Cissy Brady-Rogers
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Tag: Remarkable Women

My mom taught me from an early age about loving the unlovable: “I may not like what you do, but I will always love you.”

Usually stated after she’d blown her top in anger while trying to contain and appropriately discipline the wild child energies of my brother and I, the message “No matter what you do, you are loved” went deep into my heart and mind.

Like teenagers throughout history, while working through my adolescent differentiation process, I was convinced my mom didn’t love me. “If you really loved me…” followed by a litany of parental errors filled my mind much of the time.

– “If you really loved me, you would let me do what I want.”

– “If you really loved me, you would give me what I ask for.”

– “If you really loved me, you wouldn’t be depressed and crazy.”

– “If you really loved me, you would make the pain go away.”

– “If you really loved me, you and dad wouldn’t have divorced.”

Volatile arguments with mom marked my teen years. At times I hated her. At other times I felt deep compassion for her suffering. Most of the time I was too busy avoiding and denying the painful reality of her depression, addictions and suicidality to feel anything but indifference.

In her better moments, she did her best to guide my emerging wild feminine nature. Yet as strong willed as she was, her depressed middle-aged energy was no match for my angry adolescent intensity. Her attempts to set boundaries around my choice of friends, where I went and what I did, were sadly ineffective. I’d tell her where I was going and what I was planning to do–sometimes truthfully but most often not. She’d extend some parental guidance in an effort to do her job: “Be sure to call if your plans change.” I’d verbally assent to the plan while knowing all along she’d be out cold by the time I came home and it wouldn’t matter anyway.

As her disease progressed and I became increasingly frightened and resentful of her weakness and ineffectiveness, I acted out my own insecurities in a show of hostility. I responded with outright disrespect and at times, even contempt. I’d laugh at her and dare her to “try and make me” come home at a certain hour.  Sometimes she’d fight back with further attempts to assert her authority, but I’d respond with more venomous words. I have more memories than I’d like of calling her a “fuckin’ bitch” or other hateful things.

And yet, through it all, she’d faithfully call me back to love. Often initiating a conversation about “a new beginning” when our relationship was in more a emotionally stable place. She’d apologize for her “craziness.” I’d cry and admit I loved her and didn’t mean what I’d said. We’d forgive each other and carry on–for a few days, a week or two, sometimes longer, until our next upheaval. The message that I heard time and again:

“No matter how badly you behave, I will always love you.”

Me & Mom in a Box 1984 - Remarkable & Silly Mother

Me & Mom in a Box 1984 – Remarkable & Silly Mother

Ours was never the cozy, intimate, “best friends” kind of mother-daughter relationship. We enjoyed each other at times, laughed and had fun. But it wasn’t a sweet or easy love. Even to her dying days we struggled to love each other well through our words and actions. Yet, in the depths of my innermost being, I knew I was her beloved and precious only daughter. She loved me fiercely, deeply and strongly. She taught me to love and forgive the unlovable in myself and others.

Reflecting on our relationship, I’m grateful she died when I was only 30. Her physical passing put an end to my struggle to love the parts of her I didn’t like, to forgive the things she did that hurt me. Her limited, broken, imperfect human self no longer inhibiting her capacity to love, her goodness lives on in and through me. I see her charm, her wit, her ability to stand up among a group of strangers and speak boldly and clearly–when I engage in those ways. I see her in my mannerisms and the ways I’m physically aging.

I know she’s proud of the women I’ve become and that I’m still working on loving the unlovable in myself and others. And I am forever grateful and proud to be the daughter of Moira Deidre Ford! May she rest in peace.

I’m blessed to participate in a blogroll with a writing group. Please check out Staci’s blog for more on loving the unlovable. 

 

I posted a Mary Oliver inspired Sabbath painting on Instagram recently, along with the first line of her poem “Thirst” and my comment “Thanks be to God for grace that does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.” Quite a few friends “liked” it along with several “Amen” comments and a “Thanks. I needed that today.”

Mary Oliver Inspired

Mary Oliver Inspired

One social media friend responded “I wake with a thirst for the goodness I have!” followed by a party hat emoji. Something about that struck my heart. It evoked my curiosity about the distinction between the goodness we have just by being “good” human beings with positive attitudes and the goodness we do not have.

Ordinary human goodness has to do with reliability, competence, strength, behavior, thoroughness, morality, enjoyment, attractiveness, freshness, worthiness, desirability, promise and so on. We say things like:

“He’s a good person.”

“She’s good looking.”

“It was a good party.”

But what is the goodness we do not have and why does it matter?

