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As you know, we’ve been dealing with the flu here in Lovey-dovey-land, CO. We’re finally starting to feel better, so my daughter Becca and I decided to do a girl’s afternoon out. We started at Starbuck’s, where we had some coffee (me) and a “cake pop” (Becca). From there, we went to Macy’s, where Becca was lucky enough to get a “makeover” (a little lip gloss, eye shadow and blush) courtesy of the Estee Lauder counter – they’re wonderful people there! 🙂 She was quick to remind me that, “we girls have to moisturize, Mama” – my little girly-girl! (She picks up on this beauty stuff like a sponge – I don’t know where she gets it, because I hardly wear makeup at all!)

Don't forget to say the important things to the people you care about!

I’ve been reading a book by Patti Digh, called “What I wish for you” – newly released. It reminded me that it’s so important to tell the people we care about how we feel – they need to hear it and we need to say it. It’s never too late, and it’s always appropriate. So go ahead, and say it – it’s always worth it.

Looking into the heart of the daisy

I can't wait for Spring and flowers again!

The little people got me flowers for V-day, and they’ve lasted a long time! Daisies make me really happy, and these came from a loving family. 🙂 Hurry up spring!!

From my journal, written today at the park where my kids and I like to play:

It’s a beautiful day, after nearly a week of clouds and rain, which I really loved. It’s nice to have the variety, and I love it when the weather and the seasons are in flux. Today is sunny and about 70 degrees, and I have the kidlets at the park where they are having fun being outdoors after spending most of the week cooped up inside. It’s wonderful to see them run and jump and play.

Fall has definitely arrived – the days are shorter and cooler, and the leaves are changing. It’s my favorite season for all these reasons, but also because the poignancy and beauty of life shines even as the days darken, the leaves die, and the world around me begins to go into that long, cold sleep of winter.

The promise of spring blooms even in the dying embers of fall, bearing hope for renewed life each time around, in an eternal cycle. The leaves may age and die, but the tree remains. And even when the tree dies, the promise of the seeds that have fallen and their new lives remain and flourish. So it is with us. As I sit here under the trees with their still-green leaves, I notice that only a few have begun to show their colors. I also notice how each one, although they look similar, is different from every other leaf. And it occurs to me, that each year the leaves are different as well – the leaves that will arrive in spring are completely, wholly different and yet the same as the leaves that are here, now, in the beginning of autumn.

Perhaps one form of eternal life is that the divine spark of who we are – the lives we lived and the love we made – lives on in and through our children. Maybe not even just our genetic offspring, but also in the lives of the children of our hearts – the lives of all we touch through the simple acts of living and loving.

The leaves may die each year, but the tree remains. Each one of us is as a leaf on the tree of humanity, and the tree is changed and made new by every leaf that has ever appeared. Without the leaves, the tree is barren and dies – the leaves along with the roots provide nourishment that keeps the tree alive. Each one of us – through our hopes, dreams, lives and loves – keeps the tree of humanity alive and growing. It doesn’t matter that the leaves eventually fall and new ones replace them – the tree remains, and has grown and matured by the simple fact that the leaves were there.

If anyone had told me 6 years ago that I’d still be changing diapers on a nearly 6-year old, I have to admit I would have been scared spitless and wondering what the hades I’d gotten myself into. And yet, here we are with Aidan in kindergarten and still wearing pull-ups because he either can’t or won’t use the toilet.

I remember when he was 3 and 4, people would say to me, “Don’t worry. He won’t go to school in diapers.” Well…again, here we are. Now, I’m just hoping he won’t go to high school in pullups.

The thing with Aidan is that, in terms of the autism, he’s pretty high functioning. He talks, expresses emotion, interacts socially (to some extent), and is generally a sweet little kid. Here’s where the other side, the ODD, comes in though. ODD is short for Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and it roughly boils down to where a child will say no and be oppositional simply for the sake of being oppostional. If you say the sky is blue, this child will say it’s purple with yellow polka-dots until he’s screaming bloody murder and insisting it’s purple with yellow polka-dots. This all occurs without me arguing with him. With some things, like the color of the sky, it’s really no big deal. But, with some things, it IS a big deal – like with potty training.

