Sermon on Resilience

This is the text of a sermon I gave at Northlake Unitarian Universalist in Kirkland, Washington on February 23, 2020. A recording can be found here, or you can find it on the Northlake podcast, available on all major podcasting platforms.

Our monthly theme for February is Resilience. I’ll talk today about how we can help build resilience in ourselves, the children and adults in our lives, our church community, and the broader society.

So, what is resilience? And how do you know if you have it?

If you were lucky enough to never face any challenges, you’d never know if you have resilience (and honestly, you probably wouldn’t, because we build resilience by facing and mastering challenges in our lives.)

But, for most of us… challenges come to us on a far too regular basis, right?

Life’s Challenges

Anytime we face a life transition, or a new developmental stage, that’s a challenge. Whether that’s a toddler who falls down many times before they learn to walk, or the new parent who has to cope with all the tantrums that might cause. There’s midlife crises, there’s the challenges of aging… those are “expected challenges” that any developmental psychologist can tell you are typical, but that doesn’t mean they’re not hard for the people going through them.

There’s also all the unexpected challenges – the falls in the mud puddle, yet another ‘snow day’… the car that hits you and breaks your arm just when you’re settling in to your new ministry.

And then there’s interpersonal challenges – the boss who makes unfair demands, the girlfriend who says she’s “just not that into you,” or the parent who lets you down.

Challenges just keep on coming. Yep… hard times, hard times coming round once more.

But… and I know you’re going to hate it when I say this… but each of those moments of adversity is a learning experience. Each one offers “opportunities for personal growth.” Each one helps us learn how to stretch and how to bounce back.

What is Resilience?

One way of defining resilience is “doing better than expected in difficult circumstances.” We all have times when it seems like life is trying to knock us down, in small ways or in big ways. The question is: how will we respond? Will we let adversity pin us down?  Or will we bounce back up again? Or end standing stronger and taller than ever before? And how can our family and our community and our faith help us to bounce back?

[note: I shared images, taken from a video we’d shown before the service, which was about teaching children about resilience.]

Resilience is a topic that has long fascinated me, and been a big focus of my personal and professional life.

I first noticed different degrees of resilience when I was a teenager. I had been diagnosed with bone cancer, and was travelling from my home in Wyoming to Denver Children’s Hospital for treatment. I was bouncing between two worlds. At home, my friends were typical teenagers facing the daily challenges of teen life like pimples, bad test scores, and unrequited crushes. At Children’s, my friends were coping with life-long disability, recovering from life-threatening accidents, or undergoing the brutal chemotherapy and poor prognoses of cancer care in the early 80’s.

When challenges appeared for people, whether the challenges were small or the challenges were huge, I saw three different types of responses to them…

3 paths resilience

Some people were overwhelmed by any challenge. Some managed to bounce back from things – at least mostly. And some were made stronger by having walked through their challenges. I wondered why.

After my treatment, I went on to get a bachelor’s in sociology, then later a master’s in social work. I worked with kids facing cancer treatment, with people hoping to receive a liver transplant in time and with people with AIDS at a time when AIDS was always a terminal diagnosis.

With all my clients and their families, I watched and wondered about resilience. Why do some people seem to have “it” and others not?

Now for 25 years, I’ve worked with parents of young children, working for Parent Trust for Washington Children, PEPS, and Bellevue College Parent Education. These are parents and children going through all of those predictable developmental challenges where people keep saying “don’t worry, it’s just a phase” but where every day can be exhausting, overwhelming, and full of worry.

I spend a lot of time thinking about what parents can do to help build resilience in themselves and in their children. And I think that we as a church community can also ask ourselves – what can we do to build resilience in ourselves, our fellow Northlakers, and in our broader community?

Factors that Influence Resilience

Resilience is a really complex issue. There’s lots of factors that influence our response to adversity. Let’s look at those:

The reality is that hard things come into everyone’s life at some point. Sometimes they’re expected challenges like a move to a new home, but often adverse circumstances arrive out of the blue – an illness, a home break-in, or a job layoff might appear in our metaphorical inbox. run with

When a challenge hits, we start running with it, and we figure out our response as we go along.

Several things affect our response and whether or not we end up in a good place in the end.

factors

Some things are risk factors and others are protective.  The risk factors drag us down: they challenge our ability to cope and to recover from this challenge, and increase the chance of poor outcomes. The protective factors – things that make it easier for us to cope – lift us up and make it more likely we’ll have a positive, empowered result.

seesawWhat tips the balance for good outcomes is when the protective factors outweigh the risk factors. When we have so many good things going for us that the hard times are easy to overcome.

Amongst those factors that influence our response, some are on the individual level  – specific to that person and the ways they interact with the world, some are found within  their network of family, close friends and communities,  and some factors are from  the broader society as a whole.levels of factors

Individual Factors

Some people are just inherently more resilient than others, no matter what life throws at them. Dr. Thomas Boyce has researched the human stress response for 40 years, and he says some people are dandelions, and some are orchids.

Dandelions are people who can go through almost anything, and be unfazed by it all. I lucked out – I’m a dandelion all the way. Orchids are a lot more sensitive – they’re more vulnerable to stress, and need more support to weather the storms. But given the right nurturing care, they can thrive and become incredibly beautiful – more beautiful than those scrappy dandelions…

So what individual factors help to make us more or less resilient?

individualDevelopmental psychologist Emmy Werner found that resilient people have a strong “internal locus of control” – they believe they are in control of their own destinies. Even if bad things happen to them, they feel they can choose how to let that impact them.

Earlier, we sang the hymn “voice still and small”, and I believe that this voice is “deep inside all.” Some of us just need more help connecting to it.

Resilient people have confidence in their own competence. And they have a growth mindset… instead of thinking of themselves as “not good” at something, they think “I’m not good at it yet. If I just keep working hard, I bet I’ll figure it out.”

Temperament-wise, it’s easier to be resilient when you have a sense of humor about life, when you’re naturally easy-going, naturally flexible, and calm… as our opening hymn said “no storm can shake my inmost calm while to the rock I’m clinging… how can I keep from singing.”

We know that our mental health is influenced by many things beyond our control – genetic, epigenetic, and environmental. Depression can make it supremely hard to bounce back from challenges, and anxiety can mean that even small challenges quickly become overwhelming as you worry about how much worse it might become. Physical illness and disability are challenging circumstances on their own, often creating chronic adversity, and they can also make it harder to bounce back from other challenges. Good mental health and physical health is a huge protective factor.

Having goals you’re working toward helps with resilience – it’s the “eyes on the prize” focus that helps you push through the hard times. Resilient individuals tend to have things outside themselves that give them a reason to get up every day. This can be an interest or passion, such as music or art. This can be big dreams they’re working toward. Or, it can be knowing that other people are counting on them.

According to psychologist George Bonanno, a key individual factor is perception – how we interpret the difficult circumstances. Do we perceive an event as traumatic or as an opportunity to learn and grow? Sometimes even something tragic, while very sad in the short term, might also be a powerful life event that changes someone for the better in the long term. This positive perception… finding meaning in loss… is more likely for people who have a spiritual or religious faith.

Family and Community Factors

Let’s look at the impact of Family and also of Close Community. Community could mean a child’s school, an adult’s workplace, or a church community like Northlake.

fam comm

When these circles are healthy, they provide the key protective factor of a secure base.

From these communities, we learn our values – what does it mean to be a good person? We learn about faith – whether that’s a belief in a higher power, or a belief in a greater good, faith can provide a strong beacon of hope in the darkness of despair. We learn our stories, those oscillating family stories described in our reading… “dear, we’ve had good times and bad times, but we are a strong, resilient people and we keep moving forward together.” [Note, this refers to a reading we heard earlier in the service, an excerpt from “The Stories that Bind Us” by Bruce Feiler.]

In these communities, we find our key relationships. Researchers at Harvard found that no matter the source of hardship, the single most common factor for children who develop resilience is at least one stable, committed relationship with a supportive adult. Whether that’s a parent, friend, clergy, teacher or coach. That person offers us emotional support, they help us to see our own strengths, they teach us how to plan and how to cope in healthy ways.

