Monday, March 20, 2017

True or False...

This weekend, we celebrated my husband's forty-something birthday. Our house was filled with friends and LOTS of teenagers. And even though we didn't have party games, there was one activity I convinced our guests to play. It was a little bit psychic and a little bit inspiration. Here's how it went: I flipped through the pages of a little book of sayings and the person playing would say "STOP" and that would be their quote. They'd read it aloud and comments would fly. Each person in that room indulged me until everyone had their own personal anecdote to contemplate.

There were some really good ones. Quotes from Shakespeare and St. Francis. Obscure fables and familiar lessons. But this one in particular got the conversation going:

"Do what you love, even if it means you're broke."

In a room full of emerging young adults, the thoughts on this ran the gamut. Yes, money isn't everything, but the reality is that not every career choice can financially support you, no matter how much you love your job. Then what? So the parents sat around wondering how we help them figure out who they want to be and what they want to do? How do we make them understand that today's decisions will impact their future choices? How do we impart a wisdom that only comes with experience on a generation who just needs more experience? The answer is, we really can't.

Because what we value is different than what they value. In fact, if we're honest and rewind the clock twenty or so years, we'll likely find that what we value today is very different than what was important to us when we were young and free and our future stretched out in front of us with perfect timing and ideal outcomes awaiting. And we had to take the path, rocky and bumpy as it may have been, to get here. They must do the same.

It starts with activities as mundane as laundry and chores, and exposure to service projects giving them a glimpse of the great joy derived from helping others. When they're old enough, they need to get a real job where someone other than mom and dad, tells them what to do and how to do it better. They need the chance to be accountable for their own money and sometimes, they have to feel the disappointment when they don't have enough for that thing they really want. All of these things, all of these life experiences will begin to weave in them a knowledge and a passion and a purpose that will drive them forward, hopefully, leading them to something they love, and something that can support them.

When you're young, being broke and passionate propels you to find your own path and figure things out. As an adult, sometimes being broke comes in a different shape, and it's good for our kids to see us working that through too. Growth, if done right, is a lifelong and life-giving endeavor and as parents, it's our responsibility to listen and guide, but even greater, is our job to fortify the launching pad so that each of them has a successful take off.

We can't guarantee, and we shouldn't, that the journey will always be sufficiently filled with money and passion and fulfillment, because it won't be. But we should assure them that the ups and downs, the highs and lows, have their own way of making the ride a sweet one.

"Do what you love, even if it means you're broke." Such a little saying with such a big meaning. What do you think?

{J}

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

We Are Called To Love

Ash Wednesday is upon us. For Christians, it marks the beginning of Lent, a period of solemn, spiritual preparation for Holy Week and the celebration of Easter. It is a time to remember and imitate the life and ministry of Jesus and it leads up to the commemoration of his death and resurrection. That’s what Christians celebrate.

But we don’t have to stop there. I have friends of varying faiths that use this time to bring into mind their own values and beliefs, to remember the reasons behind the rituals, to contemplate. And what a gift. Every morning, we have the great opportunity to start anew. To think about how our mark on this earth can be just a little bit sweeter and to DO something about it. To be more kind, more disciplined, more gracious, more present, more faithful, more loving.

When I think about some of the recent atrocities brought upon our fellow believers, fellow human beings, around the world, it’s hard to ignore the fact that our world is in dire need of grace and love. Sometimes, I forget that THAT’s my job - in the midst of carpools and craziness, in spite of the terror on every news channel, especially when it's not easy or convenient – my job is to spread forgiveness and understanding and love.

People, my prayer this Lent is that each of us takes advantage of the opportunity to remember our God, regardless of the name we call him, and to contemplate how we can each shower great LOVE upon the world, like HE did. What a privilege it is that we even get that chance.

So during this blessed season, I leave you with the profound words of Sister Joan Chittister:

"It is very easy to forget the wonders God has done for us. God often performs these marvels when we are least hopeful they will happen, least sure they can happen.

