Category Archives: Reflection

I Choose to LOL (Live Out Loud)

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imagesAbout a month ago, I was in a real slump.  I was feeling inferior to other people (particularly women).  I was feeling insecure and questioning my worth as a human being.  I was feeling ugly and negatively judging my body.  I was feeling self conscious in my old mini-van and it’s lack of cool.   I was resenting my role as a mom.  The boys, they too, had stolen my cool factor.  I was doubting my ability to go back in to the work force and contribute quality work that others would value.  I began to become dissatisfied with the size of my home, the style of my clothes, the color of my hair, the small number in my bank account.  I was comparing, judging, and sitting in the ugliness of the stories my mind was creating and buying. The lies began their sneaky little job of creating this web of madness within me.

Once I realized that this funk was turning ugly and affecting the way I was viewing the world and treating the people around me, I decided I needed to take a hard look at what had changed to cause such unhappiness.  Adam had been out of town during this period of downward spiraling and I had engaged in a lot of, what I believed to be, harmless fun.  I watched Bachelor in Paradise from beginning to end.  I watched the Kardashians.  I lazily browsed on Pinterest and Etsy while watching music videos.  And I was on social media much more frequently…even adding the FB app to my phone.  Media was actually affecting my view of the world.  My view of self.

And there it was, the answer was that simple. I am sensitive to what I view and can easily fall victim to the solicitous agenda of media. I know that not everybody will be as sensitive as I am to overt sexuality and portrayals of what women should be.  Some of us are more sensitive to violence or consumerism or the top ten lists of how to be perfect in some fashion of life from parenting, religion, or home organization. We are all comparing ourselves to a standard sold to us. We are always “failing” at something according to someone. Even if that someone lives inside an electronic box selling a non-existent one-size-fits-all-perfection-solution.  I bought in to the lies, sold to me by the people inside that box, that my 36-year-old female self was all washed up. If I don’t look like the Kardashians, sell sex like JLo, have the same perky body of the women competing for “love” on Bachelor in Paradise, if I’m not as perfect as all my “friends” on FB, and if I’m not buying or wearing the latest/greatest…well then I’m not worth anything. I’m not attractive. My husband won’t want me for much longer. I need to make changes. Run faster. Workout harder. Get a six pack. Make more money. Eat less. Dress sexier. I’m clearly inadequate. I need to be better. Lie after lie quickly building a foundation of self hatred. I wanted to hide my insecurities from all of you. From my friends, my family, my husband. I wanted to appear stronger and more secure than I was. And so I hid. I had been hiding other areas of my life and just added my insecurities and self hatred to the dark corner of other secrets.  The longer I hid, the more insecure I felt. I was now living a false truth. Another mark against my clearly flawed self.

Lucky for me (and those around me), I was quick to recognize that my thoughts were turning into an ugly infestation and I was able to reflect quietly enough to identify the culprit. That damn media had its grasp again. I immediately turned off the media inputs, reached out to my girlfriends and was open about how I was feeling and I soon found myself worthy again. As I rid my life of the noise shouting at me who I was, who I wasn’t, and who I should be, I found who I really am.   In the silence, I found that I am me. Perfect me. And you are you. Perfect you.

 

One way that I have found my center time and time again is to be vulnerable in sharing. I find great healing in sharing in this blog. I become connected to those around me when I let down my guard and show vulnerability in sharing my struggles. I find that others open up and share too. We build a safe community where we can be real and genuine no matter where we are in our journeys. I recognized in this time of disliking myself that I had stepped away from my purpose of living out loud. I had started to hide for fear of being judged. I had gone inward and become alone. I had lost some of my integrity. I needed a good kick start to getting back to a life of vulnerability and authenticity. I was given that good kick-in-the- ass a few weeks ago when I had the pleasure of attending an event in which Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, wa10174916_10152050667061493_5333993137919276168_ns speaking. In that forum, she spoke about Radical Honesty. Cheryl’s belief was the equivalent of my belief of living out loud. Here was a woman who was baring her life in a truly authentic way and I, along with so many others, connect with this type of vulnerability. I felt the pull and encouragement to come out of hiding and begin sharing again.

