Grateful for the Seasons of my Life

Team Kirks: Me, Finn (16), Molly (13), Tim and Kiko (18)

Team Kirks: Me, Finn (16), Molly (13), Tim and Kiko (18)

This past week, our family was at the Happiest Place on Earth: Family Camp at La Casa de Maria in Montecito, CA. We’ve been back for three days, but I’m just now coming home to Gabacho Drive, here in sunny San Diego. I’ve been working and cooking and cleaning, but until this afternoon, I was just going through the motions. My head was in the clouds and my heart was broken, with pieces of it scattered across the state, carried off by the people I love. Some of them I’ve known since the day they (or I) were born, some I met just last week.

Heartbreak is a funny thing, because it can happen by Love or sorrow, with tears of joy, or pain. But both kinds take time to heal and regardless of the cause, you are never the same again. After three days of centering prayer and reading, after seeing and talking to my people back home, most of my heart is back in my chest, but not all of of it. That’s one of my favorite things about camp; if your heart is open and you are willing, you never know how you will be put back together again.

I’ve written a few times about Family Camp- you can catch up here and here – but to be clear, here are a few more things you should know.

  • My family goes to Family Camp, but Family Camp isn’t just for my family. Some of us share a name, or DNA, but most of us don’t.
  • It is called a Christian family retreat, but that doesn’t mean it’s denominational, evangelical, or fundamentalist. Our “fundamentals” are Love, forgiveness, inclusion, acceptance and healing, as exemplified by Jesus the Christ, but our “good news” is that we’re all in, baby!
  • Unlike retreats put on by industry professionals, Family Camp is run by a team of volunteer families who draw on their own gifts, experiences, faith and forty years of tradition to create a safe place for families to draw closer to each other and God.

I had two opportunities to speak and share my ideas this past week, and many opportunities to listen and learn and since you weren’t all at Family Camp with me, I thought I’d share a few of these moments with you. Today will just be something I shared, but I hope to gather a few more thoughts from my friends who also spoke.

The theme for this past week was Seasons: the seasons of the year and the seasons of our life, what they offer us and how we might approach them. We began with Summer, worked our way through Autumn, and Winter before being reborn in Spring. The artwork and presentations were beautiful in really creative and non-professional ways and I don’t mean that as a dis to our team, as much as a reminder that we aren’t putting on a show, so much as creating a loving, but imperfect home.

Our family, along with my brother and his wife, was in charge of talking about Summer, which was perfect. Summer is our season, our jam, our raison d’etre. We are surfers, swimmers, lifeguards. We love water and waves, the sandier and saltier the better. As you can imagine, we talked about Joy; we talked about Abundance; we talked about Sabbath and Gratitude. But we kept it real; we also talked about all the less pleasant seasons that come before summer, the winters when you are frozen by disappointment and fear, and the springs that melt your heart just a little bit. We also admitted the downside of clinging to the summer season and resenting anything that darkens our days. (Mea Culpa!)

For my own growth and benefit, that’s what I tried to focus on in my talk – how to be grateful, everyday, for every moment, and every season, no matter what kind of weather I’m in. It’s a practice I’m working on, all the time, and I thought I’d share it with all of you.

Gratitude for Seasons 2015

This past year, I began studying the mystics from the 17th century Spain – John of the Cross and Theresa of Avila – and while they are beloved by many in the Catholic Church and everyone raves about them, I don’t think most people have actually read them. I think they love the idea of them, the quotes that have been pulled out and put on holy cards, or the saint’s lives they heard about them growing up. I think this is true, because when I actually read John and Theresa’s work, I really struggled with them, especially with their depictions of God. This God they loved so much was a God who would come and then go, who loved them and then left them, who seemed to punish and then reward them. I just didn’t get it. While I understand that is what we feel like God is doing sometimes, it isn’t what I actually believe is true about our unchangeable, all-loving God and so I brought my questions to my spiritual director and after we talked about them for while, she said, “If you want to know what God is actually like, look at nature. If you can find a parallel there, it will be true.”

