I See You

img_1170“The wisdom of the Desert Fathers includes the wisdom that the hardest spiritual work in the world is to love the neighbor as the self – to encounter another human being not as someone you can use, change, fix, help, save, enroll, convince or control, but simply as someone who can spring you from the prison of yourself, if you will allow it.”  Barbara Brown Taylor

My eyes now see suffering everywhere.  I think that is partially due to my eyes being closed for so many years. Hiding.  Shut down.  Turned away. Afraid. But then something happens to wake us up.  An invitation to open our eyes.  We don’t always say yes to the invitation.  (the invitation usually comes through pain and suffering) The familiar feels too warm and cozy and safe – even if it is stealing our life away.

But if we do say yes – if we are willing to brave opening our eyes – it is shocking.  There is so much to see.  I think deep down, I knew that if I ever opened my eyes, then I wouldn’t just see but I would have to feel what I saw as well.  Feeling is a part of seeing.  Maybe feeling is more what we are avoiding.  Because as I awoke, I hurt.  That’s just the thing I was trying to avoid. Pain.  (As we open our eyes, we also see Joy!  But for this blog I am focusing on our struggle to be present with pain and a brave choice to ‘be with’each other in all the varied challenges of life).

As I began to thaw – to wake up – I began to cry.  Since I had been shut down for 45 years, tears were a rarity.  The surprise was how soothing those tears are – how they feel like suave and cozy socks to my heart.  Slowly, over years, they became friends that I welcome.

The waking up process gifted me with an evolving level of presence.  My early life was a survival level of dissociation.  So, presence was very foreign.  But as I evolved – I also could see that presence and seeing is a gift – not only a gift to me (I get to actually be more alive) but a gift to those around me.  I’m realizing that all each of us really want and need is to be seen.  To be seen and have our life validated. Love.  Brene Brown shares“I thought faith would say, ‘I’ll take away the pain and discomfort,’ but what it ended up saying was, ‘I’ll sit with you in it.’” When it becomes ok to feel my own hurt – then I can sit with you in yours as well.

We are made from the very beginning with the need to be seen.  It is survival to have human connection.  Infants must have a connection with an adult.  If a baby is not ‘seen’– even if all their food needs are met – they cease to thrive and can die. From birth through our whole lives – we need connection with another human being.

In Genesis, we read the story of Hagar, an Egyptian slave of Abraham and Sarah, who was running away from being abused by Sarah.  Hagar, alone in the desert, encountered God, “She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me, “for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”Genesis 16:13  Hagar’s problems were not solved but she was seen and that made all the difference.

We want to be seen.  “See me!”we cry in so many different ways.  Social media gives us the impression of being seen.  Desperation to not be alone but feeling too wounded to engage in community, we will settle for pseudo relationships which leaves us still feeling isolated.

A good friend and I hadn’t got to connect in awhile, we had much to share and catch up on. We both were wanting to be seen and be heard – so we were talking over each other, and I’m not sure there was a lot of listening happening and therefore neither of us went away having felt validated and seen. Another friend of mine shared the story of when her daughter was about four years old.  The little girl was trying to communicate with her mom while mom was busy on a project.  The mom kept telling her, “I’m listening.”  The little daughter persisted and finally, grabbed the moms face, holding her mom’s face in her hands and looked into her mom’s eyes and said, “I need you to listen with your eyes!”

When we are wounded by someone, often all it takes for healing is to feel heard and seen. My husband and I lead a small church and we had made a decision that affected a family in a way that was hurtful.  There was a miscommunication and the relationship was in jeopardy and would have been lost.  But a moment came where we were able to actually listen to our friend and hear their pain and hurt at our decision.  The problem didn’t have an easy solution but we were able to see each other on a deeper level and healing began to happen.

The last 10 years my close up vision has been declining.  So, reading glasses have been my constant companion – well, they needed to be but where DID I leave those darn things.  I refused to wear a chain to keep them around my neck, which meant I’m always looking for them.   Well, I finally got tired of looking for my forever lost glasses and I was ready to actually See all the time.  I ordered progressive glasses.  Here is the thing – when you wear readers, you don’t wear them in the bathroom when you are getting ready or in the car when you are looking in the mirror. So, when for the first time, I had them on while doing my makeup – yikes! Where did all those wrinkles come from?! Shocking!  I had no idea I was that old.  It can be painful and disturbing to See.  (Ok, in the whole scheme of hard things – wrinkles may not be at the top of the list.) But there are moments when the story is too hard to hear – more pain than I want to know about – that’s when we want to run or shut down.  Because if I cant fix your pain, then what do I do with it?  All there is to do is to feel it with you – “to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice”, Romans 12:15.  And that’s where the rub is – We don’t want to feel pain – yours or mine.  It’s especially hard to seeand not try to fix if it’s someone close like a family member. Everything in us wants to take the pain away and figure out some way to speak into their plight.  I don’t know if there is any struggle stronger than letting go of trying to rescue and to choose to just Be with a loved one in pain. But it is so worth it to do whatever we have to do to take care of our own heart in order to just be present, which makes us a safe place.

If we can meet in a place of mercy and compassion – be brave and choose to feel – and realize that I can’t fix you and you can’t fix me – that the gift we give each other is in the seeing – then the world doesn’t look quite as harsh and lonely­ – we each have hope.

“Empathy has no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of ‘You’re not alone.’” – Brené Brown

“What we have most in common is not religion but humanity.  I learned this from my religion, which also teaches me that encountering another human being is as close to God as I may ever get – in the eye-to-eye thing, the person-to-person thing – which is where God’s Beloved has promised to show up.  Paradoxically, the point is not to see him.  The point is to see the person standing right in front of me, who has no substitute, who can never be replaced, whose heart holds things for which there is no language, whose life is an unsolved mystery.”  Barbara Brown Taylor

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Broken

UnknownKintsugi translated “golden joinery” or “golden repair” is the centuries-old Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with gold.  This practice is related to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, which calls for seeing beauty in the flawed or imperfect.  The repair method was also born from the Japanese feeling of mottainai, which expresses regret when something is wasted, as well as mushin, the acceptance of change.

The word “sincere” has a history of meaning: honest, free from adulteration, marked by genuineness and “without wax.”   When a potter had a cracked pot, the dilemma was to throw it away and experience a loss of income or another choice was to fill the holes or cracks with wax and some clay dust – so it looks “perfect.”  But later when the pot was used to cook – the wax would melt and the pot exposed as broken and flawed.  Therefore a pot that was purchased that was “sincere” was a pot that was “without wax” – true and honest.

Gold or wax . . .

Denial, pretending, hiding, being ‘insincere’. . . can so often feel like the only way to survival and success. Vulnerability – our flaws and brokenness being exposed  – feels contrary to feeling safe and effective.

Pretending and denial is how I got through my childhood.  I didn’t know I was pretending – I was trying to create a reality that I could handle, cope with, and please those around me – which was a good survival choice during that period of my life.  But once I was an adult, it morphed into a goal of trying to conform and “not do anything wrong”and to try to hide my imperfection. I was still trying to create a reality where I felt safe and accepted and it seemed to me that the best way was to spin things so I looked good.  My experience told me that was the way to acceptance and love.

Parker Palmer shares, “Afraid that our inner light will be extinguished or our inner darkness exposed, we hide our true identities from each other.  In the process, we become separated from our own souls.  We end up living divided lives, so far removed from the truth we hold within that we cannot know the integrity that comes from being what you are.”

This is a life-long journey of courage to face my divided self and begin to open my eyes to when and how I am in denial, hiding, or pretending.  It takes courage because I believe we have often closed down in an effort to keep our hearts safe from pain, abandonment, rejection. . . but I must choose to begin to SEE.

“There’s something so human about feeling embarrassed, about wanting to hide, about wanting to conceal and control the out-of-control and painful things about our lives and stories and families.  Love, though, doesn’t allow hiding.  Love invites selves and whole stories out into the light.”Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist.

