Waiting for the Storm to Pass

I had an uncomfortable learning experience this weekend, a reminder of some of the very principles I’ve shared here over and over and over again. If I believed in being tested, I’d say I was tested and that I failed for quite some time before I finally rejiggered and aimed for mastery instead of a good grade… Let me explain.

My son had a piano recital this weekend. Now, let me further explain that my son does not like to perform. He doesn’t like crowds. He doesn’t like being watched. He doesn’t like any of it. So why make him do it – you may be asking and it is a fair question.

His Dad and I rationally sorted out that these recitals, being held in our church where our son feels very comfortable, and being a not terribly big and very kind crowd, would be a good place to get over some of the performance anxiety, to stack up enough positive experiences that it might spread into other areas, make the whole idea less scary. I still think this is a reasonable idea in principle.

However, in practicing this idea a couple of days ago, it didn’t seem so great. My son was really agitated. I had to Mom/coach talk him through preparing for the event as he moved from joking around about how awful it would be to repeating that he didn’t want to go over and over again in a quiet voice in the back seat.

I stuck to my guns, and it wasn’t the first, nor will it be the last time I’ll regret that particular habit.

alone-boy-child-256658He did play in the recital. It was not his best performance. And then he sat and quietly wept for 30 minutes. He chose a seat at the end of our row and cried. I gave him a few minutes to himself and then moved to be next to him. I offered to go out in the hall with him to talk. He had no interest. I quietly assured him that his performance was good. He shook quietly. It then dawned on me that while I surely needed to revisit our approach to recitals, right now, in this moment, he didn’t need or want to be convinced of anything. He didn’t want to talk to me about how he felt. He didn’t want me to remove him from the room. He just wanted to feel how he felt and to have someone be kind about it.

adult-black-and-white-blur-735978I stopped talking. I stopped even trying to soothe him. I just wrapped my arms around him and held him while he weathered the internal storm, knowing full well that it was of his own making and that I had tools that could help him change the weather. He didn’t need that from me. He just needed compassion. He just needed safety. He just needed someone to be with him to make the feelings less scary for having a companion in them.

So I held him. And after a few minutes, he began to relax. He leaned into me. His breaths became deeper. The tears slowed. He stopped fighting with himself and with the words he knew I wanted to say and had said earlier. He just let himself feel the way he felt and I told him that was allowed.

We have reviewed our recital policy and are making changes based on the fact that we don’t care if he wants to perform or not; we want him to love to play the piano. That change was important. We needed to see what we were communicating to him and what we were expecting. But I personally needed to remember how good it feels to just let the feelings be, to be kind enough to sit with them rather than applying logic to them in an attempt to change them, to be patient enough to offer compassion and love even when we don’t understand those feelings and why they are happening.

I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to remember this important lesson with my son, and to have the time to offer that same lesson to myself in this season of mixed emotions, of loss amidst the joy. I can be patient enough with myself to continue to offer compassion even when it seems like it shouldn’t be necessary. I can sit with it, and wait for the storm to pass, rather than trying to change the weather.

Ask the Body; She Knows

During a sermon on gratitude yesterday, our intern minister referred to a book about America before the Europeans arrived. The central point of the book is revealing the ways that the culture of Native Americans was more “developed” and “evolved” than most of us might suppose.

aerial-architecture-black-and-white-700974As a former social studies teacher the idea was not new to me, but it gave me pause as it clearly demonstrated this idea that we have, at least in the places where I experience the cultural cloud, that being evolved and developed is evidenced by complexity and complication. We are evolved when we live in dense centers of population and develop cultural events and places to hold them, when we do more stuff, when we have more stuff. It’s an interesting premise, an assumption. It’s an assumption I’m not sure I agree with.

It got me to wondering if we make this assumption on an individual level as well. Do we complicate things out of some kind of sense that THIS is what being grown, sophisticated, fulfilled, evolved is all about? I can’t speak for anybody else (as much as I’d like to), but for me the answer is an unqualified yes.

I have often complicated my life because I felt that was the responsible, the practical, the adult thing to do. I have lingered over problems and lived in the pause for months, nay years, at a time because answering a difficult question with the simplicity of what I wanted was unacceptable. I have added things to my life because my culture tells me they are the right things to want, to seek, to add, and to plan for me and for my family. I have chosen complexity as evolution. I am sitting here seeing that so clearly and yet seeing it doesn’t necessarily make clear an alternate path.

This is the part of this tale of complexity and cultural absorption where another writer would encourage you to embrace simplicity: to downsize, to purge all of the trappings of commercial existence. I’m pretty sure I’ve bought books about doing just that – yes the irony is everywhere.