When I said “can’t or won’t” I was referring to the ODD. Aidan CAN use the potty to urinate, and generally does except when he’s in an ornery mood. Then, he’ll go in his pullup purposefully if I ask him to use the potty. Using the potty is a battle, no matter what I try, because of the autism-ODD combination.

Now let me explain that I have a Ph.D. in counseling psychology. I KNOW what to do, and we have a very behavioral household. There are rewards for trying, and better rewards for doing. For oppositional behavior, there are set consequences – losing privileges and time-outs along with losing whatever activity he was engaging in during the oppositional period. (Losing it for a time period, not permanently depending on what it is – I don’t want to punish my daughter for her brother’s behavior.) The long and short of it is that I know what to do – and it’s *still* frustrating.

ODD is a frustrating disorder to say the least. Sometimes he’ll just say no and/or refuse to do something for reasons I can’t begin to understand. Sometimes, it’s even for things he enjoys and wants to do. I don’t think even HE understands it sometimes. Stubborn is an understatement – this kid sometimes gets in his own way. Adding the autism into the mix complicates things because he has trouble relating to people anyway. I’ve been asked how much is ODD and how much is autism, and I honestly don’t know except to say I’ve seen both. ODD doesn’t account for his fascination with automatic doors, elevators, transformers (the ones on the power poles, not the toys), and lights or his language and physical delays. Autism doesn’t account for the oppositional behavior and the purposeful defiance that I see.

In the end, I think it burns us both out. I see him get so frustrated and upset and I WANT to help him. My love for this child, in spite of the ODD, is unending and I wish I could do more to help make things a little easier for him. And yet, I get burned out and frustrated. When I’ve changed the disgusting, feces-laden pullup for the 8th or 9th time in a day, there are times when I just want to scream. When I have to deal with “no” and “I won’t” and “You can’t tell me what to do” or him ignoring requests repeatedly, I want to run away. I get angry, frustrated and exhausted.

And yet, we muddle on. Although to some extent it’s a battle of wills, it’s also the story of a son who loves his mother and family and a mother who loves her son with all her heart. Will he get out of pullups? I sincerely hope so. I’m not going to say “by high school” or by anything anymore – my sense is that it just puts pressure on both of us. We already try to make potty training less a matter of control and more a matter of pride for him, and I work hard NOT to get into fights with him over it. The pressure of “by high school” or by anything is more on me – and I have to let go and let him do this on Aidan-time. I’m hoping the peer pressure of being in school will help and so far it seems to have had a positive effect

So where do I go from here? I keep loving this special child that tests my patience every day. I enjoy and appreciate the smiles and the happiness that I’m so lucky to have, given his autism. I love the hugs and imagination, and even the lights, elevators, escalators, and “button doors.” I see things I wouldn’t ordinarily pay attention to, like the color and shape of the transformers on the power poles and the shape of the lights and buttons in elevators.

And, I keep trying. And trying. And trying, and trying. I have faith that he can eventually do this, and that I will survive it. And I never, never, ever give up.

Lately, I’ve been taking many leaps of faith. I quit my job as the nursery coordinator at my church, and have started teaching again at the local community college. That alone was a leap of faith because I’m worried about being able to pay my bills (as we all are, I’m sure). Community colleges aren’t known for paying well – and this one is no different. It’s a great place to work though, and I really enjoy being around people who care about learning. So, my leap of faith here is that I’ll somehow be able to make enough to pay my bills.

But wait…there’s more! That’s right, folks – more leaps of faith. I’ve been blogging on and off about starting my own private practice for psychotherapy and groups. I’ve set a date and time for my first group – without anyone in the group yet. I’m taking that leap and trusting that the people who need it will be there. Now, I’m not just sitting on my tush and waiting – I strongly believe also that God helps those who help themselves. So, I”m talking to therapists in town including my training program, and will make and drop off flyers with the local behavioral hospital as well. So hopefully, between word of mouth and active marketing, something will happen. It’s still a leap of faith though, and I’ll fully admit to being nervous about falling flat on my face.

