January Habits

Happiness Project Experience, Living
Photo of my desk this very morning. My creative process isn't tidy and requires coffee.

Can we talk about the fact that it’s nearly February? It doesn’t seem possible that the first month of the year is almost behind us. Personally, I feel like I climbed a mountain of hard things right at the beginning and that I should be able to coast the rest of the way through the year. Alas, that’s probably not going to happen.

This January is different from many which have come before because it’s the 29th day, and I am still plugging away at the habits I started on day one. Before you walk away in disgust, I want you to know how easily I started/ I picked four things to track: Pause, Move, Journal, Routine.

January’s theme for the Happiness Project Experience is “Self-Knowledge” and my four habits anchor on what I know of myself. Making time to pause and reflect daily (in my case, this includes meditation, daily gratitude practice, and habit tracking) is an activity right in my wheelhouse. If anything, I can be in my head too much. This habit gives me permission and focus without letting my internal narrative have control of my mood and sabotage my intentions.

Move is the habit which challenges me this month. I often make my habits very ambitiously which inevitably brings a crash and burn. I do have a big ambitious goal of running ten miles by the end of 2019. But it’s January, and the only thing I had to do this month was to move. Most mornings I did a 7-minute HIIT routine or yoga. Somedays I did more – and occasionally a lot more. Every day, I moved because something is infinitely better than nothing. Next month I want to actually start some running if the lengthening days will cooperate. It’s difficult to run on rural roads in the dark.

Journal is the cog around which everything this month and probably in the months to come hinges. By journaling, I mean keeping my bullet journal. This month my bujo tracked my habits, planned dinner and mapped out my daily and weekly intentions. It’s also where I did my gratitude practice at the end of the day. Basically, spending five minutes in my journal, reviewing what happened and looking ahead to the next day meets a large portion of my pause habit. By making my habits entwined, I was much more likely to complete them all.

Routine is the scaffold which upheld my other habits. This month I focused on a morning routine. I built time into the morning routine for exercise (Move) and meditation (pause). I look ahead to dinner and tackle a daily chore or two (Journal). I didn’t set an intention for writing for this month, but I did make it part of my routine most mornings which led to considerably more than when I am just winging it. I consider this a bonus habit which I hope to build on in the months to come. February I will work on building a nighttime routine hopefully is just as rewarding.

There are other things I am tracking with my 19 for 2019, but I haven’t had time to sit and monitor that progress yet (pause) and may not until this weekend. Perhaps they will be part of a second month’s end blog post in case these things interest you.

I do want to share how very satisfying it is to look over my habit tracking for the month and see how well or how sporadically I engaged my intentions. My habits don’t move mountains but they have significantly impacted my happiness level this month which ripples out into every area of my life. I’m so pleased with the investment I made in myself with this project and am hopeful that each month will bring more growth and change instead of each month simply drifting into the next as has happened in years past.

For February, the focus will be on energy. I haven’t yet set all my intentions as I want to finish this month fully and well before I leap to the next one.

How to start every day

Learning, Living

I’m a fan of Seth Godin. He’s a little odd but enormously brilliant. He thinks big thoughts and consistently shares what he’s thinking. It’s not just about his day, but about culture, community, marketing, communication, and personal well-being.

He shares every day and has for a very long time.

One of my goals this month was to write something worth posting twice a week. So far, I’ve managed to hit the goal but I’ve struggled with creating space to do it. Uninterrupted time is at a premium in my life right now. There simply isn’t much of it. Last night I was alone in the house for twenty glorious minutes. I can’t remember the last time that happened. It’s difficult to find the time or creativity to produce “content worth publishing”

I’m also reading a book called Atomic Habits (so practical, no really, if you are interested in habit formation it’s filled with great tools and tips) which talks about skill formation. Apparently – perhaps you know this already and I’m the last person to really get it – it isn’t producing a perfect product/result time after time that really hones our skills, it’s simply consistently practicing. The more we practice and produce, the better we get at it. Garbage product can be as beneficial as perfect product while we are still in the practicing stage.

My inner perfectionist screams and wails at this idea; she’s quite upset that I didn’t throw it out as bullshit to begin with.

