Daring To Be Vulnerable

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy – the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness we will we discover the infinite power of our light.” -Dr. Brene Brown

The best things; people and places, friendships and companionships never lasted long – at least not as long as I’d want it to. ‘Goodbye’ seemed to come around too soon. But I was young – a little girl- and the exuberance and expectations of youthfulness;  the hope of new and more exciting experiences helped to blunt the pain of loss and too many changes.

As the years rolled by and friendships began to mean more – there were stronger bonds of closeness and dependability – moving away became harder. We were not in an era of such high technology as we are in today.

One wrote letters, snail-mail, and soon the frequency of writing and receiving mail would peter out and finally die. Old friends became a vague memory as new ones took their place. But this transition was not as easy or smooth as I consciously thought it was. Somewhere at the sub-conscious level I was taking it harder and reacting to it in a very wrong way. To avoid the pain I was slowly developing a shell of protection. I didn’t want to be hurt anymore. So I would never give a hundred percent of myself to any relationship.

I liked my friends, and I made friends easily but there was always something lacking because I did not get too close to anyone. I was guarded in my relationships, not open. This distance I maintained distanced them from me. They took it personally and our friendships, though warm, never developed into life-long ties.

While I felt bad about it, I also felt better because our constant moving from place to place didn’t affect me emotionally the way it did earlier. I wasn’t breaking down inside anymore. My heart and my mind were intact; I was not vulnerable anymore. I was slowly becoming distant – ‘arm’s length’ is how I’d say it: ‘Keep at arm’s length’. I don’t know when or how I built these walls around me but walls were surely rising and imprisoning my soul.

Saying bye to someone you love is painful. Especially when you know you aren’t going to see them anytime soon or probably never meet them again because chances are, you’re not going to return to that place again.

The first pangs of farewell pains that I experienced were when my two elder sisters left for boarding school. I must have been six yrs old and it was terrible. I can still recall how it hurt so much, even though they would be away for less than a year, coming back for their long holidays every summer. I’d dam the tears that welled up as soon as the railway station came into sight. Then I’d let the floodgates down and let them flow and flow long after the byes were said and the train had chugged out of the station. Long after we were home and I was in my room. The emptiness would seep into me and I’d sit on the floor, take out my tea set and dolls and bawl my heart out. I still remember that! And this was how it was in the following years; I’d hurt so bad with every departure!

I also remember that as the years went by and both of them had finished with school, yet, they were never at home. They’d come for a short break and go back to wherever they were at the time. But what had changed was: I no longer felt the wracking pain of my childhood. Not that I was so grown-up but because I had learned to “put a stone on my heart” as the saying goes. We were brought up to keep our emotions in check. A stiff upper lip. So no matter how much my heart ached, I held my head high and went about living life as usual. If I needed to vent, I stuck my head in a closet and cried or buried myself under the covers and wept copiously on the welcoming foam of a pillow or then, took out my journal and wrote, wrote, wrote until I couldn’t see the page through my tears. I had learned this by the time I turned ten!

So deeply ingrained was this conditioning that, when I said the most painful farewell I would ever say in all my life, I was still holding back – still pulling on the reins to keep a check on myself. I wanted to scream, shout, bang my fists, grieve bitterly but all I did was shed a few tears, episodically, and try to maintain a calm and cold exterior. The biggest love of my life had gone forever! An unexpected, shocking departure from life, and those who loved him so well. A life truncated in its prime.  Yes, my husband had died of three successive, massive heart attacks in his thirty-ninth year. And all I could do was shed some tears in public because I couldn’t let my guard down. The guard that we were taught to keep up in a show of strength – emotional strength.

I thought it helped in keeping me from crumbling; from losing my sanity. I was so focused on being strong; on not making a public display of my inner-most feelings, not letting my young sons see me weak and devastated that I didn’t dwell on my personal loss. In hindsight, however, that was bad for me. I suffered the agony for years. For years I remained angry with my husband for dying and leaving me alone. For years I rolled up into a fetal position and wet my pillow with muffled sobs; so great was the pain.

The worst was, we had not said our final goodbyes! He died on one of his tours. He came back cold and dead. The best was when he was leaving home, although we had said our casual bye-byes, he turned back and with a rare, broad grin waved a bye to me again. I almost missed it because he never did that ever before. Once he was out of the gate he’d just drive away, our ‘see you’ being said. It took me by surprise and I did wonder for a second, ‘what was that?!’ But it made me happy and I saved the moment. This image came to my rescue every time I felt desolate because it was his ‘final farewell’. And what a memory it was!

