The gift of a

Breath

I learned a profound Jewish teaching from a Franciscan priest! 聽馃檪
Father Richard Rohr learned it from a Jewish Rabbi and speaks about it often. 聽It gives me great comfort in my life.

In Judaism the true name of God is not spoken. All the names we use are nicknames. The true name of God consists of 4 Hebrew letters (讬讛讜讛) (yud, hey, vov, hey). When these 4 letters are put together there are no consonants.

Many believe that we don’t speak the true name of God because it is taboo or because of the commandment, ‘thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain’. 聽This is only partially true.

The real reason we do not speak God’s name is because it can not be spoken. The closest word is the sound you make when you inhale and exhale.

Just take a minute to think about this.

God’s true name is the sound of your breath.

Inhale. 聽Exhale.
Do it again.

You are breathing the name of your maker.

We are alive when we are able to breathe.

Gen 2:7 聽讜讬讬爪专 讬讛讜讛 讗诇讛讬诐 讗转志讛讗讚诐 注驻专 诪谉志讛讗讚诪讛 讜讬驻讞 讘讗驻讬讜 谞砖诪转 讞讬讬诐 讜讬讛讬 讛讗讚诐 诇谞驻砖 讞讬讛變

“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul” 聽http://biblehub.com/lexicon/genesis/2-7.htm

Breath is life. 聽Breath is The Spark of God within us. 聽It is also His name and our own personal prayer.

It is our first word uttered when we are born. It is the last thing we say when we die. We pray it all day everyday. 聽 It is unique to each person and free to ALL.聽 It is our built in ‘fail safe’. 聽All the times we doubt ourselves and our worthiness, we are breathing our own affirmation. 聽God has it covered.聽 It is not required that we believe in it. 聽It will happen for us regardless.

When ever I am having a hard time. 聽When I am tired and overwhelmed. 聽All those times I am not sure I am doing ‘whatever’ right.

All I really have to do is remember to breathe. 聽It contains all that I need. It is prayer enough, it is life enough, and it is powerful enough to carry us through. 聽Trust your breath. When you feel especially lost or heartbroken. Just focus on your breath.

Father Rohr offers a beautiful meditation from Psalm 46:10 to lead you back to your breath:

“Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know that I am
Be still and know
Be still”
May your Breath be with you :))
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February 2016

The Day the Angels Disappeared

They would sing to me.聽 A song with no words, and deeply familiar.聽 There were so many. Choirs of them. 聽 I would sing with them, and other times I would just sit in awe.聽聽 Words fail to describe the power of them.聽 The closest I can come is JOY, and that is like describing a technicolor聽 3-D IMAX movie as an old black and white film.聽 Beautiful, glowing with light, enormous, ethereal?聽 These words seem insulting when describing them.聽 How old was I?聽 I was young enough that I didn’t have words to describe it to anyone, or even think to try.聽 I assumed it just was.聽 Didn’t everyone visit with Angels?

When I would go to sleep they would come to me.聽 Or I would go to them, I am not sure.聽 The memory is strong yet fuzzy.聽 Similar to how I see without my glasses.聽 I can capture most of it and imagine missing pieces, but it always seems to be at a distance.

As a small child, napping was a wonderful place to go.聽 Sleep something to welcome.聽 Maybe it was all a dream.聽 If that is so, then I only had one dream.聽 The same each time I fell to sleep.聽 There was no other.

And then one day.

I have two vivid memories.聽 They happened around the same time, but since memory is fluid, I can’t say for sure.

The first is standing frozen in front of the TV.聽 My parents had been so excited that a popular children’s movie was airing.聽 ‘The Wizard of Oz’.聽 They put it on and probably thought it would give them some much needed adult time to catch up.聽 They left me to watch by myself.聽 The witch and the monkeys haunted me for years.聽 The purposeful meanness, so hard for me to digest.聽 I couldn’t leave the room and I couldn’t bear to watch.聽 I was sweating and shaking.聽 I did not know that feeling before.聽 Unfortunately, I have known it many times since.聽 Fear.

The second memory happened chronologically after the first.聽 Yet, it could have happened the other way around.

I remember going to take a nap.聽 As soon as my mother left the room a bee landed on my covers and began to slowly crawl towards me.聽 It was the biggest bee I have still to lay eyes on.聽 I could not move, or run away or even call for help.聽 I just lay there sweating and watching.聽 This horrible, terrifying, hairy monster walking up my covers to where I lay, helpless and horrified.