Out of death, after pain diminishes and numbness fades, new life so often comes forth. After the loss of one direction, another more vibrant than the first so often emerges. Beyond what the world says are our best years, comes a fullness of life unmatched by any other stage.

These are the miracles of life. These are the wonders we stumble into, so obviously not our own making that they must be of God. These are the things that must be remembered in the midst of the daily, dull, depressing moments of life.

Good has so often come out of even the more shabby parts of our own life. We retreat from religion because it disappoints, only to find no better answers elsewhere and return more spiritual than ever before. We fail ourselves miserably, then find new life when we discover that people loved us for ourselves, not our images. We get stopped in our indulgent, dishonest, ambitious, shiftless tracks and become newer, better selves. These are the wonders of life.

Every life is filled with a series of small miracles designed to carry us through dark days, up steep mountains, down into the valley of death, beyond every boundary.

One of the spiritual disciplines of Lent is to recognize these, to let praise raise in our hearts. We need to see the miracles of our lives as signs along the way that no path is too twisted, no burden so heavy, no social system so impenetrable as to confound us utterly. The God who has sustained us in the past will not desert us in the present.

Praise and memory take us into tomorrow with open minds and certain hearts."

Love and peace to you!

{J}

(Passage from Ideas in Passing - benetvision.org)

(Originally posted 2/15/15)

Friday, February 3, 2017

Nightmare on Beacon

I had the most TERRIBLE nightmare the other night! It was so real that I shot right out of bed and went to check on my kids. It took forever to get back to sleep. Now, I don’t watch the news or CSI or anything having to do with child molesters or kidnappers because, well, because my children like to go outside and want to continue to do so.

So here’s my issue. When I gave birth to Bella, I went from easy-going, carefree, soon-to-be-new mom, to a paranoid, vulnerable, heart-outside-of-my-body mom. And then we had two more babies after that, just to make sure I fulfilled my maximum potential of anxiousness.

But I honestly believed it would get easier, because, you know, as babies grow to be toddlers, fevers and funky rashes that could be the deadliest form of Kawasaki’s disease, usually subside. And as toddlers get a little older, they stop sticking pennies and Barbie shoes and marbles in their mouths, or running away for no reason other than to give you a heart attack. And as children turn into teens, they’re more coordinated and don’t fall off their skateboards (or the couch) and break as many bones. And when teens turn 18 years old, when they finally earn the title of adulthood (ha), they know all the things and make all the good decisions and EVERYTHING is right with the world so I never have to worry again. Ahhh!! (Queue heavenly angels singing.)

Actually, THIS is exactly my issue. What no one told me when I became a mom—nor would I have understood if they had—is that I would never see a day without worry. NEVER. EVER.

So when I had the most TERRIBLE nightmare the other night, that I was married to a wife-beating-child-abuser, and that he was going to kill us if we tried to get away, and that my brave and fierce neighbor Mrs. Robertson broke us out and drove us to safety (thanks friend!), it makes PERFECT SENSE that my latest worry is this: how can I make sure that my daughter doesn’t find herself in an abusive relationship and that my sons never abuse their girlfriends/wives. And let’s take it one step further, just for good measure. How do I safeguard our incredible nieces and nephews? Or our sweet Godchildren? OR OUR GRANDCHILDREN?!?!

Are my issues becoming clear? Do I need to point out that we don’t have grandchildren, yet I have found a way to dedicate sleepless nights in their name?

In the off chance that I’m not alone, that someone else out there shares my open-invitation to fear, I’ve been trying to figure out how to let my kids grow up without the irrational need to influence every step of the way. (It's a process.) The news on the street is that we need to let them fail. That’s how they learn. That’s how they get tough enough to survive the real (big, scary, dangerous?) world. I hear that everywhere and I KNOW IT’S TRUE. But my heart's not so sure.

There’s a fine line between informing our kids of a sometimes-harsh reality and scaring them. There’s a balance between our desire to shelter them and their need to be prepared. And pretending that bad things can’t reach them if they stay inside the safe bubble we’ve worked so hard to fortify may help us sleep at night, but it won’t help them when that fragile bubble bursts. Which will happen, in some way, shape or form.

