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To be Willing to Wonder

To be Willing to Wonder

I had a feeling the announcement was coming. Those little inklings had been skittering over the surface of my mind for weeks, but I had hoped I was wrong, and was still totally unprepared for the jolt of hurt and betrayal that shot through the center of my chest in that moment. A colleague had been promoted, and while she did good work and it was not undeserved, I felt my job had demanded more of me, and it seemed unfair. Really unfair, actually, and I lost my mind with jealousy.

There’s more to it, of course.

I had just turned 29, and truthfully, I never thought I would still be working at that age. I recklessly assumed that I would be home raising a family by then. Even while evidence mounted that I may need to let go of that dream, I managed to convince myself every month that it was right around the corner, and somehow, it still seemed like an enormous loss each month to find out that it wasn’t so.

I didn’t realize, back then, the extent to which my personal and professional hopes and disappointments collided in my mind and heart. Personally, I felt nowhere near where I wanted to be, and I was relying on the professional side of my life to make me feel like I had a purpose, like I was moving forward, like I was doing okay. I had successfully navigated several major projects, and a newer, bigger, shinier one was just ramping up. I figured that could be “my thing.” That could be the thing I held out to the world to justify my place in it. I don’t know how I built it up so much in my head, but all of a sudden, I looked around and I had nothing. I felt lost, and foolish, and wondered how I had been so naïve. I felt like a failure in every way.

Then I carried that feeling with me for five years.

Why had I let that be a defining moment in my life? It sounds so crazy when I phrase it like that. We all do it, though. Things happen, and those things are real and true, but then we build entire paradigms around them that aren’t. We take a fact, or a circumstance, or something someone said, and we bubble wrap it in layer after layer of interpretation and assumption, and our own version of the story, until the set of beliefs we’re holding no longer resembles reality.

We often talk about “belief” in the context of faith, but our set of beliefs is made up of everything that we use to explain the world. Most of them are subconscious, and we’ve never put words to them, but they’re governing our thoughts and actions nonetheless, so if we’re believing something about ourselves, other people, or our role in the world that is untrue, we’re acting out of that untruth.

I felt like a failure because I grew up believing you could either be a family woman or a career woman, and since I couldn’t make the family woman role happen, I thought my only option was to be a career woman. Then, when I experienced disappointment in the career space, I took on the belief that I was a zero. I cringe as I write that because I know it’s not true. It’s not true on either end of the spectrum! It’s not true for the working moms who feel spread thin, and it’s not true for me. Still, I was so buried in disappointment at the time that it felt true, and since I never acknowledged it, it just stayed in the undercurrent of my life for years.

They say if you don’t learn a lesson the first time, life will arrange for you to try again. I’d eventually received the coveted promotion, and a few years later, went for another. The morning of my interview, I found out that our most recent fertility treatment had failed.

I had let myself hope. For a brief moment, in the days leading up to that, I wondered if in the end, perhaps I could have it all. Then, I sat in the same conference room as five years prior, and I could tell they were letting me down easy, and I thought about all of the failed treatments, everything sacrificed at home and at work, and once again, it all came to nothing.

When I was very young, I went to a friend’s birthday party and got stuck in a ball pit. I don’t remember the mechanics of how, but it was like I was “floating” and couldn’t get my feet to touch the bottom. It was time to get out, and my friend’s dad was yelling at me, and I’m sure he thought I was just being rebellious, but I was trapped.

That’s what it felt like to think that the way forward should be so obvious, but I just couldn’t make it happen: Claustrophobic, antsy and unsettled, as if I were somewhere I didn’t belong and didn’t know the way out. I was still waiting for something, anything, to prove that I wasn’t wasting the years, and the lack of results made me feel small, pathetic, and stuck.

So at first it was hard, but here’s the thing: Being back to “zero” freed me. Eventually. It put this dichotomy between “family woman” and “career woman” so blatantly in-my-face that I couldn’t ignore it, and apparently I needed that. It was actually a beautiful story in its own way because it led to a new level of understanding, and somehow, joy cracked through the hard exterior of disappointment. It reoriented me. It forced me to question thought patterns that I had never put words to.

I began to realize that what I really wanted out of my work – regardless of why I was there – had less to do with title and pay, and way more to do with trust, respect, communication and connection. Titles and paychecks are nice, but they’re not the currency of the things that matter to me—joy, peace, purpose. To have those, I needed to let go of pre-defined roles. I needed to find a new way to be.

We have such high expectations for ourselves, and for life, and for how life will feel to us. We take things that were never meant to be a verdict on our lives, and we let them define us, or reinforce our doubts and insecurities, or our frustrations and disappointments, depending on whether we internalize or externalize.

