Jun 052011

*A new monk in a monastery had just finished his breakfast. Finding the master alone, he approached him and said, “What is the meaning of life?” The master replied, “Have you had your breakfast yet?” “Yes,” the monk said. “Then go and wash your bowl.” *

One thing at a time. Pay attention. Listen while you work.

I’m feeling small and quiet today, and I like it.

I’m wearing a flow-y cotton dress and the start of a tan and a pink flower in my hair. My hair is loose and curly because I ban the blow dryer in the summer. I’m embracing my inner flower child. I’m peaceful and happy, at the moment. Which is strange because I’ve been on the receiving end of loads of bad news this week. News about the deteriorating health and marriages of friends. News about Monkees with sick children and breaking hearts. The world seems to be falling apart, all the time, and it can be a little stressful. Especially if one is stubborn and insists upon trying to make sense of it all. Trying to make sense of things is the kiss of death.

During the past few days I’ve been reading Ecclesiastes. It’s a book in the Bible written by a man named Solomon who insists that we quit trying to make sense of things down here. He was a powerful king who used his life to study happiness and the ways of the world. He determined that the hard cold facts are that bad things happen to good people and wonderful people die young and bad people get rich and good people starve and power is abused and people lie and cheat and steal and will do so forevermore. In so many words, he suggests that maybe we should quit saying, “everything happens for a reason” because what the heck do we know? Nothing makes sense. There is no discernable pattern, no way to avoid pain or predict what will happen next to whom. Solomon’s ultimate conclusion is that in the end, “a man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work.”

I can dig that.

We all must figure out what our work is. Sometimes it’s what we get paid to do, and often it’s not. Some people’s work changes with different seasons of life and others are called to the same work for a lifetime.

Part of my work is my writing. It’s also a calling and a privilege and a ministry. It’s not my most important work, though. The world could certainly do without it.

My real work is the work I do as a wife and mother. It’s the application of a thousand unnecessary band-aids and the sweeping and re-sweeping of the same kitchen floor and the folding and creating of little laundry piles. It’s the refereeing and car pooling and dinner burning and play-date hostessing and dog walking and tantrum monitoring and diaper changing. Being the mother of small children is a little like Groundhog Day. It’s getting out of bed and doing the exact same things, again and again and yet again – and it’s watching it all get undone, again and again and yet again. It’s humbling. It’s repetitive and solitary and mind-numbing . . . it’s monks’ work.

That’s why I named this blog Momastery. Because we mothers are like monks. We do manual labor, we serve others, we live in community, we nurse the sick, we feed the hungry, we comfort the sad, we sing, we teach, we pray, we breathe deeply, we devote our lives to love, and we ask nothing in return but deeper relationship with God and others, and peace and joy for our followers. Most importantly, like Monks, we are charged with the fearsome privilege of teaching our little people what God is like. With each reaction, each word spoken or unspoken, and each offering of true forgiveness, we teach our children what God’s love is like.

And He knows that there is nothing more important, so He is in our work with us each day. Like monks, we fold the clothes. We wash the bowls. We practice patience. We watch it all come undone and we do it again, as an offering. Our service to our family and our communities is our prayer. Our work is our prayer. It’s how we show God that we Choose Love, every moment. Since loving others through service is our choice, it becomes a spiritual discipline. And eventually our minds shut down and our souls wake up. And there is the miracle that monks and parents share. God speaks to us in the mundane. We worry that what we do is menial and insignificant . . . that people out there do more important things . . . but we are so very wrong. Our work in our homes and with our families is the type of work that is most conducive to prayer, to meditation, to peace. It is the ultimate work. This is why monks choose it. The ordinary is the extra-ordinary. God is in the details, you know.

Lovies, when someone asks . . . what did you do today? Please take the time to answer accurately. You did not “clean the bathroom.” This would be like Annie Leibovitz saying, “Oh, I stood around and pushed some buttons.”

No. Today I created an entire world for my family, my friends, and my neighbors. And I found God in that world. God and I talked and worked together all day. We love this family, God and I. And He loves what I do. He knows how hard it is; He knows. He’s so proud of me for taking care of this family. For getting out of bed each morning and starting over again – just like He does. We are up with the sun, God and me, loving these little people. He cherishes them even more than I do, so He’s grateful that I choose to be His partner in raising them. He is so thankful that I’m willing to spend my life teaching these people what it feels like to be Loved and to Love.