I am not that writer. I can appreciate simplicity but frankly am not that low maintenance (and that’s an admission that has been a long time coming). I greatly enjoy creature comforts. I also really love to have enough room to be by myself despite having a full house. And then, there are the books.

My life is also tied to the lives of at least three other people who have little interest in tiny houses and washing dishes by hand.

So perhaps it’s a cheat, but in challenging this artificial complexity, I want to recommend not a zealous pursuit of simplicity, but the more ambiguous but tremendously revealing practice of discernment.

For those of us who live or have lived with ministers, discernment is a regular part of common speech, but it doesn’t necessarily get a lot of play elsewhere, which is interesting in and of itself. Merriam-Webster tells us that discernment is: “the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure.”

In the ministerial context, discernment usually refers to sorting out one’s call to ministry: “What is God calling me to do in this moment, in this career, in this life?” In other contexts, discernment really just refers to engaging in a careful examination of the stuff that may not be visible on the surface when you have a choice to make. Discernment is usually seen as a process, one that involves a pause and some serious reflection.

And so I return to this idea of complexity and simplicity in our lives and which path is better for us. We reach complexity through addition: the addition of stuff, the addition of needs and wants, the addition of ideas about who we are and should be, the addition of obligations, the addition of activities, the addition of relationships and connections. We reach simplicity through subtraction of the same list.

It seems to me that we cannot simply say that either complexity or simplicity are inherently virtuous/better/more evolved, but that it is proceeding through our lives with discernment that allows us to be more healthy, better developed, both more human and divine as we navigate the terrain before us.

looking-up-sitting-woman-1588038How do we exercise that discernment? The temptation is to gather data, but I want to suggest an alternate path, one that digs into the obscure bits that don’t usually get featured in our pro-con way of making choices.

When we want to add to our lives: be still for a moment and see how the body feels with the idea of this addition. Does it feel light, expansive, warm, excited? Does it feel heavy, tied down, drained, exhausted? The body can help you to discern how you feel about things that you may not feel good about saying out loud (even to yourself).

When we want to subtract: be still for a moment and see how the body feels with the idea of this subtraction. Does it feel more free? Does breathing become deeper and more satisfying? Does the body contract and shrink? The body can tell you when it’s time to let go of something and when something should be maintained.

Discernment can be tricky. You mind has a library of books full of stories between you and the answers to the questions you ask, the choices you long to make. What if the body can light up that darkness with some clarity? What if the way that you actually feel can make the obscure tangible?

As we enter into this season of gratitude and gathering, take a moment to check in with that body and see what she has to say about all of this. Where does your complexity fill your cup? When does simplicity feed your soul? What choices are actually so much simpler than your brain wants them to be?

Ask your body. She knows.

Awakening to Joy

I have a confession to make.

It’s about joy.

We have had a strained relationship over the years.

I have eyed joy from afar, from a distance, with trepidation and suspicion, daring only to dip my toes in when the temptation was too strong to resist any longer.

There are a whole hornet’s nest of old reasons for that, some of which I’ve already revealed and some which continue to spill out here in this miraculous digital space, but in some ways the reasons are not important.

The actual wounds and hurts matter far less than my reaction to them, which was to close, to armor up, to prepare myself for the battle that I perceived life (in part because of those wounds and hurts) to be.

Working with my own coach at one point I could actually hear that armor going on, the clink and clank of the heavy weight of the individual pieces as I covered myself up so I could be safe in body and spirit. I could feel the burden of carrying all of that protection as constant exhaustion. And I could sense the fruitlessness of it as the emotional ceiling shrank to the height of “fine” rather than “great,” or “wonderful,” or even just “happy.”

affection-conceptual-connection-256738Joy was not allowed in because in order to block the bottom end of the scale, I had to cut out the top. This is the unfortunate reality of how it works with our feelings. We cannot block selectively. We can only block for intensity and volume, so we either have them all, or we limit ourselves to a narrower band that feels tolerable if not good. Pema Chödrön, Buddhist nun and all around compassion genius, describes this narrowing: “These reactions, strategies, and story lines are what cocoons and prison walls are made of.”

What, then, are we to do if we want to experience joy? This has been a question I’ve been wrestling with for a few years. I have all of the ingredients for a joyful life and yet somehow the feeling still seemed inaccessible to me. Ironically, now that I seem to have gotten a better handle on this whole joy thing, I have stumbled onto a book that describes the very process I’ve been following, although in a much more concise and clear fashion (without all of the bumbling and experimenting). Pema Chödrön describes cultivating joy as working on the mental capacity to celebrate and rejoice in good fortune – even in the smallest forms. To do this we need to be present, to see what is actually around us, and we need to acknowledge and be present when we resist that rejoicing.