What I learned was that I needed to intentionally listen to the story line in my head. We all need to do that, and we need to be bold enough to change the story when needed. Maybe that means a tweak in perspective, maybe it means flipping the script. As we grow, and we learn to rely more on our own internal feedback than on external circumstances to tell us if we’re on the right path, it becomes easier to make the distinction, but initially it’s all about a willingness to wonder, and question whether we’ve been interpreting life the right way.

There’s something redemptive about this process. By its nature, it’s a chance to show ourselves grace, because if we understand why we feel the way we do, and what wounds or disappointments underly it, we can see ourselves more clearly, and value everything that we brought to the table, regardless of the outcome.

One night, later that year, I climbed into my car in the Target parking lot, and a woman across the row caught my eye as she loaded her minivan. She was probably my age, and I guessed she had several kids based on the quantities of diapers and goldfish she was loading in the back. As I drove away, I thought about how when I got home, I would log on to get some work done, and then get up the next day and go into an office where it felt like nothing was ever going to change. There in the darkness, I finally admitted to myself that I wanted to be the woman with the minivan. My life looked different, but maybe that didn’t define me. Maybe it was okay to want what I wanted. And I realized, I had learned to let myself.

Balance & Grace

Balance & Grace

It’s easier to guard our energy than to guard our time.

Our time feels so precious, doesn’t it? We try to guard it so carefully, probably because we are all running so close to the edge, and we have designs on virtually every waking minute, and so we get very attached to the idea of the day going smoothly. You know the drill. We want the computer to go faster, the traffic to clear, the lines at the store to be short. We want problems resolved quickly, instructions followed the first time, and conflicts to be non-existent. What we really want, though, when we say we want all those other things, is often just a few free minutes in which we don’t need to be on-call, on-point, on-guard.

The problem is, those smooth days are rare, and when we’re racing from Point A to Point B and we find ourselves stuck in traffic, there’s not necessarily much to be done about the minutes ticking away, but how we choose to frame those minutes can have an enormous impact on the energy we bring with us to the rest of the day. If we spend those minutes stressing, worrying, fighting with ourselves, fighting with the people in the other cars, suddenly we’re losing twice because by the time we get to Point B, frustration has burned up all our energy, and we’re approaching whatever’s next with a sense of scarcity and lack, breathless, sometimes embarrassed, often in no shape to enjoy or engage.

What I often find, and what I want to change, is that at the end of the day, I have more time than I have energy, and so what free time I do have is not spent on all of the lovely, worthwhile things I would like to be spending my time on, nor is it restful or restorative. Instead, I default to mindlessly scrolling through social media, puttering around the kitchen, or binge-watching television because I am too depleted to think.

I used to think “time management” was the solution. I don’t anymore. I think it was a good place to start, but at some point, it took me as far as it could, and by trying to take it farther, I was only causing more damage. I started becoming neurotic about planning the days, keeping to a schedule, trying to ensure I was using every minute “wisely.” Even when everything was going just fine, I was still obsessed with keeping everything moving. At. All. Times. It was a graceless way to live, and when things weren’t going well, it was even worse. I began to notice some…overreactions… to the proverbial wrenches being thrown in my works. Even when it wasn’t obvious from the outside, I felt wildly out of balance on the inside.

Here’s the problem though: I think time management is easier, because last month while on vacation, when I finally gave myself enough time and space to figure out what I really needed, I came to two very uncomfortable realizations:

First, I needed to simplify. Part of the reason I have to be so intentional about carving out time for silence and stillness is that my personality is very prone to distraction. I jump very quickly from one thing to another, and I tend to need a lot of activity. And for a long time, that was exactly what I needed to restore balance in my life. I’d fallen into a rut, and realizing that I needed to feel like I was learning and growing was a game-changer in my sense of wellbeing, but in the pursuit of that, I have often stacked projects and classes, workshops and challenges, one on top of the other, and then a week into each, got distracted, wandered off, and rarely finished strong. I was in the middle of reading no less than six books, and wasn’t close to finishing any, maybe because I’d just picked up a seventh. I had taken the very thing that once brought me balance, and overloaded myself with so much of it, I was falling off the other side of my life.

