37 Years Old

It’s been sunny these last days of July.  But this morning, rain has come.  Sad and gray; kind of how I feel on the inside today.  I’m sitting at my coffee shop, doing some self-care by sitting still for a while with my coffee and my bagel.  I do have to say that the self-care coffee part is for my heart; it’s not for my body, because coffee burns my tummy …but I just want it so much …emotionally speaking. I am at that place where my body is trying to tell me to make some changes, like not drinking my decaf coffee, no caffeine, no potato, no sugar, no dairy and no gluten.  I think that is a lot of demands for a body to make.  But, as I am experiencing some of the consequences of ignoring my body’s prodding, (which I won’t go into because I’m trying hard to be in denial of them)  I’m beginning to crack, and wishing someone would come cook dairy free, gluten free, sugar free, potato free meals for me. I would totally be their best friend if they would just do that.  

Today my son was born 37 years ago.  It was my due date and very early in the morning, my water broke.  He was my number three baby, so labor wasn’t too long.  This was back in the day when the ‘in’thing was natural childbirth with no epidural or anything else.  So there was some desperate grabbing of Kevin’s shirt collar with both fists as I tried to escape the labor pains.  Luckily, Ryan was born after only about eight hours.  This was also back when most deliveries were surprises:  boy or girl.  After having two girls, we just expected it to be another girl.  It was an amazing surprise to see a little boy squeeze out! He was our tiniest baby at 7 pounds 5 ounces.  They laid him on my tummy and we cried.  He peed. 

All week I have been preparing for today; going in and out of sadness throughout the week, which made the days feel heavy.  Rightfully so.  My son, who died 6 years and 8 months ago is not here to celebrate his birthday today. We all grieve differently. Seriously different.  Some of us want to be with people so we don’t feel alone and completely overwhelmed with our sad feelings. Some of us, like me, need time alone to allow the grief to emerge.  When I am with people, somehow my sorrow is pushed to the side so I can be present with my friends.  Well …somewhat present.  When we are carrying the huge feelings of loss, its difficult to be completely present. So, I spent the morning by myself at my coffee shop – hiding in my booth.  But when I returned home, my husband had been immersed in his grief as well. And that’s when it can get tricky.  Because, for me at least, I realize there is some anger behind my grief.  I don’t want this to be our story.  I don’t want Ryan to be gone.  And so once I am home, as we begin interacting about some house projects for the day – all my intense, angry, frustrated, deeply sorrowful feelings ooze out.  Maybe not “ooze.”  It’s more like a volcano with lava that is hot and spreading with a scary intensity that says, “you better get out of the way!” I am not proud that sometimes my grief makes my loved one afraid he is going to get burned.  But to be honest and fair, I try to warn everyone to stay away. Sometimes it even requires some alcohol. (Not for my spouse, but for me). Okay, it doesn’t require alcohol, but once in a while, on fiercely hard days, it is a comfort food – like the Mint Mojito and chocolate chip cookies I am having right now.  ‘Just saying. But I am convinced that it is best to get my muck boots on and wade through the messy, sad stuff that comes up. Because it’s all inside me.  It’s all here anyway.  Pretending it’s not inside me doesn’t make it true.  And I also think that all the tragic, devastating losses that we each encounter in life, deserves some time.  You survived something you never thought you could, and that loss is worthy of some tears and some prime time.  

Today I read again a favorite beautifully illustrated book, Tear Soup: “One day as Grandy and Chester were going for a drive, Chester asked, ‘Mom says you’ve been making tear soup.   What does that mean?’  ‘Well, tear soup is a way for you to sort through all the different types of feelings and memories you have when you lose someone or something special. . . Some days when you are making tear soup it’s even hard to breathe.’   There were things that Grandy never wanted to forget. These included the good times and the bad times, the silly and the sad times.  With her arms full of memories Grandy made many trips to the kitchen. One at a time, she slowly stirred all her precious . . . memories into the pot.  . . . ‘So what else have you learned by making tear soup, Grandy?’  ‘I’ve learned that grief, like a pot of soup, changes the longer it simmers and the more things you put into it . . . And most importantly, I’ve learned that there is something down deep within all of us ready to help us survive the things we think we can’t survive.’”And so today, I took extra time to remember.