In these communities, we can learn that we are valued, and that we can contribute in meaningful ways. We can see that our commitment is essential, and sometimes on our dark days, what keeps us going is knowing that other people are counting on us, and we have to show up for them.

These communities can also be a source of concrete support – a ride to the doctor’s office after an injury, a bed to crash on when a relationship falls apart, a loan when we can’t pay a bill, someone to watch our kids for us – all these “little things” can help carry us through a hard spot.

Now, the problem is that our families and our communities are not always healthy. And just as a healthy home base can build resilience, an unhealthy family is devastating to our long-term resilience.

There is some really important research in health and mental health called the ACE’s study – where ACE stands for adverse childhood experiences.

Researchers asked people about their childhood – had they experienced things such as abuse, witnessed domestic violence, had parents with mental health issues or addiction or who were incarcerated, or had experienced homelessness. 60% of people have one or more of these experiences in childhood. The more you have, the less resilient you’ll be as an adult. About 12% of people have an ACE score of 4 or higher. With a score of 4 or higher, you’re 4x more likely to experience addiction, 3x more likely to have heart disease, respiratory disease and diabetes, far more likely to experience mental health challenges, and 6x more likely to say you never feel optimism or hope.

The good news about ACE’s is that they can be overcome.

Knowing about the negative impact of ACE’s and working to mitigate it is the first step. Another key step  is connecting to healthy relationships and healthy communities. The research is really clear that even for kids from very toxic home environments, even just one healthy relationship with one positive mentor in the community is a huge boost on their path to recovery.

Societal / Resource Factors

We have a strong cultural narrative in America – the cultural narrative that everyone can succeed if they “just try hard enough.”

societal

But we all know that we don’t have a level playing field in America – we’re not all starting from the same place. A person who is living in poverty, in a crime-ridden neighborhood, where drug use is a common escape from the pain of living just doesn’t have the same resilience resources available to them. Or, even if someone had all the other advantages they could have, if they happen to have dark skin, or happen to be female, or gay, or trans, or disabled, or non-Christian, they have to carry the weight of systematic oppression. That weight makes it harder to magically “bounce back” from challenges.

I said earlier that I happen to be a dandelion… and maybe that would be true of me no matter what. But here’s the deal: it’s always been easy for me to be resilient. Because whatever challenges came upon me, I have so many resources in place. I happen to have been born into a stable, white, middle class family. I made it through my childhood with an ACE score of 0. In adulthood, I’ve always had resources… so whatever challenge might arise, I’ve got back-up plans: I have car insurance, home insurance, health insurance. I’ve got flexible hours at work, paid sick leave, and short-term disability pay. I’ve got cash in the bank. I have a safe, warm home. I’ve got people to take care of me, people to take care of my kid. I’ve got the skills to research and access any services that I need. I can speak with educated words and a voice of authority and white skin that afford me respectful treatment by those I encounter. All of these things make it easy for me to “bounce back” from whatever happens. And I have to acknowledge the privilege in that, and use that privilege to work for ways to increase other people’s access to these same back-up plans to carry them through the hard times.

How to Build Resilience

So, let’s start talking about how we can build resilience in ourselves and in others. Let’s first look at this societal level, and what we can do to tip the balance.

Build Resilience at a Societal Level

soc protectWork to dismantle systematic oppression. Respect and support cultural identities as tools for empowerment. Help increase equitable access to concrete resources and safe communities. Support organizations which work to increase hope in impoverished communities through the arts, access to job opportunities, and tools to help people reach for their dreams.

Build at family and community level:

fam protect

  • Think about the Stories We Tell. Stories can mobilize sources of faith, hope, and cultural traditions. When you’re facing difficult times, it helps to feel like you’re a part of something bigger, and to believe that “your people” have a history of weathering challenge and emerging stronger than before.
  • Build Relationships, and Be a Mentor. Remember, a key factor in resilience is having a relationship with someone who believes in you, encourages you to be the best possible you, and helps you keep moving when life seems too hard. Each of you can be one of those people – not just for your friends and family, but for any person here at Northlake, or in the broader community. Any time we interact with anyone in a way that reflects their inherent worth and dignity, we build their resilience.
  • Let people know that their presence in the community matters, and that they can make valuable contributions. This is even in the little things. Here at Northlake, I’ll occasionally ask a child to help me as I set up or tidy – even a three year old can be asked to help carry something. Sometimes kids are surprised to be asked, because we often don’t ask them. But when we do, and we thank them for their help, it increases their sense of efficacy.
  • Concrete Support. Lending a helping hand to a parent with their hands full, offering a ride to someone recovering from an injury, helping someone work on a resume, passing on news about available affordable housing, or accompanying someone to a support group meeting are just some examples of simple things we can do to help people get back on their feet after a challenge. Keep your eyes open for your opportunities.

Build Resilience in Individuals

ind protect

  • Support them in viewing themselves as having control over their destiny. You can use a framework of “I have… I am… I can…” that encourages someone facing hardship to think about what resources they have, to tell themselves a positive story of who they are, and to think about concrete steps that they can take to help improve their situation. This builds their internal locus of control.
  • Carol Dweck has researched what she calls “the Growth Based Mindset” which is a belief that we are capable of learning more and doing better. And Angela Duckworth has researched what she calls “Grit” as a vital mechanism in achieving success despite barriers. One way to build these things is to talk about mistakes, failures, and setbacks as normal parts of learning, not as reasons to quit. Remind yourself and those around you that everyone runs up against things they can’t do. The ones who succeed are the ones who pick themselves up and try again.
  • In terms of Temperament – some people are naturally more fearful, and when things seem hard, their anxiety takes over. Researchers at Yale have learned that if we accommodate too much, it actually makes anxiety worse. If we tell someone “I know that’s scary, so you don’t have to do it”, it actually validates that this thing is way too scary and way too powerful. Instead, we can say to ourselves and others “It’s OK to feel scared. We all feel scared. Let’s make a plan for how we can do it anyway.”
  • We know Mental Health and Physical Health are huge protective factors. So, at the societal level, we can be doing public policy advocacy to increase access to health care. But, at the individual level, with ourselves and others, we can think about self care. We can remember that it’s important to prioritize self care – it helps to help recharge our batteries to give us enough energy to face whatever challenges may come.
  • We know that having a goal in mind helps us to keep pushing forward. Ask people to tell you about their dreams. Help them to figure out what the next manageable step is toward achieving that dream. Emphasize that even when challenges seem hard in the short term, we can work to overcome them and not let them block us from that long-term goal.
  • Perception – Learn how to re-frame challenges for yourself, and share with others what you have learned. There are three aspects to re-framing:
    • If you find yourself believing that when bad things happen it’s always your fault, try re-framing to “sometimes bad things happen that are beyond my control. What I can control is how I respond to them.”
    • Stay focused on fixing the specific problem rather than thinking it’s a sign of some global problem. For example, if you don’t get a job you were hoping for, remember that it’s not that you are fundamentally unemployable. It’s just that one job that said no…. keep trying till you find the right fit.
    • View problems as impermanent – it will get better in time, and there are steps you can take to help it improve.

outcomeIn the end, some of the most important protective factors that build resilience and increase positive outcomes are the stories that we tell ourselves about the challenges that we face, and the stories that we tell those in our community about who we are, and what we’re capable of. Earlier, our hymn said “Just as long as I have breath, I must answer, “Yes,” to life; though with pain I made my way, still with hope I meet each day.” It is that hope that can carry us forward.

Let’s end with this quote by Mary Anne Radmacher: “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, (whispering), ‘I will try again tomorrow.'”

Sermon: Embodiment of Motherhood

roots

On Mother’s Day, I did the sermon at my church, Northlake Unitarian Universalist in Kirkland, WA. The theme of the month was Embodiment – a tangible or visible expression of an idea, quality, or feeling. There is no more literal embodiment than pregnancy and the birth of a baby. I spoke about all the joys, challenges, and complexities embodied in parenthood and our relationships with our own parents.