Richard Rohr shares, “We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right . . . yet nothing in us wants to believe it. . . . Falling down is how humans come to consciousness! . . . If there is such a thing as human perfection, it seems to emerge precisely how we handle the imperfection that is everywhere, especially in ourselves.  What a clever place for God to hide His holiness, so that only the humble and earnest will find it. . . . I would say that the demand for the perfect is the greatest enemy of true goodness. . . . When I am weak, then I am strong.”

As I begin to observe myself covering up my mistakes, flaws, and imperfections – how I respond is crucial. Since my fear of rejection and pain, and my deep need to feel safe are all key motivations – its important that I don’t beat myself up. “Seriously, you did that again?”  No, the path to truth and authenticity is compassion and gentleness. “It’s His kindness that leads us. . .Romans 2:4 “The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.Psalm 103:8. That may sound counter-intuitive, since we human beings tend to want to punish and shame – which does not invite the shy, quiet, gentle soul to presence – God’s original purpose and intended beauty for me. I need to be a safe place – not just for you, but for me – to be authentic with myself!  Because when I pretend, I don’t just fool you – I fool me too.  Being honest starts with being truthful with my own heart.  If I feel safe and can trust one person – me – then I am on the path to being able to be authentic with you – which then brings you and me to a beautiful connection that blesses not just us but the larger community as well.

Finding the beauty in my humanness takes courage.  Getting comfortable with the words, “I’m sorry”– that takes a while – it hurts sometimes to even let those words come out of my mouth.  Actual pain.  Choosing to embrace my humanity – flawed and imperfect, beautiful and unique. But it doesn’t feel good to have cracks.  Things leak out.  But the more I choose to cover over my cracks with the false medium of wax – to be in denial of my truth, the less I am able to be present with others.  Connection is lost.  I’m choosing to live in my own little pretend world where I can live without conflict or pain (which is not true – this plan to be creator of my own world actually creates more distance and loss).  My dissociation (being somewhere other than the present) and inability to see my reality kept me from connection and intimacy with those around me.  Anne Lamott shares in her book, Almost Everything, “Its ridiculous how hard life is.  Denial and avoidance are unsuccessful strategies, but truth and awareness mend.”But truth and awareness require me choosing a million times a day to be in the moment. But owning my mess is so slippery – like trying to hold a tadpole or tapioca pearls.  It reminds me of water – how if there is even the tiniest crack, it will find a way out. Pain for me is like that – right in the middle of choosing to be present to something hard – I find that my mind has found an escape hatch and I realize I shut down my processing or being present to the current difficulty and I find myself thinking about posting that treadmill on Craigslist.

I want to conclude with some more wisdom from Richard Rohr:

“Maybe its about forgiving our imperfections– to embrace them and even weep over them. Jesus was never upset at those who ‘do it wrong’but only with people who pretend (hypocrites – which means ‘actor’) that they are “perfect.”

“The path to union (putting the broken pieces together – or holding the cracks in me) is different than the path of perfection.  Perfection gives the impression that by effort I can achieve wholeness separate from God, from anyone else, or from connection to the Whole. It appeals to our individualism and our ego.  Union is instead about forgiveness, integration, patience and compassion.

“The transformed self, living in union, no longer lives in shame or denial of its weakness, but even lives with rejoicing because it does not need to pretend that it is any more than it actually is which is now more than enough.”

“We’ve spent all our life trying to avoid falling because we don’t want to look bad.  Yet spirituality isn’t about perfection . . . The only perfection available to us humans is the ability to include and forgive our imperfection.  But the ego doesn’t want to believe that.  The ego doesn’t want to surrender to its inherent brokenness and poverty. Yet, the truth is realizing your imperfection is the beginning of freedom and grace.  There is such freedom in no longer pretending to be something I’m not.”

My story screams, “hide your flaws!”  It seems to be imbedded in my cells. But the good news is that God has access to my cells and yours.  He is present in us and loves and values each and every part of us – cracks and all – even if our cracks have some wax carefully stuffed in there.  I wonder if compassion and forgiveness has the power to transform wax into gold.  I think so.

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Be Brave

em-and-me.jpg“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy — the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
― Brene Brown

“I now see how owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.”
― Brené Brown

“The willingness to show up changes us, It makes us a little braver each time.”
― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

This summer, our three oldest grandkids came for a Northwest vacation.  Three and a half weeks of connecting with friends, serving with a beloved youth group to build little houses for the homeless to keep safe and dry this winter, volunteering to counsel at camp to encourage 3rdand 4thgraders, some hikes, swimming, and celebrating with family at a wedding.

My oldest granddaughter, at that time about to begin her freshman year at college – has fallen in love with tattoos.  She tweeted, “The reason I love tattoos so much is because they tell stories.  Your story.  All the different things that are meaningful and significant to you, just get added on and play a part in a bigger story.  It’s so beautiful.”

I love that. The three tattoo’s I have mean the world to me as they give a window in to my story and remind me of the transformational journey I am on.

We had a few days left to spend with the three of them before they headed back to Texas, and Emma, about to begin college.  I got a text one late morning from Emma, excited with an idea: “Hey, Grandma, why don’t we get a tattoo together? And how about ‘be brave’?”  As she asked, so many things went through my head: Seizing the moment before she is off and gone to college – her story, my story, our families story – deserves a tattoo and the reminder to ‘be brave’ feels sacred and intimate, and um, “YES, of course I want to get that tattoo with you!”

We called, and Mav was available, and so we did.  And I have daily looked at my arm to receive my encouragement to ‘be brave’as life continues to bring waves of adversity, loss, and challenges.

Thanks, Emma.

“Those of us who wish to draw near to God should not be surprised when our vision goes cloudy, for this is a sign that we are approaching the opaque spender of God.  If we decide to keep going beyond the point where our eyes or minds are any help to us, we may finally arrive at the pinnacle of the spiritual journey toward God, which exists in complete and dazzling darkness.” Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaning to walk in the Dark.

I want to “be brave”when my vision is cloudy – when I am traveling in the dark of unknown land, which seems to be daily.  When I’m undone, when the challenge before me feels impossible, when I am afraid, when there is not enough, when I feel alone, when my heart aches from loss, when I am unsure.

So, as I travel through this crazy life on this beautiful earth, I want to embrace strength and courage to walk in grace, mercy, and love even though I can’t always see where I am going.   I want to invite you to ‘be brave’as you walk.  Being aware that we are not alone – that God is in and around us. That also means choosing to be present and to see.  Wait, how can I see if I am in the dark?  Actually, when it is darkest, our vision shifts and we stop relying on our eyes and the dark can eventually begin to feel life giving. As I have walked in the dark for some years now, my eyes have adjusted, and I have been faced with some truths that require courage to embrace them and allow them to change me.  You know how it is when you are in a seriously dark space, like a cave or in the woods with no moon, and it takes a while for your eyes to adjust.  First you dare not move, because you might trip over some unseen object and you feel afraid of what you can’t see.  But in time, if you stay there, your eyes adjust and you begin to see.  Still not very clear but the fear lessens and you can begin to move around a bit.  And eventually, you can see things that come out in the dark, that maybe you didn’t want to see. Some parts of life, I don’t want to see. Some parts of me, I don’t want to see.  “Do I have to?” some ask me.  Nope, you don’t have to.  But . . . Richard Rohr reminds us, “Great religion seeks utter awareness and full consciousness, so that we can, in fact, receive all.  Everything belongs and everything can be received. We don’t have to deny, dismiss, defy, or ignore.  What is, is okay.  What is, is the great teacher.” Everything Belongs.

I want to want to see.  Choosing to own our stories, to be vulnerable, to explore the darkness, to show up, and to believe that what is, is our teacher – is the path to freedom, peace and being made new. But it takes courage . . .

It takes courage to “let go” of all I want to control.

It takes courage to show myself compassion – No. Matter. What.

It takes courage to show mercy.

It takes courage to forgive the one who rejected me, left me, hurt me.