Running ten miles is another one of my goals this year. It seems a lot when I look at it as TEN MILES – the finished product. So far, I haven’t run at all. But what I have done is get up every morning and do something. Whether it’s a 4-minute kettlebell workout or a 7-minute HIIT or 10 minutes of yoga, or a 20-minute walk (usually only on weekends *shakes a fist at the dark*), I just have to do something. I know when it comes time to run, I will think of reasons to skip out. I know me. It isn’t the running that’s the problem, it’s the getting out the door. So instead, I’m working on the habit that every day I have to move in some way for at least five minutes. Once the habit of starting is deeply ingrained, the habit of running will slowly follow.

Now, I’m contemplating how to implement this concept for all areas of my life. Rather than focusing so hard on the end result, I’m considering: what could be the most important first step that I can do easily and repeatedly which will allow me to build on them later?

The other day I wrote about accidentally skipping meditation, so I adjusted my parameters. There are some longer guided meditations I want to do, but for now, 5 minutes before I even leave the bed is the plan. Every day. I have to leave the bed to start the day, but I can’t leave the bed until I meditate. If I can find the space and isolation for a longer sit later, I will. 5-minutes. Everyday. First thing. Easy. I can build on that.

So why not with writing? How does that translate? To begin with, I have some things to unlearn. Most of these messages are that “all successful writers do ______” or “in order to gain the attention you desire you must _________.” Basically, I’ve got to release a lot of bullshit and just get down to business. What’s the right way to write? Make words happen. Some words. Any words. Every day. Great words and garbage words and words I can build on.

I need to stop looking over my shoulder or wondering if what I’m writing/creating/forming/learning today is better than what I wrote/created/formed/learned yesterday. It may not be. But eventually the more we do anything, the result will trend towards improvement if we’re really putting our heart into it. Eventually, I will run ten miles; I will sit and focus for twenty minutes; I will read two hundred books. But I won’t start there.

I just have to start somewhere more often than I don’t start at all. I can do that. We can all do that.

Day by Day

Happiness Project Experience, Learning, Living

Someone asked me the other day about the Happiness Project. I talked about it for a few minutes, about why I paid to join a coaching system and what I hope to accomplish. Then there was a follow-up question: So how many “resolutions” do you have this year?

I don’t know. I’m taking it day by day and month by month.

In years past, I’ve launched all my initiatives at the same time. Do all the things, every day! Do them without missing a day! If you skip a day you’ve ruined everything! Friends, perfectionism ain’t no joke. She’s a terrible life coach.

In my divorce from the rules and regulations of religion, I’ve developed softer lines and fuzzier edges (not just from stress eating and Sunday morning mimosas). My inner voice is softer. I’m no longer thinking in all or nothing terms. I believe not in transformation but in evolution.

This year will bring changes, some of which I will plan, but many of which I will not.

These changes will not all happen at once, but they will happen.

I will hold space to welcome the unknown and the unexpected.

For January, I have four foundational habits I am forming:

  • Pause morning and evening – these are moments of planning, meditation, and evaluation. Sometimes I journal, but if I’m tired or in a hurry, simply a moment or two will recenter and redirect me on the path I intended for the day, or create space for a new intention. Yep, I’ll change a whole plan mid-day if unforeseen events require it, and call it a win when I adapt rather than resist.
  • Keep a bullet journal – I’ve planned and failed at this more often than I care to admit. But my pausing habit facilitates my bujo habit. I’m experiencing more success by pairing the habits and more happiness by tracking, recording and remembering things by keeping them all in one place. And it’s pretty yellow, which makes me smile each time I pick it up.
  • Plan Dinner – This habit pairs with my bujo. I don’t know about you, but when I know what’s for dinner on a daily basis, we eat better and shop better. Also, it cuts down on cranky late afternoon texts with my Hunky demanding a dinner plan. We are both more inclined to cook rather than eating cereal when we know what is prepped and available. Eventually I want to plan out a couple weeks or even a month at a time, but for now, I plan dinner down one side of my bujo page and the groceries required on the other. In a month or so, this will make grocery lists so much easier and that will also make me happier.
  • Move – I do have some physical goals this year that will involve more specific and intense habits, but those habits aren’t for this month which is already pretty full. Instead, I just need to get my ass out of bed, off the couch and away from the desk chair. I follow a 7-minute HIIT many mornings or a 4-minute kettlebell routine. I step out for a 4 o’clock walk, take the stairs, park farther away, walk if it’s under 5 minutes, whatever comes to mind to make motion part of my daily experience, I do it, and I don’t think too hard about it. Good enough is good enough, right now.