This image brought relief because it became ‘our’ final farewell. Down deep I still ached because I knew I’d never see him again, but whenever I thought of him, this last image spoke volumes to me; it still does. The pain will never go but I have accepted it and it has become bearable.

I thought I had dealt with my unexpressed anguish and loss very well. Unknown to me it had a negative fall-out that carved out a new me. I became scared of loving anyone too much. I was afraid if I showed too much of love, or clung to anyone they would leave and I didn’t want to be hurt so bad again. I refused to love with all my love. I was afraid to show too much love towards my kids too.

The years went by and there were many farewells to friends and family as we moved from one place to another. It wasn’t a good experience but I no longer hurt so much… I missed my friends and family but it didn’t pain me as it would have before. Then along came a little bundle of golden fur. She was called Heidi.

Heidi was a golden retriever pup just a month old and she stole our hearts. Something inside me began to melt. The walls began to crumble and slowly I allowed myself to bring someone close to me. So close that she became my companion and confidante. She was not a dog for me, she was a person, my friend. I became defenseless; vulnerable and experienced so much of love from her.

She understood me when I spoke and even when I was quiet. She knew my silences, she felt my every feeling and responded to it. If she saw me with my face in my hands, she’d be there sitting in front of me moving my hands from my face and trying to get on my lap. She knew even if I was crying quietly. She’d come to my side and cuddle and lick my tears. She was the one who brought me out of the abyss of anger, self-pity, and the victim mentality. I was reluctant to get out of there. Heidi won this round. Letting go of my anger against David for dying and leaving me bereft was a life-saver for me.

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Heidi did indeed bring a ray of sunshine and literal warmth with her soft, furry body. And then when she had become my sturdy pillar of strength and emotional support she got cancer and died! That she had to be put down didn’t help the situation. I was devastated and, even now, when I think about her leaving the house on her way to her own ‘execution’ I am moved to tears. She went away trusting us – Moreso me. I hugged her and kissed her and let her go. I was against it but that doesn’t count, I acquiesced ultimately.

I was back to square one. The old me was doing a victory dance and whispering maliciously: ‘I told you so, I told you so’!

This was when God responded to my desperate cry for help. It’s not that He wasn’t on call before. I would pray and have my daily chats with Him. He’s been my BFF for a long, long time. But I used Him as my sounding board. And one who rendered help and protection when I needed it. I rejected the solutions He offered to my problems and stubbornly clung to my shadows, my walls, and wallowed in my misery: my fears, insecurity, and anger.

This time, however, I listened to Him instead of Him listening to me. It was the beginning of my new walk with God. The beginning of a new understanding. The understanding that to experience the wholeness of loving and being loved, I had to keep myself vulnerable. I had to let down all barriers and love wholeheartedly and even allow myself to be heartbroken, if at all that happened.

That’s what I had done with David, that’s what I had done with Heidi, that’s what I did with my kids – I had let down all barriers and let myself be open to giving and receiving love. I was vulnerable; I got hurt, let down, disappointed and sometimes desperate and frustrated but I always overcame and bounced back. These were the closest of bonds and I knew I could rely on love to set me free from my self-imposed imprisonment.

I had known love and the unique friendship David and I shared in our marriage.  I made beautiful memories to sustain me when I needed love the most and it wasn’t there. Maybe no one was there but the memories of happy times, good times, loving and caring times were always at hand to pull me out of the doldrums. I am grateful for these everlasting moments. Now it was time to come out of my shell. So, I let myself be open to the possibility of being hurt once again and in return, I strengthened my existing friendships, made new friends, and began liking the person I was becoming.

That’s what I relearned… to break down the walls and let love flow.

“To share your weakness is  – to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.” -Criss Jami

It was the best thing I had done in my life: open myself to love and be loved. Love taught me it was okay to grieve for my loss; it didn’t make me weak, on the contrary, it made me normal and helped in the recovery process which in turn made me stronger.