It takes courage to love one who is messy – especially when the mess reminds me of myself.

It takes courage to embrace all who are different than me.

It takes courage to not compare.

It takes courage to let go of being the victim, especially if it has become my identity.

It takes courage to trust myself – to believe that I can.

It takes courage to let go of the thought that it is up to me to fix everything.

It takes courage to believe I can be loved for just being me.

It takes courage to believe I am of great value regardless of my accomplishments.

It takes courage to believe I am already unique, extraordinary, and loved.

It takes courage to express my needs and believe.

It takes courage to slow down and feel the hard things.

It takes courage to ask for help.

It takes courage to face conflict and engage in difficult conversations.

It takes courage to forgive reality.

It takes courage to be present to what is.

 

I believe a key to courageously walking in the dark and being brave to accept what is and therefore to not pass on our pain to others, is to embrace compassion.  Compassion for my imperfections, for my wounds, for my pain, and then to extend compassion to others – for their imperfections, their wounds, and their pain. You will hear me say often, “how you do one thing, is how you do everything” (thanks Richard Rohr for that phrase of truth).  You can’t extend compassion to others and hate yourself.  Compassion will be a huge part of healing your heart and opening you up to the world.  Don’t believe the lie that you need to beat yourself up to do better – that only cements any guilt or shame that is hiding.  Trust me.  Compassion for my own story – that included being bound in tremendous fear – has softened my heart and brought life giving healing.

 

“MANIFESTO OF THE BRAVE AND BROKENHEARTED:There is no greater threat to the critics and cynics and fear mongers than those of us who are willing to fall, because we have learned how to rise with skinned knees and bruised hearts; we choose owning our stories of struggle, over hiding, over hustling, over pretending. When we deny our stories, they define us. When we run from struggle, we are never free. So we turn toward truth and look it in the eye. We will not be characters in our stories. Not villains, not victims, not even heroes. We are the authors of our lives. We write our own daring endings. We craft love from heartbreak, compassion from shame, grace from disappointment, courage from failure. Showing up is our power. Story is our way home. Truth is our song. We are the brave and brokenhearted. We are rising strong.”
― Brené Brown, Rising Strong

Feel free to join in Emma’s and my ‘be brave’ tattoo movement!  Some already have!

tattoo - Tara

Way to go Tara!

P.S. You don’t have to get a tattoo to ‘be brave’!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fully Alive in the midst

“I beg you . . . to be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue.  Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them.  And the point is, to live everything.  Live the questions now.  Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”  Rainer Maria Rilke.

One day last year, I observed myself tell a friend at my coffee shop that, “I’ll get to a certain project as soon as I get caught up.”  He said, “You know that’s not a real thing, right? We don’t ever get ‘caught up.’”  Right!  I forgot. Or maybe I suppressed – or maybe its just plain old denial.  And then months later I found myself thinking, “As soon as life settles down and I’m not surrounded by crisis –then I’ll really be able to write and focus on all that is unresolved inside.”  Hmmm. That sounds familiar.

I keep needing to be reminded that all this – this life – is about traveling not arriving.  And I need to hold lightly words like settled, answers, knowing, certainty, and control.

I want to live in an honest place – but it’s hard, isn’t it?  Because reality is painful and uncomfortable and get’s in the way.  It’s funny how we would rather choose denial and pretending even though they are false friends.  They don’t tell us the truth.  And a lot of times we are okay with that because it is a quick “fix.”  I can feel good for a little while.  I pretend that I have more money than I do – so I keep spending, or pretend I have more time in my day – so I over commit, or pretend I have all the answers because living with questions feels terrifying.

And the crazy thing is that once the denial is exposed – we want to blame someone or something else. Some days I am grumpy and angry at every red light and every other driver on the road that are making me late to every appointment because I am in denial about how time works and that this is a consequence of filling my day too full.  Or I am frustrated and angry at the bank, the husband, the children and the dog because I was in denial about how much money I didn’t have, but I spent it anyway.  And so I pretend some more.  Actually, we can do this our whole life, you know.  We can keep the cycle of denial and blame going – not allowing ourselves to stop long enough to see the loss – that we are missing our life.  There was a movie about 12 years ago that was very unsettling to me, called “Click.” It was about a guy who was so frustrated about how his life was going and just did not want to deal with the mess of life.  He met a “TV repair man” that had a magical TV remote.  And instead of fast forwarding through the commercials – this remote actually worked on your life!  So, he began fast forwarding through anything that was hard, painful, uncomfortable, annoying, challenging, boring, difficult . . . (spoiler alert) and eventually, he was at the end of his life and realized he had missed it all. He missed living.  He missed loving.  He had chosen to not be present to his life.  And he missed it.

It’s not free.  We think there is no cost – or maybe we just choose to bundle the “cost” into the same denial/pretend loan.  Like when you re-finance your house, and you bundle up your other debts and put them all into the new loan.  There. Fixed.  Now, we don’t have to feel the cost of not being present.  So, every time we get an inkling of the loss – we quickly re-finance those feelings into the denial bundle.  I lived there a lot of years – most of my life.  And I can tell you there is a lotof added loss.

It takes courage to slow down and embrace the truth.  To realize that the pain, sorrow, uncomfortable, challenging, hard stuff IS life. But that is only one side of the coin. The other side of the coin and companions of sorrow, pain, questions, and the unresolved are love, joy, grace, beauty, mercy and compassion.  When we shut out one – we loose both.  It’s like a curtain – when you pull the cord to close off part – it closes off both sides. As my mentor, Richard Rohr says, “How you do one thing is how you do everything.”

But slowing down and saying yes to the truth of my life is scary – because I am afraid to feel all the devastating experiences and feelings that I have buried.  What if I say yes, and I can’t pull out?  What if all that I have been running from ruins me?

“Here Annie Dillard names two crucial features of any spiritual journey.  One is that it will take us inward and downward, toward the hardest realities of our lives, rather than outward and upward toward abstraction, idealization, and exhortation.  The spiritual journey runs counter to the power of positive thinking.

Why must we go in and down?  Because as we do so, we will meet the darkness that we carry within ourselves – the ultimate source of the shadow that we project onto other people.  If we do not understand the enemy is within, we will find a thousand ways of making someone “out there”into the enemy. . . But, says Annie, if we ride those monsters all the way down, we break through to something precious – to “the unified field, our complex and inexplicable caring for each other,”to the community we share beneath the broken surface of our lives. . . But why would anybody want to take a journey of that sort, with its multiple difficulties and dangers?  Everything in us cries out against it – which is why we externalize everything.  It is so much easier to deal with the external world, to spend our lives manipulating material and institutions and other people instead of dealing with our own souls.  We like to talk about the outer world as if it were infinitely complex and demanding, but it is a cakewalk compared to the labyrinth of our inner lives!” Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speakpage 80, 82.

Ok, after listening to Annie’s thoughts on dealing with our inner world – denial, dissociation and focusing on externals seems inviting.

But all that we have walked through in our lives is already a part of us. We are truly amazingly made – our bodies actually hold it for us.  Our bodies hold our trauma and sorrows so we can function.  But there comes a time around mid-life that our bodies (or is it God’s invitation to the next phase of our spiritual journey?) invite us to extend our courage and actually explore that labyrinth of hurts and wounds that were long ago stowed away.  But again we ask, “Why would any of us want to take this journey into such darkness?”Because this is the path to freedom. Remember “the truth will set you free!”I have been on that journey inward and downward for over 14 years and there has been a lot of dark.  But I have discovered many treasures. Treasures that were unknown to me before I began my journey down and in.  Poet Gibran says, “Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.” I found my tears that had been buried for most of my life in the depths of my wounds – my tears were born and have brought comfort and life to me. My level of dissociation from my trauma was extreme – and so I am filled with gratitude that I experience an ever-growing level of presence.  Why travel this dark path that you have been avoiding your whole life? Because there are many treasures you will find there:love, joy, grace, beauty, mercy, compassion and presence, to name a few.

