Easter Lamb

Anastasis-Icon-finalΧριστός ανέστη εκ νεκρών, θανάτω θάνατον πατήσας, και τοις εν τοις μνήμασι ζωήν χαρισάμενος.—Christ is Risen, the song sung by Greek Orthodox at Pascha (Easter).

It is “Greek” Easter. I’m home alone, and the lamb is in the oven. Scents of  Greek seasoning waft throughout every nook and cranny of my small townhouse. As I do every year, I wonder if any of my children will continue the Greek traditions that I have established. The traditions were not present during my own upbringing until I took the initiative to embrace them when my now adult children were toddlers.

I recall the Easter lamb I cooked the year my father died and remember where we  were in the kitchen as I took it out of the oven. He was sitting at the kitchen table with his ever present smile and a line of oxygen under his nose, attached to a portable oxygen tank. He was delighted that he would have Easter lamb, and it made me happy to make him happy. A few weeks later he would be moved into my own home to be monitored by me and his hospice nurses as he lived his last months. I’d had reservations about moving him in, as my children were adolescents and I wanted to shield them from the ugliness of death. But my Greek Orthodox priest convinced me it would be fine. “In Greece the cycle of life is very natural. Papou dies downstairs and a baby is born upstairs,” he’d said and he’d been right.   I think back for a moment to the poignant goodbye around my father’s bedside with my mother, my children and me kissing him as he took his last breaths.

Dad’s mother, my grandmother Josephine, taught me to cook the lamb “the Greek way” which was interesting because she was full blooded Polish. Devoted to my grandfather and all things that made him happy, she was a better Greek cook than many of the full blooded Greeks I’ve known. I absolutely adored her and her kitchen always smelled like mine does now and I look at my hands working and in my heart’s eye I see her hands on tope of mine, guiding them.

Earlier in the week there’d been talk of my mother baking a ham this year, and a “we don’t want to inconvenience you” disingenuous pitch from those who will eat the lamb, greek style green beans, potatoes and salad with ample crumbled feta cheese. We go through this dance each year when we all know how the menu will pan out. Besides, my mother is not Greek and Easter to her side of the family means bunnies and bonnets. To Greeks, Pascha is the most important day of the year, the culmination of weeks of fasting and repentance and realigning ourselves to God and His mercy.

I check the lamb to see how it is coming along knowing that it will turn out perfectly as it always does. Although I don’t enjoy cooking as a rule, the traditional Easter dinner reminds me that I am an excellent cook and I wonder why I never dabble in it except on Pascha. There was a time I did enjoy cooking more, and as I tend to everything to synchronize the timing of the dishes I remember back to my short marriage to FP and the meals we would enjoy preparing together.

Although part Greek himself, FP wasn’t trained in Greek religious food preparation and I loved teaching him to make his first loaf of prosfora, the blessed bread we use as the body of Christ for communion. I watched him press the etched seal into the top of the fluffy powdery loaf we’d made, with the seal given to me by the 83 year old Greek Orthodox woman who had taught me when I was a young mother. “Pray for me every time you use this,” she’d said when she gifted me my first prosfora seal and I do pray for Marie every time, releasing the seal to observe the intricate religious design passed down for generations on the top of the holy bread.

FP had also never made the koliva, the memorial wheat that is traditionally used at memorial services for the dead. I taught him to make it in the first year we were married, before my father’s memorial service.  FP and I had boiled the wheat berries and set them out on a pristeen white cloth to dry the night before the memorial, knowing we’d be mixing them early the next morning with the nuts, raisins, powdered sugar and the delicate pomegranate seeds that represent the blood of Christ. I’d left to run an errand and when I’d returned I saw FP had placed a vigil light next to the drying wheat berries along with a photo of my dad, and a photo of his own deceased grandmother. It touched me that he had made such a special memorial and I’d felt the presence of the Greek ancestors in our respective families joined together.

Later I would teach FP’s youngest daughter from his first marriage to make prosfora and I’d give her a seal asking her to pray for me each time she uses it. I’d also taught her to make koliva and I added the memorial shrine layout to the tradition as though it had always been a part.

As I put the finishing touches on the Easter lamb meal and set the table for the hungry family that will soon arrive, I feel tears welling up and an ache in my heart that is painful at the core. Perhaps it’s brought on by the fatigue I feel from being at long services throughout Greek Orthodox Holy Week. Maybe I didn’t get enough sleep after midnight resurrection service. There is a deep mourning for my ancestors who always come to mind as the lamb bakes, and a clear and present sense of momentarily missing my ex husband despite our divorce being over six years prior, his remarriage, and a healing balm of forgiveness that has washed away the drama that separated us.

Rather than stuff down the emotion, I let the tears flow, and hum the tune “Christos Anesti,” –Christ is Risen, the traditional Greek song that we will sing victoriously in the upcoming weeks. Then I do what I strive to do each day, each hour, each minute. I turn my life over to the Resurrected Savior and surrender to His lead for this moment in time. For just this very moment, I trust through Him, that everything is as it should be.

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O Death Where Is Thy Sting?

HybridGuardianAngel2” Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”-     2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Today will be difficult  so I am writing. It’s my drug of choice in times of strong emotion and particularly soothing right now with a cup of hot green tea at hand, in the quiet of the earliest morning before sunrise.

Later today we will bury Harrison. His obituary says: “He passed peacefully in the arms of his family after a beautiful and unforgettable hour. His life was a brief gift to all that loved him and he will never be forgotten.” Harrison was the newborn son of my nephew Patrick and his partner Diana.