Here is the >>audio recording.>>, and the companion Slides. And here’s my script:

“So, my husband Peter has a great voice and loves to sing. You may wonder why he isn’t in the choir. Well, it’s because music moves Peter… a little too much. When he’s singing hymns, he gets choked up… may even sob a bit… thanks for those of you who support him when he’s having one of his moments…

We often think of mothers as the sentimental ones… but Peter’s the emotional parent in our family. The one who cries through all the significant life events. Not me.

Ah… but there are a few songs that can do me in… One is that hymn we just sang, Spirit of Life. It’s something about the phrase (SLIDE)  “Roots hold me close, wings set me free” that gets me every time.

I am blessed with strong and deep roots. My parents have lived in Cheyenne Wyoming their whole lives. Mom belonged to the same church for 85 years. In town, I had siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, and church family, and scout troops, and 4-H groups, and neighborhood buddies. Wherever I went, I heard “Oh, you’re Leila’s grand-daughter” or “Alan’s little sister” or “Erin’s friend.” The roots ran deep.

And yet, we were also all given wings. We traveled all over the U.S. and Canada. We read books and saw movies that taught us about the broad outside world. We had exchange students from many countries. And the wings that our parents gifted us with have carried us far. The only ones left in Cheyenne are my dad, three elderly aunts and one cousin. The other children and grandchildren have flown away to Colorado, Nebraska, Arizona, Washington, North Carolina, Alaska, South Korea, and American Samoa.

We’re all still close and loving and supportive. But, we are not part of each other’s daily lives.

Yes… my parents succeeded at giving us all roots and giving us wings. And we all flew away.

And now I’ve worked to give my children roots and wings… and watch as they fly away, and return, then fly away again…

Roots and wings is just one of the many bittersweet parts of parenting… As Barbara Kingsolver said SLIDE  “Kids don’t stay with you if you do it right. It’s the one job where, the better you are, the more surely you won’t be needed in the long run.”

Today is Mother’s Day. It’s a bittersweet holiday for many of us, for many reasons.

I know I can not speak for all of you. I can only speak from my own experience.  But I do acknowledge and honor that you all have your own stories about the complexities of motherhood… and of being mothered… or not being mothered… of being parents or not being parents and the joys and challenges of children.

I will talk today about three parts of parenthood – becoming a parent, parenting our children, and saying goodbye to our own parents.

First… On becoming a parent.

Our theme for May is Embodiment – Embodiment is “a tangible or visible expression of an idea, quality, or feeling”. There is no more literal embodiment than pregnancy and the birth of a baby.

When I was in college, and Peter and I began dating, I was hit out of the blue by the realization of “I want this man to be the father of my children.” That was a really startling thought! I mean, I’d always thought that I would someday have children, but that moment was the first visceral realization of what that future would look like.

Fast forward to five years after that… I was ready to start on that path. Peter wasn’t yet ready. He kept saying he needed to know more first. I would ask what he needed to know – he’d say that he didn’t even know what he didn’t know! At one point, we went to Barnes and Noble. We found some illustrated guide to birth and parenting. And bought it. And a few days later, Peter decided he was ready. Now, I don’t think he ever actually cracked open the book! Just somehow having it on the bookshelf made him feel like he had the resources he needed to make the leap.

In the end, I think that the decision to have a child is always a leap of faith into the unknown.

That first pregnancy and the birth of Martin – was the embodiment of the love Peter and I shared, of our commitment to a life together, and to becoming parents together. And three years later, with the pregnancy and birth of Izzi, we embodied our idea of a family.

For the next 13 years, if you had asked us if we planned more children, we would have said no. But then… when Martin was 16, and Izzi was 13, we decided we weren’t done being parents of little ones – we still had parenting energy to spare. So, we decided to start again. Slide Ben is the embodiment of Peter and I’s love of being parents, and of living in the everyday messiness of raising a small child.

Now, my pregnancies and my births were our embodiment of our ideas… But, from the moment of birth, each of our children begins their own embodiment. With each day, and each step taken, and each word spoken, they embody themselves, becoming a tangible expression of their own qualities and feelings, separate from our original visions.

Our joy in watching that unfolding in our older kids is a big part of the reason why Peter and I chose to have Ben. It is amazing to share a life journey with another soul as they embody themselves.

The decision to begin a pregnancy is a decision to leap into the unknown, and to be forever changed by the experience. As Elizabeth Stone said: slide “Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

I am blessed in that Martin, Izzi, and Ben were each planned and wanted pregnancies that came at a time when Peter and I were both ready to welcome a new baby into our lives. That is obviously not the case with all pregnancies.

We know that about 20% of pregnancies end in abortion. We know that of pregnancies the person intends to carry, at least 20% end in miscarriage. My sister experienced many miscarriages. About 6% of women are not able to conceive, and 6% of men are infertile. I know that there are people in this room who have been affected by one or more of these losses, and that Mother’s Day and Father’s Day carry a heavy weight of unspoken memories for many of you.

I am a childbirth educator, and have trained many childbirth educators over the past fifteen years. I’ll share with you some information I share at that training, slide 

These statistics are based on a study of mothers in late pregnancy who plan to parent the child, and a separate survey of dads who are parenting young babies.

So, of that group, 42% of moms, and 46% of dads say this pregnancy came at the right time for them. Yeah… less than half.

15% of moms and 10% of dads say they wanted a baby sooner in their lives. Sometimes it took a while to find the right partner, or for both partners to feel ready. Sometimes it was fertility issues. Whatever the reason, these are long-awaited babies.

34% of moms and 19% of dads say this baby has come too soon. They had hoped to become parents someday, just not right now.

And then just look at these last two statistics. Remember that these are not women who will choose abortion or adoption – they will be parenting. And these are not men who will leave a child behind. These are the dads who stay. 8% of the women had never planned or hoped to be pregnant. 25% of the dads didn’t mean to have this pregnancy with this woman at this time.

Pretty heavy stuff, eh?

So, our children may be an embodiment of our deepest desires. Or, they may be an embodiment of the moment when we gave up our own dreams to care for an unexpected baby. Our complicated feelings about Mother’s Day often begin on the day we first learn we may be a mother…

In addition to being a childbirth educator, I am also a doula. A doula is a professional who “mothers the mother” during labor and birth – providing emotional and physical support, information and advice. I have been at many births. Some were welcoming long-awaited babies, others were adapting to an unexpected surprise.

I worked with one young man and woman, who had only had one date. They each came away thinking the other person was perfectly nice, but they just weren’t that into each other. They expected to never see each other again. But then she discovered she was pregnant. She contacted him. Their mutual plan was to give the baby up for adoption. That was the plan through her whole pregnancy – she met the adoptive family – they showed her the nursery they had prepared. Then three days before her due date, the adoptive family backed out.

After a few days of soul-searching, she decided to parent the child. She contacted the father to check in. Over the intervening months, he had realized that he is gay… he had struggled with that, because he’d always envisioned himself as a dad, and being gay means it’s harder to make this happen… But this offered the opportunity to become a dad in the “traditional way” of an unexpected and unplanned pregnancy. The two agreed to parent together.  When the baby was a few weeks old, they moved together into a three bedroom apartment, and set off on a parenting adventure. The mother shared with me a quote that resonated with her. Slide

“Motherhood is the biggest gamble in the world. It is the glorious life force. It’s huge and scary—it’s an act of infinite optimism.”

Another mother talked to me about this infinite optimism. She had a complex history: an abusive, alcoholic father, an enmeshed relationship with an emotionally fragile mother… her own history of sexual assault and drug addiction. When I met her, she had done a lot of work to become a pretty healthy, stable adult. But to be pregnant…. To choose to bring a new person into a world which had proven itself to be unsafe over and over… She reported that it was the scariest thing she’d ever done… But she took the leap of faith… she gave birth to an angelic little boy with a halo of blond curls. The pregnancy, birth, and caring for that child have been so powerful for her… and have transformed her over time, helping her to heal and grow in ways she hadn’t imagined possible.

