Learning to Breathe

learning to breathe

I have been learning to breathe again.

I’ve been practicing breathing for a few months now. You know, the kind of breathing that requires a concentrated effort to simply listen to the sound, the sound of your breath.

No thoughts allowed. Just create a small wind tunnel in your throat and focus on that sound for twenty minutes. It’s supposed to be healing; a meditative exercise in calming the brain and body.

‘How does one not think thoughts?’ I wonder in my head as I try to listen to my breath. The sound reminds me of ocean waves on the beach in some small town along the Gulf of Mexico, and I picture myself on the sand, and, oh, I could use a week at the beach and–oops, there I go thinking thoughts again!

Letting Go of Tension

When I do this practice, I usually lie on my back on the floor with my knees up on a chair. This creates a release for my lower spine and gives me the best chance to not use a single muscle. Except for my breathing muscles.

I hold a lot of tension in my body, even when lying in this completely relaxed position. My neck is tight and my feet and hands slightly clenched. Honestly, when I roll out of bed every morning, I have more tension in my hips and back than when I rolled into bed. How does that happen? Do my muscles ever loosen their grip? If not in sleep, then when?

That’s why I am re-learning how to breathe, how to tell my brain that all is well. Then maybe my brain will give my muscles a vacation. Take a few days off, go to the beach, ahh the beach, the ocean, oh my thoughts are running off again and I was supposed to be just breathing, just listening…

Learning to Die

Have you noticed how an exhalation makes your torso collapse a bit? The rib cage shuffles down and the shoulders drop as the diaphragm forces the lungs to let go of their air. If I push all of the air out of my lungs, my entire body drops more deeply and more heavily toward the floor. Pausing between that full exhale and the next breath in, I lie in stillness like a corpse.


This place between breaths feels like a kind of death. When I empty myself of the breath of life and hesitate before the next inhalation, I am in liminal space. Between rooms, I pause on the threshold and take the time to examine where I’ve been, before moving on to God-only-knows-where.

As I understand it, the autonomic nervous system is divided into two parts: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. When I inhale, I engage the sympathetic so that my body is ready for flight or fight. My heart rate increases and my bladder is more than willing to empty itself.

When I exhale, my heart rate should drop as the parasympathetic system kicks in for calming and relaxing my body. In this state, I should be able to digest food and lose some anxiety. The bladder holds on and the bowels loosen up.

Not so much for me.

One Breath at a Time

My sympathetic system seems stuck on hold. Hyper-vigilance might be a good word: ready for anything all the time. It’s as if my body is saying, “no way, José, I’m not letting you die!”

Maybe I learned hyper-vigilance as a child, lying in my bed at night hoping Dad would come home so Mom could relax. Perhaps it was later when we were hoping he wouldn’t show up drunk to wake us up in the middle of the night. Possibly, I learned to be on high alert because of my personality, hyper-sensitive or something.

Let’s face it, the unpredictability of life presents a case for staying on the watchtower, no matter how safe your castle may seem.

What I want to know is: how do I let go and live now? Forget the past; who knows the future?

This very moment is what’s happening!

So, back to the breath.

Learning to Live

When I practice my twenty minutes of doing nothing but breathing and listening, I am learning to live in the moment I’m in. Trust the present being, let the doing take care of itself.

I’m not supposed to be thinking but here’s what I’m thinking:

  • The very first breath we take as humans is at birth. Our life in the womb suddenly opens up to the flow of air through mouth, throat, and lungs.
  • Then comes our first exhalation–a tiny death as life immediately shakes our bodies and creates fear and insecurity. We feel untethered. No wonder most babies start out with a good cry.
  • The next breath in is a tiny resurrection: Oh, I’m still here and I’ve been here before. I’m alive.

Something in Me Just Takes Over

And so it goes. Every breath a birth, death, and resurrection.

If it weren’t a mystery, we’d have stopped thinking, talking, and writing about it by now. But Life is wild. The daily-ness of each day, the normalcy of each creature, the magnitude of every morning. Why shouldn’t every breath we take be as astounding?

As I lie here learning to breathe, my shoulders settle for a better situation. A connective tissue clicks loose in my spine. An electric tingle sizzles on the tips of my fingers and toes. Small signs of change and movement towards release. I’ll take them.

I’m alive, I’m dying, I’m alive again. My soul longs for eternal life even as my flesh lies encumbered by the tension of suffering and death. With all of that to think about, I’m glad I don’t forget to breathe.

(Oh, and here’s a song about breathing: Love, Like Breathing)

Making Connections, Not Projections

Walking with my daughter, Carina, on a lakeside trail recently, I happened upon an epiphany:

I project when I don’t connect.

What I mean is, I create mental projections on the wall of my imagination if I do not have real-life interactions and conversations.

Like when a friend has not called me in a month, I might picture all the ways in which I have probably offended her. Another example is how I will tell myself a tale of rejection to make sense of an unanswered message I’ve sent with the sincerest of emoticons.

By creating a movie on the screen in my head, I can come up with all kinds of fictions explaining why someone hasn’t called, texted, emailed, “liked,” or otherwise given me a thumbs-up to acknowledge our relationship. When real-life conversations have fallen away, my brain works overtime to fill in the blanks.

making connections

For instance, while side-by-side with Carina on the trail, I was explaining to her how I had been feeling disconnected from my brother who lives in another state. I admitted to her that I hadn’t called him because it was clearly his turn to call me. Way past his turn, actually, because I had been doing all of the connecting in the past year or so it seemed. I felt a bit hurt and had listed in my head all of the ways in which I deserved better.

