother was diagnosed with brain cancer, my aunt and uncle frequently watched my son and lavished their love upon us. I had spent most of my life, since I was 14, estranged from my mother. My aunt and uncle  extended their hearts to me, in such a way, that my own heart was refueled to sustain the journey of reconnecting with my mom;  they are also  an extension of my grandmother and it feels like they have always been in my life. When my mother passed away in January; my aunt surprised me with a beautiful planter of an angel; a card was attached and it listed all my cousin’s names-this gift spoke volumes of their love and I had a very grateful heart.

Finally, the story…

I knew I had to do something very special for my aunt when I found out that she was five years cancer free and prepared to go on the Buckeye Cruise for Cancer. I got this crazy idea to ask a former buckeye to give her a gift on my behalf, so I reached out to a former player; he was agreeable and even enthusiastic about the idea. I messaged him on Facebook, because I saw that my aunt was “friends” with him. I just asked him if he would be willing to give my aunt a gift on the cruise; at one point, I asked him if he was kidding with me, but he replied that he really wanted to help.  So, I began thinking about a gift; I knew one of my aunt’s favorite activities on the cruise was getting her photograph taken with the players and then returning the following year for their autographs, so I decided on a photo album!

I found a company on Etsy, who happened to be in close proximity to Columbus. I asked them if they could engrave something special for my aunt, to celebrate being cancer free and also, to celebrate her love for the Buckeyes. And oh, yeah, I told them that I needed it quickly-like in a week! I only had so many days to get the gift and actually give it to the football player before they left for the cruise.

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I got an amazing response; the owner and his team agreed to make the album  and they sent me a proof;  I was immediately awestruck by their beautiful engraving, as well as, their gracious accommodation on a very short deadline. They called and asked me if I wanted to write a personal message to be engraved on the inside of the album; I told them I wanted to think about it ( because I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to spend); on  the same day, they sent me an email stating that the owner wanted to give the album for free!!!!!! Therefore,  I was able to write a very personal message for my aunt and uncle…

And so, I picked up the album on Valentine’s Day and got lost ( I never quite know where I am going-LOL!), but I finally found the place and  made sure to give the owner a hug! I still can’t believe they donated the album! It was so beautiful ; the engraving was beyond perfection-I was so very thankful for their generous part in this surprise!  They didn’t even have the name of their business on the box or album; they were “anonymous” but I’m letting you know that they are http://www.ryderengraving.com.

And next, the football player agreed to meet me in Polaris, but then he said something about 270 and 23 and well, to make a long story, short, I either got lost or misheard him, but he called and agreed to meet me at a gas station near his house. When  I handed him the box, he said, “You do know that there are 2500 people on the cruise?” And so I gave him a picture of my aunt; as soon as he saw her picture, he said, “I know her, she loves to give a lot of hugs.” We had a good laugh! I am so glad that Dimitrious Stanley agreed to participate in this secret mission of gratitude!

I learned from my aunt, that he gave her the album on the last night of the cruise! I am so glad that the moment was captured! She was very surprised, and she got three more hugs!

The challenge of compassion…and a few lessons along the way.

Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen

“The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”
― Mother Teresa, A Simple Path: Mother Teresa

Within the past year, I have been asked, “How did you find the strength and courage to love your mom?”

When I was fifteen years old, my mom gave up her parental rights to stay with the man who molested me. As a teenager, this reality broke my heart. My mother and I never had a very close relationship; I felt like a burden, rather than a blessing. I have referenced these feelings before, I felt worthless and rejected; the pain I endured, left an imprint on my life. I spent a lot of my life struggling to overcome the odds of feeling less than, rather than greater than these emotional hardships.

I worked incredibly hard to graduate college, participate in AmeriCorps, and attend graduate school; I transitioned from my own personal struggles to focusing my energy on making a difference in my community.  No matter my professional accomplishments, my heart was still fractured and all of my relationships suffered. So, when I reconnected with my mother two years ago, I didn’t know what to expect. Throughout life, I learned to have zero expectations; but this time, I earnestly hoped for reconciliation, but I never imagined  that we would have so little time to overcome a lifetime of ache; the challenge of compassion revealed the possibilities, including forgiveness.

All along the way, I felt an ever-present peace and abundance of hope through my faith. This abundance made itself known when I became a single mom a couple years ago. Hope was the ultimate message communicated to me and I learned that everything, is indeed possible. I was strengthened most by the people who came beside me and loved me—without judgement. God essentially prepared my heart to love my mom, by blessing my life with a child. It was through the process of becoming a mother, that I surrendered my heart to my creator. In this context, my heart was prepared for the challenge of compassionate action; this was the path to loving my mom.

