Last night, after a fun Mother’s Day weekend with some of my sons in Vegas, we were driving home and from the backseat, I snapped a few photos of a gathering storm. Just as I pushed the button, going 88 mph, BANG! Mother Nature shot a streak of lightning out of a cloud. I’ve taken a million photos in my lifetime and I’ve never managed the perfect shot. This isn’t perfect either. But I’ve lived long enough to appreciate the beauty of imperfection. The reward is in the effort. It’s in knowing I spotted and opportunity and “took a shot.” I’m learning to give myself credit for something so simple. Hit or miss. I call that progress.
Buckle up my dear readers. My advice to myself has always been to write when I’m hot and edit once I’ve cooled down. But after this weekend’s attack on the innocent, my temperature is just not dropping.
My skin is Danish white and pink. I have two children whose skin is African brown and black. To me, all we are is family. (The photo is of two of my sons.) But to others, looking from the outside in, we’re something different. There are actually people who have said and done things to threaten me for mothering these stellar boys. Mostly, I just let it roll.
I’m done with rolling because this isn’t about how I’m treated. It’s about how my sons and millions and millions of others are treated. Is there a way to stop the hatred? Is there a cure for racism? The easy answer is love. The hard answer is love.
Babies aren’t born with the ability to hate. It has to be nurtured and nourished. One generation teaches hatred and so goes the cycle. I keep hearing, “How could this happen in our country?” It happened because enough loving people didn’t stand up to the hating people. It happened because it feels safer to stay quiet. To stay home.
My outrage and pain sought solace in a call to my congressman. Add disappointment to my list of churning emotions. Frustration, too. I attended a rally to listen to voices that quivered in the very emotions surging through me. But I didn’t find any solutions.
Then I came home to my youngest son needing a ride to football. And news that my other son just got a job promotion. I scoured the kitchen and bought a gallon of white pain to perk things up around our house. We read stories from people who live with violence every day. We talked about those stories and talked to some of those people.
I found myself asking the same question: What can I do?
“Just live the love. Do what you’re doing.”
That answer seemed so small and flimsy.
I wanted to stand on a pinnacle and shout the words that would change hearts.
Foolish me. Martin Luther King Jr. and a host of others, far more poignant and profound than me, have done that and will continue to do so.
The only way I’m going to affect change in this country and the world, is to live love within the walls of my own home. To speak words that edify and educate. To stand with those who have been knocked down. To not stay still or stay quiet, but to use resources carefully and constructively. To pay attention, seek awareness, and attend to what needs attending to.
Love needs attending to. If love is there, there’s no room for racism and all its ugly relatives.
My little part is to make sure that my children know the power of love is always, always stronger than the force of hatred. I’m not positing that hated can’t plow into the innocent and claim carnage. We all know that happens. What it means is that hatred cannot steal what it cannot touch. It cannot touch the love I have for my sons. It cannot diminish the value of my diverse community. It cannot suffocate a spirit that is fueled from within. Love provides its own kindling. Hatred has to be fed externally. Think about that, will you?
So while the situation might feel helpless, it’s not. And our little parts aren’t really so little after all.
This blog is about sharing my heart, my brain, and good stuff that makes my life awesome. Today’s spotlight shines on my friend, Sandie. Maybe you know her. If you do, you’re blessed. If you don’t, let me share with you why she rocks.
Someone once told me that a friend walks into your life when the whole world has walked out on you. Twice in my life, only twice, I’ve felt so desperate and alone that I reached out…not to ask for money or help, but just to say, “Hey, this is what’s happening.” Both times, Sandie was on the other end of those calls. That should tell you what she means to me.
Then there’s the fact that she’s blindingly brilliant. Years ago, she seized an opportunity to help build a company into an empire. Today that action has led her to a place of privilege and opportunity. “Money gives you options,” she taught me decades ago. Sandie has opted to make the most of her money, not simply by investing or spending, but by investing in things that matter to her and spending for the benefit of others. What do I mean by that? Let’s see…
She’s a conservationist. This past week, and every 4th of July week for a dozen years, she’s hosted a “little” party in the wilds of Oregon for 200 of her friends and family, including my crew. Her intention is to save and preserve pristine wilderness for generations to come. In doing so, Sandie has built one of America’s most impressive working cattle ranches. My kids and I cannot possibly count all the memories we’ve made at Sandie’s Bar B Ranch. Christian calls it “a little slice of heaven.”
