Pitiful Prayer

Treading into some controversial territory today: fair warning.

My husband and I got on the topic of prayer the other night. Admittedly, neither of us have the strongest prayer life. We acknowledge we need to work on it but we don’t know how.

My father would be so ashamed! I distinctly recall how that big, grown man fell humbly to his knees bedside every single night and in church every Sunday, praying quietly, even when he was too frail to kneel. I never knew what he said. Maybe all he recited was the Lord’s Prayer. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was all.

And Jesus himself taught us how to pray with that passage. To be humble before God and to acknowledge His position. To ask for what we need – and notably, not for our wants. To ask for forgiveness as we should do for others, and to lead us from evil.

And maybe that’s really all there ought to be to it.

But here I am, conflicted about prayer, knowing full well I am not the greatest role model for my kids or anyone on this topic. So bear with me as I give a confession of sorts. I can’t imagine I’m alone with this.

nathan-dumlao-583574-unsplashI don’t see how or where prayer works for me personally. It’s been my experience that God doesn’t answer. I don’t think He pays any attention to me at all.

It’s not like I don’t pray: I do. I certainly pray on behalf of others. But when it comes to things that impact me directly – things I personally want or need – I have zero expectations, so I’ve stopped asking on my own, or stopped believing that asking does any good. My faith is weak. Still I try, but it feels a little like crossing my fingers in superstition more than anything.


Let me explain. So many of us learned as children to pray and offer our petitions to God, and He would provide for us. As a child, you believe He will give you what you fervently pray for.

As you grow older, you notice that doesn’t happen. Both my husband and believed when we were younger that God didn’t shower us with the blessings we wanted because we didn’t live a good and worthy enough life, so we tried harder to be good and worthy in His eyes.

Still it didn’t happen. I struggled to understand where I was falling short. My husband quickly learned God wasn’t going to magically grant him a good performance as a musician if he prayed for it. No, he learned he needed to practice himself to ensure that he had a good performance.

Now my faith coaches me almost exclusively to ask God’s mercy because I’m a sinner, full stop. I’ve done nothing to deserve blessings. I have blessings simply because God has shown mercy and given His grace. And well yes, I’m flawed… I’m a sinner, through and through.

Now am I grateful for my blessings? Every single day, for every good thing. I give my thanks to God for those. I also know that some of these blessings are sheer, dumb luck.


You could almost make an argument that I don’t believe in God, but I do. I absolutely believe in a higher power. I simply can’t imagine the universe and all of us materialized out of nothing for no reason at all, despite the prevalence of sheer, dumb luck noted above. I just can’t fathom that when we humans discover the beauty and elegance among ourselves, on earth, in the seas, and in the universe that it is purely the result of scientific law and nothing more.

Of course, it hurts my brain to ponder that for too long because it begs the question of why and what we’re here to do…and I don’t want to get into that for now because I’m still not sure what my calling is. But today, I want to focus on prayer.


In another example, we are parents trying to guide our own children in the faith. Their innocence is so very pure. It broke my heart to hear my young son cry to me one day, explaining that he prayed to God for a certain outcome, and it didn’t happen. He didn’t understand why God didn’t hear his prayer and answer in the affirmative. I don’t remember how I coached my son at the time. What I truly believed I kept to myself, because I don’t want to crush my son’s spirit and besides, I’m not sure I’ve got it all figured out. I suppose maybe we aren’t supposed to.

What I’ve come to believe is this:  I personally don’t think God answers prayers at all. It’s an awful thing to admit, but that’s been my experience. Maybe my eyes aren’t open wide enough. I just think it’s completely useless to ask God for something you have the power or influence to change yourself. So, so much of what happens to you is in your power, even though some things happen as a result of pure, dumb luck or its evil twin, misfortune. True, some events are tragic or very fortunate indeed, and absolutely nothing you did or could have done could have changed that fact. Stuff just happens, whether or not you deserve it.

When I’ve tried to make sense of why God doesn’t answer my prayers, I hear that He answers them in His time and His way. We may not get what we wanted because He knows that what we wanted isn’t ultimately right for us.