So here’s your take-away...Listen closely because I care about you and I think this is the only thing that’s going to save us all: the way to keep them safe is to realize that we can’t, and to stop trying. We don’t have control over everything that happens to them, not forever. And we need to redirect our efforts to a greater, more important cause: to teaching them how to fall, rebound, contemplate, change direction and grow.

We have to help them find the confidence to advocate for themselves, as well as the resilience to overcome defeat. They need to learn to use their voices to stand up for what’s right, but understand that sometimes, it won’t be enough. We have to show them we have faith in them, at the same time help them build their faith in God. And we need to provide them with the skills and tools to deal with disappointment, work through pain, manage anger and navigate worry. (Easy work, right?)

These things won’t dispel all of our fears, they won’t give us back our sleepless nights, but they will give us something else to focus our energy and attention on. Something much more lasting and impactful.

As a wise fish once said: “You can’t never let anything to happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him.” I’m going to remember that one.

Be strong friends and have faith when you aren’t. And if you've found a way to navigate the worry, please share. We are each other's angels.

{J}

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Moments and Milestones

Well, we're back from our whirlwind weekend at the San Diego State University Writers' Conference. It was AMAZING! Yet again, the organizers brought together an impressive collection of talent, inspiration, professionals, tips and tools.

Despite the downpour of rain and tumbling tumbleweeds, we arrived to the conference on Friday eager to meet some new writerly friends and pitch, pitch, pitch! We had our list of workshops and our advanced reading appointments all set. Friday night, we hung out with a great group of people at the mixer-game night hosted by the hilarious creators of Game Night in a Can - Jason and Barry. They lead us in a series of team activities and physical challenges, complete with prizes and killer music!! I'm happy to announce that the YA table - District 14 - won the Best-Worst Book Title and Cover prize for a children's book called There's a Dead Man in My Dreams. It was so fun!

Saturday we perfected and practiced our pitch, met with engaging agents and savvy editors, learned more about our art, networked, brainstormed and Tweeted (the writing world is all over Twitter). We had appointments with literary agents and editors seeking authors for their publishing houses. The end result was three of them asking for us to send them the whole manuscript. That's a WIN!

When Holly and I woke up this morning, we could barely talk to each other. Not for lack of words and ideas, but because of ALL THE WORDS AND IDEAS! So we played the Fault in Our Stars soundtrack while we got ready for the morning festivities. And then, AND THEN, we were honored and so, so surprised to be nominated for the Conference Choice Award. Erin Quinn, our brilliant conference director says that there's a lot of negative feedback in the world of writing and these awards are meant to let us know we're doing something right. To Holly and me, it was the cherry on top, the icing on the cake, the fuel to our fire.

If you don't know any writers or editors or literary agents or book promoters or writers' conference directors, you should know this one thing: they are generous. They share their stories, their formulas for success, their encouragement and even a few fair warnings. And I think they impart such wisdom because they've been here, in this scary place where doubt and fear make writers feel like their work isn't good enough. This weekend, the keynotes were bestsellers R.L. Stine, Jonathan Maberry, J.A. Jance and Sherrilyn Kenyon...BESTSELLERS, famous and successful and still kind. They were gracious and funny, inspiring and authentic, and genuinely hopeful for all of us. And that's why people come from all over the world to attend this conference. This is our community you guys, and it is wonderful!

So thank you to everyone who messaged, texted, encouraged and prayed. We made friends, learned more than we could have imagined and have A LOT to do! We will keep you posted on our progress.

And #SDSUwriters, thank you, truly. We will see you next year!!

{J&H}

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Word of 2017 Is...

Happy New Year, all! Wow...2017 is in full swing! The years just seem to slip on by, no matter what I do to slow things down. I believe this is the same sentiment that begins every year. Last year, my #oneword was EQUILIBRIUM and reflecting back, I think the Hales did a good job of maintaining it, despite my bout of vertigo in November.