 

I’ve started by sharing my deep, dark, scary secrets with my best friend, my husband. He’s held such a safe space for me and encouraged me to share whatever my heart needs to share. With his encouragement, I am ready to restart the practice of Living Out Loud with Radical Honesty. I hope that you all will continue to hold a safe space for my sharing, for the sharing of others, and find your safe spaces for vulnerability too. Start by sharing one secret with someone you find trustworthy. Or even begin by writing down the scariest secret you can think of sharing and burn it or bury it. Just writing it down is one step toward healing and letting it go. Freedom from the lie that secret has sold you.  I think you’ll find the more you share the less scary it becomes. And you’ll start to love you a helluva a lot more. Others will gravitate toward you because your energy will be absolutely pure. And, before you know it, you’ll not only be your own safe place but a safe place for others to practice Radical Honesty.

 

So who’s with me? Who’s ready to LIVE OUT LOUD? Journey with me, Friends! Let’s change ourselves, our circles and our communities with a little bit of Radical Honesty!

 

 

 

 

These Present Moments

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IMG_2354Time is elusive.  Moments fleeting.  I know that this is true because I sit here listening to water falling from the mountains in a force so powerful it carves its own path to the stream below.  The water is proof of time.  Proof of forward movement.  I recognize this moment as a moment of awareness.  Awareness of time and of life in motion.

Glacier National Park has provided me a moment that has become moments that have become space that have become experience.  A string of single moments strung together to ignite a sensory explosion so breathtaking that its existence is hardly fathomable.  Hence the need for awareness of time.  The proof that these moments have existed.

There was the moment when I stumbled across an older woman wading in the icy waters of IMG_2166Lake McDonald.  That moment inspired by this female pathfinder became a moment turned moments turned experience.  I took a chance and joined her.  I stripped down to my skivvies, climbed to the front of my kayak, became encouraged by my boys standing on the shore chanting, “Do it! Do it! Do it!”, and leaped.  Jumped right in to the ice cold waters.  Fully immersed in the icy waters and vowing to last more than just a few seconds, I had to remain focused on each individual breath.   Each spacious moment.  I swam to the woman who had inspired this jump and I learned that she was a spry 72 years old!  Her spirit and energy filled me and we swam together for a span of nearly 20 minutes or more.  Her moments inspiring my moments.  My moments inspiring moments within each member of my family who all joined in the experience for a few seconds or a few minutes.  If we allow ourselves, we find we are all pathfinders.  We are all both inspiring and inspired.

I was fully empowered and alive, simply because of a moment turned moments turned experience.  A bunch of tiny moments strung together to become part of me and my story.  Time both present and moving.

There were many other pinch-worthy moments reminding me of life and progress and the enormity of time and space.  Moments that I grasped and followed in to experience.  When standing in awareness, fully awake, only then does one become fully immersed in this journey called life.  I’m thankful that I’m finally seeing the moments presented to me and no longer sleeping through them.  May you too, reader, become more present in your moments and find in those moments a variety of experiences.

Just for my recollection, when many other moments want to take the space that these moments occupy, I want to jog my memory with these bullet point reminders:

