Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A New Year, A New Beginning

For the past few years on New Year's Eve, I couldn't wait for the year to be over. They were years of struggle and challenge, lawsuits and deaths and restraining orders and floods and exploding plumbing disasters. But in these years, there have also been miracles. Every tragedy gave me the opportunity to grow my compassion. Every challenge allowed me to work my courage muscles. And for all the times I was stuck, I had to work hard to strengthen my wings- and that's a good thing. Maya Angelou used to say, when you are in trouble, say thank you, because there is already a rainbow behind the clouds. Just because you can't see it yet, doesn't mean it isn't there.

I don't mean to sound Pollyanna-ish. I don't love getting older, but I'm grateful that I'm wiser, and especially grateful that I'm healthy. I didn't love being betrayed and getting fired from my job this June, but I am so grateful now to have a much better job. I hate that my sister-cousin Tammey died, but I am grateful that I got to share so much of my life with her, and that I still get to love her and remember her and share my memories of her with everyone.

In writing FIRE SEASON, I could see clearly on the pages that when I looked at my life with gratitude rather than regret, everything changed.

I am grateful for everything this year. Grateful for learning, growing, new experiences, my husband and children, my amazing friends, this beautiful world that I got to explore. 

 What were you most grateful for this year?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Dreams are a Powerful Thing


Last night at the King Family Christmas party, our friend Wendy got up and told the story of her childhood Christmases in Australia. Her father ran a general store that was open 365 days a year, even half a day on Christmas. On Christmas, she and her brothers would watch Christmas shows on TV, and wait for their father to get home from the store. Their father believed in each person getting only one gift, so they'd wait all day to open their one gift, and that was Christmas. She asked her father, "Why can't we have a Christmas like they have on TV and the movies?" and her father said, "That stuff is only on TV. It isn’t real." But Wendy never stopped dreaming about those sparkly Christmases she saw every year on TV.

When she grew up, Wendy came to California on vacation, where she met and fell in love with a lovely man - and because of him, she would never leave California. They were married twenty years ago, and had a family. Little did she know when she met him that this man was part of the King Family- the family known for their annual Christmas specials. Troy and I have been part of the King Family’s annual holiday party and Christmas Show for 15 years, and let me tell you- nobody does Christmas like the King Family. Wendy’s Christmases now are far beyond the ones she saw in the movies. Every year, Christmas is sparkling and full of song and family and joy. I love Wendy’s story because it is such a strong testament to the power of dreams. 
Sing-a-long at the King Family Christmas party.

Christmas has always been a special time of year for me. After all, I’m born in December and named after a Christmas plant. But beyond that, it is a time of hope. It’s a time when my family always pulled it together to be our best selves, no matter what else was happening in our lives.

My childhood was not so bright and merry. Domestic violence, a dad in prison, and being shuffled around to relatives made me long for a normal, stable life. I would count the days every week until the Partridge Family show came on TV. I was riveted to the screen. Like Wendy watching her Christmas shows, I watched the Partridge Family and not only wanted to be like them, I wanted to BE them. And my favorite Christmas album? ---------->

Many years later, I married a musician, raised some musical kids, and now we record Christmas songs together every year. This is my Christmas/Partridge family dream-come-true. Our Christmas Family album is our gift to you, (download for free and share with friends, if you like) in the hopes that it inspires you to never think a dream is too big, or that you can’t have it, or that it doesn’t exist. Remember Wendy’s story, and be inspired.

Our wish for you this holiday season in that you hold on to your dreams.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays from our family to yours…
(Listen to our Family Affair Holiday Album while you peruse the internet by clicking below, or feel free to download the whole album for free.) 


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

"Muslims are terrorists, black guys are scary, cops are racists" and other crazy assumptions we make.