I grew in my closeness to God and understood His love in a new light. In my walk with Him, I realized that I have good reason to make close ties even if it meant being hurt or that the ties would be eventually broken. We will all meet again in the sweet by and by. The fear of separation or loss must not keep us from feeling the great love that God has placed in our hearts and from sharing that with our family, friends, neighbors, so we might shine for Him.

Being vulnerable has brought more love into my life. I have grown stronger with the walls down and the protective shell removed. It has made my friendships worthwhile and long-lasting. I have learned that it is in giving love wholeheartedly that we receive more back. My best memories are of the times when I had opened my heart, unreservedly, unabashed, unafraid; the times when I received so much of love and care.

Love {and the vulnerability it brings} taught me forgiveness, tolerance, kindness, patience, self-control, understanding, humbleness, caring, sharing, resilience, thoughtfulness, and gratitude. It also kept me grounded. How poor was I when I kept my heart in a tower, safe and unbroken! How rich I am with a wealth of love and old friendships that have endured time and hardships and new ones that have enriched me no end and a family – sons, daughters-in-law and the most beautiful grandkids – love brings it all together!

“With each passage of human growth, we must shed a protective structure {like a crustacean}. We are left exposed and vulnerable – but also yeasty and embryonic again, capable of stretching in ways we hadn’t known before.” -Gail Sheehy

 

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He Is Risen!

“A man who was completely innocent offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act.” -Mahatma Gandhi

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“Here is the amazing thing about Easter; the Resurrection Sunday for Christians is this: that Christ in the dying moments on the cross gives us the greatest illustration of forgiveness possible.” – T.D. Jakes

To those who believe and revere the day: Have a blessed and joyous Resurrection/Easter Day!

Thank God It’s Friday – and it’s ‘GOOD’!

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When I was a little girl, I never knew whether to be sad or happy on this day. The visuals and the story of the crucifixion did nothing to convince me it was a day to “rejoice” or be happy about. I was too young to comprehend ‘God’s love’ in connection with ‘sacrificing’ His son for a whole bunch of ‘sinners’ who would happily save a Barrabas and let an innocent, no less God’s son, hang on the cross. So I would try to tone down my play and general joviality in keeping with the solemnity of a death (and worse, a death that I too was somehow responsible for.) I just didn’t get it…any of it!

Then there was the three-hour long church service I’d go through playing with things my mother would make with her handkerchief to keep me engaged. I loved the kerchief mouse a lot! I made it hop and pounce all over and crawl under benches to retrieve it! And the little kerchief purse came next. And when I’d be exhausted and bored with this she’d have some snacks wrapped up and orange juice ready for me, and I’d munch my way through thirty more minutes! The next thing would be to curl up on the bench with my head in her lap and drop off to sleep. That was the spiritual part of my day.  And that’s how it remained until I turned eight. From ten to fifteen, church-going became a sporadic exercise because we moved to the country and our church was about twenty-two miles away.

So it was only after I began going to church regularly, at sixteen, having returned to the city once again, that I began to understand a lot of what had gone over my head earlier.

Now, many of my non-Christians friends or acquaintances ask me why we call it “Good Friday” when our Lord was so cruelly crucified. They listen to the explanation and nod their heads as if they understand but I can see the confusion in their eyes. They just don’t get it. For myself – It’s enormous! This love and sacrifice… and often I wonder – “How?” I don’t see myself or the human race, worthy of such a huge sacrifice. God’s own son sent to die on a cross for my sins! I’m just zapped by the ginormous love God has for us, rather unworthy humans! Every year, come Good Friday, it comes into greater focus – this love divine, this love sublime.

Thank God we have a Good Friday!

Crown or Crucify

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There is something about the cross that compels us to make a choice, either for him or against him. You can’t find a middle ground when it comes to Christ, even though at times we try to. (Fr. Sunny John O. Carm. )

Grandma’s Tales – Piggly

PIGGLY SMELLS THE ROSES

By Joy Clarkson

Acknowledgment – Thank you, Mia, for planting the seed of an idea for this story.

“Dada, Dada,” Mia called out as she scurried into the dining room and made for the corner, at which end of the dining table Dada had set up not only her permanent seat for meals but also a workstation where she’d sit and write.

Mia came and stood beside Dada who looked up from whatever she was doing into Mia’s serious and troubled eyes.

“What’s the matter, Mia? You don’t look too happy.” Mia nodded her head up and down. Dada waited.