Second, I realized that in spite of how much I love food, I was ready to do the hard work of losing weight, not for appearance or size, but because I felt profoundly unwell. I felt weighed down, sluggish, achy, and I wanted to feel light, graceful, flexible. I wanted to literally move through the world with more ease. I knew that if I didn’t start making better choices, I wasn’t going to have enough energy for any of the things most important to me, and I didn’t want to perpetuate that depleted cycle. Beyond that, I wanted something tangible that I could tap into, to help me make wiser choices in every area of my life. It was a perfect next step, because making very conscious choices about what to eat infused an element of routine into the chaotic days. It provided touchstones throughout the day that could be used to reflect and adjust as needed. It helped me find a new rhythm, and that’s exactly what I needed to find my balance again.

Yes, it is easier to guard my energy than to guard my time.

Last month, we spent a weekend in Burlington. One morning, we were in a little kitchenware shop, and someone came in with a dog who was tracking muddy paw prints all over their carpeted floor. They didn’t freak out at all, they were warm and welcoming, and carried on as if it were no big deal, even though I’m sure that carpet was going to be a pain to clean. They saw the situation, recognized that it was too late to undo, and let it be. It looked like grace, and I’m sure it is a better way to live.

It’s a work in progress. One day at a time.

What do you need in order to be in balance right now? Was there a practice that you found in another season of life that once brought you balance, but is no longer?

Daily Bread

Daily Bread

There’s a sweet spot between being totally adrift, and being owned by your to-do list, and lately I’ve been calling it my “daily bread.” The phrase comes from one of the most well-known prayers in the Christian faith, a pearl of simplicity among more lofty spiritual ideas. It speaks of contentment and trust, and the connection between heaven and earth. Lately, I’ve been thinking of it as an orientation to past and future, a posture of embracing what’s right in front of me.

In a way it’s cleansing, not in the physical “detox” sense, which would involve no bread, and therefore is something I’m not at all interested in, but in the spiritual and emotional sense. It’s a stripping off of old ways of thinking that weighed me down, and a letting go of the old questions I won’t ever have answers to. It’s peeling away the scratchy clatter of an over-analyzing mind with its never-ending mental math, sanding away the incessant worry about whether it all works out, smoothing out the ragged obsession with when and how.

It’s amazing how much energy I spend wondering where it’s all going. It’s like a hamster wheel. Run run run. Am I making the right choices? Doing the right things? Run run run. What if it doesn’t work out? What if it all goes wrong? Run run run. What will I do when this is over? Lots of energy, lots of stress, lots of anxiety. Very little forward movement.  Add to that the unrelenting nature of the modern to-do list, which seems to compound all of it because really, it takes a lot of energy to begin with, and when you’re putting in all that effort, how could you not wish life had that cheat-y little “check answers” button the Sudoku game has, so you could at least know you were on the right track? If only.

So I’m going to be really honest with you… I’m not handling it well.

The other night, I woke my hunny up in the middle of the night and told him I was too stressed to sleep. My heart was racing hard, which had happened once before and that time I wound up in the ER where they told me to chill out and drink less caffeine, which, while not entirely unhelpful, was not an experience I cared to repeat. So instead, I curled up next to him and focused on the warmth of his chest, the weight of his arm over me, the comfort of his head on mine. Just that one moment, nothing more. And you know what? It worked. My heart slowed down, my breathing came back to normal, and I fell back to sleep. The power of being present.  

There’s a great deal I can’t control right now, and it’s teaching me to go with the flow. I need this. I need to learn to lighten up, to not take everything so seriously. I’m already prioritizing madly and delegating like crazy, and so it becomes largely about grace, about being gentle with myself and not letting the weight of it all get to me. Some days I do better than others, but I think that’s why the idea of “daily bread” is so appealing to me right now. It’s like a reset. It takes all this pressure off.

You don’t need to have a “five-year plan” in order to live with intention and purpose. You don’t need to know how your story will work out in order to have hope. You don’t need to have big, lofty goals to live a big, brave, beautiful life. Do you feel freedom in that?

I do.

It could be that the future opens up the most when we’re the least concerned about it.

Daily bread. The theme is staying with me. It’s being satisfied in the here and now, satisfied with the next step, not needing the whole map. It looks like making dinner and tidying the kitchen, being  grateful that I have all I need, instead of worrying about tomorrow. It’s pausing and asking, really, what is the most important thing I can be doing right now? What do I need to be doing today? It’s being willing to come back to the same inspiration or the same wisdom, gathering that manna day after day until it settles in our bones. We’ll get there. Give it time.

Deep breaths.

One thing at a time.

Write it down.

Be honest.

Make time for the things that matter.

This is not the End

This is not the End

Hope is a tricky thing when the future is hazy. It feels like you’re doing a thousand-piece puzzle, with no idea of what the end result will look like. No matter what, though, I know this: It’s not going to look like the past.

Your past is only your past.

It is not your present.

It is not your future.

