Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Bearing witness

Recently I have found that I am exhausted with life. Work, kids, house, family and friends. So much going on. So much to do. So much to listen to. I just want to put ear plugs in and sleep.

Then I began to wonder. What is it that is so exhausting? Is it the actual life events or is it my participation in it? To be clear, I am the type of person that likes to hear the stories. I like to help out, volunteer for projects. I am the person that you call with a life issue. I give advice. I analyze situations. OK, I may over analyze some (most) things. I solve problems. I am intrigued with psychology and what drives people to make the choices they make. Was it their family of origin? Were they a victim of abuse? Is their some manipulation going on? Passive aggressive behavior? How does one respond to that behavior? Could it have been done differently?

As you see--it is exhausting. My mind is always going. That little excerpt does not even begin to describe the thoughts always running around in my head about my own life. My own family and work and choices and ....  Then one day while getting way too involved in someone else's issues  my therapist said to me --- "What if you just said to yourself---bear witness."

Bear witness. Sounds interesting. If I just listened. Without having to solve or fix. If I was just present with my loved one and reflected that I cared. 

Bear witness. So I tried in a few instances. It is difficult to do. There is part of me that wants to fix and solve and figure out. In reality though, I think people just want to be heard and accepted for who they are and what they are doing (even if I do not agree with their choices and actions). Every person just wants to know that they are unconditionally loved.  No matter what they do or what their story is.  So I do not need to fix or figure out anything. I do not need to analyze and explain I just need to be.

Be present.
No judgement.
Bear Witness.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Only Love

Last night was the Third Annual U2charist at Tabernacle Church in Salem, MA a benefit for Heifer International. Great music. Great people. Great message. Here is my sermon...

Children and families hungry. Living in extreme poverty. Dying of starvation. Overwhelming. Tonight is our chance to make a difference. We heard what Heifer International does to help individuals in poverty stricken countries. We are here to support them tonight. The purpose of my sermon is to help you, each individual sitting before me to do what you can. It is not only about money, but how you lead your life. What your every day choices are. That is where I found these words. That is where I found the title. Only love. For if we act out of a place of love, we can only do good.

We just saw a video of the activities of the youth group. I chose the song Magnificent off the last U2 album No line on the horizon. And these kids and the adults that lead them truly are Magnificent. That choice was simple.

So again, for inspiration I turn to a U2 song. As it is a U2charist. This song like so many songs that U2 writes can have different meanings. We can take it as a love song. But I always love to dig a little deeper. Out there on the blogosphere many believe it is based on the bible’s Magificat or Mary’s song. Mary’s song may be familiar to you, or not. It doesn’t matter. That is the great thing about U2’s music. It can be biblical, social or personal. You decide.

So see if you can just listen to the words and pay attention to what comes up....

I was born

I was born to sing for you

I didn't have a choice but to lift you up

And sing whatever song you wanted me to

I give you back my voice
From the womb my first cry, it was a joyful noise ..

I can remember feeling that joy with the birth of my children. And although to get to that joy now I have to trudge through the memories of sleepless nights, children crying and sibling rivalry, it is still there. It has a special place inside me . It is like that space inside that is quiet. That is peaceful. What we all have inside of us. Our essence. If we pay attention we can feel it. That space that we may only touch for a moment, but when we do it is Magificent. That place that we yearn to get back to....

To go back to the lyrics from Magnificent...

Only love, only love can leave such a mark

But only love, only love can heal such a scar

By now, many of you know that I am a nurse practitioner, so my mind is based in science. At times I have difficulty with the miracles. You know, healing the sick, curing the lepers. Immaculate conception. It is still a journey - this faith thing, and I am on the path. I was fortunate this past October to go on a week retreat in Monterey California. Most of the 5 days were spent in silence. I had a lot of time with myself. To listen to and feel what I really believe. One thing that I now know for sure is that love does heal. If you open your heart to love and are willing to listen, that is where God lives.

