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Life is really messy.

Around every corner there are ups and downs. Moments when you are soaring and moments when you are flopping around like a fish out of water. And if you are intense like me, it may feel like your life is bouncing around as quickly as some people can flip a coin.

Sometimes I wonder if I walk the world this way because my childhood didn’t teach me many tools for coping with life’s grit. And as a young adult and later a young mother, I learned to live as a chameleon. I buried many of my emotions and did what was expected of me. And for the most part I pulled it off fairly well. Or at least I think I did. Of course, what do I really know about how I was received by others.

To be transparent, my life has probably always been far from normal. As a young newly married woman, I faced nine miscarriages, several failed adoption attempts, an adoption, buried my parents, navigated serious illnesses for my children, employment struggles for the family breadwinner, and so much more.

Nonetheless, I engaged in living and doing whatever needed to be done to propel my family forward, support my community, and keep a smile on my face. I simply plugged away at living. I am not sure that I found it easy because interspersed with some really tough moments, but I had dinner on the table every night. We welcomed people into our home nearly every Shabbat. I cooked meals for those who were ill and organized our community to help families in the midst of health crisises. I even kept my home  clean, laundry done, and always held down a part time job.

I had an I can do ANYTHING spirit, only inside that is not how I felt. I used to wonder why everyone in the world could keep their houses clean, nurture their children, and have a full life.  Everyone seemed to do it with an ease that ALWAYS escaped me. It is only since I started following social media closely that I realized that I was never alone. All of us have our own personal struggles.

Fortunately social media, Oprah, and podcasts have helped me realize that I am so not alone in this very real struggle. Only over the last five or so years have I  been introduced to the wisdom of three people that rock my world as creatives because of how honestly they shared their struggles of living in the messy middle. They inspire people to:

  • Live in the “marvelous messy middle”. ~ SARK
  • “Embrace the glorious mess that you are.” ~Elizabeth Gilbert

And to understand:

  • “Life is brutal. But it’s also beautiful. Brutiful, I call it. Life’s brutal and beautiful are woven together so tightly that they can’t be separated. Reject the brutal, reject the beauty. So now I embrace both, and I live well and hard and real.” ~Glennon Doyle

Each of these amazing women choose to share their personal journeys of living in the midst of life’s sometimes very challenging realities while being aware that moving forward doesn’t always present us with easy solutions for living according to what society deems “normal”. They continually inspired me (and still do) to show up in my world as authentically as possible.

Hiking BootsI feel blessed to now walk with ease in my own messy middle and the outer banks too. While it took me over fifty years to emerge fully as myself. I ultimately found my voice through writing, chanting, drumming, and only in the last year through painting little cards.  I am the woman I am because how I have chosen to navigate my own rocky paths.  I am so grateful that I learned to live out loud by sharing my life experiences without apology, accepting that I don’t fit into any box, and loving myself for who I am.

I have also done some really hard stuff including leaving the traditional Jewish community, moving cross country with my sons, divorcing my husband, and publicly changing my name when I realized my parents lost their right to name me.  I wanted a name that honored who I am today, so I gave myself one.  I am Chava Gal-Or. Chava means life because I am a woman who thrives regardless of what sh*t crosses her path and I become empowered by whatever life tosses in my direction. Gal-Or means wave of light; this is my reminder not only to be light, but to find the light in whoever and whatever crosses my path. Perhaps the hardest thing I am doing right now is sharing my life stories via my writing; I am not holding back, I am diving deep and navigating some really harsh realities that have lead me to rise as the woman I am.

Yes, I live in the messy middle. I feel deeply. I struggle to breathe when life overwhelms me. I often believe I don’t do enough to make our world a better place. I wonder if I love enough and do enough for my family, my work, my beloved friends, etc. I struggle with believing that I am worthy and yet I understand that the Inner Demon speaks loudly to me and it is my job to show up and keep showing up. On a good day, I quiet that voice and stretch my arms wide open to life. On a bad day, the demon wins, but I push forward anyway. I am learning.

Living in the messy middle has become a norm for me and I am OK with that. I am “perfectly imperfect” as Anne Lamott would say.  Hineini, Here I am!

Onward with love, light, and blessings,
Chava

PS: Thanks for reading what will likely be part of my memoir which at this point is being called, Thriving: No Option. . . . If you like what you are reading, please take a moment and like it on WordPress or any social media site, And if you have feedback, I’d love to hear it.

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Years ago, I learned that there is no option for walking through life with a positive disposition. This lesson has been handed to me again and again on a silver platter. I’ve chosen to find the light in the darkness AND light when there was seemingly little or no hope. Early in my childhood, I learned to seek the lessons from whatever experiences I faced and if I was lucky I fortunate the good in each and every challenge.