Also, I had projected on the broad screen of my skull a colorful parade of the reasons he’d been neglecting, avoiding, and even rejecting me. I had come up with some scary scenarios and worst-case worries.

Maybe some of my mental projections were true. My feelings were definitely real. But I had gone too far. You see, I had left the mainland where the wires and synapses fire at the sound of human voices. I had crossed over to the island of extended imagination where weak signals send scrambled messages at best.

staying connected

My phantom brother, in that far-off country without communication, had become a flickering kind of figure. Like Princess Leia’s holographic image projected from inside R2D2, he was trapped like an apparition in my memory. I could only tell myself stories about what was going on between us for I did not have the facts.

“Carina,” I said, “I finally just decided to call the guy, whether it was his turn or not.”

making connections

I had pressed the green icon on my smartphone. When he answered, I told him immediately what I’d been thinking and feeling. My throat got a little choked. He said, “wow, you got to that pretty fast.”

I did. We talked for a long while. He told me about how busy he’s been with his job and family. We laughed about some of the tales I’d been telling myself.

Thank God for smart phones with good connections. When we pressed our red icons good-bye, I felt so much better. I remembered my little brother. The kid he was and the man I love. There’s nothing like an honest conversation for dispelling hallucinations.

With Carina it’s easy. Together on the path, we connect before there’s a chance to project. With others I love, there’s just more distance to cover. It can be done though. All it takes is making connections.

Henceforth, I will remember this lesson: don’t project–connect!

Instead of playing old movies on my wobbly mental screen, I’ll shut off the projector and use that modern machine. Just press green.

 

Running Out Of Time: Escape the Hurry and Worry

woman running on a canyon road

I am running out of time,

I’m running out of time

Running from the hurry,

turning worry into wine

In my mind

Out of time

I know ‘if only’ is what was

and ‘what if’ is in doubt

So I think I’ll find myself

a lovely here and now

So sublime

Out of time

I am always running out of time. Trying to get away from hurry and worry.

Hurry is the currency of productivity. I race to accomplish as much as I can in a day. However, the older I get, the less I like the chase. Lately, I’d rather say no to appointments and opportunities and shout yes to wide margins that make room for rest and reflection.

Why is it so hard to not be busy?

Worry has always been a part of my life. It operates on the battlefield of past mistakes and future hazards; a skirmish between if only and what if. My mind tries to battle it out. You’ll find my heart there in the middle, wounded in the cross-fire.

Why do I engage in the struggle?

Imagine the miracle of suspending the flood of bullets, as Neo does in the Matrix. When slow motion is an option, I’m all over it! Outside of time, I drink in this sublime sip of wine.

A Lovely Here and Nowenchanted forest mossy path

When I’m not careful, Time sweeps me up on her wide lap and tells me gruesome stories of the past.  As I try to escape her grip, she squeezes my wrist and whispers the worst is yet to come.

I have occasionally escaped into the enchanted forest of Timelessness where I rest my head on the mossy feet of wise old trees. They speak the language of long, slow exhalations. They tell the stories of feathers and feet that whisper by when stillness lingers. I believe in this moment.

Is it too good to be true?

My Place Apart

Actually, my enchanted spot is the plastic Adirondack chair on my mossy lawn. A full array of cushions for my comfort, feet bare to the earth, I breathe long and deep.

I listen for the small voices of birds and bugs that tell me to be mindfully present. I toss my to-do‘s to the wind and let the weather dictate my schedule.

Wasn’t it a lucky wind that swept my list away

Wasn’t it a happy rain that changed my plans today

Made me stay, out of time

In my mind, out of time

I like lists and schedules. They keep me sane. They capture part of the swirling cloud of “musts” and “shoulds,” keeping it in a safe place lest I lose my mind. Yet, lists and schedules tend to paralyze me, leaving no wiggle room for the muses to come and play.

Being Productive

When writing this song, I sat at my piano and experimented with a kind of cyclical melody. I wanted it to feel like a soap bubble blooming from a child’s wand into the calm. Barely a breeze as it lifts and tilts and floats up and out of sight. A quiet meditation, an open-mouthed gape.

I asked my son, Julian, to produce this and the other new songs I had written. He said yes! so I sent him my rough demos. They were recordings of me plodding through the chords on my piano while singing into my smartphone. Not very inspiring.

It’s a tricky business for a producer to dig out and polish the gems his artist assures him are there. Julian found mine and some extras of his own. He helped create a project I am proud to call ours. (He also dealt well with Mom-as-Artist and Mom-as-Mom.)

Visit my YouTube channel to see some of our fun exchanges.    Christine Dente and Julian Dente in the recording studio

It’s About Time

Julian has been making music since he was a few years old. Growing up in studios and on the road, he didn’t have much choice. Jules, as we call him, has developed his talent by playing in lots of bands and also writing and recording his own music. He graced my songs with his years of musical experience and the innate sensibilities that words cannot capture. Only his artistry does.

Notice the very cool rhythms and counter-melodies he wove into the music. He played and programmed everything on the recordings, too. You’ll also hear his voice in some of the backing vocals.

In Running Out of Time, Julian took the time to create the wide musical spaces of breathless suspense. Makes me want to go and live in the moment for a while.


Read more stories about our recording process here: New Music & the recording process

Read more about the new songs here: Closer to Free and See Through Me

Buy the digital 5- song EP Closer To Free here or on Amazon or listen to it on Spotify!

The Rock and The Hard Place: Finding A Way Out of Unsolvable Problems

When UP is Not an Option

There’s the rock and there’s the hard place. Then there’s me in the middle.

The sides of these impossible walls are smooth and sheer. They are close enough together to make me claustrophobic but far enough apart to keep me from shimmying up between them. Sure, I can look up but what good does that do? Clear freedom sky to taunt when up is not an option.