How I hate that answer. God’s time is all eternity and I can’t wrap my head around that. Because you see, I’m living in the here and now, and maybe it’s arrogant to say it, but I have a pretty good handle on what is good for me. So this excuse we’re given for “inaction” on God’s part…well, I don’t think that’s how that works. I’m not saying this is what the Bible has taught me. This is flawed, little old me struggling with faith.

It feels pointless to ask God for anything. If He answers however He wishes, what’s the point of praying? Besides, doesn’t He already know what’s in my heart before I open my mouth? I suppose there is something to having a dialogue with God, but I think that’s just a fancy way of having a dialogue with yourself.

In its purest form, that’s meditation, which is even scientifically proven to be beneficial. I particularly like the meditation practice, or prayer, where you think about and channel positive thoughts toward the people you love, the people who are sick, people who you don’t like or who are your enemy, etc. On a quantum physics level, that stuff is real, the energy waves do make a positive impact.

Not to mention how there were times when I was disappointed in God’s “response”, or lack thereof, when it turns out I held the power to change my circumstances and failed to do so. I was looking for miracles from the Almighty when all I really needed was effort of my own.

Bottom line, I am convinced that you hold most of the power.

If you love someone and you desperately want them to love you back? You need to take action, be courageous no matter how vulnerable and unworthy you may feel, seek them out, and tell them how you feel. Don’t wait for divine intervention to communicate your feelings on your behalf and move your beloved to find you. You must be the one to take the action. You fail to do that, you lose. No one’s fault but your own. Believe me, I have learned this lesson the hard way. And once those opportunities are gone, they are gone forever, at least in the “here and now” part of forever. No amount of praying reverses it.

You want to be healthy? You must be the one to take the steps to make that happen. Eat properly, exercise, get sleep, find better ways to cope with your stress, change jobs if need be, or limit your exposure to toxic people. God isn’t going to do that for you. You must do that for you. No amount of praying gets you up off your own butt, miraculously causes you to get strong and limber, or purges the toxic people from your life.

You want that job, that house, that car, that whatever? I could give endless examples of what I mean, but you get the idea.

Maybe the next logical conclusion is there is no point in praying at all. God will show mercy and grace if He chooses. His right. It’s not like I can control it.

I acknowledge that God granted me a family, which is something I prayed for long ago. For some crazy reason, I can’t think of any other examples, but this one blessing is definitely one that is over the top. Each child is an absolute miracle, more than I could have ever dreamed.

However my heart breaks over the many worthy people who hoped and prayed for children that never materialized. I don’t know what to make of that. There are no good answers for why that is. All I know is that my husband and I were both healthy enough and still young enough to have children and we did. However it took some effort on our part…no immaculate conception at Louie Lodge, or anything.

This leads me to my next point: haven’t we all seen enough pure dumb luck as often as we’ve seen random misfortune in people’s lives? I tried futilely for years to understand why that is. There is no reason or rationale. It just happens regardless of how you pray.

And then, when things do go wrong, people often repeat that phrase, “God doesn’t give you something you can’t handle”. I really don’t think God doles out blessings and curses that way. Misfortune is sometimes earned and sometimes not. This line is just a way for people to express hopefulness that you’ll get through the misfortune and not let it kill you or wear you down.

As I said earlier, I don’t mind praying for others. We do this in church with every service and I do this all of the time on my own. And true, I even had the gall to ask for prayers for myself from others but it is a rare occurrence. I can count only two times I deliberately, sincerely asked for help out loud. It was to overcome something I’ve struggled with my whole life. And the bottom line?  It’s ultimately up to me to fix, no one else.


Now all of this said, I have witnessed a certain power to prayer when a group of people come together and someone gives voice to what they hope will arise. I think that sort of prayer is very powerful. It’s really a call to action for the group. Someone articulates what needs to happen, and it moves each of us on a cellular level to take action, whether it is through kind words or hands-on deeds.

Sadly it’s become an insult to send nothing but “thoughts and prayers” these days when something horrific happens. I will admit that it bugs me if that’s all anyone does. I hope people are moved people to do something, send money, visit, share a resource, change a law, or connect people who can help one another. True, sometimes we are too far away to do anything but send thoughts and prayers, but we can call or write. We can do something, right? Shouldn’t we be moved to find something constructive we can do, too?

