vulnerable path

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An Overwhelming Sensation

Do you ever get that overwhelming sensation?  It’s not a physical one, like exhaustion or hunger.  I’m talking about an emotional one.  It has been happening to me a lot in the last few years.  It’s the emotional response that rises up inside me when I hear about a young person’s success or when I read an article about how someone has improved their local community.  I am overcome with the feeling that I must help make the world a better place.

Alan Jennings knows that feeling.  He is the executive director of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, an organization he has been a part of for more than 30 years.  I don’t know Jennings personally, but I can certainly relate to him.  He was featured recently in an article in The Morning Call, saying that he had the “overwhelming sensation” as a young child that he was “born to save the world.”  Jennings joined CACLV fresh out of college.  He has been instrumental in not only saving it from shutdown, but growing it into an organization with a $20 million a year budget.  CACLV is the engine behind numerous neighborhood improvement programs, homeless shelters, and soup kitchens throughout the Lehigh Valley.

Few of us are fortunate enough to realize our calling at such a young age.  For some, it may take 50 years.  For others, it may never come.  For me, it’s finally arrived and has been transformative.  I believe this passion was born out of my role as a parent, to help my daughter become the best person she can be.  I have seen this evolution taking place, that my hope to improve people’s lives has grown beyond just she and I.  If I make this effort for my child, I can take many others along on the journey.

A few weeks ago, I received an email from the Volunteer Center of the Lehigh Valley, advertising a “speed networking” event geared to help local non-profits find volunteers.  I had barely finished reading the first few lines when I knew I needed to participate.  This was an opportunity that I simply could not pass up.  It was a way for me to act as a liaison — to bridge the gap between Girl Scouts and the larger world of service organizations for the girls and adults that I work with.  Because if I am to support the mission of Girl Scouting, which is to build girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place, then I have to help girls to connect to the community and world beyond Girl Scouting.

I was utterly overwhelmed at the speed networking event.  There were about 25 organizations represented, and I had to choose five to meet with.  It was difficult to narrow it down to five!  I chose Community Bike Works, The Center for Humanistic Change, The Lehigh Conference of Churches, the Third Street Alliance, and Gress Mountain Ranch.  I was able to meet the executive directors of all of these organizations, present them with my resume, and talk about the passions that we have in common.  My goal now is to get to know these groups better, introduce others to them, and find ways to help them expand their own missions.

Clockwise from top right, the ceiling of the parlor, one of many stained glass windows, a close up of a tile surrounding the fireplace in Mr. Simon's office, a mosaic in the lobby.

Clockwise from top right, the ceiling of the parlor, one of many stained glass windows, a close up of a tile surrounding the fireplace in Mr. Simon’s office, a mosaic in the lobby.

I began last weekend by taking my daughter for a tour of the Third Street Alliance in Easton, PA.  They are based in the Simon mansion, a beautifully restored building in the heart of downtown Easton.  You cannot tell by looking at the French revival façade of this building that it houses a homeless shelter for women and children.  Additionally, this dynamic organization provides the community with a Keystone Stars accredited child care program and an adult care program for seniors with special needs.  It’s a stunning mash-up of art, architecture, and social service.  We learned that they need help to sort donations, to make care packages for clients, and to garner additional funding to make their swimming pool ADA compliant, just to name a few.

I left there with my mind reeling, mulling over the many possible ways to help them.  And I could see that it made an impression on my daughter as well.  She’s 13, and yet she wasn’t underwhelmed, as is so often the case at this age.  She was intrigued by the interior design and the art work, and listened intently to our tour guide’s stories.  There’s a world outside of herself, and she’s beginning to open her eyes to it.

Our next stop will be at the Community Bike Works.  We are visiting them this week, donating an old bike and taking a tour.  I can’t wait!

I have tremendous respect for the individuals that serve at the heart of these organizations.  They often dedicate many hours of overtime and accept less than adequate wages.  They are all “saving the world” in their own unique ways.  Jennings states in the Morning Call article, “Let’s face it, I’ve been at this a long time and the world is still really screwed up. I’ve failed a lot.”

I have to disagree.  Mr. Jennings, you have not failed.  I am certain that you have changed the lives of many individuals for the better.  In fact, even if you have only changed one life, you have still left the world better than you found it.  That’s accomplishing your mission.  That’s leaving a legacy.  That’s making lives better beyond your own.