So I sit. And think. And whimper and simmer.

Years I’ve been here in this quandary. My few choices seem like no choice at all.

I have tried to kick against the rock and it bruises my toes.

I have turned to pound my fists on the hard place and it mocks my futile flesh.

Is there no way out?

My Rocky Place

Do you have those stuck places in your life? Ever feel like you’ve been dropped into a deep hole out of which neither God nor the universe is offering a hand?

Call it your quandary of (insert your monolithic predicament here). Describe your rock of (insert ineffective solution here) and your hard place of (insert equally-useless option here).

Here’s one of my stuck places: my body doesn’t feel so great. Pain and discomfort have stuck with me for most of my adult life. I have spent a lot of time, energy, and money trying to figure out how to feel better physically.

Over the years, my mysterious aches and pains have driven me to various practitioners of the healing or medicating arts. I always hit a wall. No-one seems able to answer my questions or make me feel better. When I try some new supplement or just plain eating well and exercising, I still end up achy and disappointed.

Therefore, I’m caught between the rock of “trying to make myself feel better” and the hard place of “living with the pain and suffering.”

Both choices have been no choice at all. The first hasn’t worked and the second has not been much of an option. Am I missing something? Is there a third way to grapple with this problem?

The Reconciling Third

After I have spent my energy in seeming futility, I imagine what else I could do with all of this drive to find a way out.

In his book Falling Upward, Richard Rohr reminds me to survey my surroundings with different eyes. About necessary suffering, he says,

“Being held long and hard inside limits and tension….allows us to search for and often find the ‘reconciling third’ or the unified field beneath it all.”

Jesus reminds me that in this world I will have trouble but, through suffering, He has overcome the world.

St Paul says that I can rejoice in my suffering, knowing it will produce endurance and character leading to hope.

Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade shows me that a step of faith can reveal a hidden and unimaginable way forward.

Hard-Pressed Hebrews

Long ago, Moses and the fleeing Hebrews found themselves in an impossible situation. Pressed between an Egyptian army and a watery wall, they saw no options. The ‘reconciling third’ was nowhere in sight. What they had forgotten, as I often do, is that sometimes the third way is the way God comes through. In the case of the hard-pressed Hebrews, it was a miracle: the supernatural broke into the flow and carved a path through the impassable.

Miracles like this have not broken into my predicaments. Often, my problems resolve in the natural flow of time and space where step follows step and a small erosion brings change and freedom. Like when I realize my feet don’t ache as much or my low back has loosened a bit.

A true miracle for me, though, is when I surrender to the suffering and my suffering reveals itself as a blessing. God sometimes comes through for me by shifting my perspective.

Paradigm Shift

hard view new perspective
pixabay

This shift in my paradigm, my frame of reference, reveals a new angle on an old point of view. A tiny shaft of light breaks into the space.

Like when I accept my physical limitations and suddenly the permission to rest and relax feels like a miracle!  Or when I stop thinking and worrying about the pain and it somehow loses its intensity.

When the situation has not changed but my heart sees it in a different light, I realize that the change I have been searching for is taking place within me. My narrow place gives way to more space.  Hallelujah!

Two Hard-won Nuggets

1. Keep moving.

I will always have seemingly unsolvable problems. However, I’m old enough to realize that many struggles work themselves out as I get up and on with life each day.

  • Any kind of faithful obedience in the same direction, despite hardships and intractable issues, reveals the next step on a journey of hope.

2. Find freedom within the prison.

I try to get a new perspective, letting Surrender and Acceptance be my purview.

  • Any kind of faithful obedience in the same situation, despite hardships and intractable issues, reveals a beautiful new view within the confines of my condition.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not done searching for a way out of my pain and suffering. But my body must give way to the hardness of the way things are. My heart must soften and yield to what is yet to be revealed.

Who knows, maybe someday I’ll find a foothold in one of these walls after all.

 

Of Fear, Faith, and Foxes

faith

The Beginnings of Fear

When I was eight years old, a strange man banged on our front door.

My mom opened it and he asked her, “this cat out here yours?”

Looking over her shoulder at me, he leaned in to say something which only she could hear. Mom turned to me and my sister and brother and told us to wait inside.

“Stay here!” I heard her shout as the door slammed behind her.

But I didn’t stay. I followed her out and around the side of our house on a 10-second delay so she wouldn’t see me disobey. When I turned the corner, I saw the man was pointing at my cat in the road– what was left of him. He had run over him with his truck.

I can’t remember how I felt then or what I did immediately after that discovery. Did my mom see me? Did I tell her what I’d witnessed? I don’t think so. I must’ve run back into the house.

She came in to carefully announce the bad news. “Bruno is dead. Sorry, kids. He was hit by a truck. He must’ve run out into the road.”

I do remember some days later getting off of the school bus on that same road and bursting into tears. My cat was gone because I didn’t take care of him. I began to fear the mistakes I could make. I began to wonder if I could have saved him. Did I have any control over the dangers on the road?

Man Versus Nature

Throughout my childhood there were a few more pet vs. car incidents:

I lost a puppy to a car. Ka-thump.

I saw another pet dog wrestle a moving car’s tire with his teeth. He somehow survived the run-in and lived with a scar to prove it.

I should have had both dogs on a leash. Then they wouldn’t have been where only cars are supposed to be.

Nowadays, whenever I see a small squashed animal body on the road, I feel a deep sadness. It seems so wrong. An innocent life just gone.

You can’t warn the animals about the dangers on the road. They’re just running around doing what animals do. Unfortunately, the people who should be taking care, aren’t.