So, back to the science. There is a body of scientific literature that documents the healing power of altruistic deeds. Volunteerism. Civic Engagement. How inner city youth volunteering leads to better grades and higher levels of high school graduation. Depressed people helping others decreases their physical symptoms . Giving feels good. Creates actual chemical changes in the brain. Dopamine, oxytocin. The feel good chemicals surge with giving. It heals wounds.

Only love, only love can leave such a mark

But only love, only love can heal such a scar

What would happen in your life if you made your daily choices from a place of love. If you took the time each day to be quiet. If you paid attention to what you really want in life. Not stuff. Shoes, cars, material things. Because lets face it we live in a society of abundance. Even in this economy, even if we don’t have jobs. Even if paying bills is a struggle. Compared to most of the world, what we have is lavish.

So yes, I am asking you to dig deep. If you haven’t donated money yet tonight, you still have the chance. Maybe you will forgo some of the Christmas gifts and give to Heifer. There are catalogs in the back you can take with you. Buy a cow or some chicks. Maybe you will serve at a soup kitchen this winter - you can ask any Tabernacle member in red about where to sign up. When you go Christmas shopping, look for the “RED” items at the Apple store, Starbucks, Nike or the Gap. A percentage of those proceeds go to product red campaign which fights AIDS in Africa by supplying medications to those who are HIV positive. Maybe it is as simple as buying fair trade coffee.

Take a moment to be quiet. Live from that place. Make choices from that place.
I am not asking you to give up something but to give for yourself.

Only Love Can Heal such a scar.
Only Love, only love will unite our hearts.

Many blessings to you

For information on how to give to Heifer International please go to

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Goddess in Training

This is the week I turn the big 4-0. Although I do not feel as though this is a bad is an interesting point in my life. A time of great reflection. A co-worker recently told me of a native american tribe that believes that women who turned 50 are Goddesses. They are all knowing- full of wisdom, kindness and beauty. She deemed me a "Goddess in Training". This is my syllabus.

I will love and care for my body. That does not mean diet. That does not mean beat myself up in the gym. It does mean to fill it with healthy, delicious food. It does mean to move and stretch. It does mean to rest when tired. Care for injuries. Accept my body for all that it is.

I will nourish my primary relationships. Being kind to those close to me can be an effort. They get the brunt of my stress and fatigue. I snap and push away. Spend way too much time at work and on the computer. I will schedule more one on one time with my husband. Snuggle with my kids. Go on family walks with the dog.

I will make time and space for myself. A year ago I went on retreat for 3 days by myself. Next month I will go away for 5. Time to focus inward is the single most important thing I can do for my life and well being. Over the past year I have begun a true spiritual journey. Learning and practicing loving myself. I yearn to see myself as others see me. I will continue on the journey to feel the spirit of something greater than myself.

I will surround myself with others that are kind and loving. Like attracts like and I need all the help I can get.

I will continue to attend the church that I love. Having never really liked church growing up, I have now found a true spiritual home. The community has embraced me for all that I am. It was evident today when talking to a few members about my upcoming birthday. All of the responses were "how wonderful!" , "a great new chapter in your life" and "you have so much to look forward to." Positivity and love all around that wonderful place.

I will live in the now. Try to come to the present moment as often as I can. Relish in the beauty of all that is around me. Appreciate all that I have and be truly grateful.

So there. My plan for my next decade. I know it will be filled with ups and downs. I will embrace life for all that it is.

Forty schmorty....I am a Goddess in Training!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Quiet time

Last Saturday night my children had a sleep over at my parents house. Jim and I went out for his birthday. A well deserved and needed date. Great night. Great food. The best thing was waking up in the morning, having a cup of coffee and knitting in a quiet house.

Quiet time.

As the mother of children who did not nap during the day I tried to have them take some "quiet time" in their rooms. Relax. Away from stimulation of the big world around them. It always helped them behave better, sleep better. Most times it worked, although getting them to rest at the same time was a trick I never quite mastered.