In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The purpose of life is not to be happy.  It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, and to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”  That’s my new motto.

© Vulnerable Path, 2015

 

 

 

 

 

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Lights, Camera, Confidence!

It was that moment when the spark ignites, the moment I look for all year long as a Girl Scout Leader.  “Miss Chris”, said one of my Scouts, “I think that people who are bullies really feel bad about themselves.  And maybe if we try to help people have more self-confidence, then there would be fewer bullies.”  Then another one added, “If people had more self-confidence, bullies and cliques wouldn’t bother them so much.”  These kids were on to something, and I knew we had the ingredients for a great Take Action Project.

Award_editedIn case you are unfamiliar, a Take Action Project culminates a Girl Scout Journey.  Journeys are an integral part of the Girl Scout Leadership experience.  It’s the heart of the National Program, and Journey curriculum is available for every age level in Girl Scouting.  It focuses on three core themes — It’s Your World, Change It; It’s Your Planet, Love It; and It’s Your Story, Tell It.  Journeys teach girls the three keys to leadership — Discover, Connect, and Take Action.  Discover something about yourself or an issue that is important to you.  Connect with others in your community who hold those same beliefs.  And Take Action to create a sustainable solution to that problem.   The ultimate mission in all this is to build girls of courage, confidence, and character that make the world a better place!

The Journey our Cadette troop (6-8 grade) did this year is called aMAZE, and it focuses on how teenagers can improve their relationships with their peers.  I knew how much my girls needed to have the chance to talk about what they are going through in school.  I knew that several of them had already suffered bullying.  And I knew some of them struggled with self-esteem.  They needed tools to navigate “the twists and turns of getting along,” as the Journey book calls it.

As adults, we sometimes forget.  But being a teenager is not easy!  I wanted to encourage some heart to heart discussions about peer pressure, gossiping, cliques, stereotypes, first impressions, bullying, and more.  But in the end, my girls pinpointed one root cause of many of these issues — a lack of confidence and self-esteem.  And they decided to throw a “Confidence Rocks Party” to help solve it.

pop rocks_editedThe girls created a playlist of confidence boosting songs that they felt would uplift and inspire others.  We decided that a good place for a party is our local roller-skating rink, and the Skateaway was more than happy to partner with us on this project.  We designed a flyer to promote the event and emailed it to all the Girl Scouts troops in our community.  We pulled inspirational quotes from the songs on the playlist and made party favors with Pop Rocks candy, attaching the quotes.  We created some awesome decorations by “tie dying” coffee filters!  And we set up a photo booth with a backdrop, costumes, and props to encourage Party-goers to let their Confidence shine.

When I plan Journey sessions, I go on a Journey myself.  I learn just as much, probably more, than my girls do!  I find amazing resources on the Internet that I use in my lesson plans.  This year, I found so much good stuff that I decided to put it all in a blog post so I could share it with parents and other Girl Scout leaders.  Here’s how my journey began.

ConfidenceOne day last summer, I received an email from my niece.  She sent me information about a group called Lehigh Valley Girls Rock.  She thought my daughter would be interested in their program.  What this group does is pretty amazing.  They teach girls how to play instruments, help them write music, form bands, and perform — all in a week long camp setting.  But if that wasn’t cool enough, it was through their website that I discovered some other very inspiring women who have a thing or two to say about self-confidence and self-love.  A whole bunch of inspiration just fell into my lap!

First there is Gala Darling and her Radical Self Love Manifesto.   Gala started out as a fashion blogger, but soon discovered her true calling and devoted herself to helping other women fall in love with themselves.  Admitting that her teenage years were full of turmoil, she found a way to overcome her struggles and turn her life around.  She is now a very successful entrepreneur.  Her website is just chock full of inspiring essays and activities such as her “Radical Self Love Bible School” which is an art journaling self-discovery program.  I recommend watching her TedEX talk on You Tube.