I don’t know how it ended exactly.聽 The bee did not harm me.聽 I just know what happened next.

My mother had to go back to work.聽 My sister and I were put on a bus in the morning to go to a day care center.聽聽 I remember the sick feeling in my stomach.聽 My younger sister just one and a half years old.聽 She was screaming and clinging to my mother’s neck.聽 They peeled her little arms away and strapped her in the van.聽 I watched my mother get back in the car and drive away.聽 My sister kept crying.聽 They told her to stop in a commanding聽 voice.聽 She couldn’t.聽 Her little chest heaving and hiccuping.聽 The woman driving the bus reached back with a ruler and spanked her legs, telling her more sternly to stop.聽 She cried harder.聽 She spanked her again.聽 It continued back and forth like this until the end of the ride.聽 Then they took us to separate rooms. 聽 I did not see her again until later, as they put us on cots to nap.聽 I lay there missing our bright kitchen where my mother and sister and I would sit eating lunch.聽 I missed riding my tricycle up and down the sidewalk. I missed getting up from my naps to tip toe into the kitchen where my mother would leave fresh bread cooling.聽 I missed my mother.聽 I heard my sister crying.聽 I got up to comfort her.聽 I needed to get comfort as much as to give comfort.聽 They caught me before I got to her.聽 They spanked me and put me back on my cot.聽 My sister and I had never been spanked before.聽 No adult had ever struck us.聽 They told me to stay there and not get up.聽聽 I swallowed my sobs as quietly as I could.聽 I already learned what happened if they heard you cry.聽 I did not get up again.

The Angels never came back.聽聽 I have only seen them again in memory and imagination.

My mother did not stay home anymore.聽 Day care became our foster care.

The loss was gargantuan.聽 My whole body would ache at the missing of them.聽 What did I do wrong?聽 Why did they leave me?聽 Please come back!聽 Some how I knew it was over.聽 Going to sleep became something else.聽 I did not welcome naps.聽 I would run and hide to keep from going to bed at night.聽 These early memories have been a powerful force shaping my path and direction as an adult and mother.

It took a long time to put all the pieces together.聽 To understand what happened.聽 It was simple really.聽 I came to know forces we must battle here on earth, whether we like it or not; fear, doubt, hatred.聽 It takes innocent faith to see Angels.聽 You must trust completely.聽 Children are born in this pure state, and then life happens. 聽 We spend the rest of our time searching for the way back.

This is not a story I have ever shared with anyone.聽聽 No one goes around talking about their experience with Angels.聽 How do you explain your grief at losing something that people don’t believe exist?聽聽 I am not sure if I was even able to share my grief of what happened to my sister and I at the hands of irresponsible cruel caregivers.聽 If my parents are upset by this I would tell them this was no failure on their part.聽 In fact, I would argue quite the opposite.聽 They did something so right.聽 They were able to protect me from fear and doubt until I had long term memory to store my Angels.

As powerful as those traumatic memories have been in my life, the memories of Angels have been more so.聽 I have cherished this memory of my Angels all of my life.聽 Evidence of a power so great and filled with light that words cannot define it.聽 I wonder if we all are born wrapped in this gift of love.聽 Meeting with Angels while we sleep.聽 Easing the transition to a physical world filled with fear and gravity.

In a rather low point in my life, I took a workshop called “The Illuminated Heart”.聽 One of the exercises within the meditations was to call your Guardian Angel to be with you on the journey.聽 Focusing on it this way, I felt the presence of something so big and familiar that it brought tears. 聽 I recognized the Angel as being with me all my life, just out of focus and on the periphery.聽 This realization was a game changer.聽 I know I may never see Angels again as I did with the clear eyesight of innocent faith.聽 But I know they are with me always.

I had a conversation with my son, Zeke, this week before he fell asleep.聽 He had been listening to a story about witches and was having trouble sleeping.聽 As I searched for how to help him, I shared my story.聽 It is the first time I think I have shared it with anyone and it prompted me to write about it.聽 He listened and had many questions about the Angels.聽 I struggled for words to explain.聽 He immediately fell asleep.聽 He slept through the night and awoke to tell me how he had asked his animal friends to help him defeat the witches and bad guys in his dreams.聽 Maybe he connected with his Guardian Angels.聽 He walked taller the rest of the day.