Sometimes, the leap of faith can involve letting go. As an undergraduate student I learned in nearly exclusively lecture-style classes until I went to Whitman College. While there I also had lecture classes, but also had classes and experiences that stretched my mind as well as my conception of what a “class” should be. Today, as a teacher, I have trouble letting go of the lecture style, and it’s a leap of faith to me that i can do this, and it will be all right. I can let go of stuffing information and allow the learning process to happen in its own right and natural way. This leap of faith is a process for me, but my faith is in the process and in the fact that others have done this and that it’s turned out all right.

It’s a leap of faith to leave the secure (whether in the classroom or in my life) to follow my dreams…and will continue to be a leap of faith when I move beyond where I’m at now to another dream or goal. Every step, every breath, every interaction is a leap of faith that the safety net will be there, and that even if I do fall on my face, I can stand up, dust myself off, and begin again.

So what is the “net”? In this case, leaps of faith can be literal as well, though…every day, I say a prayer that is a literal leap of faith – faith that God is there, that God listens, and ultimately, that there is a God. This faith guides my life – based on experiences I’ve had where I’ve known God not just as “ultimate cosmic power” but as a Friend. This sense of God as Friend is my litmus test for all things religious and spiritual – if it feels like something my Friend would say or do, then I trust it. It’s a true leap of faith, and requires my attention to my spiritual development on a daily, sometimes minute-to-minute basis. As a result, though, I continue to feel and have this friendship, something I value as strongly as I value life itself.

My dreams, my goals….my voice and my acts – doing these involves taking the leap as much as listening for the guidance as to when and where to do them. The listening is a much if not more of a leap of faith than the doing – I’m trust that what I “hear” is valid and reliable and trustworthy. So far, it hasn’t let me down.

Wilderness Waterfall - copyright 2009, Laura Burlingame-Lee

Wilderness Waterfall - copyright 2009, Laura Burlingame-Lee

Those of you who have read some of my earlier posts know that trust is not something that comes easy to me; it’s much easier to distrust than it is trust. And yet, I see myself as being a person of faith, which seems contradictory. Many times I find myself asking, “how will I know what’s true? What’s right? What’s real?” In the end, I think the bottom line is I won’t – I have to trust, and trust is the essence of faith. And for me that trust takes the form of “active trust.”

For me, faith is trusting that there is something out there, and that that something is benevolent. Faith is believing in hope, and that bad things, pain, and sorrow can and will eventually get better. Faith is believing that the essence of humanity, if we are made in something’s image, is basically good and that somehow, we can eventually live up to that potential. Faith is believing in the power of each other – that we each count, that we can make a difference, and that we can help each other. Faith is believing in love, of all kinds. It’s believing that the core essence of who we are, although contained in our physical bodies, is beyond and surpasses our physical limits and that somehow we go on. Trust is at the heart of these beliefs, and at the heart of faith.

Faith is believing that the still, small voice we hear is there, adn that if we trust it and listen to it, it will guide us and help us know and live the best lives we can. Trust is at the heart of this. And, in spite of my struggles and past, I do trust this, and realize it might be the only thing I do trust.

And what does my faith tell me? That it’s ok – even good and smart and safer – to use my head and trust my logic in relation to religious and church matters. That it’s ok to be burned out on church politics and cliques, and that these things are NOT spiritual or faith-building; in fact they’re the direct opposite. That I am not my church or my religion and that my spirituality does not have to depend on them – I can be spiritual and disconnected from my church at the same time. That I’m on the right track for me, and that my doubts and questions in these areas are legitimate and real. And that it’s ok to trust myself on these things. And that my Friend is at the heart and core of all these things, adn that having faith and trusting in all of this is actually my Friend. And to be perfectly circular in my illogic, trusting my Friend is trusting what that still, small voice says. I use my head and trust with my heart.
For me, that’s faith.

Trust is the heart of my faith, and faith is believing that even if I question and doubt and have moments of disbelief, I’m still ok. It’s learning to love myself and others as reflections of whatever that something out there is, and it’s working to be the best person I can be. It’s letting go and trusting myself and learning on the way.

I consider myself a spiritual person. I belong to a certain faith tradition at the moment, but I consider myself more a person who wants to learn about and find commonalities in as many faith traditions as possible. I wasn’t always this way – for a long time, I was furious with God, and then after that was not even sure that a deity existed. Now, I fully believe that there is deity, and that connection with the divine is not only possible, but is offered freely if we’re open to it.