Now, I don’t know if that is entirely accurate, but I started looking and it did help me see God in a new way, in the joyful nurturing of the small, wild animals in my yard, in the majesty of the NASA photos I follow on Instagram, in the vastness of the ocean I float in, but especially through the seasons. There are times in our year when the sun is closer and there is warmth and abundance and seemingly never-ending days. The nights come, but they are moderate in temperature and short in length. But there are also times when the earth has moved away from the sun and darkness seems to be prevalent, and it is uncomfortably cold, and nothing grows and we struggle to survive and we feel like it’s the end of the line for us and sometimes we feel abandoned and angry, or scared.

But it isn’t the sun (or God) that has changed positions, but the earth (or us) who moved. And it isn’t like the earth moved away because it was bad, or mad, or mistaken, or sinful. It just did; it’s the natural, cosmic pattern; it’s the way the universe works. You can count on it and this pattern is actually the very thing that allows life to exist, for our world and for our own selves to grow and evolve and thrive. Perpetual summer would lead to death, just like a perpetual ice age.

And of course, in addition to summers and winters, there are all the in-between times – the falls and springs that have their own beauty and their own pain, but whatever season we are in, we know that it is not the last season; there is another one right on it’s heels, as soon as we get comfortable and used to the one we’re in, or right when we think we can’t stand it for another day, for better and for worse, the season will change; life will move on.

At the very beginning of our day, we talked about the fact that summer time for a lot of people is about JOY. It’s about moments of unbridled laughter and bare feet and sweet, cold ice cream and family reunions. It’s also about ABUNDANCE – the sense of the “enoughness” of life that comes about in this season – that all the things we really need are actually right here, even if it’s just taking a deep breath standing outside with your feet in the grass and the setting sun on your face. Tim talked a lot about the concept of Sabbath – of learning to take a break and protect your down time, so that each day is filled with the things that really matter. (I’ll catch up on that part later.)

And so if we are in a SUMMER time of abundance and joy and we have the sabbath space and time to reflect, then the natural response of our heart is going to be gratitude. And that’s what I want to talk about today.

Gratitude is one of those words and concepts that has been talked about so much and is so overused that I was tempted to chuck the whole concept.

Kids- How many times have you been told by your parents, “How about a little gratitude? Quit being so ungrateful! Who has a grateful heart?”

Parents – How many times, in your hardest parenting moments, have you heard the voice in your head reminding you how LUCKY you are to have kids, even when they are screaming at the top of their lungs and leaking fluids from every orifice? How grateful you should be for every moment of their young lives, because time flies by? And how you will never get these days back to be grateful for every one of them?

Sometimes, we hear the word and we just go, “ugh.”  But Gratitude is so important that I thought I’d try to bring a fresh perspective to it, because it is going to be a theme of the week- finding something to be grateful for, something to appreciate about each season of life we are in – no matter what it is, or what’s going on.

So I went where I always go for good ideas and found a TED talk by David Steindl-Rast, an Austrian Benedictine monk and he asked a really good question of his audience and I’m going to ask it of all of you.

Brother David Stendhal-Rast

Brother David Steindl-Rast

He asked, “Are happy people grateful, or are grateful people happy?”

The answer is YES. They are both true, but not in the way we might originally think. Our default setting, our instincts tell us that if you are happy, you will be grateful. And if you are happy, it’s because you probably have a lot of things going right for you, but that is dead wrong. Some of the most miserable people in the world are the ones who seem to have the most to be happy about! They have all the money, the opportunity, all the privilege, all the connections and fame in the world. Everything the media tells us will make us happy doesn’t move the needle a bit.

And sometimes the happiest people in the world have almost nothing.

Gratitude is the X factor. It doesn’t matter how much or how little you have. If you have gratitude, you can be happy.

You can’t choose to be happy, but you can choose to be grateful and if you start with gratitude, and live in a space of gratefulness, you will be happy.

And summer is a time when it’s easier to be grateful, for many of us anyway and especially most of us under the age of 18, who get to be on summer vacation, or those of us who live in California.

Because gratitude comes in two forms –

Sometimes gratitude happens spontaneously and we call these – Gratitude Events.

A gratitude event is when we receive a gift – something we value – freely. We didn’t earn it, expect it, work for it; it just showed up. So that might be a really generous birthday gift from our parents, or an invitation to the movies and a sleepover from a new friend, or flowers from our spouse, but a Gratitude Event could also be a beautiful sunset, the smile of a newborn baby, or a spontaneous hug and kiss from our normally reserved kid. In those moments, gratitude just springs from our souls. Out of nowhere, a gift was given and our natural response is an upwelling of gratitude.