When we feel ourselves pull away from the opportunity to celebrate, to rejoice, Chödrön suggests that we: “right on the spot, we can go beneath the words to the nonverbal experience of the motion. What’s happening in our hearts, our shoulders, our gut? Abiding with the physical sensation is radically different from sticking to the story line.” BOOM.

In order to access the joy, we have to actually allow the discomfort we experience when presented with the makings of joy – whatever those might be for us, AND the way to do that and not turn it into some multi-day mind fuck is to feel those feelings in the body. I know this to be true from first-hand experience. Being instructed by my own coach to notice my emotions in my body for the first time was a total revelation, and the way that it quieted the mind was nothing short of miraculous. It is in this miraculous quiet space that we can relax, that we, as Chödrön puts it “train in softening rather than hardening.”

bloom-blossom-close-up-36764Softening, rather than hardening. It sounds risky to many, but doesn’t it also sound so restful? Doesn’t that armor just get so very heavy? Doesn’t “fine” grow so tiresome?

I know it did for me, and as I open this space, as I drop my armor (which is a process by the way and one that is not exactly linear in my experience), I discover that I can be safe in my joys, in my rejoicing, in my celebration because I am no longer so fearful of experiencing the lows. It is all part of the human experience, and I really do want the whole shebang. Don’t you?

 

 

A Soul Walk

I have, at many times in my life, been a planner. This isn’t to say I’m particularly good at planning, as many disappointed friends and family members will attest to, but it does mean that I like to plan ahead for the things I’m trying to do. I like to know what’s coming. I like a certain sense of order, and when presented with spontaneous suggestions, I confess I am prone to a lot of blinking that signals internal processing (or stuckness).

composition-materials-notebook-760720I’ve planned my way through many things. I planned my way through college and two graduate programs. I planned my way through twin babies and toddlers. I planned my way through household budgets and family gatherings and career changes. And while a great deal of that planning has served me well, I know it’s not the only way to get things done. I also know sometimes planning is not the best way to get things done. I know this because I am also a musician.

I’ve written hundreds of songs – including about 20 that I actually like. I’ve also performed with different folks and had spontaneous moments of music magic that we couldn’t possibly have planned for. I’ve had terrible gigs turn into great evenings because of one small moment of inspiration.

And music isn’t the only place this has happened for me. My decision to become a life coach wasn’t really planned out. I had been thinking for a long time about what to do for work when the kids got settled in elementary school, but life coach hadn’t even surfaced as an option. When it did come up, it was like bells going off in my head. There was no need for a spreadsheet and a five year plan. It was time. The choice was clear.

Even having had those experiences of spontaneous beauty, though, my planning self tends to lead the charge. Because I know that I have this tendency and because I’ve seen the wonderful things that can emerge in other more intuitive ways, I’ve developed a practice that helps me stay in touch with that more soulful side, that helps me stay open to solutions and decisions that don’t seem to fit in the flow chart. It’s called a soul walk.

A soul walk is just about the most simple thing you could ever do. You don’t need any special equipment, unless the weather where you are is like the weather here in which case water is always advisable. All you need is some time and a willingness to quiet the internal hubbub.

On a soul walk, you begin walking any way you want. If you take walks regularly, you can even start on your usual path. Take deep breaths as you walk and notice what’s going on in the world around you, suspending judgment if you can. “There’s construction noise” rather than “There’s a whole lot of effing construction noise that makes me really angry” for example. Keep breathing.

daylight-daytime-fashion-906106When your breathing helps to quiet the monkey mind inside, start to pay attention to how you feel when you reach an intersection or any other opportunity to change course. When you see that intersection coming, just ask: “Which way should I go?” and see if you feel a pull. Don’t question it. Don’t fight it: “But that street has no shade. I hate that street. If I go that way I have to walk on the squishy mulberries on the sidewalk.” Whatever. Follow the pull, even if you think you’re only having a pull because I told you there might be a pull.

Let yourself be guided as though you have an inner compass telling you which way to turn at each intersection and keep breathing.

Notice if the pulls get stronger as you follow them. Notice what happens if you don’t follow a particular pull. Notice what happens when you just keep breathing while you walk. My guess is that at the very least you will have a peaceful walk that leaves you refreshed and feeling a little more confident, a little more supported, maybe even a little buoyant.