This journey began with a child’s faith – I was taken to church (sporadically, but taken) and went to Sunday school like most kids in my area. I didn’t even begin questioning differences until I invited a Jewish friend to one of my youth group get-togethers. You have to understand – I didn’t even really know he was Jewish, and had I known I probably still wouldn’t understand the cultural consequences of what I’d done – I invited him to a Yule log hunt and hot dog dinner. (Yeah, I can see the cringing – I still cringe too). He taught me a couple of lessons her – first, that there ARE differences and second, that it’s important to understand them so you can respect them. I still had a ways to go, but I was at least started on my journey.

In the course of my wanderings, I’ve been Episcopalian, Latter-day Saint, Wiccan, agnostic, and Lutheran. In my teenage years, I flirted with Catholicism out of the sense of calling to be a nun. The gist here is that I’ve been all over the board when it comes to organized and not-so-organized religions. In my darkest periods, I wondered if there was anything out there at all. As much as I doubted, though, I still had the sense that there was, even if I didn’t want to believe it. That’s where Active trust came in. During this period (the time after I left the LDS church and while I looking at Wicca), I doubted the very existence of deity. My experience in the LDS church was that God had been made in the image of man – and I use “man” deliberately. Women, especially feminists, were marginalized or even ostracized. I found I didn’t fit the mold, and that there wasn’t much tolerance for that. (One bishop told me that it was too bad I’d been born with the mind of man stuck in the body of a woman.) I was burned out on male domination and religion in general.

Gradually, though, my sense of the divine around us came back. My heart didn’t want to see it – I was still smarting from the earlier experiences. In this case, although it may seem illogical to some, I let my head overrule my heart. I let go of my religious prejudices as best as I could and tried to trust in the Divine. This trust led me to experience the Divine as feminine through Wicca, and later as both male and female (indivisible from each other). It also let me experience faith and even religion to some degree as a supportive environment. However, that’s not to say I fit any real mold of what a “religious person” looks like – I say that I’m more spiritual than I am religious.

These days, I say there are as many religions as there are people.
Now before y’all bomb me with fire and brimstone, let me explain. Our organized religions are about community – shared beliefs and the sense of belonging. However, each one of us interprets our faith traditions through the understanding of our own experiences. My experiences are different from yours, and yours are different from every other person. Ideally, we’re able to share our experiences, find meaning in them, and maybe put them in the framework of our religious beliefs.

I find as I’m getting older, though, that I’m wanting to find the common ground in all the different traditions. The more I read, the more commonalities I find. My active trust these days centers on believing and trusting that understanding and peace can come about, in spite of our differences. My heart tells me that it may not be possible, but I let my head overrule that lack of trust and fear. It may not happen – but by using my active trust I can do my part to work for it happening. I may not always succeed, but I do try to live my ideals and by living my ideals bring others joy and hope as well. I don’t push my beliefs on anyone – I believe that my acts and my life are my offerings and that if I live according to my beliefs I won’t need to push them on anyone. Finding commonalities, building trust between each other, creating community and peace – all of these unify us and help us understand and celebrate each other. To me, that’s the essence of love and of relationship – caring for and about each other, and that’s what I work for and try to live.

Idealistic? Maybe…but without ideals and hope, regardless of whether it’s religious or not, where would we be? Hope, in my opinion, is the embodiment of active trust and hope is where I want my heart to be.

Yesterday I went to lunch with a friend. This friend is someone I used to see with in my ministry work, and she wanted to take me to lunch. Since we are no longer working in that context, I agreed, and we enjoyed a nice lunch at a local Chinese restaurant. When the time came to pay the check, the waiter left it between us.

Now, when she had asked me to go, she had said that she wanted to take me. I, however, felt guilty about this, and paid the check. As I did, her face fell and she became somewhat upset. “I really wanted to take you to lunch,” she said. At that moment, I realized that I had made a big mistake.

Receiving, I’m learning, is not just receiving a gift. It’s GIVING a gift as well – allowing the other person to give and receive the blessings from doing so. By grabbing the check and paying it, I was denying her her gift, and I was also robbing myself of receiving.