Then there is Jaime Karpovich.  Jaime is a Vegan, produces a cable TV Show called Save The Kales that airs in several markets, and keeps a blog of the same name.  She’s a freelance writer and public speaker and loves to talk about vegan cooking and lifestyle, body positivity and self-esteem, and personal empowerment to name a few.  I tried to arrange for her to speak to my Girl Scouts, but it didn’t work out this year.  I still have my fingers crossed that we can work together soon!  I think she would really impress upon them how important it is to be true to yourself and follow your dreams.

crafted with beautySomewhere along the line I stumbled upon a gem of an article by Anna Lind Thomas called, “Life is too short for crappy friends,”   Thomas is a writer and comedian who really nails it when it comes to explaining to girls why being “popular” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  She also has some hilarious things to say for us grown-up women.  Here’s a link to her blog.

Oh, and I cannot leave out Brene’ Brown.  I am absolutely obsessed with her book The Gifts of Imperfection.  I carried it around for months on end.  I read and re-read it, marking it up with pencil and highlighter.  I preached it to anyone who would listen.  Her guideposts for wholehearted living resonated with me like nothing else ever has.  It just makes so much sense.  It was inspiration from her research that led me to create this blog and name it Vulnerable Path.  If you follow my blog, you know I have talked about her A LOT in previous posts.

The one thing that Brown has to say that I felt was very important to convey to my Girl Scouts was this:

You are WORTHY now, right this minute, AS IS!!!!!

Brown has an amazing TedEX Talk and other videos on her website– even one about empathy that I recommend for kids.  You can find all of them on here.

The thing is, confidence and self-esteem isn’t just a teen issue.  There are many times throughout our lives that we struggle with a lack of self-confidence.  If we feel bad about ourselves, we are performing that script for our children.  Their young eyes are on us every day as we make choices and navigate our own complicated lives.  We are in the spotlight, the camera is focused on us.  So it’s up to us, first and foremost, to be a good role-model for our children.  As I’ve said before, we can’t give our children something that we don’t have.  (Actually, I think Brene’ Brown said that!)

hero_editedTo help our children gain self-esteem, we have to change the script.  We have to be willing to look in the mirror and say, “I look great today!” instead of “Do you think I look fat in this dress?”  We have to show them that it’s OK to walk out the door with no makeup on.  We have to make positive changes in our lives when we are unhappy.  We have to stand up for ourselves when others treat us poorly.  You can tell them everyday how awesome they are.  But what they really need to see, in addition to all that, is how awesome you think you are!

All I want for my daughter, all any of us want for our children, is that they do better than us — be wiser, smarter, stronger.  We want them to discover their talents and ignite that spark that leads them to their dreams.  The first step in helping them is to help ourselves.

This is a Journey for all of us, young and old alike.  I hope you rock your confidence!

You can download our Playlist and our confidence activity calendar from these links:

Playlist for Confidence Rocks Party

Confidence Rocks Calendar

© Vulnerable Path, 2015

 

 


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Why am I doing this?

It’s only the fourth day of our Girl Scout cookie sale, and I am already wondering what I was thinking. I am our troop leader and cookie mom. So for the next eight weeks, I will not only be planning our meeting activities, but also running a more than $10,000.00 business. It’s a second full-time job. In the last four days, I have spent over 25 hours working the cookie business. That is in addition to working my full-time job and taking care of my home and family.

While fighting off a cranky mood yesterday, I realized I needed to re-acquaint myself with the reasons I made this commitment.

vest_editedI have always held a strong belief in the mission of Girl Scouting. But so do a lot of adults who have their children involved in Scouting. We grew up being Girl Scouts ourselves. We have fond memories of our Girl Scout experiences. But the reasons that I am a Girl Scout volunteer go well beyond my belief that it will give my daughter courage, confidence, and character.

If I won’t do it, who will?

There is a saying that if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. That sounds egotistical. Maybe a better way to phrase it would be to say, if you want a particular result, you have to be willing to put in the work to see that result materialize. That doesn’t just pertain to the Girl Scout organization. That’s a life-in-general thing. It occurred to me a very long time ago that if I wanted my daughter to grow up to be a smart, confident, capable human being, I needed to do the work to make that happen. It wasn’t something to leave to other people. Not to other family members, or teachers, or coaches, or activity volunteers.