* The most serene campsite in which daily deer would pass through and even the occasional black bear.
* Observing Marmots in play.
* 9 Blissful Days of family unity and zero electronics.
* Watching a mosquito feed on Adam and instead of finding annoyance in its need for blood, appreciating the awesomeness of sharing life and observing a belly fill with nutrients. Appreciating all life.
* Listening to each of my boys lead their first family meditations.  The perspective of  a child is something we can all learn from.
* Hearing what words the campfire and trees spoke to my boys.  The boys are still open enough to hear nature and that encourages me to keep listening and practicing mindfulness.
* The day G cried because he had hugged a tree and felt a connection so deep he grieved leaving the tree behind.
* Hiking for 3 miles with the boys and at the end stumbling across a landscape of waterfalls and vegetation that cause you to believe you could really leave your life behind and live in the wild.  The forest somehow feels more natural than returning to city life.
* Nights under the stars with your best friend and lover snuggled in a hammock made for one. Knowing that all is right with the world as long as you are together.
*MARSHMA……..LLOW!!!!
* A bike ride up the Going to the Sun Road when the road is closed to vehicles.  Just you, your boys, countless waterfalls, a river, and the occasional deer.
* Laughing hysterically when it rains so hard on that bike ride that you are not even able to see straight ahead.  Knowing that you are alive and you are teaching your boys to laugh when crying would be easier!
* Introducing the No Trouble Bubble.  Looking at the father of your children and laughing because what is being said in the bubble is both hilarious and frightening and the bubble confirms that as parents we are succeeding.
*  Meditation in a place isolated enough to believe that you are no longer human…in fact you are water.  Transitioning, fluid, and unbreakable.

 

Time may be elusive but I am determined to be present for every moment possible.  May you be present as well.  Journey On.

 

Every Win is Deserving

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As parents I think it’s very important to celebrate the tiniest of successes.  We too often spend our quiet moments rehashing all the ways we’ve failed our kids or the many ways our kids are not measuring up. We find ourselves in the negative space of mommy guilt that is lightyears from a truthful voice of reason.  It’s time we reject the adverse voices and instead beat the drums of triumphs. Even if that drum is mouse-sized and hardly audible.

In the spirit of finding my positive zen, I am letting go of misplaced mommy guilt.  I am a damn good mom even if every moment is not fairytales and roses.  Even if some days are epic fails.  Even if I can’t always see that truth through the messy house, the fighting kids, the crapping dog, the unemployed husband and my own crazy madness.

But today I can see.  The successes are always there.  Whether or not they are elevated is my choice.

Drums to Beat:

Boy #1:
Yesterday was the agonizing IEP meeting and with new teachers, a new school, and even new state requirements I have to admit I was more than dreading this appointment.  When you raise special needs children you deal with a lot of disappointments and you have to fight to get your child’s needs met way too often.  There’s a lot of dead end roads.  So even though this triumph cannot be owned by him it is very positive progress and definitely a win.  In this case we celebrate the fantastic staff who see my son for all of his possibilities instead of all of his downfalls.  We celebrate the fact that there are people who are already working with him and developing plans to help him succeed.  We celebrate the awesomeness of our new state and the fact that they are providing all of the tools he needs (no out of pocket expense to us!).  Every headphone, ball chair, fidget, pencil…Covered!  And they were already on top of his state testing so he has one-on-one testing next week and can use all his manipulatives (including calculator) for the math section of his test.  So while the success was not by his own doing we still celebrate because he has a team of people leading him to a plethora of future successes!

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Boy #2:

This child is a math whiz.  It’s insane the way he can manipulate numbers and make sense of anything numerical.  But reading has been another story (haha see what I did there?). It has been a struggle and this is not a child who appreciates a struggle.  Enter a move to a new reading class and 3 weeks later we are celebrating the click.  Reading finally clicked!  He is now devouring books and has a whole new confidence.  Woot Woot!!!!

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Boy #3:

His successes are harder to measure.  By the world’s standard he’s highly successful.  He’s smart, reading is easy, math makes sense, he’s athletic, people like him, yada yada.  But I don’t want to measure success that way.  What makes us successful is so much deeper than what can be measured.  I want to celebrate the moments that he lets me in to that closed up world of his.  So this week I’m screaming YAHOO at this picture taken while sledding over the weekend.  I know he let his guard down a little bit when he posed for this shot and that is worth millions more than any success proved by a piece of paper or standard.

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Boy #4:

Another one of our boys very close to needing the services of a special-ed team.  Kinder started off pretty rough and he had a hard time adjusting to a full day of working on the ABCs, numbers, friendships, art…you know, all the expectations of being 6!  Mad amounts of praise for him as he hasn’t given up and this week he actually made huge progress with the recognition of alphabetical sounds and his snap words!  Way to go!