Day by day these four small things are making me happier and making my life flow more smoothly. Doing them regularly may take an extra 30 – 40 minutes, but generally save me well more than that amount each day. They are investments in myself, my family and my time. They make me happier which is what the Happiness Project is all about.

For the months to come, I have some general ideas and a rough sketch of what goals will fit where, but I’m taking it day by day and month by month. Change will come whether I want it or not, the question is, will I have the tools to shape those changes or will I simply let them roll me along with them? I’m choosing my tools this year, but prepared to enjoy the rolling along for a short time, if and when it comes.

What changes are you making this year? What tools are you using?

This is the Work

Happiness Project Experience, Learning, Living

On Monday of this week, we held job interviews for a couple of positions we had open at my workplace. Truth be told, I really, really love being part of a team that gives people jobs. It’s amazing. However, the day of the interviews can be long and tiring. It’s an enormous amount of social energy for me (hello, introvert) and our interview process has several steps which require set-up and recording scores and printing rubrics and just lots of little details.

And all the while, the work of the library flows around me so my train of thought is often interrupted and side tracked, which isn’t an ideal mental situation for me.

I love helping people get a job, but the process can be exhausting. Isn’t it funny how so many worthwhile things are like that, and so we avoid them? Or maybe you don’t, but I do.

Anyway, we had a bit of a mid-day break between interviews where I grabbed lunch and dropped one of my people at their job and tried to spend a little time with the dogs who aren’t loving the 5 people at school and work most days schedule after Christmas break. When I returned to the building, I began setting up for the final interview of the day, and I thought to myself, I haven’t gotten any work done today. And then my entire mental momentum came to a screeching stop.

All I had done all day was work, and work well, and work hard. I do a good job, sure I have loads still to learn but I am good at what I do. Still, I literally told myself: you haven’t done any work today because you haven’t really done anything visibly productive or which was in your wheelhouse routine. I considered this terrible message I was selling myself and I realized:

This is the work. Enjoy the process.

How often do we do this? How often are we involved in something which is large and complex with many moving pieces, which requires a great deal of energy and time and which carries some pretty serious weight but because the visible product is small or perhaps even non-existent, we think to ourselves, I have to get back to the work, the real work. We are selling ourselves a great big load of bullshit, and most of us are buying it most of the time.

I stayed home for almost twenty years to raise my ladies, and there were many days where I fell into bed exhausted and thought to myself, I didn’t get a single thing done today because I missed the point that this is the work – not the to-do list or the product, but being fully present for the most important thing at the time.

The work is not the product; the work is the process.

I’ve embarked on a pretty big project this year, Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project Experience. The point is not only to explore things which increase my happiness but to actively engage in those things and measure the result. I expect to have as many failures as successes. I expect to sometimes expend a great deal of effort with very little product other than my own personal satisfaction. I know there will be days when I think to myself, I haven’t gotten any work done today.

And hopefully when that happens I will remember that crystalline moment standing at my desk with the whole library buzzing around me and remember:

This is the work. Be present for the process.
This is the work. Don’t miss it rushing to cross off the list.
This is the work.


How to start a conversation

Learning, Living

So the question becomes what now? What’s next after this round of Awakening?

Sharing the story, albeit the short version, of my journey with church and fundamental evangelicalism is an important part of my healing. But I don’t want to stay a victim, only talking about what happened and how it broke me, only focusing on the hurt and shame. I want more and better than what I’ve experienced. The only way out may be through, but sitting at the end of the tunnel looking over my shoulder isn’t moving forward.

I’ve come to realize that I’ve written about the spiritual for so long, I realize it’s where I am most comfortable. For two years I wrote very little at all never knowing what word or phrase would trigger my abuser(s). I wonder now if this fear has been part of my overall spiritual apathy. For the last year, I’ve basically pushed anything of a religious or spiritual nature away from my attention. I’m so disgusted by the fundamentalist response to an abhorrent political climate that I don’t even want to be associated with those practices or even sit in the buildings.

But I do feel that something calling me back to Center, and apparently that voice demands words, lots of words as part of the birthing process. Cutting off my Spirit is the same as ‘cutting off my nose to spite my face’. I’m facing the same questions that many nones and dones everywhere are asking: where is a safe space for me and others like me to have meaningful conversation?  Meaningful conversation doesn’t have to center on spirituality, but I believe it often wanders into the spiritual realm anyway, whether or not we intend it.