It is the goodness of a world where we love our neighbors as ourselves, where every child has clean water, nutritious food, access to health care and education. It’s the goodness of an earth that isn’t being destroyed by toxins and depleted of resources because of greed. It’s the goodness of communities where women receive equal access to education and hold equal earning power to men. It’s the goodness of nations where all lives matter and no one is pulled over by law enforcement just because of the color of their skin.

It matters because many people wake up each morning unable to find any goodness within them or around them. Depression, anxiety, abuse, neglect, trauma, addiction, poverty, violence and the social injustice that underlies much human suffering are among the afflictions that leave some of us to wake thirsting for goodness we do not have. Like dear Mary Oliver,  who suffered a painful childhood, we too long for something more than merely human goodness.

Mary Oliver became a Pulitzer Prize winner and was declared by the NY Times “far and away, this country’s best-selling poet.” I don’t think it was her thirst for the goodness she already had that nourished her creative capacity.  As author and teacher Pat Schneider writes in How the Light Gets In: writing as a spiritual practice, by naming “the bottom of the night within myself…I can begin to understand the darkness of the world” (my paraphrase). I suspect Mary Oliver cultivated her remarkable capacity to hold the tension of the dark and the light by working with her shadow – the goodness she does not have. She is beloved not because she paints the world with a rosy hue, but because she lives in the in-between of the goodness that is and that which is not yet. And that’s the place most of us live – in that tension between owning all that is good, true, beautiful and worthy about us and acknowledging how far short we fall.

I went to mass this morning at my neighborhood Catholic church. I watched a long line of the ordinary “good” people process up for Eucharist, their humble acknowledgement of thirst for the goodness they do not have.  A simple but powerful receptivity to the grace that does for us and through us what we cannot do ourselves.

I am grateful for the goodness I have. But I’m even more grateful for the grace that enables me to acknowledge the goodness I have, forgive the goodness I lack and live with the tensions and sufferings of a world where we do not love as we ought!

“Another morning and I wake with thirst for the goodness I do not have.”

Thanks be to God.

 

Today hasn’t gone according to schedule. At only 9:30 this morning it was already “one of those days…”

I’m grateful the wise reminders from Eveyln Underhill and my friend Stephanie that came to me before the day started going sideways.

In her Lent devotional, Evelyn reminded me that Saint Paul did not say that the Spirit of God would bring forth qualities of productivity, organization, effectiveness or success. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. These hallmarks of spiritual maturity may at times manifest in productivity, efficiency, etc., but can’t take primacy over love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The energy of the fruit of the Spirit may fuel my capacity for effectiveness and successful completion of my tasks for the day. But sacrificing peace and patience in order to “get things done” isn’t worth it!

Soul School with Stephanie

Soul School with Stephanie

My friend Stephanie Jenkin’s blog about her journey with infertility in today’s Monk in the World guest post reminds me of what I most value. She writes:

As a monk in the world, I am called to live authentically into who I am at the core. Infertility stripped off the false pretense of perfectionism and control and made me see that Love is bigger.  And I am called to choose Love each day. I am called to strip off the demands, the deadlines, the pressure to perform and conform. I am called to live in to and out of my heart.

My sacred symbols have become the feather and the leaf. Whether I am flying like the feather or falling like the leaf, I am surrendered to God who is greater than I.

I am loved. I am Beloved. That is more than enough. It is in this great Love that I am naked and unashamed.

For the rest of her story, please visit the Abbey of the Arts.

Thanks for taking me to soul school this morning Stephanie. I am loved. I am Beloved. That is enough!

Amen!

Your capacity to remind me of who I am and what is most important is a precious gift. You are a blessing to me and all who know you.

 

I loved this book by Helen LaKelly Hunt when I first read it 10 years ago. I appreciated it even more the second time round after meeting the author and picking it up again a few weeks ago.

Book Review

As a psychotherapist specializing in treatment of eating and body related disturbances among women, I’m regularly reminded of the need for women of faith to reclaim the beauty and goodness of our bodies — something the feminist movement attempted to do in advocating for reproductive rights for women. But, our need for embodiment and for honoring our female bodies goes much deeper than freedom to choose how we control our bodies capacity to reproduce. Issues of body and soul must be addressed in unison. The church has historically neglected (and sometimes denigrated and demonized) the spiritual aspects of embodiment. And the feminist movement, while gaining great ground on other fronts, follow suit by neglecting the spiritual aspects of a woman’s right to control reproduction.