We make so many choices on any given day. And so many of those choices require us to weigh the pros and cons, do some calculations, negotiate with someone else; it’s easy to lose track of our own knowing, our own internal compass, the guidance that lets us walk with ease through the world.

Sometimes all we need is a little practice.

When was the last time you listened for direction from that quietest part of yourself? How long has it been since you felt that internal pull?

Maybe it’s time for a walk.

They’re Cashews, Not Communion

Yesterday I arrived home from a weeklong visit to the Chautauqua Institution, a wonderful place in New York that my family visits every summer. It’s really difficult to describe Chautauqua, and so I’m not going to spend a lot of time on that. What does or doesn’t go on there isn’t really the point of this story anyway. The point of this story has to do with what being at Chautauqua does for ME.

When I am on my vacation, I attend a short worship service most days (but only if the preacher of the week is really good because mornings). I also take in two lectures most days, topics determined by a theme for the week. One takes place in a large amphitheater and the other in a smaller venue called the Hall of Philosophy. So with just these things, being on this trip gives me all kinds of fuel. Fuel for my spirit, fuel for my brain.

actors-artists-ballet-45258I am also there with family, so I get all kinds of connective fuel. I plug back into relationships and watch my kids and extended family do the same, getting to those conversations that take more than a lunch date, phone call, or even Sunday dinner can allow. In our home away from home we also have access to concerts, ballet performances, plays, visual arts galleries, and even a few comedians. So I get a big dollop of culture while I’m there as well.

Now, if you’ve hung in with me, I appreciate the trust, because this is not a commercial about my favorite place. Frankly I don’t need anyone making it harder to get tickets, but I wanted to show you how FULL my week was, how packed with things that are nourishing to me, how abundant the goodness. And I didn’t even mention the lake, the wooded walks, and the chipmunks… SO FULL.

And so I leave at the end of the week admittedly a little tired because I hate to miss a single opportunity and it’s a LOT of stimulation. There’s not a ton of downtime for this introvert. But even with that slight imbalance when I come home, to my life that really is pretty great, it feels a little empty.

After spending all day in the car yesterday, I stayed home this morning with our old canine buddy who is still working on forgiving us for leaving him… well, okay he doesn’t actually appear to be working on it at all, but I trust forgiveness will come anyway at some point because dogs are like that. In staying home I had the opportunity to catch up on some things I needed to do: some music I really needed to practice, some laundry I needed to get going, a little more unpacking because we ran out of gas to finish last night after the drive… and here I am in a lovely home, having some peace and quiet like I often really really want and honestly, it doesn’t feel all that great.

The funny thing is I didn’t really notice it, that it didn’t feel so great, until I noticed myself dipping a little desperately into the container of whole cashews. If you’re not a cashew fan, let me just catch you up by pointing out that they are VERY satisfying for hunger and they are a favorite gap filler of mine.

I noticed as I was attending to my bits, carting laundry around, making some iced tea, stopping to pet the annoyed dog and talk to him in hope of speeding reconciliation along, that I just kept dipping into the jar. Munch, munch, munch. I noticed after a couple of dips, that unlike the first foray, it really wasn’t about physical hunger at all anymore.

And I heard in my head: “They’re cashews, not communion Jules.” We can talk about the voices in my head if you want, but it could take awhile. So let’s just suffice it to say that this was the voice of the wiser and sometimes kind of impatient me, the one who wonders how many times I need to hear something before I get it. This lesson was about the use of food in inappropriate ways. This lesson was about covering up how I felt and failing to see what I really wanted.

I wanted to feel FULL. I wanted to feel bursting at the seams full. I wanted to feel all of the full feelings I got to feel for a week, but I was using the wrong tools. I wasn’t craving food, well, at least not after the first handful. I was craving the feeling being full, deeply satisfied, plugged into my body and my mind. I wanted to feel like there are so many amazing and brilliant people out there doing good work and so many more who are just on the verge of that and maybe don’t even know it yet. I wanted to feel like anything is possible, and that every single one of us has gifts beyond measure, even if we aren’t the one dancing Acteon’s part in the ballet. I wanted to feel full of new ideas and inspiration. I wanted to feel plugged in to the people who matter most and to myself. I wanted to feel full.