Otherwise we’re walking the proverbial road to hell, paved with good intentions.  Living this life with nothing else but good intentions.

Nevertheless, there is real power in group prayer. It’s casting a net for people to collectively be God and do His work. It’s reaching into the divine within each of us.

I realize that my personal experience here could be taken to be at odds with Christianity but I humbly disagree. Each and every one of us is the manifestation of God. We are collectively needed to demonstrate His power. Maybe that’s a little too heady for some people or too blasphemous for others, but if it drives good and positive results, real help or comfort for the people of our world, how is that bad or wrong?

Believe me, I wish praying was as simple as manifesting what you wanted and needed in your own mind and God was a genie granting your wishes. It just doesn’t work that way.

And it’s quite possible my life isn’t richer because my prayer life is pitiful.

Sigh….sometimes I envy people who quietly put their full faith in God. And other times, I roll my eyes at people who do that. I can’t articulate where I draw the line…I’m not proud of my skepticism. Maybe it’s the extreme or showy people who puzzle me. Maybe I’m jealous of those who give everything to God. Or maybe it’s the people with a quiet or absolutely unmoved, utterly positive faith in God that inspire me the most. I admire them, but I am not among them.

Lord, have mercy.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Crossfit “New You” Review

It’s Sunday night and things are winding down here at home. I’m thinking about this past week. What makes today different is that I actually took a serious step toward better health and fitness by attending my first Crossfit class last Monday, and I had the guts to return on Wednesday and again on Friday.

You have no idea how monumental this is for me.

I showed up at the appointed hour on Monday evening. The place has no air conditioning so I kind of expected to sweat like crazy, but thankfully it wasn’t blistering outside. I’m doing the “New You Challenge” which is a six-week course, three days a week. Four other people signed up with me, three other women, all of whom have various weight loss/fitness goals, and a young guy who wants to build muscle. Michelle is our coach and she is a spunky, strong brunette gushing with contagious, positive energy.

I’m totally guessing but suspect this New You Challenge is well-known in Crossfit circles as the classic entry-level regimen. Presumably if you display a certain level of fitness when the whole thing is done, you can graduate to other classes. In other words, it’s a bit like being a guppy in beginner swim class.

I’m cool with that.

So Day 1: some time was spent with intros, weigh-ins, and some nutrition talk.  Every single one of us was pretty pumped up. I liked that our class was small, and I have a feeling we’ll really get to know each other well as the weeks progress.

We then learned some upper body stretching exercises with PVC pipe – those felt good, did a little walking/running – whatever you could handle, and then tried these things called air squats  – which resemble the motion of sitting on a chair and getting back up – which were increasingly tough to do. I think Monday was also the night we did sit-ups with this cushion tucked behind our butt which made sit-ups infinitely easier to do. I could definitely tell a difference in that I used my abs versus my lower back to lift up off the ground. It was incredible! We did three reps of these exercises in succession and timed it, blaring some great music. When it was done, I definitely felt that I had worked out, which was a great feeling. One of the women in my class looked a little defeated but I tried to cheer her up and told her we’re in it together.

You see, I’ve gone to the gym and done the circuits but it isn’t fun. I’ve hired a coach even, but for various reasons that didn’t really have the best impact either. There was a time I did Bikram yoga and LOVED it – made pretty good progress in my stretches and positions over a few months – but we moved out-of-state and I haven’t found anything convenient quite like that since. I walk on my own and I keep it low-key because I don’t want to overdo it, but I’m not making progress. It’s discouraging.

As exhilarated as I was Monday evening, posting about it on Facebook, I could feel my muscles seize up. I mean, whoa.

Tuesday? My thighs were killing me. Walking up and down stairs was frightening…my friend asked if I felt like Bambi shortly after being born, and yep, that about sums it up! I felt I couldn’t even trust my legs to hold me. Even getting up and down out of a sitting position was excruciating, and apparently totally normal as my teammates reported the same thing when we reconvened for the next session.

Then it was Wednesday and my legs still felt the same. I wondered how in the world I would get through Day 2, a bit concerned that we were going to work those same muscles. I mean, what do I know? Maybe this kind of pain is what athletes feel all the time and they push through it. “No pain, no gain”, right? Or is that old school and stupid? I am clueless. I mean, I’m not trying to say that it felt like my muscles had torn in two or anything, but I can’t say it felt, um, normal.