As a little boy, Ryan loved to dress up in costumes.  Anything could be a costume.  He would mix and match whatever he found, and pretend he was a mailman, cowboy, or perhaps an eccentric traveler.  He loved the Bible and as early as two years old, toted it around with him.  He loved to journal.  Even when he could barely write his letters, he would make meaningful scribbles that I knew were profound to him.  Ryan always had a wisdom beyond his age.  As a preschooler, he would speak truth into a moment that either made us smile or weep just a little.  That insightful wisdom continued through his life of thirty years, with the most powerful, enlightened, mysterious and funny insights.  (One of his deep desires in childhood was a wish that we would have named him “Jokey.”)Those insights were beautifully shared in his blog posts in the last 17 months of his life.  (grassrootsconspiracy.com) We discovered after we could not stop Ryan from running after his sisters with mouth open, trying to bite them throughout the day, that he was allergic to red food dye.  And that would make him crazy, bouncing off the walls . . . savagely biting anything in his path.  But once the drugs and dye were out of his system –  Ryan loved people even as a little boy.  Everyone belonged.  Always. 

I connected briefly with a dear friend today, she had brought over a little vase of miniature roses to speak into our grief and add to our tear soup.   She shared that she noticed the unexpected rain this morning and thought heaven was weeping with us.  I love when even in the unconscious – we connect.   

And no, the mint mojitio and chocolate chip cookies did not set well on my tummy.  Truth be told. 

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If I’m Honest

If I’m honest . . . I admit that when I have leftovers after a meal, I feel bad throwing them away because of all the starving children all around the world.  So, I carefully store the extra casserole in the refrigerator and wait until it turns green and fuzzy and then I can feel a sense of accomplishment when I throw it away . . . because I have actually cleaned a little bit of the refrigerator! 

If I’m honest . . . I confess that I have over 50 wine glasses. I love them.  Some are crystal that a friend gave me, some are stemless, some are colorful, and some are filled with memories – including several that we carefully inscribed with Y2K.  Here’s the thing – Kevin doesn’t drink wine. And as of a couple years ago, wine hurts my tummy, so I don’t either.  Why do I keep them?  Why do I still want to buy more when I see lovely ones?  (I don’t buy them but I really want to).  Maybe it is seeded in my dreams of hosting lovely parties every weekend . . . because that’s going to happen.  I actually don’t know why I love them so much.  (I am also working on a blog on Scarcity.  But I don’t think wine glasses fall into that category.  I really don’t think I am afraid I won’t have a wine glass to use).

If I’m honest . . . the truth is, when summer comes, I carefully pick my raspberries, blueberries and Marion berries from my garden.  I gingerly wash them and bag them up for the freezer.  It takes so much time to pick them and they are so colorful, delicious and wonderful that I only want to use them for extra special occasions.   And the months roll on and then the next summer comes and there they are, in the freezer – all freezer-burnt, because I was waiting for some imaginary, extraordinarily special, worthy event to serve my berry gold.  And so I have to throw them away. Tragic.

“Struggling with one’s own shadow self, facing interior conflicts and moral failures, undergoing rejection and abandonment, all daily humiliations, experiencing any kind of abuse or form of limitation, can be gateways into deeper consciousness and the flowering of the soul — if we allow them to be. These experiences give us a window into our naked nowness, because very real contradictions are always staring us in the face. Except for God, nothing is perfectly anything. Even as we set necessary and healthy boundaries, we are also invited to forgive what is, to weep over and accept our own interior poverty.”  Richard Rohr Daily Meditations, 6/19/19

Let’s be honest.  Being honest with ourselves is not as easy as one would think.  It takes courage to be honest – especially with ourselves. Once I can “forgive what is, to weep over and accept my own interior poverty,” then I can forgive and accept you and your inconsistencies. You can only pass on to others what you have accepted in yourself first.  It’s all those contradictions that we get so uncomfortable with.  We want desperately to pretend they aren’t there – so I put the leftovers in the refrigerator . . . or I spend years over scheduling.  What about being honest with my time?  That’s been a long journey.  I have years of over scheduling – packing in the days. As I ponder the source of cramming and abusing ‘time,’ I realize it is complex.  But I think the source is deep; a place of fear.  Maybe even scarcity.  Digging deeper, for me, it’s about the fear of abandonment.  I came out of childhood desperate to take care of my world, so I wouldn’t be abandoned.  