If I wanted my daughter to get the most out of her Girl Scout experience, I knew I needed to be actively involved. It wasn’t enough to drop her off at weekly meetings. I truly had no idea what I was getting myself into when I first volunteered. But I can tell you now that I see a very clear corollary between successful girl outcomes and the involvement of girls’ parents. For example, the girls in my troop who earned Bronze Awards as Junior Girl Scouts had parents who involved themselves in the process. They not only brought their girls to special Bronze Award planning sessions, they stayed and participated. They strongly encouraged their girls to make a commitment to a project and stood with them every step of the way.

If I won’t set an example, who will?

Children are very observant of their surroundings. Everything that happens to them has the power to become a teaching experience. Every person they come in contact with has influence. I want to be a positive influence. And, as I said before, if I want my daughter to be smart, confident, and capable, then I have to model that. Whatever expectations I have for her, I need to be willing to live up to myself. Some days, that is no easy task!

The Girl Scout cookie program intends to teach girls these five skills — goal-setting, decision making, money management, people skills, and business ethics. Most people think the cookie sale is a fund-raiser. There is so much more to it than that. If I am going to teach these skills, then I have to demonstrate them. As a leader, a parent, and a role model, it’s my job to set realistic goals and show girls how to meet them. I am a trustee of their money; therefore, I am obligated to manage it appropriately. They are watching, so I need to be friendly, helpful and respectful toward everyone I work with. I need to show my girls how to do what’s right.

My kid isn’t entitled to anything. And I don’t ever want her to think she is. The most rewarding things in life come to us because we worked hard to earn them. It’s a lesson kids ultimately need to learn on their own. But there has to be a role model there, someone who kids can look up to and say, “She did it, and I can too.” It is possible for our troop to earn the money to travel domestically and even internationally. It’s my job to show them that this goal can be reached. I can’t give up. I can’t quit. When I’m tired, there is still one more order of cookies to sort, one more inventory count to do.  This is the work ethic I hope to see my daughter emulate.

If I can’t motivate her, who will?

Let’s face it, most kids would be perfectly happy to spend the whole day sitting on the couch, watching You Tube videos on their iPads.  There are some amazingly motivated young people in this world.  But I can guarantee that every one of them has an equally motivated parent standing right next to them.  I bet Katie Francis is one of them.  She is a 12 year old from Oklahoma that sold over 21,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies in one season!  You can learn more about her amazing story here.

There have been many times when my daughter did not want to do something that I was encouraging her to do.  Whether it was trying a new food or learning to ride a bike, more often than not, she ended up thankful that I kept pushing her.  I want my child to discover activities that she enjoys.  I want her to find her passion.  Yet sometimes she needs a good shove in the right direction.  I can’t let that up to anyone else either.

Why am I doing this?  I’m doing it all for you, my child.  I am committed to being your teacher, role model, and motivator.  And I am more than happy to do the same for every Girl Scout I meet.

© Vulnerable Path, 2015


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The Key

Have you ever had a moment when you think you must be losing your mind? That happened to me a few days ago. I was looking for my spare house key. And it wasn’t in the place where I knew that I had left it. It seemed to have just disappeared into thin air. It was right there in the basket by the front door last time I saw it.

I live by habits. Maybe I could call them rituals. I am methodical, organized, and just a bit obsessive-compulsive.  It is a ritual to put the key in the same place every time I use it. Then I always know where it is. I can be confident in my obsessiveness. It works for me. It keeps me on track.

So when the key wasn’t where it was supposed to be, I became overwhelmed with anxiety. I had to figure out where it was. Did I leave it in a coat pocket? Was it in my purse or my gym bag? I began scouring the house to find the key. I emptied the basket by the door, repeatedly, hoping maybe I missed it the first time I checked. I scrounged through my purse. No luck. I checked every pocket of every coat in the closet. Nope, not there either.

And all the while, my daughter watched. She said she had no idea where the key was. She hadn’t seen it. She hadn’t touched it. I asked if anyone had been in the house. She said no. I explained that it wasn’t just a matter of having misplaced the key. I was afraid that if someone had taken it, then our security was threatened. She watched me empty the basket again. She watched me dump out my purse.

This all came about because my car was in the shop again, and I was driving a loaner. I left my keys at the shop, so I didn’t have a house key when we got home that day. Thankfully, my daughter had one in her backpack. But I needed that spare key.