Turns out I didn’t have to worry on Wednesday. We worked a different set of muscles that evening. Tried the famous “box jump” which wasn’t as frightening as it looks on YouTube. Sandeep, the one guy in our class, was able to completely hop up onto the box that night to wild cheers from the rest of us, but none of us women felt confident to give it a go. Fortunately for us, Michelle shows us modifications that appropriately push our respective limits.

We each tried jumping onto the weights you put on the end of a bar bell. Some of us jumped up on one, two or three of those stacked high. We learned kettle bell lifts that night, too, and took our hand on the rowing machine which really got my heart racing.

But it was good…it reminded me of the time I joined a rowing team in Pittsburgh and won the only athletic medal I’ve learned in my life, for coming in second in some race on the Allegheny River. I should get that thing framed, really I should. 🥈

becca-matimba-284905-unsplashThe end of Day 2’s “workout of the day” or WOD, was a huge victory for me. I realized I can do this. It was tough even to challenge me and leave me feeling like I really pushed myself, yet I am not discouraged by the fact that I can’t do the workout exactly as prescribed. We’re timed for our efforts, and although I am the slowest by far, I don’t care. I’m there. I’m doing it. And I realized I am ready for Day 4 tomorrow all the way through to Week 6 and beyond.


I don’t expect miracles with these efforts. After all, it’s not like I’m this master athlete, case in point: Day 3 introduced burpees, which I despise. I’m encouraged that I was able to do them, but I can’t really keep pace during the workout itself, so once again, I chose to do a mod instead.

However, I came a little early on Friday and saw a more advanced class in action. Once again, there were various levels of fitness among the people, but they were doing it together. And the women looked strong. It was a beautiful sight, really it was. And they were having fun, pushing their physical limits without killing themselves.


What has surprised me is the number of people who have high-fived me in some way. I’ve “friended” the coach and two of my classmates online and they are amazing. One of the women, Jessica, has an amazing, kick-ass attitude that leaves me in awe. Her good vibe is contagious.

And then there are my other friends who’ve made a point to congratulate me for taking this step, or to tell me I’m inspiring them. This surprised me as I didn’t expect so many women from different parts of my life to pull me aside or message me to say that I’m motivating THEM. I mean, that’s kinda crazy. I’ve hardly done anything yet.

What is the most surprising is how good I already feel emotionally. I’m proud of myself for taking a radical step like joining Crossfit. I am the first to attest that it isn’t as scary as that may sound. It’s very doable…which is the best thing about it. I can actually DO THIS. And I feel strong doing it, which is an incredibly empowering feeling. The five of us and our coach are high-fiving and cheering one another on through all of the demos. This is the most supportive environment I’ve ever been in and I’ve tried a bunch of things.

It seems that people don’t have a hoot what they look like doing it, they just want to get fit and strong, and that’s a beautiful thing to be.

Here’s to Week 2 with Kelly, Jessica, Yelena, Sandeep, and Coach Michelle. We got this.

Photo by Becca Matimba on Unsplash

Gym Class Jitters

It’s almost 7pm. My first Crossfit class starts in 30 minutes and I’m still at home. I’ve got the jitters.

Suddenly I’m back in 4th grade gym class. Once or maybe twice a year they’d have us go the rounds through a national or state fitness test, things like sprints, endurance runs, sit-ups, burpees, and the chin-ups bar although girls only had to hang on the bar and not actually do chin-ups.

I HATED gym class as it was, but this fitness test was my annual nightmare. I wasn’t an overweight kid…I simply wasn’t very strong nor did I have any cardio capacity. I scored last or came close to failing every single test that was administered. My heart would pound out of my chest and I would gasp for air whenever I ran or exerted myself. It was downright frightening, not exhilarating like it seemed to be for every other kid.

I have a feeling the phys ed teachers were not taught to monitor whether a child’s heart rate was in the danger zone. I’m pretty sure that was no consideration whatsoever in the mid-70s. No wonder it was frightening for me.