When Patrick was born 28 years ago, my brother (his father) and sister-in-law let me come into the delivery room with them. Patrick came forth after the normal struggle of childbirth and we laughed that he was a “conehead” because his pointy head had been squished in the birth canal during his entrance.

Patrick grew up to be a fine man. I served as Patrick’s godmother as he entered the Greek Orthodox faith through baptism and chrismation.  He became a church altar boy and made the family proud with his sweet and gentle demeanor.  I still see the faces of Patrick and my son Clint in altar boy robes as they flanked the casket of my father at his memorial service,  tears streaming down their young boy faces in the light of the candles they held.

Patrick and Diana made a family with Diana’s young daughter Mya, and their son Lincoln who will be 2 this year. They were delighted to learn Diana was pregnant again but their joy soon turned to shock and sorrow when they learned their infant had Trisomy 18, a life threatening genetic disorder that causes devastating medical issues and often death.  Undeterred, they named their in utero baby boy and we all became acquainted with Harrison.

From the moment they named him,  Harrison became a person.  A person who was a member of our family, and for whom we began to pray and worry.  Patrick and Diana started a gofundme account to help with the inevitable medical expenses and the cost of  sole provider Patrick’s projected absence from his job as a chef near their home in Northern Iowa. Their page kept us all posted on Harrison’s developments.

From the beginning the young parents were committed to seeing Harrison all the way through his birth. Abortion was mentioned by well meaning relatives, but they were champions of life from the get go. After all, this was not just a fetus; it was Harrison. As a pro choice individual I have to admit, Harrison brought me to a new understanding of life and I am more conflicted than before about this delicate issue.

Harrison’s parents sought the best medical treatment for his imminent arrival. They were connected to a hospital well versed in Trisomy 18 and the doctors were strong partners in their quest to spare no effort in helping Harrison. The ultrasound confirmed abnormalities would be life threatening once he breathed his first breath. They were encouraged with small bits of hopefulness such as the determination that despite other challenges, his heart was strong and mighty.

Spiritual support came forth. A Greek Orthodox monk friend saw Patrick’s Facebook post  and rallied the monks at his monastery. “We are praying for Patrick, Diana, Mya, Lincoln and Harrison each specifically and by name,” he reported.  Graciously they also volunteered a burial plot at the monastery for Harrison should it be needed.  Being covered in prayer, the family felt supported in ways beyond the reach of a gofundme page.

At 33 weeks, “Harrison took things into his own hands,” stated Patrick’s Facebook post and Diana went into labor.  An unusually fierce snowstorm had struck and they were unable to make it to the hospital that was awaiting Harrison’s arrival. Instead a nearby hospital would have to do, and Diana gracefully demanded a C-Section when the staff who were not as familiar with Harrison’s medical condition tried to get her to have a vaginal birth.  Harrison’s siblings Maya and Lincoln were along too since the grandmothers could not make it through the storm in time to babysit while mom and dad went to the hospital.

The obituary had it right.Harrison lived an hour.  He was surrounded by his family. His medical conditions were too substantial to sustain life.  Even the more elaborate hospital couldn’t have helped.  A professional photographer came in to take his baby pictures. He was wrapped in a blanket and stocking cap, showing only his perfectly formed, beautiful angelic face.  When Patrick sent me the picture all I could say was “There’s Harrison!” as though I had known him my whole life.

“I don’t want to say goodbye to him,” Patrick texted yesterday when he and Diana were on their way to the mortuary to see their son for the last time. Harrison is coming home to be buried in the same cemetery as my father.  To conserve funds, Patrick will drive his son in his tiny casket from the mortuary three hours to the grave site in West Des Moines. “I’m leaving soon to get my boy,” he texted me moments ago.  He is bringing his son home.  Harrison will be buried in the “Garden of the Innocent” not far from the mausoleum where my dad rests, and amidst other babies who have died.

Later today, our immediate family will gather at the gravesite, along with our monk friend and our Greek Orthodox priest. On St. Patrick’s Day we will bury Patrick’s son, our beloved Harrison. He is every bit as cherished a member of our family as the old grandparents we have buried before him. It’s hard to explain how one can feel so connected to a spirit who only passed through so briefly. It’s something I have never experienced before in my life, and has been quite unexpected. I like to envision my father holding his great grandson Harrison in his arms with a big smile, like I saw him hold my three adult children when they were infants.

Harrison’s  innocence, his courage, his radiance, the devotion of his parents, his reminder to all of us that life is fragile and every moment matters, and his valiant struggle to breathe in this beautiful gift of life for even only an hour has profoundly changed us.  Godspeed my great nephew.

We love you Harrison.

O Lord Who watches over children in the present life and in the world to come because of their simplicity and innocence of mind, abundantly satisfying them with a place in Abraham’s bosom, bringing them to live in radiantly shining places where the spirits of the righteous dwell: receive in peace the soul of Your little servant Harrison, for You Yourself have said, “Let the little children come to Me, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Amen.

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Give Me Rest

Businesswoman doing yoga“Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”- Matthew 11:28

I have always been a “good worker.”  My mother often bragged about how she loved to work, crediting her father as the role model of a strong work ethic.  My mother never rested, and neither did her father. Interestingly when they both retired they spent most of their time sitting in a chair,  not doing much of anything.

As I grew up, I also became a hard worker.  I was always accomplishing things, taking on projects, raising my hand to lead a task. As a lawyer, overwork is a badge of honor. Billing hours, staying late at the office and coming in on weekends often garners you a partnership. When I entered the practice in the 1980’s it was particularly important to work hard and show up often because  women were just starting to be accepted into the previously male dominated profession.