How is that helpful?  We don’t want to feel those hard feelings.  It takes lots of time to ask the hard questions and root out the source. So we deceive ourselves and just manage the surface results of our coping strategies.  I just need to find more cupboards to store my wine glasses. But the crazy thing is that when we dig down and sort through and ask the hard questions and choose to be honest about a certain interesting puzzling choice we continue to make, there is a healing and freedom that comes.  You don’t even have to fix anything.  Just look at it.  That is enough.  Looking is where the courage is.  Just look. The exposure is enough.  

The source of my time abuse is exposed.  And my response is crucial.  The little child you were, is still with you and holds a lot of the source of your grown up struggles.  Little Brenda is still afraid of being abandon.  Little you is still afraid of whatever the wounds of your childhood were.  It’s all still inside us.  Where else would it be?  And so the invitation is to speak to ourselves with compassion and tenderness, because we are really speaking to a child that is afraid.  All any of us want is to be seen and have our feelings and stories validated.  Acknowledge the fear and then speak honestly to your heart with warmth, comfort, kindness and understanding.  Don’t discount the feelings.  They are real.  A child’s feelings may seem unfounded to us, but they are based in something real from their perspective.  That is true of the child within you as well.

The good news is that I am actually going to use my frozen berries this year. I hope I get to share a cobbler with some of you.  I am determined to be honest with those leftovers – which will actually save me time too!  My fear of abandonment is slowly experiencing healing as I choose to forgive the reality of my past wounds.  And so I am freer to place margins throughout my days; margins of time sprinkled amongst my appointments and ‘to do’ lists, which gives me breath, hope, peace and a spaciousness that renews me.  But I think I’m keeping all my wine glasses.  I don’t know why.  I just am.

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Who Is Driving?

I didn’t realize that writing about this subject would open me up and expose that shame is still lurking in my cells.  It feels like once it gets inside the cell walls – it’s stuck in there and threatens to multiply and take over.  Perfectionism is where it shows up in me.

Perfectionism is an addiction like drugs, alcohol, gluttony, and frantic busyness (or whatever yours may be) and shame is what fuels it underneath.  Shame drives it!  What is your medication of choice?  What I mean by that is this: What do you use to numb and run from the pain in your story? Whatever means you choose – underneath it is shame.  

Shame is an attack on your identity.  Shame is dark and evil because it speaks into who you are, whereas guilt is about what you have done.  There is no good shame.  Shame says, “you are bad,” “you are ugly,” “you are worthless.”  Shame’s goal is to destroy your identity.  

“With shame, something other than love is driving you. You are hustling for your worth.” Brene Brown 

I can tell when I’ve gotten back into hustling for my worth because there is no space for presence, and my feelings and emotions shut down.  There was a point several years after my son died that I thought I was coming to a new place in my grief journey because I wasn’t “feeling” anything.  But as I searched further inside myself, I realized I was back to hustling and working the perfection game.  That’s why we choose addiction because it numbs the pain. It has been interesting watching my grief journey.  How my perfectionism will kick in and I am numb for a while.  And then I realized I missed missing Ryan.  And so, I would choose to wake up again; say no to shame and try to show compassion to myself over the complicated process of grief and be willing to hurt.  

Brene Brown encourages, “Most of us numb to ‘take the edge off’ vulnerability, pain and discomfort.  When we stop numbing and those sharp edges come back into our lives, we see how leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability teaches us how to live with joy, gratitude and grace.  Feeling the struggle gives me the courage to change what’s happening and practice gratitude for what’s going well (even if I have to look hard for it). Feeling the joy gives me the strength and perspective to move forward, out of the dark.”