And for a kid who otherwise got straight As in school, gym class was a weekly lesson in humiliation, and this physical test was the single most humiliating event of the year. I didn’t understand what athletic prowess had to do with learning and why we were graded on it. And what did dodge ball have to do with real life at any other time during the year?

I remember the internal battle in my head even then:

“It’s ok, not everybody is an athlete. Some of us prefer books instead. This world is full of all kinds of people. But even still, why am I THE WORST in gym class?”

My family didn’t value athletic pursuits. No one exercised. Our world revolved around food. We kids were not encouraged to be “play outside” kind of people. It shouldn’t be a surprise that I gravitated toward books. So when it came to fitness tests, I always fell short of whatever physical standard needed to be met.


What I’ve learned since then! Ha! Life is gym class. Life is sweat and exertion and movement and strength and balance. Your choice whether you engage in it gracefully.  Your choice whether you get to enjoy the best views, vistas from a mountaintop you made the effort to climb (or to ski down. 😉)

I have no idea what to expect today. Ok, that’s not entirely true. I’ve seen the videos….I’ve heard people talk about Crossfit for a few years now. How incredibly hard it is. How they are pushed beyond their self-imposed limits. The injuries. The transformations. The zealots. The totally ripped bodies of the participants. I want to join those ranks. I’m doing what I always thought I could not do.

Running, weight lifting, push ups, sit ups, burpees, jumps, squats, whatever else is thrown at me. I don’t care if I’m slow. I know I’ll be discouraged. Very discouraged. I just hope I will be able to see some progress. And I clearly need an accountability partner. It would be a bonus to make some friends in the process.

img_8482

My friend Amy told me it was ok to be selfish and take care of me. Why have I never heard that from anyone before?

Here’s to a new me, starting today. Let’s see where this gets me at the end of six weeks.

You Must Do the Thing You Cannot Do, v2

Some of you might remember my post last month about how I pressed myself to do a singing gig with my husband in early July. I love to sing, I like the sound of my singing voice, and I have no problem doing it. I am definitely a singer.

What I am not, however, is an entertainer. I didn’t make that distinction in the last post. There’s a huge difference when all eyes are on you – the audience is expecting you to guide them, cheer them up, or deliver a mood of some kind. It can be intimidating. I have way more experience and confidence as a singer but not as an entertainer, not for a whole show. Just wanted to share that. That’s not what this post is about, though…

Nevertheless I did it. I remembered the lines of the songs, no problem, and although I didn’t hit the right pitch with every single note, it was a decent performance. We had a high turnout in our town square for the event and I saw several friendly faces in the audience. Several friends heard me sing for the first time and were genuinely surprised.

I thoughtfully chose my outfit for the night…an off shoulder jumper in blue, not too casual and not too dressy. It was a good hair night…the weather wasn’t too humid so I didn’t dissolve into a sweaty puddle like I am often prone to do. I looked alright, at least as good as I can look lately.


A local photographer came out and took photos of the event. She knows my husband well and likes us both, so she took over 300 photos of the event and posted them on Facebook.

It crushed me.

Several of my friends near and far liked the photos of course, and as that number grew, I grew too…more and more despondent. No hiding anymore that I’m 80 pounds overweight. It’s not like people don’t know….everybody knows I’m obese, but I am careful about the photos that are posted on Facebook. There was no getting around it this time.

And I just sobbed for days on end.

In contrast, my husband was flying high after the event, very happy about how it transpired. He complimented my work over and over, to the point of it feeling insincere. Don’t get me wrong: he doesn’t spew fake flattery toward anyone, but for whatever reason his compliments rang hollow with me. It felt like he was going overboard with the compliments so I would be sure to sing again…and yet this whole time, he was oblivous to how I was upset.

Funny how two people can view the same thing totally different ways, but that’s a truism about life, isn’t it?

I finally explained that I was very unhappy about being captured accurately in the pictures – which are lovely pictures and I should thank the photographer for taking her time to shoot and post so many photos – because I was portrayed exactly as the middle-aged, obese woman I am today, over and over again, from several different angles. The pictures do not lie. And yet I can’t be unhappy because the photographer was just capturing what was otherwise a lovely evening in her very talented way.