As Jon Kabat-Zinn said slide ““In giving birth to our babies, we may find that we give birth to new possibilities within ourselves.”

But embodiment is a messy process. It’s taking the tidiness of a vision and bringing it into our physical reality. You often see art and photographs that depict birth as this beautiful, transcendent, spiritual process. slide  And it is. But, as a labor support doula, I can also tell you it’s a really messy process.  As a mother and a father are embodied, and as a new human being is embodied, there is plenty of blood, sweat, tears, mucus, vomit, stool, and amniotic fluid. There’s pain, and despair, and ecstasy, and exhaustion. It’s quite a mix!

And great boot camp style preparation for life with babies and small children, which is also full of mucus, and vomit, and poop and all manner of bodily fluids!

The birthing process unfolds in its own way, impossible to predict. I have been at births where the baby came so fast, the midwife barely arrived in time. And I have supported women through labors that lasted 62 hours… 76 hours… 82… I have been at births that were smooth and easy and all the parents could have hoped for. And births that were nothing like what the parents had envisioned and they just had to roll with the punches.

In the midst of this unpredictability, you can do a lot to influence the process and create an environment which allows things to unfold as well as they possibly can. But in the end, the birth process is not fully in anyone’s control.

This is also great boot camp preparation for life with kids – you can do a lot to influence them and to create the best possible environment. But in the end, their process is not in your control.

Which brings us to Parenting, and all that Parenting embodies

Northlake subscribes to a resource called Soul Matters, where a network of Unitarian Universalist congregations work together on worship resources all tied into a monthly theme. Slide For May, the summary blurb includes this line: Embodiment is “about noticing that every moment and every context –- no matter how imperfect, messed up and incomplete – is trying to talk to us!”

What I love most about parenting is how it calls us to live in the moment. And noticing all of those imperfect, messed up and incomplete moments.

I’m very good at focusing on projects and getting tasks done. I’m not as good at living in the moment. Spending time with kids helps me get there.  Reading bedtime stories, wading in the ocean, morning snuggles, times when every movie you see is declared “the best movie ever!” Bowling a strike for the very first time, having an a-ha moment when something finally connects, playing with a new puppy, saying goodbye to an old pet, laughing at little sister jokes when they’ve almost figured out how jokes work, belting Broadway show tunes in the car, critiquing the exact details of the performance of one particular line in a favorite play, road trips to check out colleges, birthday piñatas, hide and seek game, log rolling down grassy hills, and times in lines at Disneyland. The Sunday dinners with family, sharing our highs and lows. All of this pulls me out of my task-driven brain, and into the moment. With children, even something as simple as blowing bubbles can be a moment of pure enlightened delight. Slide

And no, it’s not all happy days. There’s also the drudgery of nonstop diaper changes, potty training, nights spent washing sheets covered in vomit. The toddler tantrums to the teenage battles. The shared tears over disappointments. The things you wish had turned out differently.

It is not a cliché for me to say that parenting is truly the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But for me, it is also the most important thing – the most joyful thing. When we decided to start all over again with Ben, it was a testament to that balance.

Not only am I a parent, I’m a parent educator… I work for Bellevue College. All our classes are parent-child classes, which means I get to spend several hours of each week hanging out with toddlers, preschoolers, and kids as well as parents. And I get to know these families over months together. And many families return again and again to my classes, as their children get older. So, there are kindergarteners I’m working with now that I’ve known since they took their first. I love the opportunity to watch these little people unfold and embody themselves, and watch their parents learn and grow.

I tell the parents that there is no such thing as a perfect parent, and there is no one right way to parent. But there are so very many good ways to parent. And what good parenting looks like is a little bit different for every child.

As a parent educator, a supposed expert in the field, having your own children can be humbling. Even as I spend my days teaching other people all my wisdom about how to be the best possible parent, I’m also spending my days learning how to be a better parent to my own kids. Some days, in some moments, I nail it! I even impress myself. And other days… I suck as a parent. I say mean things, I make bad decisions, I miss important clues to what my kids need from me, I tune out just when they need me to tune in.

One of the messages I try to give to all the parents I work with (and that I tell myself on the hard days) is: have high expectations for yourself as a parent, but forgive yourself when you fall short of those expectations, and be gentle with yourself when life is harder than you thought it would be or should be.

I tell parents that my goal with my kids is simple… I’m hoping that when we look back on my parenting, we’ll see that there were good days and bad days, but in the end, hopefully there were more good days than bad. If I’ve accomplished that, that is enough.

Today, we have spoken about birth as embodiment, mothering as embodiment. I want to speak at the end about when we are ready to leave this embodied life behind.

As many of you know, my own mother died just a few weeks ago. But her process of leaving this life has been in process for a few years now. My mother had Alzheimers. Two years ago, she was no longer able to cook or to sew. A year and a half ago, slide she came here for Christmas –but it was a big struggle for my dad and her to travel, even with my sister’s support. By last Christmas, slide she was in a nursing home, no longer able to walk or to feed herself. By this April, slide she was bed-ridden and barely spoke and when she did speak, we could rarely understand. All of us kids had seen that Mom was leaving us for a few years. We had all said our goodbyes. We all knew it was time. Dad was having a harder time acknowledging that.

But as Mom was leaving her body behind, we were still surrounded by things that she had embodied… ideas made tangible. My mother was a maker. Slide  She knitted and embroidered and beaded and made rugs and quilted and took photographs and made teddy bears. Slide  When my older kids were little, each year they would tell her what they wanted to be for Halloween, and no matter what it was – she embodied it… made it tangible.

But her most important embodiment was her family. My mother became a mother in 1961 slide when she married my dad and began caring for my older brother and sister as her own children. slide Then Alan and I came along. slide And then 10 grand-children. slide And then nine great-grandchildren. For each of us, slide she helped to give us roots to hold us close, and wings to set us free. We are a tangible embodiment of her gifts.

As the hymn we are about to sing says: “Children ask the reasons why. In our lives the answers show, and by our love they learn and grow. Touch the earth, reach the sky! All are born and all shall die; life’s the time left in between, to follow a star, to build a dream.”

We all have different dreams that we are building – or embodying. For some of us that embodiment includes birthing and parenting children. Others embody themselves in the work they do, the love they share with family and friends, the ways they give to their community. May we all work to support, nurture and care for each other… because life’s the time left in between to follow your star, to build your dream.

 

My Mother’s Life

My mother, Alice, passed away in April 2018, at the age of 85. Her memorial service was a lovely end to a life well lived in a community of family and friends. My sister Jamie delivered the eulogy. I’ll share her text below. I also made a video, compiling photos from throughout my mother’s life, which appears below.

The eulogy

A Life in Bits and Pieces

A teddy bear propped in the corner…
A quilt draped over a chair…
Bright colored yarn in skeins and knitted bits…
Hot air balloons and baskets hanging about…
Beaded jewelry and leatherwork, too!
Pictures on walls and in box after box,
Capturing memories
And holding them close.
Mom’s hands, always busy with the tasks before her
Multiple projects in various stages of completion—
Stuffing here and bits of bears there—
A Halloween costume cut for a far-away grandchild,
and an appliqué for a sweatshirt
that is the right color but far too plain;
And fabric—beautiful fabric!—everywhere
For something not quite yet imagined…

It is the movement of Mom’s hands that caught me so much the last time I saw her. She was always busy with her hands, even when she could no longer complete a task. She drove Dad crazy playing with her napkin waiting for lunch, and turning a card over and over in her lap when she could no longer read. Her head and her hands continued to search…and try to create, even if those of us watching could no longer understand the things she tried to create.

Capturing the life of an individual is a daunting task! How—in a few short words and minutes—can we possibly convey the essence of a life between the dates of birth and death? And, even what we put into words cannot contain the completeness of the soul of a person—we who only know the smallest of things about one another! Yet, here is my attempt to do so with Alice.