As I am considering this blog post, some of the notes I am drawing from, are journals from three years ago.  As I read and began to write, I realized that I was getting emotional, feeling anxiety and my current level of perfectionism was being revealed.  There are always more layers in the onion – always more to unpack, look at, extend compassion to, and to let go of.  Always. Bummer.  

I decided I needed to do some unpacking.  Looking back to my childhood, what was driving my perfectionism?  Shame. But what’s driving the shame? Fear. Fear of messing up; fear of abandonment.   If I don’t do enough, or don’t do it “right” enough, I will be abandon.  I will be alone.  I was told that in many ways as a child.  “Do what you are told to do, or someone will be hurt.”  “If you don’t perform well enough or if you refuse, others will suffer.” “If you tell, people will be wounded; your family will suffer.”  “Obedience is your only hope of not being abandon and alone or worse.” But shame doesn’t need such toxic messages to find its way in.  There are many seemingly benign messages that usher shame into our thinking.

Letting go of perfectionism?  How is that possible when obedience was forced by fear and pain into every cell of my body?  

I met God for the first time as a young teen.  He found me in prison – not a prison made by bars and locks but a prison set up by fear.  I was so ready to obey anything God asked of me.  I was programed to.  God’s words in the Bible were telling me, “ If you obey, you will be safe.” Everything inside me was full in. I had hope.  Protection.  God is bigger than evil.  The Words I read promised that the one thing I knew how to do – obey – was what He required for protection and safety.  A flawed view, I know.  But to a little girl looking for a way out of hell – looking for someone to save and rescue her – I latched on tight and for life.  

But as I grew older, my faith, love and trust of God grew on that distorted foundation.  All that was in me rested on the promise of protection and security and I continued my commitment to obedience.  It was my survival strategy.   All of us, in childhood, come up with a survival strategy.  Our ego takes on the job quite willingly, and we come up with our own plan.  Usually, it is skewed because we are children responding to our confusing, wounding world.  Enneagram speaks into this in detail and is a beautiful and helpful way to see our survival strategies and learn about how to turn those to be healthy and life giving. (Do yourself a favor and look up Enneagram!)

But as the years progressed, “obedience” as my M.O. was cemented into my cells.  Perfectionism.  It was camouflaged by acts of service, working hard, keeping busy, and caring for my world.  The knowledge of what was driving me and where it was birthed was lost and hidden from my consciousness.  Richard Rohr shares, “When you don’t want self-knowledge – you don’t want to face your shadow self.  You don’t want to see the dark side that we all have.  For too long the spirituality of perfection has caused us to split and pretend that we are always and only good.  You pay a big price when you put all your energy into keeping such a heavy lid on the unconscious.”  

And then something happens in our lives: a tragedy, death of a loved one, loss of a career, a chronic illness, some life crisis that is an invitation to wake up and begin looking at the complex onion that we are with all our layers.  An invitation to observe our addictions and to start digging – to be brave – to stare shame in the face and say “NO!”  To say, “I will no longer allow shame to destroy my identity.  I will say “Yes!” to God restoring my original purpose and intended beauty.  We are all made in the image of God – in the image of Love.  Choose to let love drive you.  

Choosing to lift the lid on the unconscious and wake up is not easy and takes courage.  But it is where we can be fully alive.  Here is one place you can begin: self-compassion.  It can be found within good self-care, like having good margins with our time, taking naps, or getting a massage.  But I think where the real power comes is in how we talk to ourselves. What does your self-talk inside your head sound like?  That reveals a lot.  While shame wants to destroy you – you can change how you speak to yourself and what/whom you allow to speak to you. 

Numbing is shutting myself down.  Actually saying to myself, “I won’t feel what you are feeling. You are on your own.  I will NOT be with you.”

Comfort yourself.  Actually extending grace, love, forgiveness and mercy to yourself. Actually saying to yourself, “I WILL feel what I am carrying in my heart and body.  It is real.  The pain is real and to shut it down is to abandon myself.  I am here.  I am sad that this hurts.”