He and our kids pleaded with me that I looked fine – beautiful, even. I mean, sure…I was more dressed up than normal and it was “nice” relative to what they see from me daily.

But that’s not what I saw. All I saw were huge hips, a giant belly, short, lumpy arms, and a double chin. I mean, you may as well slap a couple of strings on me and pull me along the Macy’s parade…I’d fit right in!

And then for my husband to realize that I was upset that certain friends of mine had “liked” my photo…it just spiraled down from there. He became hurt that my feelings about what my friends thought was more important than what he thought about me. Then I got angry that he couldn’t just support me at one of the lowest points in my life, not that I haven’t been down in the dumps about my physical appearance before. I’ve been down in the dumps about it for 20 years. Ok, longer than that: how about always. But it got way worse in the second half of my life. Apparently I don’t handle stress all that well and it shows, in ways I cannot hide.

We slept apart for a few weeks. I was so angry at him and disappointed with myself I couldn’t even talk about it. I didn’t want anything to do with him. I figured I was on my own to figure it out, because ultimately I am, so I kept myself literally, physically on my own.

The bottom line is you either accept yourself as-is (which obviously isn’t happening here) or do something about it. I mean, there’s no point in praying about this because God doesn’t answer prayers to solve problems you can and must solve for yourself.

The fact is, when I look in the mirror, I don’t know who that woman is. And I could not hate who and what I see in the mirror more than I do right now. It’s a tough thing to admit but it’s the 100% truth.


Needless to say, July was a rough month.

So I am doing the thing I cannot do. I signed up for Crossfit and it starts tomorrow. I don’t usually announce stuff like this because truth be told, I try various things to get fit and none of them stick….walking, yoga, running, whatever…

justyn-warner-532065-unsplash

You have no idea….I am not an athlete. Never was. I am not strong, not limber, not coordinated. I get winded so easily and I sweat profusely with very little effort or stress – I always have. The Crossfit facility has no air conditioning. I’m walking around with plantar fasciitis…I have no idea how this will work but I decided that I MUST do this. It was the most radical solution I could devise.

This isn’t even real Crossfit. I’ve enrolled in a six-week “baby” Crossfit program, three days a week. If I can demonstrate an ability to get through that, I can graduate to a real Crossfit program. This approach sounds about right for my fitness level.

I must do something about how I feel versus just sit and cry about it. Here’s to Michelle Obama arms, a perky tush, squares on my belly, and sculpted legs. Wish me luck. Wish me strength and perseverance.

What’s the thing you cannot do? Will you dare to give it a go?

Photo by Justyn Warner on Unsplash

Eyes Truly Are a Window to the Soul

One evening earlier this summer, as we sat on our deck at sunset holding our weekly family meeting, I shared one of the things I am grateful for. I told the kids how their dad noticed that although my eyes mostly look brown, they really aren’t. He told me they change colors depending on the light, my makeup, and what I’m wearing.harry-quan-486229-unsplash

In all these years, I didn’t think anyone had ever paid any attention. All three kids piped up and essentially said, “yes, that’s right…” and our youngest offered, “right now they are green.”

I couldn’t believe it. They noticed. You have to look pretty close to realize this about my eyes but they noticed.

I always wanted green eyes. I think they are so incredibly beautiful. Now, I think it’s a stretch to say my eyes are green. I might describe them more like olive brown, maybe even mud-like the way the dark colors blend together, but hey! It’s still kinda green. I’ll take it.

It really is the little things that mean a lot. I don’t know why that is with me, but it makes me cry tears of joy, of feeling like I am known and understood.

It’s sweet and oh-so-rare.

What have you noticed this week about someone you love, something that has gone unsaid all this time? Have you told them? You just might warm their heart. Tell them.

 

Photo by Harry Quan on Unsplash

Travel Truth

We’ve all heard it said that if you really want to know someone better, travel with them. Somehow I always thought of this advice when it came to friends and people with long-term romantic potential.

But who’s to say you can’t do this with one of your kids? Especially a teen, those mysterious creatures who often withdraw from parents from ages 13-21.

sebastian-leon-prado-547564-unsplashI have these really cool older cousins who raised two children. My family would get their annual Christmas letters and I’d read in awe about how one parent took one of the kids on a trip in high school somewhere in the US, just the two of them, and then they’d switch out where the other parent would take that same, now college-age kid on an overseas trip, just the two of them. They did this for both children.