Where is the line between hard work, perseverance and being a “workaholic?” One source suggests that if you answer “often” or “always” to the following you might be in danger of being a workaholic:

1. You think of how you can free up more time to work.

2. You spend much more time working than initially intended.

3. You work in order to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness and/or depression.

4. You have been told by others to cut down on work without listening to them.

5. You become stressed if you are prohibited from working.

6. You deprioritize hobbies, leisure activities, and/or exercise because of your work.

7. You work so much that it has negatively influenced your health.

Unfortunately, after examining this list,  it’s clear I may struggle with  workaholism.

One of the anecdotes for overworking is rest.  Without it we can suffer burnout.  Even God rested on the seventh day.  Rest may not come easy for those of us who are constantly working.  As lawyers even when we are “off the clock” we carry our client’s burdens in our heads, and we may be worrying about the next court deadline in the back of our mind. Even when we are with family, we may have our mind back at the office. We may not even know how to rest.

I love the Scripture verse at the top of the page. When God says “come to me” what might that look like for this weary lawyer?

I’ve noticed it doesn’t take a vast amount of time to make me feel refreshed. When I have even a bit of solitude (preferably with God, reading my bible, journaling prayers to him, or just taking a walk in nature talking to him ) I feel instantly restored. And the power of that rest endures for hours.  Even during the day at the office when I close my door and read a scripture or a page from a Christian devotional, the break restores me.

For those without a spiritual practice, even  taking short breaks away from the desk or computer throughout the day can bring relief. A friend of mine sets her computer at the office to go off every few hours as a reminder to just breathe, pause, look away from work and dream for a minute.

One of the best steps I have taken is to remove my work email from my phone, so I am not constantly being pulled back into work during leisure time. I set limits on times to return emails and while I thought it would be stressful to let go of constant connection it has actually been freeing.

I’ve also blocked time on my calendar for a lunch break every day, and also for time to write at a local coffee shop on Friday mornings.  It’s tempting to fill the time when I see it blocked off but the more I actually take the time the better I feel. Even if I don’t take the whole lunch break I know it is “downtime” without clients coming in or other expectations.I’ve also been experimenting with setting a firm stop time for work, no matter what.

Like all boundaries, the ones I am setting are easy to set but not easy to hold.  It takes real commitment, and it’s important to enlist the others in the office to help you stay accountable. I meet a friend for the Friday writing who also holds me accountable. My law partner is supportive of my goals to stop overwork and is quick to remind me it’s time to leave if I am lingering.

I’ve also found it helpful to take a Sabbath.   Many Christians feel that Sunday is the Sabbath but this is just our Western tradition because we go to church then.  Christians don’t go to church on Sunday because it’s the Sabbath, it’s because Christ rose from the dead on Sunday and we are celebrating the resurrection.

The true Sabbath is Saturday, just as it was when Christ was alive. In the Jewish tradition the day begins at Sundown, so Friday night at sundown begins the Sabbath which then ends on Saturday at nightfall. The Jews still keep this tradition called “Shabbat.”

In Greek Orthodox tradition we have Vespers service on Saturday night just after sundown, as the beginning of the liturgical day.  It is my very favorite Orthodox service, and even now if I don’t attend Vespers I love going to Protestant church on Saturday night because I am in such a rhythm of beginning a day dedicated to God at sundown.  It makes me let down from the week, focus on God and relax, and I sleep like a baby.

There are many who would argue that to be “true” to the Bible and God’s commandment we have to honor the Sabbath on Saturday. I like to think that God doesn’t want us to be legalistic, particularly when we have taken the time to dedicate a Sabbath, and that he is just grateful to have our attention and to have us rest on any day we choose.

Taking these steps has helped me begin to pay attention to what I feel is an unhealthy pattern of prioritizing work. As I continue to explore this tendency I have self compassion,  remembering my overwork has been a coping mechanism in the past for me in some way. I want to choose a healthier  lifestyle and know that letting go of overwork, like all self improvement endeavors, is a journey.

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Women of Wisdom

Women of Wisdom

This blog was originally published in December, 2012.It is sent out with love to women struggling with their first Christmas post-divorce. You are not alone. 

The experts will tell you that you need a full year to recover from divorce. This is based partially on the fact that you have to go through all of the holidays once without your former spouse. Christmas was already a difficult time for me since my dad died a week before Christmas during my first marriage after I’d taken care of him as a hospice patient in my home for months.  I remember putting him in a wheelchair from his bed in the guest room and wheeling him in to watch my children decorate the Christmas tree.  After divorcing FP in October, the first post-divorce Christmas came quickly and I had to find a way to cope.

Wanting to put on a brave face, I decided to gather up my women friends and have a party.  I sent out an email: “At this holiday time you always hear about the wise men but what about the wise women?  I am inviting the wisest women I know to a ‘Women of Wisdom’ gathering at my home.  My two daughters will be in attendance.  Please come with two gifts for them: your best piece of wisdom and the one song they need on their iPod.” Continue reading

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When We Go High And They Go Low: What Happens To A Family?

ch-6-dove-and-serpant “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”-the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:16

I used to be a take-no- prisoners litigator leading families to the arena (court) to shed blood, exploiting every conflict I could to “win” the case. I lived this mindset in my own divorce, spending years in blame and unforgiveness. Both circumstances took a toll on my life and my soul.

Somehow I “woke up.”  I chose to  forgive the father of my children and myself.  I redesigned my law practice and became a peacemaker. I healed my life in mind, body and spirit and wrote a book encouraging other lawyers to do the same.