She’s a believer. “All it takes is one person to believe in you,” she says. For Sandie, that person was her father, Charles. His belief instilled a sense of confidence in her that might just be her driving trademark. Sandie is probably the most confident person I know. She’s mixed a blend of humility with absolute assurance that her goals are reachable. For her, there is no glass ceiling. The sky has no ceiling.
She’s a shadow sun. You gotta watch the woman work a room. She doesn’t have to make a grand entrance (tho, trust me, she can…like the time she descended the staircase in full Fairy Godmother regalia, magic wand included.) Typically, she tends to amble in through the back door and move from person to person, making sure you’re comfortable and happy. For her, it’s about you, her guest. Her great joy is watching her grandchildren grow and excel…by that I mean being kind, having fun, forging friendships. The same attributes her children have mastered.
She’s a friendship forger. This is where Sandie truly excels. First, she goes into the world and makes a friend. Your age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, economic stand, or religious beliefs don’t matter. The more diverse, the broader is her circle of inclusion. Then she throws a party. It might be an intimate gathering around her dining room table, or at the top of the world in her New York penthouse, or out in the boonies where bear and buffalo really do roam. This allows you to get to know Sandie’s friends. In no time, everybody’s friends. I can’t explain it. It’s magic. Real magic. I love SO many of the people she loves. And we all love her for bringing us together.
She lives by a motto. Years ago, I helped her hang a little shingle at her ranch house. It reads: Be kind or leave. Nuf said.
She’s a forgiver. Once we walked out of a restaurant to find that someone had keyed her car. “Rich people suck,” they’d etched into her paint. She felt bad, but shrugged, “They don’t understand,” she said and that was that. Oh, and there was the time I drove her car down an icy hill and crashed it right into my car. “That’s why we have insurance,” she said and that was that.
She’s an adventurer. I’m a bucket-lister just because I want to get as much out of life’s opportunities as I can. I want to travel and experience all I can. Sandie smashes my lil’ bucket to smithereens! There aren’t many corners of the world she has not visited. Once she called to tell me that she had been seated at a dinner with a very nice woman. They got to talking and the subject of mothers-in-law came up. It took a moment for Sandie to realize that the woman’s mother-in-law was the Queen of England. It doesn’t matter where she is or who is with her, Sandie experiences the culture. She meets the people. She leaves an impression and takes away a memory. You don’t have to travel the world to do that, she’s pointed out, you can make those same experiences wherever you are.
She’s generous. You’d think that I’m after a loan, the way I’m touting my friend’s attributes. Not true. I just want to spotlight Sandie because I’m certainly not the only friend who loves and appreciates her. She deserves to be recognized, not only for the professional work she does, but for the small and thoughtful things that are a part of her every day. She likes the photos I take of her loved ones, so she bought me a camera bag twenty years ago. I still use it. She knows I admire Buddha, so she lugged a statue of Buddha all over until she could get it home to me. If she enjoys a book, she shares that story with me. How many copies of The Glass Castle has Sandie given away? It’s her thoughtfulness that means so very much.
She’s a silent teacher. Her cool factor is off the charts. Her wisdom seems somehow ancient, sorta like a sage. Sandie is my son, Eli’s, godmother, but she’s been there for all my kids. We learn from observing her. I learn how to be patient. How to bite my tongue. How to withhold judgement and give people the benefit of the doubt. How to walk away when it’s time to leave, and how to show up when it’s time to shine.
Sandie shines every day.
This little blog doesn’t begin to do the woman justice. You’ll have to research her yourself to see the impact she makes around the world. To connect with endless people whose lives have been bettered because of her. A few years ago, for her birthday, I made a film of friends talking about her, family reminiscing, including her father. Sandie rolled her eyes because she doesn’t want to be spotlighted. She likes to hold the spotlight and shine it on others.