But cashews aren’t communion and so I put the jar away. I wasn’t hungry anymore anyway. They were just filler.

adult-boy-child-325521Yesterday in the car I made a list of actions I want to take that reflect some of the parts of our vacation that I want to extend into my “regular” life. I’m going to take another look at that list and see if it is listening to what I’m hungry for, and when my seminarian gets home from the service he was wise enough to go to in spite of fatigue, we’re going to check a couple of those boxes off, add the things/people/experiences we want to have to feel that good full, that deeply satisfied feeling. Because that’s really what it’s about right? Having the presence of mind to see what we’re REALLY hungry for and then figuring out what to do about it. Cashews aren’t communion. Cookies aren’t love. Physical fullness doesn’t do anything for a case of the soul empties. It’s all just cover and I can do better for all of me.

If you and your taste buds can’t seem to get a handle on what you’re really hungry for, I’d love to help.

What’s in the Way?

I’m getting some guidance from an exceedingly wise and savvy master coach. She is tremendously helpful. AND she pushes me. And that’s what I signed up for, but you know how that goes. When you find these people, you know it’s a gift, but oh my. Before she asked me anything I promised myself I would go “all in” on this relationship. In other words, no half measures, no diddling around. Everything she suggests will be attempted. This is not the way I usually operate, which is the point, right?

alcohol-alcoholic-drink-1484So she stepped right out of the leading gate and wondered if I would consider giving up alcohol while we work together. It is a four month commitment. The potential health benefits alone (improved sleep, less peri-menopausal interference) of such a move should be enough for me to immediately get on board with that experiment. But I wasn’t on board. I was not at all on board. In fact, my resistance was pretty strong.

And THAT gave me pause. There was an initial panic: “Am I an alcoholic? Why is this a big deal? Why am I even hesitating? Do I have a problem?” This line of inquiry proved rabbit-hole filled and so I shifted my lens. I moved from fear and judgment – the need to discern and neatly categorize myself – into curiosity.

Why IS this a big deal? What am I getting out of my relationship with alcohol? Am I resisting because it is change? The tenor of these questions was very different than that initial panic reaction. It was genuine curiosity, like looking at the patterns of veins in a leaf or growth rings on a tree stump. “Wow. Look at that. Huh.”

And so I sat with her suggestion overnight, just being with my discomfort at my discomfort, noticing it, seeing it, working not to judge and just notice. Taking this stance, of curiosity and observation, made it a lot easier to really consider what was going on and figure out what I wanted to do about it.

Ultimately I decided to follow her suggestion (with a one week exception when I am on vacation with some food and wine oriented folks who always combine those nicely) in part because I promised myself to be all in, but also because of the reaction it caused. It was pretty clear to me that my attachment to the bottle was stronger than I wanted it to be (and here’s where my mind can go crazy with that and make it MUCH bigger than it needs to be) and I thought about what it does, the wine (my drink of choice).

I can say I drink it for the taste, and I do, but I’d be lying if I said that was all of it. I enjoy that warm feeling. I enjoy the softening of the edges it brings. I like the mellow relaxation it ushers in. THAT is truth. And I know that constantly warming myself, softening my edges, and finding the mellow zone is keeping me from some experiences, some realities, some feelings, and some thoughts that could use my attention. I’m not sure I know what those are, but the attachment/the resistance tells me that they are there, waiting for my attention.

And so I have embarked on this four month experiment. It has only been a couple of days and I can already say that skipping the glass or two in the evening has produced some physical differences. I am sleeping more deeply. I also don’t seem to need as much sleep. I wake up more quickly with a clearer head. The morning caffeine that had been on the rise now seems excessive. My body is noticing and appreciating the break.

My mind? That’s going to take longer I’m afraid, as it usually does. But the process of considering this change and ultimately making this decision in the interest of commitment and authenticity, reminds me to ask you what might be getting in your way. What are you using to avoid, delay, ignore, or subdue how you feel about things? What habits are keeping you from living more fully, in a more engaged way, with more consciousness and clearer choices? What change are you resisting with everything you’ve got?

bed-blanket-female-450056Listen, I’m not suggesting we all go monastic here. No sleeping on pallets or hair shirts required. I do, however, think there’s value in looking at what we use for comfort or distraction and asking ourselves what it’s really doing for us. What is under the desire for comfort, for numbing, for relaxation, for soothing? They are uncomfortable questions to be sure, but looking at them, seeing them, noticing what arises when we actually sit with that discomfort, THAT is a part of the path to freedom, the place where you know you can handle any feeling, the place where you know yourself and make clear decisions about what does and doesn’t work for you, the place where you actually address the things that bother you rather than just telling the dissatisfied part of yourself to hush.