My mother was adopted; as far as I know, I know she was loved, but she always felt discarded, unlovable and rejected. My mother came into this world feeling unloved and throughout my mom’s life,  she sought love in all the wrong places; after three marriages; she ended up very alone. Seven months ago, when my mom was diagnosed with brain cancer, I made a promise – I wanted her to know she was loved. No matter the struggle, I chose to stay and be present with my mom, offering my time (and as many milkshakes as possible)!

Loving my mom was a process and gradual evolution of my heart progressing towards loving authentically. In the beginning, I was angry and frustrated; especially when my mother refused to get the care she needed or when she refused to tell her children the truth we deserved to know. We had questions and wanted answers. Over time, I learned to shut up, let go and be open. I think that’s an enormous lesson to practice…the art of learning to listen; listening requires that I purposely let go of my agenda. It was important for me to step into her experience and feel a fraction of her ache; this didn’t excuse her from the pain she caused in my life, but my heart surrendered my resentment and hurt.  I relinquished my demands, questions and anxiety to know peace that passes all understanding. I forgave her and I believe that forgiveness set her free and helped us to understand each other better. Forgiveness didn’t erase years of disappointment and estrangement, but my pain was eased and I was able to let go and finally  love without creating conditions or rules; the process of surrendering created a safe space for love to grow.

There were other key influences in my life; I definitely drew strength from my faith and people like Mother Teresa and Henri Nouwen. I have always had people in my life who offered their support. Their acts of kindness kept me from diving into depression, they motivated me to keep my chin up, and inspired me to accomplish my dreams.  I attended a Christian college and had mentors and volunteer experiences that changed my heart. I learned about living compassionately and love in action. Those lessons and influences are integral to the woman I am today. I experienced generosity and was inspired to pay it forward; my heart experienced growth because seeds were sewn into my life. Those folks were mostly women, who I still have connections with today; my elementary art teacher,  high school english and spanish teachers, my foster family, job  supervisors, mentors, roommates and classmates.

My heart was prepared/cMom_9onditioned for healing; whenever I found myself in the same room with my mother, I wanted to find the nearest exit. I didn’t know what I could offer, but I learned to offer simple things, like a milkshake or smile. After my mother’s diagnosis, during the first few months, whenever I sat with my mother, I saw her as a person first, and a mother last. For years I suffered a great loss, because she gave me up. There is a unique irony to our stories, because we both felt discarded, unlovable and rejected. My mom never took responsibility, she never apologized, she never acknowledged my experieinces with her understanding, until this past October. During my childhood and adolescence, she ignored my suffering and disposed of me, when she should have fought for me. This stung a thousand bee stings (and I am allergic to bees). Ultimately,  this painful cycle convinced me to be the best mother I could become; I’m thankful for my son and the lessons I have learned over the past year.  I focused on letting go and actualized forgiveness; as a result, I became my mother’s daughter; we were no longer estranged from one another. My mother and I learned how to be family once again. That transformation changed our lives forever.

Over the past two weeks, I have had time to reflect and recognize the power of moments; some of them will always be indescribable, but I’ve attempted to encapsulate them into 5 challenges/lessons; I’ve written them as as a way to honor my mom; I am thankful for the gift of transformation….

The Challenge of Compassion, #1- Approach forgiveness as an opportunity to help, rather than be helped. In the process, all hearts have the opportunity to be changed.

The Challenge of Compassion, #2- Hope despite all impossibilities; healing is possible, when you stop giving the past power over the present; forgiveness truly mends the broken-hearted; fragments are sewn into wholes, the empty spaces are filled with love.

The Challenge of Compassion, #3- Simply being present is a gift. Kindness isn’t about what we can give, but it’s about how we give- it’s about the quality of presence, not the quantity or value of many presents. The worth of our presence will always surpass everything else.

The Challenge of Compassion, #4- A small gesture of kindness can be monumental; live graciously—

The nurse who took care of my mom, came to the nursing home and was by her side during her last moments. During the past 7 months, she was very supportive to my mother.  She eased my mother’s pain with her presence; she always appeared to offer her help, especially when she wasn’t working. She made the choice to be with us. In one minute, she was getting us coffee and the next, she was listening to my mother’s last breaths. No one that morning at the nursing home took care of us. They had other things to do, I suppose. My mom’s nurse totally went out of her way, many many times and never asked for anything in return. I am so thankful for the gift of her caring presence (#3); it was beyond comforting. Since my mom passed, we have told one another, we would be friends for life.