Maybe that’s why she means so much to me and to mine. That, and her killer laugh. You don’t really know Sandie until you’ve laughed with her. Her laugh makes me happier than any joke. Her laugh makes me believe that no matter how dark my day, the sun is going to shine again.
It’s Memorial Day weekend and my sons and I traveled to a place my ancestors helped settle. There’s even a monument honoring my great-great grandfather. This got me thinking. His life had obvious purpose. He accomplished something lasting. What about my own life? I was sitting in a doctor’s office several years ago devouring an article that told me the sure way to be happy was to figure out my purpose and not be distracted from it.
I defined purpose as one’s intention or objective and I set out to find my own. Mind you, I was already over 40 and had likely lived the majority of my life. It took me two and a half more years to figure it out. I did it through watching Ted Talks, and scouring libraries of self-help advice. I did it by honestly answering the soul-scouring questions:
- What am I passionate about?
- What did I dream of being before the world told me I couldn’t be that thing?
- What makes time fly for me?
- What are my natural talents?
- If resources were not limited, what would I do?
All valid probes. And once I had the answers, off I went like a lit firecracker. I chided my grown children for not getting on their own paths to purpose. I pounded out a book to help others find their purpose. I preached from pulpits that we’re all on this earth to follow a path that leads to our own happiness. It worked. The book sold. People told me they were inspired by the message. (My still-searching kids, of course, avoided me like.)
Looking back on that stretch of effort, I cringe. Because now I know that I was wrong. Life does not have a purpose. Don’t stone me for saying so. It’s true. YOU have a purpose. Life is not about finding the “right” road out of a zillion possibilities. It’s about traveling as many as we can. It’s about the journeys we take and not just the destinations at which we arrive. That means life has many purposes. YOUR life has many purposes and you decide what they are.
To prove this, I conducted a little field research. I talked with all kinds of people from all kinds of places and stations in life. The one commonality they had was that they were all living a life of purpose. That means they were happy. Fulfilled. And useful to humanity. Here’s where we get so confused and frustrated. We mistakenly think that purpose is what we do. It’s not. My definition of the concept was technically accurate, but far from complete. Purpose is about WHY we exist. WHY we create. WHY we do what we do.
Right now, as I type this fire is crackling inside of my soul. It’s true. It’s simple. And it will change your life if you just remember that your purpose is within and not without.
A half dozen things I learned from people who live purposefully include:
- Staying aligned with the Source who grants life. This is key. As long as you’re connected to that type of inspiration and guidance you can travel all sorts of roads without getting lost.
- Trusting that you’re not here by random selection. Your existence at this time and place is no accident. The omniscient Source of life doesn’t make mistakes, but that doesn’t mean mistakes aren’t made. It just means there is perfect purpose in all things, including you. So even if you can’t yet understand it, believe that there is One who does.
- Learning as you go. This allows for mistakes to become teachers and not punishers. Think about that for a minute or two. There is wisdom and growth in every experience if we are open to receive it.
- Life changes and changes us. What we do changes from day or day or hour to hour. WHY you do what you do should never change. If you’re here to learn and serve then let those motivations be your polar stars, so that no matter what you’re doing, you’re still living your purpose.
- Believe that your Source loves you. Einstein said that the most important question we will ever ask is whether the Universe if friendly. I promise you that It is. And when you believe this, you automatically connect to unbounded resources, a higher vibrational energy, and a sustainability that is beyond comprehension. You feel alive!
- Gratitude is awareness. Being grateful puts you in a place where other people’s opinions about your purpose don’t count. It keeps your thoughts, emotions and actions in harmony with your purpose. It allows you to come back when you detour. Gratitude invites that connection between you and your Source.
You can tell I’m stoked because I’ve finally learned something valuable. I no longer nag my son that he must figure out what he’s doing to do with his life. (Ha-ha—key word here is HIS life.) I no longer think every student has to declare a major when they’re freshmen. I don’t look at my chore checklist and say, “What did I accomplish?” I look at it and ask, “WHY did I do the things I did?” This keeps me living purposefully.