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We are far from perfect but perfect would be uninteresting and pointless and leave us nothing worth celebrating. So here’s to the failures and successes that make each of us and each of our triumphs mad props worthy!

RV Lessons

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Update:
Today we said goodbye to Shadow Cruiser, our beloved RV.  We needed money to pay for the book that Adam has been writing (a book that had many pages written while Adam journeyed solo in that big RV) and the sale of our RV was just enough to cover our costs.  In the past 2.5 years, Shadow Cruiser has carried us safely across the country.  Twice.  He has housed us at beaches on the WA and OR coasts, taken us to Crater Lake, Journaling Workshops, given Adam alone time to write his book, and this past summer housed us for 10 days in Glacier National Park while we began the process of reuniting and healing as a family.  We all grieved Shadow Cruiser leaving today.  Many of us with tears of sadness and gratitude because Shadow Cruiser was more than an RV to us.  He was our lifeline for a bit.  Our safe haven.  Our key to adventure.  A reminder that when all things material are lost (jobs, houses, cars, reputations) we are still abundantly rich as long as we have each other.  So in memory of our beloved Ford Jamboree, I am reposting this blog from our first adventures.
Give me an RV and I’ll learn a thing or two (or maybe 10 or 20).
Day one we drove an entire two hours to Phoenix!  In the rain I might add. We decided two hours was a great introduction to the life of RVing and opted to barge in on Uncle Aaron where we all crashed for the night and indulged in the most glorious, long, hot showers.  Yep, just two hours in to the trip and those showers felt like the gods raining down pure bliss upon our bodies.  We awoke in the middle of the night to a true desert monsoon complete with a barrage of lightening, thunder and rain.  A monsoon felt like the perfect sendoff from AZ.  A personal farewell.  One last beauty of a storm to remember our home state by.
On the road again.  For real this time.  And it took practically no time at all for the RV to start giving us rapid life lessons.
On this trip we quickly learned that one person doing his “duty” in the bathroom was enough to make every fly envious of our party on wheels.  One deposit in the mobile toilet led to multiple miles of nose-plugging, fart jokes, and sometimes gagging.  But either we have adjusted to the smell (I am so hoping this is not the case!) or the “stuff” has now settled in to a better position in which it is not privy to tease us with its intoxication any longer.  We quickly adjusted to make sure we could find public toilets for those urgent and necessary bodily functions.  So far so good.

The RV also quickly initiated us in all things mechanical and broken.   Even though our $5500 dollar oldie- but- goodie was checked off as in fantastic shape by our local RV repair shop, much to our dismay we were making large lists of things that must be fixed.  For example our AC in the cab was not working so whenever Adam or myself was driving we had to have the windows down.  Sitting in a sweltering 95+ degree cab would be great for those boxers looking to lose poundage in sweat.  As much as we would’ve liked to down an ice cold beverage our RV took another hefty dump on our privilege to luxury.  The gas would not work which meant all of our food in the fridge/freezer was quickly becoming as warm and soggy as the midwest summer.  It also meant that our stovetop would not work and we were unable to get any hot water.  Being unemployed and having zero income meant sucking it up and finding pain in the ass alternatives to eating out so a quick trip to the gas station and two styrofoam coolers full of ice later we made a desperate attempt to save that necessity we refer to as food.  By day 7 I was near tears dealing with soggy packaging, cooking everything on a campfire or eating it cold, and just completely frustrated with the inability to eat anything other than the few things that sat before me.  In that moment I started realizing just how much my life has changed and how I was simply spoiled prior to this change of course.  By the way, recognizing that I am food spoiled does not mean I WANT to change.  This girl hates to cook, gets cravings, indulges in cravings and enjoys being served yummy perfectness by someone in a uniform who has magical cooks and dishwashing elves somewhere behind closed doors.  Yep, that is one indulgence I’d like to never lose but I guess I’m out to learn something new about myself even if it means sacrificing my favorite luxury.  I’m learning that I’m thankful that I have any food at all.  I have enough calories and energy to sustain all 6 of us and that’s good enough for me.  And besides, those special nights when we do eat in those wonderful establishments called restaurants I find that every bite is mind-numbingly delicious!