For instance, a good friend joined me for dinner recently; her friendship is another unexpected gift from my job. We talked and laughed about many things.  Of course, books were an enormous part of the evening. Our conversation wove through books and musicals to more intimate details of our lives, how we feel, whom we love, how we experience life previously and presently. These things have great meaning and, in my understanding at least, they are deeply spiritual because they directly affect the well-being of our soul/ spirit. When I use the term spiritual, I mean this inner part of our selves at least as much as I mean a supernatural force outside of us.

Did we speak of God? Very little.  But I still consider our conversation Spiritual.

In my experience, many religious spaces aren’t safe for these types of spiritual conversations. My friend, who is a delightful, fun, incredible, world traveling, peace corp teaching, theater-loving, intelligent individual, who makes the world a richer place by being in it, doesn’t subscribe to the conventional, religious narrative. Would the church offer a safe space for her to be fully herself, freely expressing all the facets of her self without condemnation or coercion? Would we be free to have the conversations we had in my home within a religious construct without having to correct her choices to align to a cultural norm? Would she feel safe and welcome?

Would my non-binary friends? My gay friends? My secular humanist friends?
A practicing Muslim?
A black, single mom receiving state benefits?
A refugee?
A Hasidic Jew?
A Sikh?
A Christian with questions?

The curious thing about ‘safe spaces’ is if they aren’t universally safe, then they aren’t truly safe. Inevitably, a power structure will assert itself in order to dictate and control the narrative and experience of a non-inclusive ‘safe space’  In order for there to be a power structure, someone has to be in…and someone has to be out. That’s how power works. It is always binary; it must be more real, more right, more important, more venerated, more absolute than any other narrative. When power controls the narrative, it’s always possible you could embody the next quality which falls from favor, and when this happens you will be coerced to conform or be expelled.

The question I grapple with is whether a space seeks to expand and embrace, or reduce and indoctrinate. Fundamentalist spaces are overwhelmingly the latter. Christianity has evolved into an exclusive salvation club. A relationship with fundamentalism is fraught with an agenda: can we get this person outside spiritual construct to see the universe exclusively our way as well as renounce their former experience as wrong, broken and worthless and assume our agenda? Oh, and pray the sinner’s prayer which is, after all, the real key to holiness.

I know I’m stepping on toes here. Some of my longest and dearest friends identify as Christian, and I do find them safe and open and wonderful, even when we disagree. I am speaking now of systems, not individuals. Every religious structure, or any system of power, has its extremists, its moderates and its outliers. I’m not asking anyone to justify how they experience the Spiritual (in this case I do mean supernatural power), or even if they have any form of spiritual experience at all.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about conversation. For so long, I was excluded from taking part in it. When my abusers met repeatedly to talk about me, about how to handle and control me, I wasn’t allowed to be part of the conversation. I was reassured, however, that this type of a abuse is supported by scriptures, which were helpfully listed in the Silence Contract, in case I had any questions. Even had I been in the room, I wouldn’t have been part of the conversation because my experience didn’t matter, as long as the power narrative was firmly established.

But the truth is, I am hungry for spiritual conversation, the kind which meanders and wonders, the kind which is deeply intimate one moment and hilariously sacrilegious the next.

Do you know that I stopped laughing for a while when the abuse I experienced was at its peak?  I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, but these days, when I laugh deeply from my center, I find myself thinking, I forgot how good this feels. Laughter is an experience my soul missed even though my conscious-self wasn’t aware of the lack. While I often say I am the funniest person I know, this type of laughter really only happens in conversation with another soul. I am profoundly grateful now when I consider how many people in my daily life elicit this response from me. They are my safe spaces, my spiritual spaces even if we never speak of God in any of Her identities.

So this is where I am. Seeking safe, spiritual conversation. If we happen to stumble on God, however we experience the Holy, while we’re at it, well, that’s alright too.

Awakenings

Healing, Learning
Before reading this post, you may want to see this post and also this one to understand more of the story.

Looking back over the last few years, I feel as though I’ve undergone a series of awakenings. When we were at Rob Bell’s show last weekend, he said, Once you’ve seen, you can’t unsee. He’s not wrong, but what I know is you can try really hard to pretend like you don’t see it for a long time.