In Judaism there is a bedtime prayer that calls 4 Angels to guard you.聽 It is ancient and meant for protection during the dark night.聽 I do not know the entire prayer in Hebrew.聽 Even though it is a prayer that is intended for you to say for yourself, I call the Angels to come guard my children before they go to sleep.聽 Then I recite, the Shema. I have done this every night for more years than I can remember.

I call upon you Hashem, put the Angel, Michael on the right, Gabriel on the left, Uriel in the front and Raphael in the back, and above my head the Sh’khinah (Divine Presence) (3x ) Shema Yisrael Adonai eloheinu Adonai ehad) (Deuteronomy 6:4)

It is the last thing they hear before they fall asleep.聽 As I go to sleep, I call the Angels for my children that are now away from home and then myself.聽 This may not be religiously correct, but it is my way.

I want my children to hear me call the Angels by name, every single night.聽 In this world, there is a constant battle raging between light and dark.聽 Between faith and fear.聽 While we cannot insulate ourselves or our children from the forces of dark, I firmly believe that light and faith are the stronger force.聽 Just the memory of Angels can be powerful enough to beat back the dark.聽 Just the possibility of light can give us the hope and courage we need to face down fear.聽 May your Angels always be close, guiding you and giving you light for the way.

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making my case for more time in the woods

A Mother’s Manifesto

I want my children to spend more time playing in the woods! 聽 I want them to build forts and climb trees and play wild games of chase and hide and seek.聽 I want them to co-exist with bugs, ants, spiders and snakes without hyperventilating.

Here is why and what I did about it.

Their school has access to a natural wooded area with a creek running through it.

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Last year Hannah’s teacher took them out here to play.聽 Not all the teachers felt so comfortable doing this.聽 The teachers at this school love the children as their own. 聽 A wild wooded area where children run free is intimidating.聽 The fear of them getting hurt is unbearable.聽 I understand and appreciate this.聽 Finding the balance between safety and the need to explore is not always so simple.

So this past August, I helped coordinate an in-service for all the teachers with a naturalist.聽 We took them out to play and learn in this outdoor classroom.聽 The following is my letter shared with them, making a case for more time in the woods.

I, Michaux Shaffer, mother of Hannah and Zeke, am here today as a parent representative in full support of my children spending time each day in the woods, regardless of weather, mud, bugs and risk.聽 I will give you 3 good reasons I feel strongly about this.

  1. Nature is the original multi-sensory learning experience.聽 It’s got it all.聽 Children can access, engage and feed all their senses.聽 It is a full body experience.聽 This forest is a natural library.聽 It contains an endless and untapped supply of multi-sensory learning opportunities children can explore at their own pace.聽 I want my children to have full access to one of our most valuable teachers–mother nature.
  2. Spending time in the natural world benefits not only learning, but the development of the ‘whole child’.聽 In Chicago access to outdoor movement and play is consistently limited at school by severe weather.聽 Many times, we begin to better understand the value of something when we see the effects of its absence.聽 Each winter we lived there, I watched my children grow pasty and weak, losing muscle tone and getting sick often.聽 My last winter there, the children did not go outside to recess for 3 months straight during an especially cold winter.聽 Sensory Integration issues, mood, attention and behavior disorders in children that require therapeutic intervention are on the rise.聽 There is a connection between this rise in serious disorders and children spending less time outdoors.聽 I saw this first hand in my work as a Marriage and Family Therapist.聽 It was not just my children who were suffering from lack of outdoor play and movement.聽 There were many other children who were suffering even more severely than my own.聽 I saw everything from lacking the core strength to sit up in class, to phobias of, not only dirt and bugs, but the very ground itself!聽 Not to mention, severe anxiety and depression in younger and younger children.聽 More and more research is focusing on extended time in nature as a therapeutic intervention alternative for these disorders with amazing results.
  3. My children, Zeke and Hannah.聽 Richard Louv in his book, “Last Child in the Woods” tells us that fear of the聽 natural world comes when we disconnect from it.聽 When children develop a personal relationship with nature, they become stewards of the earth.聽 One of the core values in Judaism is Tikkun Olam (repair the world).聽 I would like to find as many ways as possible for my children to uncover their power to repair the world around them.聽 I want my children to learn about habitat restoration and benefit from the therapeutic effects of spending time in a natural and wild habitat.聽 Last year, Hannah loved going to school more than I have ever seen her.聽 I asked her what gave her that spring in her step?聽 She thought for a minute and replied simply, “the woods”.聽 So I joined them one day at recess to see first hand what she was loving so much.聽 I witnessed a high level of imaginative play and movement in all different planes of motion.聽 Running, jumping, balancing, lifting etc.聽 I tried to keep up with them to video their play.聽 I run on trails regularly.聽 I consider myself somewhat fit.聽 I could not keep up.聽 They were able to move quickly over and under very technical terrain and through tight spaces.聽 Aside from being a workout that could stand up in any ‘cross fit’ gym across the country, these are all kinds of movement and sensory experiences that an OT would prescribe for children with sensory issues.聽 In a country where childhood obesity is on the rise, I can’t imagine a more beneficial way to get children moving.聽 I also observed that the freedom to take risks, climbing and jumping had significantly developed their judgment and ability to navigate this natural space, therefore, making them safer in the process.聽 When they were showing me how they climb on a ‘climbing wall’ of vines, I asked if they could go any higher?聽 They responded, “no” that they had learned through experience that to go higher was to risk pulling the vines down and falling.聽 Play researcher, Peter Gray, in his book, “Free to Learn” writes that when children and animals are given freedom to take risks in play they don’t just jump off rooftops to risk their lives.聽 They become scientists.聽 They systematically take calculated risks that they can handle, exposing themselves to levels of danger and fear that test themselves, and then incorporate what they learn.聽 This means that they will get dirty and fall down.聽 But it also means they will develop safer judgement and increased body awareness and control.聽 Allowing children to take risks makes them safer!聽 Zeke is a great example of this.聽 He has already had 2 concussions, a broken foot and stitches in his chin.聽 In his stuntman personality he takes more physical risks than most children. 聽 I聽 have learned through experience, that if I do not let him learn HOW to fall, he will be in much greater danger down the road.聽 He is, by far, the most skilled ‘mover’ in our family.聽 He has astounding skill, body awareness and control of his body in space that makes him more coordinated, mobile and SAFE than most children his age.聽 I want my children to have access to this natural playground so they can take these calculated risks, test themselves and become safer in the process.聽