We don’t have to leave home to take journeys together – God and me.

We fold together.

We wipe bottoms.

We dry tears.

We scrub toilets.

He does seem to abandon me before every damn meal preparation. Perhaps it’s His break time.

Then we sweep.

And we spray.

And we scrub.

We tuck our angels in.

We straighten their rooms and blow kisses and shut their doors. We leap with joy that the day is done.

We make things beautiful together, God and me. He is into this, this world and people creation thing. We have it in common. It is work that we share.

Like God, you are an artist, and your canvas is your family.

May God Bless You in your work today.

One thing at a time. Pay attention. Listen while you work. Everything’s a miracle.

Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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May 282011

As you know, I might be burying a dream soon.

I listened to Cedar Tree by the Indigo Girls yesterday. This line jumped out at me: “For every wife you buried, you planted a cedar tree.” As I repeated it silently to myself, I switched it to:

“For every dream you buried, you planted a cedar tree.”

And I’ve been thinking.

When one is burying a dream, one might as well plant another dream. The soil’s already fertile from all the tilling and tears. And those you love are already gathered around you for the burial, so they’d probably stay to witness the planting, too. And they’d likely love to join in celebrating and hoping again. Hope is not something that runs out. It can’t be taken or given. It’s a choice that can be made again and again infinite times. It is not dependent upon anything at all.

Hope is the thing with feathers

that perches in the soul

and sings the tune without the words

and never stops at-all …..Emily Dickinson ( I love you, Emily.)

I’ve decided that this is what I’m going to do, for the rest of my life. I am going to keep hoping and keep dreaming and keep trying to make the world more beautiful. And when God says No to one of my beauty projects, I will pout for a while, and then I will say, okay. And I will bury that dream and I will plant another, while I’m out.

Since you all are already here, and our soil is fertile. . . will you stay to help me plant a new dream?

Bubba used to say this a lot: “To she whom much is given, much is expected.” He mostly said this when he wanted some of my popcorn, but I think it might have a deeper meaning.

And I think it’s probably true, that saying. People who feel blessed are compelled to bless others. That’s why guilting people into giving never works. People just need to feel blessed and then they won’t be able to help themselves. It’s why gratitude is like a tidal wave. And it’s why I do what I do here, I think. I love this awful world. I love the brave people in it. I want to help. I want to help give people what they deserve for all their courage. I want to say thank you, a million times a day, in tiny and huge ways.

I’ve also been thinking about math. In eighth grade algebra, which made me cry daily, I learned that if a =b, then b= a.That’s about as far as I got with algebra.

If that strange algebra rule is true, than the converse of Bubba’s saying must also be true:

“From she whom much is expected, much is given.”

I like that one even better.

There are two Monkees named Dana and Amy. They have a dear friend named Jen. Jen’s little boy, Carter, died at seventeen months of a rare disease. It took Jen and her husband some time to muster the courage and faith to try for another baby, but try again they did, and baby Silas was born in 2010. Several months ago Silas was diagnosed with the same rare disease that took his big brother’s life. He is now fighting for his little humungous life, with his warrior parents praying at his bed side.

Let us not waste our precious time discussing the injustice. Life is brutal, yes. Life is also beautiful, so we must become part of the beauty right now. Let us roll up our sleeves and plant a tree.

Amy and Dana contacted me a couple of months ago. They asked the Monkees to help their friend. Specifically, they asked for prayers and fundraising. Yes, I said. Yes, Yes, Yes. Give me some time. There is a project in the works with Silas’ name all over it.

You see, Monkee Colleen and her friends, Peter and Patty, from Main Street Design were already hard at work creating an entire Monkee Fashion Line for us. You won’t believe it ‘till you see it. Hoodies, t-shirts, kids clothes, pool bags, recycled grocery bags….the works. And you get to CHOOSE your colors. And you get to CHOOSE the quote you want on the back! I could die. Okay, go look real quick and come right back. We’ll wait.

I watched this amazing project unfold in front of me, but I didn’t know who it was all for until Dana and Amy called. Until they called on behalf of their friend. Then I knew.

Here’s the financial skinny on this project.