Mom was born and raised in Cheyenne. Although she was the oldest child of McKenzie and Leila, she was born into a large family of other children. For a number of years, she was the youngest child of this family—and then her brother, Frank, was born. He was the new baby of the family and was well-loved.

Alice had a challenging time as a child because of her eyesight. She had a lazy eye that meant she had to wear an eye-patch; then as now, children are not always particularly kind and they teased her about it. Being different in this way bothered her, she told me once, and it made her very aware of what people said about—and to—one another. The awareness of appearances was something that was very important to her, and she worked hard to make sure that things looked good and appropriate at all times—which sometimes led to some pretty funny family stories, like the time Janelle’s prosthesis got left on the hood of the car—but that’s a longer story to ask Janelle about later…

Alice also had a difficult time with weight—not my problem of having too much of it—but of gaining enough weight. As a child, malt powder had to be added to her milk just to give her a few more calories. I was very aware of this as a teen, carefully watching whether or not someone ordered a malt…or a milkshake. Before I heard this story, I thought the choice was made because of the slight difference in taste rather than calories…that information became important when Janelle needed to gain weight in order to have her chemotherapy—and Mom knew just what to do. This story has come back to me over the last several months as we continued to look for ways to keep Mom from losing weight.

As a young adult, Alice went off to college, and her world expanded. She went to the University of Wyoming in Laramie, mostly riding back and forth on the train. Occasionally, however, she would ride with friends or acquaintances who were coming to Cheyenne. Sometimes those who gave her rides were invited into the house when she got home—and other times they were not because of their country of origin, or ??? Because of that reaction from her parents, Alice learned a sense of hospitality toward others, and the world was often invited to stay in our home when I was growing up. Alice worked hard and she graduated from UW with a BS in Home Economics and a certificate that named her a teacher. She graduated with a love for sewing, knitting, and working with all things having to do with fibers; what she did not graduate with was a great interest in cooking!

Following graduation, Alice taught Home Ec in Basin and Pine Bluffs and then at Johnson Jr. High in Cheyenne. She became a very active member of AAUW (American Association of University Women), and was an advocate for women’s education. She stayed involved with friends from college which soon led her to another great adventure—travel in Europe!

Some time in her late teens, Alice had become pen pals with a woman named Shirley. Shirley lived in England, and so when Alice’s teaching colleagues and friends began to talk of a trip abroad, England was added and Alice and Shirley got to meet. This was an important meeting because Shirley and Cliff became an important part of our family—ask Alan and Brenda for more about that part of the story! That trip was an important foundational part of Mom’s life, and after the service you are invited to look at the pictorial journal she made of that time.

A story—and a life—all take on the life of the storyteller, even as we stay true to what we know to be the facts—so some of you might tell Alice’s story differently, and we would come to know her in a way different than the one I share with you today. So, while I don’t know how intentionally our family began to have global leanings, in my memory and my telling, the truth is that the seeds of welcoming the world were sown from the beginning.

Mom’s early adult life had this momentous trip and the friendship of folks across the pond. And then there is Dad who traveled the world as long as I can remember—one of my earliest memories being a trip to Mexico before Dad and Mom married. After they married, the prelude to every one of Dad’s trips was to get out the world map, lay it on the floor and looking at the places where Dad would be stopping. We even had a map game that we played as a family.

While Dad was gone, Mom was in charge and had to do it all—it was an odd mix of single parent and a family with two parents. When Dad came home, bits of the world came with him in presents that were practical and beautiful. When Dad wasn’t out in the world, the world often stopped by as guests brought by the YMCA—people from Japan, India, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, and ?. A couple of Exchange Students were hosted, and the Friendship Force became a part of Mom and Dad’s travels and hosting.

With this beginning in Mom’s life and Mom and Dad’s life together, it should be of little surprise that our family is a global family. Shirley and Cliff were our English family before Sharon joined us and added Northern Ireland: Peter joined us and adding in family from a new location in England and Argentina and a Spanish influence; John, as a second generation child of immigrants, added back in more of Scotland; grandchildren added in S. Korea, Tajikistan, Mexico, and American Samoa—and probably other places that I am forgetting. Great-grandchildren will surely continue to broaden the global basis of our family. Nowadays, in order to talk about our family, we bring out the global map and look for who is where and who is traveling.

Like her mother before her, Mom stepped into a ready-made family. It was not easy to do—and it was not without a number of challenges, bumps and bruises—which are stories for other times and places! Dad and Mom married on November 18, 1961. Even though it complicated things, they got married during the middle of the school year, so that by the time Christmas break came along, we would already “be a family” together. Roger and I helped make that very “real” for Mom by coming down with Chicken Pox for her to deal with on that first Christmas we were all together. Surprise!

Dad and Mom were married right here in First UMC. A few years ago when Mom and I were talking about this, she told me that she had insisted that the children—Roger and I—would be a part of the ceremony. In 1961 this was a pretty radical request, because divorce was not spoken of in polite company at the time. So Roger carried their rings and I carried flowers…Without knowing the history of this, but remembering its importance for me, this has set my policy for blended family weddings since I have been in the ministry.

For her wedding, Mom made her wedding dress and my flower girl dress; and as a surprise for me on Christmas morning, Mom gave me a life-size doll wearing a wedding dress like hers! Unfortunately, I was not a doll person and so did not fully appreciate the sweetness of the gift and its intentions to bring us close. Mom continued sewing clothes for all of us, often making them out of the same fabric so that we could easily be identified as a family—six of us dressed in matching shirts was an amazing sight! When I got married to my first husband, she made my wedding dress…and dresses for the attendants as well…and Janelle’s wedding dress…and so many other outfits throughout our lives…

Alan and Janelle were delightful—and begged for—additions to the family. Alan’s coming along meant that Mom had to stop teaching—teachers weren’t allowed to teach when pregnant, so as soon as she started to “show” she had to quit. After Alan was born, Mom worried. Alan could not keep food down and Mom had to fight with the doctor about whether Alan was “throwing up” as Mom described it, or “spitting up” as the doctor assured her Alan must be doing. The doctor finally listened when Alan threw up on the doctor during one of their visits! Finally concerned, the doctor looked a little more closely and Alan was whisked away to surgery where they repaired a flap in his stomach that would not stay closed after eating. Following surgery, Alan grew and flourished—becoming adventurous and risk-taking!

Janelle’s birth made for perfect bookends for the children in this family—a girl on either end and two boys in the middle! After Janelle was born, I made life a little difficult for Mom and Dad, because I told them they couldn’t bring her home with the name they intended—and I told them her name was to be Janelle Lynn. For whatever reason, I got my way, and Penny Sue became Janelle Lynn and my favorite sister!

We traveled…we camped…we saw the states and National Forests and museums—and one time found ourselves on the edges of a civil rights demonstration in New Jersey. We got lost looking for the ocean and we wandered around looking for things of interest to four rambunctious children. Mom was present through all of it—broken bones, injured limbs, surgeries and high fevers. And when Janelle began her journey with cancer, Mom was there to drive Janelle back and forth for chemo, doctors’ appointments and connecting with the school. Together, Janelle and Mom developed a teddy bear give-away program called “Tender Loving Bears” with Denver Children’s Hospital. The last known count of bears made and given away to people with cancer was 1,986 bears.

Alice gave herself away over and over again, serving as a leader for scouting programs and 4-H, UM youth group sponsor, Make It With Wool program, driver of carpools, UMW, and the hospital here in town. Groups that Dad and Mom were a part of often got her volunteer hands as she would organize and send out newsletters and take other positions of leadership, and everywhere she went she took pictures to help her tell the story of each trip when she and Dad would visit us kids in our far-flung lives—because they did visit all of us, making it a priority and using the motor home to full advantage. Through it all, her hands were always busy making something for someone…

All of that is part of why this last bit of Mom’s life was such a challenge.  Cancer—when she faced it for herself—did not seem to frighten her or hold her back, but these two forms of dementia were a completely different battle. They edged their way into her life and she begin to be lost in her own smaller and smaller world as she lost her voice…and her words…and her mobility. To watch someone who has been so productive and involved no longer be able to reach out beyond the boundaries of her mind is so difficult! And Dad was there through it all—willing Mom to get stronger and better; until the very end…and the family that she helped to form began to gather by phone and in person.