We’re all different. We all have worth. Every life has many purposes. And it’s not mine to tell anyone else how to live. But I do hope that you find something useful in my ramblings. I share these things because I really do love people, and if I can keep someone from making the same painful mistakes I’ve made, then chalk one up to our common, all-caring Source.
I got caught off guard the other night. A man I was talking to said, “Tell me about you.”
All I could think of to say was, “Uh…I used to be funny.”
“What happened to your funny?” he asked.
“I got divorced.”
There was a thoughtful pause before he whispered, “Me too. I used to be funny. I’d forgotten that about myself.”
Divorce. It changes people. The picture is of me this past week out hiking over some pretty sharp, big rocks. It’s not very flattering, but it’s real. And divorce is real and dangerous.
Those of us who have been through it belong to an association of soldiers with all the battle scars, but none the badges. There is no honor in divorce. But guess what? It’s time we come together to rid society of the stigma attached to divorce. While there is no honor, there should be no shame. Our situation became untenable and we decided to advocate for ourselves. Simple and complex as that.
In the beginning, when my pain was off the charts, and my heart was still shattering and my life still unraveling, someone gave me a book about divorce. It was a big ol’ clinical thing warning about the damage I was doing to my children. After that I ventured to the library and checked out a whole basketful of books to advise me how to navigate the raging mess the dissolution of my marriage had become. Let’s just say that over the years I read hundreds of books because I was desperate for help. I sought counsel through all types of therapy. I did a bunch of #$%@. Some of it worked. Some felt like a waste.
What did help was what I’m going to share with you because if you’re not divorced, it’s likely you love someone who is. I hope that if something strikes a chord with you, that you’ll pass this message along because I really do want to help wherever and however I can. It’s why I get so blasted personal.
Truth is, the divorce rate worldwide is declining. Know why? People are no longer taking the plunge. That’s right. Marriage isn’t the desired and sacred institution it once was. For those who do marry, the odds of divorce hover at about 50 percent. So, if you’re among the brave and lasting, kudos to you.
There’s a destructive power in divorce, and if you ever even gotten close to it, you know the soul damage it can do. It smothers your self-worth. It makes you question everything and everyone. It magnifies memories so that you’re not sure what’s true and what’s just recalled. If you’re not careful, it will make you say and do things that just aren’t you. In short, it skews you and it skewers you.
It also does something wonderfully transformative.
Number One: Divorce earns you a mandatory doctorate degree in Inner Reflection. Or at least it should. Nothing you do in life will test you like divorce will. It will make you burrow down deep into the pockets of your own heart. You’ll revisit the child you once were, you know, the one with all the dreams of unending romance. You’ll recall the teachers and nurturers and tormenters of your life. You’ll return to the roads that led you to where you are today. You’ll see which paths misled you. And hopefully, you’ll discover that no matter what’s been said by whom, you have incalculable worth. Your dreams still matter. Your mistakes do not define you. Regardless of how deep your wounds are, you can heal. You’re meant to heal and be whole again. Divorce might be the end of your marriage, but it is not the end of you.
Number Two: You get to be you again. This isn’t so much about who you become as who you un-become. That’s up to you, but you do have power to let go of the fear, the regret, the anger, and most of all the pain. Those things are not your enemies; they are your teachers. I was married for nearly a quarter of a century. That’s a long time to identify as a couple. I had completely abandoned the idea that I was an individual. On my own I felt weak and unstable. With no one there to lean on for support, I had to steady myself. That hurt at first, but eventually made me stronger than I’d ever been. I got acquainted with my own likes and dislikes, and figured out that the adjectives that had been used to describe me were not accurate at all. I got to define myself and that, my friends, is empowering.
Number Three: You learn to appreciate your comfort zone. Loneliness is associated with divorce. You used to share a life and now you don’t. That hurts. It’s scary as any monster can be. All of a sudden all the work falls to you and you have no one to divide it with. That’s unfair. But those of us who lived for any time in a disconnected union know that you can be lonely even when someone is lying next to you. Divorce tends to be hectic. After divorce, you’re busy. You don’t get a lot of free time, so you appreciate it when that opportunity comes. The blessing is becoming someone you want to spend time with. Sometimes I’ll say aloud, “So what do you want to do tonight, Toni? Netflix? Gym? Sleep?” Reading usually wins. I’m still not socially strong enough to request a restaurant table for one, but I really do admire the people who are comfortable doing that. And for someone who is not strong in math, I now understand the concept that 1 + 1 sometimes equals more than 2. That happens when two whole and healthy individuals unite. It’s mathematical magic that doesn’t happen when one partner is insecure and uncertain and needy. When I’m whole and steady and interesting, 1 + 0 can equal enough.
