A Bouquet of Dandelions

What does Mother’s Day look like for you?  For some of us, this is the first Mother’s Day to be a Mother and that is exhilarating, and maybe even a little exhausting after a short night with the baby’s feedings.  For some, the days leading up to this weekend are painful—maybe we are unable to have children, so we only hold in our hearts the child we so yearn to hold in our arms.  For some of us the weekend is exciting and full of celebration—children coming home or taking Mom out to dinner.  For some of us, the weekend is a time of fear that hits hard because of our Mother’s recent diagnosis.  For some, we just realized it’s Mother’s Day and are wondering if the store has any cards left. Some of us have made a special card or gift for our moms and can’t wait to present our token of love to her.  For some of us, it is a day of great laughter and fun and for some of us, this is the first Mother’s Day since our Mother’s death.

For others, this time of year is about just being together and celebrating family.  For some of us the only way we are “together” is through the internet and we yearn for more “real life” times of togetherness. For some of us, Mother’s Day is another work day.  For some of us, it is a reminder of the ache in our heart we feel as a Mother because of the death of our precious, beautiful child. For some of us, Mother’s Day as a single Mom doesn’t look much different than any other day.  For some, the emphasis on mothering is a reminder that our Mom was not there for us—maybe we are still waiting for our Mother’s approval, or maybe our Mother watched us being abused, never able to stand up for us, and we are deeply hurt by her silence. Maybe we are in a current struggle of communication with our Mom. Maybe we are celebrating the beauty of the value of the relationship and what we have learned from our Mothers—often our first teachers about life and laundry and love and Legos and laughter and lots of other lessons. Maybe we are in tears because our son just presented us with our first dandelion bouquet.

Oh, what a beautiful thing, that first dandelion bouquet.  The simple, heart-felt gesture of an innocent child with the idea of an extravagant gift for Mom.  The child brings all that he has to give in that moment. An allergy-inducing invasive weed to most, but a gorgeous offering of love and relationship in the eyes of the mother.

One of the reasons Mother’s Day is so wide in the array of experiences is because whether it’s mother/daughter, mother/son, or mother/father, these are all relationships, and relationships can be messy.  Because of the reality of the imperfections in our relating, we are often hurt or we hurt others.  Even in a relationship that is often idealized there can be very difficult and very trying times.

Deborah Tannen, a professor of linguistics specializing in sociolinguistics in her book, You’re Wearing That?, Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation, says “Words exchanged between [young] daughters and mothers – in the moment or in memory – can carry enormous weight.  The same is true for conversations between mothers and grown daughters, even though both are women and in many ways speak the same language – indeed, partly because both are women and in many ways speak the same language:  a language in which intimacy and closeness as well as power and distance are constantly negotiated. Improving communication between mothers and daughters, much like breaking down barriers to communication between women and men, requires, above all, understanding:  seeing the situation from the other’s point of view.”  I recommend the book as a catalyst for discovering the value of the words in the mother/daughter relationship.  Even if you do not have a daughter, you have a mother and this book promotes deeper reflection and understanding of a significant relationship.  

May our celebration this Mother’s Day be in the small steps that we take towards our mothers and children, our fellow human beings. May it be in the working to improve our communication, the extending and accepting of dandelion bouquets.


As yesterday was the first day of spring and there is still snow on the ground in Des Moines, we are longing for some beauty and color.  The Des Moines Botanical Center was the site of my photo expedition for the week. What beauty there is in creation!  What creation there is in beauty! 

What beauty there is in you!  The plaque in my counseling office that reads “be.YOU.tiful” is a favorite to many of my clients.  Why do we find it so difficult to be ourselves? 

Is there some end-expectation we have in mind?  Is it when we’re thin enough?  Smart enough?  Good enough?  Together enough?  Caught up enough?  Beautiful enough?  Mark Nepo, author of The Book of Awakening, says, “Perhaps the hardest thing I’ve learned, and still struggle with, is that I don’t have to be finished in order to be whole.”

Transformation.  Change.  Process.  It is the process of being ourselves that is the struggle.  My email signature line features varying perceptions, and yesterday’s was: “Looking at life through a ‘struggling is a strength’ perspective…”.  I know that I am not alone “struggling with struggling”.

So often we compare ourselves with others.  “Comparison is the seed of discontentment.”  -Anonymous. It is through the lens of our perspective that the seed of discontentment can grow or we can re-wire our thinking to value the beauty of who we are. 