A teddy bear propped in the corner…
A quilt draped over a chair…
Bright colored yarn…
Hot air balloons…
Pictures and memories…
Hands always busy…
projects—bits of bears—
A costume…an appliqué…
And fabric, everywhere fabric…
For something not yet imagined…

As we come and celebrate her life, we are the last quilt, the last weaving that she never fully imagined. And I am grateful. Thank you all for being a part of her life—of our lives; together we are beautiful!

The video tribute

The Guests at the Memorial Service

My parents both spent almost all their years in the same city, with 56 years living in one house, Mom was a member of the same church for 85 years, and very involved in many ways in the broader community. The people who attended her memorial service came from all the different groups she had participated in. Just some of the people who came to the service to honor her and support us:

  • Someone who has known Mom since they were toddlers in the early 1930’s – they’d been to school together, been neighbors, and been in community groups together.
  • A group of folks from the hot air balloon club, and more from the motorhome club.
  • Someone who I babysat when I was 12 and he was 6.
  • Two of my brother’s best friends and the mother of one of my best neighbor friends from our childhood in the 60’s and 70’s.
  • Someone who volunteered with my mother for all of the 80’s and 90’s in a group that offered peer support for parents of kids with cancer.
  • Guys my Dad worked with at the Guard – he retired from there almost 30 years ago.
  • Lots of people from Mom’s high school class of ’51.
  • Two members of my sister’s new church (she’s a minister) who drove 4 hours to support her.
  • Folks from their retirement community who have just known Dad for a few months since they moved in, but have seen how he went to see Mom every day for the past many months she spent in the nursing home.
  • The owner of the funeral home, who was in church youth group with us.
  • My siblings, their spouses, my aunts, my cousins, my half-sibling’s mother…
  • The coffee was served by the same women who I knew as the “church ladies” when I was a kid.

It was a lovely day, re-connecting with all these folks who have touched my family’s life, many of whom I had not seen in 30 or more years. It was beautiful to see all the people who had made long-term connections to my mother and to my family.

Why Amputees Should Skip Universal Orlando Resort

UniversalStudiosHollywood

Note: I wrote this post in February of 2018. As of November 2018, Universal Orlando is just as bad as described below. However, Universal Studio Hollywood has changed their policies, and according to the newest guides (linked below), a single AK amputee like me is now able to ride all the rides there EXCEPT Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Revenge of the Mummy. So, amputees, take your tourism money (and your family and friends) to California, not Florida!

I have had one leg for 35 of my 50 years. I’m an above the knee amputee. I don’t wear a prosthesis – I use crutches. Our family loves theme parks, and I have ridden on countless rides in countless theme parks over the past few decades, including several fun trips to Universal Studios Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood. Each time, I rode all the rides there with no problems at all. Then we visited US Hollywood in February of 2015, and I discovered that suddenly I was banned from most of the rides there.

No one told me this when I arrived at the park. After waiting in a 60 minute line for a Harry Potter ride, I was told I could not ride. (No one told me when I got into the line.) I asked if there were any other rides that had the same restriction. They said they didn’t know, but thought maybe the mummy ride might. Then, I ended up spending much of the day being told many times that I could not ride a ride, but no one could tell me which were OK and which weren’t.

While my family was on one ride without me, I used the magic of the internet to discover that Universal has full guides listing all the restrictions on rides for people with various disabilities. (I’m not sure why none of the employees knew this.) You can find the “RIDER’S GUIDE For Rider Safety and Guests with Disabilities” for Universal Orlando Resort here: www.universalorlando.com/web/en/us/files/Documents/universal-orlando-riders-guide.pdf, and the “Rider’s Guide for Rider Safety and Guests with Disabilities”for Universal Hollywood is here: http://info.universalstudioshollywood.com/site-content/uploads/2018/09/Riders-Guide-Sept-2018.pdf

After perusing the guide, I got very familiar with the phrase “When seated, both legs (natural or prosthetic) must extend to edge of seat or terminate below the knee.” It appeared MANY times in the guide. By reading the guide, I discovered there were very few rides I was actually allowed on. I couldn’t even go on some of the kiddie rides!

While my family was on another ride without me, I researched why the policy had changed so drastically. It turns out that in 2011, a double amputee fell from a roller coaster and was killed. This man had no limb on one side, and a short stump on the other, and rode a roller coaster with a lap bar and seat belt belt for restraints.

“once it was rolling, Luffred said, he realized the belt and lap bar in the coaster might not hold his uncle, who had no lap. The coaster quickly climbs to an incredible height, sending cars on a 70-mph plunge. It then torpedoes through two circular loops and crests another hill — where, his nephew said, Hackemer was ejected. “The last time I saw him was when he was flying out,” he said. “He didn’t have anything holding him down.”

Certainly that was a tragedy, and I get that it made sense for every theme park to evaluate their safety mechanisms to prevent future tragedies. It makes sense for ride designers to take these situations into account so they can make the rides safer for amputees and everyone else in the future.

But, I think Universal has gone too far. Their restrictions affect too many of their attractions. I personally would not ride on a looping roller coaster with only lap restraints. With “half a lap”, I don’t feel this would be safe for me. But many of the rides I’m barred from at Universal are nowhere near this degree of risk. Not only do I THINK they would be safe, I know they are, because I have ridden them in the past!

Here’s the list of what I can’t do at Universal Studios Hollywood – you can see the red circles on the map at the top of this post, which shows all the things I can’t ride. The short answer is – I’m banned from pretty much all the rides.

  • Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
  • Flight of the Hippogriff
  • Harry Potter Forbidden Journey (Ben)
  • Jurassic Park the Ride
  • Revenge of the Mummy (Ben)
  • Simpsons
  • Transformers the Ride

In Orlando, here’s what I’m banned from:

  • Cat in the Hat
  • High in the Sky Trolley
  • Pteranadon Flyers
  • Jurassic Park River Adventure
  • Harry Potter Forbidden Journey
  • Bilge Rat Barges
  • Incredible Hulk coaster
  • Storm Force Accelatron
  • Dr. Doom’s Fearfall
  • Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit – US
  • Revenge of the Mummy – US
  • HP Escape from Gringotts – US

Ripsaw Falls and Caro-seuss-el I MIGHT be able to ride on. It’s unclear in advance.

These rides luckily only require one leg, so I can actually ride all of them: Flight of the Hippogriff, Amazing Adventures of Spiderman, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, Transformers, Race through New York, Reign of Kong, Men in Black Alien Attack, Twirl and Hurl, Simpsons Ride, ET Adventure, Woody Woodpecker’s Coaster.  (Note that some of those rides – in bold type – share names with some I’m banned from in California. It’s possible the design differs between parks, but it seems that if they’ve figured out how to make them do-able for people with one leg in one park, they should be able to transfer that design to the other park.)

So, here’s what my day in Orlando would look like… the red circles show things I’m banned from. If it has a pink circle, I’m allowed on it, but I’d likely need to have the guide in hand to show to ride operators to convince them that it was OK for me to ride.

Islands

USFlorida

My family has loved going to Islands of Adventure for years. And we’re huge Harry Potter fans, so we would love to spend more time at the Wizarding World. But I’m questioning whether I want to return to a Universal Studios Park when it would mean a day spent mostly sitting around by myself while my family waited in lines and rode rides without me. They would skip the rides for my sake and just do the shows, but I’d feel worse about that than I would feel about sitting alone.

In most of my life, I don’t really feel handicapped. There are very few things that my amputation has prevented me from doing. Due to these policies, I feel more disabled at Universal Studios than anywhere else I’ve ever been in the past 35 years.

At Disney, I can do every single thing in the park! It is possible to make theme parks accessible. I wish Universal Studios was doing a better job of it.