My work with eating disorder patients has taught me that control unmitigated by compassion and other spiritually resourced qualities typically leads to chaos and destruction. Freedom to choose how to respond to our reproductive capacities and  all other physical needs and capacities must be grounded in a solid center of knowing who we are, knowing our own values, listening deeply to our own lives, and taking full responsibility for the choices we make — qualities that reflect the life of the psyche (soul) and spirit. Sadly, I don’t see the culture, the feminist movement or the church doing enough to effectively equip women (or men) with the necessary skills for making wise choices with the reproductive rights we fought so hard to earn.

As LaKelly Hunt points out, the most recent wave of feminism left out issues of soul and spirit, especially those related to Christian faith. She does a beautiful service telling the stories of five early feminists whose faith fueled their advocacy for the rights of women and other disenfranchised members of our human family. Their stories reveal the journey every woman must take as we find our own place in the great story of freedom and justice for all.

Thoughtful questions for reflection on each chapter offer a wonderful resource for individual or group processing. I’m looking forward to gathering a few soul sisters to explore them together. If you’re interested, let me know.

Maya Angelou has died. Death will not stop her life.

Mother Maya Angelou 1928-2014

My colleague Shaunelle Curry from Media Done Responsibly published a copy of her tribute to Maya yesterday. She inspired me to write my own tribute

I sat out under my oak tree yesterday afternoon with a book of her poems and pulled out phrases from some of my favorites to remember her words, her spirit, her power.  She birthed most of the phrases below. I collected them and adapted them to honor her memory. May the Spirit that inspired her to rise above adversity, become stronger through the things that pressed her down, live on in all of us who were fed by her life.

Thank You Mother Maya

Mother Maya has passed. Her daughters born through words gather to mourn. Red, yellow, black and white, all precious sisters, daughters in her light, gather round to say  “Thank you Mother Maya.”

Thank you for fierceness and vulgarity and letting it all hang out, for caged birds singing and dancing like you had diamonds at the meeting place of your thighs.

Thank you for the click of your heels, the bend of your hair, the palm of your hand.

Thank you for the sun of your smile, the ride of your breasts, the grace of your style.

Thank you for tears, now powdered black like dust in ashes, black like Buddha’s belly, black and hot and dry, crying for your sons and daughters.

Death has taken you by the hand, but because of mercy you live on.

Now angels gather, hosannahs tremble, harps sound:

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

You, Mother Maya, coming through the door!

I’m delighted to introduce a new member of my “sheros” group–Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Her memoir, My Beloved World, tells of growing up in a supportive Puerto Rican immigrant family in the Bronx and the unplanned but inspired path that eventually lead to her appointment to the Supreme Court.

Diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at seven years old, Sonia’s strength of character and commitment to community service were forged through early adversity–including her illness, the death of her alcoholic father and childhood encounters with racism and social inequity. She faced her challenges with realism, empathy and intuitive common sense. In my lingo, she lived from within, listened to her inner wisdom and respectfully considered other people’s views but didn’t let them define her.

Among the many bits of wisdom gleaned thus far, this statement about the importance of mentors strikes home. She writes,

When a young person, even a gifted one, grows up without proximate living examples of what she may aspire to become–whether lawyer, scientist, artist, or leader in any realm–her goal remains abstract. Such models as appear in books or on the news, however inspiring or revered, are ultimately too remote to be real, let alone influential. But a role model in the flesh provides more than an inspiration; his or her very existence is confirmation of possibilities one may have have every reason to doubt, saying “Yes, someone like me can do this.” (My Beloved World, p. 178)

But their presence alone is not enough. Sonia also learned from an early age to ask for help. Having been a good, but not outstanding student, Sonia determined as a fifth grader that she wanted to be at the top of the class. She asked one of the top students, not a close friend but someone she admired, to help her learn how to study. That tenacious pursuit of learning from others would follow her throughout her academic career and pave the way for her professional success.

Joan Borysenko became a mentor to me long before I ever met her in person. The author of a NY Times bestseller and 13 other books, Joan is a pioneer in mind-body medicine. I discovered her work on female psycho-social-spiritual development, A Women’s Book of Life, while perusing the shelves of a used book store.  That lead me to A Women’s Journey to God and many other books. By the time I met Joan in person at a book signing, I was an avid follower and student of her work. She was a living inspiration of my commitment to integrate a bio-psycho-social-spiritual understanding of female development within a Christ-centered perspective.

A year later I enrolled in her spiritual mentor training program, pursuing that more direct influence that Sonia writes about.  As the program drew to a close I asked Joan if she would continue to mentor me in some informal way. I didn’t know what that meant or what it would look like, but I knew I wanted an on-going relationship. I faced my fear of rejection and asked. She said she didn’t know what it might look like either, but that one way or another, we’d be in each other’s lives and she’d be delighted to see what unfolded as we moved forward.