This is an incredibly encouraging thought for me, because it means that regardless of what failure I’ve experienced, or what hurt I’ve felt, or what hasn’t turned out the way I thought it would, I can leave that in the past. It does not have to be a predictor of the future. I don’t have to carry my baggage from season to season, subconsciously marking the should-haves or could-have-beens.

And yet – easier said than done.

This time of year, I cling to every bit of sunlight we have. The other night, the sun peeked out at twilight, soft glow and delicate colors, and I watched for a while as it settled to deep blue. On the outside, I was quiet, but inside, I was dancing with echoes of the past. What rose up in me was both gratitude for the beauty inside those memories, and an acknowledgement of all the things that hadn’t gone the way I’d hoped. For too long, the gratitude had been interwoven with the disappointments, and I knew I couldn’t carry both any more. I’ve chosen the beauty, and it was time to separate it from the heavy expectations of the past.

It was time to let go.  

It was time to let go, and for me, that process begins with rest. It begins with letting my guard down, getting really quiet, and allowing myself to face whatever baggage I’m carrying head-on. It’s uncomfortable, for sure. It’s much easier to reach for distractions to drown out the internal chaos, but that rarely fixes anything. I can chase distraction for a while, but eventually I wind up feeling tired, withdrawn, jealous. I find myself fighting battles I shouldn’t be fighting, trying to cram life into my idea of what it should look like, looking for growth and fulfillment in all the wrong places. I get stuck on wanting a road map, and a timeline, and guarantees, and there are none. And perhaps ironically, the thing that holds me back the most is that I get just plain tired of going over the same hurt, the same frustration, the same disappointment. It’s much better to deal with them honestly than to continually push them away, because then I can finally move on.

I believe acceptance is a practice, and a process. Those impulses, the ones that tell us things should not be the way they are, are there for a reason, and we owe it to ourselves to reflect and evaluate honestly before deciding acceptance is the way forward. But sometimes it becomes clear that acceptance of the past is not only necessary, it is in many ways the foundation of the future.  We all get hurt. Life is not a smooth ride, but I think the worst thing we can do is keep going over it. We may want to wait for “everything to work out” before we let go, but the blessings and the lessons and the beauty of what we thought was a broken season are much more likely to appear once we’ve moved on and gotten some perspective, and when we’re not wound up so tight.

Let go. Open up. Find hope.

It’s not a way back I’m looking for, but a way forward, not a re-creation, but a re-design. I’m looking for a whole new way of being within the present, and becoming who I need to be.

I spent two full weeks coming back to this mantra every single day:

Your past is only your past

It is not your present

It is not your future

Open your heart to forgiveness, love, and wide-open possibility.

This is not the end. The story isn’t over yet. When we can truly believe that, even if we don’t see the redemption yet, we can shift from a sense of doubt to a sense of possibility. We can take the beauty in our memories and leave the rest as we move forward. This is the key, always has been: Find new ways to look at it. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Keep looking, keep working, keep thinking, keep praying. And rest when you need to.

In recognizing that, I was able to find some perspective, and peace, and deep gratitude.
The answers are not magical. I wish I could tell you it’s a simple decision on a glowy January night, but it’s far more than that. It’s a process. There’s still no roadmap, still no timeline, but there’s hope for the first time in a long time.

I genuinely have hope that it’s all leading somewhere, that all the tenacity building up in my bones is there for a reason, but for now, on the days when it feels like unending grey and futility on every side, I remind myself, this is not the end.

This is not the end.

The Manifesto

The Manifesto

I feel like my heart is pulled in one hundred directions each day. I want to be brave and sweet and bold and kind, but too often, I find myself distracted. Life gets hectic, things get hard, and I start worrying about my future, or my silly to-do list, or whether I’m doing enough. I second guess myself, and get frustrated when things don’t go as planned. I don’t want to be this way, constantly running from one thing to the next, missing moments that could be peaceful and restorative. I see beauty everywhere, I don’t want to rush by and miss it. I want a heart that is soft and awake and alive, that’s open to all of life and love, and I want to appreciate the little things (that are actually the big things). The question is, how do I stay in tune with my heart and keep from being swayed by this relentless pull?

I wanted a manifesto, something I could come back to when I felt far from myself, my permission to make time for the things that matter, and the practices that help me navigate this crazy world. I have no expectations of perfection from myself with regard to a single one, but they are my guideposts that help me remember who I am, and how I want to live, and they are my constant reminder to come back to the true me.

I am kind to myself, whether that means practical self-care, or having grace for myself on a tough day.   

I make time to pray, read, meditate and journal.