“Dada, my lil Piggly has lost his snout!”

“Lost his snout?” Lil Piggly?” This was the first time Dada had heard about a lil pig called Piggly.

“Yes, Dada. Lil Piggly has lost his long snout,” she repeated gesturing with her hands in case Dada didn’t know what a snout was.

“What can I do Mia? Do you want me to help you find the snout?”

“Yes, let’s find Piggly’s snout,” she said, happy and relieved, as she took Dada’s hand in hers.

“Where’s Piggly? I need to ask him some questions,” Dada asked seriously. This was a serious case. Who ever heard of a pig losing its snout!

She pulled Dada out of the dining room and into the corridor that led to the bedrooms.

“There he is,” she said pointing a finger.

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“There he is.”

“Ah! I see him and he’s not looking very happy. Piggly, can you tell me where you lost your snout?” asked Dada

“Oik, oik,” said Piggly sadly, “I don’t know.”

“See,” piped Mia, “he can’t even speak properly without his snout. He’s saying ‘oik’ instead of ‘oink’!” And she looked so sad Dada thought she’d cry any minute.

Now Piggly, that doesn’t help much, does it? Let’s see, can you tell me all that you did this morning?”

“Well, I played in a muddy puddle. It was so much fun! I rolled around in the muddy puddle and splashed and jumped…” Dada interrupted him.

“And what did you do next?”

“Oik, farmer Longbottom took me to find truffles. I did a good job of it. I’m sure he’s pleased with me, oik, oik!”

“And what else did you do? Where did you go?” asked Dada.

“Oik, oik, I was tired and took a nap. I didn’t go anywhere and I didn’t do anything else.”

“Can you take us to the muddy puddle and the place where you found the truffles?” asked Mia.

“Oik, I can,” said Piggly eagerly. He did want to find his snout.

So off they went to look for Piggly’s snout in the muddy puddle. Dada used a pitchfork to dredge the squelchy, muddy pool for the missing snout but found nothing but slimy leaves and a few pebbles.

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Dada used a pitchfork to dredge the squelchy, muddy pool for the missing snout but found nothing but slimy leaves and a few pebbles.

Then they trudged to where Piggly had searched for truffles. It was a lot of searching as they had to go over a large area. They were quite exhausted by the time they had finished their search but had still found nothing. No snout!

Mia, Piggly, and Dada, who was not so young anymore, sat under a shady tree to catch their breath and rest their aching legs. No one spoke for a while. They were all lost in their own thoughts. And then the silence was broken by a big…Achoo! Achoo! Achoo!

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Then they trudged to where Piggly had searched for truffles. They were quite exhausted by the time they had finished their search but had still found nothing. No snout!

Piggly had a sneezing fit.

“Do you have a cold Piggly? Said Mia, as she patted Piggly gently.

“No, I don’t,” he replied. “It’s an allergy. It happened earlier today when I was sniffing the roses. I think I’m allergic to roses or flowers or pollen or…dear me! I’m so miserable, I could cry! Oik, Oik, Oik.”

“You smelled the roses?” said Dada sitting up straight.

“When did you smell the roses, Piggly?” asked Mia.

“You never mentioned it earlier,” mumbled Dada annoyed.

“I forgot,” wailed Piggly, “I just remembered when I sneezed. While farmer Longbottom rested under this tree I strolled that way…there. There’s a patch of wild roses down there. I sniffed them and …Achoo! Achoo!” Piggly had another sneezing fit.

Dada took Mia’s hand and both of them hurried in the direction Piggly had pointed out. A short run and they came upon a beautiful sight. The patch of roses!

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A short run and they came upon a beautiful sight. The patch of roses!

“Be careful Mia, these roses have nasty thorns. You stay here and I’ll look around for Piggly’s snout.”

Though Dada was very careful, but still, she let out a yelp now and then when a thorn pricked her. And then, Mia heard Dada shouting…she had found the missing snout and was shouting for joy.

“How are we going to put back Piggly’s snout?” Mia wondered aloud.

“We won’t,” replied Dada, “Dr. Horsense will do that. Come on, let’s hurry.”

Later that day, after Dr. Horsense had fixed Piggly’s snout right where it belonged, Dada and Mia went to see how lil Piggly was doing.

