Birthday thoughts for my 43rd year around the sun 🌞🌞🌞🌞🌞🌞🌞🌞🌞🌞🌞
Everyone knows I like to hike. As feet smack muddy, dusty, or green covered earth, one purposeful step at a time, stress and confusion rearrange into productive plans. The forest revives the human and she can return to civilization balanced and energized. This is absolutely vital for me….
When I was a kid, I used to frequently attend church services by Pastor Paul Tsiki. He often told his audience that he had written a poem that was the direction manual for life… After much drama leading into the value and complicated nature of the poem, all were on the edge of their seats as he cleared his throat and began. He would softly at first, and then with the increasing fervor of a Baptist minister, bestow his wisdom. “Plow on, plow on, plow on, plow on, plow on, plow on, plow on…. Plow on, plow on, plow on, plow on, plow on, plow on, plow on”. “Are you getting it yet?” he would ask. Then right back to it… “Plow on, plow on, plow on, plow on.” Then the audience would join in, chanting these simple words and people would weep as he preached that this is really all there is to it. No magic pill.
I’ve carried those words, his poem, all my life. They are what I think about walking in the forest, one step followed by the next. On my birthday I have a few thoughts to add. I make no claim to mastering any of this. If I had, I’d have nothing left here to do 💛
Plow on ONE step at a time. Staying grounded in the moment increases joy when things are lovely and keeps me focused when things suck. Anxiety comes from worry about the past or future and is totally unproductive. Taking the next right step stops this internal spin.
Plow on listening to intuition. The times that life has sucked is when I’ve ignored my gut. She ALWAYS speaks integrity and truth.
Plow on looking for the the love and beauty. Even when things suck, there is always something beautiful happening. When I look for it, it sees me through every time.
Plow on saying yes to miracles. It’s often scary when the things I have been praying for actually show up in physical form. It’s OK to say yes and take a leap even when I’m afraid.
Plow on letting others be human. We are all trying our best and make mistakes. Sometimes the mistakes are giant. Forgiveness isn’t just a gift to a loved one. It’s also essential for my own soul.
Plow on with humor. Laughter is absolutely the best medicine.
Plow on in style. Everything goes better when I feel good about how I’m presenting myself in the world.
Plow on in gratitude. Every breath, every minute, every hour, every year, always.
I thank pastor Paul for this incredible gift all those years ago and to everyone who joins me in this crazy life. Plow on 💛💛
This month we take time to bring awareness to all kinds of loss mother’s and families can experience. I think I can confidently say that everyone I know has been touched by this topic in some way, but it’s not something that we share about much. My intention for sharing my story is not to sing my sad tale. It is to voice the visceral feelings I experienced and to proclaim from the future (20 years later), that we survive and even thrive. My deepest sympathy to anyone who has dealt with their own loss.
When I was in tenth grade, my favorite teacher decided to start her family. She became pregnant easily, but then miscarried in the first trimester. Upon hearing her news my immediate, singular thought was that I could never survive such a thing. I had a close, adult friend who had infertility issues. I’d watched her pine for a baby, adopt, induce lactation, and then struggle immeasurably as they tried to adopt a second child. I’d celebrated and mourned with her, but I’d never known anyone to lose a pregnancy. Actually, I don’t think I knew this was possible. My teacher was rather pragmatic about it all (with us at least). The science lover in her reasoned that when cells don’t make a good union, the body expels them and you try again. All I could think was that a baby died and that had to be the worst thing a woman could ever live through. This was the one and only miscarriage I ever heard mentioned until I had my own. Most women just don’t talk about these things.
In 1999 Brett and I decided to add a third child to our little family. Brett was traveling a lot for work so this was tricky, but his Christmas trip home produced a tiny present in my belly. We were planning a trip for me to visit him in France and I was over the moon. I remember realizing I was pregnant in Off 5th at Ontario Mills because I got super emotional over choosing a travel bag with enough zipper compartments, because that is really something worth getting riled up about. Realizing that this was a completely insane reaction to the moment, I told Brett that the only explanation for my emotions was that I was pregnant. I was right.
