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Archive for April, 2010

What’s Normal? An Aryeh Update

Bike riding is such a natural part of childhood.  Running in the fields on a cool spring day, playing games with other children, learning the basic skills of writing and math are all normal activities for children.  Parents kvetch (complain) about their children’s activities, their teenager’s attitudes, and the craziness of the household as they try to complete all their work, chauffeuring, and life’s mundane activities.  Parents also kvell (brag) about their children’s successes however big or small.

Not everyone experiences the “normal” childhood as seen above. Some childhoods are fraught with educational, behavioral or health challenges.  Those norms are quite dissimilar and can often feel quite agonizing at times.  Sometimes normal is about navigating your schedule according to the medication schedule; sometimes normal is living without sleep for days on end so that you can take care of your child’s every medical need; sometimes normal is watching your child zone on the television set for hours and hours because he can’t do anything else.

Normal is as different as every person and every family is from one another.

Watching my 16-year-old son bike ride on Sunday for the first time in over 3 years, brought tears of joy to my eyes.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think he would instantly taking to riding a bike again and not in the first 5 minutes of being on the bike after such a long hiatus.  It has been just over three years since we faced the devastating affects of a 6.5 cm cyst in Aryeh’s brain.  There have been times over those three years that Aryeh has struggled to walk and even see.  We have continually believed that he would be OK only to see him flounder without any real progress to his health for weeks, months and even years.

On Sunday, our son started a new road.  In the poem, The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost, I see part of Aryeh’s story. The poem’s last lines are:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Well Aryeh took a different journey than any of us could have mapped out, even down to going to the only doctor in the US that performed the type of surgery that ultimately saved his life.

No matter what our journey we all make it our way and Aryeh is no different.  His journey towards life has really “made all the difference”.  He is alive; he thrives; and he moves to his own rhythm.

The great thing about Aryeh is that he always persevered; he always strived to be an active part of the living; however, often that was easier said than done.  It is really tough for a child who can’t go to school, feels intense pain every moment of his life, and who has been unable to handle any significant sensory integration to actively engage in the world.  Aryeh has always been willing to try.

Sunday, for a few hours, so many of the recent past’s pain went out the door.  Aryeh was an active teenager, having fun looking for a bike; in fact both of my sons, Aryeh and Dovi were both trying to find a bike. YEAH!!!!  Aryeh was so much easier to get a bike for than Dovi.  But Dovi really does have an opinion about nearly everything; Aryeh is better at just going with whatever.  Of course, in reality, Dovi is not only opinionated, but he is also between sizes, so it really isn’t a problem that he was being a little difficult.  In fact, it was great!!!! For the first time in many years, our boy were able to have what others would consider to be “normal”, but to us was exciting beyond words.

And today, as I finish typing these words, Aryeh has had a great few days at school and with his friends.  In fact, I almost think my child is happier than I have ever seen him.  Last night he hung out all night with 5 friends watching movies and playing D & D; today he went to school, ran school meeting, and came home to a full evening (studying Hebrew, walking with Michael, hanging out with the family).  For the first time in so very long, our child is creating a new normal.  Aryeh is thriving and actively engaged in living.  Joy is permeating Aryeh’s world.  I hope this norm stays for a long long while!

With gratitude,

Chava

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What I learned from my mother

Twenty years ago, I buried my mother.  No words can explain how I felt as her body was lowered into her early grave.  I was inconsolable.  I didn’t want my mother to die; I wanted my mother.  I always wanted my mother, but I didn’t have one.  The woman who birthed me was a very sick woman who hurt me every day of my life until she died.  There were moments when she tried to love me, but it wasn’t natural.  My mother couldn’t love herself, so how could she possibly have loved her daughter.

Sometimes when I think back to her death and the year following, I can’t breathe.  I was so profoundly sad.  I lost not only the person who gave birth me, but also the potential to be loved in a way that only a mother can love.  No one loved me completely except perhaps my brother.  I was a sad and lonely little girl that just needed what didn’t exist.

While my childhood was filled with dark clouds, it wasn’t completely dark.  I learned so many lessons that have carried me into my adulthood.  I found light through my writing and through my own accomplishments.  Relying on myself became a reality that ultimately created the woman I am today.  I learned to treasure people for who they were and without expecting more than they could give.  To this day, pure ecstasy often surrounds me because I am able to rise above any sadness to find joy in life.

Below is a short letter that needed to be written.  Perhaps my mother is reading this letter from where she is.  My hope is that she knows that I grew tremendously as a result of my upbringing.  I am a survivor in every way.

To My Mother:

There is so much you taught me by example.  I am wiser because you were my mother.  You empowered me to be strong; you encouraged me to develop a strong set of self-preservation skills; and you trusted in my intuitive nature.  Through your actions, I learned that taking care of myself physically and spiritually were the only ways that I would thrive.