Now when clients come to my office we set goals for them and for their case.   Suffering from betrayal, loss of love and loneliness, clients suggest goals of blame, revenge, hurt and pain.   I redirect them, having a frank conversation with them about “the long game.”

The long game recognizes families are entwined for life, raising children post divorce.  EVERYTHING THEY DO IN THE DIVORCE  SETS A PATH FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES.  As their lawyer, I  leave a legacy with my intervention. My client is either buoyed for dignity, forgiveness, respect and calmness or left to pick up the rubble of the destruction I leave behind.

Choices in the divorce must be suited for the long game.  We discuss future family gatherings with the children and grandchildren such as graduations, weddings, and funerals. We envision the cost of the choice to blame, emphasize petty differences, or disparage their co-parent.  Even if we have serious issues (substance abuse, domestic abuse, and other important issues that endanger children) we  proceed with transparency, integrity and dignity for all, while firmly and wisely protecting the children.  Clients insistent on “going low” are referred to another  lawyer.  As a result of this choice of practice, I sleep well and see lives transformed in my office every day.

In one case,  my sad client whose wife had filed for divorce joined me in  discussing the long game.(I represent equal numbers of men and women). He embraced the approach noting that he and the child’s mother were both good people and good parents. They’d both been there for  prenatal care, and child’s dental and medical appointments. They’d both transported child to daycare, shared day to day parenting responsibilities and effectively made many joint decisions.

I called the lawyer on the other side to discuss the case.

“What are the problems with my guy having shared care?” I asked him, beginning to negotiate settlement.

“Nothing” he assured me.  “My client is a first time anxious mom, wanting primary care. There is nothing wrong with your guy.”

We were optimistic about settlement when we went to mediation.

“They report nothing that would preclude shared parenting other than mom is anxious,” the mediator said in our private caucus, then adding “mom’s lawyer is strongly advocating against settlement.”

I wondered if the lawyer had abandoned seeking compromise and simply decided they would “earn their keep” by supporting mom’s anxiety based position. We were headed for temporary hearing.

In my jurisdiction temporary matters  are decided on sworn affidavits.  No testimony, no clients, and 10 minutes to plead the case across the desk to a judge with no court reporter. Affidavits  are exchanged a moment before walking in to see the judge making the process “trial by ambush.”

My client and I prepared affidavits that supported our request for shared custody with coparenting from two good parents.  My client’s parents signed affidavits supporting both parents and describing a future where the mother would continue to be welcome. We buyoed the long game.

“My wife asked me not to read the affidavits she and her lawyer prepared for the hearing until tomorrow and she is moving in with her parents over the weekend, ” my client stated as we met at the courthouse.

“Search your soul and tell me what you have forgotten until now;  what’s the worst thing she can say and be brutally honest,” I asked my client as my anxiety spiked.  No porn, no drugs, no mistress, no tax fraud, no domestic abuse.  My puzzled client came up empty.

Outside the courtroom I handed opposing counsel our affidavits. “No surprises. High integrity on what we’ve said all along. Two good parents, history of calm waters.”   My adversary shoved affidavits in my hand while looking down at his feet and shuffling towards the courtroom door.

Wife’s affidavit magnified every petty disagreement since the child’s conception describing my client as a “bully” giving wife emotional distress. Wife’s mother substantiated with an affidavit saying the same.  Wife’s father noticeably did not join in.

My client held back tears. “We took the high road and she attacked despite what they have said all along. I feel betrayed again.  I want a pound of flesh!  What good did it do me to be high integrity?”

I left my law clerk to calm the client while I went in to argue my 10 minutes.  The other attorney animatedly described  my client to the judge as a bully, oppressive, mean to his wife.  I calmly argued  the facts; pre-natal care, child’s doctors appointments, daycare pickup,  joint decisions. I  pointed out wife’s affidavit was “she saids” while our evidence proved differently.

The judge granted wife primary physical care minimizing dad’s contact.   “I will never trust her ever again, as long as I live,” my client said as we left the courthouse.

Thanking me for my work, my client said he had believed in the high road and the long game until he was blown up in battle. We agreed I’d transition him to a gladiator colleague equipped with depositions designed to embarrass his wife, highlight her after-discovered boyfriend (although fault is not relevant under the law), and engage in other aggressive tactics of war to win the final hearing.  War that cost thousands of dollars of the child’s college savings money.

For a moment I second guessed my strategy. Did I just get out-lawyered? Did  my adversary’s choice to lie about the case and hold back the evidence until the end make him the better lawyer?  That lawyer now holds a permanent spot  on my “untrustworthy” list where he’ll stay long after we both forget the two clients we represented that day.

When that moment passes  I ‘m grateful that I provided my client and his family a chance  for healing, dignity and respect.  I dream of difficult conversations  at the mediation that would have allowed for problem solving  without venomous affidavits and court intervention. I pray for the family involved and for my young opposing counsel who may not see the toll such situations leave on the world, on a family and on his own soul over time.

And I ask, who “won?”

 

 

 

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Working with a Coach

Coaching concept in sphere tag cloud

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”-Alvin Toffler

One of the most important relationships in my life has been working with my life coach.  I began working with Paul when I was struggling with finding a sense of purpose. Was I really meant to be a lawyer?  Or had I missed the mark for my destiny and just followed in the path opened by my lawyer-father?

Having taken a course from Paul based on his workbook The Extraordinary Power of A My  Focused Life: A workbook for leaders who want to finish well  I’d answered the question about my purpose. Yes, I was meant to be a lawyer. But that was only the first part of the answer. Once I’d confirmed my purpose what should I do next?