As we traveled for the next week I was also to learn that showers are hard to come by (I didn’t shower for 6 whole days!) but when they do come every drop is magical.  So magical that you don’t mind that you are paying a quarter a minute for that magic.  I learned that I could shower head to toe and shave in 5 minutes or if you prefer,  $1.25 worth of water.  I learned that you quickly stop noticing body odor and feet smells and that hairy legs are nothing to fret about.  I started learning that my beauty is far deeper than my surface and mirror image.  I am (we are) beautiful because we have fun in the face of adversity and we see life as one giant adventure and we become masters of our destiny.  We spend our moments seeing, being, laughing, crying, and most of all accepting one another.

Unexpected blip # one million and ten was discovering that everything breaks in an RV of 6 people and a  dog.  Water pipes started leaking, roofs dripped when it rained, fans whirred loudly, metal blinds started falling down, cupboards stopped closing, doors stopped opening, handles didn’t want to turn, panel doors popped open and stayed open, automatic steps decided they were never going back in place, radios flashed blue lights at you all night, , and even though everything once had a place,  a few dirt roads later and bump bump bump they’ve all collided into a chaotic mess.
We also learned that gas is expensive, it’s easy to hit a parked car, and hugging the shoulder gets you pulled over in Kansas.
We quickly got the hang of things making up their own rules of engagement and adjusted accordingly.  We found that it was all laughable and that we were having fun in spite of malfunctions and breakdowns.
The boys named our RV Shadow Cruiser in memory of their beloved wiener dog that died last year.  And cruise we did.
We spent two nights in the Grand Canyon and were absolutely delighted at how easy it was to pull up and find a great camping spot.  We had perfect days, nice cool evenings, clean facilities, and even a shuttle stop right outside the campground that took us up and down the south rim of the Canyon.  On this trip we took our first stab at homeschooling and were happy to find that as we had suspected nature provides the perfect classroom for four eager and rambunctious boys.  Besides taking in all they could about the canyon, geological formations, and wildlife they also spent time earning their ranger badges and drawing artistic impressions of the canyon.  We were definitely off to a near perfect beginning.  There wasn’t a single RV dysfunction that could steal these moments from us.

Adam had this wish of riding all of the rides listed in Bicycling Magazine’s 50 best rides.  One ride in each state.  If you haven’t figured it out yet Adam often dreams bigger than reality.  So his request was to head to Moab, Utah after the Grand Canyon.  As we were driving to Moab I kept looking at pictures of Moab and I repeatedly had this nagging thought, “Geez, it looks really hot in that part of Utah.”  I finally decided it would be wise to look up the weather report and found that it was to be 100 degrees in Moab and kindly requested that we change destinations.  Although bummed Adam agreed that we had had enough of 100 degree temps so we immediately changed direction and headed to Colorado.  With a quick stop at the four corners, the nation’s lamest tourist trap, and with me at the wheel of the RV for the first time we safely arrived somewhere near Durango, CO.  Having arrived really late at night we didn’t have any idea what beauty we would wake up to.  Upon sunrise we were pleasantly surprised to see that we were parked up against a pristine Colorado lake with a nice, cool, breezy morning.  The boys spent the morning hiking around the lake and some of them took advantage of a rare opportunity to skinny dip.  I could look all the way across that lake and see little pale nudies gleaming in that glorious morning sun.  Our goal was to be in Ouray, CO in time for a children’s symphony being put on by the local opera house.  Adam drove the million dollar highway in to Ouray and I held my breath the entire way as it seemed the edge of the mountain was just a small nudge away.  The RV quickly taught us both that we are indeed grown ups and even grown up enough to handle a very large vehicle on crazy tight curves and high speeds.