I allow myself to rest. Physical, mental, and emotional white space is vital to my wellbeing.

I remember my core values, and aim to make choices in line with them.

I prioritize quality time with family and friends to nurture connection.

I give myself permission to ask for what I need, but choose to be flexible as often as I can.

I carefully curate who and what gets to influence me, influence how I act, and influence how I feel about myself.

I am honest with myself and others. I seek clarity and understanding.

I refuse to take criticism so very personally. I am very picky about whose feedback I take into consideration, and whose opinion matters.

I pursue growth through reading, experience, and reflection.

I practice creativity for its own sake.

I am open to opportunity, and willing to go outside my comfort zone.

I am grateful & I practice gratitude.

I seek meaning.

I choose positivity.

I will reflect often, pause and check in with myself and make sure I’m truly listening to my heart. What do I need in order to feel deeply well? Something practical? Something relational? What do I need more of? What do I need less of? Am I living in line with my core values? What am I most grateful for in this season? What matters most to me?

I make time for these practices because when I do, I light up, I participate in life more fully, and I am more creative, joyful, and at peace. And that is worthwhile.

 

Bright & Beautiful

Bright & Beautiful

The story of my friendship with Kelly is nothing short of redemptive, and not just because Kelly has this insane beauty about her and I tend to consider myself phenomenally uncool, but because it was so very unexpected, so very unlikely, and so very essential to bringing my heart back to light.

I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up. I changed cities when I married Stephen, and I wanted it to be a fresh start, but I found myself holding back. Even though I had this gnawing desire to develop friendships, my heart had gone offline, and I could never manage to go past surface-level. I would flit in and out of my husband’s social circles, not so much oblivious to how amazing the people in them were, but completely unaware of myself. I felt totally unworthy of their attention and was certain if they got to know me, they would get sick of me. I stayed small and quiet and rarely ventured deeper.

And then, in the midst of this isolation and floundering, there was Kelly. We met in the cube-farm, the most beige setting you could imagine, but she brought beauty and laughter and fresh air. She’s the kind of beautiful that feels unattainable, but she also has this grace about her that makes everyone feel at home. As soon as you meet her, you feel like instant friends, and as we got to know one another, it seemed ridiculous to question whether we were friends, but of course I did.  In some ways, I imagine asking a new friend to hang out one-on-one is a lot like asking someone on a first date. I wanted to get to know her better, but I couldn’t get up the nerve to ask her to hang out. It seemed far too risky. What would I say? What would we talk about? What if she didn’t like me?

A few months into our friendship, Stephen had an emergency appendectomy. Normally I would never have told anyone at work, but he and I were sharing a car at the time and I had to leave to pick him up and bring him to urgent care. Kelly had hugged me tight before I left, and told me everything would be OK, but I was still surprised when she texted late that night, asking how we were doing, and offering to come up to the hospital to wait with me. It had been a long time since I had one of those “middle-of-the-night” friends, but I remember thinking, “oh my gosh, this person is the real deal.” Little by little, she proved herself, and I began to believe we could stay friends regardless of where life took us.bright-2

This isn’t just a story about long-awaited friendship. I read my journal recently from that season, and nearly every bit of it was darkness. I know for certain that season held stories of fledgling friendship and an awakening heart, but the pages were filled with stories of the people who let me down, or took advantage of me, or filled my days with their own negativity. This amazing person had come into my life, in a season when I’d been absolutely craving friendship, but I had barely a mention of her because I was so consumed with all that was wrong. I don’t want to be that way.

I want to notice the beauty here and now so I can appreciate it. I want to be the person who expresses that appreciation, both in person and on the pages of my writing. I don’t want to be so dependent on circumstances to make me happy.

I want to focus on the fun memories. I used to invite the girls from work over to my house, and I can picture Kelly in my kitchen, trying to make a batch of frozen sangria in the blender. I’d ducked out of the room at the critical moment when she was trying to separate the blender from its base, and came back to see her hoisting the whole contraption over her glass, base and all, desperate for that sangria-y goodness, with this “who, me?” look on her face that cracked me up. We’d guessed horribly wrong on the fruit combo, and the sangria was terrible, but none of us cared. There were comedy nights and game nights, and the time we made a playboy bunny for my boss’s door, complete with a glitter-red bowtie.

I can’t remember where we were going the night she turned toward me and asked, “can we just be best friends?” but it was the perfect picture, really, the city skyline all lit up, twinkling bright and beautiful in the darkness, reflecting this bright and beautiful friendship that had blossomed in the dark. In the middle of the darkest months when I felt the most abandoned and alone, God gave me a best friend. The first I’d had in many years. Wasn’t it kind and brilliant of God to do that for me?