So often I reflect back to the messages I learned from your teachings.  I never missed a beat; I watched your relationship with the world and through watching you I became wise enough to live in this world.

While you surrounded me with violence and with pain, I grew.  I was able to find light in the darkest of places.  While you beat me with a seething temper, I learned to survive in spite of your wrath.  My hands are used for loving; I gently caress my children and they trust that my hands will never hurt them.  I hug my loved ones and allow my warmth to seep out into the world around me.  My touch is golden; it is filled with love and affection.

The only sound I remember coming from your mouth, as a child, was the shrill of your voice or the slurs of an uncommunicative person.  You had no kindness for me; you didn’t like me.  You didn’t respect me.  I was never smart or pretty; I was always fat and troubled.  Today, I tell my friends, my loved ones, and my children that I love them and I like who they are.  I believe in my boys; they are quite possibly the most precious angels in the entire world.  They emanate warmth and wisdom at nearly every given moment.  I am not certain if I would be as able to hear their voices if I had been heard.  My boys have taught me how to listen.

And in truth, you really did teach me one of the most valuable lessons I live by to this day.  You knew I was an intuitive person and you trusted my insights, my intuition.  Today I trust my thoughts and my wisdom because you never really questioned my intuition. So while you didn’t always like the things I knew, you trusted them.  And with that I was given wings to fly.  I could trust what I knew because you modeled that for me.

Watching you disintegrate in front me was pretty gruesome to see on a regular basis.  But today, I can honestly say that while I struggle with weight at times, I have always taken care of myself.  Spiritually and physically, I always look for ways to honor my body, my mind and my soul.  I am so grateful for my health and my spirit!

Recently, I got a license plate that said Hineini, which means here I am.  Hineini reminds me that while my needs are important, I am here to serve others and to help make the world a better place.  My needs are important, but so are the needs of others.  My life is not just about me; I like that I live for others and not just myself.

I am sorry for the pain you endured throughout your life.  And while I can’t easily thank you for the tough times, I can thank you for being my teacher; I am the person I am today because you were my mother.  The scars have healed for the most part and my world is full of light.

May you be blessed with inner peace wherever you are.

Your daughter,
Chava

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Connecting with friends and those that are not yet friends

Anyone that knows me knows that I love people.  I love to interact with everyone no matter where I am. And when that interaction is positive, I am the happiest person in the world.

The funny thing is that I can connect to a stranger anywhere I go.  There really are no real strangers to me.  If I meet someone in the grocery store, in the library, on the street or in a park, it doesn’t make them any less important than if I meet them in a more familiar setting.  Each and every one of my interactions leads me to a new friend if only for a moment.

Making initial eye contact is the best!!! And when eye contact leads to a conversation, I am often in heaven.  (metaphorically speaking of course) I love the look in a stranger’s eye when I have actually made eye contact and when I am able to connect for a moment.  Most people love that moment; some people would prefer to keep to themselves.  I am happy to honor whatever people need.

Lately, I have noticed that more and more people need a moment, a kind word, and a validation.  Including myself.  We all need to be heard, whether or not it is by a friend via email, a phone call, or within a conversation.  When people ignore my emails or phone calls for a long time, it drives me nuts. On the other hand, everyone is so busy.  I am far from perfect, but I am fairly good at getting back to people within 72 hours; I am working on responding within 48 hours except for work if it is my day off.

The bottom-line is that everyone can use a kind word, a compliment, loving energy.  When you speak with both warmth and integrity, you not only illuminate your own soul; you bring light to others.

The below youtube is a gift that one of the kindest people I know shared on her Facebook  links.   Take a few minutes to watch this video in it’s entirety, you won’t be disappointed.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cbk980jV7Ao

With light and blessings,
Chava

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Vision Board Created March, 2010

Vision Board
Created March, 2010

The Power of the Chava Project

Approximately a month ago, my friend Jennifer Judelsohn suggested that we create the Chava Project http://journeycircles.blogspot.com/2010/03/chava-project.html by having people send a word to her post office box.  The word would represent a prayer, a hope, or a vision you had for me.  We probably had about two-dozen words mailed via snail mail and then another two-dozen words emailed to us.  Each word was mounted on a painted canvas that was meant to become my vision board and to inspire me as I journeyed towards a stronger physical and spiritual essence.

The beauty of each and every word,  the embellishments,  and the intentions was that they were transmitted to me in a very core way.  With every fiber of my being, I felt the love and warmth that surrounded my healing and my growing journey.  I couldn’t believe that so many people cared enough to take the time to let me know their word for my evolution.

In my life I have had times that I felt completely alone, but not any longer.  I feel loved, cherished, and cared for.  Today, I know that many people are my soul friends.  They celebrate my journey towards physical and spiritual health.  And nearly all of my beloved friends would help me in any way if I let them know my needs.