Richard Rohr reminds us in Everything Belongs, “Our first job is to see correctly who we are, and then to act on it.  That will probably take more courage than to be Mother Teresa.  To be really faithful to that truth is utterly difficult and takes immense courage and humility . . . The most courageous thing we will ever do is to bear humbly the mystery of our own reality.  That is everybody’s greatest cross.” Page 97.

 

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Courage to Reach Out

Suffering is all around us, if we are willing to be present. We all probably have several friends or loved ones who are walking through the loss of a loved one.  Several years ago this post was passed onto me.  I have adapted the post to be able to share it with you here.  I think Chase has some beautiful things to share from their journey through the loss of their baby, Rowan.  I don’t know Chase and his family and I don’t even remember who passed this on to me but may his honest sharing give us courage to SEE others in their pain and reach out.        – Brenda Woods

36 Things to Do for People in Grief

By Chase Reeves

Today is my baby son’s six month birthday.  It’s also, the six month anniversary of his death.  I had never experienced grief before.  Broken hearts, hunger . . . yes.  But grief, with its awful infinite bursts of sadness, the disconnection and lethargy . . . I had never experienced that before Rowan (that’s his name).  So, I kept notes throughout the process . . . As people brought us things, sent us things, wrote us things.  I kept notes on how they felt.

Because I had absolutely no idea what I’d do if this happened to someone I loved.  If their baby died in labor, after nine months of vitamins and hot flashes and carrying and choosing cribs and colors for the nursery and buying baby wraps and diapers . . . after all that their baby died.  I kept notes because I couldn’t fathom what I’d do.  I also kept notes because there really were things people did that helped.  Here’s my list:

Get a candle that burns the first 7 – 30 days.  Send a card with some instructions for lighting it. Do the same thing at your house.  Every once in awhile send a text or email about how you lit yours and we shouldn’t forget to light ours.

Set calendar events for anniversaries.  1 month, 2 month, 3 month, 6 month, 1 year, 2 year, 3 . . .Call, email, write, schedule little gifts for each of these moments when the memories will hit your friends, when they’re trying so hard to remember the one who’s missing without losing the path of their own life.

When you remind us in tiny ways that your are also there – of course not in the same way, but there regardless – it makes us feel less alone . . . and that’s the best feeling we can get.

“All afternoon my brothers and I have worked in the orchard.  Digging this hole, laying you into it, carefully packing the soil.” (src) Sending an email, text, or note on an anniversary reminds us we don’t lay our boy down into the ground alone.

A fund for the future.  Fizzle (my company) did this for us.  A bunch of them got together and put in about $20 each and now we have some money (and an excuse) to take our living son to Disneyland.

Money is curious to me in these situations.  By all accounts a small and meaningful gift from someone who knows you well can be far more meaningful.  But there are many who want to support us and feel deeply for us but don’t know us well.  Teaming up with several others, organizing it – that adds a good deal of heart to money as a gift.

Organize the first 30 days of meals.  Realize how horrible it is to try to think about what to make for dinner when dealing with the slough of grief.  Prepare one meal, or, even better, be the one who organizes others to make some meals.  Maybe only one large casserole a week.  (Thanks Emily)

Baked goods drop offs.Scones!? Awesome!

If there’s a child in the picture try to help out in a way that’s natural for you.  Play. Bring over a new book.  Get the kid out of the house.  Find a museum or park or Lego land to take the kid to nearby. (Thanks mom and dad)

Understand that there will be a lot of flowers.  The big bouquets felt alien in my little house so I pulled out a few flowers from each batch and made my own bouquets since they’re such dear gifts.  I also grabbed a flower from each to hang upside down and dry out.  I pinned them to the wall with a thumb tack because I’m incredibly classy.  We’ve since moved from that house.  I still have those dried flowers and I’m so glad most are still in tact.

Orchids seem to be the most resilient of all the flowers . . . they last the longest.  I cut one little flower off with about 2 inches of stem, put it in a tiny little jar we had by the window.  It stayed alive for weeks.  Looked at it every time I did the dishes.

Tell them not to buy a car or a house or something like that. The momentum within me to do that was huge.  I wanted a big life change, something dramatic, a new project that would consume me. This is not the way.

Teas and things to make teas.  This is a time for sipping and thinking and talking.

Fire pits.  Oh man, speaking of sipping and thinking and talking . . . you know that mode you get into around a fire pit? It’s dark, you’ve got a jacket on, feet up on the side of the fire pit, everyone just sort of staring into the fire, occasionally a “remember when . . .” story comes up . . .but even then no one really looks up form the fire.  That would have been the perfect place for me.  A handful of people there, in the moment, feeling or not feeling . . . doesn’t matter, just all of us there, no one looking for something better to do.

A short helpful book.  Memoirs work well.  It’s a time for “being in” not a time for learning.

Smoothies!  I’d just like one as I’m writing this so I wrote it.

Do the dishes.  Clean the bathroom.  Little crap like this builds up.  We’re blind to it, but the state of our house effects us.

We need time alone too.  Lots.  It’s really comfortable for us to be alone.  In some ways we feel isolate and that’s a bad thing . . . but in other ways it’s good.  It’s quiet and still and a time for deep remembering.  My wife felt this all so much differently than me . . . and I get to feel that a little when we’re alone.

Acknowledgement is vital.  Do NOT come in here saying “sorry for your loss.”  Come in saying, “I’m so sorry about Rowan’s death.”  And if it’s true for you, say things like, “I just love to hear his name.  To see it written.”  You can’t know the way that feels, to hear someone else say his name.

The ultimate wine gift.  Buy two cases of wine, one for your house, one for ours.  “We’ll open one bottle every two months on the anniversary of Rowan’s death.  I’ll let you know when to open each.  My wife and I will be doing it at our house as well, toasting with you.”  Or you could do 3 bottles for 3 moments in the year, whatever.  This would have been awesome.

Remember things with us.  And not necessarily things about Rowan.  Just things we did together.  Say, “Remember that time we watched The Notebook and cried and cried?  I remember that.  Just writing you to say that and because I have really bad gas right now and remember when we did that sleep over and farted and farted all night and didn’t sleep?  I love you so much.”  Say those kinds of things because they’re sweet to remember.  Almost like they connect us back to life, where things are still happening.

Help tend flowers.  Dead flowers and rotten flower water get disgusting.  Throw the dead away.  Prune bottoms.  Rearrange. Refill water.  Hang and dry.  So helpful.

If it’s a stillbirth get some No More Milk tea for mom. Holy crap is it painful for a woman’s body to go from “GET EVERYTHING READY FOR MOMING!!!!” to “hold the presses, go back to regular.”  No More Milk tea was helpful.  As was sage tea and cold cabbage . . . We made a bunch of pre-formed cabbage cups, put them in a big bowl, filled it with water and placed it in the fridge.

Star donation.  Some friends did this for us . . . you spend some money to name a star after someone. It sounded a little like a ponzi scheme to me, but has proven to be so helpful and lovely as a way to explain things about Rowan’s death to my 4 yr. old.  We have a certificate.

Tree planting.  I wish I could have done this.  Didn’t know how or where to start or where we’d do it or much about trees in general (do they come in eggs?).  But there’s a tree called a Rowan tree . . . if there was some place we could have planted that, a place we could visit every year, that would be so lovely . . . unless the freakin’ tree died in which case I’d burn the freakin’ forest down.

A bottle of nice booze.  Ok, this one is right up my alley.  One of the favorite things anyone did for me during this time was get me a bottle of some kind of special booze.  I was lucky enough to get two: Leopold’s gin and Rusty Blade gin. They’re unique.  I love to pour a little for a friend who’s come over and say, “smell it, give it a little taste.  Incredible, right?”  It’s something to bring out and talk about with someone.  It’s nice to have something like this to talk about.

Monthly hand written letter or little gift.  One a month for the first 6 months.  Tell me some stories of when we were growing up.  Send a play list, some special tea, whatever. Just anything to show you haven’t forgotten and that you’re still for us.