The challenge of Compassion, #5- Don’t wait. Make time in your calendar to love without reservation. Don’t wait for the ah-ha moment when things make sense. Chances are, none of it will make sense. People don’t always make sense; cancer doesn’t make sense, but we deal with the nonsense, by doing something as simple as making time to love without reservation. We can’t say we cannot love because….we must say, “We must, we can and we will love because of HE, who entrusts us with His love—

Two years ago, I didn’t know I would lose my mom this January. I can’t change the past. Honestly,  I spent the first year and five months, being distant and reserved. I was taking baby steps, trying to play it safe; I justified my actions;. After all, I did not have a relationship with my mom for 10 years. I was careful yes, and I should have been, but looking back, I could have done more to express my desire to get to know her again. All and all, I didn’t think I was ready. And I wasn’t. But if I had pushed myself just a little, we might have had more time together in the beginning. I am very thankful for the past seven months and for what happened between us- our hearts aligned in a beautiful constellation of understanding. Courage provided the strength, but I could have done so much more.

So? Increase your measure of knowledge  by implementing these challenges in your life. Reach deep within and reach out and around, you just might feel a squeeze in return, but don’t give up, “just keep on, keeping on.”

All things grow with love, Part I and Part II

Preface to the Preface

I planned to post this on 12.31.13 on my sister’s birthday; I wanted my family to read this first…thus the delay…

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Preface

I don’t want to sound like a broken record, so adjust the volume as needed…

As a writer/artist and mother, I choose to openly express my vulnerabilities, in order to give transformation — the way God comes into our lives — permission to change my heart.

I guess I can honestly say that 2013 has been a tremendous year filled with new  challenges; in a nutshell,  my heart has been through the shredder;  if you gather and tape together all the pieces, I think this is what you would read….

Part I

I have recorded many instances where I have fought incredibly hard to be strong, in some instances (maybe all), I kept people an arm’s length away (okay, so maybe even hundreds of miles). This year, circumstances  forced me to confront my insecurities and fears;  I’ve learned more this year, than ever, that all things grow with love.

For years (well into adulthood), I couldn’t push through the victimization of my childhood, I always took pride in declaring that I was a survivor, but internally, I remained wrecked as a victim. Body paint made me a warrior, but my soul lost its ignition somewhere along the way. Loss homogenized itself in being lost, while attempting to turn the car around in more promising directions.

During therapy as a teen, I was told by my therapist, that it was up to me to break the cycle of abuse. For years, I never knew completely, what she meant, because I was caught up in blaming, rather than accepting the responsibility of taking ownership of my life. I basically designed a battleground with trenches, for my heart to hide while my soul searched for answers; I was completely immersed in muddied waters.

No matter what I achieved in my life, I kept returning emotionally, to the closet of my childhood; a safe haven for my wounded  heart; time and time again, my fears filled years with unnecessary tears until I  became camouflaged against the wall, my spirit sunken with insecurities; I was squeezed, dried and exfoliated with anxiety. Honestly, I have felt like a pile of rags, not even worthy of a rummage sale.

To overcome challenges, I  learned how to thrive within muddy waters. I think the Son has a lot to do with that!  Many times over, amazingly enough, at my own ground zero, I have felt the extraordinary generosity and compassion from people all around me, but the first time, I encountered growth, was in the embrace of my foster family, who loved me for me. They nurtured and provided me with a home, when I felt unlovable as a teenager.

I have learned to daily resign my fears and give my roots permission to become acquainted in the salutation of being entirely welcomed. Just as I was welcomed into a family 20 years ago. This is the lesson/gift I wish to pass on to my son….

All things grow with love . . .

Part II

Dear Family,

On Christmas Eve of this year, I presented the women in our family with a necklace, which symbolized much more, than just a family tree. With children (too excited over gift-giving and receiving) in the room, I could hardly speak, I attempted to make a formal announcement, explaining the symbolism of the gift I was giving. I but I could not literally speak all the words, I wished to speak, so, here they are . . .

. . . this year is a special year; it’s the 20th anniversary of an important day in my life. I wish to take this moment to celebrate a life-changing conversation that took place at a winter retreat held in Ripley, West Virginia; we sat around a 6ft table and you changed the course of my existence through your open invitation to join your family; your decision to love me, enabled the transformation of a fragile young girl into a strong woman. Nearly 21 years ago in 1993, you opened your hearts and invited me to become your daughter and sister.