I’d ask you to join me out of solidarity and turn this thing into some kind of  120 day challenge, but I don’t feel comfortable being that specific, and frankly 120 days is a long time to for me personally to maintain a cheerleading posture. What I do want you to know is that I am here, noticing my stuff, seeing what I’ve been hiding from, feeling whatever comes up. I am here working at my authentic humanity because it is safe to do that, even when it feels scary and super uncomfortable. If you’re ready to give up a warm fuzzy or two, I can be there for you too.

 

The Cold Comfort of Confusion

“I’m so confused.”

I hear people say it and I’ve said it myself.

blur-calm-waters-dawn-395198Confusion. Uncertainty. Fog. Swirling.

I have moments of it, usually when I’m down.

I’ve got tools, and usually I can navigate that space far better and far more quickly than I used to.

But I remember and I’ve heard from quite a few of you about that fog of confusion. I see the way it torments you.

“I don’t know what to do.”

“I don’t know what to think.”

“I don’t know which way to turn.”

I have an answer, but you may not like it.

You may not like it because I think confusion is a lie.

Confusion is a lie we tell ourselves when we don’t want to face what is true, or when we don’t want to accept what has happened, or when we have forgotten how to feel what we actually feel or those feelings are too big and scary to experience. So we slip in a tape, we push the repeat on a loop icon, we create a fog of “I don’t know” to protect us.

It feels better to be confused than to be heartbroken.

It feels better to be confused than to be lonely.

It even feels better to be confused than to admit what we really want in a situation and to try to get it.

It feels better to be confused than to be vulnerable.

It feels better to be confused than to be accountable.

It feels better to be confused than to risk committing to a path that might end up in failure.

Confusion is the ultimate tool of the status quo.

Because when we are confused, when we are spinning, when we are sitting in the fog of uncertainty, we are actively changing nothing. Circumstances may shift in response to our inaction, but we’re not changing anything. We’re not responsible for what happens. We’re staying safe in the fog.

It’s just another trick of the mind, the mind that only knows survival and death.

If you’re alive, the mind says that’s good enough. That’s excellent. Let’s stick with that.

And there are times when just being alive is certainly something to celebrate, to venerate, to acknowledge with gratitude.

But our hearts…

adult-enjoyment-facial-expression-1037989Our hearts want so much more than that. They want to love. They want to give and receive and be thrilled and even crushed if that’s the price. Our hearts want to feel other hearts, touch other souls, experience the depth of really living, not just being alive. They want us to have all of the things we can only have if we let go of that fog, if we choose, if we commit, if we act, if we chase dreams and hope for the best.

The comfort that confusion brings is a cold one.

It comes with the pain of sleepless nights and that gnawing sense that there’s something else we should be doing. Confusion comes with the obsessive need to work at the problem while being sure not to ever actually see through it, and endless stalemate between pro and con.

Confusion is a lie.

Maybe it’s time to tell yourself the truth, whatever that it.

Maybe it’s time to feel how you feel.

Maybe it’s time to admit what you want.

Maybe it’s time to speak your truth and just let the consequences unfold.

If it’s too much, you can be confused again any time.

You can make that choice just as easily as you can unmake it.

It’s your story.

Pick up that pen.

 

xo,

julia

A Glimpse of Heaven

When I was in high school, I was invited to a Christian youth group. It was held in the evenings, at participating students’ houses. There were college aged leaders. Songs were sung – with guitar players from our school. The kids who went were nice. We had fun. The theology was pretty accessible and it felt really good to be there.

So I dug in.

I started reading the Bible.

I started listening to Christian music.

I joined a smaller group who did Bible study and met BEFORE school – meeting before school is a big deal for a teenager who is already completely fighting biological rhythms by starting school at 7:30.

I dug in.

And the connection was such a gift.

converse-all-star-fashion-foot-1581In that time of psychic disorientation and social confusion, romantic experimentation and disappointment, total insecurity and budding ego these smaller rooms full of people who seemed to want to do good, be better, and talk about what made that hard felt like a balm for my adolescent soul.

I went on a weekend trip to Ocean City. Honestly I don’t remember much of that – but only because it has faded, not because of either intoxicated highjinx or trauma. It just doesn’t stand out.

The time I spent with that group was good.

For Easter that year my Mom included a gospel tape (pre-CD, I am old) in my Easter basket in an attempt to be supportive. I hadn’t heard of the group and when I said thank you with a full understanding of the symbolism of the gift, my stepfather responded with: “Well, what else do you get a Jesus freak?”

That’s fine.

It was fine, really.

I didn’t particularly love the label, but I didn’t really care about it either.

What it DID say to me was that I was treading into water that was uncomfortable for my family.