Being a travel buff, I thought that was an AMAZING idea. My cousins’ kids were so fortunate! And now as a parent with means to do the same, I am taking action. So many years I wanted to travel but virtually none of my friends had the time or means to go so I went solo, aching for a companion. Little did I realize that one day I would give birth to them.


oakie-696139-unsplashIt all started when our oldest turned 13. Growing up he loved geography and soccer and we’d talk endlessly about the places he wanted to visit one day. Seattle was consistently at the top of his list, so he could see the Sounders play. I planned to surprise him with a long weekend trip to Seattle, just the two of us, but by the time I worked out a mutually agreeable weekend, a whole entire year passed. We made the trip the summer before he started high school instead of the year he became a teenager.

Our Seattle trip was so much fun he wanted to do it again, so we traveled to New York City for a long weekend this summer too.

My oldest is beginning to think this is an annual excursion for us, and while I’d love that, I have two more kids in the hopper, so I hope I can afford all this when their turn arrives. Sure it seems doable today, but the other two are closer in age so these trips will add up quickly. I don’t want to over promise, but let me tell you: our time together was magical.

I drove us seven hours to New York, so we got a lot of talking done in the car. We had an almost adult conversation where I shared some things that have been bothering me and he gave me the advice we always give him. He even admitted that he was coaching me to take my own medicine and I chuckled over how I couldn’t argue with him or I’d invalidate the advice I dole out as parent.

We visited Ellis Island, talked about today’s immigration challenges, and discussed my immigrant grandparents and what it must have been like for them to leave their homes and family forever 100 years ago. We visited the 911 Memorial Reflecting Pools and I recounted the story of that frightening day and how worried I was for my friends who lived in the city. We marveled over the endless number of foreign languages we heard over and over again, all day long. I suggested to him that all Americans should visit New York City at least once in their lifetime to see first-hand what a melting pot the city is, almost like Muslims are expected to travel at least once to Mecca, and maybe just maybe as a result, Americans wouldn’t be so afraid of “others”.

We talked about travel, anthropology, sociology, art, movies, musicals, Hamilton, celebrity, history, politics, Manhattan neighborhoods, gentrification, the cost of living, what he wants to study in school, where he wants to live, religion, sex, family, weddings, marriage, and child-raising. Yeah. What didn’t we talk about?

rob-bye-319816-unsplashI took him to a high-end restaurant and he navigated his way through the menu, ordering process, and all manner of dining etiquette through tip calculation. I bought him a New York style slice of pizza and taught him how to fold and eat it. I taught him how to hail a cab, orient himself on the streets and avenues, catch a ferry, and use the subway. I’m excited that I taught him the ways of New York City, and I hope he always remembers it.

He asked a ton of questions and I answered them all without reservation.

My son, who is very content playing video games, talked the whole time. We laughed. He was attentive to whether I was tired or thirsty, and he opened doors for me and others. He was unceasingly polite. He couldn’t get enough of the people energy in Times Square and had to walk through it each day.

He asked if he looked like a tourist or if he was behaving more like a resident. You see, he might want to live in New York one day. I could see him trying it on for size and vibe and watch his face light up as he recognized one landmark after another. I like how he’s a worldly kind of dude for his age.

I saw glimpses of the man we’re raising, and he’s only 15. Last year he tried to engage me in a pillow fight. This year, he gently asked me about something that was tugging at my heart and making me sad. The amount of personal growth he demonstrated from one year to the next and the level of compassion he had shown me was remarkable, and I was dumbstruck over how mature, deep, and intimate our conversation was, because we were talking about things I don’t even discuss with some of my closest friends. I doubt we would have connected at that level had we been at home and stuck in our normal routine. Correction: I am certain we would not have connected at that level.

Do you have any idea how precious this time was? It was New York, and as Midwesterners, we don’t walk nearly that much on a daily basis or cram so much into our day. It was go-go-go the whole time. Exhausting but equally exhilarating. I didn’t want our trip to end.

I better start saving for next year, and for two more kids after that. He’s already got fingers crossed for me to show him around Boston next summer.