These are the memories I wish I’d captured.

Finding the way Forward

Finding the way Forward

“I rued the day once. Didn’t get much else done.” –Chandler Bing

A few years ago, I went through a season of intense fallout. I’d made some choices that seemed like really good, solid choices at first, and truthfully, I made them knowing that I was stepping into a massively volatile situation, but I’d convinced myself that it wasn’t really a risk. I figured we’d figure it out. Solid logic, I know. No matter, it seemed like all signs pointed to the opportunity as the right one, and the feedback I was getting was overwhelmingly positive. When I prayed about the decision, the only comfort given to me was that we simply cannot know the future. Perhaps I should have known then, but I took it as a sign to make the leap. I am, in most things, an extremely cautions person, but when I leap, it is with both feet, and my whole heart, and I was totally unprepared for the fall.

I described what followed as a black hole, like it was all darkness and heaviness, and there was no air. It was like something inside of me had snapped, and I didn’t know how to put the pieces back together because I was so afraid of making the same mistakes again. At the lowest point, I was playing tennis with Steve, and this sense of depression came over me in a wave. I felt like the weight of it was pushing me into the ground, and I actually laid down, right there on the court, until I could collect myself enough to walk home. That night, I posted this on Facebook: “I feel like depression is trying to swallow me whole, and I refuse to let it. I have far too many awesome people in my life to waste emotional time on that.” At the time, that level of honesty and openness was rare for me, and I don’t remember my thought process in opening up like that, but what I found was that sharing begets sharing, and very quickly, people who saw that post started to open up to me about their own struggles. It wasn’t just one-on-one either. I remember one night a few weeks later, we gathered around a friend’s table with a few other couples, and someone brought up that post, and I was floored not just by how accepting everyone was of that side of me, but by how willing they were to open up to the group and share times that they’d felt the same way.

I’ve realized that the circumstances can be vastly different, but the feelings remarkably similar. The more we share, the more we realize how much those we do life with identify with us. There is something so powerful about feeling seen, feeling accepted, feeling understood, and it’s a gift we offer one another each time we open up. It is a profound antidote to loneliness and doubt, and leaves us feeling encouraged, enlivened, galvanized.

In a different time, and a different season, I experienced what I called my year of redemption. It was the year that I came out of my shell, and it was a year of growth, but mostly I call it that simply because it was what I wanted redemption to look like. It was full of bright and sparkly and beautiful things that grew out of the hard things. I think those moments are some of the most beautiful in life, and when they come, gratitude is the appropriate response, but I think the truth of life is that redemption is not always so obvious or quixotic. The danger is that when we get stuck on wanting redemption to look a certain way, we’re actually setting ourselves up to get just plain stuck. When we insist it must look the way we want it to look – which is probably an awful lot like whatever it was we wanted in the first place, accept no substitutes – we’re really just digging our heels in and refusing to move forward. patternWhen we fall into this pattern of questioning ourselves, or questioning where we went wrong, or questioning what signs we missed, it’s too easy to miss out on all of the grace and growth that are right there waiting for us.

So I went through a season of failure, and the result was connection – deep, true, meaningful connection – and the way it has woven through so many of my relationships since then is amazing. I wouldn’t trade it, but it took me a long time to even notice it. It wasn’t until I allowed myself to stand still for a minute, and allowed that season to open up for me, and traded regret for deep processing and deep personal growth, that I finally saw all the ways it had gone right.

I love the quote I opened with, and for those who have seen every episode of Friends, I’m sure you can picture Chandler’s wry humor as he says it. It’s witty and sarcastic, but it’s actually a fairly profound statement. When we give our days to regret, it makes it awfully hard to move forward.

Is there anywhere you’ve been stuck? Is there a piece of your story that you need to heal from? Are you expecting that healing to look a certain way?

But First, Honesty

But First, Honesty

The night I met Stephen, we played a game that was sort of like a combination of the card game Mafia and freeze tag. It’s not a card game, you get up and move, and you play after dark, with all the lights off in the house. There’s a “killer” who wins by finding and tagging everyone in the house before getting caught. I’m pretty sure there are good guys too, and a way for them to win, but I don’t remember any of that, because when it was my turn, I wound up kicking poor Steve in the head. Several times. It took an embarrassingly long time for me to find my way around him, but I just kept stumbling over the poor guy because I didn’t want to out myself as the “killer” and lose the game. I should not be allowed to be any sort of key player in any game that requires physical coordination, let alone in the dark.