An epiphany came that I needed to write a book, and to write articles and blogs about compassion and spirituality issues, particularly for lawyers.  The idea of writing a book was daunting and since I’d have to do it while simultaneously working in my busy law practice, I was sure it would never happen.  So, I hired Paul to coach me. The Compassionate Lawyer was published in 2014 and I am editing a second book now.

I wonder now how I ever got along without a coach. Being thrilled with the impact coaching had on me,  I took coaching training and have worked for the past few years in serving as a coach to others. Most of my  coaching clients are lawyers and law students but I also coach divorcing people in how to find a lawyer and navigate the legal system in their divorce.  My coaching practice is growing and it’s one of the favorite things I do.

What is coaching?  Coaches listen intently to their clients, asking questions so the person being coached will be able to think more deeply. The client is then able to find solutions in a way that makes them feel empowered to take action.  Unlike a mentor who gives advice, the coach controls the urge to tell people what to do and instead uses questions to draw out thoughts and ideas.  In my coaching relationships we “do life together” in intentional scheduled conversations. Every conversation produces insights, discoveries and action steps.

Who can be a coach? As a lawyer I am a professional problem solver and as a “seasoned” lawyer I can draw from years of skills training and life experiences. That being said, I found  the coaching skills training to be some of the most transformative training I have ever taken.  It literally changed the way I operate in most all of my relationships. I found when I took to having conversations with my adult children from the coaching vantage point instead of as the intrusive mother, our relationships grew. While many people say they are a coach, it’s like saying you are a mediator. Anyone can label themselves this or a that, but without skills training they can be dangerous.  The coaching title isn’t regulated so beware.

How is a coaching relationship structured? The structure and cost of each coaching relationship is different. Some of the people I coach meet with me once a month (in person or virtually) and send me weekly accountability emails. Some only structure meetings with no contact in between. Some have a defined term; with others we just check in regularly to see if the relationship is still fruitful.   I have worked with my own coach for years meeting monthly, moving to biweekly coaching meetings during times of focused productivity or unexpected lethargy.  I sent weekly accountability emails to him for years. Now I’ve moved to an occasional email between in person sessions.  I cried and floundered during my first meetings and now come prepared with focused agenda items and action plans including a diagnosis of what I think went wrong for things that have not come to fruition. Each coach charges either an hourly or session rate, which may vary depending on circumstances.

What makes a good coaching relationship?  The productivity goals are secondary for me, and the best byproduct of my work with Paul is how he points out areas of my personal growth and increased focus.  For others who hire a coach, it may be all about finished work product.  Each coaching relationship takes on it’s own personality.  Some young lawyers I coach are in their own solo practices and enjoy having a more experienced lawyer helping them think through things.  Other lawyers have productivity goals. Law students often need someone to help them with stress management and overcoming perfectionism. Experienced lawyers are often looking for more meaning in a stagnant law practice.   While a lot of people leave the law during those times of restlessness, I am a proponent of helping lawyers stay in the law while finding ways to practice more authentically. My divorcing coaching clients are intimidated with the legal system, and want an experienced guide to walk alongside them that isn’t their own lawyer.

Why do I love being a coach? Every day in my legal practice I have to “fix” problems for my clients. As a coach, I don’t have to “fix” anyone or anything. I just have to hold space for people to feel safe enough to unearth what is inside of them. Being a coach inspires me to do better work in all my relationships, business and personal. For me, having a coach is like having another family member who is unconditionally in your corner even in your imperfections.  I’ve had plenty of meetings with Paul bemoaning how I “botched things” and asking him to help me process how I would regroup. And when I received the Drake alumna of the year award  Paul and his wife Leslie were there with me at he head table clapping and smiling. I feel the same sense of pride over the people I coach as I see them moving their lives forward in meaning and purpose, fully awake.

Is coaching for you? Let’s explore that question with no cost or obligation to “sign up.” I love connecting,  whether we end up working together or not.  Email me: kim@compassionlegal.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dark Night of the Soul

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Why are you cast down O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me?”-Psalm 42:5  

Several months ago I went through a rough time and I didn’t know if it qualified as depression. I’d suffered from a massive depression 35 years prior in law school that left me catatonic and treating with a psychiatrist. There had been hard days when the kids were little, a sad time after my divorce, and “the blues” triggered by menopause hormones but nothing that didn’t ultimately pass through. This time seemed different.

My  brother had been diagnosed with cancer and it was a dark and lonely trek walking alongside him. My “rock” bolted in the middle of it, unable to handle my constant sadness and emotional exhaustion. Incidents with a few close friends made me realize that I’d misjudged the depth of our friendship. I felt alone and  my usual comfort from my relationship with God wasn’t coming through.

I started to see a compassionate therapist and brought him up to speed on my circumstances.   He pronounced my “downer” the result of grief and loss of epic proportions. It was helpful talking to him and we agreed to meet once a month to touch in. I’d find myself driving to his office wondering what in the world I would talk about for an hour and then getting there talking so fast I couldn’t stop even as time ran out. Yet therapy still didn’t satisfy my aching heart and soul which only seemed to get worse.

One of my stalwart girlfriends is a spiritual warrior. “Dark night of the soul,” she pronounced, and I wondered if there was such a thing, and how it differed from depression. I took to reading about the subject and hearing from people who had endured one.