I was so thrilled to be going to Europe, a long time goal, AND with this little bean growing in my tummy! How could life get any better? Our trip was dreamy. We stayed in beautiful, historic hotels, ate every regional delicacy, and saw as much of Europe as we could squeeze into our short ten days together. Two days before I was set to return home, we went to Paris. When I woke up that morning, I felt really off and was so frustrated that my mood was affecting this special day I had hoped and planned on for so long.
By midday, Brett and I got to the Eiffel Tower. We took the elevator up awash in the romance of it all. We marveled at the incredible landscape so far below! In the midst of all this beauty, I made a quick bathroom stop. Actually, I made quick bathroom stops about every 45 min this entire trip. I have an incredibly small bladder and pregnancy only makes it worse. The variety of toilets in Europe are their own entertainment. Everything from computerized, self-sanitizing robots, to literal holes in the ground. I visited them all.
This bathroom visit was different though. I rushed in, mind distracted with loveliness, until everything slowed to an urgent stop. There was blood in my underwear. Where was it coming from? Women bleed occasionally when they are pregnant. I tried to soothe myself with reason. Not me though. Two pregnancies and never a drop. I knew that very moment the baby was gone. I didn’t want to believe it, but my gut never lies. I felt my boobs and the soreness was gone.. I’d barley been able to touch them only the day before. I went into a sort of robotic shock. I went to tell Brett what had happened and found the glorious heights and landscape turned terrifying. I wanted DOWN! I wanted my feet on the ground. I wanted this to not be happening to me, to us. Brett tried to reassure me the way I’d reasoned to myself. Everything could be fine. I hung my hopes on that and tried to finish this day. This precious day in this beautiful place that I’d dreamed of my whole life. “This day when you started having a damned miscarriage in the Eiffel Tower” my inner voice screamed inside my head.
The next day I lay in my hotel room while Brett went to his office to work. The bleeding increased and I knew for sure I was losing the baby. Now to figure out how to make my way home on a long flight that I surely would not have been allowed to board had anyone known my state. I sent Brett to the drug store for the biggest pads he could buy. His French failed him on this particular subject, but someone had mercy on him and translated. At the airport, I had to leave him once I passed through security. I felt like my heart was being ripped from my chest as his image faded in the distance of the busy terminal and I went to go home and deal with what was happening alone.
Once I got on the plane, I realized an angel was sitting beside me… A gruff, bristly, Greek angel that asked me to share what was wrong as soon as we took off so he could help me since we would be “row mates” for the duration. He made sure I ate, distracted me with movies, and kept a supply of wine from first class coming because he found what they served in business class “totally undrinkable”. He walked with me back and forth to the bathroom and carried my bags off the plane. Then he disappeared before I could ever thank him adequately.
Once I got some sleep, I saw both my midwife and doctor. They were equally helpful and I was given drugs to increase contractions and hasten the completion of the miscarriage. This caused intense pain and it still took two days for me to pass the baby. It was the middle of the night when I finally felt it start to happen. I was alone except for my sleeping babies when the fetus slipped out into the toilet. Without even thinking, I plunged my hand in after it and fished out a tiny, perfectly formed being.
The next morning I called the doctor to update her. The nurse on the line asked me what I had done with the “contents of my uterus”. When I said I had saved it to bury the baby, she said I wasn’t allowed to have it because it was biohazard and I needed to bring it to them at the office that minute. I’d kept my cool until this point except for a few gentle tears. I NEVER lose my temper in public and the phone counts as “public”. But this was the end of my ability to stay calm and conscious. I told the nurse that it would take an army to compel me to hand over my baby and that would be from my cold, dead hands. I told her she was insensitive for using technical terms about my loss and that she must have never had a baby herself! When I stopped yelling there was silence. The long, uncomfortable silence was followed by some whispering. She returned to the phone and said she was having a Christian nurse call me back that could better understand my attachment to this “tissue”. My blood boiled all over again.