Here’s the point: in my attempts to be positive, I sometimes wind up haphazardly stumbling around very difficult emotions that I refuse to acknowledge, much the same way I repeatedly ran into Stephen that night at Mic and Beth’s. I think when we refuse to acknowledge difficult things, even if our intentions are good, we’re just hitting the snooze button on something our brains want us to deal with. For the longest time, I saw the process of cultivating positivity as continually laying down the feelings that were making me unhappy. I thought I just had to let them go, and granted, sometimes that is true, but I think the majority of the feelings, thoughts and reactions that come into our lives are there for a reason, to inform us or guide us or help us grow. Ultimately, when I get really honest with myself and have a good long look at what I’m feeling, and figure out why I’m feeling that way, I’m able to not just move past it, but grow from it in a way that feels healthy and deeply well.

Positivity does not mean that we gloss over our very legitimate feelings. Even if we already recognize that a feeling is not rooted in truth, we can recognize that we need to work through it. Put another way: “they’re still my feelings. I still feel them.” ocean-1Acknowledging it, processing it, praying about it or talking it out lets this very real feeling have some space in the universe, but puts it in perspective. Recognizing our emotions as nothing more or less than what they are robs them of some of their power to ruin a day.

I still tend to wear this mask of “I’m okay,” and I think over the years it has actually cut me off from a lot of support that I really needed. I remember once telling someone “I’m not okay,” and actually using those words, and it was like a complete revelation. Even though I wasn’t ready to tell them the whole story, those words opened up a dialogue that led us to a whole new level of understanding. They had no idea that I wasn’t okay, and when I let them understand the impact the situation was having on me, it changed everything.

I used to feel like I had to hide my emotions, and it took me a long time to realize that it’s just not true that I have to hide them ALL the time. There’s a time and a place for vulnerability, and it’s important to make that time and space. So take a deep breath, and be honest: How are you? Really? Between you and God, do you already know what you need to work through? Frustration? Disappointment or unmet expectations? Stress and anxiety? What about perfection, or the perpetual busy-ness that goes with the pursuit of it?

Is it easy to be honest with yourself, or are you finding you’ve been burying your feelings?

Layers of Grace

Layers of Grace

I’ve been running awfully close to the edge. It’s that familiar feeling of being spread so thin, and nothing getting the time or attention that I want to put into it. I woke up at 3am Monday morning, a million details running through my mind. The thoughts came insistent and persistent, loud enough to let me know sleep wouldn’t be returning immediately, so rather than toss and turn, I got up to write. Kylie curled up on the couch next to me, and I sat there in the dark and slipped into memories the way you’d slip into a warm bath: toes first, both feet, full self, letting it surround you, changing what you feel, what you hear. Changing your perspective. Mostly I thought about the experiences that have made me better, and how I’ve lost sight of many of the things I’ve learned along the way. I thought of all the soul-work I did this spring, and how much of that hard-won wisdom seems to have slipped away. Maybe I wasn’t intentional enough. Maybe I’m just tired. Maybe I’m still missing something.

And then… I heard Kylie’s stomach growl, and realized I hadn’t fed my dogs the night before, and I. Felt. Awful. It’s those perfectionistic tendencies, banging on the door again. What I should have done was reminded myself that it’s a very small piece of a very large puzzle where my dogs are well-fed (too well-fed according to the vet) and well-loved and crazy-happy, but I had a hard time letting go. I saw it as a sign that I was a wreck, and that it was affecting everyone around me. I was jumping to all kinds of conclusions, when all I really needed to do was take a half-step back. Within 20 minutes, they’d both eaten and were curled up next to me, asleep once again, more than OK.

This is what happens when I live too close to the edge. It’s not just the perfectionism I see starting to creep back in. My patience has been wearing thin. I’m back to struggling with boundaries. I’ve completely forgotten how to pick my battles, a mis-guided attempt at boundaries, I suppose. It is, for me at least, a graceless way of living. It starts, though, with that crazy voice that says I have to get it all perfect. It starts with how I treat myself, how I think of myself, and how I see my role in this world.

You see, the kindest people, the most patient people, the most compassionate people, they have a whole lot of grace for themselves. You have to be willing to stand inside the chaos, and be connected to it, and let go of the need to explain it all. You have to be OK with being uncomfortable sometimes, with being judged, or misunderstood, or talked about behind your back. It’s a tall order, but if you can do it, if you can find the ease within the effort, you will find the grace for both yourself and chaosthose around you. If you are going to live kindness and patience and compassion, you simply cannot try to control the world – whether through arrogance or anxiety – because the world is messy, and flawed, and you have to be very comfortable embracing that reality.