I don’t actually believe there is only one path a person is destined to take in life, just as I don’t believe in soul mates. Our life is an ever-evolving series of choices and actions and possibilities. Where we end up is completely up to us. I don’t even believe that the wiser the choice, the greater the likelihood that we will live happily ever after because I know shitstorms happen for no reason whatsoever. Ask the people in the Florida panhandle which choices could have changed the path of Michael. No one is immune.

I say all this to say, I’ve been awakening to a wider view of…well…everything for over ten years, a span of time which both humbles and astounds me. There was a time when I absolutely was “that Christian.” I knew the answers. I knew the scriptures. I understood the way the universe worked and if you didn’t agree, it wasn’t because there were more possibilities than I imagined, it was because you were wrong (and probably going to hell for it.) It doesn’t make me proud to say these things, but it does help me understand that most of us are doing the best we can with the information we have. If the universe is still expanding, I can hardly expect less of myself given enough time.

I can list the events which triggered my more recent reawakening, but I can’t specifically remember any one thing that started the whole ball rolling years ago- maybe it always is rolling and we only notice it after a great distance is traveled. I do remember being troubled by a narrow and seemingly fragile view of God. I have to believe any god worthy of worship is quite able and willing to defend Themselves if necessary, and we don’t have to be so afraid to examine them, critique them and question them. If a god can’t stand up to these things, then They are no God. Obviously, I had questions- I always do – eventually, those questions brought me around to our concept of church. Friends, let me warn you, if you thought God was sacred, you ain’t seen anything. When you dare to examine, question and critique church, now you’re truly tipping sacred cows.

There are a million and twelve details to the story of leaving Florida, but let’s shorten it to: Contract of silence, “resignation”, kicked out of the church. All neatly wrapped with the gospel of church discipline with the corresponding scriptures.

The second verse is the same as the first, add nine years and a lot more fear.

I speak lightly of it now but that was a terrifying time for us. Leaving Florida was a move we never saw coming with three young children and a great deal of debt. I wasn’t working, so no help there. Our severance was based on our isolation from anyone associated with the church, so we were also essentially friendless. We needed a lifeboat and fast.

Here is the point where we could have chosen a different pathway. We didn’t have to go back into ministry. We had multiple opportunities presented to us at this time, including a church which differed drastically in style and holds more loosely to the concept of doctrine and theology than the one we recently exited. I don’t know how my life would have differed had we chosen another path. I also don’t regret the one we have chosen, because where we are now is exciting.

Given an array of choices, we went for geographic distance, but the church where we landed was a carbon copy of the one we departed from both then and now. Perhaps there is comfort in familiarity? Perhaps the price was right? Whatever our reasons, we came. And I tucked my wondering, my questions, and my evolving thoughts away neatly and deeply in an effort to keep my family safe and my life tidy.

I was fine for a time. It’s easy to play a role, even an ill-suited one, when you are also busy raising a family, settling into a new place, dealing with the financial fall-out, figuring out an entirely new culture. It’s easy to spout the standard rhetoric when it’s already deeply ingrained. No need to think about anything, just put on the soundtrack and dance, dance, dance. Which I did, for years.

And then I woke up, again. For keeps.

This is the first installment in a series of posts about Awakenings. Part 2 is here. Part 3 is here.

Walking on Eggshells: thoughts on trauma, anxiety and healing

Healing, Learning

“Living, growing up, working or worshipping on eggshells creates huge cracks in our sense of safety and self-worth. Over time it can be experienced as trauma.” – Brene Brown

I had a bit of a battle with an old companion yesterday. Anxiety came knocking, and it took a while to convince that bitch to leave. I’ve hit life hard since returning from vacation, working over forty hours each week. I’m juggling five work and school schedules with only three cars (and occasionally two). I’ve altered my eating habits and cut out alcohol. I’m running again, and I’m trying to get no less than seven hours of sleep every night.

I am also someone functions better with a nice margin, space, both physical and mental, where I don’t feel the burden of expectations pressing down on me. I have a long ugly history with perceived expectations; it’s one of my toughest battles, still. Because of this personality trait, all these transitions mean I must also make an equal amount of marginal space for processing the demands of life or things get ugly.