After about 20 minutes of fruitless searching, I was forced to give up and continue with my evening. Time to make dinner and get ready to go to the gym. I was stewing. Where the hell was that key? It was driving me nuts! Why are things like this so difficult for me to let go? I could feel the anxiety swelling up in my chest. All that adrenalin – the tank is full but there’s no place to go; my engine was racing. This is the kind of stuff that kills people. I knew I needed to calm myself down.

Then I thought about the serenity prayer. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. Yes, that’s helpful. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. I cannot change the fact that the key is missing. Accept it. Take another deep breath. OK, I’m getting a handle on this.

So we eat dinner, and dress for the gym, and head out the door into the freezing cold night. As we are driving down the road, I see that my daughter looks angry. What’s wrong? Nothing. I said to her, “I’m not mad at you. I’m just angry about something that I don’t understand and can’t control. It’s not your fault.” She thinks everything is her fault. She is constantly apologizing for things that are not her fault. Then she says, “Well, what if I accidentally took it with me to Daddy’s and left it there.” To that I say, “Wouldn’t you know that you had done that? How can you accidentally do that, or not remember that you did it, or not be sure if you did it?” I scoffed this off. I did not see this as a half-hearted admission of guilt. I saw it as a way for the child to offer a solution where there wasn’t one.

It felt so good to get on the treadmill that night. I ran my little heart out. Emptied the tank. By the time I had run three miles, I felt much more at peace. It might have helped that I kept repeating my serenity mantra the entire time.

At home, we both get ready for bed. I helped her brush her hair after a shower. As we stood there, I once again brought up the lost key. I explained that it is so frustrating because I always put it in the exact same place. And how can it go missing from the place I intentionally always put it.

Suddenly her face turned blotchy and crimson. Her lip quivered and she began to laugh and cry at the same time. In that second I knew. And I also began laughing and crying at the same time. I said to her, “Where is the key? Child, I am not going to be angry with you for telling me the truth.” In sobs, she said that she was afraid I would be mad at her. She explained that she always gets scared that she is going to forget something when her Dad arrives to get her on Fridays. So she grabbed the key on the way out the door. And she put it somewhere at his house, and she’s not quite sure where.

I cannot explain how much of a relief this was. I felt the hours of anxiety just drain away. Thank God I am not losing my mind. However, I also realized that I now had a different problem. I had to address the lie.

People lie for two reasons – to protect themselves or to protect someone else. Often there are very good intentions behind lies. However, I cannot tolerate them. Lies have caused the deepest wounds that I have endured in my life. It is one of my top priorities as a parent to teach my child the importance of being truthful and honest.

So I take a glass out of the cabinet and I ask her to hold it with an outstretched arm. I ask her how much it weighs. It’s pretty light. Then I say, “How heavy would it feel if you had to hold it like that for an hour?” It would get very uncomfortable she says. Yes. That’s what lies are like – an uncomfortable burden that you carry around. No one is perfect. We all make mistakes every day. But when you lie about it, you’ve just made two mistakes. Unburden yourself, I tell her. Live by truth.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

© Vulnerable Path, 2015


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Healing Steps

There was a celebration this week. My daughter attended her cross-country team banquet.  This was a big deal; a first, because she had never participated in a team sport before.  I knew she was really excited about going to the banquet when she asked for a hair appointment!  She wanted to look her best.  And she did look beautiful!  The joy for me, however, was seeing her acknowledged for the effort she put into her running this fall.  As any Mom would, I hope it brings her confidence and pride in herself.  She started the season with zero running experience.  She could barely run a half mile.  But she kept at it.  I know she was scared and self-conscious in the beginning, worrying about fitting in or being criticized.  Soon all of that dissolved; this was a tremendously positive experience for her.

Wall_editedOn banquet night I silently celebrated a major accomplishment in my life. My relationship with her Father had dramatically improved over the course of the cross-country season.  We were able to sit with each other at this banquet, share a meal, and find pleasant things to talk about, such as travel plans and ideas for Christmas gifts.  We’ve come a long way from the days when we couldn’t even be in the same room with each other let alone carry on a conversation.  A long way from bitterness and resentment.  I wouldn’t say we are buddy-buddy.  But we are truly being great parents for our daughter.