Colorado was so absolutely perfect that I am without a doubt unable to complain about anything.  We loved our experience so much that we stayed 4 nights enjoying bike rides, hikes, throwing rocks in rivers and lakes, seeing teepees and yurtas, listening to the sounds of an orchestra, sitting in hot springs, and really experiencing a life that is unscheduled and free.
From Colorado we drove and drove and drove some more.  That meant we roasted, we stressed, we ate shitty food, we spent 100s of dollars on gas and learned a few more things about life in an RV.  One important life lesson for me was that I can indeed enjoy living a life that is not planned out.  Every night we drove without a destination in mind.  We let our bodies tell us when it was time to quit driving and then we picked a place to park and sleep.  One night we found ourselves in the middle of Kansas driving the dirt back roads of a wildlife preserve.  We found a spot, pulled over and slept.  And you know what?  It was fun.  It was liberating.  It served its purpose and we all survived!  Phew, I am learning to breathe and stress much less.
Another day or two of RV travels and we arrived at my mom’s house in IL.  Oh, a house, and hot food, and a shower, and a real toilet, and my own bed, and a glorious glorious washing machine.  We landed in a cornucopia of pleasurable things.  All simple.  All expected.  But no longer taken for granted.
Six or seven weeks pass and we decide it is time to hit the road again.  Find an adventure.  Yes, an adventure.  A northwest adventure with stops in Yellowstone, Glacier,Seattle, Portland, Vancouver and even Alaska.  We are so excited.  And then reason whispers in my ear…”gas, Amy.  Gas is so expensive.  This trip is going to be wearing, cold, and costly.  Do more research.”  I had enough sense to listen to reason and started pricing out airline tickets, vacation houses, etc, and sure enough reality knows of what it speaks.  Highs of 35 in Yellowstone.  Yuck.  Glacier mostly closed.  Shame.  Alaska unwise to drive.  Boo/Hiss.  And airline tickets with hotels 200 dollars more than driving for weeks.  Hmmmmmm.
Yes, being a family of reason we abandoned Shadow Cruiser for the easier alternatives of pilot flown jumbo jets and rental houses with maids and fridges.  And, yes, we felt horribly guilty leaving Shadow Cruiser clean and ready to go sitting in a Uhaul storage area.  Oh the shame (and by shame I mean relief).
That was the best decision we have made in awhile.  Thank you, Reason.  Our trip to the Pacific NW landed a job, a house, a school, and a new chapter in life.
2 weeks later Shadow Cruiser trekked us back across the country.  And this time he did it like a pro and so did we.  We have found a peace with one another.  An understanding.  Shadow Cruiser has taught us how to be better in this life.  He has shown us our true colors and has been a vital part of our journey both physically and emotionally.  In turn we have cared for him, fixed him, nurtured him and bargained with him.  He joins us now in Portland, sitting out front of our short term rental driving all the neighbors crazy with his large size and ugly looks but I don’t see the unsightly RV that they do.  I see a vehicle that houses our fears, has heard our tears, our laughter, has propelled us forward, helped us create memories, taught us life lessons, shares our dreams and is itching for another adventure.

Saying Goodbye to everyone and everything we loved in Tucson

Labels

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I’m beginning to understand the destructive nature of labeling.  This coming from a woman who proudly proclaims her ownership and use of a label maker!

My journey with labels began about two years ago when Mark was reading A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle.  In this book Tolle suggests that we practice the art of removing labels by taking a walk through nature and only observing without applying names to each “being” that surrounds us.  For example do not look at the tree and say “What a beautiful oak tree” or “That saguaro is magnificent”.
When Mark would read me these exercises I would literally roll my eyes and scoff at the nonsense coming out of his mouth.  Afterall, it IS an oak tree and it IS a saguaro.  How else would you define it?  And why is not defining it even useful?  Complete and absolute bullshit!