Reflecting back, the quiet time really was not for them. It was for me. I have always yearned for quiet. I drive to and from work in a quiet car. No radio. Just me and my thoughts. That is noisy enough.

I spend my day at work listening to teens and their problems. "Allison, can I talk to you." "Allison, I have a question." "Allison can you do this or that?" Then I rush to the bus stop, get the children and hear "Mom, mom, mom, mom...." Kids have needs. Now. They don't wait. At work and at home I feel as though I have to respond right away. My mind and my mouth don't stop. Literally. I have made the connection that if I can't fix a problem, stop a temper tantrum, save the world - I eat. It is an automatic response. What I really need is Quiet Time....

So, with this realization I have enlisted my family in helping me. At the dinner table last week I talked about everyone recognizing signs in me when I needed a break. A time out. My voice getting louder, pacing - and that I would then tell people I needed some quiet and some peace to take care of myself. I would then go outside, upstairs, away from the chaos. Everyone agreed.

Nice plan, tough to do.

I get caught up in the little things in life. Work. Dishes. Laundry. Money. The rules. Pick up your clothes, brush your teeth, don't push your sister/brother - It is all so overwhelming in any given moment. I forget to take a breath and appreciate all that I have. When I am quiet I am filled with the good. Filled with peace. Quiet. Silence.

Yesterday, William looked right at me and said, "Mom, looks like you need some peace." Wow, a six year old actually gets it.

I listened and went to my room.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Why I Knit

I can't really remember when I first started knitting. I know in third grade I stayed after school and learned to crochet. I thought that was pretty cool. I have made many a blanket and granny square in my day. I have cross stitched some linens as well. Probably about 5 years ago I picked up some knitting needles. Took a class at the YMCA and I haven't put my needles down.

I love to knit.


Something about a hank of alpaca running through my fingers makes me salivate. A ball of silk, I am dizzy. Forget a skein of cashmere. The colors make me excited. I see a particular fiber in a particular color and I see a finished project. Mind you, I have many works IN progress, but that is another story.

A friend of mine once told me the click of her knitting needles made her smile. For me, it is the process of sitting and focusing. Knit one purl one. Knit two purl two. What ever the pattern is I am there. In the yarn, in the fiber. Creating. Or not. Many projects I have almost finished and I stop and rip out. Why? Because it is not what it is supposed to be. I am not attached to the outcome I just love the process.

Recently I started a knitting club at the high school where I work. Eight inner city girls and one boy (who was just there to "watch") joined me after school. So focused and intent on casting on, you would never know that in that group was someone just out of a psychiatric hospital, someone struggling with gynecologic problems, someone with significant learning disabilities, and someone just hours before disclosed abuse. We were all just sitting. Knitting. Touching fiber. Talking about how it feels in our hands. How funny it is to use knitting needles. Focusing on the strand of yarn in our hand. That is all. That is wonderful.

So why do I knit. Because when I knit I am fully present in that moment. In my body.

One stitch at a time.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

My Kids

For those that do not know, I work in an adolescent health center located in an urban high school. I provide primary care to students that need health care. That is not my only role. At any point in time I serve as a disciplinarian, a teacher, a therapist, a guidance counselor, a friend and yes, a mother. Students call me by my first name. I talk to them. I listen. I respect every thing they have to say without judgement. No matter if they are an A student or a known gang member. No matter what they have to say. The stories are amazing. Their resilience is incredible.

Many people in the health care business refer to "them" as patients or clients. Educators refer to "them" as students. For me, they are my kids. I often talk about these kids to my friends and family. At times, I am stopped mid story and asked "You mean Erin?" "Oh, no " I say, "my other kids." I have about 400 . Two are biologic. The rest I work with. That's a lot of kids. I have so many stories to tell, I would not know where to start.

One story that I need to tell is one of a girl I knew only briefly. One day last September she killed herself. She was a sweet girl. No one knew she was sad. No one knew she had thought of hurting herself. She did not "pop up" on my radar (which is usually pretty good) or any one else's. The whole school community was in shock. We were so sad. Counselors came to school, I talked at a staff meeting. It was a difficult time. And then time passed.