So how did we get here? Was it simply the old cliché “time heals all wounds?”  No, I don’t think so.  I think, at least for me, the wounds were healed because I worked really damn hard at it.  After experiencing the worst betrayals of my life several years ago, I finally got to the point where I realized that I had to do the work to come to grips with the emotional wounds.  Neglect wasn’t much of a salve.

We’ve all had times when we feel so much pain that we just want to curl up in a ball under a blanket on the couch and stay there forever. TV remote in hand, I can hide from the world and drown my sorrows in a tub of ice cream.  I can watch “Pretty Woman” for the 50th time and fantasize about the fairy tale ending.  That’s the easy way out, to just stuff the feelings.  It’s actually cowardly.  I didn’t want to be that.  I didn’t want to take one more emotional beating and let it take the spirit out of me.

So to get up and fight is the only alternative. To make up my mind that I will do whatever it takes to not let other people crush my spirit.  That’s the first brave step.  And to win this battle, you actually have to peel off the armor.  You have to allow yourself to be vulnerable.  What does this mean?  Why is vulnerability such a big theme of mine?  Because putting up the walls, and pretending that there is no problem, and living in denial about how you feel and what’s really stealing your life out from under you is no way to live.  You are going to have to take down the walls, stop pretending, admit the problems, and start living fully.  That’s a scary place to go.  Because it leaves you bare.  It leaves room for all the things we fear – judgment, criticism, and the potential to be hurt again.  But it’s the most courageous thing you can do to bring about change in your life.

Step One: admit my own failures.

I had to admit I had failed in my relationships. That’s not to say that others hadn’t failed me.  They had.  But I made bad choices too.  I had to stop blaming others for my problems and accept responsibility.  At the very least, I’m responsible for how I choose to respond to other people’s behavior.

Step Two: practice forgiveness.

I also had to choose to forgive. I knew that I needed to resolve my feelings of hurt and resentment because I had to continue to deal with these people on a day to day basis.  As much as I wished it could be so, they were not going to be out of my life.  I read a book by Edward M. Hallowell, MD titled “Dare to Forgive” in which he outlines the process of forgiveness.  I learned that forgiveness is for me, not the other persons.  It’s about letting go of resentments.  It’s not about forgetting what someone has done.  And it’s certainly not about letting them do it again.  It’s about moving on.

It was in this book that I found advice that really resonated with me and that applied so well to my situation at the time. Hallowell explains that when a relationship ends, it’s an opportunity to get to work on yourself.  He recommends strengthening the healthy connections you already have with friends and family, groups you care about, and activities you like.  He also suggests to “Work on your connection with your physical body; try to get yourself to a place where you feel good about how you look.  Take as a call to action the feelings that were exposed in you.  Make yourself a stronger woman.”

The day I read that, it became my motto: Make yourself a stronger woman.  I wrote it on a note and stuck it to my desk at work, where I read it every day.

Step three: Build my self-esteem.

shoesThis was a tremendous thing to find in a book about forgiveness, because it made me realize that I needed to make myself a top priority, to take the focus off of the people who hurt me, and center my intentions on making myself a better person.  Letting go of resentment and moving on is a part of that.  But so is working on confidence and self-esteem.  And my confidence grew each time I went for a run or a bike ride, or made it through a boot camp class.  It was during this period that I kayaked for the first time, and I was so proud of that because my ex-husband had laughed at me when I said I wanted to kayak.  Turns out I was absolutely strong enough to paddle, and do anything else I wanted to do.

Step four: let go of what doesn’t serve me.

There was still another piece of the healing process that I needed to focus on. It had to do with letting go of things that didn’t serve me anymore.  For me, this included belongings that I had to give up and goals that needed to change.  Facing divorce meant letting go of my home and other belongings that I valued.  I spent many years ignoring the inevitability of my divorce, mainly because I didn’t feel I should have to give up “stuff” that I was attached to.  How silly is that.  The stuff doesn’t matter.  But it took me a very long time to accept that.  I didn’t need a house, or property, or a garden, or furniture, or just about any other object we owned at the time.