We know that it is crucial for children to have time to move, play and explore.聽 But when we give them this, in combination with the natural world, we take out an insurance policy of sorts for the future.聽 For their future and the future of their world.

I want my children to spend time in the woods getting messy, taking risks, repairing their world and experiencing ‘full body learning’.聽 I believe this is how we support the development of safer, smarter, happier, healthier kids.聽

Please share this with anyone and everyone that you feel could benefit from it.聽

Yours Warmly–Michaux Shaffer

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The gift of a

Frisbee Summer

My oldest son, Noah, is coming home in exactly 5 days, 1hour and 32 minutes.聽 Yes, I am counting it down.聽 I have not seen him since August 28, 2014.聽 To be a first timer at letting go of my first fledgling, I think this is pretty hard core.聽聽 I went from the comfort of having him sleep at night under my roof, safe and sound, to an occasional phone call from another time zone, halfway across the world.

Last June 2014, I was still reeling from a surprise cancer diagnosis and immediate major surgery as I stood (and mostly sat) at his graduation from high school.

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It hit me.聽 I had a summer.聽 I had one precious summer left in my house with all my children living under my roof before it changed forever.聽 Sure, we can always count on change, but for the last 18 years I had been a stay at home mother with at least one small child not even in school yet.聽 I never had to adjust to life as they leave my nest.聽 My life had been about adjusting around these children who were always around me!聽 Now, my child was leaving for another country and I was moving away from Chicago.

At first, I panicked.聽 I will confess that I don’t do panic very well.聽 It looked something like me pouncing on my 18 year old son at breakfast with a guilt trip about not spending enough time with me.聽 It went from there to an angry tirade about ‘aren’t we important to you? We are your FAMILY!’ 聽 If you had a video camera, you would have seen him looking at me wide eyed and nodding, mouth open. 聽 He then backed out the door slowly, breakfast forgotten, until he cleared the door frame, at which time, he RAN to the car and drove off as fast as he knew he could get away with.聽 I cried.

I knew I could not prevent the inevitable.聽 This child was leaving home.聽 It was time.聽 It was exactly what I knew was a successful outcome.聽 A child confident and independent enough to go out into the world and figure out his path.聽 But damn it sucked.

When I related the conversation to Richard, he laughed.聽 Then he shared with me the secret sauce.聽 “Michaux, if you chase him, he will run away.聽 He is an 18 year old boy.聽 Just find something fun to do with him, then make the time to do it. That is all you have.”