As we take off the comparison glasses, we can choose to put on the lens of gratitude for who we are made to be.  A new lens and creativity is unleashed, anxiety is calmed, the “musts” and “shoulds” become “maybes” and “coulds.”

Can we value the “be” of be.YOU.tiful?  Notice that it reads, “be,” not “do,” as in dutiful.  We are often more comfortable with the “doing” than the “being.” 

Being ourselves requires courage and vulnerability.  And yet when we are able to be ourselves we are most radiant.  Seems like a bit of a juxtaposition, doesn’t it?  As with the flower, it is in the process of opening up and being vulnerable that we become real.  Then, we are be.YOU.tiful.

In the beloved children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams, the Skin Horse and the Rabbit are having a discussion.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room.  “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”  “Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse.  “It’s a thing that happens to you.  When a child loves you for a long, long time not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”  “Does it hurt?”  “Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful.  “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”  “Does it happen all at once,” He asked, “or bit by bit?” “It doesn’t happen all at once, “ said the Skin Horse.  “You become.  It takes a long time.  That’s why it doesn’t happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges or who have to be carefully kept.  Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.  But those things don’t matter at all, because once you are real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

May you be encouraged to struggle against what is mechanical and sharp and struggle towards that which is lovely, what is true, what is be.YOU.tiful within you.

Layers of Letting Go

I am simply fascinated by the beauty of the shedding bark of the river birch trees in our yard, especially on a snowy day like today.  Often I find a graceful scattering of authentic river birch paper fanned out beneath the trees.  I have even written a letter to my Dad, a lover of nature, on one of these paper-thin pieces of bark.  A quick bit of Google research reveals that one of the reasons a river birch tree sheds is to allow rapid growth. 

Yes, I can agree with that, growth is a letting go, a shedding experience.  And yes, often there is pain involved in the growing.

Recently I had a dermatologist-recommended facial peel.  I probably include “dermatologist recommended” so that you will not think I am vain!  The peel happened to be quite painful at times.  I experienced facial swelling, a blotchy red rash, and intense itching.  I slept in a recliner for three nights to help reduce the swelling.  Hmmm…what a metaphor as I was thinking of writing this blog about peeling layers and the pain that can occur!  I chuckle at the timing of things.  So, my skin is now better.  I do not plan any more peels…at least of the “dermatologist-recommended” variety.

As a mom, I have often wanted our children to have a smooth road…no bumps, no hurdles, no hurts. And yet, I know in my own life that it isn’t on the smooth road that I grow and develop. What a joy to watch them grow now as adults amidst struggle, to lean on each other amidst times of pain and to experience life richly as they grow--not as measured by the chart attached to the doorway that recorded their annual growth, but as they grow by living authentically in the depth of their souls.

As part of a couple, my husband and I love and cherish the smooth times, but we have also learned to embrace the difficult times.  We want to know and experience the deeper growth that can occur in struggle—in adjusting to a new city, in learning to communicate more clearly, in praying through the night for the health of a child, in sitting with a parent who is struggling for his last breath or in taking on a new challenge together. 

As a woman, I often wrestle with the concept of wanting it all perfect.  However, the “letting go” of being perfect is a concept I want to accept.  Of course, any of you who know me know that being perfect is not true.  The struggle and desire for doing things perfectly and wanting things perfect has been true.  I am learning the value of letting go.  It seems that I have been learning this concept for a while now, and that the beauty of letting go is now appealing to me more than the mirage of perfection.  The freedom and beauty of accepting myself for who I am is enough.

What is it that you desire to let go of?  Just as the birch tree says goodbye to its bark, what is it that you would like to bid farewell?  What is it that leaves you feeling vulnerable?  What if you chose to look at vulnerability through a new lens?  What layers are you aware of that you could label—and shed?  What pieces of brokenness do you wish to hide?  What beauty is waiting to be seen within you as you let go of the unnecessary layers? 

May our journey go deep to an inner peace as we shed an outer layer or two.

A Vastness & an Adventure

Alaska became our destination when our daughter’s film, Nanuq, was featured in a film festival in Anchorage.  Being lovers of the outdoors, we wanted to be in the majestic beauty of Alaska as much as possible.  This picture is taken just off the side of the road as we were traveling one morning to our hiking destination.  The picture seemed to capture the massive and beautiful portrayal of a wild, cold and awe-inspiring landscape. 