When the next nurse called, she told me that I must say I flushed the baby down the toilet so that she could write that in the chart. I did, but it wounded me. I was an active doula at this time in my life so even in my grief, I was always analyzing what happened to me and my body as much like a women’s studies student as I did like a human being… I wondered how many other women, who were in the midst of a loss, had been told the same thing, but hadn’t insisted on a different answer. With this small war behind me, I asked my mom to buy me a rose bush to bury my baby under. A few days later we carefully placed the baby into fresh soil, covered her with the meticulously selected plant, and said some prayers.
Now to recover. With my husband still abroad, I went about trying to physically recover and spend time with my kids. I’d never been separated from them for as long as I was during my trip with Brett and then was in bed when I returned. I craved their silliness and snuggles. My feelings were so raw with grief that everything brought me to tears. Everything was either too beautiful or too sad for me to contain. I felt so empty to have lost something so dear and so full to have children and a husband I loved so much. The contrast was just huge. This contrast is what gives meaning to its opposite. Without deep pain, you never know elation. Or more simply, without tasting something awful, how do you know delicious? This sadness was helping me define something so important. What I could see is that ALL of this emotion came from the same core of love. Without my love for Brett and my desire to continue to grow our family, the grief would never have existed. The grief WAS love in the form of sadness.
This felt sacred to me. It felt like I needed to hibernate to be close to these feelings until they started to ease. I’d noticed that the way most adults showed compassion to each other was to minimize their friend’s feelings. They would either compare a friend’s situation to someone else’s… “At least this is only your first loss. I have this friend that has had three miscarriages!” Or, they might reason why the hurting individual might look on the bright side… “You have two beautiful children! You’ll get pregnant again.” I could predict these conversations coming my way and knew every damned reason I had to be thankful and keep my chin up. It’s just that being able to get pregnant again or kissing the sweet faces of my littles didn’t erase the loss of this baby, this soul. I needed time to gain my strength before I could face people’s reactions.
One evening I decided to brave the public for a meeting. I told my mom why I was hesitant to go, but I’d been inside the protective veil of my little casa for several weeks and it seemed like time. I literally was not inside the conference room for ten minutes before a well meaning friend came to offer her condolences. I put my amour up a little right before the words rolled off her tongue, “At least you weren’t that far along! You can get pregnant again because you got pregnant so easily with Andrew and Alexis. Lots of women have to try for years.” Why couldn’t people see that getting pregnant again was not the point? I would never know THIS person. I was glad I’d waited so long to go out.
Time did heal, just like I knew it would, and my husband returned from his travels. My loss was one of the first ways that I learned to how to BE with other’s pain. I learned that there is no way to help people feel better when they are grieving except listening and sitting. No explanation, no looking on the bright side, no hope for the future can erase grief. It has to move at its own pace. But bringing a meal, offering an embrace, or helping with a ceremony, that’s support. Women CAN support each other. We can cook. We can sit. We can listen. We know how, deep inside.
After some months passed, I DID get pregnant again easily. This baby stuck and was born to a mother who had much more compassion and strength than she’d ever had before. On one optimistic morning I rose early to pee on a stick. I wish I’d had stock in those sticks! The magical double line showed up and I went to tell my mom the happy news. When I got to her house, I visited my rose tree in her yard. That very morning, the little plant had it’s very first, perfectly formed, delicate, white rose BLOOM.
In 2010 my husband Brett and I had the bright idea that the most prudent way to get our family to a wedding in Minnesota would be to drive cross country. We thought that we could both be economical and turn the trip into an epic homeschooler’s adventure by stopping at landmarks like Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone, ending the trip at our summer camping spot in Beaver, Utah with my parents before heading home. We mapped our route and headed off with ridiculously optimistic expectations.
