Blessings are not hard to come by, especially in times of turmoil, but it often takes me a while to discover them. And sometimes when I do, I feel conflicted. As though I ought to be angry or frustrated or hurt like some of the people around me. In solidarity. But instead I can’t stop smiling because I feel like I’ve unlocked some hidden door that lets out light and warmth shining toward me.

A member of my family has been hurt by another. Someone she trusted and relied upon has been taking advantage of her for a good long time and, when confronted, had the audacity to admit it without showing any remorse. The waves are widening out and touching many people and for a while, the betrayal seemed to grow by the minute as additional evidence was uncovered. Those of us closest to her are pitching in to understand the depth of the mess and begin to clean it up and, from the beginning I’ve pitched and rolled between two poles.
I was upset and sickened by the acts of this person. Almost immediately I heard a voice inside me calling for compassion and forgiveness and understanding. Right on the heels of that voice came another, “It won’t change anything. Or fix anything. And it’s disloyal.” I felt as though I needed to show my anger in order to support my family. I decided to sit with all of this for a while and see what settled.
Yesterday a page from The Four Agreements came to me: don’t take it personally. What a relief! The things this person did weren’t about me. Or my family. Any of us. They have nothing to do with us except that we caught the fallout. Flashes of sadness for this person came throughout the day – what terrible lessons and circumstances led her to this? I hope that she is able to find some help. Some relief. Some understanding and compassion for herself some day. I still hesitate to speak these things out loud, knowing that many others in my family are still reeling from the pain and anger, the practicalities of cleaning up the mess left behind.
This morning I wondered: what if this person had been family? What if she had come to one of us and asked for our help? What if she had admitted her bad behavior, acknowledged her weakness and asked for forgiveness and assistance? If she were family, it would certainly have been granted. Not necessarily without anger or regret, but she would have been held in love, stayed within the circle of the family, and had people to stand by her while she worked through her troubles.
I don’t mean to say that I think anyone ought to reach out to her and offer this. It is not my betrayal to recover from, not my mess to clean up. I am not prescribing any particular set of actions. But I am not angry or seeking “justice” or retribution, either. That simple shift, the question of ‘what if she had been part of the family’ gave me a vantage point from which to open my heart to pure understanding and compassion. I no longer feel any pull to go back to the other extreme of anger or betrayal. I am sad for everyone involved, but am free to hold them all in love and hope without feeling disloyal to anyone.
And so tonight, I will carry a smudge stick of sage to the house, ask permission to light it and walk through the house with only the purest of intentions and love as my guide to cleanse the space and offer hope. My family may think I’m nuts (okay, they definitely will), but I will know that, for me, this experience has been a true blessing and I am ready to accept all it has to offer.

With book reviews, visits from family, and birthday celebrations.

We had a houseful over Thanksgiving and it was pure joy to watch my girls play with their cousins in the snow. The two-year-old twins got to experience their first glimpse of the white stuff along with their family’s puppy and my girls and CB were only too happy to introduce them to snow angels, snowballs, rolling in the snow and hot chocolate to warm up afterward. The house was full of noise and a clutter of dishes and coffee mugs, snow boots, jackets, board games and truly creative Lego creations and I was sad to see it end, but exhausted and ready for a break. At least until we do it all over again in four weeks.

My mom came up this weekend to help us celebrate Eve’s birthday, a tradition she started eleven years ago when the little monkey was born. Capitalizing on the tween girl attraction to everything shopping mall, I created a scavenger hunt for Eve and her friends that had them sleuthing through stores to find things like the ugliest pair of shoes, a sweater they all would wear, something with more than ten buttons, Hannukah decorations, etc. They were armed with digital cameras and had to snap photos of each of the items on their list and they only got kicked out of one store for taking a picture of “copyrighted information.” I’m pretty sure that they weren’t trying to re-create the stinky perfume they were photographing…

The final item on the list was to find a gift for a child in need to put underneath the giving tree at Lola’s school. Bubba and I gave each team some cash and it was so sweet to watch them pick up the toys that they used to covet not so long ago and all talk at once, lobbying for the gift they wanted to choose. They made excellent budgeting decisions and were sure to pick things that, as Eve put it, “kids really want, not NEED.” We finished off the evening gorging ourselves on Thai food and hot fudge sundaes and the girls played tag and hide and seek until they finally fell into sleeping bags around midnight. I’m certain that every year I think Eve is at my favorite age, but the rapid chameleon shifts from child to young woman that take place before my eyes are so miraculous. One moment they are rolling their eyes at the grown-ups tailing them in the mall, insisting that they’re old enough to be left alone, and the next minute, they’re oohing and aahing over a cute stuffed animal in the shop window. They chatter about how cute some celebrity boy is and then pretend-vomit as they catch sight of lacy underwear in the store, wondering who in the world would wear something like that!

Saturday, Lola had her first basketball game of the season and these girls are firmly in the land of little-girl. They are still working out how to be aggressive with each other, too timid to put their hands up to block the other team’s shots and trying to figure out how to politely dribble around their competitors without knocking into them. When someone makes a basket, the entire team stops to scream and hug the lucky girl before running down to the other end to resume play, and often they cheer on the other team when they make a basket as well. Lola’s cheering section consisted of Eve, Bubba, myself, my mom and both of Bubba’s parents. Every time she glanced into the stands and saw us with our eyes attached to her she grinned that grin that warms you from the inside out.
Today, everyone is back at work and school and CB and I are here alone listening to Annie Lennox sing Christmas songs and wrapping Christmas gifts. I will slowly put the house back together, stopping to reminisce about the last two weeks with every turn. These moments more than any other are filling me with peace and love and hope. When the house is back to its normal state, I will light a candle and send out my wish to the Universe that everyone can experience some measure of family connectedness and joy today and every day.

Have I mentioned that Lola is unusually perceptive? Among her most unique senses is the extraordinary sense of smell she has, which is often a trial to her. She can smell things most human beings can’t and she has a wonderful way of describing them to me – the mere mortal who doesn’t possess this ability.

This morning she informed me that every person has their own smell. This isn’t exactly a new idea, right? I can remember going in to my grandmother’s bedroom and being overwhelmed by her Estee Lauder perfume and the smell of mothballs. But what Lola is talking about is their very essence, their aura, if you will. Even if you switch from Estee Lauder to Calvin Klein’s Obsession, Lola will still suss out your scent and notice that it is the same.
“But,” she admonishes, “sometimes the smell changes a little bit. Like if you’re really upset. When Abigail is upset (Lola’s best friend) she smells a little bit sour on top of her normal sunflowers and clean laundry smell.”
Apparently the dog smells like fur and lemon kisses “which is a very good smell, almost the best,” my mother-in-law smells like light perfume and my mother has the essence of apple pie. It may sound ridiculous, but when Lola explains it, I can get the sense of it exactly. The way she experiences each of them, this is exactly what they feel like. I’m convinced she knows.
“Did Papa have his own smell, too?” I ask, hesitating. She only knew him for six years and he was pretty sick for the last year of that.
“Yup. He smelled like warm chocolate and blankets. And when he was sick it was still there, but with a little sad thrown in.”
She is absolutely right. That is what my dad smelled like as her grandfather. She is so dead-on with her assessments that I didn’t dare ask what she thinks her sister smells like. Or me, for that matter. I’m not sure I want to know…