“Oink, Oink,” said Piggly happily, when he saw them. “I’m so glad I’ve got back my snout. I’m never going to sniff around roses again. Thank you, Dada. Thank you, Mia,” said lil Piggly as he trotted home.

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“Oink, Oink, I’m so glad I’ve got back my snout. I’m never going to smell the roses again.”

The story of the story:

Three-year-old Mia, one of the twins, came running to me at my ‘workstation’ and said, “Dada, Piggly has lost his snout.”

I said, “And who is Piggly?”

“My lil pig,” she replied.

From then on the story unfolded as we went around the house…to the places mentioned in the story above.

‘Oink, Oink, it was fun finding Piggly’s snout!

Does Your Toolkit Have The Right Tools?

I have often been asked how I have managed my family, home, relationships and life in general. A verse from Proverbs 14:1 comes to mind – “Homes are made by the wisdom of women, but are destroyed by foolishness”

I believe wisdom here lies in having the right tools of the trade. My tools have consisted of Faith, Love, Forgiveness, Gratitude, and Humor. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have these tools and to use them.

Faith has been my bedrock. I know whatever may happen and however rough times may be, my Lord and my God will be there to guide, protect, and carry us through. My faith has been put to the test many a time and I have turned and put my Lord to the test and He has never failed. Faith has taught me patience. It has taught me to trust and wait for His timing. Faith has shown me how to cast my cares on God. When my family was in need He provided for us. His grace keeps restoring our hope and faith.

Love has always acted as an all-purpose tool. When everything fails, pull out love; it never fails. It will not only transform the home but will also transform you. When I say ‘love’ I mean the kind of love as is written in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7

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1 Corinthians 13:4-7

I sincerely believe love makes you calmer, reasonable, sensitive and definitely more approachable. Love is the best beauty treatment you can ever have, inside out, it makes you radiant.

Forgiveness is an important thread that holds families together. If we must survive the hurts that we cause to one another we must have forgiveness. Much as we don’t want to be hurt we do get hurt, disappointed or offended. People hurt people. It is a flaw of human nature that we tend to hurt the ones we love the most. This is because of the ill-placed expectations we have of them and when they do not come up to our expectations we tend to deride them, be angry, take offense and blame them, thus adding insult to injury.

Forgiveness lightens the distress on both sides. It isn’t easy, but the good news is that it is possible to forgive. We need to forgive ourselves too. Often our guilt or anger at ourselves builds up walls of bitterness and resentment. We can’t face ourselves. To forgive others we must first be able to forgive ourselves. Sometimes we may have to work harder at it, especially when we have been deeply injured. Turn to Faith. Turn to love. Turn to Forgiveness. Forgiving families are happy and united families.

Humor is one tool that can never be used too much. It is a wonderful tool and can lighten gloomy days and chase away the blues. It should be readily available and used liberally. “Laughter disarms, relaxes, distracts, enhances, and connects us to one another. There is no sweeter melody than when our families laugh together and sharing joy causes us to bond at the heart,” says Patsy Clairmont, and I couldn’t agree more. Seeing a funny side to a situation, helps us to be more positive and cheerful. Laughter acts as a safety valve to release repressed emotions or stress. It improves mental health and lends an amiable disposition.

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Gratitude, simply put, is thanking God for everything He gives. A grateful heart acknowledges even the tiniest help rendered. Thank God in good times, thank God in bad times. A thankful heart will let us look beyond our difficulty and see the lesson. The message comes from our ‘messes’ – a learning point.

There is a fable about a man who was miserable and couldn’t stop bemoaning his fate. He was forever focussing on all his problems and felt life had been very unfair to him. He looked around and found that his family members were more fortunate, his colleagues were lucky, his neighbors were better off. He declared that God was not just and it was no use worshipping him.

Finally, God appeared to him in a dream and told him that he could put all his problems into a sack and take it to the Tree of Destiny and dump it in exchange for any other sack over there. The man happily lugged his sack to the tree. There were many other sacks there and he found many belonging to some of the people he had envied. As he started opening the sacks, one by one, he found he didn’t want any because what he saw there did not appeal to him. So he gathered up his bag and walked home. The morning saw him as a changed man. He had developed a grateful heart and he thanked God for his lot. Be a family that is thankful for God’s mercies. Be a family that appreciates anyone who has done anything good for you.

Count your blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done!

Stack up your tool kit with the right tools.