Spend some time each day, casting out shame and inviting in compassion and grace.  It is helpful to choose a time or a few moments when you are doing a daily chore when you know you can focus and speak this message to yourself.  I chose each morning while I am standing filling water troughs at my horse barn.  Being still, taking note of your breath, breathe shame out of every cell of your body and send it out of this world. And then breathe in compassion and grace to come in and fill every cell of your body. 

It is important to compassionately observe yourself. Listen to the self-talk that goes on inside your head.  Are you beating yourself up?  Do you degrade yourself? Do you constantly judge yourself?  That is shame talking.  Cast it out.  Be tough with the shame, but extremely gentle with you.  Everyone on the planet was made in the image of God. Including you. You are his dwelling place.  He is in everything he has made.  He loves it all.  Look at Genesis chapter one.  Not only does he love you, but he has partnered with you to love everyone and everything else.  Right now as you are reading this, what are your thoughts?  If they are negative and you are feeling like God is crazy to partner with you, take note of it.  Now, don’t beat yourself up.  Just listen to how you speak to yourself and then choose to extend compassion and mercy. I have done this practice, and found myself in tears as I received compassion formyself,frommyself!  I was so surprised that I had the power to bless my heart.  And you know what?  As Richard Rohr reminds me, “how you love yourself, is how you will love everything else.”  As you practice compassion and mercy to yourself, it will spill over onto everyone around you! And voilà, the world is a better place! 

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A Wrinkle In Time

So, my husband asked me to “sit” for the art class he is teaching, as they needed another face to draw.  When he said I could just sit there and read, I accepted the job.  But here’s the thing – I have always struggled with vanity: my knobby knees, my super skinny legs (ladies, not the kind of model skinny all of us wish for – but sticks with big giant knees), and during certain periods of time – my overbite – that caused me to be self-conscious about my smile.  In fact, I made Kevin promise that when I die he will glue my lips together so my face won’t consist of my lips receding and leaving my big over bite teeth exposed.  Since my second round of braces, I’m feeling better about the fear of overbite teeth exposure.  

But my favorite thing about my body for most of my life was that I looked younger than I actually was.  Once when I was getting my hair cut while in college, the beautician asked me if my mom drove me to my appointment.  That was a little painful, because when you are young – you want to look older that you are.  Well, as time progressed, I still looked at least 10 years younger than I was. Lovely.  For whatever reason, menopause came late for me.  Again, lovely.  But here’s the thing – when menopause hit in my late 50’s – all the trauma, tragedy, stress, tension, suffering, difficulties of the last 15 years, showed up in my face.  Wrinkles. A lot of them.  Which of course brought on more stress and distress – I aged 20 years in 5.  I googled it. I google everything.  Because most things – the tickle on my head, the twitch on my eyelid, the cramps in my feet – I’m sure it’s all cancer.  So, I google.  And every time – literally – it says, all of the above is most often caused by stress.  And when I googled how to not be as wrinkly – google said, “Avoid stress.”  Of course, it suggested, eat your greens and drink lots of water, but mostly, “try to relax and let go.”  Which led me to buy lots of different lotions, oils, and tonics . . . to try to calm my wrinkles.  My face became very moist and soft but just as wrinkly. Well, I began to process the alternatives.  The most obvious one (besides plastic surgery, of course, which I considered in a moment of panic) is to not ‘get’ to age – meaning not being alive. I reminded myself what a privilege it is that I get to age.  I would give anything to have traded with my son, who died at 30, and let him get the chance to raise his babies and age, at least, to my age of 61. I get to have wrinkles.  A young friend of mine (40 years old); just had a heart attack – called the “widow maker” because most don’t survive it.  She did survive and we are so thankful.  But it is another reminder of how fragile life is and how brief.  

As I ponder that reality, I am reminded to value this moment.  We each, daily, hold and try to sort through, disappointments, wounds, loss, and fears. We are painfully aware that we live in a broken world. But each moment also has beauty and life . . . and yes, possibly, wrinkles.  How do I find my way from being overwhelmed, afraid and stressed to a place of peace and surrender?  For me, a large piece of that journey has been presence and gratitude.  I want to choose to be here and now, even if it is sad, painful and … wrinkly.  And I want to embrace the beauty of being here. For today, I get to be 61. When I get startled occasionally, as I pass by a mirror in the store or look in the rear view mirror, and the light is especially revealing and not helping me to pretend I’m younger at all – I remind myself that I have earned every single wrinkle.  I am a survivor!  I made it through hell!  And I have wrinkles to prove it!  