2016 gave us some great moments and some sobering ones. On the international scene, markets rose and fell and proved as unpredictable as ever. We celebrated the Summer Olympics in Rio and worried about Zika. President Obama went to Cuba and NASA's Juno went to Jupiter. When some countries achieved peace, some endured prolonged war. Leaders were impeached, revolts gained ground and the UK left the EU. Refugees searched for safety; some found it, others were turned away. Terrorists attacked and ISIS recruited more extremists. Maybe most profoundly, Pope Francis declared 2016 the Extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy. Don't you find it interesting that amidst the year of extremes, the world was called to be forgiving, to show compassion and embrace mercy?

On the home-front, we saw killer clowns and tragic shootings ALL OVER social media. The Cubs won the World Series and we captured more gold medals. Sadly, a dizzying number of beloved celebrities left this earth, but never our hearts. The first woman presidential nominee was selected by the Democratic Party but the first billionaire won the election and the Oval Office. We got Stranger Things and This is Us and (SQUEALING) the return of Gilmore Girls. We got the Mannequin Challenge and Pokemon Go, self-driving cars and phones that caught on fire. Bomber jackets and bodysuits (WHAT-WHY?!?), bottle-flipping and "Damn Daniel." And these are just a few of the highlights and lowlights.

What a year. But what really became evident to me, through conversations and online observations, is the emergence of a culture: a culture of criticism. We're judgy and negative and point lots of fingers. Our opinions and comments have taken on an unprecedented harshness and it doesn't seem to matter which side we're on, there's righteous indignation EVERYWHERE! I say "we" because I am guilty too. (And if you're saying "not me" right now, you may need to look a little deeper. Maybe.) It's hard not to get wrapped up in the negativity when Facebook and Google target our feeds to convince us that everyone shares our worldview. This is serious. How are we going to bolster our kids to not just survive the culture of criticism, but change it?

Be the change...right? It's a simple statement that can be translated in many ways, all of which can lead to progress. So my #oneword for 2017 is OPTIMISM. Defined, it means "hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something." It's not only a mental attitude, or a philosophy, it's a choice. And even more importantly, with the turmoil of the past year and the uncertainty of this one, I think it's our only choice.

Maybe it won't change what happens in the world, but an attitude adjustment can change what happens in your home. That's a worthy endeavor, don't you think? Studies have shown that optimism positively impacts a person's mental and physical well-being. People who score high on optimism assessments have lower levels of stress than their more pessimistic peers. They are less lonely, less depressed, less anxious and get sick less often. Optimism is directly associated with life satisfaction, happiness, psychological and physical well-being. So why don't we see more of it?

Because the internet is evil! Okay, that may be extreme, but the prevalence of trolling, shaming and reckless posting, has never been greater. Somehow, the habit of putting negative statements and energy into the world has outpaced the habit of being kind. But we can change that. And I want to be the change...

I'm not saying that crap doesn't exist or that we shouldn't express ourselves when we're upset by the ugliness in the world. But where we can control the output, we should. I can't promise that my little corner of the cybershere will always be full of sunshine and lollipops because life is a mix, and an honest portrayal of life, should be also. But I can choose to feed the world with small doses of optimism, avoid the unnecessary spewing of criticism and limit the amount of negativity that I view. I will choose to see the hope in the midst of the inevitable ick and I will show my kids how to see it too.

So as you enter the new year, list of resolutions set in ink, I hope you find your #oneword and that it has the power to spread love and hope and joy. We get one shot at this life, let's make our legacy a positive one.

Happy New Year, friends!

Love,

{J}

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Spirit of Giving

The spirit of giving can be very powerful, especially when we include our children. Last weekend, our family delivered gifts to some families in need. Soccer balls and legos, blankets and shoes, gift cards for grocery stores and other essentials.

As we walked up to each house, our kids commented on how, on the outside, these families looked like they were well taken care of. The homes were adorned with lights and decorations, a car was parked in each driveway and it was easy to fall into a false sense of comfort that maybe things weren’t so bad for these families after all.