Five years of shared meals, phone calls, walks in the dessert and getting lost wandering around various convention centers, Joan’s presence as friend, mentor and soul sister has been an important “Yes” to my vocation, especially when things don’t materialize the way I expect.

Jesus’ teaching about prayer conveys perennial wisdom applicable to mentoring: “Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened.” Not everyone I’ve sought out for support has been as responsive as Joan. But perhaps if some of those connections had solidified, I wouldn’t have kept searching, and never connected with Joan. Like prayer itself, we ask not knowing the outcome, but trusting that in the care of a providential God, our needs will be met one way or another.

Who are your sheros, either remote or proximate?

Who are your mentors? Who have you extended yourself to as a mentor?

Is there someone you want to be mentored by but are afraid to ask?

What will you do today to open your heart and be the remarkable woman or man you are?

Two more remarkable women stories that illustrate what it looks like to honor your own experience, discover your dreams and support others in doing the same.

Leela Lee began cartooning  “Angry Asian Girls” during her days at UC Berkley as a way to cope with stress. She’s stayed with her creative inspiration all these years, produced a video back in the late 1990’s, developed a website, produced comic books, and now has a T.V. show scheduled to launch in June.

In spite of obstacles of all sorts, she followed her dreams. Fifteen years after graduating, she’s living her dream as she raises her kids and keeps speaking her truth, even when it displeases others, like her very traditional Korean mother!

Itzel Ortega is another young woman who is faithfully fulfilling her potential amidst numerous obstacles. She was six months old when her parents crossed the border illegally–and the “illegal” status has limited her opportunities ever since.  Leticia Arreola, her former English teacher turned mentor, says her Christian faith inspired her to pay for Itzel to attend college when other money wasn’t available.

Going against the odds these women are now paying it forward by inspiring others. Check out their stories and let them inspire you.

Demi at Boston Marathon

Demi at Boston Marathon

The following personal story was written by my beautiful friend Demi Clark who crossed the finish line for the Boston Marathon seconds after the first bomb exploded. I met Demi in my Health Coach training at Duke Integrative Medicine last fall. From our first encounter, I loved Demi’s strong voice, engaged, passionate way of being in her life. When she shared that she’d had a long history with an eating disorder, I wasn’t surprised.

Demi embodies the powerful potential that I see in my eating disorder clients. Many have similar big, bright and radiant spirits. Uniquely blessed with an expansive consciousness and exceptional capacities for empathy,  intuition, creativity, sensory awareness and intelligence, the eating disordered thoughts, feelings and behaviors temporarily help them contain and regulate the vast spiritual consciousness that their families, schools, and faith communities haven’t even a clue exists.  And often leaves those same loved ones feeling powerless to support these girls in their healthy development.

Demi’s life testifies to the powerful lives of loving service that are possible when we listen to our hearts, allow ourselves to be as big and bright as we are, and follow our dreams. Here’s her story:

It’s Sunday night. I just tucked my kids into bed, almost identically to the way I have every night of their short first- and third-grade lives. Kisses, plus a hug, and an “I love you.” The only addition — which has been part of the routine since Monday, April 15 — “Do you all feel safe tonight? Mommy and Daddy are here if you need us.”

My husband and I not only consider ourselves lucky to ask that question every night, we are downright grateful and blessed to do so. The parents of precious 8-year-old Martin Richard can’t do that anymore. The parents of Krystle Campbell and Lü Lingzi can no longer call their children and ask, “Do you feel safe tonight?” And countless families are still in the hospital, supporting loved who are in critical condition, or without limbs, who face long, long roads ahead. That’s thanks to two terrorists, who have changed the world as all of us know it.

I happened to be “that girl with the pigtails” who was 10 feet from the finish line of the Boston Marathon as the first bomb exploded and we found ourselves in a war. I say “war,” because I’m also a health coach. I have clients who are soldiers currently downrange in Afghanistan; they called me later, saying we all earned our “combat stress” badge that day. The sights, sounds, smells, and horror are all still very fresh in my memory. Yet I NEVER want to forget. If we forget, we can’t change the future for the better.

I also coach Girls on the Run, and nothing is more rewarding than seeing those 9- to 11-year-olds happy, healthy, active. Their actions and their attitudes inspire others to get off their iPads and move. They help make the world a happier, healthier place.

Happy, healthy people don’t place handmade bombs next to 8-year-old children, knowing the immense destruction that will follow. Happy, healthy people do things like participate in the Boston Marathon; happy, healthy people have raised $127.9 million since the Boston Marathon Charity Program started in 1989.