Named after the poem by Roman Catholic mystic St. John of the Cross, a “dark night of the soul” is a period in which you feel overwhelming despair, and during which God is purportedly taking you deeper into new realms of spiritual experience even though it seems like he has disappeared. A big part of the experience is to let go of ego, surrender to the situation, and recognize that through courage and perseverance you are being groomed for greater love and awareness.

I don’t know about you, but my idea of a deepening spiritual experience would be an outstanding dream during which answers automatically fall out of a cloud like mystical raindrops quenching the dryness of a stagnant, sad period of life. Or maybe a walk in nature during which an incredible download of clarity drops on your head and you have a new wealth of inspiration and zest for life. Sitting in an empty abyss of nothingness didn’t exactly seem like fertile ground for getting jazzed with God and his grace. And did I forget to mention that during the dark night there is an increased temptation to engage in destructive behavior?

The Dark Night isn’t a purely spiritual crisis and it’s not a purely psychological one. It’s the best of both meaning it can’t be “therapized” away and can’t be prayed away either.  I had the psychological angle covered with the therapist but I couldn’t find spiritual comfort with God. He’d gone silent.  King David spoke of this in Psalm 13:1,”How long Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?”

Waiting out the dark night is often all that can be done, but during the process it is helpful to pray for revelation of what God is trying to “burn off” from you. Often it’s a need to let go of control, recognize the impermanence of much of life, and surrender to trust and acceptance of things that cause you fear. The ego loves control and fearfulness; the dark night is in battle with the ego. It’s like there is a spiritual wrestling match between ego and surrender and the dark night had to come to provide a venue for the show down.

The more you resist the process, the longer it lasts and the more likely you are to have to go through it more than once. If the process is fully embraced there are things that “die” (usually things of the flesh, control and the comfortable life) leaving behind a path of love, compassion, understanding and spiritual awakening of the essence of the most important things in life.

Unlike depression which can leave you unable to function, those in a dark night are often able to continue with their work and acts of compassion. The spirit stays strong and belief strengthens even though it seems like there is good reason to abandon faith. Thoughts of self loathing or self harm present in depression don’t appear in the dark night.

Even Mother Theresa suffered from a dark night of the soul as evidenced by the writings she left behind. “I am told God lives in me, and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul,” she wrote in 1957. Many were astonished that she would have had these thoughts, but those who know about the dark night aren’t surprised.

I know that all suffering  transforms us. Having moved through my “dark night” I have more clarity and passion for my purpose, a new appreciation for the strong relationships in my life (including a beautiful new one), and a renewed spiritual strength.

 

 

 

Choosing Prayer as a Spiritual Practice

images-2Everywhere I turn I’m hearing about meditation. There are meditation retreats, podcasts, books and people pitching its benefits. I’m noticing a divide beginning: either you meditate or you don’t. Some with other traditional spiritual practices incorrectly dismiss meditation as being affiliated with a specific religion, usually Buddhism.

I studied Transcendental Meditation in the 1970’s with meditators who set up shop in a big musty house near the Drake University campus. I was in high school and my ultra hip boyfriend at the time convinced me to take the training. We were each assigned a mantra, and we started a mediation practice that didn’t endure. I’m not convinced I really understood the premise as a teenager, pursuing the practice mostly to prove to my boyfriend that I was “avant garde.”

I have had a beautiful spiritual practice that has endured for me, and it’s PRAYER, based on my Christian faith.

I learned to pray as a child in the Methodist church Sunday school classroom, praying simple table grace and prayers before bed. At age 12, my family returned to the Greek Orthodox Church and I was exposed to long, poetic prayers in both Greek and English. The prayers of the church were drafted for us by saints and holy people, and we were taught it was safest to pray those specific prayers so that you were sure to approach God with reverence.

For years I’ve loved Orthodox prayer especially because it requires my full attention and the prayers are all encompassing. As a young wife and mother I set up a home altar facing east with incense, a candle (representing the light of Christ) religious icons and my prayer book and would pray as the sun came up knowing that the sunrise offers promise and is a masterpiece of God. Praying first thing in the morning grounds me, keeps my mind clear, makes me have a better day. I’ve even traveled to local monasteries to be among the prayer warriors.

The Greek Orthodox use prostrations during prayer. We may simply bend down and sweep the back of our hand to the floor before doing the sign of the cross across our bodies. During the spiritual boot camp of Lent, we get on the floor on all fours and bend our bodies down, praying a special prayer  asking God to help us make powerful transformative changes in our lives. We are encouraged to pray at sunrise, sunset and “the hours” marking times of events such as the hour the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost and the hour Christ was nailed to the cross.

I’ve recently broadened my prayer life with influence from Protestant literature. I read  “Let Prayer Change Your Life,” a book that encourages journaling your prayers; nirvana for someone who loves to write. Once I began the journaling practice my heart opened up immeasurably and my prayers became more personal. In times of distress my prayers seem as powerful as those of the psalmists. I now use my Orthodox prayers along with prayers that I journal.

I love reading in the Bible about  Jesus’ prayer life: “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”– Luke 5:16

In the New Testament the action would be heating up and the disciples would basically say, “Hey where did Jesus go?” Low and behold they would figure out he was off praying somewhere. He wasn’t a fan of theatrical public prayer even calling out the “holy people” as hypocrites in Matthew 6:5 because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.”

Instead, Jesus instructed us But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” – Matthew 6:6

Prayer is very personal. I choose to believe that God is just grateful that we are trying to make a divine connection, in any way that is authentic to us. Author Anne Lamott defines prayer as “anything you say to God from your heart.” She wrote a book distilling most prayer to the words “Help, Thanks, Wow.”