But everything changed the minute we were greeted by our first mama-in-need. We didn’t know her story - we didn’t need to - but we physically felt her relief as she squeezed her sweet baby girl and thanked us through tears. At the second home, it was a proud papa who hugged us and introduced us to all of his adorable sons, each wearing the brightest smiles I’ve ever seen. And as we walked back to our car, hands linked and feeling a mixture of happy and sad, each one of our kids put words to their realization that things can look okay and be far from it.

“Maybe someone’s sick and can’t work right now so they don’t have enough money.”

“Maybe they only have enough money to pay for the house and electricity and gas for the car but nothing else.”

“Maybe someone has a mental illness. Sometimes people can’t work when they’re sick like that even though they look okay on the outside.”

“Maybe they’re taking care of other family members and don’t have enough to go around.”

“Maybe they lost their jobs.”

Michael and I agreed that all of those were real possibilities and pointed out that sometimes things aren’t what they seem, that these kind strangers were truly missing something substantial, that we should never judge because, in life, we will have our own crosses to bear. After our good deed and some deep conversation, we had brunch and went to the beach, keeping close the awareness of all of our blessings.

And then, this happened…

Noah decided he wanted to donate all his legos to charity, not pass them down to family friends like we usually do because (his words) “our friends can all afford to buy their own legos and they’re probably getting lots for Christmas.”

Evidence of an impact. It doesn't get much better than that.

So as you enjoy your Christmas (or another) holiday, I hope you have a chance to be something for someone in need. Whether it's through charity, an intentional connection with a loved one, or just a hug, remember that each is an opportunity with the power to shape us. And if the kids can be involved, even better.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays!

{J}

Friday, November 4, 2016

Spinning on Repeat

The world is spinning. Things are floating and moving at unusual speeds. It feels as though a tsunami has hit the coast of California and our house is toppling over and at any moment, I will land on the floor. No, it's not vodka. It's vertigo. And it's BACK!

I Have. Vertigo. For the fourth time in ten years. The first time I had vertigo was one year after I was in a car accident. My daughter was five and we were turning cartwheels and summersaulting all over town. The spinning happened the next morning as I rolled out of bed. The room shifted and the next thing I knew, I was on the floor. Initially diagnosed with an ear infection, I was given antibiotics. When the meds didn't make the spinning stop, I was sent to Dr. Jacobsen of the Head and Neck Associates of Orange County, a gifted Ear, Nose, Throat doctor. He knew what was wrong and promised to fix me.

The next episode was in 2014. Then again in summer of 2015. And now, for my birthday. Happy birthday (you're getting OLD) to me!!

There are many types and causes of vertigo. A migraine headache or a virus in the inner ear can cause symptoms of vertigo. Luckily, they can be remedied with medication and rest and time. The most common type of vertigo, one that typically afflicts people over 60 or with those who've had head injuries, is called BPPV: Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo in which dislodged crystals travel though the labyrinth of the inner ear and send mixed messages from the vestibular system to the brain. It's what I had ten years ago and what I have had each time since.

The key word is "benign" so we know it's harmless, except for the falling and nausea and inability to function normally. This type of vertigo that is inextricably tied to movement. If I move too fast, I spin. If I flip my hair, things get shaky. If I look up, left or right too quickly, I feel disoriented and faint. Oh, and I kinda feel drunk. That's because my blood pressure is rising and falling, rapidly, sometimes 30 points in a matter of minutes.

The treatment for BPPV - the Epley Maneuver - is like magic. With a vibrating disc pressed behind my ear, Dr. J shifts my head until the misplaced crystals travel back through the inner ear to where they belong. The treatment induces extensive spinning during which I try not to throw up on Dr. J's shoes. For at least a week, I am required to limit my movement and sleep in a recliner so the crystals stay put. Doctor's specific orders: "Don't move much, and if you do, move like a zombie." But it has to be done. Once my brain trusts the messages from my vestibular system, the world, my-spinning-twirling-falling-over-world, is set right.

If you ever experience symptoms of vertigo, avoid driving, take things slow and see your doctor right away. For best results, find yourself a Dr. J.

{J}