Part of that discomfort was around the fact that the faith that I seemed to be dipping into had a real component of feeling. A little religious ecstasy was allowed. The Episcopal Church of my youth was not big on ecstasy – although if ecstasy had been around in the 70s I can’t make any promises about how that would have gone…

The point is that the messages I got – or I should say the messages I received/chose to hear/interpreted to be really fair – reflected a faith of the intellect, a mental pursuit of the holy. This new water I had my feet in said I could FEEL God. And oh lordy did I want to feel God, especially if God would love me unconditionally, accept me exactly as I was, be there in times of sorrow, be the friend I could count on. Oh yes I wanted to feel that God.

And it caused some worry, this change for me.

My sister checked in. She rightly raised theological questions: “Do these people think I’m going to go to hell if I don’t accept Jesus as my personal savior?” I stammered, not really knowing the answer. You see, you don’t get to those kinds of issues for some time in well-orchestrated religious youth groups.

I had found a place that was safe, where I belonged, and it felt good. I felt good. I don’t just mean I felt good, like pleasant, I mean I felt like I WAS good because I was doing “right” things, being with others doing “right” things. It felt, and I felt good.

So good, that when the question of summer camp came up, I asked my parents if I could go. My folks paid for my trip and I anxiously waited for the months to pass until we could go to the Adirondacks as one big feel-good tribe.

And then the wheels kind of came off the bus. Some infighting developed. People began having issues with other people, even in the more devout early morning group – issues. The leaders worked to help us find ways to reach out to one another, to bridge the gaps. I really don’t remember the details, I just remember tension rising.

And then the bottom dropped out. School ended. I waited to hear about our camp trip. As the date approached, I didn’t hear anything. I started to get nervous – maybe something had gone wrong. My Mom asked if I had a packing list or anything – an address, emergency telephone, that sort of thing. Nada.

I waited and trusted. And then I called. I called someone else who was going and discovered that there had been several meetings in preparation for the trip. They had all been meeting without me. As an adult I can look at it and see that there was obviously some logistical snafu, I got left off the list. But that is DEFINITELY not how it felt to teenaged me.

I was sure that this was proof that these people were no different. I took it as evidence that this gathering was just one more place where people would be crappy to each other. And truth to tell, in those things I was right. But what I forgot was the good stuff. I forgot about all of the good stuff that came with it. And I wrongly attributed all of that to the people involved.

You see what I was really benefiting from was connecting to something larger than myself. I was feeling good because I was allowing myself to plug in. And I was willing to believe that the force that I was plugging into loved me, saw good in me, would care for me. THAT was where the good stuff was. THAT was the ecstasy behind the theology that, as an adult with internet who can look it up, I really can’t agree to.

By allowing myself to connect to something bigger and benevolent, I allowed myself a glimpse of heaven here on earth. I allowed myself to believe that I was okay, better than okay, worthy of love, worthy of attention, worthy of any of the things I wanted.

adult-black-and-white-blur-257037Today I know I can get that without agreeing to ideas about people being born evil or what they have to do get right. I can have that experience without even having to read or believe in any book at all. I can make contact, I can connect with all the parts of me. I can accept the parts I’m not as proud of. I can accept myself and love myself unconditionally. I can experience connection with the divine, and not even be sure what that means.

It’s been right there the whole time.

All I had to do was believe I was good enough and allow it.

In ill-defined and amorphous faith,

julia

In Times of Battle

Things are pretty much a catastrophe here in the U.S.

mcallen-detention-center-05.nocrop.w710.h2147483647I can’t even really think about it for extended periods much less write about it without all of my circuits overloading.

So many people are hurting.

So many people are frightened.

So many people are angry.

And we all want something to do. And none of us are sure what that is. And many of us fear none of it will work.

Our system seems to be broken – and I think folks from either side of the aisle would agree at least on THAT part.

I seek comfort by telling myself that when things get broken something new and better emerges.

I engage my responsibilities as a citizen by taking part in the actions that I think make my opinion known and that might actually help.

I use my gifts as a coach and healer to, hopefully, spur change on every level and cushion the hurt of that shift.

And yet it is still not enough.

Because change will not happen any faster than it happens.

And people will be hurt.

This is not a shoulder shrug or an oh well or a suggestion that we not fight with every ounce of love, power, conviction, and passion in our beings for the rights of the vulnerable. Please don’t hear that.

It is just an acknowledgement of the brokenness and the probable duration of the evolution taking place.

We are in for a long one friends.

And it is not just those of us in the states.

Similar trends are emerging elsewhere, a signal to me that there is much work to do and that it will last.