IMG_0874I am still in the process of re-evaluating my goals and adopting new plans, hopes, dreams, and desires. These are mine to fulfill; I don’t need to negotiate them with anyone else.  But I can tell you that there is far less physical stuff on that list.  Own a home?  Nope.  Have awesome experiences?  Help my daughter grow into a confident, smart, beautiful woman?  Do what I can to make the world a better place?  YES, YES, AND YES!

Did time heal the wounds? No, a lot of brave steps on the vulnerable path did.

© Vulnerable Path, 2014


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I belong with Pig Stomach

 

My family has a unique tradition.  We celebrate my Father’s birthday with a special meal — Pig Stomach.  If you are German, or Pennsylvania Dutch, you might have heard of this dish.  But more likely, you think we’re nuts!  Yet, this is what we do every February.

My Father turned 87 years old this year.  As he tells it, this was a dish that his Mother used to make.  He’s not quite sure how it became his special meal.  After he married my Mother in 1950, she learned how to prepare it.    The actual stomach of a pig is stuffed with diced potatoes and sausage meat.  It is sewn shut and either boiled and then browned in butter, or baked to a golden brown.  The once a year feast also includes Angel Food Cake and Pineapple Delight for dessert.  We have been making this meal for our Dad for as long as I can remember.  When my Mother passed away in 1992, the torch was passed to my sister.  She and her husband are foodies, so the recipe has been jazzed up to include peppers, onion, various types of sausage, and different blends of seasonings.  There is often a fruit cup appetizer, endive with hot bacon dressing, vegetables, and bread as well.  No one goes home hungry.

 

IMG_3039Our family not only converges for my Father’s birthday, but also for a few other birthdays, holidays, and summer picnics.  It’s not unusual for some of us to not see or speak to each other except on these occasions.  Our busy lives have taken us in different directions.  We live far apart.  But we still pick up right where we left off.  We catch up on careers, school, kids, pets, activities, and travels.  We are all very different.  But this is our common bond.

It’s fun to invite a newcomer to Pig Stomach dinner.  If they can accept Pig Stomach, they will probably make it OK in our family.  Otherwise, that’s not a good sign.  That person might not value family tradition the way we do.  I’m not saying all of us just love the stuff.  There have been years when someone refused to eat it.  There have been years when we have made a roast on the side!  But respecting the tradition is what matters.

Pig Stomach isn’t the only special meal either.  There is also my Grandmother’s pork loin platter, mounded with mashed potatoes, and encircled with creamed spinach, carrots, hard boiled egg slices and bacon strips.  There is Filled Noodles.  There is spaghetti and meatballs with triple almond fudge cake.  My sister and brother and I cherish these family traditions, and we have taught our own children their importance.

IMG_1732It’s been said that we cannot give our children what we don’t have.  Our parents had an abundance of love.  The kitchen was always filled with it.  The orchestration of a family dinner was how our Mother and Grandmother  literally fed us love.  Love was stuffed into that Pig Stomach.  It was baked into that pumpkin pie.  We were marinated in it like a pickled egg.

Love and belonging are something we all crave but sometimes find lacking in our lives.  The world, or at least a few of the people in it, have rejected me at times.  Heck, I have rejected myself a few times!  But it’s within our families where we first learn love and belonging.  Family traditions like ours continue to reinforce it as years go by.  Family gives us stability, security, and our sense of identity — all part of the recipe for healthy, grounded children.  It was truly what my parents fed me that gave me the strength to handle the things life brought my way.  I always knew who loved me.  I knew who accepted me in spite of my mistakes.  No matter what has happened, I have found kind words, reassurances, and encouragement in my family.  It’s where I am worthy.  It’s where I am healed.  A good Pig Stomach dinner will always nourish my soul.

 

© Vulnerable Path, 2014

 

Want to join the conversation?  I’d love to hear your comments.  What does love and belonging look like in your life?  Do you find it within your family and family traditions?

 


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How a failed marriage made me a better role-model

Even the least prepared parents have some inkling of how they hope to raise their children.  When we think about starting a family, we have idyllic dreams about laughter and joy and watching our off-spring grow into happy, successful adults.  It must be natural for us to not think too much about the tough stuff of parenting.  We naively have no idea what we are getting ourselves into.