Two years later and I finally care enough to get it!  Am I a master of not defining and not labeling?  By no means. But I am mastering the understanding of the significance of dropping labels.
As Tolle beautifully and accurately stated:

“When you don’t cover up the world with words and labels, a sense of the miraculous returns to your life that was lost a long time ago when humanity, instead of using thought, became possessed by thought.” 
 Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose

I believe Tolle had us begin with dropping the labels of nature as a practice for the much more difficult undertaking of dropping labels applied to our fellow man.  To drop labels in nature means to meander peacefully through the forest or desert and merely feel your surroundings.  Breathe them in, be aware of them, realize their significance and beauty, acknowledge them as a part of this universe just as you are simply part of this universe, hear their story, but do not confine them to labels.  To label limits your scope of their magnificence.  

This can be said of the people we are surrounded by too.  Let me just give you a few examples of what labeling does.

A few years ago it was quite popular to get emails from people wanting to spread a good laugh.  A good intending friend would forward an email from a site called people of walmart.  It’s a site geared toward laughing at people’s appearance mishaps.  The first time I received one of these emails I wanted to laugh but I couldn’t push through my pity.  I’ll admit that I generally (not often anymore) labeled people that shopped at walmart as less than.  Less worth.  Less than me.  But when I see these pictures I don’t want to laugh and honestly I can’t.  These are human beings who would be mortified to know they are being publicly humiliated.  These are human beings with stories.  In this picture I see a new mom who probably doesn’t recognize her shirt has rolled up, exposing her midsection, and who unlike many of us may not have the funds to buy post-baby shirts that fit.  That’s nothing to laugh about.  So some of us will sit at home applying labels to her, such as fat, gross, white trash or trailer trash or as the commentary on this photo suggested, skank.  Maybe if we can remove the judgements and labels we can simply empathize.  We can begin to see this woman as something more than a cruel joke.

Atheist:
What does that label stir in you?  Be honest.  I don’t want to be labeled simply as an atheist because I am so much more than that.  If you label me as an atheist you’ve painted an image of me that has very negative reactions.  Most people in this country view someone with the label of atheist as someone who is angry, fighting to remove the rights of christians, an oppressor, hellbound, an enemy, lost, delusional, hateful, bitter, disagreeable. Sound about right?  Because you’ve painted me in to this corner you can’t see the entirety of me.  You lose sight of who I truly am because you’ve lessened me to a silly little label.
I’ll flip that, I have and often continue to do the same to christians and I no longer want to.

Christian:
When I simply label you as christian I lose sight of who you are.  Instead of seeing wonderful, loving parents, contributing members of society, activists, lovers and forgivers I can only see hateful, judgemental, delusional, irritating, close-minded, oppressive, bullying homophobes and manipulators.  I’ve narrowed my scope down to one type of person and not left room to see the entire person.  I’ve limited them to my views of christianity and that leaves very little room for empathy or friendship.

Developmentally Delayed and adopted:
These are labels I have to use with two of my boys frequently and it kills me because I’ve seen the expressions on people’s faces change.  I’ve seen some of the judgements.  I’ve heard people label me as anti-american because I’ve adopted internationally (and they said this in front of my Kazakh son) as thoughlabeling him Kazakh gives him less worth than labeling him American!  And often when people see my family they ask “are they yours?”
“Yes, they are mine.”
“No, I mean are they yours.  Biologically?”
“They are as much ‘mine’ as the ones I gave birth to.”
“So they are adopted?  Do they have issues?  Were you infertile?”
Ugh!  Seriously, the adopted label has to reduce my boys to less than biological as well?  See how labels are?  Damaging.  Limiting.
I’ve seen people shy away from my oldest because he has delays and is not “normal”.  What is this “normal” label?  Are any of us normal?
I hear people drop the term retarded as though it’s a funny word.  It’s a horrible label.  It minimizes somebody to a stupid word!

Addict:
What happens when someone is labeled an addict?  We lose sight of their need.  We lose sight of their inner workings and the battles they have ahead of them.  We are often unable to see past their struggle or addiction when really they are so much more than that.  How much further would empathy and partnership take us when someone is in the midst of this struggle?  Instead we choose to slap them with a giant ADDICT label as though they are nothing more than the addiction they are enslaved to.