The trip was epic, to say the least. One needs little imagination to envision the calamities that might await two adventurous and well-meaning parents with an SUV packed to the gills with luggage and kids smashed in like sardines. Before we even arrived at the wedding, we lost my son Ashton’s Heely shoe in a labyrinth of corn fields during a potty stop. Why had I only packed the child one set of decent shoes for a two-week trip? And how was the shoe still in the road waiting for us after 45 minutes of backtracking?!? I also left Brett’s suit for the wedding in a perfectly packed luggage bag, at home, in our closet, 3 days drive away.
Somewhere close to Mount Rushmore, the computer in my car showed that we had a major transmission failure when we were packed to take off at 6 AM. We were hours, or maybe days from a Land Rover dealership (or anyone who had ever seen a Land Rover for that matter), but were saved when we discovered that it was really just a battery problem. My daughter Alexis also had an altercation with an ATV during this trip that could have ended with an ER visit or worse instead of just revised rules of operation. Woven between these moments of resistance though, were some of the most beautiful, life-changing moments of this season of our lives. I continue to notice that life requires me to overcome obstacles with integrity before some amazing grace pours in.
Everyone has different desires and expectations for what makes a road trip excellent. Some people want to see rich history or meet new people. Some want to eat great local food. I like all of this a LOT, but what I want most is to see wildlife! This trek was brimming with close encounters. After visiting Yellowstone National Park, my animal interaction tank felt full to bursting like the geysers we had marveled at there. We’d seen creatures of every kind who were quite relaxed with humans and so abundant that it was like Disneyland for nature lovers.
Little did I know that something so special was still waiting for me at a rest stop in South Dakota. After driving all night to make our way to Utah and meet up with my parents for the last leg of the trip on-time, Brett pulled off the highway for me and our waking kids to stretch our legs (and pee!). There were dew covered hummingbird feeders scattered around this mountainside rest stop and it was very early so the birds were coming out for their first sips of nectar. There were just swarms of them! The kids and I ran to stand in the middle of the frenzy even in our morning haze.
Brett, always encouraging me to up the ante where animals are involved, silently removed a feeder from its hook and put it in my hand, positioning my fingers above the tiny perches. Inside, I was momentarily hesitant thinking I might be breaking a rule of some kind. But before I could protest, there was a hummingbird eating breakfast from my finger. The kids gathered around and also held feeders, feeling the vibration of wings by their cheeks and tiny claws on their thumbs and forefingers. We stayed at this rest stop for at least an hour taking pictures and drinking in the awe. I’m pretty sure I didn’t need my morning coffee that day. I was buzzing all on my own.
Ashton is a calm, cool, collected bird master.
Alexis gets her expressions from her mother.
When we got home from our great, cross-country expedition, ripe with lessons and wild nature experiences, I became obsessed with the idea of getting hummingbirds to come to my balcony and yard to eat. Brett helped me get feeders set up all over the yard and the whole space turned into a hummingbird haven for a long season of our life. It took a tremendous amount of work to keep the feeders clean and full, but like anything that we have an internal drive to do, it nearly always felt like pure joy to keep it all going.
At first, we just sat in awe of the tiny bird’s beauty when they came to visit. We looked for personalities in the “regulars” and named them. Scruffy was a beat up, older, magenta headed Anna’s that commanded the yard. He tried with all of his tiny might to keep the territory clear of other birds. Blueberry, whose gorget sparkled deep violet, was a little Costa’s male that was much more gentle. He had no natural fear of us, knowing that he could speed away at even the slightest hint of danger. He would sit on the feeder and go back and forth between eating and looking at us with curiosity, tipping his head from side to side like he was solving a complicated puzzle.