Last week was no respecter of my margins. And here’s the thing, it wasn’t all bad. In fact, there were some things about last week that were quite good. But when it comes to needing that pressure-free space, I find both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ events are equally stressful if I don’t have the margin to process the experiences. Some people, like my Hunky, can leap from event to event to event with ease. But I can’t.  I will manage for a short period, but that only means I need an equally long recovery time on the other end.

This weekend, I had planned a do nothing, go nowhere kind of weekend, my favorite kind. But those plans…didn’t happen. They didn’t happen last weekend either. Yesterday when we all started talking about our schedules for this week, I felt the flush of anxiety start to creep over me: the familiar ringing echo in my ears, the hot prickly flush over my chest, the buzzing in my fingers and toes, the constant need to look over my shoulder. “Here is a list of expectations, and I must meet it.”

Oh, Anxiety. It’s been a while. And no, I haven’t missed you.

I first began experiencing anxiety AFTER  I started going to therapy. I know right? Therapy is supposed to reduce anxiety.  However, what therapy revealed to me was some toxic areas in my life which we weren’t able to disengage from. I would need to do a serious compartmentalization dance, keeping my emerging-self separate from my pastor-wife self, which isn’t really a wholehearted way to live.

Ask most pastor’s wives in the evangelical church and they’ll tell you, we aren’t paid, but we have a job description with an expectation list about three miles long, anyway. It’s not healthy, but it’s true, and as I was informed towards the end, “That’s the way things are and there’s nothing to be done about it.”

You can see why other people’s expectations and I aren’t on speaking terms.

I am my own person. Yes, I am married to another human whom I love deeply, but I am not defined by his work or his position any more than he is defined by mine. We each have our own work. Sometimes our work intersects, but most times it doesn’t, and there is nothing wrong with this way of sharing our lives. We also have theological and ideological differences. What’s more, our individual belief systems have changed and evolved as we have changed and evolved and matured, sometimes those changes intersect, for us they often intersect, but even when they don’t, we love each other and move forward together.

Ours is a pretty healthy relationship.

But other areas of our lives weren’t so healthy. If you have ever seen a plant grow in or near a constricted space, you have seen that the unconstricted side grows healthy and strong, but the other side will grow stunted, twisting in on itself until it withers and dies off.

Going to therapy opened a thousand doors for me. My therapist saw things in me that no one else had ever spoken aloud. She built me up in ways I hadn’t experienced from anyone besides my husband in a long time. She empowered me and challenged me, and I began to finally grow into the wildly free and open space that was my self…my soul.

The more I grew, the less inclined I was to meet the ever-changing, ever-tightening list of expectations compiled for me by people who barely knew me beyond my job description. Make no mistake, in fundamentalist environments, an empowered woman who goes off-script is a dangerous woman, a force which must be managed, rebuked, fixed and controlled. Eggshells, anyone?

This tension mounted for years, while we tried to leave town and move on, door after door after closing on us while anxiety gripped me tighter and tighter.  My growth stunted, and I withered. When I am stuck in unhealthy behavior patterns, I avoid conflict at all costs. I tried checking off all the expectation boxes, tried disappearing, tried “putting on a happy face.” I even tried all three at once. But inevitably, anytime I began to feel more like my whole-hearted self, a rebuke of some sort followed. Usually, my husband bore the brunt, as if he were responsible for all the ways I never measured up. The more I tried to protect him from harm, the more harm I seemed to cause, around and around in an increasingly toxic spiral.

This was not a healthy time for our relationship.

I honestly am not sure any other set of circumstances than what has ultimately unfolded would have allowed us room to walk away so completely and begin to experience healing so fully. I have received margin in glorious abundance.  We have new lives and new identities now, but trauma leaves echoes and shadows which reach out sometimes and caress the familiar broken places. I may not have reason to be anxious now, but I still wait for the other shoe to drop, even though the footsteps of the persons wearing them are so faint now they are barely a whisper in my soul.

Yesterday, I wrestled with expectation and anxiety. Expectation and I go back decades,  church wounds are part of the scars from these battles, but those seeds were planted long before religion was part of my identity. We may battle for the rest of my life, but now that I am learning to live wholeheartedly, her voice is less insistent. Some days I don’t hear it at all. Anxiety and I only go back a few years, so I am hopeful her voice will soon be entirely gone.