As someone who has been battered as a child, struggled with tremendous loss as an adult, watched her children struggle with health/life challenges within their short lifetimes, and struggled with some hard challenges as an adult, I don’t believe in letting the tough times bring me too far down.  I believe in always finding the gifts within the challenges!  And I have received so many gifts over the years!!

Photo courtesy of Janie Grackin Did you notice the butterfly? :)

I didn’t realize that I had the ability to find the gifts within the challenges until one day when one of my sons was in critical condition.  He had been struggling with health for so long and I didn’t want him to suffer any longer.  As sedation was enabling him to rest in his hospital room, I quietly told him that Imma (mommy) and Abba (daddy) would be OK if he needed to stop fighting for his life.  With tears streaming down my face, I told my little one that we were the luckiest parents in the world to have him in our lives for as long as we did.  I didn’t want to let go, but I knew that I might not have a choice; I didn’t want him to worry.

Little did I know that I would have to say that again in my lifetime, but I truly believe that people are gifts for as long as they are in our lives.  Today, I am profoundly grateful that my children are both vibrant and healthy adults; I am grateful that both of them survived their childhood health challenges and one doesn’t even remember them.  I am also happy that I learned something positive about myself as I faced the years of darkness.  There are always gifts within the challenges; sometimes they are more difficult to see at first, but over time they can be found.

My hope for you is that you shouldn’t be faced with the challenges that were once part of my life.  In my case, I did make it through and you can too.

Many years have passed since I faced that kind of darkness, but the lessons have stayed with me.  There is truly no option for allowing darkness to control me.  Yes there are moments when I am angry or sad, lonely or unhappy; they are moments.  The key is that I have to trust that the moments will pass and all will be OK.

I always get to decide how I navigate the harshness that life sometimes brings.  Working within a large community, I face all sorts of people and all sorts of moods.  My job is to embrace those people where they are and to move us forward without allowing their sometimes bad mood to bring me down.  I have a choice; I always have a choice.  And the great news is that most of my interactions with the world around me are really quite beautiful; enjoying life as I do means finding the gifts at every turn.

For me, finding the blessings that surround me is really not an option.  Can you say the same thing? I hope so!

Onward with love, light, and blessings,
Chava

PS: Thanks for reading what will likely be part of my memoir which at this point is being called, Thriving: No Option. . . . If you like what you are reading, please take a moment and like it on WordPress or any social media site, And if you have feedback, I’d love to hear it.

 

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(Note: To learn more information on #The100DayProject which is also known as #ActivistCardsByChava, you can see https://wp.me/pthnB-3cH.)

My children are everything to me. I went through hell to have them both and ultimately  my love is beyond unrelenting.

I am a mother before anything else. Yes, I am also an writer, an educator, a human being, and some many other things. But being a mother is what rocks my world. I don’t take a day for granted – how can I? I almost lost my older son multiple times and my younger son was really ill for such a long time. Life has not been easy.

Here’s the thing though. . . when you have children, life is never simple. We have to care for them when their tired and we are sick. We have to show up when we’d rather curl up in a ball and read. And sometimes, their curiosity has a way of being destructive and inviting us to clean up.

I remember thinking that each and every stage of their younger years was my favorite stage. I loved watching them grow. Playing with them as little ones and having them still be central in my life as adults is the best!

Day 16 - your people are my peopleCreating the best possible life for my children has always been the goal. While I have never had extra money and I have often gone without some important basics, I would do anything I could to keep them safe from sickness or the ills of the world. I would cross borders illegally; I would climb mountains and give them my last bite of food. My children are EVERYTHING to me.

So what are we doing about the children being kept in detention centers? You know, the ones torn from their parent’s arms? If we are loving humans then we are doing what we can. For me, I am planning to work with Project Lifeline and caravan to McAllen, Texas on Saturday, September 29th.  https://www.facebook.com/events/201578690513600/

  • Will you join Project Lifeline on this journey?
  • Will you donate money for supplies? or supplies?

Please take a moment to open the link above. We need your help. These children, their parents, their families are OUR PEOPLE; they are my people.

Join Project Lifeline or HIAS in trying to make their lives better. And if you know of other great organizations, please share. We need to know who is on the ground and doing amazing work trying to make a horrific situation better.

Note: This artwork and blog was inspired by Shoshana Jedwab’s ‘Where You Go’. Take a moment to listen to this AMAZING song!  https://bit.ly/2KbGfWf 

Onward with love, light, creativity, & action,
Chava

PS – I’d love your feedback on my blog, my writing, my thinking, and/or my Activist Cards!!! Feel free to like or comment. I will try to respond to all comments to this blog. Input is always welcome.