Friday Fox

On a Friday morning in June this year, I was outside on the back patio early.

Enjoying the cool quiet before the heat and cicadas came calling, I spotted the fox. He was maybe 20 feet away from me at the edge of the yard just doing what animals do. His coat was plump and fluffy, an orange-red perfection. He never noticed me. I stared frozen as he sniffed the ground then scratched an ear. I had a whole 60 seconds of joy before he headed toward the creek and disappeared down the bank.

The visit felt like a gift from God.

That evening, my husband Scott and I went out to a movie. At about 9 PM, we were headed back home. I was taking care to drive the speed limit. Actually, I was driving kind of slow.

Scott said, “Why don’t you speed up?”

Normally I would. But the road wasn’t well-lit and I worry about hitting deer, raccoons, and even opossums.

“I’m driving at a comfortable speed for me,” I said.

Scott said, “OK, babe.”

It was dark and just felt right to poke along, take it easy. When I turned into our neighborhood I remember thinking, ‘you gotta be careful on the roads close to home, too.’

And so I was.

Taking Care

Just then, the fox that had visited that morning ran across the road exactly where we were passing at 22 mph. I slammed on the brakes and felt the rumble of the tires as they pulsed to a stop. I screamed, covered my face with my hands, and leaned sobbing into the steering wheel.

Scott hadn’t seen the fox. What? he stared at me.

“The fox, I just ran over the fox, I killed the fox!!” I couldn’t bear it.

He opened his passenger-side door and looked down at the road. Sure enough, there was the poor little creature lying against the curb.

Scott said, “it’s alive but just lying there. Wait, now it’s getting up, limping a little!”

As I leaned to look, my fox was already trotting across the closest lawn without a limp. He was gone in 10 seconds, disappearing between two houses.

Life, Death, and Resurrection

I saw him alive but my body held onto his death. The grief and anguish stayed with me even though I had seen the fox scamper off.

Scott and I talked about the incident for hours that night. He said, “that actually felt personal.”

I agreed. The fact was, I had taken care, done what I could to mitigate the dangers of the road. How was it possible that the timing was so impeccable, that our paths had intersected twice in one day on that fateful Friday?

The morning encounter resulted in joy, the nighttime incident left me in anguish. I was afraid he had run away to die but I held on in faith that he was truly alive and well.

Faith Without Restraint

That confusing day stirred up memories of the years when Scott and I were touring and raising our 3 kids on the road. At home, we had the safest car we could afford, we bought the best car seats, and we always buckled up for safety.

But when we rode tour buses, everyone just bounced around in the front lounge without any restraints.

One winter, we were traveling down a highway during an ice storm. Our tour bus suddenly slid off onto the side of the road and then a truck slammed into us. No one was hurt except the bus.

A policeman came to cart us to a nearby motel to wait out the storm. I grabbed the car seats from the storage bay but he said, “no car seats– I’m in a hurry to help other people.” I insisted but he was adamant.

Unbelievable! Twice in one day, we were driving down an icy highway and my kids were untethered. I was totally out of control. All I had to hold onto was faith that God was in control.

What Does The Fox Say

faithI have thought about and talked about that Friday Fox for weeks now.

Looking for clues about our two meetings, I wonder: were they random or personal?

Random means nothing is in my control. Personal means nothing is in my control. What do I have to fear?

I learned young that not taking care of small things could lead to suffering and tragedy. When raising my kids, I worked hard to avoid a terrible mistake. I don’t think I could have been more careful.

What difference does it make to take care or make mistakes?

The fox stirs up questions about my fear and about my faith. Can I trust God in the intersections of life, death, and resurrections? And what is my role in the whole business?

Maybe God is not sending foxes to my yard or under my car. Perhaps there’s just an organic and mysterious flow of purpose that moves His creatures to meet at the crossroads of life.

Or maybe He is sending messages through small animals, telling me to take care but trust in His care and leave the outcomes and answers to Him.

Fear says, what if you make a mistake? Faith says, so what if you make a mistake?

As I finish writing this, I get to add one more part to the story: just yesterday a small fox visited Scott and me in our yard. It appeared to be my Friday Fox, just hanging out in the same place I’d seen him two months ago.

This story ends with my fears relieved and my faith turned to sight. My Friday Fox is alive and well, doing what animals do in the world.

Vulnerability’s Voice: See Through Me

As a grubby little tomboy climbing trees, I longed to be seen. vulnerability

“Watch me, Dad!”

He didn’t see me because he wasn’t around. My mom was always there but the “Bad Dad” impact seems to override a lot of the “Good Mom” effect.

Once when he was there, I had run crying to him because my kitten was trapped between two tool benches in the basement. As I remember it, (sorry, Dad, if my recollection is wrong) he rushed with me back downstairs to rescue the trapped cat. When he saw how she had gotten her head caught and was not hurt, he laughed and lifted the poor little thing up and out, showing me how easily I could have done it. I had made a stupid mistake and he teased me about it.

I think I dimmed the light in my heart a little that day, afraid to risk the feeling of exposure and vulnerability. After that, I grew smaller, wanting to be invisible for awhile.

Then came middle school and high school and I cried ‘watch me!’ to all the boys willing to look my way. Exhilarated to be noticed, I clambered up the pedestal which displayed the gold plate inscribed: “talented, pretty and smart !” I got good at balancing up there. Whenever I came crashing down, I climbed back up and fell again many more times.

What Women Want

Have you seen the movie called What Women Want?