Number Four: You learn to value valuable people. (Please read that again because sometimes my thoughts only make sense to me.) What I’m trying to say is that divorce is a divider. You’ll soon learn the people who love you from the ones who only say they do. It might surprise you who shows up and who stays away. Just because someone shares your DNA doesn’t mean they automatically act like family. Friends tend to become family during a divorce. This is the stage where you learn to let go of the people who don’t help you evolve. This is when you get to use your pain to help others heal. That’s right. In the midst of your suffering, you’ll heal by helping someone else heal. Hurting people hurt people, but they also help. And when the sorting is done, you’ll know who to value because they’ll be the ones who value you too.
Number Five: You grow. You get to pick up the pieces of your shattered life and decide which ones you want to keep and which ones just aren’t part of you anymore. As for those tucked away dreams, with no one there to tell you that you can’t, it’s a whole lot easier to convince yourself that you can. You can survive. You can regain your health. You can pay the bills. You can get that job. You can go back to school. You can be ready when love finds you again. This shift in thinking expanded my world in all kinds of ways. Where there were barriers, there are now open doors. If there is a downside to this personal evolution it’s this: I no longer have someone else to blame for my failures. I must take complete responsibility for my choices and their consequences. It’s called adulating and it’s the skill that we divorced folks master first.
Divorce is not an end; it’s an exit. There you are driving full speed ahead on a road you think is going to last forever, when suddenly life whips you around and puts you on a different path. It changes the passengers in your vehicle. It slaps you behind the wheel. Don’t stop, my friends, use your pain to fuel you. Use the lessons you learn to help others. And use to the love you have left to love again. It’s within you to keep moving. If there’s an “up” side to divorce, it’s that no one will ever again hold you back or hold you down again, because from now on, only you decide your direction.
What a glorious day, friends! Hope the light is finding you. For over two decades I was a professional portrait photographer. I specialized in family and children’s portraiture. One of the things that set me apart and kept me in business was an ability to put people at ease. I learned some of my best tricks from a master: Marriott Smith. Presidents and movie stars posed for him. Together, we once photographed Bill and Hillary Clinton when Bill was first running for high office. That was memorable. But there’s something else that stands out in my mind even more vividly. He taught me to make people blink.
“It gets rid of that deer in the headlights look folks tend to get when they’re in front of a camera,” he said.
I’ve learned it does more than that. A blink re-focuses our attention. It re-sets our brains. Science estimates that we blink far more often than we need to to keep our eyes lubricated. We blink 1,200 times per hour or 28,800 times per day. Your brain knows what it’s doing when it engages your occipital lobes. Try it if you don’t believe me. Blink right now. On purpose. Longer than you might. And with meaning.
It’s like a windshield wiper swipe over whatever you’re fixed on at the moment. Your problems don’t vanish, but your view becomes clearer. You’re able to think cleaner.
Yesterday was a brutal day for me. I was in a rare, dark mood. Maybe it was the weather. Last week temps here hit above 80 degrees. Yesterday brought a blizzard. Maybe it’s because I’m editing a novel that is so real to me the characters’ problems weigh me down. Or maybe it’s just life. You know. It delivers “those days” for no apparent reason.
My friend, Karla, picked me up around 7 p.m. She let me gripe for a good ten minutes before she pulled into a parking lot with THIS view in front of us. I blinked and suddenly everything changed. Darkness lifted. The neurotransmitters in my brain altered their distribution. I got out and snapped this photo with my phone, and instead of grumpy, I became grateful. I became aware that a return to winter can be a majestic thing. And whatever troubles had seemed so big, were dwarfed when confronted with genuine grandeur.