Yesterday, while watching the news unfold about the horrific hostage crisis and shooting by a madman in Sydney, Australia, I became concerned when CNN stated over and over that the shooter was a Muslim cleric. And today, with news of the massacre in Peshawar, I fear the worst. I know how we humans absorb information fed to us by media and make subconscious connections and assumptions; Muslim clerics are terrorists. Black guys are scary gang-bangers. Backwoods Southern boys are Klu Klux Klan members. Catholic priests are pedophiles. Cops are racists.

Above is a photo of Shakeel Syed, a muslim cleric, standing united with Reverend Sandie Richards, Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels, and Reverend Louis Chase, at our one-year memorial event for Sandy Hook last year. This year, in conjunction with our coalition’s #LightLA campaign, Syed’s Muslim community held a vigil to remember all those lost to gun violence. Shakeel Syed is a Muslim cleric. Shakeel Syed is a voice for peace in our community, as are the majority of Muslims. Let that be a new association in your mind.

The judgments we make about others come from the most base part of our brains, actually termed "The Reptilian Complex" (the lizard brain). This is where fear resides. This is where the instantaneous fight or flight reaction comes from. This is the part of our brain that fears anything that is not familiar, anyone who does not look like us, speak like us, live like us. This reptilian complex is where tribalism is centered. Tribalism is what makes us wage wars, or even attack others at sporting events should they root for the opposite team.

But we are not "tribes" any more. We are no longer neanderthals. We are capable of rational thought. Through commerce, culture, and the internet, we have become a blended, interconnected world. But our human brains have not yet evolved to match the level of technology we've achieved.

Only by constantly challenging our own assumptions will we grow. We rise above the lizard brain only by forcing ourselves to entertain the possibility of other humans, very different from us, being just as worthy and deserving as we are.

Let’s stop assuming that all cops are racist, all priests are pedophiles and all blacks are looting, rioting hoodlums. Let’s please stop assuming that all Muslims are Taliban or ISIS terrorists. Let’s stop assuming. Period. Let’s recognize that no one comes into this world aiming to be a heartless villain. It is only a small, sick, tortured minority that becomes that. What if, instead, we awaken to the reality that we are, the majority of us, not enemies, but good people with good intention, even if we go about our lives differently?


For more on the workings of the lizard brain:

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Lesson in Courage

The past several weeks, as my heart broke watching the news accounts of the Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner tragedies and protests, I've been reading "The Invention of Wings" by Sue Monk Kidd. The book takes place in the early 1800s and is a historical novel that intertwines the lives of "Handful," a strong and courageous slave girl, and her reluctant "owner" Sarah. The girls become friends and form a bond that will altar the course of their lives. Though a novel, it is historically accurate. I cringed inside while reading the accounts of cruelty and severe punishment that blacks endured in those times, and then I looked up from my book and wondered how the hell this is still happening.

The book is based on the lives of the real Grimke sisters, two wealthy Southern women who, as children, grew up in a house full of slaves. Sarah and Angelina Grimke saw the horrors and the brutality of the slave life and somehow had the moral compass to do something about it. Against their family's  outcries, they moved to Philadelphia and became the first women abolitionists and feminists, traveling from coast to coast, speaking publicly and writing books about the wrongs of slavery, imploring morality from the public. Their books were burned in the South. Religious leaders spoke out against them, saying it was immoral for women to speak in public. They were made pariahs in their home state of South Carolina, and were threatened with imprisonment if they ever returned. They gave up a life of wealth and riches and let go of their family ties forever in order to continue their work.

History had all but forgotten these women, but thank God Kidd has breathed new life into their story. The Grimke sisters eventually ended up freeing many of the Grimke slaves, and some of those freed slaves' children grew up to continue the work as abolitionists. Just before they died, as old women, the Grimke sisters were amongst a handful of women who showed up to vote, illegally, as a protest. These women, and the generations of black families who survived and endured the unimaginable, have put courage in my heart.

We need more women, and men, like this today. More people to stand up against the racial inequality that still is rampant in our culture. It shocked me, while reading this book, while watching the news, how far we've come, yet how much we haven't changed in our hearts. I am still an eternal optimist. I believe we can, we will, change things...