Craig and I paid to have the site created. Main Street Clothing gave me a base price for each item, and I added $10 to each base price to create the final price. Every penny above and beyond the base price that is paid to Main Street will accumulate in an account. I will be the only one with access to the account. Each month, Peter will send me a check from that account, and I will send every penny to Silas’ family, via Amy and Dana. I want Amy and Dana to hand Jen the checks.

Let us clarify a few things.

What we offer to Silas’ family, be it a little or a lot, will be a gift with no strings attached to the past or future. No background checks will be done. We will not wonder if this family “deserves’ our gifts and love or not. They do. Every one does. Every one deserves a whole lot more than we could ever offer. I will also never ask them what they’ve done with the money. If Jen wants to head to Vegas and bet all our Monkee cash on black I will close my eyes and pray for black. I also refuse to wonder whether the Camerons “need” the money or not. I think they need it, since Silas’ dad forfeits part of his family’s income each time he chooses to stay at Jen’s side. But I don’t know. All I know is what I need. And that is to do something. Anything. This thing. I just want to be clear, so you know what kind of project we’re talking about here. Monkee Love has no prerequisites or expectations.

“I’ve come to reach out blind, to reach forward and behind…”- Joe Pugg

So listen. Let’s do this thing for the Camerons. Let’s do this little thing with big love.

Please pass this post along and tell your friends that the REVOLUTION IS HERE!!! It’s like the RAPTURE, BUT BETTER….’CAUSE THERE’S HOODIES!!!

Life is brutal. It is also beautiful. Let us help counter-act the brutal. Let us be beauty-makers. Let us plant.

And to answer your silent question, Monkees…yes. If you ever need us to do a project like this for your family….yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. God (and the Monkees) will provide. Because the problem is never that we ask too much of each other. It’s that we don’t ask enough.

We Belong To Each Other, after all.

Love, G

*This project was Colleen’s idea and Peter and Patty’s (from Main Street Clothing) creation. We are all grateful for your generosity, creativity, and love.

Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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May 262011

A few weeks ago, I sat in my family room with Craig and said, “There are so many Monkees who have little ones with autism. I need someone to teach me about it.”

Two days later, my beautiful and brave neighbor, Heather, emailed and said, “I’d like to write about my son.”

Of course you would, I said.

Monkees, meet Heather and Preston.

My baby boy turned seven this week, and I’ve been a little weepy.It’s not just a case of the mommy blues – a little wistfulness that life is “passing by so quickly,” or a touch of nostalgia for the end of “little-kid-dom” coming to end.

My son’s birthdays – while always happy occasions marked by the standard moonbounce-jumping, cake-eating celebration – are touched with a hint of sadness for me.Each year I come a little closer to understanding the challenges my sweet boy will face in this world, and I worry. Fret.Lose sleep. And yes, even let myself indulge in a little self-pity for a moment.

School’s going to be tough for him; athletics – frustrating; and making friends, well, we just pray that he does.

You see, my son, Preston, has autism.It’s something that’s taken me nearly four years to say without getting a huge lump in my throat or tear in my eye.And yet, sometimes speaking the words aloud still feels like a kick in the gut – like when I’m sharing the news for the first time with a long-lost friend.A surge of emotion waves over me, flooding me with a feeling of sickness and disbelief that autism is our reality.

Let me introduce you all to Preston.He might just surprise you.He doesn’t fit the bill of what you may have heard about autism through Hollywood portrayals or headline-grabbing stories.He’s not a number-crunching genius like some, or in his own private world, like others.

Preston has charmed many-a-therapist with his wide grin and mischievous sense of humor.He adores his big sis, and tries to negotiate a playdate every day of the week.He makes us laugh – and scream – almost every day of our lives!At first glance, you might just mistake him for your typical pizza-eating, Chuck-E-Cheese-loving 7-year-old boy.

Autism takes many, many shapes, and we are greatly blessed that Preston is on the higher-functioning end of autism. Still, it’s been a long journey to get him where he is today, and we’ve learned to celebrate the little victories that we simply took for granted with his “typical” big sis.

To understand the so-called “autism spectrum”, picture it as an umbrella, where each spoke has a different specific label: autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, pervasive developmental delay (often referred to as PDD-NOS), and some are even now saying ADD.But under the umbrella, there are common themes: language impairments, difficulty with social interactions, obsessive behaviors or fixations, and behavioral problems.For some kiddos, the issues are obvious;others, not so much.