I had delayed becoming a parent until my mid-thirties.  I was in no hurry.  For a long time I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to have children.  Then I realized I might regret it if I don’t.  I was married, I owned a home, I had a secure job.  I was ready to become a Mom.  Yet, I really had no clue how I was going to take care of a child’s needs.

Being a somewhat well-educated person, I went straight to the books.  I read everything “parenting” related that I could get my hands on.  I looked to my friends and family who had children for advice.  And when our little bundle of joy finally arrived, I felt prepared.  Full belly, dry diaper; we should be good.  Uh, no.  The poor child was crying every two hours and not napping long enough.  I went through about two weeks of this.  Finally a dear friend said, “Just feed her!”  I was trying to stick with the pediatrician’s advice of 2 ounces per feeding, rather than letting her eat until she was full.  The advice worked.  Good Lord, if I could barely feed a baby, how was I going to shape her emotional well-being?

Almost a year went by before I faced the realization that I will have to discipline my beloved bouncing bundle of joy.  Then she started to crawl, to pull herself up on furniture, and take those precarious first steps.  I distinctly remember this as the turning point.  My laughing, smiling, happy baby had to hear the word “No.”  Suddenly, there were a lot more tears.  And so we went through the terrible twos, potty training, tantrums, and so on.  We now have the job of teaching lessons.  For me, the tool kit included Sunday School and Girl Scouts.  I wanted to raise my daughter with the same values that I was taught as a child.

The thing is, life happens.  And as adults, we are still learning lessons.  Our values are put to the test everyday.  And as tough times began unraveling my life, I found myself wondering what I was teaching my child as she observed the way I dealt with it.  I not only had to police her behavior, but also my own.  “Role Model” had a whole new meaning.  My daughter was just 2.5 years old when I discovered my marriage was irreparably broken, but somehow we managed to hide this fact from her for several years.  She was so young, that when her father began spending extended time away from home, she didn’t seem to notice.  We maintained our home, and I took care of her and it, while he lived elsewhere most of the time.  He would come to visit on weekends occasionally.  Somewhere deep inside of me I had stuffed the question: did she realize this was not how other families live?  Was she somehow already scarred by our weird life?  We kept this arrangement functional until she was 7 years old.

Then the arrangement fell apart.  And it became much more of a challenge to keep negative emotions hidden from her.  The day came when I needed to explain to her that he and I could no longer stay married and keep our home.  It was certainly not an easy decision to break up my family. I had not come from a broken home.   And I had hoped that my own children would not know it either.  How do I put a positive spin on this when I feel so much anger, resentment, and pain inside?  I struggled a lot with how I was failing as a parent.

One reason it was important for me to leave my marriage was to make sure I was setting an example for my daughter that fit my values.  It became clear to me that in my efforts to keep peace, I was really allowing myself to be a doormat.  And while it’s important to be empathetic to others and to show compassion, I also had to set boundaries. I had avoided confrontations with my husband throughout our marriage.  I tolerated the silent treatment, which is really a form of emotional abuse.  We would have disagreements, and he would end up not speaking to me for weeks.  Then one day he’d come home and act like nothing had happened.  Stunned, I would simply accept it rather than make waves again.  There were secrets and lies that eventually all came out.  Was this what I wanted to teach my daughter about how to have a relationship or a marriage?  That would be a big, fat NO.

I had to accept that my idyllic dream of family hadn’t worked out.  Whatever hard work I had to do emotionally at that point, I kept in mind that I was also setting an example for my daughter about how to face life’s challenges.  I scraped up what was left of my self-esteem and started nurturing it back to health.  I refused to be bullied.  I tempered my anger and pain with trail runs and bike rides.  I took us on new adventures like kayaking and zip lining.  I let go of possessions that I realized were not as important as my spiritual well-being.  I made us a new home that met our needs.

There will be (there are!) people in her life that role-model good marriages and relationships.  I was disappointed that it wasn’t her father and I to be that example.  But I learned that I was able to model something more important – courage and self-respect.    She is 12 years old now.  She has a good relationship with her Dad.  My boundary with him is set at successful co-parenting and nothing more.  I still am not sure if we damaged her.  I guess only time will tell.  So far it seems that she has turned out to be a pretty awesome person.  She is certainly, in spite of ourselves, our greatest accomplishment.  And I am dedicated to giving her the tools she needs to stay that way.