A painting.  I you know about art, maybe you could send a little print of something with a story about why it fits us.

Music.  If you know about music, send over a link to a song that fits.  A buddy sent over this song from Josh Garrels . . . that hit hard. I’ve basically lived in Bon Iver’s self titled album since Rowan death happened . . . crawling inside music like this, music that’s big enough, that I can fit in, feels like being understood.

A poem.  Jae sent Dover Beach.  Scotia sent Planting a Sequoia.  I liked reading these.

If it’s a stillborn, hold the baby if you can.  I felt extremely uncomfortable with this, but my wife Melissa, really wanted me to do it, to help put on his clothes . . . even though “he” wasn’t there, really.  But I’m so glad I did.  And I’m so glad the two friends in the room did too.  I’ll never ever forget holding him and I’ll always, always see that in Sara and Moomer’s eyes.

At 4 weeks people start thinking we’re doing ok.  Don’t assume too much.  Don’t approach asking, “So are you guys feeling better yet?”  Of course you’re worried about us and want us to move forward, of course none of our mourning or grief will bring back Rowan. But this will be the heaviest thing we may ever encounter in our lives.  Our soul’s are moving like molasses.  Let it be what it is and show us you’re with us wherever we are. That’s the healing.

Different gifts from different people.  I noticed that when someone gave a gift that was uniquely THEM, something THEY really loved and wanted to give us, those gifts felt really good. When an old friend sent me Leopold’s gin with a very simple note – because it was such a HIM thing it felt really good.

There’s also a sweetness to the grief.  Oh Rowan.  There’s something not just sad here – something good and special still. Be open to that.

Food that freezes.That’s all I have to say about that.

We just don’t want to decide anything.  We have no push of will.  Like the final exercise of some workout routine, it feels too hard, an exhaustion of the mind.  Frozen food. Don’t ask, just deliver it.

Bring breakfast.  It’s hard to put it on the table sometimes.  Damn, it’s hard to get out of bed sometimes.

Reliving through your emotions is good.  Tell us where you were when you heard.  What you felt.  Emotion is good.  My wife and I feel a good kind of stillness when you bring us into your story and emotions – like its true and honoring our son. . . . More than anything else . . . we just want to honor our son.

Look through the pictures, if there are some.  Another thing I felt really weird about was taking pictures of Rowan.  My wife pushed and so I did.  I’m glad I did.  They’re challenging, but real (too real, maybe).  Some people are willing to see the pictures and some aren’t.  We don’t really make a thing of it.  But when my grandpa found out about the pictures, my stiff upper lip grandpa with a wit as dry as old canvas – when he heard about the pictures he pulled me aside and asked to look at them with me.  It was heavy and wonderful that he would enter into this with me.  Sometimes you look at the things even if they make you uncomfortable just because of what it means to the people you’re looking with.

Be yourself.  Don’t force the feelings.  We don’t need you to feel anything.  We’re doing our own thing.  We’re just glad you’re here.  Your presence alone is valuable to us.

OF COURSE you don’t know how to be.  We don’t know how to be. But we know what feels easy and what’s hard.  Small talk is hard.  People looking to help to satisfy their own guilt or responsibility is hard.  As Parker Palmer says, “disconnection may be hell, but it’s better than false connection.”

Don’t be afraid to be curious.  If you care it might look like being curious about what happened – when we found out, what it felt like, etc.  Don’t be afraid to ask.  Don’t be afraid to “bring up too much” or something.  I want you.  It’s harder for us to maintain the veneer of our steady relationship than it is to chance the awkwardness of tears in some heavy, honest questions.

Because we do need you. . . We need you to come over and interrupt us.  To add a new thing into the monotony.  To fluff the pillows and flush the toilets and laugh about little crap.  Little crap is far different than small talk when we sense your souls have made some room for us . . . or is trying at least.

I hope no one ever needs this list.  But as the poem says:  “the world, which seems to lie before us like a land of dreams, So various, so beautiful, so new, Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light.  Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain . . . “

So my hope instead is that someone finds this when they need it, and can hold true to the first part of that quote: “Ah, love, let us be true to one another!”

 

 

 

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Happy Father’s Day, Kev

This blog is the overflow of my life as I have dwelled in my dark transformative cocoon home.  Although dark – it has been a life giving home for me and I am thankful for the hope that I have found there. The last six months of silence on my blog has been a sad loss for me.  I overcommitted in my jobs and I didn’t know how to change it. There was no space for “overflow” – that was a tragic loss for me. Time is a precious gift and i have realized that as I am beginning the last season of my life – sixty to eightyish – I have made a fresh commitment to spend it well.  That means making life giving choices with my time. I asked myself, “how do I want to spend the last season of my life?”  And I will post a blog about what is life giving to me soon.  I am so happy to be back.

But what I really want to share with you today- on Father’s Day – is a post from my son Ryan to his dad.  Kevin, this is for you.  Happy Father’s Day.  I love you beyond words.

 

“I like my dad, I do.

A lot.

I’m even going to publicly say that I love him! I do.

A lot.

It’s a strange thing, though, we don’t share many hobbies. At all. My dad’s an artist and I am not. I grew up playing basketball and my dad wasn’t much of a baller. We never had that “one” activity that was ours together—fixing cars, working in the garage, sports, etc. But it didn’t matter, it’s never mattered. I grew up with a dad that always took his children out on dates. Sometimes it was the three of us kids together, but more often than not it was one on one dates. My dad would take me mini-golfing, out to breakfast, bowling, or to a movie. He was always intentional about spending time with us kids and making it both something special but also something incredibly normal. It’s just what he did. He was careful to pay attention to us, to value what we valued, and to take interest both in who we were and what we found interesting. We didn’t necessarily need a sport in common, it didn’t exactly matter ‘cause my dad always loved us and wanted to be with us. I feel very lucky to have grown up with a dad who first and foremost truly loved us kids for who we were. Period.

Surprisingly, as I’ve grown older my dad and I have started to have more in common. Namely, we’ve become partners. As a general rule you shouldn’t go into ministry with family—especially church planting. Ministry is hard and church planting (I believe) is even more difficult. To go into church planting together is asking for family baggage to be painfully drawn out and thrown into the already public and messy ministry world. It’s just a bad idea! And yet that’s exactly the context that we’ve found ourselves for the last seven or eight years. And it’s been glorious. Seriously glorious. I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor, for a better context to screw up in, to learn, and to explore. Dad I am indebted to you for the trust that you put in me, for the life that you spoke into me, and for the imagination that you developed inside of me over these last eight years. Thank you.

You see that’s just the kind of person that my dad is. He’s always more willing to trust than to judge, he’s always wanting to give an individual a chance rather than vote them off the island. My dad sees the good in people, he’s always able to see past even an incredibly grungy veneer to discover that beauty that lies within each and every person. As a leader he invites people to journey with him, seeing himself as the chief participant more than the commanding leader. I love that and I want to emulate it. I want to see the beauty in people as he does. It’s a wonderful thing.

On a less mushy note, did you know that my dad can create anything. No joke. Give him a picture and he can paint it. Give him three pictures and he’ll combine them into one beautiful work of art. Ask him to make a birdhouse and he’ll go to Goodwill and make one out of an old clock, a shoe horn, and a broken tire iron…and it’ll be the coolest bird house you’ve ever seen. I’m not kidding when I say that he can create anything. His creativity and ability to see things that are not and make them so makes me jealous. I love and hate it ‘cause I wish I had more of it. As a kid growing up it was always cool to know that whatever crazy ideas we had: building a chicken coop, repainting a bedroom, creating a costume, or creating bb gun targets my dad could do. And what was especially important (and connected to what I said about ministry) is that he always invited me to participate. He rarely took over and made my project his—it was always ours and we were always in it together. So, actually, I guess I should take back what I said earlier. The hobby that we had in common was just that: partners. We’ve always been partners. Partnership doesn’t demand a hobby, just relationship and trust.