For me, summer is full of those Gratitude Events. I won’t even list them all here, but you saw a lot of them in Tim’s video. Readers, you don’t have to watch the video, but it does capture some of my very favorite moments of being a part of Team Kirks.

Whatever your internal thermometer is that tells you “your special season” – mine is set to summer. How many of you know what I am talking about? It’s like your Gratitude Event Meter is just pinging over and over again, all day long. How many of you have your gratitude event meter going off the charts in summer? How about Christmas time? Fall? The riot of color in a garden in spring? We all have a season, in the year and in our lives, when it’s easy to be grateful and that’s awesome.

A sharp spike in our Gratitude Meter makes it so easy to be grateful and happy, but it’s unsustainable and so when the events aren’t rolling in, we can tend to get sad, feel deprived, or depressed and that’s a problem. And when it takes more and more to surprise us and make us feel grateful, that’s a problem too. How many of you have friends who seem to have everything they could want, certainly everything you want, and yet, they aren’t happy? They’re Gratitude Event setting is way too high.

That’s why  the other type of gratitude is even more important. According to every religion, every spiritual authority, every faith tradition, every positive psychologist,

We need to learn Grateful Living – which is realizing that EVERY moment of our lives is a gift from the Universe, a gift from God.

It’s something we didn’t earn. Every breath we take is a gift, and if we can learn to be grateful for that breath and then move even beyond that, we realize that in every moment we have the opportunity to find something more to be grateful for.

Paul Williams – the guy who wrote “Rainbow Connection,” Kermit’s theme song – is a recovering addict – who’s been sober for 24 years now and he wrote a whole book called Gratitude and Trust and he said that apart from his children, his sobriety – just waking up and breathing and existing on his own, without any assistance from drugs and alcohol – is what he is most proud of. After hitting rock bottom, he said,

“I’m grateful for everything that has happened in my life – the good and the bad.” And that’s the way he lives his life.  “If you’re in a car wreck, you’re grateful no one got hurt. If someone got hurt, you’re grateful they didn’t die; if they die, you’re grateful for the chance to know them. It’s expandable – gratitude – one size fits all, so put it in your heart and use it.”

That’s the thing about gratitude. You only need to start with one small ounce of it and it immediately begins to build on itself. If you can find one thing to be grateful for, you can find another and another.

I want to share this poem by Carrie Newcomer with you. Though I read the poem during my talk, click on the link here to hear Carrie read it herself. Seriously, watch the video below. Hit start, close your eyes and enjoy ninety seconds of her beautiful voice, reminding you of all the simple, precious things in a life.

And after the poem, look at this.

CHuQR0RWwAEBqR6

People who wonder if the glass is half full or half empty miss the point. The glass is refillable. 

Whatever you want in your glass – you’ve got it and if you want more of it, it’s on the way. If it’s Joy or Gratitude, or Resentment, or Anger, or Envy, you’ve got it. It’s your glass. Each of us get to decide what gets poured in our glass.

As the mystic, Theresa of Avila,  said, “It’s heaven all the way to heaven and hell all the way to hell.” (And yes, that’s the mystic who drove me crazy just last year!)

You want more happiness, gratitude, abundance in your life? Just fill it up! It may sound stupid, but it is a proven psychological phenomenon. Gratitude is an ever-expanding emotion. If you can find just one thing to focus on and be grateful for, then you will find another and another and another. Like Carrie Newcomer’s poem, it builds from just one simple deep breath when you can say, ”I am grateful for this breath, for the fact that I am alive and in this moment, I am not suffering. There is nothing I need.” Richard Rohr defines suffering as “anytime you are not in control.” We can all think of a dozen ways we are “suffering” right now, but we can also close our eyes, take a deep breath and realize that right here, in this moment, we have an abundance of everything we need – warmth, air, food, hydration, companionship, rest. We might not be suffering at all.