Sinner:

Can you find empathy for the person(s) that you slapped the sinner label on?  Or do you leave that for the Jesus?  Sinner makes someone believe they are not nor ever will be worthy of God’s love.  Sinner can even inhibit growth within relationships here on earth.  And every one has a different idea of what it means to be a sinner.  Some people are sinners if they drink, gamble, swear, have sex outside of marriage, have sex within their gender, masturbate, watch porn, gossip, judge, seek knowledge, believe in evolution, is a democrat, lies, cheats, murders, steals, watches t.v., drinks caffeine, reads Hunger Games…the list goes on and on and on.  Since we are all guilty of one or more of these “sins” why not remove the label sinner all together?   What purpose does it serve other than to make one subservient?

Stay-at-Home Mom:
Another example occurred recently as a woman stood talking to me knowing very well that I am a stay-at-home mom.  She is a new mom and has always been a career woman and is now conflicted between going back to work and staying home more.  As she is talking, these words are coming out of her mouth  and punching me directly in the gut, “I’ve ultimately decided that I can’t be a stay-at-home mom because I don’t want to become stupid.  Pregnancy alone made me say the dumbest things and I’m so much smarter than a woman who just stays home.  I think it’s important for those of us that are really wired to be on top in the business world to not lose that edge to the mind-numbing task that takes place each day you stay home and are not enriched by other educated people.”  I think my fingers were clenched together in an effort to not draw a fist and punch this woman square in the face just to shut her up.  I stood there looking at her and I wanted to pull out my label maker and affix a Certified Bitch label right across her tight, little forehead.  But as the oxygen began to refill in my lungs allowing thoughts back in to my stupid, numb, mommy brain I could feel empathy for her.  She is not likely a bitch…that would be too simple 🙂  Instead she likely doesn’t know the beauty of my job.  She doesn’t realize I once had a very brainy career too and can have that again any time I’d like.  I can’t get these years back from my boys so this is a choice I make not because, as she labeled me, I don’t have enough brains or smarts to do something more with my life but because I choose to be here for my boys during this stage in life.  And she’s right, sometimes it’s absolutely mind-numbing and sometimes I lose knowledge in my career field but I never become dumb.  Dumb is a choice.  I saw a woman who simply was ignorant of what it means to be a stay-at-home mom and I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt that she was probably unaware of how hurtful the words she spoke were.  That doesn’t make her a bitch.  She’s just a woman who has worked hard to be where she is and is probably very fearful of losing that.  But she’s also fearful of missing out on her child’s life.  That’s a conflict that I certainly understand.  Again empathy allows the removal of labels.  Empathy is a powerful, effective tool.

These labels are everywhere.  Each and every single label leaves you with an impression and an idea.  But that idea is usually a small, little ink stain in the fabric of that being.   Just think of the ones you use daily.  How are you limiting your intake of the world and people around you?

Republican, Democrat, Gay, Straight, Adulterer, Preacher, Mother, Father, Daughter, Son, Anorexic, Addict, Whore, Slut, Ugly, Pretty, Fat, Skinny, Sexy, Liar, Gold-digger, Rich, Poor, Trash, Hispanic, Mexican, Kazakh, American, Black, Asian, Indian, Illegal, Immigrant, Needy, Pro-lifer, Pro-choicer, Feminist, Atheist, Muslim, Christian, Evangelical, Progressive, Mormon, Jewish, Bitch, Nag, Hag, Bum, Ditz,Stupid, Retarded, Dumb, Smart, Controlling, Abusive, Shallow,Adopted, Trailer, Southside, Egotistical, Backstabber, Selfish, Ignorant, Foolish, Hypocrite, Judgemental, Angry, Hateful, Drama Queen, Blonde,Beefcake, Mentally Ill, Delusional, Smart…

Spend a day just watching how often you apply a label and spend the next day removing those labels.  It’s liberating to see the world as nothing more than beautiful.  Each and every one of us adding to the layers and layers of brilliance that make up this planet, this galaxy, this universe.