Hymns in Singing the Journey

This is the Song Index for Singing the Journey a Unitarian Universalist hymnal to supplement Singing the Living Tradition.
Both hymnals available from the UU bookstore: www.uua.org

I was not able to find an index anywhere online, so I compiled one. This is a work in progress. For some, I’ve put links to recordings of these hymns where you can hear the music. If you have notes to add, or links to recordings, please suggest those in the comments. Other UU Hymn resources at the bottom of the list.

Transcending Mystery and Wonder

# Hymn Title
1000 Morning Has Come
1001 Breaths. Based on this poem.
1002 Comfort Me. Video.
1003 Where Do We Come From
1004 Busca el Amor
1005 Praise in Springtime
1006 In My Quiet Sorrow
1007 There’s a River Flowin’ In My Soul
1008 When Our Heart is In a Holy Place
1009 Meditation on Breathing
1010 We Give Thanks
1011 Return Again
1012 When I Am Frightened
1013 Open My Heart

Words and Deeds of Prophetic Men and Women

1014 Standing on the Side of Love; The composer has requested that the words be altered to “Answering the Call of Love”
1015 I Know I Can
1016 Profetiza, Pueblo Mio
1017 Building a New Way. Video
1018 Come and Go With Me
1019 Everything Possible
1020 Woyaya
1021 Lean On Me
1022 Open the Window
1023 Building Bridges. Mp3. In Rise Up Singing
1024 When the Spirit Says Do
1025 When will the fighting cease
1026 If Every Woman in the World
1027 Cuandro el Pobre
1028 The Fire of Commitment
1029 Love Knocks and Waits for Us to Hear

Wisdom from the World’s Religions

1030 Siyahamba
1031 Filled with Loving Kindness
1032 Daoona Nayeesh
1033 Bwana Awabariki. Mp3.
1034 De Noche
1035 Freedom is Coming. Mp3
1036 Calypso Alleluia. Video

Jewish and Christian Teachings

1037 We Begin Again in Love
1038 The 23rd Psalm
1039 Be Thou With Us
1040 Hush
1041 Santo
1042 Rivers of Babylon
1043 Szekely Aldas
1044 Eli, Eli
1045 There is a Balm in Gilead
1046 Shall We Gather at the River. Mp3
1047 Nada Te Turbe
1048 Ubi Caritas
1049 Vieni Spirito Creatore
1050 Jazz Alleluia

Humanist Teachings

1051 We Are…
1052 The Oneness of Everything
1053 How Could Anyone
1054 Let This Be a House of Peace
1055 How Sweet the Darkness
1056 Thula Klizeo
1057 Go Lifted Up
1058 Be Ours a Religion
1059 May Your Life be as a Song
1060 As We Sing of Hope and Joy
1061 For So The Children Come
1062 All Around the Child

Earth-Centered Traditions

1063 Winter Solstice Chant
1064 Blue Boat Home. Video
1065 Alabanza
1066 O Brother Sun
1067 Mother Earth, Beloved Garden
1068 Rising Green
1069 Ancient Mother. Mp3
1070 Mother I Feel You
1071 On the Dusty Earth Drum
1072 Evening Breeze
1073 The Earth is Our Mother
1074 Turn the World Around

More sources of info for UU Hymns

https://sites.google.com/a/uucrt.org/main/board-and-committees/arts/hymns-in-singing-the-living-tradition  has a list of all the hymns in Living Tradition hymnal, with notes on how “singable” they are, and links to videos, recordings and words for some hymns.

Notes from the Far Fringe, http://farfringe.com/hymn-by-hymn-introduction/, has blog posts with her reflections on every single hymn. She includes lyrics for many hymns, which is hugely helpful, if like us, you project them on the wall for services. Being able to copy and paste what she typed up will save us a lot of effort in transcribing. (Copyright reminder: you should only project lyrics if you also own the hymnal. Learn more.)

A list of “folk-ish” tunes that appear in the two hymnals is at www.danielharper.org/blog/?page_id=1311, with notes on which hymns also appear in Rise Up Singing. (Rise Up Singing songbook includes guitar chords).

www.mluuc.org/mluuc2/hymnal/hymns1.php – another index of hymns in Living Tradition, includes links to words and videos for many

Links to more videos and mp3’s of hymns in Living Tradition can be found at https://westforkuu.org/members/worship-resources/songs/   This puts them in order based on how “singable” they are.

On the UUA’s website about Singing the Journey, there are notes about some songs: http://www.uua.org/worship/music/hymnals/journey/songinformation.

Everything Possible – A Mama-logue

 

everything

This is my new monologue from this year’s Mama-logues, a comedy cabaret about mothers, children, and parenting….

Back in 1993, when my oldest was a baby, I was a clueless and exhausted first-time mom. In the middle of the night, as my child was crying, I often sang a song called Everything Possible by Fred Small. “You can be anybody you want to be, you can love whomever you will, and know I will love you still….”

Beautiful sentiment right? But I confess one of the main reasons I sang it was it was one of the longest songs I had memorized, and I could just press play in my head and sing it through while I was half asleep…

But… it did have a message we wanted to share with our kids… a message we gave over and over… “we will love you no matter what… really…. no matter what…” I joke with my kids sometimes saying: “I mean, if you become a serial killer, we’re going to have to have some really serious talks, but I will still love you…”

That song included the line “some women love women, some men love men…”

I told my kids that it was totally OK with me if they turned out to be gay. But I also admitted that I hoped they would be straight. Because that’s an easier road to walk in our society today. And because I’m their mother, I’d really love for their lives to be as easy as possible.

Well, sure enough, over the years, they both came out to me. In their teen years, they both came out as bisexual. And you know what? It was OK. Really it was. And it was made easier by the fact that societal attitudes toward homosexuality have made such massive shifts over the past few decades. Who could have guessed back in 1993 that gay marriage would be legal nationwide in 2015!!

Their identities have evolved over the years.

My middle child now identifies as bi-romantic or lesbian but asexual. I, of course, support her and love her. (And, if I must be totally honest, it’s really kind of a relief when your college age child tells you they’re not interested in having sex…. Lifts a whole lot of worries right off your shoulders!)

Now, my oldest child… the one we knew as my daughter Amelia? Well…. Two and a half years ago, that child came to us and said…

“Mom and Dad, I need you to know… I’m a man. I am your son. And my name is Martin.”

We’d had hints this might be coming… but only for a year or so.

Most of their life, this child presented as not just a girl, but very much a girl. In grade school, distancing themselves from the boys, talking about how boys are jerks and hanging out with the girls.  In middle school, as the curves came in, embracing and showing off that curvy body. Embracing the image of “gamer girl” while playing dungeons & dragons and watching anime.

So… unlike the families of transgender kids who say “well, I guess I’ve always known”, I did NOT have that experience!

I accepted his word that this is who he is. I did. I did! But yet… I had such a hard time grasping it…. I said “but… but… you always acted like a girl… you always embraced being a girl… right??” He said “Yeah, I did. And I meant it at the time. Maybe that was defense against a truth I wasn’t ready to acknowledge.”

I accepted this new identity. I did! But yet…. I said “do you remember how I said I kind of hoped you were straight, because that’s an easier road to walk? Now you’re telling me that you’re going to be walking on a really, really hard road. We’ve made so much progress on gay rights that that doesn’t scare me that much any more. But transgender rights or even awareness?? Oh honey, that’s not there yet! Are you SURE this is the path you need to walk?? Isn’t there another way?”

Now, I know the answer to that. An old friend came out as transgender about ten years ago. She told us that she tried to deny her gender for years, and it hit the point where every single day of living as a man she had to talk herself out of committing suicide. She finally had to say to her wife: “I am a woman. I know you thought you married a man, and you didn’t choose this… but if I’m going to stay alive to parent our children, I need to do that as a woman.” Ten years later, they’re still together, and they and their children are doing well…

I am so glad that my beautiful, wonderful child does not have that level of dysphoria that my friend had. Amongst the cisgender population – folks like me who have a gender identity that matches their biological sex – the chance they’ll attempt suicide is less than 5%. Amongst transgender people it’s 41%. I am so glad my child does not feel this degree of self-hate. But he does have dysphoria… when people refer to him as “she” or “her” he does have that sense of wrongness… When people say “he” or “him”, he feels like he is being SEEN.