David Steindl-Rast said the practice of Grateful Living can be taught, just like we were taught to cross the street when we were kids –What do you do when you get to the curb?  You STOP, and then what? You LOOK both ways and then you GO.

stoplookgo

The reason we don’t all live gratefully and therefore happily is that most of us – not necessarily most of us here, but maybe some of us here- forget to stop. Just like it said on the Time

Seriously, who killed it? We did.

Seriously, who killed it? We did.

magazine cover – we GO GO GO. All the world is go go go. And to be truly happy, which is to be grateful, we need to stop, instead of rushing through everything, trying to get to the next thing on our list, on our way to our goals. Steindl-Rast suggested we make stop signs for ourselves to remind us to take a deep breath. They can be mental ones – like prayers – when we wake, or at dinner, or bed time – when we can find, not just a general thank you, but a specific thank you. But they can be actual stop signs too. When he came back from living in Africa, he didn’t want to forget what a miracle it was to have clean, running water again, so he put a hand-written stop sign on his water faucet and on his light switch to remind him of the miracles of his life. We could put one on our mirror – dirty clothes hamper – steering wheel – computer screen at work. Once we have stopped and taken that first breath in front of the very thing that we take for granted, for which we can be grateful, even if it aggravates us, we can look around and find something else to be grateful for – the clean water, the electricity, the semi- healthy body that gets us around, even if it has wrinkles, the too many clothes we have to get dirty,  and the washing machine we have to clean them, the car, the job, all of it and finally we GO; we embrace the moment and find JOY in it. When we enjoy it for that moment, it’s possible to have that gratitude inform and affect the rest of our day.

One of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver, says it beautifully and simply:

Of course, Brene Brown shared the idea. She's full of ideas.

Of course, Brene Brown shared the idea. She’s full of ideas.

In virtually every moment, there is something to be grateful for. That does not mean we have to be grateful for the bad things, the evil and tragic things. I don’t believe that. And if we find gratitude in the midst of bad things, it doesn’t mean we are glad they happened, or that the good outweighs the bad. It just means that even in this tragedy, in the midst of this hate, I can find some glimmer of Love, some glimpse of God. I think that’s what Jesus did on the cross when he asked God to forgive his murderers. Forgive them God. He found something to overcome the negative, even in his last breath, so that he could say in trust – Into your hands I commend my spirit.

That is how I want to go, gratefully, free of hatred and resentment, and if that is the way I want to go, then that is the way I want to live.

A line from recovery that I’ve heard is that you get to keep the gift by giving it away. And believe it or not, that is true of joy and gratitude, and love and kindness too. It’s been proven that it is almost impossible to sustain positive feelings if you keep them to yourself. You can keep your anger, your hatred, your resentment and doubts, all to yourself, all day, every day and they will grow and fester and flourish, but that’s because they are burdens. Gifts – love, joy, happiness – multiply if they are shared, given away and the more abundantly you share them, the more you have, until you finally realize there is more than enough.

So I have one final thought. and as a mother, I know it’s true: we protect what we love.

And I would just like us to think about the fact that if we aren’t consciously grateful and aware of the preciousness of the things we love, then our love can become habitual, and possibly even taken for granted, like a favorite old sweater, or stuffed animal, or favorite childhood story. You love it, but from distance, in your memory, or the image of what that thing is. And so staying actively grateful – conscious of the specific, ever-evolving nature of the people we love and the things that bring us joy, the people and things that make us feel whole, alive, excited – is so important. If we forget to love them actively, then we will forget to protect them in our hearts and minds, and even especially with our time. We want to Love well, protect well, enjoy and appreciate our lives and our relationships well, because we know what can happen if we don’t. We see it everywhere, all over – in families, neighborhoods and nations and across the world.

I want to end with this song, “Grateful,” by a man named Nimo Patel, who has devoted his life to sharing a message of Love, service and gratitude. I especially love the chorus, which goes like this: All that I am/ All that I see/ All that I’ve ever been and all I’ll ever be/ Is a blessing/ It’s so amazing/ And I’m grateful for it all.

I’m grateful for it all. 

For all of you: for old friends and new, for the family we are and the family we will become, for the life I have and the life I have yet to live, I am grateful. I have failed and will fail a million more times, but “There’s a million things to be grateful for,” and I don’t want to miss a moment, caught in fear, or self-pity, or resentment. So, every day,  I will try to stop and breathe, look and go, hopefully, in gratitude.