So, next time you’re feeling gloomy, anxious, or frustrated, try closing your eyes and letting the darkness come. Then open your eyes to welcome the light back. It works when you’re tired. It works in the middle of an argument. It’s a simple readjustment, but I promise that it works—all in the blink of an eye.
I must love and trust you all because I’m sharing something that’s sacred to me: a portrait of my mother. It is, after all, that time of year to honor those who gave us birth and those who’ve given us life. (think about that for a sec, will ya?) I’ve always loathed Mother’s Day because I leave church as wilted as the little pink geranium passed out to the mothers in the congregation. I never measure up to the standard preached from the pulpit. I never will.
This year I’m in a mind to turn the whole thing upside down. Mother’s Day is no longer about my kids honoring me. It’s about honoring the women who have mothered me. They are legion. My own mother was my world when I was growing up. She was an alcoholic, so my childhood was mapped with all kinds of experiences: good and anything but good. Mom was gone long before I became a teenager, leaving me an orphan, someone in dire need of mothering.
John Updike believed, “It’s easy to love people in memory; the hard thing is to love them when they are in front of you.” I spent most of my life assuring myself Mom was a wonderful mother because to say anything less would be disloyal to her memory. But then I went to therapy. That’s where I learned I could still be loyal, still love Mom, and still tell the truth. That’s when I saw my mother as something more than a woman who had given birth. She was a woman with a past, a woman with dreams that came true and disappointments that devastated her. She had relationships. She had talents. She had secrets and desires. She had addictions and she had breakthroughs. My mother’s wild side led her to a long-term friendship with Judy Garland, a fur coat from Howard Hughes, and a catastrophic plunge from the top of a building.
Being able to admit that Mom wasn’t anywhere near perfect brought me blissful freedom. If I could love her—flaws and all—I could love my very imperfect self. That set me free to love others, and to celebrate the phenomenal mothers my daughters have become.
We don’t just love people for their strengths. We love them for their struggles. I suppose the lesson is in learning to trust that God trusts us. Flaws and all.
That means this Mother’s Day I’m celebrating unconventionally. I honor women who have never even given birth, but still they’ve mothered brilliantly. I honor the mothers who cry real tears, not over the messes they’ve had to clean up, but over the messes they’ve made for others to clean up. I honor the bruised, broken, battle-scarred women who are still in the fight. I honor the ones with the guts to present themselves genuinely. I honor those who sew and bake from the home front and those who march on the front lines. I honor those with stellar faith and those who admit God is foreign to them. I honor all their shapes and sizes. I dance in happy circles at the rainbow of their cultures and varying skin colors. Oh, how blessed am to be encircled by so many different women who mother.
This year let’s focus on miracles instead of mistakes. Let’s lavish love. Forgiveness. Joy. Let’s let go of the judgment and the self-criticism and simply celebrate that we’re partners with the Giver of life. That puts us, not on a pedestal where we can fall, but at an elevation where we can see clearly: we’re all in this together doing our best.
My friends, I love you. I love you because you try. I love you because you dare. I love you because you give it all you’ve got. I’m thinking of my friend whose child is incarcerated. I’m thinking of my friend who sings lullabies to the world’s babies. I’m thinking of my friend whose only daughter died this month, and another whose son is in his last days of cancer. I’m thinking of my friend whose child hasn’t spoken to her in a year. I’m thinking of my friend who desperately wants to bear a child, but can’t. I’m thinking of aunties, grandmothers, and an abundance of friends. I’m missing my own Mom. A lot. Maybe because I’ve matured enough to ache for a sit-down with her to discover who she really was: “How’d you get that scar? Why are you scared of the dark? What’s life like from your viewpoint, Mom?”
If you’re blessed to still have your mom available, please get curious about who she is as a person, not just a mom. Get to know her and to appreciate her for more than the resources she offers.
No judgment, no justifying, just loving. Celebrate those people who’ve managed to love you when you weren’t so easy to love. And do me a favor…please release the stranglehold you’ve held on your own throat. Inhale. Exhale. There. That’s better.
Now have a safe, memorable, peaceful weekend, celebrating love. Isn’t that what this day’s really all about?