Preston’s particular “brand” of autism is marked by significant speech and language delays, and difficulties communicating and interacting with his peers. So, while he can easily rattle off a list of 10 different fruits, he would have difficulty explaining the differences between an apple and an orange.Though he has the vocabulary of a nine-year-old, he has a tough time translating what he knows in to conversation.And while he desperately wants to play with other kids, he lacks the social skills to be able to ask if he can join in the fun.

Think of a file cabinet in the brain that’s supposed to be alphabetized so the information can easily be retrieved.In children with autism, some fool has come in and shuffled everything up, filing away important information using a secret code that can only be deciphered through repetitive and persistent therapies.

He also struggles with fine-motor tasks like writing, and other tasks that require the two sides of his body to work together seamlessly, like swimming or even opening a jar.

And then there is the quirkiness.We all have our idiosyncrasies, but for children on the autism spectrum, eccentricities are just part of the package.Some days it can be frustrating, but over time we’ve learned to find the humor in it all.

Preston gives us a kick out of his ability to tell us every single make and model of car that every family member and neighbor on our street has.

You also didn’t hear any complaints from me when one day he woke up and decided that he must have his bed made, clothes picked up, and doors closed to his closet if there was to be any peace in our household. This lasted for a few months, and then one day, that chapter was simply closed.

And who can forget Mario, of “Super Mario” that is.Preston is the reigning king of Mario Kart WII in our household, and can tell you everything there is to know about the courses, style of cars and characters.Strike up a conversation with him about Mario, and he may just never shut up – something I never thought he would do even two years ago!

Then there’s the “bad behavior” – the big B.For us, one of the first clues that something was amiss with Preston was his delayed speech and “bad behavior.”When he was a toddler, he screamed all day, every day, frustrated by his inability to communicate and unable to control his feelings – picture terrible twos on steroids.

The word finally came down when Preston was two-and-half.A team of specialists from Georgetown Hospital sat my husband, Brad, and I down and told us they “couldn’t rule out” that Preston was on the autism spectrum.It was just too soon to know for sure. You could have knocked me over with a feather. We both knew deep down that our lives would never be the same from that moment forward.

Still, we argued with ourselves and the doctors over the next year.But he’s not anti-social; he laughs; makes eye contact.I told the doctors, “It’s just that a light bulb hasn’t gone off for him on how to communicate.”Little did I know, I was actually defining autism.By the time he was three-and-a-half, we got it.

I now see Georgetown’s squishy diagnosis as God’s way of easing us into the idea of what lay ahead.

Talk to any parent of a child with autism, and they’ll probably describe the first year or two after the diagnosis as the “dark days.”What does it mean?What do we do?Will he grow out of it?Could they be wrong?

I just wanted someone to hit me over the head with a frying pan and just tell me what to do to make it all better.Of course, that didn’t happen.

But what happened is I realized, maybe for the first time, that I couldn’t – and shouldn’t – try to “do it all” on my own.God has equipped me with the tools and strength to go to battle for my son.Yes, fight, because that’s what it takes!

Stealing from a Mother’s Day sermon at church last week, I am a “mom on a mission” – a mission to help my son fulfill his potential and purpose on this Earth; a mission to defeat autism; and a mission to “pay it forward,” helping other moms out there on there on this bumpy road.

I thank God every day that he gave me a wonderful husband, Brad, to share the joys and hardships of this life.He’s been my rock and partner every step of this journey.

God also gave me a beautiful daughter, who loves to be a helper and friend to her brother; he brought my dear friends Kelli and Ann Marie in to my life, who have shared their own personal autism journeys with me and helped me with mine; he’s made it possible for my parents to move hundreds of miles to be closer to us;and of course, introduced us to true angels walking this Earth in the form of special needs therapists and teachers.Nikia, Tina and Jess – we couldn’t have survived without them!

Five weeks from now, Preston will graduate kindergarten at our local school, hand-in-hand with “typical” kids in a regular old classroom. Just a few short years ago, we questioned whether this would ever happen. We’ll be cheering him on from the sidelines of graduation, just as we will as he makes his way through life – so proud of his accomplishments; so grateful he’s our son.

Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
Join the Momastery community on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & Pinterest

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