I may have communicated mixed messages, but I have been on a journey of valuing and honoring my body.  Our bodies are amazing.  Did you know that your body holds all the trauma and pain you have walked through in your life? Much of the trauma from childhood, we have little memory of, but our bodies hold it tenderly and carefully for us.  What a beautiful gift – that our bodies hold a lot of the hard parts of our lives so we can function.  You may not even realize how much is being held for you.  Most of us are unaware of that truth until later in life our body begins to reveal some of our story.  Perhaps it is bad dreams, different kinds of body aches, tummy problems . . . an invitation to listen and ask if there is something our bodies want to share.  Our body holding, is a temporary holding – until we are ready to process and own some of the unconscious parts of our stories.  Since the trauma is still a part of us, there comes a point when our body needs help.  It’s time to listen.  It can feel very scary.  But it is the process to freedom.  Knowledge, insight and eventually liberation – part of you may have always wondered why you have certain fears, anxieties or feeling paralyzed to really embrace parts of your life.  Well, when your body extends the invitation, have courage and say yes.  

So, there I was, sitting for the art drawing class, and reading my book.  I was reading Anne Lamott’s book, Traveling Mercies.  The irony was that the chapter I was on was “The Aunties.”  (In the art class, I did realize that looking down, reading, was probably not the most flattering posture for my wrinkles but, you know, I didn’t care … mostly.)

As I was having my face drawn, Anne Lamott was talking about her struggle with her body:

“So I was in the Mexican state of Oaxaca . . . Until recently, I was afraid to say that I am beautiful out loud for fear that people would look at me with cruel scrutiny and see a thinnish woman with tired wrinkly eyes, flabby thighs, scraggly-scraggly hair, and scraggly-scraggly teeth.  I was afraid they would see the spidery veins on my legs and note that my bottom appears to be making a break for freedom from the confines of my swimsuit . . . After unpacking, I put on my best black swimsuit.  It was very expensive when I got it, very alluring.  The only fly in the ointment was that it no longer fit. Actually, I’m not positive it ever did, but at least I used to be able to get it on without bruising. .  .  anyway. I got my suit on and waddled down to the beach.  I was not wearing a cover-up, not even a T-shirt.  I had decided I was going to take my thighs and butt with me proudly wherever I went.  I decided, in fact, on the way to the beach that I would treat them as if they were beloved elderly aunties, the kind who did embarrassing things at the beach, like roll their stockings into tubes around their ankles, but whom I was proud of because they were so great in every real and important way.  So, we walked along, the three of us, the aunties and I . . . I imagined that I could feel the aunties beaming, as if they had been held captive in a dark closet too long, like Patty Hearst.  Freed finally to stroll on a sandy Mexican beach: what a beautiful story.”

As I read, and tried to keep my pose – I smiled a lot  (smiling only in my mind, because of course, I couldn’t move as they were drawing me) as I read about the aunties and as the class drew my wrinkles.  I am thankful to have some peace around change – everything changes.  And change often involves loss.  And I grieved for a while the wrinkly reality of growing older.  As I experience some acceptance and peace around it all – and the gratitude that I still have today to live and love (‘cause that’s all any of us have), and as I am filled with thanks that my body did hold huge painful pieces of my story for me till I was ready to listen, see, grieve and taste some freedom . . . I have to admit, I do try to smile a lot because it spreads my wrinkles out so I look younger.  