So, we began a new journey, me and my oldest son…

We’ve stumbled along the way.

There was a period early on where he instituted a pronoun tax… if I accidentally mis-gendered him, then I owed him a quarter. And believe me, the jar filled up fast.

Now I’m really good at his gender… but now sometimes I accidentally switch to the wrong pronoun for one of my other children! Or for the dog…

Learning the new name was tricky: you know how when you’re talking to your spouse about one of your co-workers… You start a story and say “I was talking to Laurie… you know – from work?” I was saying to my spouse “I was talking to Martin… you know – our son?”

There are some odd moments of having a transgender son on testosterone. Recently, I confronted him and said “are you the one who used up all my maxi pads?” and he said “no, Mom. No, the only reason I’ve been in your bathroom lately is to use Dad’s razor.”

The person who had the easiest time adapting was our youngest child. Ben was 3½ when Martin came out. Ben accepted the change without blinking.

A short while later, we saw a close family friend, and Ben said “I used to have two sisters, but now I have a brother and a sister.” Our friend laughed and started to correct Ben, and we’re like “Well… actually…. There’s something we need to tell you…”

A few months later, Ben learned about a character in the Mario Brothers games named Yoshi…. the green turtle-y dragon thing? Ben asked if we would call him Yoshi. We said sure, thinking it was just for that day. After that, Ben insisted on being called Yoshi. For the next 11 months. Everyone at preschool believed that to be his real name.

He has now returned to being Ben… turns out that it was “just a phase.” But Martin… is still my son Martin. It’s not a phase, it’s who he is.

Like all mothers, I want my child to be healthy, and happy, and whole. So, when he introduced himself as my son, Martin Emilio… and later introduced me to his boyfriend Xander, what else could I say other than “you can be anybody you want to be, you can love whomever you will… and know I will love you still.”

———————————–

Resources:

PFLAG’s Guide to Being a Trans Ally: covers all the basics, including defining terminology like cisgender, transgender, gender expression vs. gender identity vs. sexual orientation.

GLAAD’s Tips for Allies of Transgender People: actions you can take to “help change the culture, making society a better, safer place for transgender people…”

The National Center for Transgender Equality’s Supporting the Transgender People in Your Life. Tips on interacting with transgender people, being an outspoken ally, changing businesses and schools, and changing the world.

How Do You Do It? … On being a one legged mama

Each year in Seattle, there’s a show called “Mama-logues,” a comedy cabaret about motherhood, for people who are mothers, have mothers, or know mothers. This is a piece I performed in 2013 and again in 2017, on being a mom with a “disability.”

I know about a developmental milestone that you won’t find in any book. At exactly three and a half year old, all children notice that I only have one leg. Really. Universally, if a child points me out in Starbucks (“mommy, look, that lady only has one leg”) they are guaranteed to be three and a half.

Past the age of four and a half or so, they’ve learned not to say anything out loud. But you all have a 3 year old in your brain, that couldn’t help but comment when I came out on stage…. “hey, that lady only has one leg.”

When some people see me, especially on the stage at Mama-logues, they may wonder… does she actually have kids?

Why yes, I’ve got three of them – a 23 year old, a 20 year old and a 6 year old.

People ask me “How do you do it? What is it like to take care of a baby when you only have one leg?” I’m like “I don’t know…. What is it like to take care of a baby if you have two legs?”

But really, having one leg has rarely seemed like an issue to me.

I had two legs for the first fifteen years of my life, then I had bone cancer and an amputation, and now I’ve been an amputee for over 35 years… This is my body, and this is just how I go through life.

And as for parenting and caring for my kids, I figure things out as I go along, just like you all figure out parenting as you go along.

It started 23 years ago, I was pregnant with my first.

Sure, there was a little trepidation going in… what would pregnancy be like? How would I carry a baby? A toddler?

It actually turned out that the whole pregnancy thing was easy for me. I remember going to my childbirth classes, and getting down on the floor for relaxation exercises and breathing practice [hoo-ha, hoo-ha]. When we finished, I’d stand back up – no big deal. Then I’d look around and see all these other two-legged mamas struggling to their feet, needing their partner’s assistance to get up off the ground. Oops… should I make it look harder for me next time?

When I’m carrying my babies and toddlers, sometimes well-meaning strangers approach me to see if I need help. I appreciate their gesture, and I hope they also make those offers to parents who do need help.

But, I have to also laugh sometimes. Like when I am getting my toddler out of the car at the community center, and this lovely older couple offers to carry him inside for me… I say thanks, but I’m good… the couple says “Oh, can you carry him by yourself??” I’m thinking – “y’know, if I couldn’t carry him inside by myself, why would I have brought him here by myself??”

I’m tempted to tell them: “you know, not only can I carry a baby by myself, I can walk upstairs while carrying one. And not only that, I’ve walked upstairs on my crutches while holding and breastfeeding a baby… how many people on the planet do you think can do that?”

Do I do some things differently than I would if I had two legs? Almost certainly. But I don’t feel like there are many things I CAN’T do – I just have to adapt and be creative sometimes.

Once when our older kids were little, we took them ice skating at Christmas time. The plan was for Peter to help the 3 year old skate – but it turned out the 7 year old needed help too. So, I was helping Izzi. Can I walk around an ice rink on crutches while holding up an ice skating pre-schooler? Sure, you bet.

But then, the staff at the rink came up and told me no one was allowed on the ice without ice skates. I pointed out our situation, but they insisted. I said “Seriously?? You really think it would be safer for everyone if I were to put on an ice skate??” They said that was the policy and they couldn’t let me on the ice with Izzi unless I had skates. The 7 year old was worried, my 3 year old was sad. So, I just said to my kids: “No problem, I can do this.” And I went and put on one ice skate, made my crutches three inches taller, and back we went to the ice rink.

And it was fine. A few years later my kids wanted the family to go roller blading. We tried it. The kids and my husband both fell LOTS of times when they were learning… Me? Piece of cake. It’s actually easier to roller-blade on crutches.

Do my kids need to adapt to the fact that I have one leg? Nope, it’s all they’ve ever known. By the time my son was 11 months old if he wanted me to go somewhere with him, he’d go get my crutches and drag them over to me.

There are some things we do differently… My kids know we don’t play the chase game – the run away from mommy in the parking lot game – Because I couldn’t catch them if they ran from me. They know when I say stop, they stop, or we go home. Period.

My son’s kindergarten math problems are more complicated to figure out in our household than they might  be in yours…. “If four people want to go ice skating, how many skates will they need?”

My kids are experts at answering all the questions that kids in the playground ask about “how come your mom only has one leg? Did she break it… right off??”

Are there perks to this life with a one-legged mom? Yep – has your child ever dropped his Thomas the Tank Engine in a parking lot, and had it roll away so it’s way way out of reach under a monster SUV? Ever had to figure out how to get it out before the toddler melts down? You know, it’s really easy if you carry a four foot long pole with you everywhere you go!

Works for knocking frisbees down out of trees too. Or pushing a kid on a trike.

Plus I bet your kids would rather go to Disneyland with me than you! At the airport, we get skipped right past those long lines at security…. We board the plane early… we get to park our car really close to the park entrance, and yep, we get to skip all the lines… wanna do Space Mountain again, kids?

People ask me all the time “how do you do it?”

I do it because I have to for my kids.

I know that out in the audience, there’s a parent of twins, or a parent of two kids under two, or a parent of a child with autism or ADHD, or folks who face plenty of other challenges. And people say to you all the time “I just don’t know how you do it.” Right?

Here’s the thing: we do it because we’re parents. We do it because our kids need us to do it. And every day we figure out how to do something new, because our kids need something new. It’s just what parents do, whether they’ve one leg or two.