A few days later, I experienced one of those significant days, the kind where one way or another, you will not be the same after. I’d made some gutsy moves, and had gone way out on a limb, and I woke up feeling the weight of the day. I’d tried to remain positive, but the result was very much not what I’d hoped for, and more than disappointment or discouragement, it was pure sadness that filled my veins. I thought, though, that I would fall apart, but I didn’t. Instead, I was a rock star of self-compassion.  I prayed and I rested and I wrote. I did yoga, and took a hot shower, and reminded myself over and over that this is not the end. Every move felt poignant, driven not by the sadness, nor to drive it out, but overlaid with acceptance and peace, and more than anything, love, and the reminder that I am not alone. Layers of grace.

 “So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well.” Philippians 1:9

Yes, there are things I have forgotten, but it’s in the living that we truly learn. Experience is often hard-won. It takes the two-dimensional knowledge we heard one time, and bit by bit, pounds and pulls and forms those ideas into a deep, profound, three-dimensional library of wisdom from which to draw. It sculpts ridges and curves, adds texture, color and richness, and gives weight and heft to what was once merely a collection of lines on a page. The significant meaning of each lesson moves surely and steadily from head to heart, until it becomes part of who we are. For today, for me, this can be summed up with one line:

Nothing on my to-do list is my highest mission.road

It was a mixed week. Some wins, some losses, and that’s OK, that’s why I’m here. Because it’s a long road, but a beautiful one, and I want to keep traveling down it. Let go of the need for instant gratification, it’s only going to hold you back. Just because you don’t see dynamite results on day one doesn’t mean you’re not on the right path. It means you’re normal. You’re starting. You’re building. You’re going out on a limb. Keep going. Keep learning. Keep trying new things.

May goodness and mercy follow you this week.

The Heart of it All

The Heart of it All

“Silence is praise to you, Zion-dwelling God, and also obedience. You hear the prayer in it all.” Psalm 65:1-2

What are you looking for? You’ve checked your phone a hundred times.

Yesterday morning was a perfect fall morning at the Apple Fest with Ryan and Lindsey. The guys were running the 18K, and after cheering them across the starting line, Lindsey and I got coffee and went back to the car to stay warm. We were able to have one of those good long conversations, where even though you’re talking about some really hard things, it feels cleansing and comforting, and you feel more known, and less alone. After the race, we walked around the festival, which is nestled in the hills south of the city, the leaves were well into turning, and the sky turned sapphire blue in that singular way you only get in October. Completely beautiful.

The afternoon, though, was a different story. Back at home, I was trying to relax, but my monkey mind just wouldn’t stop. I wanted to write, but the words weren’t coming, and it became one of those days where I checked my phone over and over, scanning Instagram one more time, Pinterest one more time, Facebook one more time… I was looking for a “spark,” some sort of inspiration that would trigger my own creativity, but if I’m being really honest, I was looking for instant gratification. Something to make me feel better quickly, all of the questions left behind. Faith, hope and love in a nutshell. Someone must have made a meme that does that, right?

And if I’m being even more honest, I was looking for guarantees.

Change is swirling all around, not just in the weather and the landscape, but in all the biggest pieces of my life. On multiple levels, everything is uncertain, in a new and more poignant way. Much of life is uncertain of course, but in that unknown way, where the actions you take are incremental and controllable, and mostly you just wait and hope and pray. Then there are the turning points, and these require action, vast, weighty, irreversible, daunting action, and I am feeling every single worry you’d expect. I worry I’m not strong enough, smart enough, prepared enough. I worry I will miss out, mess up, or fall apart. Worry and doubt, however, never saved the day, and we must move forward without guarantees.

Most days, I don’t find my phone a waste. I follow some really cool people who are doing really cool things, and I find encouragement and inspiration among their beautiful pictures and beautiful words, but it’s one thing to “like” a meme that says “It is well with my soul.” It’s an entirely different thing to truly believe that all will be well. Both in creativity and in life, it may occasionally look like flashes of inspiration, but more often it just looks like really hard work. It looks like sitting down and putting in the hours when results are still a long way off.  It looks like soul-work, getting really honest, and asking questions we don’t necessarily want to know the answers to, when we don’t understand why. It looks like cultivating hope and chasing worthwhile things.

“Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” John 20:15

The world is carrying on, and the answers aren’t out there. Amidst the frantic chatter of a mind that won’t slow down, among the memes and pins and beautiful-but-posed photos, it’s not a “what” I’m looking for after all.  All I can have is faith. No guarantees. No instant gratification. All I can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other, and breathe, and trust that the God who calms wind and waves is bigger than my worried heart.