I want to leave you with a beautiful practice of letting go and presence posted recently on Richard Rohr’s daily meditations – “Thich Nhat Hanh teaches this wisdom through the ceremony and meditation of tea (a Buddhist parallel to the Christian Eucharist):

“You must be completely awake in the present to enjoy the tea.
Only in the awareness of the present, can your hands feel the pleasant warmth of the cup.
Only in the present, can you savor the aroma, taste the sweetness, appreciate the delicacy.
If you are ruminating about the past, or worrying about the future, you will completely miss the experience of enjoying the cup of tea.
You will look down at the cup, and the tea will be gone.
Life is like that.
If you are not fully present, you will look around and it will be gone.
You will have missed the feel, the aroma, the delicacy and beauty of life.
It will seem to be speeding past you. The past is finished.
Learn from it and let it go.
The future is not even here yet. Plan for it, but do not waste your time worrying about it.
Worrying is worthless.
When you stop ruminating about what has already happened, when you stop worrying about what might never happen, then you will be in the present moment.
Then you will begin to experience joy in life.”

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Letting Go

“We cannot attain the presence of God because we’re already totally in the presence of God.  What’s absent is awareness.”  Everything Belongs,by Richard Rohr

This feels risky and crazy to post a blog on prayer. Thousands of books have been written on prayer and I’m going to write 1500 words on the subject?  But there are a few things I would like to process with you, knowing it is a forever process of the deep mystery of God and his relationship with humanity. I think it is valuable to share and journey together – even if it is just dipping our little toe in.

Ever since I noticed God and chose to follow Him back in high school, I have always had a difficult time with prayer.  I have struggled with feeling like I wasn’t a faithful pray-er – so easily distracted – finding my mind thinking about a million things to do, and then feeling frustrated because I got distracted and didn’t utter the needed words for my friends and loved ones that were desperate for help and intervention – or at least didn’t utter them long enough (I have no idea how long one is supposed to be uttering to get God to respond.  Let’s be honest, we want God to be on our side, wanting what wewant and for Him to intervene and help us out). I struggled with trying to sound really spiritual in my prayers uttered out loud.  I think that perhaps that meant I was praying to my friends and not to God.  I certainly have struggled with my posture in prayer – kneeling or laying before God feels too humbling (that is a whole other blog) and distracting for me.  I’ve had my prayer lists for those who needed me to be faithful in prayer, but I got overwhelmed because the needs around me were great and many, and so I shut down.  There were periods of time that I spent my quiet time going through the different kinds of prayer – trying to pray through each area of praise, adoration, gratitude, and petition.  And then when thousands upon thousands prayed for our son to be healed and God didn’t intervene – I processed that maybe if I had prayed more fervently or laid prostrate in prayer more often my son would have been healed.  

Since the death of our son over 6 years ago, I have set all the above aside and began to search and listen for something more real. Prayer must be something more. 

“We may think of prayer as thoughts or feelings expressed in words. But this is only one expression. . . . Prayer is the opening of mind and heart—our whole being—to God, the Ultimate Mystery, beyond thoughts, words, and emotions. Through grace we open our awareness to God whom we know by faith is within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than choosing—closer than consciousness itself.” —Thomas Keating

I am not going to try to speak into whether God breaks in to our lives and brings healing or not.  (That would take a lot more than 1500 words! And that would take getting a window into the question of the ages.)  Except to say that through my journey of opening my eyes to all the suffering of the world, I have very few answers.  I used to have a bunch. But what I do know is that there is a Creator of this complex beautiful world.  And that He loves all He has made and that He is here.  He is here in each of us.  And I believe He aches with us through all the pain and loss.  I don’t have the answers about all the suffering in this world – but I know Jesus came to show us that He is present. That He is with us.  Emmanuel: God with us.  And quoting Peter, “Lord, there is no one else that we can go to!  You have the words of life.”  John 6:68.  Because I believe He is present in each of us – He shows up when we show up in each others lives.  

In my search, I discovered that prayer is so much more than words.  In fact, I think words are the least important part of prayer.  It’s more about surrender; about empting myself and about noticing my world and being present to God as He reveals himself through the beauty of nature and people.  (At times, it seems easier to see Him in the former than the latter.)