As a lawyer and mediator (careful, meditate and mediate can get confusing!) I enjoy praying for clients. On rare occasions I do this with them, but most often it is done silently after they leave my office or before we enter into court or mediation. In Praying for Strangers” the author decided to find a person in her path every day and to offer to pray for them. She chronicles the stories of the people she touched through this practice and the conclusion is an obvious one: we can all use prayer.

Prayer and meditation aren’t mutually exclusive. If there were a “mantra”  from the Bible it would come from Philippians 4:8:  “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about (or in some translations, MEDITATE ON) such things.”  For me that means watching the news less, and meditating on these things more.

The Bible also gives us meditation direction in Joshua 1:8 “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”  Just as many meditators focus on the breath, those who use the Bible focus on specific verses sometimes reading them over a few times, slowly emphasizing different words. Through prayer we add the next step, asking God “What does this say to me?” “How do I apply this to my life?” “What are you equipping me to do through this passage?”

Like meditation, prayer doesn’t come easily and to receive the full benefit it must be a consistent practice. Praying to God in the car or  when you think of it is great but that type of “prayer on the run” might be similar to meditation on on the run. When my prayer life is disciplined and rich I have much more clarity, serenity and focus.

I’m convinced meditation and prayer can live in tandem in my spiritual life and I’m choosing not to get bogged down in semantics. Recently I gathered  a group of lawyer colleagues to meet weekly and study  “The Anxious Lawyer” ,  a book for lawyers that provides instruction on how to meditate.

A solid spiritual practice can bring richness to our lives. Whether it is solitude, nature, prayer, meditation, creativity or something else, we can each choose a method that resonates with us.

Barrister Barista

photo “Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”-Philo of Alexandria
In my love affair with perfectly foamed lattes, I’ve spent many happy days at Starbucks. When the children were small, my friend Laura and I would meet there every single day. I would have a latte, usually with nonfat milk, except when I went through my soy phase. Laura would have an Americana with room for cream.

The Phoenix area has a million Starbuck’s, so we would call each other (before texting was available) to coordinate which location was convenient for our meeting, based on our schedules. “I’m picking up the triplets at school early for a dental appointment,” she might say.

“I will be at the church, can we meet half way in between?” I’d respond, and for several years we accommodated each other without the slightest amount of stress.

“I need to go first today,” one of us would say once we sat down with our coffees. We poured out stressors and anxiety becoming each other’s amateur therapists. People are in disbelief that we only missed a handful of days over the course of several years, before I moved back to Iowa.

Our daily meetings grounded me during years where I was lonely because of a traveling husband, unsure  how to raise kids, and yearning for my lawyer world during a period as stay at home mom. Laura could validate my feelings, tell me the kid’s coughs needed Robitussin and being a lawyer herself, explore the injustices of the OJ Simpson case based on an analysis of the evidence.
I supplied similar support to her as she raised triplets with her busy emergency room physician husband. By the time we finished our coffee and dashed to our respective mom mobiles to get back to our duties we were poised to face life with a fresh approach.

At our favorite Starbucks, Carl was the manager. Because we were regulars, it was like meeting another friend when he was working. When he transferred locations we moved our rendezvous to his new store whenever possible.

When I was divorced from my children’s father, I was in between jobs, having given up my status as VP of a California based mediation firm to try to save a failing marriage. Post-divorce I was left having to regroup to get a job in Scottsdale, and doors were not opening.

One day at coffee, I made a spontaneous inquiry of Carl. “Carl, would you ever hire me?”

Carl was puzzled knowing I was a lawyer, but also knowing Starbucks provided medical health benefits, which I needed. The next thing I knew I was handed a green apron and a post at a new Starbucks Carl was managing in a stylish part of Scottsdale.

The people I worked with had no clue I was a lawyer. I tried to keep that fact underground, partly from embarrassment that I was underemployed, and also to avoid getting asked for legal advice. I was just “Kim,” and  I didn’t feel like I was being judged. Secretly I was “Kim, the lawyer who struggles to steam milk.”

My twenty-something coworker Maggie became my guide to the Starbuck’s world. Keeping up with a busy caffeine -seeking crowd, was not easy. Some customers were rude and impatient, some downright hateful, others were pleasant. Those who said hello, asked how I was getting along as the “newbie,” and called me by name were a joy. I was working hard, on my feet, trying to live up to Carl’s rigorous standards for a clean store, going home tired at the end of my shift, particularly on days when it had started at 5 a.m.

If I would gripe to Maggie she never engaged, but instead was always upbeat, expressing gratitude for her job. Maggie would often excuse herself abruptly for a bathroom break. I became curious as to why she would leave her work station so suddenly. Eventually I asked a coworker.

“Maggie has cancer,” he told me. “She is going through chemotherapy and leaves her post to get sick. She has to work to keep the insurance. Poor thing should be home in bed.”

I was shocked. Here I had been a prissy Scottsdale lawyer/mom who had thought I was so noble working at Starbucks. Right beside me was Maggie, struggling to survive. I eventually asked Maggie if there was anything I could do to help her. She seemed disappointed that her secret was out, and basically said “Thanks so much but I am fine. I enjoy working with you.” That was it.

The next morning when it was still dark, as I went in to open the store I saw Maggie getting off the bus. For the first time in my life, I was unable to know what to do to help someone. I decided the best thing I could do to honor her was to watch her humility up close and to learn to do something about my own ego based on her example.

A few mornings later a particularly obnoxious business woman came to the counter enraged, oblivious to the line packed tightly out the door. “You are out of cream!” she squealed. “Perhaps “you people” don’t know what it is like to be a busy executive needing to keep on your schedule! We get delayed by something that you should be taking care of!”