I like it because it’s about how people, how women, hide their vulnerability, their true selves. It’s a story that makes us imagine what would happen if we could read each other’s thoughts.

vulnerabilityMel Gibson plays a typical male chauvinist (do we use that description anymore?) who runs an advertising firm. After a strange event involving a hair dryer, nail polish, and lightning, he wakes up able to literally hear women’s thoughts.

One of the minor characters in the film is a mousy office worker who gets stepped on and ignored all day long. She is nondescript and sad but no-one notices. Mel Gibson’s boss character doesn’t even know she exists in his workspace until he hears her thoughts in passing. Her perspective of life in the office surprises him as he recognizes her mute cries for help. She wants to be seen.

Her scenes, including the one where the boss discovers she’s been missing and goes looking for her at home, remind us to be attentive to those overlooked people in our lives. People so unassuming and ordinary that we see right through them, like an old shower curtain just doing its job. This actor made me think of all the quiet characters in my periphery whose thoughts might shock me if I could overhear the stories swirling there. Their vulnerability is hidden by invisibility.

What We All Want

On the other hand, we all know those other characters who stand out and rarely get missed. The confident, beautiful women who seem to have what every woman wants. The men with unquestioned charm and confidence. Picture the models in fashion magazines displayed on every page. Imagine the actors and artists and entrepreneurs interviewed before the camera. The powerful ones unafraid to voice their thoughts, able to stand tall in front of us all.

We put these types on pedestals and tell them how much we love them. We do it because we hope their fairy tale lives are true and we want to believe in them.

Of course, it’s not all castles and happy endings. When their worlds come crashing down, the surprise lasts only a moment because we know these posed and powerful are just like us…fragile, unsteady. Their vulnerability is hidden by the brave part they’ve been playing.

What I want

I want you to think I’m smart, talented, and pretty. But I also want you to see through my masks and tell me you really see me and love me.

What’s funny is how we do a disservice to one another by refusing to see through the masks both types wear: the hidden characters and the pedestal people. Vulnerability is scary.vulnerability

I am always worried about what they will think of me. How can I imagine that they are not more focused on what I will think of them? Crazy.

Every once in a while, I glimpse a freedom in which I am completely vulnerable and unselfconscious. Sometimes when I walk my dogs in the neighborhood or meet friends at a restaurant, I forget to care how my hair looks or what my clothes say. Other times, I don’t worry about saying something dumb or being less than special. In those moments, I am neither magnificent nor unremarkable. I am alive and loved in the world.

So Ordinary

I still want to be seen.

As a not-so-young-anymore person, I do not want to get lost in the crowd.  Yet I also sense there’s a peculiar freedom that comes with being ordinary. Have you felt it?

Aging teaches lots of lessons about being ordinary. As I have gotten older, I realize I can hop down off of all my pedestals. I can stop posing to be noticed.

On the other hand, I can step out of the crowd wearing some crazy outfit and wave wildly to my family and friends. I am becoming free to be exactly me!

See Through Me

I wrote this song, See Through Me, because I can relate to being in both positions of vulnerability: the invisible girl and the pedestal girl.

When others see through me as just another face in the crowd, I trust those who love me to notice everything about me.

When I’m feeling proud and tall, I trust those who love me to see through all of my posturing and love me for who I truly am.

When I do fall, I know they’ll gently lift me up again.

When I say, “watch me,” they do!

See Through Me

Look at me, I’m oh so ordinary

Just a face to lose in the crowd

Can you see me clearly unremarkable

Like the shadow of a passing cloud

      I’m paper thin, light as a feather

See through me

 

On this pedestal I look so steady

See my skin, the finest porcelain

Should you dare to shine a light my way

See the shadow of the shape I’m in

      So paper thin, fragile as glass

See through me

 

Another song I sing related to this idea is Closer to Free, also found in my new 5-song EP, Closer to Free.

Get Busy Living

get busy living

My husband and I are supposed to go out with friends tonight.

The restaurant will be crowded.

We will stand cramped in the doorway for half an hour waiting for a table.

We will be a group of shouting people from start to finish, trying to arch our words across the din and dinner.

Chunky wooden tables surrounded by thick-legged chairs that stall and stutter along the sticky floor will control our bodies and conversation.

The food will be heavy. I will eat enough to weigh me down for a day or two.

I will have snippets of connection with the 2 people closest to me on my tiny island in a sea of sound. The drinks will mix their muddling into the evening about one hour in.

Soon after, the laughter and leaning-in to catch the bouncing chatter around the rectangular table will wear me out. I will begin to stare as if in trance, missing the person’s words on which I am trying to focus.

Later tonight, I will fall into bed, my ears ringing, my mind whirling with everything said.


Why would I want to subject myself to this situation?

I could decline and say, “some other time.”

But I don’t, we won’t. Why not?

Well, because they are our people.

Meeting at a place.

Eating, drinking, relating, connecting.

It’s what we do.

If we didn’t, we’d be dead.

As my husband just said, life is flying by. Life is happening now.

At our age, or maybe any age, it’s almost over all the time.

Some other time is not a given.

So better get busy living.

Finding Life in Creativity

creativity

Creativity 101

I wrote my first song after leaving home. creativity

At eighteen, I’d moved out of my house in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and landed at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh as a college freshman. It was my first time living away from home.

Feeling the loneliness of being a 5-hour drive from all that was familiar, I wrote a song for my boyfriend called, “Baby, I’m Missing You.” That’s all I remember of my first song but I’m certain it was not very good. 

However, this creativity had awakened something new in me. I sensed songwriting was a door to discovering more of myself, healing deep hurts, and dealing with some confusing emotions. Maybe the creative life was for me!

Little did I know how far I would have to go to become a true artist.