Eventually, the bird word got out that there was abundant food at Casa Bingaman, and the numbers of visitors skyrocketed. Every evening that we were home, I sat with Brett and the kids in complete stillness as we watched them come for their last feedings before sundown. This time we spent felt so important and even reverent because of the awe it produced in all of us. We began to make it a priority every single day.
I later learned that we weren’t just craving the rejuvenation and wonder that was created by these magical evenings, but there was actually something happening to our brains in this state of stillness. And it wasn’t just happening to one of us. We were sitting each night together, syncing up on the very same joyful, wondrous wavelength of rapture!
Awe finds all of us and can come from an endless variety of sources. As I’m sure you have already gathered, these moments are often fueled by animal encounters for me but I also love delicious food, music, wild places, and reading other’s inspired work. You surely have felt awe many times singing a favorite song in church or in front of the mirror as a kid, watching the full moon rise over a mountain horizon, or reading a poem that seemed like it was written just for you. Time stops, attention to the physical world around you ceases, and rapture takes over. Sometimes it’s punctuated by getting the chills or truth bumps. Then at some point, you find yourself back in your body, feet on the ground thinking, “Where am I”?
Biochemically, the brain creates a surge of nitric oxide and a chain reaction of other feel-good hormones whenever we are overtaken by rapture. This produces an incredible sense of well being, wonder, and delicious relaxation that is healing medicine for a human. Once it’s released into the system, nitric oxide works with anticoagulants in the blood, increasing its flow, signaling white blood cells to fight infection, balancing neurotransmitter levels in the brain, reducing cellular inflammation and even preventing heart attacks and strokes. Our urge to satiate this craving was more than just looking for a fun time! We were under the spell of beautiful brain chemistry which was creating deeply rutted neural pathways to help us learn to purposefully create awe in the future, healing our bodies and minds with nature.
All of this nightly hummingbird observation was pure bliss, but I always had this little voice reminding me that they ate from my hand on our trip and I wanted a redo of that. Audree and I tried quite a few times but our birds seemed a bit more skittish than the ones we’d first met. We could get very close to the feeders where they would inspect us, eating right within reach, but never perch on our hands.
One blustery, lazy afternoon I resolved to figure out how to get them to sit on my finger until it worked. I took all of the feeders down and hid them away so that the one I held was the only possible option for food. The birds would come to investigate but then look me in the face and zip away. Moments later, they’d be back to see if the crazy lady had reassembled their nectar buffet. They just weren’t falling for it.
This went on for some time. They’d fly up and I’d think, “Please just eat on my hand… please!” As my arms started aching, my brain started problem-solving. Physical stress is often the impetus for a new thought. I questioned, “What is the element keeping them from just sitting down?” It occurred to me to try changing my internal dialog from “please” to “thank you”.
Instead of thinking “Please, oh please sit on my finger” when they buzzed up I’d purposefully think “Thank you for sitting on my finger”, wondering if I could cultivate the outcome that I desired before it happened with more inviting thoughts. Sure enough, it was only seconds until Scruffy perched on my thumb, drinking up his lunch. I was elated! Could their willingness to light on my hand be that directly tied to my own thoughts and the messages my body emitted?
I ran inside and got Ashton and my daughter Audree to help me experiment with what I’d discovered. I gave them each a feeder to hold and asked them to think and try to feel the word love or welcome in their hearts and bodies to see if the birds would feed. Within just a few minutes, they did. Then I asked them to imagine and feel the word want or need. The birds zipped around the feeders but wouldn’t stop to eat. We tried other feeling states like contentment, fear, desire, and lack. Sure enough, the negative feelings repelled the birds, and the positive ones attracted them. We sat outside and played with the experiment until our fingers were freezing off, giggling with excitement that we’d figured out the puzzle.
The dramatically obvious results of our little hand feeding experiment were the perfect material for contemplation at this particular stage of my personal development. Later, I’d discern that all of these animal lessons always came to me perfectly timed containing a divine direction manual that I could learn to read based on each animal’s meaning historically and by observing their behavior.