Remember that broken heart I talked about at the beginning of this blog? More than anything else at Family Camp this year, my heart was broken open by gratitude for the people I met, the Love I experienced, the stories and laughter and tears we shared. I was fully me, fully alive and aware of every gift: every baby’s smile, every toddler’s tears, every teen’s presence and every friend’s fierce hug and I thank you for it all.

If you are interested in learning more about Family Camp at La Casa de Maria, you can go to the website here. 

A Graduation Letter to My Daughter

Keara walks down the aisle after graduation.

Keara walks down the aisle after graduation.

This is a post that has been begging to be written for weeks now, but it’s something I’ve been putting off, perhaps because writing about it makes it far too real.

Two weeks ago today, my sweet Kiko, known to the world as Keara Moses Kirkpatrick, graduated from The Academy of Our Lady of Peace. In just over two months, she will be going away to college. As individuals and as a family, we are in a time of transition. There is joy and sadness, eagerness and anxiety, hope and nostalgia for all that has been and all that will be.

We attended a beautiful ceremony at her school, but I am a big believer in rituals, so we couldn’t leave it at that. While both ceremonies and rituals use words and actions to mark the significant events in our lives, they operate on different plains. Ceremonies signify the outer experience; they are the stuff of photo opportunities and awards, for public consumption on a large scale. Rituals take place in more intimate spaces, sometimes with no more than one, or two present. Ideally, they speak to the interior processes that the ceremony celebrates. Rituals can be sacramental, in the broadest sense of the word: personal, grace-filled moments that transcend our every day experiences. Ceremonies can be organized by anyone; rituals are best experienced by those we love.

One of my favorite rituals is to write my kids letters, annually on Holy Thursday, but also for significant events in their lives. It offers me an opportunity to look back at what they’ve done and who they’ve been, as well as dream about who are they are becoming and what they might do. Sharing those letters with my kids, out loud and sometimes in the presence of others, is always a sacred experience. In case they had forgotten in the course of their daily lives, they are reminded of the power and possibility of their own story.

At Keara’s graduation party, with our family and close friends gathered around us, I toasted her with the following speech. I am posting it here, not only to share my own pride and joy, but also perhaps to inspire you to find a way to “ritualize” the next milestone in the life of someone you love. You don’t need to worry about being particularly eloquent, or using a lot of words. They don’t even have to be your own. Your favorite poet, or songwriter might know just what to say. If you’re nervous, allow them to do so. The important thing is to find some special way to connect what has occurred on the outside with what is happening on the inside. An expression of your Love and perspective may be the very thing that propels them forward with greater joy, confidence and determination.

Graduation toast, given on May 30, 2015

A couple weeks ago, Keara went on retreat with her senior class at OLP and they asked her parents to write her a letter. I thought today might be a perfect day to share some of my thoughts from that letter with all of you, her family and friends, who love and support her and have watched her grow over the years.

While I was writing the letter, I was listening to “Never Grow Up” by Taylor Swift and reminiscing about all the stages and ages she’s been through over the last eighteen years. She is on the verge of going to college, moving out on her own, for a while at least, and maybe forever.

The first age Swift talks about is infanthood, with “your little hands wrapped around my finger…” I still remember those days, when I held her in my arms ALL THE TIME. She was only happy being held in my arms or Tim’s, and even then not always. But she quickly became a happy baby, big smiles, big love all around. As all of you know, Keara was a priceless gift to me – my daughter, the one I got to keep and raise and hold and love and dress and play with. Keara, even though I had your dad, until I became your mom, there was a little bit of an emptiness in me. But your presence filled me up and gave my life more meaning and purpose and great, great joy.

Taylor Swift goes on in her chorus to say,

“Oh darling don’t you ever grow up, don’t you ever grow up, just stay this little. Oh darling don’t you ever grow up, don’t you ever grow up, it could stay this simple. I won’t let nobody hurt you. Won’t let noone break your heart. No, no one will desert you. Just try to never grow up. Never grow up.”

Though the teeniest part of me sang along with Ms. Swift, I’ve never clung to the chorus, or the meaning of her song with you, or Finn, or Molly. Even when you were just toddling around, I couldn’t wait to see who you would become and what you would do with your life.