Thank you dad for being someone that I’ve never had a hard time trusting. If I were to pick one word to describe my dad’s identity it would be the word “integrity”. My dad has always been an amazing person of integrity—always going above and beyond to be a person who can be trusted and who is consistent in who he is no matter who is around. Thank you for that dad. I hope that integrity is a word that my kids eventually use to describe me too.

Did I mention that my dad’s funny? Ok, maybe a few of his best jokes I’ve heard repeated a few times over the years but I don’t think that renders them no longer funny…just familiar. Ha! Seriously though, I love to have come from a funny family, from a funny father, and to have clearly developed into quite the funny person myself. Thanks dad, I think we’ve achieved something special here. Whatever we do lets not stop being funny—we’re pretty good at it.

Ok ok, it’s getting to that point where I understand that if I write much more content on this blog it’ll only be my dad and I who finish it. I could seriously write on and on. The last two years have been rough, they’ve been different. Not only have we all fought through my sickness, not only is there always extended family stuff to journey through, but we also ended our ministry partnership as I was sent downtown to start a new work, dad also started working a second job as a bus driver, and oh so many other changes. For a guy who does life in a pattern, with routine, and consistency it has been so inspiring to see how my dad has adjusted and maneuvered through the messiness of these years. It’s been inspiring to see him stepping up in how he cares for my mom, how he functions as a grandparent to my kids, how he sincerely checks in on my wife and I, how he’s become more and more available in his neighborhood places, and how this has all revealed itself through him as a leader of the Renovatus church. I’m inspired and challenged by you dad. You continually invite me to be a better father, leader, husband, and lover of people. What more could I ask for? I’ve always felt loved, cared for, and special. I’ve always and forever known that you were proud of me–how could I not when you’ve said it so often? Thank you so much dad. I love you.”

 

 

 

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The Story continues . . .

 

I want to tell you just a little bit of the rest of the story. Most of you that have joined me on my blog are aware of my son, Ryan’s, blog where he invited us all to walk with him through his journey with cancer. If you are not familiar with Ryan’s blog – check out Grassrootsconspiracy.com.

Last summer on Ryan’s Birthday – four and a half years after Ryan died from a glioblastoma in his spinal cord – I ran across two messages that had been sent to me on my Messenger app. I had not run across the “filtered messages” before – when you are in a grief place your curiosity goes out the window – reserving all energy for getting through the day.

I would like to share with you one of those messages.

Her name is Rebecca and she sent me this message in May of 2014. Rebecca lives in London, United Kingdom.

“Dear Brenda, I hope that you don’t mind me emailing you. I have spent some time recently being inspired by your amazing son, Ryan, through the gift of Soul Pancake and their documentary series, My Last Days. I watched the film about Ryan and then began reading his blog and learning more through the internet about this incredible man. I wanted to make contact with you and let you know the impact that Ryan has had on my life, and on so many peoples’ lives. Of that I am positive. His style of writing is addictive; he was hilarious, brilliant, wise, sincere, thoughtful; an expressive and genuine son, brother, father, husband, and friend. I am a 34-year old mother of ten-month-old twin boys, from London, England.   I am Jewish, however I do not practice religion. In the last few weeks since I have read about Ryan and the purpose of the Grassroots Conspiracy, of his belief system and the idea of living like Jesus, of loving your neighbor – I have been thinking so much more about spirituality and about this very idea of living like Jesus. Whether or not I know Jesus, the concept, the inspiration provided by Ryan, is unique to me and something for me to take with me on my journey, in my story, and input into my world. I wanted you to know that I am so deeply, deeply, sorry for your loss and for all of his family. I cannot imagine the pain you are experiencing but believe your love to be eternal. Ryan has touched so many lives and made such an impact, I truly feel he has changed me, and has therefore changed my children and my husband and their experiences of how to live and cherish those around them. Who Ryan was has genuinely left me wondering how he became such a together, driven, creative, soulful child and adult, and thinking about how I can encourage my children in that direction.  I think about this all the time and even over here in the UK, we are thinking about you and how to live Ryan’s message. Again, I hope you do not mind me emailing you. May your God bless you and your family. With love and best wishes, Becky.”

To run across this message almost five years after we lost Ryan, was such a gift. The gift was multilayered, as you can imagine. Of course, my mama-heart was moved and deeply comforted – but I think an even greater gift was the validation that God continues to use each of our offerings to bless and accomplish His beautiful purposes in ways that we can never predict and are often unaware of. I love that. This piece of Ryan’s continued story reminds me that somehow, someway, God is present in this messy broken world; that no matter what our story is – no matter how broken and messed up it all is – He continues to reveal Himself in whatever unfolds. I love that over in England there is a family that is trying to love people where they live, work, and play.

But there is more to this story. So, after I discovered this message, I responded to Becky. Three years after Becky wrote her message, I wrote her. I thanked her, of course, sharing with her that I miss him every day and treasure any response to his life’s message of Love and living like Jesus. I shared with her that even though I don’t know her story and what her journey has been the last 3 ½ years – I hope Love has touched her, her husband and her babies.

She wrote back that very night.

“Dear Brenda. Wow, thanks so much for getting back to me. Actually the 3-year gap between communication was useful as it allowed me to reflect on what I wrote then. Ryan remains meaningful to me. Following reading his writings and watching the Soul Pancake series, I started volunteering and then working at a local hospice. One of Justin Baldoni’s messages was that those facing death often have incredible depth of insight and he wanted to document it. This alone is what led me to the hospice, and I shared this at my interview in 2014. I’m now retraining as a nurse with the intent of remaining in palliative care, which is where my soul now lies. So the message I wrote to you over 3 years ago remains true and Ryan’s words and experiences truly changed me on an indescribable level and in ways I hadn’t yet realized. With love, and immense respect for you and your family, Becky”

Our stories matter. It may not be a blog like Ryan’s that people see all over the world – but your story is most definitely seen. Your story is seen by your family, your friends, your enemies, your church, your co-workers, those at your grocery store, at your bank, your pub, your daycare, at your favorite restaurants, your gym . . . That’s a lot of influence. Ryan was just as flawed as the rest of us. Positive Influence isn’t about perfection, but about being present and loving and showing compassion to those in our world. The question is what kind of influence will flow from my life. Will I allow all the wounds that invariably come just be being alive in this crazy world, to make me bitter, negative and resentful or choose another path? I think the key to leaving a fragrance of grace and beauty in my world comes from letting go (letting go is another way of saying “to forgive”) of all the wounds that others have inflicted on me – that does not mean all those people are safe for me to be in relationship with – but holding all the injuries inside me only destroys me. As we go through life, it would be easy to collect a truckload of offenses and hurt feelings because living in relationship is hard and messy. And our ego feels so justified in keeping track.

Let’s decide to collect stamps, or garden gnomes or salt & peppershakers instead. As we choose to let go, then we have more emotional space available in each moment for extending kindness, grace and mercy. I want my story to leave that kind of fragrance and influence. But … I do have an awesome souvenir spoon collection, if you ever want to see it!

 

 

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Tattoos

At the age of 56 I got my first tattoo. I do not look like a woman who would have a tattoo. I have always tried to look way too “proper” – trying to “do it right” which instead of being life-giving, sucked life from me.   Choosing a life focus of “doing it right” just doesn’t bring grace, mercy, beauty, gentleness or love. Something had to change. Actually everything within me began to change.