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Truth

Life is full of dichotomies.

How is that the same person we love with such intensity is also the person that can push us over the edge emotionally and/or spiritually?  While the question is very real, the answer is not.

Opening my eyes this morning, I realized how profoundly affected  I am by  life’s dichotomies.

  • The National Parks celebrated their 100th anniversary this summer. Growing up not far from the Appalachian Trail, or the AT as I refer to it, helped define how I see beauty. While some people dream of luxurious vacations to cosmopolitan cities, I can’t wait to sit quietly in the Redwood Forests next summer.
  • Angels have surrounded me during so many harsh times of my life. When my son was critically sick, old and new friends helped support us in a variety of very tangible ways. When unemployment/underemployment left me penniless, both strangers and friends alike made certain my sons and I would thrive. And yet, poverty surrounds me on every street corner and many children go without the necessary food to survive.
  • The color of someone’s skin is unimportmant to me, but this week, we ordered a Black Lives Matter sign for our front yard.  Living in a world that often subjugates many in the human-race deeply troubles me.
  • Theoretically, we live in a time were the government has checks and balances which allow for all people to be treated equal, yet we have a presidential nominee that incites a population to violence and is not being held accountable for it.
  • Climate change is a huge challenge seen in increasing numbers of intense rainfall events and the rising of  global temperatures. Yet there are many political leaders that are denying the very real reality.
  • My love for Israel runs deep, but I question the integrity of a country that has a poor track record for how she treats Palestinians and others. AND yet, when a natural disaster occurs, Israel is one of the first countries to set up a field hospital and to help a traumatized people.
  • Children are absolutely precious and treasured in the world that I live, yet there are so many children that are violated, abused, and essentially treated horrifically.
  • In Houston a few months ago, a man was shot up while trying to stop a man on a killing spree. In the end, the innocent bystander ended up in critical condition and a suspect.

Reality is full of gifts and challenges. The world’s complexities wreak havoc on those of us that are unable to shut off the troubling stories that impact our world at any given moment.

Moving forward in the world is not easy, this means we need to do so with open eyes and a willingness to do our part to improve the world we live in.

May we all find our voices as we decide how we will impact the world for good.

Onward with love & light,
Chava

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Note: I will be Counting the Omer for a total of 49 days, from Passover to Shavuot or from Slavery to Freedom. For many, this is simply the Counting the Omer; for others, it is a tool for exploring the kabbalistic teachings in an organized way. For me, it is a time to actively reflect on my Journey Towards Wholeness. The more I am whole, the more free I will become.  [http://t.co/dBPYjDxSGj . . . .]

Photo Courtesy of Randall Miller: Western Minnesota

Photo Courtesy of Randall Miller:
Western Minnesota

How many times have you felt like you were sinking in quick sand?  Or perhaps you felt like you were simply treading water and getting absolutely no where? Hard times happen.  Deep sadness breaks our hearts. Health challenges take the vitality and sometimes the lives of those we love.  And there are days, weeks, months, years, when our own lives are feeling challenged physically or emotionally.  Life isn’t easy – at least not all the time.

Over the course of my life, I have faced some really horrible moments, seriously ill children, financial difficulties, a broken heart (or two), and more.  And quite honestly, I have always sought to stay clear of devastation. Even when each of my children suffered serious illness at different points in time, I quietly told them to go if they needed to go. . .I let them know that I would always love them and that I would somehow be ok if I lost them. I am not sure if I was being truthful, but each time I said that, I believed what I was saying.

Moving forward is the only I way I know to persevere through the hard times.  We have to take one step and then another; we have to cross the bridge or bridges the best way we know how.  I am not suggesting that this happens instantaneously, sometimes it takes a while to figure out how we will survive or thrive the roads we are being forced to endure.

I live in a place of gratitude. I am grateful for what have, when I have it.  And while it sometimes takes a while, I usually find the beauty in what was –even the things or loved ones I have lost.  Although, I do love those that have been in my life and struggle to let go.  That is my holy work, because relationships often don’t last forever. Some end; others ebb and flow.

And as I am getting older, I realize that health is not a given. Emotionally and physically, people go through their challenges.  My own children did and countless friends have been faced hell. I have had my own ill health, but I have always chosen to seek the best route possible.When illness strikes, it is my job to pray, actively life to the fullest and help others to do the same.

I love that I have experienced working with both children and seniors that have endured emotional, physical, and mental disabilities. The individuals and their loved ones have taught me that thriving is a non-negotiable.