What I know is this: an experience can be traumatic whether or not the parties involved intend to do harm. My story is my own. There are other voices who won’t see or tell this story the same way, and who will deny the validity of how I feel, what I experienced and the wounds I carry. I hope anxiety will one day be a thing of the past, a response to an environment that was toxic to me. Telling my story is part of what makes the anxiety dissipate. It cannot stay in a space where I will not permit it to flourish and grow. My experience is real and valid. Though the ground under my feet is no longer fragile eggshells, I still sometimes wonder if it will hold my weight. Thank goodness I am learning to fly.

Take that, anxiety.

 

100 dreams

Healing, Living

In February of this year, I was in the middle of a conversation with my husband when he said this: Maybe, I’m not supposed to be happy. Maybe, I’m just supposed to work hard and be content with that.

Let me give a bit of context, this conversation happened on a roadtrip on the way to a place I didn’t want to go, orchestrated by people I did not trust with my emotional and spiritual well-being (a feeling which hasn’t changed), and these two sentences only served to highlight the reason for my feelings.

I wanted to throw up. I wanted to open the car door,  throw myself into traffic and run all the way home. Then I wanted to pack all my things and move to Canada and leave no forwarding address. I wanted to open up my brain and push that shit-message right out of my soul.

I love my husband with every cell in my body to the last shred of my soul, but in moments like this, I wondered if his calling would actually destroy us both. I simply cannot believe in a god whose highest calling for us is unrelenting duty, and to whom our best response is settling for it.

Fast forward to any number of evenings this summer. We regularly celebrate our new living space by thoroughly enjoying our front and back porches. We sit outside long after the sun goes down, sipping wine, listening to rain or crickets, weather depending, and talk about the ways we want to shape our lives. We plan; we hope. We dare to dream. Granted, we limp a little as we go, and we don’t look very hard into the shadows lest we see the demons which still linger. We’re working on those. Healing takes time.

I remember specifically after one of these nighttime conversational ramblings thinking, Oh my God. I’d forgotten. I’d forgotten what’s it like to talk this way, to be these people together.

A few months ago, I started writing a list of 100 dreams. I work on it from time to time when I feel inspired, or when I need to be  inspired. To date, I only have forty-six items on the list. Some of them are big: trip to Iceland anyone? Some of them are geeky: read 1,000 books by the time I am 50, starting now. Some of them are simple: live in a tiny house. All of them have very little to do with duty or responsibility. They are things which simply make me happy. It makes me happy to think about them, to pursue them; it even makes me happy writing and thinking about them.

It would be easy, now, to look back and harshly judge myself for how much power I relinquished over the direction of my own life, but that’s time and energy wasted. Instead, I choose to create my list, to dream and build, to feel awe that I have a chance to relearn what it means to dream.

If we were actually in reality show, this week’s episode would feature a very different roadtrip. Imagine van packed with five adults and their baggage – literal and emotional – driving down the highway singing ‘A Million Dreams’ from the Greatest Showman as loud as we can, even Craig joining in. Maybe it’s a hallmark movie ending, but it’s also my real life. Mine, to shape in the ways that are best for me and the ones I love.

Look, I’m all about personal and communal responsibility. I firmly believe that all of creation is deeply interdependant and as such we care for each other. I am not advocating for personal gain at the expense of other people. What I don’t believe is that we are to take on responsibility at the expense of our selves or our souls. Obligation and obedience aren’t markers of character, they are demands made by the powerful of those they consider powerless. I’ll take free-will, please and thank you.

In all of humanity, there is only one me. There will only ever be one me. Only a sadist would create each unique individual only to demand our subservience at the expense of our individuality. There is little divine about conformity. If you believe in Purpose, and I do, then this way of thinking is an abomination not only of the created but of the Creator. We are made for more than duty and responsibility. I only have to look at the platypus to believe that.

There is a debilitating level of sickness and despair which accompanies the belief that we aren’t actually meant to be happy, to have dreams. I’ve swum in those waters, an act I will fight hell itself to never repeat. So I dream, an act I believe is fighting hell itself. I believe we are meant for more, for deeper, for restoration, for relationship and yes, for responsibility, but embracing these things should only make us more ourselves, never less and never someone else’s vision of who we should be.