Secondary Education

We have to start somewhere. Singing was my beginning. First in elementary schooI then all the way through high school, I sang other people’s songs. I still remember my first solo in a choral Christmas concert. I got to step out and sing a short verse of Wintertime Aglow. The local TV station aired it which thrilled my mom. That performance had a huge impact on my 15-year-old self. What else would I be brave enough to try?

I sang my heart out in every high school talent show that came my way after that. Linda Ronstadt and Pat Benatar inspired me to belt out many a rock ballad for my peers. I was always mimicking the singer’s inflections, matching the song’s sentiment without really comprehending its message. In one show I sang “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me” by Linda Ronstadt. The chorus went like this:

Someone to lay down beside me
Even though it’s not real
Just someone to lay down beside me
You’re the story of my life

Thankfully, it was not the story of my life. The message went over my head but tapped into my heart’s desire. I wanted to sing out my sadness with passion.  

The Singer and the Songwriter

That first semester in college, with all its disruptive changes and challenges, I decided to give my feelings a voice. With a borrowed a guitar, I plunked out the 3 chords I knew. I created a melody and lyrics to match my loneliness. And to fit my writing style.

creativityWell, my emerging style.

Just as my vocal style wanted to amalgamate all of the singers from the ’70’s and ’80’s whom I wished I could be, my writing style wanted to combine Billy Joel, Joni Mitchell, and Janis Ian to create the perfect blend.

In the end, though, I had to be me. My songwriting morphed into a vehicle for my limited vocal power and the message and emotions I had to communicate.   

Creativity 201

At Berklee College of Music I began writing in earnest. I had transferred to this college in Boston because I wanted to move beyond the classical voice training from my first college. Now I could work on becoming a singer-songwriter. Berklee was perfect because it was all about the pop and jazz!

My songwriting and theory teachers taught me so much. I studied jazz harmony, ear training, voice, and performance. Also, I got involved in ensembles, gained recording studio experience, and performed in some shows on Berklee’s big stage.

My singing and songwriting improved as did my performance chops. Probably, I wouldn’t want to record any of those early songs I wrote. But they are still a part of my bigger story.  

Scheduled Creativity

Scott Dente and I had met at Berklee during my second semester. We became an item soon after and have collaborated on music ever since. After graduation and marriage, we loaded up the truck and headed to Tennessee. Nashville, that is. 

As Out of the Grey, we got to make 7 studio records. After that, he and I worked on my solo projects and several outside collaborations. Throughout the decades of our musical marriage, we always had to make the time to write. We called it scheduled creativity.    

In fact, we’re doing it that way still. He works on new music constantly with his production company called Global Genius. He has a lot on his plate and maps the days for creative space.

Creativity has never been easy for me. I can’t just drop everything when a bright idea strikes. Mostly, I like to schedule my creativity and hope for inspiration to show up. She usually does. If not, I come back again and again until I get my writing up to snuff.  

Tools For Creativity   

creativity
A Handbook and A Workbook

Recently, I put together a few songwriting tools for my songwriting students. The Singer and the Songwriter is a handbook and workbook for singer-songwriters. It’s based on my training and experience.

I put in some teaching elements as well as exercises, prompts, and reminders to help writers to get creative.

  • I mapped out 10 steps to keep your flow of creativity going so you can start–and finish–your song.
  • I created a section for developing your lyrics by using figurative language. 
  • I included a section on basic music theory and harmony so you know what chord patterns work well and how to write a good melody.
  • My vocal technique section teaches you how to gain strength and range while releasing vocal tension.

The other tool is my Creativity Journal which has lots of space for getting creative with emotions, images, and lyrics. Using samples of some of my lyrics, this journal inspires writers of all kinds to create a flow of imagination and artistry. (If you want to get creative using an autographed Songwriter Handbook, you can find it here and I’ll also write you a nice note!)

Also, I created my 10 Tips for Better Songwriting on this site. 

The Bigger Story

Looking back, I see how far along the road I had to go to hone my artistic expression.

At the end of the day, the joy, the sorrow, and the chaos of life drive us to draw some creative conclusions about what’s going on. 

When I sing,”Walk By Faith,”  it’s because I can’t see straight in the broad daylight. I’m looking for a way to live in the big picture without having all of the answers. 

When my son sings, “Hallelujah,” I lift my hands and agree that I don’t know why I’m alive. Sometimes I don’t have to wonder why.

“Oh hallelujah, I am alive
Yeah and I don’t know why, why
No I don’t know
Hallelujah
I don’t have to wonder”

When You Create….

We all get creative in some way. Trying to put our lives into perspective, we write, draw, paint, or play.

  • Who did you sing along with as a teenager?
  • What artists have impacted your story? 
  • When did you create your first song, story, poem, or painting?
  • Have you tried getting creative lately?

How To Be A Great Parent

parenting

3 Parenting Essentials

parenting essentials
Simon Matzinger
Did you have a great father growing up? Was your mother perfect?

Are you a good parent, intentional and aware of how you’re raising your kids?

 — If you are like me, your parents were far from perfect.

 — If you are like me, you’re realizing that you have much less control of how your kids turn out than you thought.

When you’re in the middle of raising kids, trying to provide food and a roof, not to mention an education, how do you do it well?

All the parenting books you read can’t get under your skin enough to scrape out some deeply ingrained flaws. Will you transmit them to your kids? Are there any parenting essentials you’re missing?

You probably already know this but here goes:

Great parenting begins with the parents’ relationship.

3 Relationship Essentials

You can do a lot to become a great parent and mitigate the effects of your imperfections and ignorance about child-raising. You can:

  1. DEAL with your history
  2. WORK hard on your marriage
  3. Make GRACE the guiding spirit of your home

Take an honest look at the baggage you’ve individually brought to the marriage relationship.