Recently I read a suicide note written by one of my kids that a parent gave to me. Luckily the child did not understand how the medication she took worked, so she did not take enough to die. She was surprised when she woke the next morning. Why did she want to die? Family stress, problems with a boyfriend, trouble with teachers, difficulty expressing herself. Sounds like all of my kids.....Her mother took her to the hospital that morning and she was admitted to a psychiatric facility for a week. She is back at school now. Still sad at times. She has a safe place to come to talk about what is taboo for so many.

And here we are, once again grieving the loss of another young teen ager in a surrounding community. He killed himself on Friday. It never makes sense, no matter what details we have or stories we tell ourselves. Suicide is tragic. And in the adolescent population it is increasing. I recently spoke with a coordinator at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Suicide prevention unit who spoke of increased clusters of teen suicides in Massachusetts. Last year there were 3 in Concord, more than that on the Cape and the Islands. On Friday, the number North of Boston increased to 3 since September 2010. It is one of the leading cause of death of children ages 14-24.

We as adults need to talk about this. Communication is the only way. I know it is difficult. I know it is sad. But it is the only way. If you are a teacher, post information in your classroom about suicide (available from the Samaritans at . If you are a parent, take some time to just say, "I heard there was a suicide in a nearby city last week. That is very sad. Have you ever thought about hurting yourself or dying?" Do not be afraid of the answer. Even if the answer is no, it opens the door to a conversation. Then, ask the question again at another time in a different way. Kids will roll their eyes. Give you a "come on, mom/dad". That is ok. It happens to me all the time.

And if the answer is yes, take a breath. Give them a hug. Tell them that it gets better. Then call a hot line. Call your doctor. Call a friend. Email me. Love them. That is truly all they need.

And for my ever expanding number of kids. You know who loves you.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


I just started reading "Clean" by Alejandro Junger a cardiologist in NYC. I found the book via and have found it very interesting. The author speaks my language, the medical language. Much of the book is based on his own quest for a healthy lifestyle. Feeling healthy, clear minded, with energy and a zest for living. He weaves in yoga, meditation and trusting the body to heal itself.

Trusting my body - this is my work right now. I live mostly in my head. Working on being present in my body is a challenge as I do not LIKE my body very much right now the way it is. I am trying to treat it better with more exercise and meditation. And food. My nemesis. I hate thinking about food, preparing food, grocery shopping, talking about food. I just love eating food. All food. But I now have made the connection - if I spend so much time in my head, the food I crave and want and love is about my MIND not my BODY. This is much of the work that I have been doing with Geneen Roth, author of Women Food and God. I struggle with where to begin - how do I access the part of my body that has this knowledge? To eat for energy and clarity and life. I do not think I have ever done that in my 39 years on the planet.

So here I am. Pressing the reset button. Going back to the beginning. My mind is not going to like it. Not sure what my body will do. Here is my plan.

Today I started an elimination diet. What that means is lots of "no's". No caffeine (a big ugh right there), no white stuff, no dairy, no eggs, no wheat, no corn (and by products), no red meat, no chocolate, no alcohol. Sounds fun? Not really. But it is not forever. Walking around Whole Foods today (actually grocery shopping!!) I was overwhelmed with the amount of food there is that may be included. Quinoa, amaranth, brown rice products, nut products (not peanuts), beans and legumes. After a week of this elimination diet I may decide to do a cleanse suggested in the book. That would be from one to three weeks and consists of two liquid meals a day (smoothies, veggie juice, soups) and one regular meal a day.

I want to be clear here.... I am not embarking on this to lose weight. If it is a side effect, so be it. I am truly interested in paying attention to what my body needs. What my body craves. I believe I cannot do this without removing the junk in my diet for a bit - and then re introducing some foods. It will be interesting for me to sit with being uncomfortable. Remembering what it is like to be hungry. To listen to what my cravings for sugar and sweets and fat is really about.

Should be an interesting journey.