The possibility of you has always been endlessly fascinating to me.

You have become all I hoped for and more. In elementary school, it became clear how smart you were, how disciplined, how engaged, how fun-loving. Your teachers all loved you and you had good friends. Some of them moved away and some friendships faded and my heart broke a little to see your confusion and sadness at the loss of relationships you had invested in. You didn’t want to talk about it, but I knew and tried to support you with love and encouragement. And you always managed to find new friendships that were even better, because you have such a good heart, imagination and willingness to engage with people.

I know that pattern has repeated itself in high school as well and I hope you know it’s okay. Although it’s not the way friendships are “supposed to go,” according to Hollywood and TV shows, it’s actually true of most people’s life experiences. Friends come and go. If you are changing – and I hope you are always changing – then friendships will change too. People grow in different directions. When something dies, even relationships, it becomes the soil from which something new, something richer can be born. (I will stop with my usual lecture theme now. I can feel you rolling your eyes!)

When you went to middle school, I watched you step into your individuality even more, or at least try to find it. Like T Swift, I would have liked to say to you, “Don’t lose the way that you dance around in your pjs getting ready for school.” You did lose it for a little bit, but through the last four years of high school, that joyful, funny, smart, playful soul has resurfaced and you will dance around in your pjs (or anything else), at any time of day or night. It makes me so happy when I see the little girl you once were, in your smile and laughter as you move.

I wish that I could say that, like Ms. Swift claims that “No one’s ever burned you; Nothing’s ever left you scarred,” but I know that’s not true. I’ve seen you hurt, but I’ve also seen you rise again, every time. You know how to cry, but you also know how to start over. You know how to pick yourself up, put on your lipstick (the feminine sword and shield) and go back out there to be an even stronger, more resilient, and confident woman.

I hope I’ve earned your trust and that you will allow me to stand by you forever, as your mother and as the woman who loves you most in the world, as someone who will always encourage you and lift you up in Love.

I will always, we, this family, will always, always, always lift you up in Love. We will always be loyal to Keara Moses, who we fell in love with before she was born and will love beyond this life.

There are things I think you are and will be forever, Keara. The young woman I know, Love and respect is independent, funny, creative, talented, compassionate, smart, passionate and fiery. I could also include your inner strength, confidence, individuality, determination, independence, and ability to stand out in that list of qualities. None of those gifts came easily to you and I recognize the work you’ve done to become the person you want to be, the kind of woman you admire. You also have interests that I love to watch you involved in, like baking, sewing, music, costumes, makeup, hair, fashion, acting, dancing and the list goes on…

Let me just say that these lists are incomplete, for your life is only beginning. The first eighteen years of life are formative and fun and filled with memories that shape who you will become. But the next sixty and seventy years ahead are also those things. Life is incredible raw material for meaning, purpose, passion and happiness and I’ve seen what you do with raw materials: You create beauty! It’s unique, a little dark around the edges, but fantastically powerful. You’ve done it in all sorts of mediums and so I have total confidence that you will do it with your very self and the life you’ve been given.

“Never Grow Up” ends like this:

“Take pictures in your mind of your childhood room. Memorize what it sounded like when your dad gets home. Remember the footsteps; remember the words said, and all your little brother’s favorite songs…”

Take your memories with you throughout life Keara and I hope they are more good than bad, but don’t look back with longing or regret. Your future holds so much promise and joy. I could not be prouder of the daughter we’ve raised and I know you will continue to do great work. We believe in you and are here for you, always.

Cheers!

In this time of graduations and weddings, “Cheers!” says something, but your Love can say a lot more. Don’t be afraid to speak up. We need to. We assume our loved ones know how we feel about them, but they don’t, not really, unless we told them yesterday.

All of us, not just our children, long to be seen, in our joy and pain, to have our triumphs applauded and our struggles encouraged. A kiss on the cheek, a hug on the way out the door, a mumbled, “I love you,” can’t possibly communicate the depth of our feelings for the complex, beautiful people we live with and among. So when the next occasion arises, or perhaps for no occasion at all, find a way to say more than comes easily and make the moment a sacred one.