 After that, share with each other what you’ve discovered.

 Now that you’ve acknowledged what you’re both dealing with, let grace find its place in the center of your relationship and home.

Short Story

parenting essentials
Mohamed Hassan

Let me tell you a very short story. I recall one tender moment when my dad hugged my mom and she hugged him back.

I was maybe 8 years old. My heart wanted to explode with joy and a sense of well-being in that moment. It had nothing to do with me but I still remember them in the dining room doorway more clearly than many other memories I have.

It was a rare show of love and acceptance between my parents. If they had cared for each other this way on a daily basis, my childhood would have been a completely different story. Their broken relationship impacted me more than the hundreds of parenting mistakes they made.

But where did their brokenness come from?

Short History 

My mom grew up with some family dysfunction which she never dealt with as a child or as an adult. My dad had his own traumas and personal impairments which he tried to drown in alcohol. They brought these hidden forces to their marriage, which was a train wreck waiting to happen.

At the start, Mom and Dad had very few tools for maintaining their relationship. With 3 kids in quick succession and Dad’s desire for autonomy not going anywhere, their break-up 13 years later was inevitable.

Forty years after the fact, I am still feeling the effects of that crash.

Long Story Short

If you are like me, you’ve seen a lot of marriages going off the rails. Maybe yours is one of them. You may think the kids in these situations are too young or too busy to be affected by carefully hidden flaws and faults. We may hope they don’t notice the broken parts of us driving us toward total derailment.

But they did. And they do.

From the outside looking in, others sometimes spot the problems in the relationship long before the parents do. Hard to miss the disconnect between the story they are telling and the way they are living. Their body language says more than their words. Likewise, his extra drinks and her bitter jokes make us want to brace for impact.

parenting essentials
SeppH

Children riding on this crazy train know something is wrong, too. They may be too young to register in cohesive thoughts but their bodies and souls know it. Their cells vibrate in the fear and anger frequencies of Mother simmering in the kitchen. Father’s baloney smells up the house whether he’s selling it on the phone or right there in the living room.

History Lesson

If you are like me, you’ve had or have a few blindspots of your own in parenting.

My husband and I have 3 grown-up kids who’ve told us what it was like to be on board when Dad and Mom were conducting their lives like crazy people.

Some of the disconnects? Too much fear in the decision-making. A little too heavy on the helicopter parenting. Not enough practicing of what we preached. Just a couple of dumb thirty-somethings acting like we knew everything.

As a homeschooling mom, I’d thought my nurture plus their “perfect” education would equal all kinds of easy for them. Turns out they borrowed some of my baggage and even added some pieces of their own. No magic formulas.

Notwithstanding the personal flaws we must own apart from our parents’ influence, what hope do we have with so much history to overcome?

1. First Parenting Essentials: Name and Release Your Elephants

parenting essentials
Larry Li

Your number one priority is to DEAL with the forces that have shaped you. Each marriage has two individuals who bring some baggage to the bedroom, living room, and kitchen.

When we acknowledge and name the elephants in the room, they begin to shrink and find their rightful places. Then we can send them on their way to a sanctuary for worn-out animals.

My husband and I each lumbered into our relationship encumbered with our fathers’ alcohol addictions and our mothers’ anxiety. It took us awhile to begin dissecting and dismantling their effects even as we were raising our three children.

Recovery groups, counseling, bravery, and honesty gave us the traction we needed for growing up as grown-ups.

(I offer a small disclaimer: our work is never done. I think I will be working on growing up until the day I die.)

2. Next Parenting Essentials: Get to Work on Your Marriage!

The saying goes, if you are coasting, then you’re going downhill.

How parents relate to each other is of utmost importance. If kids know Mom and Dad are solid, they walk their own paths with a bit more confidence. If kids can trust the love Dad and Mom have for each other, they are likely to trust in their own ability to love and be loved.

But we married people know that stress and time can jangle the nerves and loosen the love we once had for each other. We are going to have to work at it if it’s going to last. No matter what the movie stars say, I say we’d better get some good tools for the long haul. Gotta keep the wheels greased because the friction is inevitable.

Get counseling. Ask hard questions. Tell hard truths and don’t be so defensive!

You’ve got this because people have been making marriages work for a long time. Find those people and ask them how it can possibly be done! Put lots of tools in your marriage tool box and then use them.

Read more on how your relationship impacts your kids

and the ways our parents affect our relationships.

3. More Parenting Essentials: Grace is a Superpower

parenting essentials
Mohamed Hassan

GRACE is essential for any lasting relationship. It is impossible to have a good marriage and solid family life without that 5-letter word for getting more than you deserve. Gifts for the bratty. Kisses for the prickly people.

The reason for hope even if you think you’ve already done too much damage:

 — Grace is a superpower.

 — Grace works forwards and backwards, bending and softening the boundaries of space and time.

 — Grace hangs out with other commendable characters like Mercy and Humility.

I’m sorry,” “forgive me,” “I forgive you,” and “I love you” are their constant conversation.

These 3 characters can mend a multitude of wrongs. Their love steps back over time boundaries and transforms what once was bad into the shape of a blessing. They move magically through space, waving wands that heal wounds and turn scars into touchstones for others.

True Story

I have a friend whose 25 year marriage should have been history 10 years in. Her name isn’t Grace but it should be. Her response to his adultery, after her initial shock and anguish, was an attitude of “let’s start over from here.”

Instead of condemning him and leaving, my friend stayed. She offered forgiveness and grace in huge quantities. She began to look at her part in the mess. And together, they began the slow and painful work of sifting through their baggage in the wreckage.