“The word change normally refers to new beginnings. But transformation more often happens not when something new begins but when something old falls apart. The pain of something old falling apart—disruption and chaos—invites the soul to listen at a deeper level. It invites and sometimes forces the soul to go to a new place because the old place is not working anymore. The mystics use many words to describe this chaos: fire, darkness, death, emptiness, abandonment, trial, the Evil One. Whatever it is, it does not feel good and it does not feel like God. We will do anything to keep the old thing from falling apart. This is when we need patience, guidance, and the freedom to let go instead of tightening our controls and certitudes.”         – Richard Rohr

It was 80 degrees; I was on horse back, riding with a friend on the Whipple Creek trails that are set within a Northwest forest. So, even though in the sun it was pretty warm in the shade of the trees, it was perfect. A gentle breeze was blowing above our heads in the tops of the fir trees. The sun would break through the canopy of leaves and shine on the carpet of moss and the fir needles. There were so many lovely smells: the scent of the warm toasty fir needles, horse sweat, leather saddles, sun screen and the green of the forest. I kept just trying to breathe deeper to extract all of the summer I could from air. And the sounds: a myriad of birds each singing their unique song, clip clop of hooves on the trail, bugs buzzing by, creaking of the saddles, jingle of the bridles, trees swaying in the gentle breeze, and the creeks we passed rushing along their merry way. And the trees! The huge massive old trees. How old, I wondered. What is your story? But I notice in all this life, there is change and death too. Old trees that have fallen. I felt sadness at their loss. Will their stories ever be told – what they have seen in their hundred years?

I had been taking all this in – pondering the harsh reality of change, loss and death and I looked down at my arm, where on my left forearm is my tattoo. “Behold, I am making all things new.” And it spoke to me a fresh: Making all things new. And I looked back at the old tree lying on its side – a big giant whose story you would think was done. But then I noticed that from the sides of those fallen firs, were ferns and young saplings. The huge root ball – that was now a wall – was covered with new plants growing out of its massive root system. The tree is now colonized by a multitude of specialized insects, beetles, ants and maggots that are doing their part to help the tree to become fresh rich soil and the source of life for the next giant fir.

Life was coming out of death. New things were being made. That is the truth of this world. That is THE truth. Jesus showed us. Death and then transformation. Letting go and surrender is the path to something new. It sounds beautiful and romantic that beauty comes from ashes. But the truth is, I’m not real comfortable with that.   I don’t like that death is a part of life; that change and loss are a part of becoming; that things falling apart bring space for renovation and transformation. I’m fighting it – I can feel that I am. Don’t we fight change? Because change means loss and loss means suffering. And I really don’t want to feel pain. So through the years, I tended to keep my heart shut down. If I kept myself from feeling my pain, I surely didn’t want to feel yours. As I have walked through my own experience of “falling apart,” slowly, like bugs eating away at my old self, I began to “see” differently. I began to see that God has created me from dust twice: Once when I was formed in the womb – and then again years later when I consented to my demolition and renovation. The first time, it only took nine months for me to be made new. This second re-creation is taking from mid-life to the end of my life. In our beginnings when we are born – we arrive “unwounded” (innocent) and connected to our Creator. But it doesn’t take long for us to begin to feel separated, isolated and wounded and forget that God’s divine image is within us (we were created in the image of God). And so we each begin to develop a “false self” or “ego” to trust and calculate our way through life. And that can work for us for a bunch of years until life brings mystery – experiences our ego just can’t figure out – loss of income, death of a loved one, cancer, divorce . . . and we are undone. Dust. We then have a choice: to surrender and say, “yes,” to the renovation process, or to close down and become bitter. Paul D’Arcy reminds us “Keep your heart open until, through that tear in your heart, you see something new.”

As I was “decomposing,” my heart and vision began to open up. I began to get a glimpse as some of the fog began to clear and now I don’t just see the suffering, I feel it too.   Man, I am ruined! That is certainly not the “new” I planned on! Maybe I want to be blind again, to not notice that everyone is hurting; that devastating change and loss are part of each of us – part of me. And I look down at my tattoo again. I look around at the forest – at the dead old tree. . . . and I am forced by light, to see all the new life growing out of that disintegrating tree. I see how transformation is a part of this world., and how change in its various forms, can usher in beauty, mercy, grace and Love if I consent to my original purpose and intended beauty that God put within me when he made me. When I chose my tattoo, it was hope for heaven, that someday everything would be new and right again. But as the fog clears and my vision improves, my heart swells to embrace the truth that “new” is being made all around me and inside me and all of the time! New life out of death. . . beauty out of ashes. I still hate death. But there is hope that today I will catch a glimpse of something new.

 

 

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The Bite of Truth

The movie begins in black and white. I watched the Wizard of Oz every year through my growing up. I am remembering Dorothy’s unique experience as the twister scooped up her house and carried her and Toto up over the rainbow. And then down the house came with a thud. And the wind stopped and all was quiet. She walked carefully over to the old kitchen door and cautiously opened it. And as she swung the door open – color explodes on the scene. She is in another world.

I drive up to a house at the end of a dead end road. There is a mobile home and an unattached garage built in the 1970’s. I park and walk up to the old garage door and carefully open it. What was a garage is transformed into a barn. And I am in another world. The smell of hay refreshes my senses. As I cross the threshold; a rainbow of aromas flow through my body. The fragrances are rich with meaning. The sweet hay is the first to greet me. It is sweet because it also suggests provision. The barn is full. I can rest because there is enough. I am grateful. And as I travel further in, I hear knickers from my friends inside. Three horses greet me with a bid to come further in. They are ready for breakfast. Pine shavings and horse perfume fill my heart. “Hi, my friends.” They nod – more suggesting I hurry with the meal than a greeting of love. But I know affection is woven through their herald. All three – one mare and two geldings – are paints. The American Paint horse is a breed of horse with large pinto spottings of white, brown and black. Typically they have two colors but my Tonto has three, which is more unusual. Tonto is an 18 year old gelding that is nicked named “Dennis the Menace.” He thinks way too much for his own good.   Tonto was given to me at a time of deep grief in my life. My son had died a year and a half before and so the timing for some added comfort from my life long love of horses was perfect. My saddle had been waiting in the attic for 15 years in hopes that another horse love would come into my life. Tonto shares the barn with Ritzi and Gizmo. Their winter coats have been shed and they shine in the sun that is peeking up over the horizon. I hear the barn swallows chirping at me to move so they can bring breakfast to the crew in the nest above my head. I deliver the long awaited meals to my three 1,000 lb. companions.   They are grateful and dig in. I lay my head on Tonto’s side and draw in deep drafts of his fragrance. Ahhh. I rest. Breathe deeper. I listen to the crunching of hay, I feel his breath, his heart. The rest of the day is gone. Only this moment is here. I step back from his side and ask for a kiss. He leans his head close for me. His soft mussel makes for a velvety kiss – sweet affection. That’s my practice – a muzzle kiss when I arrive and one when I say goodbye. Before I leave my haven, I stand at the stall and gaze out into the field. I hear a few frogs as the sun continues to rise out of bed.   The birds outside have been up for an hour. I suck in all I can grab from the moment. It’s good. My shoulders are relaxed, I tune into my breath – paying attention to each inhale and exhale – letting go for the moment of my addiction to calculating and planning my day. One last deep breath and I have renewed confidence that I can embrace the day ahead with gratitude.

One morning, in the middle of February, I arrived at my barn sanctuary and I noticed the fresh bale of hay had a lot of alfalfa woven into the flakes. Hmmm. I better watch that. The winter sun is shining, bringing a fresh shot of sugar to the field and some sass to the herd. Alfalfa will only intensify the piss and the energy level. I delivered the morning meal, got my kiss and completed my chores. I saunter over to Tonto’s feeder and leaned on the post, just absorbing the joy of the moment.   Tonto looked over at me, turned his head close and – as if in slow motion – opened his mouth and bit my arm! I was in shock! What?! I staggered out of the stall, got the lead rope and proceeded to “encourage” him to get the hell out of this barn! As reality sunk in, my arm throbbed. A rainbowy bruise the size of Canada appeared on my upper arm – like a polaroid picture developing. As my tears flowed, I got the whip and began waving it in the air to communicate – “don’t you dare come back in here – not yet – not now!” I began to sob. Loud wails rang out into the early morning stillness. I stumbled outside into the pasture as I wailed and waved the long whip around threatening pain if he comes near. He ran. I cried tears of lament. My sobs continued . . . I began to listen . . . as if stepping outside my body, looking down at myself, and listening to my broken heart. I wondered. This seems extreme – more grief than one would have expected from such a betrayal. What else is happening here? Betrayal . . . a trust broken (and yes, I know Tonto is an animal and perhaps I had misplaced trust). This isn’t about a horse. These tears are coming from a deep place – grief that has been carefully stowed away because it was too big to live with. I search within, inviting my story to immerge. Betrayal . . . a violation . . . a broken trust . . . deep wounds. The darkness fades and thoughts of betrayal between a child and trusted adults come into view. I think that often our large emotions of today are rooted in the wounds of long ago. And so often we are hell-bent that our distress, anger, fear, panic, etc., are about what happened today – about a horse bite. We don’t want to unpack what has been carefully tucked away a lifetime ago. The lie is that those past hurts don’t affect my life today. But they absolutely do.