There are many people who empowered me and continue to support me as I move through my journey.  Both family and friends from all over as well as those that are specifically part of  my CAJE friends and my Kol Zimra/Jewish Renewal friends, you know who you are.  I’ve been blessed to be surrounded world-wide with people that illuminate my world and the world that they live in too. Through my friends, I have been granted the space to explore the roads that I currently travel.

Many voices are in my head at any given time.  Most of the thoughts begin with the overarching wisdom of Theodore Herzl, “Im tirtzu, ein zo agadah. If you will it, it is no dream.”  There is so much that I want in my life and most of it is within my reach if I admit my feelings and do that which needs to be done in order to make things happen.  Only through action and consistent discipline will I attain that which I desire to have a more fulfilling life.

My life is somewhat complicated and also quite simple too.  I love life and I consistently strive to reach for the different goals that are continually emerging.  There is much to strive for-always.  Mountains to climb; valleys to descend. With each step, there is a plethora of new options that come into view.

Each step leads to beauty.  Sometimes I see myself as the young girl looking out to the ocean of a Dali painting I love.  The vastness of the water or the life potentials surrounding me is endless; all I need to do is to make a decision on what step or stroke needs to be my next.  As simple as that sounds, limiting the options that surround me is not an easy task.  I want to do it all; I want to feel the rhythm of each and every desire, but I can’t do it all.

Nearly two weeks ago, I had a hysterectomy.  It wasn’t traumatic in any way; it needed to be done, so I did it.  The beauty of the hysterectomy is what happened before and after the actual surgery.  Initially, my friends and some strangers supported me by sending me a word/prayer/hope to put on my vision board.  The artwork sits with me as a reminder of the work that I have left to do in this world.  There are so many things I want to accomplish.  At the moment though, the goal is to be healthy!!!!!! And while it is taking more time than I would like; it is happening nonetheless.  And other friends offered me prayers and meditations, chanting and drumming; one friend mailed me a self-guided visualization to prepare for the big day.  And since coming home, a couple of friends stayed in the house to help, other friends have been as present as I would like them to be.  Two friends came out of the way to sit with me in the hospital the day of surgery as I was fairly sick and less than fun to be around.  And since coming home, I have received, cards, emails, Facebook notes, calls, and plants/flowers.  Wow. . . I feel loved.

And through each and every step of my healing, my boys have been taking care of me.  Whether it is about being with me as I heal or supporting me as I make decisions and work towards all my many goals.  It is amazing to live in a family that honor where each and every one of us is.  My children know that Michael, their father, and I are trying to explore how work will evolve for both of us and how my creative and intellectual pursuits will be nourished.

Creating a list of 100 things I’d like to do before I die is not difficult, my top pursuits include:
1.    teaching from my soul.
2.    writing about my life journeys.
3.    creating a series of Jewish retreats for survivors of childhood trauma and their loved ones.
4.    becoming a rabbi.
5.    physically thriving.
6.    growing my hair just a little longer ☺.
7.    kayaking and hiking throughout the spring and summer.
8.    finding my own path for doing Tikun Olam (repairing the world).
9.    living consciously and with integrity.

Waking up from anesthesia, I said the words that I say upon waking up in the morning “Modah ani lifanecha. . . I thank You, living and eternal Spirit, for restoring my soul. What an awesome responsibility I now have to choose to live life in a healthier way while honoring my spirit as well as the spirit of the world around me.

The vision board with all her words is a reminder that I am striving towards honoring myself and working towards incredible growth.

With love and light,
Chava

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Good Morning World!

The words came to me slowly. At first I heard them as a mere whisper in my subconscious and then I felt them in the deepest part of my heart pounding with a deep rooted beauty that took my breath away.  Finally, I had to chant; I had to celebrate my life.

My teacher, Rabbi Shefa Gold, created a chant that was inspired by the Morning Blessings.  The words resonate with me at a very core level.  Ahal’lah Yah b’chaya, I will praise God with my life.

There are so many times that I have embraced life as opposed to fade into potential darkness.  Currently, I am recovering from surgery.  With each passing day, I realize that the choice I made to allow myself to have the surgery and then to give myself the time to heal is about honoring the life that I was given.

At the moment, I am in awe of my life.  I am alive.  Even when challenges have loomed all around me, I have always chosen to thrive.  I still do.  As I chant the words, ”Ahal’lah Yah b’chaya, I will praise God with my life”, I feel joy with each repetition of the chant.  With a lot of inner work and reflection, I have learned to breath in beauty and release pain.  And with the release of the pain, I have been able to embrace the words of the chant.

My gratitude for life is flowing through me!

With love and light,

Chava

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