 Grace, mercy, and humility permeate their home to this day because together, they found — and still find —  a way to stay. This has had an immeasurable impact on their children.

End of Story

If I had refused to look at the sickness I brought to my marriage 30 years ago, would I be married today?

If I had refused to compromise and not let my husband’s needs and desires soften my hard edges, where would we be now?

 If I had let resentment and un-forgiveness simmer in my kitchen, would the smell and stench have overwhelmed the entire household?

Yes, our kids did get some of the brokenness their mom and dad brought to the relationship. However, the honesty we brought to our struggles, the work we did separately and together, and the grace we gave each other on a daily basis were like fresh layers of blacktop. They smoothed over some of the roughest bumps on the road.

It’s OK if you are already in the midst of parenting. Even if your kids are grown, there’s hope because it’s never too late to work on relationships. Being honest and humble with our grown up kids keeps the door open for unexpected graces to drop by.

Here’s what I’m saying: Great parenting is not easy, pretty, or tied up in a lovely bow. But it’s good, solid, and strong. Like a sturdy train on a steel track with a gentle grade.

  1. DEAL with your history
  2. WORK hard on your marriage
  3. Make GRACE the guiding spirit of your home

(related post: Closer to Free)

I’m Worse Than You Think!

finding freedom from judgment

Finding Freedom from Judgment

I heard a Christian pastor announce that he had decided to stop worrying about what other people thought of him. He needed freedom from judgment. He chose to be honest with himself and say,

“Yeah, if they are judging me, they’re probably right. Not only that, I am actually worse than they think I am.”

finding freedom from judgment

My friend, Cathy, once lamented about her selfish and judgmental thoughts rearing their ugly heads in one of her college classes.

Her impatient and mean thoughts about some of the other students surprised her.

I said that’s why it’s a gift that we can keep our thoughts to ourselves. If everyone could hear what everyone else was thinking, the world would erupt in all our private wars made public.

“Fake it till you make it” makes a lot of sense in this context. This has worked for me many times.

Or has it?

Maybe my faking it is like a teenager who cleans up her trashed house after her illicit party but before her parents get home. They don’t see the breach in trust but the lie hovers in the house and does some hidden damage of its own.

Perhaps finding freedom from people’s judgments of me AND freedom from my own judgments of others is going to cost me more than a hurried house cleaning.

Is there a better approach to finding this kind of freedom?

My Ugly Underside

I was walking along with a crowd of typical American families recently — judgment alert— and noticed the many overweight people around me, their soda straws pressed between their lips and the french fries pouching on their hips.     

I pulled my husband Scott aside.      freedom from judgement

“I have a really mean joke that I just thought of,” I giggled.

“What?” He grinned, warming to this rare confession of my judgmental cruelty.

I said, “imagine a T-shirt for kids that said, ‘Destined for Greatness’ only the ‘Greatness’ is crossed out and below it is scribbled, ‘Fatness.’ Ha! Get it? All of these fat American parents are raising their kids to be fat!”

He was shocked. It really isn’t funny. It is quite mean and arrogant of me. Easy for me to laugh when I’ve done the parenting and nutrition thing perfectly—NOT!

Hear My Confession

The next week we were hanging out with friends and Scott began to tell this story. Midway through, he realized he was about to confess my sin. Giving him a sideways glance, I picked up where he’d left off and finished the story in all its gory detail.

I’m not sure if any of our friends thought it was funny. But if they had any lingering doubts about my proud and  wicked heart, I certainly dispelled them.

That night, I lay awake regretting the revelation of my depravity. A vulnerability hangover of sorts. BUT—was I sad about my judgmental heart or just embarrassed to be outed?

The next morning it dawned on me that I could be glad that the blackness of my heart had been laid bare. Especially to friends that, I think, love me.

No more pretending. I am free to be me. I had a taste of freedom from judgment. Yum!   

freedom from judgement 

What’s The Point?

  • I write this for people like me who long for freedom from pretense, long to tell the truth—show the truth about themselves.
  • I write for Christians imprisoned by the belief they have to present a picture-perfect, “what would Jesus do” kind of life.
  • I write to encourage self-righteous or shame-filled people to find freedom by telling the truth about themselves.
  • I write at my own risk of losing (or gaining) a reputation, friends, acceptance, and love.

The ugly underside that we try to hide is actually the key to finding freedom from judgment.

When we stop pretending, we can also let go of the judgments we make and the ones we fear from others. 

 

freedom from judgement
https://www.thedailymind.com/quotes-2/14-quotes-judging-judged/

Finding Freedom From Judgment

I have spent a lot of my adult life trying to look good—be good—when in fact I am not all that good.

Some of my sins I can keep between me and Jesus. He says He loves and forgives me unconditionally. Not every confession need be public. 

However, other transgressions are painfully obvious so I’d better get honest with myself and others.

Pretending has created lots of space between me and would-be friends. I have presented myself as a whole-grain-cookie-eating, Bible-reading, clean-freaking woman.

  • Why would someone want to come under my radar?
  • Why should I be surprised that people think I’m better than I am?
  • Do I really think my friends don’t smell my baloney from a mile away?
  • Am I afraid they won’t love me when I’m not awesome? 
  • Will they love me because I’m not perfect?

Will you love me even though you know the truth?

Now that I am not pretending and defending my own righteousness, I can look at you without condemnation. Admitting my own mess frees me to have compassion for your struggle. 

It’s true: I am judgmental, proud, and mean sometimes.

So if you are judging me now, you’re probably right.

In fact, I’m worse than you think!

 

other related posts from me: Making Pretend and Closer to Free

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