During my personal struggles this past year, I have been reminded repeatedly, about your gift of family. My heart is filled with gratitude for the decision you made to love me, when my own biological family rejected me.  The circle of family is truly, never-ending, which has given us the awesome opportunity to grow in love. The tree has many branches, for we have grown both in love, and in numbers, including the arrival of five grandsons (Papa’s basketball team). Through all the seasons, for many years, no matter what, you have nurtured my faith to withstand all the stormy seasons of life (did you notice, that the leaves are still intact?) Again, my heart is filled with gratitude and I am thankful for the love that has grown between all of our hearts (especially between all the cousins) – I am so thankful to be a member of this family!

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I love you.
Kimberly (Jo)

Defining__________(This space)

This space

Between

Forever aching and healing

Always undefined

In need of redefinition

So much unexplained

To be translated

Interpreted into new territories

To fathom

The distance

Between forever and ever-after

Is to swallow

A tsunami

And rearrange plateaus of the mind

Reinterpreting misconceptions

Sewn into awakenings

with a silver lining

Transforming

This space

Between great expectations

Into a blanket of hope

Completely wrapped around

Retrospectives of lamentation

Reconsidering

This space

Between

A waking dream and a weary heart

A timeline under construction

No limitations

Simply

Redefining

This space

Between

You and I.

Remembering Crispin Webb

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Tonight, I came across a flash-drive and found so many images and memories of a friend of mine, Crispin Webb; he died on Thanksgiving day, on November 23, 2006.

A few years ago, my son was born the week before Thanksgiving, so I am reminded each year of how life miraculously comes into the world, and how quickly, a loved-one can be gone from our lives. This year, I had my son’s birthday party on November 23rd; even though I didn’t write about Crispin a few weeks ago, his  memories are kept on a bookshelf in my mind,  they wait for my heart to open them…..

It’s been 7 years since he left this world to meet Jesus. I am thankful for Crispin and everything he taught me. I have keepsakes and artwork that he gave me and I cherish them, but I also cherish the way he lived his life and how he expressed his faith and beliefs; he had a radiant soul and gentle spirit.

Crispin would have turned 36 on December 12, 2013; I am posting this to remember, celebrate and honor his life and legacy. Over the past ten years, a group of artalum  (art alumni) have been hosting a silent-art auction to raise money for art scholarships; Crispin was very integral in launching artalum in 2003.  A few years ago, we named the fund, the Crispin Webb Art Endowed Scholarship.

I would like to challenge folks to remember him this year by donating $10  (or more) on December 12, 2013. A little can go a long way…and all of the proceeds will help provide scholarships for MVNU art and/or design students. The Crispin Webb Art Award is awarded to students with Senior Art Projects for the academic year, have a 2.5+ cumulative GPA, have art declared as their first major, and remain an art major for the entire academic year. Students must apply through the art department.

To learn more about Crispin or make a donation please visit MVNU’s website and make a donation online; make sure you click the drop down box “My gift is designated to” – click the drop down box and choose Endowment AND then below that is a text box “Gift to be used for” . Here you must type in Crispin Webb Art Scholarship. This will ensure you gift will go specifically towards Crispin’s fund. Thank you for keeping his legacy alive and for helping current and future art students at MVNU.

You can also google Crispin’s name! There is a beautiful tribute on wordpress and Crispin had a blog on blogspot that is still up. I hope you explore his legacy and leave comments about how he touched your life on his tribute page.

P.S. I still remember when Crispin told me that he wanted a book of his artwork to be in every library; if anyone would like to collaborate with me to work on this endeavor, let me know. I want to make this happen next year!

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Twinkle Twinkle

As a new mom, three years ago, I didn’t have a pre-existing catalogue of songs stored in the library of my mind. I don’t remember my biological mother being very nurturing or singing to me when I was a child; we never had a close relationship. Sometimes she would even say she wished I was never born…..

Since I held my son in my arms for the first time, I have been singing “twinkle twinkle little star.” It seemed basic. I remembered the words. I added a few lines of my own. It works for us. He was a calm baby and always a good sleeper. After he was born, the nurses in the hospital said he was the calmest baby of them all. Someone  recently told me that meant that I was calm during my pregnancy. Wow. I would have thought the opposite.  I was blessed to be a part of a faith community (Not Another Church) during my pregnancy- their love actually calmed my heart and grounded my faith. I give God the credit and the glory.