As we ponder what is ahead for each of us in our life adventure, can we sense the vastness of what is ahead?  I am sometimes amazed at the monumental privilege of taking in the breadth and depth of life, especially on a day-to-day basis.  And so, as I wander in life, I also wonder…

What is it to move to a new city and not know how to connect or where to connect or whom to connect with?  What is it to wonder if you could get a “do-over” in a conversation that was of critical importance?  What is to feel the tenderness of a newborn baby’s hands as they wrap their tiny fingers around your one finger?  What is it to see your child’s high school senior year slip away and wonder what is next for him or her?  What is it to get the phone call that your Daddy is about to have emergency surgery, many miles away?  What is it to question the choice of the new job change?  What is to imagine not being lonely on Valentine’s Day?  What is it to watch the quandary of the possum on the hiking trail…should he move or not (and how does that relate to how do I react in fear)?  What is it to feel broken?

What is it to discover that one you have loved has been unfaithful?  What is it to give a friend moving away one more good-bye hug?  What is it to weep tears of joy as you reconnect with a soldier coming home?  What is it to laugh with friends?  What is to taste the deliciousness of an orange?  What is to ponder the budget and the expenses?  What is it to look into your autistic son’s eyes and desperately want to understand?  What is it to be with a friend and share the silence?  What is it to gaze at the embers in the fireplace and wonder about the “sparks” in life? 

What is it to be proud of a mission accomplished?  What is it to be anxious about the next morning?  What is it to be saddened by a friend’s lack of response?  What is it to receive a care package from your mom?  What is it when we see the glisten in another’s eye of our arrival?  What is it about shared conversations with a trusted friend who really listens?  What is it about lingering in the moment?  What is it to think about God more?

What is it about hurrying?  What is it to rock in the chair?  What is it to watch the squirrel scampering?  What is it to feel an embrace?  What is it to miss an embrace?  What is it to be aware of one’s patterns in a day?  What is it to have difficulty sleeping?  What is it to feel the air rushing past as you ride your bicycle?  What is it to inhale the mist of the ocean?  What is it to see the tears of one who is hurting?  What is it to feel shame?  What is it to discover the joy of truly understanding a new concept?  What is it to hear a favorite song and recall that special moment?  What is it to be excited about the phone ringing?  What is it to feel beautiful?

What is it to wander and to wonder about the vastness of the adventure?  Alaska and life, a treasure of beauty and brokenness.

Self Compassion and Silver Linings

The summer after we first moved to Des Moines, Iowa, I was having a difficult time adjusting to our new world and was feeling sad and homesick for our lifetime of friends and family back in Texas. One day the four of us traveled back from Red Rock Lake from a fun day on our “new” lake. Because it was just our immediate family in the boat, unlike the usual boat full of cousins or a boat full of friends (we didn’t have any friends in Iowa yet), I had extra time for reflection and was feeling a bit pensive. But as we were driving home, a magical moment occurred for me when I spotted a sign of hope.  I quickly rolled down the window and tried to catch the image on the camera of the beautiful silver lining in the cloud.  I was sure the picture would not be the best as the car was moving, but I wanted to capture the image, just as a reminder to my hurting heart of the picture of hope.

The phrase "silver lining," meaning something good has its origin in a poem by John Milton. In 1634 he wrote Comus: A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle . It contains the lines, "Was I deceived, or did a sable cloud / Turn forth her silver lining on the night?" While the poem does not say "every cloud has a silver lining" or have any version of that phrase, it does mention "a sable cloud." In the poem, sable is used as an adjective, meaning "black," "dark," or "gloomy."

I have cherished the silver lining picture over the last 12 years as a reminder of the value of perspective: the perspective in our thinking, the perspective in our heart, the perspective with ourselves and the perspective towards others.

What I have learned more vividly in the last several years is the importance of self-compassion as an element of perspective and how that relates to my ability to listen more closely and love more deeply with others.  Kristen Neff, a researcher on compassion at The University of Texas and author of Self-Compassion, writes, “Self-kindness, by definition, means that we stop the constant self-judgment and disparaging internal commentary that most of us have come to see as normal.  It requires us to understand our foibles and failures instead of condemning them.  It entails clearly seeing the extent to which we harm ourselves through relentless self-criticism, and ending our internal war….it involves actively comforting ourselves, responding just as we would to a dear friend in need.  It means we allow ourselves to be emotionally moved by our own pain, stopping to say, “This is really difficult right now.  How can I care for and comfort myself in this moment?”

As we challenge ourselves to be a friend to our own heart, to cultivate self-compassion, I am reminded of a line that can correlate the connection between the relationship we have with our own heart in addition to the relationship we have with others:

Make new friends but keep the old.  One is silver and the other gold.