So, today is not the day to scream at the guy who cuts you off in traffic. It’s not the day to eat a can of frosting because you can start eating healthy tomorrow. (I had an eating disorder for two decades — trust me, it won’t make you feel better.) It’s not the day to ignore your mom. Or your children. It’s not the day to work late — for the 100th day in a row.

It IS the day to pay it forward. Take your dog for an extra-long walk. Buy your neighbor a Starbucks. Lace up your shoes for the first (or one-thousand and fifty-first) time. Our lives have a true purpose. Honor yours by being good to yourself, taking care of your body, and being HAPPY and HEALTHY. Runners have a “runner’s high” for a reason — those endorphins are scientifically proven to make us happier. Runners truly love what they do. I haven’t met too many angry ones. Runners wanting to be faster? Yes. Angry? No.

In coaching, we have a saying: “So what? Now what?” I’ve asked myself that a million times in the past week. What are the odds of me being right there at that horrific moment (with my family right there in the finish-line bleachers), with 26,999 other runners ahead of or behind me? Why was I spared, without so much as a scratch on my body? I will never know the answer. But what I do know is that I’m still here — and now, I feel this overwhelming need to inspire people.

Demi's Girls Maize & Willa at Finish Line

My goal then, from here on out, is to motivate as many people as possible to get off the couch. I want to urge everyone to draw up a vision board, to decide on a goal, then to make it happen. I have a quote from Homer on my home-office desk that says, “Go forth confidently in the direction of your dreams!” It has served as my internal compass for  years. Find yours. Faith over fear, life worth not net worth — whatever your quote, pick something that puts the fire in your belly to be better, and go do it. Let’s get each other off the couch. It’s OUR time to win.

You can hear more of her story at CBS News and The New York Times.

Thanks to Théoden Janes who first published this story on his blog covering the Charlotte, North Carolina running scene.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s new book Lean In:Women, Work and the Will to Lead is stirring some controversy. Some feel that Sandberg is speaking  from a fantasy world and out of touch with the reality most women live with. They suggest that her perspective puts unhelpful pressure on women to keep pressing against the glass ceiling while having a family.

I look forward to reading some excerpts of the book and deciding if it’s worth my time and effort to read the rest. I’ll decide for myself if I think she puts undue pressure on women to try to balance motherhood and career advancement. And, that is just the point I take away from this: it is my decision.

Decision making about what “I” believe is where many of the women I work with get stuck.  They don’t know how to make major decisions because they’ve been socialized to listen to everyone else’s perspective. Often, when asked what do you think, feel, believe–about their own lives or cultural issues–they hold back, stumble and aren’t sure what to say.

Self-doubt and disconnection from what “I” think, feel, want, need, begins when girls aren’t taken seriously. One young adult woman I worked with on reclaiming her voice told me flat out: “Nobody takes teenage girls seriously.”

Solid decision making in adult life begins with adults taking girls and teenagers seriously. We have a great privilege to listen to them, ask questions, value their ideas–even when we think they are strange or wrong. And, rather then telling them they are wrong, we can offer our perspective, or a different perspective, and encourage them to consider other views.

Ultimately each of us is responsible for our own lives. Sheryl Sandberg and her detractors have their perspectives. I will have mine.

Be it in matters of eating and exercise or career choices, each one of us gets to discover and listen to our own wisdom, not just follow someone else’s plan for our lives. That work begins with our girls–taking them seriously and listening to them.

I do love what Sandberg said in her CNN interview: “I want every little girl who is told that she’s bossy to hear that she has leadership skills.”  Amen to that. As a little girl and adult woman who has been accused of being bossy, I appreciate the re-frame. Bossy girls can grow up to be remarkable women!

Moira Deidre Ford & Moira-Cecily Brady 1983

Today is the 94th anniversary of my mother’s birth. Moira Deirdre Ford was a remarkable woman. An attorney, she did her undergraduate degree at Stanford and was one of three woman graduating with her class from UC Berkley’s school of law in the late 1940’s.

I grew up in an unusual world with a female pediatrician, spending time with my great aunt Eileen who graduated medical school in the 1920’s, and being delivered as a baby by my mom’s female obstetrician Sakaye Shigekawa (another very remarkable woman who was interned during WWII).

It wasn’t until elementary school that I realized most women weren’t professionals. In my world women were educated, vocal, and powerful agents of healing and justice.

In honor of my mom, I commit myself to creating a world where women and girls are the authorities of their own bodies and lives, where a woman’s perspective and voice is as important in governing as a man’s, and where girls and women are treated with respect and honor. I love you Mother Moira.