Beyond that, though, I learned that I was being ungracious and ungrateful. In my experience, both my husband and ex-husband used to the grab checks and pay the bill – it was almost like a game. With my friend, I was doing the same thing. What I didn’t see, though, is that grabbing the check and forcing her to accept the situation was a power move and taking control.

Taking control and using “power over” is something I’m usually sensitive to, and really dislike. To realize that I was doing this was a revelation. I was ashamed, and realized that I was not just depriving her of giving, I was also taking a “power over” position and being overly dominant. And this with a woman who’d struggled with domineering people for most of her life. To say I was ashamed is an understatement.

Once I realized what I’d done, I called the waiter over and asked if they could re-do the bill (which they did), but the damage was done. I allowed my friend to pay, but the power dynamics had changed…I ALLOWED her pay, and could not rescind the “power over” that I had taken. Having been in “power under” position many times with my ex-husband and current husband, I felt awful, and rightfully so.

My friend, unlike me, was gracious. I apologized and told her how hard it was for me receive things – that I always felt if I didn’t earn something I felt unworthy of receiving. We talked for a bit about my insecurities – something we hadn’t done before, and I told her I’d learned a lesson. We said goodbye, and I left – and wish I could I take back the moment. I let HER know I’d learned something, though, and I apologized again – and truly did feel remorseful.

The lesson I learned was the receiving gracefully is giving a gift as much as is giving outright. Receiving allows the other person to give and to receive the blessings of giving. Receiving allows us to learn about gratitude, humility, and love – and also teaches us that it’s ok to be vulnerable in some situations. Receiving gracefully and appropriately allows equality and true reciprocal relationship – and these are lessons which I am still learning.

I’m grateful to my friend for more than lunch – I’m grateful for the lesson she taught me. I’m lucky to have friends like her in my life, and I thank them – and you – for all the lessons I’ve learned.

Ok – I worked my tail end off yesterday – syllabus for the class I’ll be teaching this fall (Developmental Psychology), Designing my business cards and brochures, meeting with people about office space…it was a busy, busy day. So, I’m taking a break today.

When I work with clients, I’m always encouraging people to be gentle with themselves. That doesn’t mean not being accountable for your actions, by the way – it does mean if you have to take yourself to task you can do it in a way that’s kind and gentle.

One of my friends recently about how the Golden Rule also means treating yourself the way you’d want to be treated. If you’ll notice, the Golden Rule doesn’t say, “Treat others as you treat yourself,” but rather “as you’d want to be treated.” So, why do we have so much trouble treating OURSELVES the way we’d want to be treated?

How often do we find ourselves chronically putting our needs last? Or ignoring our bodies’ needs for rest and relaxation? How often do we take care of everyone else, leaving no time to do so for ourselves? For women, especially, it’s a chronic issue.

When I work with people who chronically ignore or negate their own needs I used what I call “Healthy Selfishness.” I use this temr for a couple of reasons. One is that “selfishness” has been a label thrown at us likely since we were children, and it has such a negative connotation that reclaiming the word in a different way helps people see that it’s NOT a bad thing to take care of themselves. That’s the “Healthy” piece. It’s healthy to care for ourselves, and to let ourselves enjoy life and things we enjoy.

So, today I’m going to play. I’m getting out my kid’s easel, and we’re going to paint on the porch with bright tempera paint and great, big, chunky kids’ brushes. We’re going to splash in the wading pool, and we may go to the library as well. The point is, I’m going to let me kids teach me to play again.

Somewhere along the way to being a “responsible adult,” I lost that. I was always the “responsible child” so losing play happened pretty early for me. Today, I find myself yearning to let go, to play, to let loose – and I don’t know how. So…I’m going to the best teachers I know – my children.

I do have things I “should” do – I should work more on the development psychology class, I should work more on the paperwork for my private practice…but I also should relax, take care of myself and treat myself the way I’d want to be treated. I should also not judge myself as harshly and punitively as I do. I should treat myself gently, respectfully, and lovingly. And that means paying attention to my need to relax, play, and cut loose a little.

So, this is my attempt to work on those things. I’ll post pictures here next time of our painting adventures – all of us. 🙂

Reflections of Reflections…

Other Facets of the Mirror