Barbara Brown Taylor shares in her book, An Altar in the World, some thoughts from Brother David Steindl-Rast, an Austrian Benedictine Monk, “prayer is not the same thing as prayers. Prayers are important but prayer, according to Brother David, is waking up to the presence of God no matter where I am or what I am doing.  When I am fully alert to whatever or whoever is right in front of me; when I am electrically aware of the tremendous gift of being alive; when I am able to give myself wholly to the moment I am in, then I am in prayer. Prayer is happening, and it is not necessarily something that I am doing.  God is happening, and I am lucky enough to know that I am in The Midst.”  

As I have walked through the tragedy of my abusive childhood and of loosing our son. The path I eventually found myself on was one of pursuing presence; choosing a daily goal of surrender or letting go; giving God access to all of me.  I believe that is the path of prayer.  Yes, words are spoken and pleas are made for those we love and are concerned about, but the larger place of prayer, I believe, is lived and not spoken. 

“Our awareness of the supportive presence of God is outside of and beyond our power to express in word or conceive in thought. This gift of contemplative prayer is not a way of thinking.  It’s much more a way of notthinking.  It’s not a way of talking; it finally moves beyond words into silence.  It moves into the mystery that is too deep for words.  I have said for years that our expression “peace of mind” is a contradiction in terms.  I have never met anyone who is at peace who is in their mind, and I have never met anyone in their head who is at peace.  Prayer must lead us beyond mind, words, and ideas to a more spacious place where God has a chance to get in.  

While the prayer of words is an attempt to express to ourselves, our dependence on the great mystery, the prayer of silence is not so much to express, but to experience, that dependence.  We acknowledge and rejoice that we are beloved, created out of nothing.” Everything Belongs.

Contemplative prayer has come to mean a time of letting go and surrender for me. It has been recommended to have a twenty-minute time of centering prayer in the morning.  This practice is about centering and calming our hearts.  It’s about giving our egos – who really love to be in charge – a break. It is in stillness that we hear the whispering voice of God.  And in silence we give God access to our whole being.  Find a place you can sit or walk. During this twenty-minute contemplative prayer, the goal first is to invite God’s presence and action within you. He already lives in you but you are now giving permission for Him to have access to every cell and space.   As you extend this invitation, let go of any thoughts that come into your mind.  This is not about empting your mind as much as it is about surrendering your constant attempts to control, calculate and obsess.  Choose a word or words to gently re-center and quiet your mind.  Lately, I have been using the phrase “I compassionately and courageously let go.”  This phrase has been a powerful tool for me in my surrender as compassion speaks into my wounded history and I need to call forth courage to trust that as I let go of all that is heavy on my heart – He carries it all for me and rest in that He carries me as well.  You can choose whatever word or phrase will be helpful to re-direct your mind.

As you go through your twenty minutes, thoughts will come in – powerfully and unrelenting sometimes – but just gently redirect your mind by saying your word or phrase. As you sit, be attentive to your body, especially tuning into your breath.  Breathe deep tummy breaths through your nose and relaxed breaths out through your mouth.  Continue deep breaths and repeating your special word or phrase.  At the end of your twenty minutes – sometimes it will ‘feel’ like an hour – remain with eyes closed in silence for a moment with a few final deep breaths.  

 There is an app that I use called Centering Prayer.  It has readings, a timer and different sounds to begin and end your prayer session.  You don’t need it, but use it if it is helpful. 

“The contemplative journey is the most responsible of all responses of God because so much depends on it – the future of humanity, the healing of the wounds of humanity, our own deepest healing.  It’s not just a method of meditation or a practice to find personal peace.  It’s basically a total acceptance of the human condition in all its ramifications, including its desperate woundedness . . . Humans are fully capable of becoming God, not in the fullest sense of the term, but in a very real way, where the light, life and love of God are pouring through them, channeling a source of healing, compassion, and reconciliation wherever they go and whatever they do. They are rooted in the divine compassion and mercy, and are manifesting . . . the pure light of the image and likeness of God within them, which is the assimilation of the mind and heart of Christ in everyday life.”  Thomas Keating, Heartfulness: Transformation in Christ.

Richard Rohr says, Contemplative prayer “may feel like nothing, but it ends up being everything.”

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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.

kintsugi21.jpg

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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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