My initial instinct was to lash back saying: “I will have you know I am a lawyer and I doubt YOU are qualified to argue before the Supreme Court!” At the same time, I saw Maggie down the counter from me, smiling and selecting a pastry for a customer.

“I am so sorry ma’am, let me get you that cream right away,” I said instead, grabbing the decanter and filling it up. “I am sorry you were inconvenienced and I hope you have a wonderful day.”

Somehow I was able to channel what I’d learned from Maggie. And strangely, in the turn of a moment, I really did want the woman  to have a wonderful day. For all I  knew she was in a struggle of her own, unable to handle it with Maggie’s grace.

Eventually I left Starbucks and Arizona, resuming my law and mediation practice in Iowa. Leaving Laura’s friendship was devastating. I visit Arizona often and we always “do coffee” daily while I am there.

I ‘ve gone back to the Starbucks where I worked. It’s been totally remodeled. Carl is gone to stores unknown. Maggie is not there. I wonder if she is even alive.

Now, when I walk into a Starbucks  I take a  moment to look the barista in the eye, smile, make small talk and even call them by name. I do the same with the clerk at the grocery store and the cashier at the gas station. I know from my work at Starbucks that a little kindness makes all the difference.

And all of our lives, matter.

This post was originally published in 2013.  My son Clint, age 23, has started working part time as a barista at Starbucks so it reminded me of this post.  Welcome to the barista family son!

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A Divorce Lawyer’s Caution to Stay at Home Parents

Super Hero Mom

After more than 30 years as a family law attorney, I still worry about some clients as they leave my office with their divorce decrees in hand. Some are still swimming in emotion. Some have tragedy on the horizon as they walk into new relationships before they are fully healed. The clients I worry most about are those who have been stay at home parents for long periods of time during the marriage. Those clients often face the most difficult emotional and financial “hits.”

No family expects divorce, but if one parent is planning to be a stay –at-home parent there are important things to consider to avoid devastating consequences if it does happen. (Although I am beginning to see men as the stay at home in recent years, I am using “her” as the gender for the stay at home parent).

I cant’ tell you the number of times I hear, “I told her to get a job and she wouldn’t,” while the other parent responds, “He may have mentioned my going back to work but he also liked not having to deal with the house and children as well as his job. Plus there was the high cost of child care.”

To avoid crisis if divorce erupts here’s what I recommend to stay-at-home parents:

  1. Have a detailed plan. Develop a plan that includes how long a parent will stay out of the workforce before one parent moves forward with staying home with children. Smart couples have a deadline for the stay at home to return to the workforce that is re-evaluated in a focused discussion each year. Discussions about all aspects of the stay at home arrangement should take place in person, at designated times and not just in passing when emotions are running high. I like to say that all discussions should be “kitchen table” discussions when the kids are not around.
  1. Enlist a third party to assist you with the plan. Get help from a family lawyer, financial planner, counselor or family mediator at the outset, and also when tensions erupt. Difficult conversations are easy to avoid. A calm third party can facilitate a discussion that results in a clear understanding and agreement. These experienced professionals also know the impact of staying home with the children and can assist with a list of things to consider that couples overlook.
  1. Prioritize finances for both parents. Despite our fluid roles, I still see that one spouse typically handles the finances. The other spouse often delegates that task and then never pays attention.  Smart couples meet monthly to review detailed family finances. I encounter numerous divorces where one party thought there was plenty of money when it turns out the family was living on credit cards. “I tried to tell him/her we were spending too much,” is a phrase heard often in my office.
  1. Be clear that alimony won’t support your lifestyle. Stay- at- home parents often believe if they divorce the income earner will absolutely be obligated to support the parent who stayed home. This is simply false. Alimony laws are in a state of flux in many states. In the vast majority of cases the stay at home will have a short time to receive a small amount of “rehabilitative” alimony and then they are expected to get to work. There is only so much money to go around and in most families it is impossible to support two separate households on one income.
  1. Keep your skills and contacts sharp. Don’t completely unplug from the work world while staying home. Take an online course or courses, and keep your skills current. When I took time off from my law practice while my children were small I hired a sitter for a few hours and attended bar association meetings and seminars. I never said I was “offline” in my work; I simply didn’t discuss my caseload (which was virtually non-existent for a time). Once I re-entered nobody knew that I hadn’t been practicing law all along and I was able to get up to speed quickly.
  2. Fund retirements for both parents. A good financial planner can advise on how the stay  at home can save for retirement. Although all retirement earned during the marriage is usually divisible to both parties in divorce, the emotional attachment to retirement accounts by the working spouse causes conflict in many cases. Retirement funds set up for each party help diffuse emotion at the negotiation table if divorce ever comes up.
  3. Stay connected in your marriage. Child rearing years are difficult on even the strongest marriages. One spouse in the business world and one at home all day can create a gap in interests and experiences that over time can erode connection. Prioritize time as a couple and take fights seriously as a warning sign. Working on your marriage may seem like the last thing you want to do amidst the exhaustion of all your obligations, but it will be the greatest investment you will ever make.
  4. If you do face divorce, explore collaborative law.  If you have to divorce there are respectful processes that work to move both parties forward in a dignified manner.  Consult with a family lawyer  to see if you and your spouse are candidates for collaborative divorce.

Kimberly Stamatelos is a mediator and family law attorney in West Des Moines, Iowa with Stamatelos & Tollakson. She is the author of the book “The Compassionate Lawyer” available on Amazon.

 

 

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