And so I say to you, you beacon of hope, you divinely infused human: please take care of yourself.

As you make your calls and write your letters and share your events, keep breathing.

As you send your prayers and call on the energy of love and compassion, feed yourself real and nutritious food.

adorable-baby-born-2133As you read the news and inform yourself as best you can, find some moments of silence where you are fed by the quiet.

As you wait for the latest bombshell to drop, go to bed and rest the body that is carrying all of this with you.

The battle outside is raging.

We need you.

For you to fight, you must take care of yourself.

In love,

julia

Teaching Her the Most Important Thing

My daughter came home with a story today.

She said a friend had pushed her aside physically on the way to complete a classroom task.

adolescent-adult-back-view-710743I say friend with a lot of hesitation and air quotes because this particular girl was at one time the best friend, the slumber party friend, the every day lunch companion. This girl was the secret keeper, the note writer, the one my daughter was sure she would miss the most when they go to different middle schools. Then we had a long period of hot and cold, like a confused faucet. Slumber party on the weekend and the icy treatment a few days later with no explanation. I realize I was only getting one side of the story, but honestly I found it hard to keep up with what the status of their relationship was on any given day.

I encouraged my daughter to ask questions. “How can I when she won’t talk to me?”

I suggested that she make a conversation a prerequisite to returning to the relationship when the ice melted. “I will, just not right now.”

We talked about the fact that you teach people how to treat you.

We talked about how lovely forgiveness is but that it doesn’t mean you have to let someone continually hurt your feelings.

I asked if she needed me to intervene in any way. The look on her face told me we are both well past and not anywhere near that stage. “I am too old for that.” I said that was okay with me unless things changed, escalated, became physical or took on aspects of bullying instead of just being a really bad friend. She nodded, not in approval, but more like “Yeah, I knew you’d say that.” My girl talks a lot and yet so many things can go unspoken.

This pattern continued for most of this school year, without any real escalation and certainly no physical contact. And here we are 3 days before the end of school and this girl, who I’ve been trying very hard NOT to say unkind and childish things about all year put her hands on my kid. I know better than to demonize her, and that I’m STILL only getting one side of the story, but my hackles are up. I want to get in touch with this girl’s Mom so bad I can taste the conversation. She is a very reasonable woman, by the way. I don’t know that we could fix anything, but I have no reason not to talk to her other than my daughter’s wishes expressed in the past.

My girl is out playing with friends. And that’s probably best, because it’s giving me a few minutes to stew in my discomfort. And having had the opportunity to stew, I see that I’ve been handling her problem the same way I so often handle mine.

I’ve come at it with a list of practical suggestions and solutions. I’ve instructed her in qualities that I think will help her in the long run. I’ve said the things she knew I would say. I’ve let her know she has choices. Don’t get me wrong. There is really nothing wrong with any of these things, except that in whipping them all out so quickly I’ve glossed over the most important thing, how all of this made her feel.

We’ve had some tears throughout the year and I don’t just tell her to suck it up, but I see now that my desire to get her past the discomfort and into solutions may have given her feelings short-shrift. I’ve been demonstrating to her that the important thing is to figure out a solution rather than making it safe for her to acknowledge and experience how she feels so that a solution can develop or unfold over time.

“How can a solution to someone putting their hands on your kid unfold over time?!” If you’re inclined to scream this at me, rest assured, I’ve got that track already going full volume up in here. And I will honor that message by asking her more questions over dinner, trying to discern what we’re really talking about here. And will see what, if any, next steps are necessary, but there is another discussion I want to have with her.

beautiful-female-girl-35839After her brother has finished wolfing down his food and has run out to play soccer in the front yard, I will sit with her and ask her how she’s feeling. I will ask her what it’s like to have this girl, the former BFF, treat her this way. I will let her know that its safe to feel whatever it is and that I can sit with her if that would help. I want to teach her strength through practicing and learning that she doesn’t need to be afraid of experiencing any feeling. I want to teach her gentleness with herself. I want to teach her that there are always people who will sit with you in your grief, sometimes you just have to figure out who they are. I want to teach her that the most important part of this WHOLE thing is how she feels and who she is in this moment. I want to teach her what it feels like to accept and honor herself and all of her feelings.

And as I do this I remind myself to slow down, to notice when I am skipping the hard parts and moving straight to solutions for my own discomfort, to see when I am applying spreadsheet logic to a wound as though it is any kind of appropriate bandage. I see the pattern for both of us. I’m working on it, slowly and with my heart rather than solutions in mind.

Wish me luck. I’m going in.