Moving forward is the only I way I know to persevere through the hard times.  We have to take one step and then another; we have to cross the bridge or bridges the best way we know how.  I am not suggesting that this happens instantaneously, sometimes it takes a while to figure out how we will survive or thrive the road we are being forced to endure.

Photo Courtesy of Lori Fortang taking a beautiful photo of her beloved Ren crossing the bridge. Each of us find our own ways to cross the bridges of life.

Photo Courtesy of Lori Fortang – Lori captured Ren, her beloved, crossing this stunning and secluded bridge.
Note: Each of us find our own unique ways to cross the bridges of life.

May each of find the strength to take one step and then another until we can cross the bridges that need to be cross.

With love, light, and blessings,
Chava

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Middah (character trait) focus: Loving My Teens & All My Students For Who They Are

Note: I will be Counting the Omer for a total of 49 days, from Passover to Shavuot or from Slavery to Freedom.  For many, this is simply the Counting the Omer; for me, it is a time to actively reflect on different middot (character traits) that will lead me to my own rebirth.

Over the years I have been transformed by the young people that have touched my life; each and every one of them added depth to my life.  Somehow they trusted me and as their trust grew so did my ability to connect with them.  What I love about all of the children and teens that I have known over the years is that as long as I was willing to listen, I could build relationships with them.  I am so humbled by the different connections I have experienced.

Back in 2002, when I started working at Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation, I had no idea how to work with preteen girls.  But I didn’t actually realize that I didn’t have the skills, I faked it and somehow with each success I grew.  I loved the girls that were to become my Rosh Hodesh Girls (a group that met during the first days of the new moon each month); my life was better because of the work I did with them for several years.  The work transformed me and made me more aware of what it means to be a teacher, a mentor, woman, and a friend.  I wish I could thank each and every one of the young women today, but I have lost contact over the years.  Sigh.

Why am I reflecting back to my Rosh Hodesh Girls now?

Loved my time with Lucy Heller, Karen Judin, Rachel Rheingold - shown with Chava Gal-Or (from left to right)

Loved my time with Lucy Heller, Karen Judin, and Rachel Rheingold – shown with Chava Gal-Or (from left to right)

Today, three amazing young women took me to lunch.  Two years ago, I met them when I began working at Temple Emanu-El in Tucson.  Two of them taught Israeli dance and one was a madricha, (a teaching assistant); all three of them were giving and wise with their students and their friends too.  Within a very short time of meeting these three teens, I grew to like them very much; they became people that I now consider to be friends.  While I have always treasured the relationships I have built with my students, it was my relationship with the now college students from Adat Shalom that opened me up to really building meaningful relationships with those that were once simply my students.

One of the things I treasured most about my time with the Temple Emanu-El teens today was when they told me how I impacted them.  What I know now is that I touched their lives because I respected them as individuals and as teens; I listened to them and appreciated whatever they brought to the table; I trusted them to be leaders.  The bottom-line is that I do not believe in coercive leadership; I believe in building partnerships.

So often I work with rabbis, teachers, and parents that feel the need to tell our teens and all of our children not only how to walk in the world. but how to use their minds.  I don’t feel this way.  I want to open a door or a window.  I want to share the tools I treasure and the knowledge that has guided me throughout life; I want to give those I work with the room to play and to experience Judaism in a way that is comfortable for them.  My goal is always to hear both what those I work with are saying and what they are not yet saying; I want all the children, teens, and adults that I work to be comfortable with me and the gifts I have to offer.  My door is open.

Today I realized that all three teens were not just my co-workers, but my friends.  May they always remember that my door will be open to them.  I have grown to love them not simply as I love all my students and families; I love them as the beautiful souls that they are; I love them as my friends.

I will always be grateful to the Adat Shalom girls and the families that trusted me so many years ago.  Without them, I would not be the person I am.

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Tonight we counted Day 25 of the Omer, which is 3 weeks and four days of the counting of the Omer. Today is referred to as Netzach sheh b’Netzach, endurance within endurance.

Endurance squared. . . .

Thriving is what we do.  We climb mountains.  We have marathons with our beloved work, our children, our interests.  Stopping doesn’t happen because there is always so much to do.

Endurance squared. . . .

What would our worlds look like if we truly stopped?  I am not certain it would be pretty.  Yet we have to be honest with what our bodies and souls need.  Sometimes we can’t function without stopping to take a deep breathe.

 

 

prepare-to-stop-sign-road-8x6

Endurance squared. . . .

May each of us have the ability to honor what we need to endure as we do what jazzes our soul and makes us feel truly at peace within our bodies.

 

 

En

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