Author Richard Rohr has said, “We pay a big price when we put all our energy into keeping a heavy lid on the unconscious.” So, with courage we choose to look in; because it’s the only path to freedom from our wounds. Embracing truth.   Choosing to not pretend anymore. Allowing light to shine in the dark places.   Inviting the whole story up from storage. My giant wails continue as I wave threats and curse words in the air.   I listen and I peer into history. And a pasture becomes my therapy office.

I allow myself to remember a little girl. Her heart is ravaged, afraid, and alone. She is determined to be strong and unaffected. So, she finds a way to shut down a part of herself – so she can function in a place where the pain is not allowed in. Tears are no longer allowed.   Survival depended on not feeling – closing down. Betrayal brought no sobs back then – no – those will have to wait about 50 years. Then there will be space – a safe place – perhaps in a garage barn among some hay, pine shavings and 1,000 lb. friends.

‘“The Lord has set the sun in the heavens, but has said that he would dwell in the thick darkness.’(1 Kings 8:12). God in the dark . . . A voice said to me, God suffers with you. God weeps with you. God lives in your darkness. This is the recognition that turns our darkness into a shining thing . . .

Today I’ll say to myself, accept life – the places it bleeds and the places it smiles. That’s your most holy and human task. Gather up the pain and the questions and hold them like a child upon your lap. Have faith in God, in the movement of your soul. Accept what is. Accept the dark. It’s okay. Just be true. You are loved. Your pain is God’s pain. Go ahead and embrace the struggle and chaos of it all, the splendor, the messiness, the wonder, the agony, the joy, the conflict.” Sue Monk Kidd.

The gaze back in time continues. It’s hard to see through the haze – trying to swim through the darkness back in time. The shadows don’t want to be exposed. The small girl wants to be seen but holding the truth of those who wound instead of protect and heal, feels paralyzing. But she IS holding it – that’s the truth of it all! Perhaps now the present can help hold the sorrow with her. We can walk side by side and bear the load together.

“The message that I discovered in Dorothy’s cyclone was that crises can be holy beginnings if we allow them. If we listen, we’ll hear God calling from the tumult . . . When the cyclone struck, Aunt Em threw open a trap door in the floor and disappeared down a small, dark hole into the cellar, shouting for Dorothy to follow her. There’s always the risk that we’ll retreat into the security of the cellar rather than ride the cyclone to a new place.” Sue Monk Kidd.

May we each choose to take the risk. When part of our story is ready to be seen and heard – may we join God in compassionately entering the cyclone – that was perhaps long ago placed down into the dark cellar. Embracing light, truth and presence. We just may find that we are in another world . . . of healing, peace and beauty.

 

 

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Giving Birth to Love

“I imagine her hunched over on the donkey, soiled robes pulled tightly for warmth around her swollen body. The weariness of the long pilgrimage is unspeakable. She rests one hand on her belly. Then the road becomes steep and her free hand grabs the rope lying across her burro’s flanks. She steadies herself. She thinks, but I understand so little about love. How will I guide this soul? And in that silent moment she realizes that consenting to love, love in this form – love in every form – is the journey she will take.

She’s very young but, like the rest of us, she will have to let go any prior ideas about love: what it is, what it should feel like, where it might have taken her. She will have to let go the securities that got her this far. This new love will turn everything around. Nothing she’s learned previously will apply; no knowledge applies indefinitely. I can’t lean on anything but the God within. It’s hardly a thought; it’s a knowing. There is nothing else.

She considers the great mystery of life and the straining to give birth to a baby, but also to give birth to something hidden deep within. Two births, really: the birth of her child and the inner birth, the total surrender to God.

In some deep recesses, we know her story isn’t important at all unless we can live in our own surrender. She is only pointing the way.”  Paula D’Arcy

I wonder if any of us really understand love in our beginnings. I know I didn’t and 60 years later, I’m just beginning to have a glimpse of Love. In my growing up story, love was about buying gifts, being good enough, a reward for obedient behavior, appearance, security and control. And I found a way to work that system. In fact I was pretty fluent in the language of “merit love.” I worked hard, 24/7, to earn all that I felt I needed, to feel cared for and to secure safety for my world and me. In fact, I felt responsible for my world and making sure they felt “love” too – so I worked extra hard – thinking that I actually had some control over my little universe. Taking care of the universe keeps a person pretty busy. So, of course, when you are that busy – because there is a lot to do to insure everyone is loved, cared for, and safe – I didn’t have time to actually “be present” with those I loved. I remember a conversation with my middle daughter when she was about 6 years old.   We were sitting on the couch and she turned to me and said “God doesn’t hear us when we talk to him.” She had my attention. I was present at that moment. She was trying to communicate that her experience is that ‘she is not heard.’ But it’s hard to present when you are trying so hard to keep all the plates spinning and the world running smoothly.

Years before, when I discovered God as a teenager, I began building my “God relationship” on this “merit” foundation and understanding of love. There was no mystery – I work hard and God takes care of me and mine. Love. Me in control. Safe.

And then something awful happened. That’s how it works. We and our egos create a world where we are in charge and we know the system because we created it. And our life strategy “works” for us (it probably really isn’t working well at all but we are committed to it and it’s familiar and sticking with the familiar is always better than change, right?) until it crumbles and as hard as we try, we can’t put the pieces back together. Usually none of us willingly change until, as Richard Rohr puts it “our own little salvation project” ceases to work. And my “merit love project” fell apart. God didn’t follow the plan. Love is: I obey and try really hard and then nothing bad will happen. (Ok, I know that is steeped in denial. Why do I choose denial? It is not a friend to me. I was wrestling with a recent choice I made to embrace denial – wondering why I chose it. And then I realized that denial is just another form of not being present.) and so there I sat, in the rubble – me and my ego.   But I wasn’t alone down there in the chaos. God was there in the midst and I began to be able to hear and see the truth that has always been available to me. Love was speaking but now I began to listen.

“We can’t manage, maneuver or manipulate spiritual energy. It is a matter of letting go and receiving what is being given freely. It is the gradual emptying of our attachment to our ego so that there is room for a new conception and a new birth. There must be some displacement before there can be any new “replacement!” . . . Whatever God gives is always experienced as totally unearned grace and never as a salary, a reward or a merit badge of any sort . . . If we ourselves try to “manage” God, or manufacture our own worthiness by any performance principle whatsoever, we will never bring forth the Christ but only ourselves.” Richard Rohr.

Love broke in. But birth is painful. I realized that I cannot birth myself.   It’s funny that letting go of pretend control is so scary. None of us are really in control . . . of anything. I want to say, “well, the only thing I can control is me.” Nope. Not even me. Rats. And surrender beckons me. Let go and rest is a message that invites me in a tender soft voice. Love wants to be born. And eventually I began to ask some questions and realized that I “will have to let go any prior ideas about love: what it is, what it should feel like, where it might have taken me. I will have to let go the securities that got me this far. This new love will turn everything around. Nothing I’ve learned previously will apply; no knowledge applies indefinitely. I can’t lean on anything but the God within. It’s hardly a thought; it’s a knowing. There is nothing else.”

 

 

 

 

 

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