I knew he was right.聽 (enjoy that statement Richard, it is rare)聽 At first, I did the standard mother things.聽 I spent money on him.聽 I took him out for lunch, or dinner.聽 I took him shopping.聽 We went to the movies.聽 But that will only take you so far.

Then one day the answer came.聽 Noah was sitting on the couch frustrated that a friend had ditched plans with him.聽 I was, of course, secretly jumping up and down, clapping my hands at an unexpected chance to have time with him.聽 I went through the list of things I could think of to do and he ‘poo pooed’ all of them.聽 He was really not happy about being dumped.聽 I finally said in frustration, “Noah I just want to hang out with you!”聽 He sat there for a minute, and then he looked at me and said, “You know all I really want to do is play frisbee.”聽 (NOW WE ARE TALKING!!)

OH YEAH!聽 Noah and I played some FRISBEE.聽 We played.聽 All summer.

Whenever we could sneak away from the other kids, (they would always take over the game) we would grab the frisbee and go to the big field at the park and play.聽 It was pure play.聽 Neither one of us willing to call the game.聽 It became a friendly competition to see if I (old, broken down) could outlast him (young, strong).

One particular day, I was in bed suffering and sick, and Noah came home with a new official frisbee.聽 He bounded like a puppy into the house and demanded that I get out of bed!聽 I couldn’t imagine how I was gonna get out of bed at that moment, and yet, I couldn’t imagine how I was NOT gonna get out of that bed.聽 So I got out! I played for an hour聽 before the other kids realized I was outside having fun without them.

When Noah did leave home and we did pack up our house and move across states, it was pretty traumatic.聽聽 I didn’t get to go visit him, or even talk to him much.聽 I don’t know what his room looked like.聽 He hasn’t seen our new home.聽 I didn’t get to meet his teachers or his new found friends.聽 I will admit to some tears about all this.聽 Yet, I had that frisbee summer tucked into my heart to hold onto.聽聽 It was a gift that sustained me.

Now I am getting the gift of another summer.聽 I will have all my children under my roof for a short time.聽 This time, in August I have to face sending聽 TWO of my four children off into the world.聽 My daughter, Micah, 14 is leaving home to attend school back in Chicago.

This decision was obviously not made over night.聽 It was a tough trial and year for her here in SC.聽 I watched her suffer and prayed for the answer.聽 I was bothered that her brother had a wonderful Jewish high school education and I could not give her the same.聽 So when she came to us and asked to go away to school, I knew I had to take her seriously.聽 I listened with a heavy heart.聽 I felt angry and cheated just thinking about being absent from her high school experience.聽 She is only 14!聽 How can I lose another one!聽 I was supposed to have four more years before I had to do that ‘letting go’ thing again.聽 It felt so unfair and yet I knew it was what she needed.

I made the phone call to the admissions counselor and was sick to my stomach the entire time.聽 I got off the phone and bawled.聽 I laid face down on the floor and shook.聽 I called G-d a few bad words.聽 I could not get up for awhile.

Then I stopped.聽 I remembered last year this same time.聽 I looked at all the reasons I did not want her to go and knew they were my selfish reasons not hers.聽 I realized I had to figure out MY path separate from my children.聽 Because, dammit they are gonna grow up and leave you.聽 And that is if it all goes WELL.聽 I knew if I did not figure out my purpose in this world I would not survive this child rearing.聽 My heart was breaking.

So I let it go.聽 I pulled out my frisbee summer from my heart space and let it soothe me.聽 I began to look forward to the fleeting gift ahead.聽 A summer.聽 This is what I have.聽 I must embrace it and use it to create new memories to tuck into my heart.聽 I must enjoy my children while I have them.聽 That is all we really have.

I can’t wait to play frisbee.聽 I look at the long golf hole number 3 out my back yard and see the game in my imagination.聽 I am excited to discover what else?聽 What gift will I get with Micah to sustain my heart this fall?聽聽 Maybe it will be the foraging for wild blackberries after dinner in the vacant lot nearby.

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Maybe it will be the kayaking down the Saluda River.聽 Maybe it will be the silly dancing in the kitchen while I cook.聽 Maybe it will be all of the above!聽 Maybe it will be something from G-d’s great imagination that I can’t fathom.

I am trying to figure out what else I am, but right now I am a mother.聽 A mother getting used to my children leaving home.聽 A mother learning how to let go but not despair.

A mother looking forward to another frisbee summer 馃檪

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