Once I learned to watch and listen closely, animals became more than a simple fascination. Instead, they began to help me work to heal old patterns and move through some furiously intense times in the coming years. At this moment though, all I knew is that I had physically been able to act out a concept that I’d previously understood but had never effectively integrated.
“External circumstances do not create feeling states, feeling states create external circumstances”.
I have always been a highly sensitive, feeling, loving, grieving, empathetic little human! I am never just happy, but elated, never just sad, but devastated. My emotions don’t naturally hang out near the center where balance is found. I also could always feel the mood of the people around me with reliable accuracy. I knew exactly what state my parents were in when I hopped in the car each day after school or the mood of my co-workers as they walked through the door to begin a shift.
This empathetic perception gives me tremendous insight and makes me a sensitive parent and friend but also has a troubling downside. Without a mature understanding of it, I could allow myself to be too easily influenced by others emotions. If one of my friends was sad or upset, my mood synced right up with theirs, seemingly without my consent. Equally, if a close friend was feeling excited or my family was buzzed about some future fun we were planning, I found myself surfing on good feeling waves. I spent my teenage and early adult years stuck on a roller coaster of feelings and emotions, tossed around by whatever was going on with those I loved or even whomever I chatted with in a grocery store line.
By the time I found myself feeding these hummingbirds out on my balcony, I had a nearly desperate desire to be more in charge of my internal ecosystem. I grew up surrounded by adults trying to effectively use positive mental attitude principles and read people like Wayne Dyer and my beloved Christiane Northrup’s writing about staying present and in love and gratitude as a young mother. It’s not that I had a lack of good upbringing or material for growth to construct a balanced internal life. I just struggled intensely with putting it all to use while adulting. By now, I yearned to find a way to stay more centered without giving up my effervescence in the process. I knew if I could solve the puzzle of how to master my emotional states it would stabilize my daily living and also create and attract better future experiences.
But what I knew just made me feel like I was going cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. I constantly watched myself roll down into the pit of anxiety, or depression, or fear, all the while knowing I was the only one who could stop it. When I was on the joy upswing, it was contrasted by the reality that it would soon pass and I’d be cast back into my internal struggle as soon as the momentary high ended. I tried cognitive/behavioral techniques like the Sedona Method, read voraciously about the mind-body connection, and tried till I sweat to take charge of my feeling states with no lasting success. I understood that there was no magic formula that an author or scientist had recorded that I could follow for instant healing. What clicked during that moment on the balcony is that I was able to intentionally control and create my desired experience by feeling it first, instead of waiting or begging for it to come to me, for the very first time.
Hummingbirds are excellent kindergarten teachers because we can practice these concepts completely unattached to the outcome. The kids and I easily found this flow because there was no real risk. The worst thing that could have happened inside of our experiment was that they wouldn’t sit to feed; certainly not a life or death scenario.
This experience created a brand new neural pathway in my brain which I would continue to work with for years. Animals were always willing to help! The effort created so much fun in me and my family’s life that it didn’t feel like therapy, but ultimately it would be the exact the medicine I needed to master my own energy, healing the fear, anxiety, and sadness I’d had running the show in my head.
The hummingbird kindergarten lesson is that grasping, begging, feelings create resistance to what we want and need and therefore repel the very solutions to difficulties that we are trying to create. Just like the “Little Engine That Could” had to change his mantra from “I think I can” to “I know I can” to make it up the hill, these little, winged gems teach me to master internal dialog and begin to form what I desire from knowing to being.
Flowers have spoken to me more than I can tell in written words. They are the hieroglyphics of angels, loved by all men for the beauty of their character, though few can decipher even fragments of their meaning. ~Lydia M. Child
A profusion of pink roses bending ragged in the rain speaks to me of all gentleness and its enduring. ~The Collected Later Poems of William Carlos Williams