My friendships within my community were the balm that soothed worries and fears, created laughter,  and held my hand through the newness of becoming a mom. I remember how they brought me a chicken ranch sub from subway after I gave birth; they were in the room when I read my son his first book; they picked me up on thanksgiving day to share a meal with them. They took me to the emergency room when my son had jaundice; all in all, beyond their actions, they loved me and allowed me to be me. They helped me to grow in my faith and I learned to listen to my creator’s voice. I am so thankful that they were there for me when I was far away from home; they were very much my family and God’s hands and feet, when I needed someone to hold my hand and walk beside me. Beyond their acts of compassion; they embraced me; their friendships helped me as a mother and christian trying to find my way.

Today, my faith has not been diminished, but I am lacking a faith community. Which I have repeatedly promised myself that I would plant my feet somewhere. But my heart has been distant and I have been anxious, however, I have a longing in my heart to be more authentic in a shared community,  but it hasn’t happened yet–due to a lack of effort. Just honestly speaking.

And then, I check on my son at 2 am and normally he doesn’t wake or make a peep. But he says something so precious, “mommy, twinkle, twinkle.” He was asking me to sing….this time as I sang, my eyes filled with tears, just as they are falling once more as I pen these words…  no matter how many songs I don’t know or never learned, my son understands the most important one, “twinkle, twinkle little star, Carter Jacob,  your momma loves you, yes I do, I love you. ….”

This time, my son calmed my heart and he reminded me to find a faith community…

Gratitude defined…

I’ve been learning a lot this past year; my personal lessons of self-knowledge involves pushing through circumstances and not being pushed by them. It’s been a tremendous year of challenges and blessings, for which, I can say that I am thankful and my heart overflows with gratitude.

This month, everyone has been writing daily posts of gratitude, which I have enjoyed reading, but this is my short-list, which I think, covers most everything…for the moment.

I’m thankful for….

  1. My son, the gift of motherhood and life after 8 p.m.
  2. My car, home and job
  3. Wisdom and the opportunity to grow
  4. The nursing home that is caring for my mom and their compassion towards my mother (and me)
  5. Technology that keeps me connected to all the people I care about and allows me to express myself creatively
  6. Restorative time (prayer, meditation, etc.)
  7. Connections:
    1. My faith
    2. My family (Biological, Foster, and  Adoptive)
    3. Kinship & friends who act like more like family than friends
    4. Best-friends, folks who love me, even when I’m not lovely
    5. Colleagues, co-workers who go the extra mile
    6. Mentors, who support me and ask the tough questions
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Learn the facts & take action now

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In honor of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, I wanted to share this online article:

Five Facts To Remember On The UN’s International Day For The Elimination Of Violence Against Women

I did this painting (below) over three years ago, it illustrates many things, but I believe that it captures the transformational process required to heal; there is chaos and cosmos that forges a path to understanding. It’s never easy and always difficult to overcome; I do believe that survivors of violence and abuse can find healing in their lives. I hope the world becomes more aware and learns to do more than we are doing now, to take action and prevent violence from happening within our country and around the world…

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Move the World

My mom finished her radiation treatment on Friday; she wore a mask  (like this one) to keep her face from moving during each of her 18 radiation sessions. For her, the mask was very uncomfortable, but I think she was extraordinarily brave to undergo treatment, knowing that her type of brain cancer is terminal. She put on the mask to have more time on this earth to spend with her grandchildren. I don’t know how much time she has, no one does; not knowing is not easy, but we are taking this all, one day at a time, and I think that her determination is a reflection of the love she wishes to share…..

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At the end of her treatment on Friday; my mom asked to keep her mask; she is going to make it a piece of art.I can’t wait to see what she creates.

Throughout my mom’s treatment, I have been contemplating masks and why we wear them; a mask protected my mom; positively or negatively, we each have our own reasons for wearing masks; but the motivation is not always to hide or conceal; sometimes, it’s meant to heal. So, be sensitive to the needs of others; you never know what they will reveal…..

Today’s post was inspired by this quote (please explore the links):

“One day you wake up and realize the world can be conquered… I’m going to put a mask on and scrawl my name across the face of the world, build cities of gold, come back and stomp this place flat, until even the bricks are just dust. So you can just shut up. All of you. I’m going to move the world.”
Austin Grossman, Soon I Will Be Invincible