Are you longing to connect in a more meaningful way with your kid? Go on a trip, just the two of you. It doesn’t have to be big thing, but go somewhere overnight you’ve never been. You just might find that where you actually travel is deeper into each other’s hearts.

Photo #1 by Sebastián León Prado, photo #2 by oakie, and photo #3 by Rob Bye, all on Unsplash

Do the Thing You Cannot Do

bruno-cervera-408707-unsplash

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Man, I love inspirational quotes. Especially the line above by Eleanor Roosevelt, who was an extraordinary woman of any time, let alone the era when she lived. One of these days I will read her biography.

There is more to the quote than I share above: in the bigger context, it seems to me that she was talking more about facing tragedy head-on and forging ahead even though everything inside of you may be screaming to shut down and shun the world.

But when I read that shorter quote above, I hear Eleanor talking about fear and courage. There is so much to be said about fear and courage, right? Including how it seems like fear has run amok in people these days. I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

Fear can be helpful. It can steer you away from danger as we all know. However, fear can cause us to lead very small lives. Lives where we are afraid of new people, new ventures, new foods, new anything. Lives where we don’t know our neighbors. Lives where we never try new things or give old things a second chance.

It’s so easy to cocoon in our safe zone. But this reminds me of another quote, author unknown:

“Some one once told me the definition of Hell: The last day you have on earth, the person you became will meet the person you could have become.”

I need to make sure the person I am on that last day of earth is a full-fledged singer.

Today I get back on a stage to sing jazz for the first time in 10-11 years. My two youngest kids have never seen me do something like this. I’m not even sure they understand that’s how their parents met.

I’m a little nervous about it. The gig really belongs to my husband, the “real” jazz musician, a percussionist. He’s the one who loves and has been playing this music for nearly 40 years. I’m just a pretend jazz singer.

I have a decent enough voice to where I won’t make a fool of myself, but the first time I tried singing jazz was when I met him about 17+ years ago. Singing with a group was something I had wanted to do for years. The music didn’t have to be jazz, but there is something classic, elegant, and wonderfully improvisational about the art form that is appealing to me. However by the time I gave it a whirl in my early 30s, I found I had become a bit more comfortable as an introvert, not an entertainer charming an audience. I can do it. I’ve done it. But it gets harder, not easier, as I age.

And gigging with my husband and his trio is altogether different. Jazz musicians are over-the-top talented.

See, any jazz artist worth his salt can play any tune, in any style, in any key, at the drop of a hat. They don’t need to rehearse. They just wing it right there on stage, and it sounds amazing. That’s the beauty of the art form.

I’m not that kind of artist.

I am a wee bit more…structured. I have a very low vocal range, which means nothing I sing is performed in the key most people recognize for a given song. And I’m not good enough to just wing it however the group wants to play the song. I kinda need to know what to expect. Predictability is a good thing. As the vocalist, like it or not, all eyes are on YOU. You better be comfortable up there in the spotlight and be having a good time or the audience will sense it, and the fear inside you will spread to them.

I watched it happen a couple of times I had no business being behind a microphone. Eww…those were shameful moments! At least I’ve had a forgiving audience.

I suppose I’m what jazz musicians might call high maintenance! But I do know that I sound better than most of the vocalists my husband has hired in the past. I heard a truly cringe-worthy, unrecognizable “Over the Rainbow” once and told my husband he needed to be an instrumental trio from now on. And he was for years and years, until now.

Having given a lot of thought about fear, and about how one should not hide their talent under a bushel, I’m taking the plunge tonight. It’s time to chuck fear to the curb and give this a whirl. Three songs in front of hometown crowd. Baby steps.

Our city hosts a “Jazz Under the Stars” series in the summer time and the average attendance is 500 people. Could be cool. It’s been a very long time since I’ve sung for a crowd that large. Frankly the more people the better. And the weather this July evening is flat-out perfect, so we could get a few more out to see us perform.

My husband is really the star of the show. I’m doing this to support him. But I’m also doing this because I have pretended long enough that I cannot.

What fear do you need to chuck to the curb? I dedicate my performance tonight to you.

Photo by BRUNO CERVERA on Unsplash