Dreams
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

— Langston Hughes

 

On Being (and being on the beach)

Living, Loving

I just returned from the beach. If you’ve known me for any length of time, you know what that means for my body soul. I am rested, relaxed, restored. We lived by the beach as a family for sixteen years ( Hunky grew up there) and the lifestyle somehow crawled under our skin and into our bones and took up residence. We are beach people. We have sand in the marrow.

The last time I was at the beach, Hunky had just been released from his position in ministry. I sort of love the story: he called at 7am to tell me he was packing his office because he knew what was coming; I went into work and was hired that day as a full-time supervisor (of books and reading!!! Dreams do come true!!!!); by 2pm we were in the car on the way to the beach- headed to the place we love to wed people we love and imagine a life we could love.  I am forever awestruck by Divine Providence and this part of our story is drenched in it.

Last time we were at the beach we focused on getting our feet under us, planning our next steps (by the time we got home Sunday we had a place to live, and would begin moving 72 hours later). We cried a little, laughed a lot, created a retirement plan and remembered who we were before…before what I don’t know. I can’t pinpoint when I lost myself, I only know I did.

This time the beach spoke to me, or God spoke to me, or a holy communion of SpiritsunwindwaterSoulskinsand, probably the last one. I received one Word that sounded like a clear and unmistakable constant call to prayer: whole. Whole. I can be whole. I am becoming Whole. We are becoming Whole.

It may take longer than we think, but the becoming…well, aren’t we always becoming something? One of the choices before me now is wholeness, and the universe wasn’t subtle in telling me which path to choose.  God doesn’t always light the way with trumpets and a band of angels, but when They do…

It’s true though, every book I read – even the junk books- every song I listened to, every voice, everything, everywhere was about becoming whole again. Whole in my skin, whole on my path, whole with my vision, my goals and my future.

There is a form of Japanese artistry called Kintsugi, where the artist takes broken pottery pieces and fills the broken spaces with resin which has been mixed with silver, platinum or gold. The result is a whole piece whose brokeness isn’t hidden, but highlighted,  making the piece far more beautiful than it was when it was unmarked. Wholeness doesn’t erase brokenness but we become more than we were when our broken places are mended with an eye towards beauty instead of perfection.  I am walking Kintsugi. Golden light is shining through my broken places, and yet, I am whole.

I thought a great deal about writing as I stared at the sea. I thought about this space, why it’s here, why I bother, what is my purpose in sitting down and crafting these thoughts? For awhile, I pushed back against writing about God. I didn’t want to be that person: that ‘church’ person, that ‘religious’ person. I didn’t want people painting me with that brush.

But people are going to paint me however they please to paint me. I can’t alter or change it and so, I am letting it go.  This is me, the paint another person chooses reflects their own soul, not mine.

I am deeply Spiritual and writing is part of how I create my being, especially, my spiritual being.  Taking all the dancing and even the dark and deceptive thoughts in my head and focusing them into words, ideas, paragraphs and eventually essays is my way of saying, Let there be.  It is an act of creation. Writing, for me, is a spiritual act. It is about becoming.

This doesn’t mean I write only, exclusively about God, quite the opposite. One of the major issues I have with the evangelical paradigm of God is localized Spirituality. God is in this, but not in that. This is sacred, that is secular. God is here (especially if here is church), but cannot be found there. My whole self rejects this paradigm, and in so doing I affirm that I can write about whatever I want, but nothing I do write can be separated from the Spirit in me. If my paradigm says God is in all and works through all, then whatever I write about will be inherently Spiritual whether or not I choose to name it.

While I was away this week I realized I’ve been pushing back on God: Don’t come too close; be here but not all up in here. My experience with church skewed my boundaries and I forgot that the problem was not God but toxic spiritual relationships, a distortion of God’s image, not the true Divine image. In pushing back, vomiting up, cleaning out all that was poisoning me, I’d tied some of that mess to the Divine Spirit in me, and I was holding her at arms length, afraid of losing myself again.

I’d love to be able to say, this is the moment the switch flipped and I saw everything clearly again, but I can’t. What I do know is that some point I decided let down my guard with God, to invite Them all the way back inside, gulping her down like rum punch after hours in the hot sun, leaving me quenched and heady and little bit drunk.  What appeared as deconstruction was actually God laying down the red carpet and saying, this is the Path; don’t be afraid to dance while you’re on it.

And so I am.

So what does that mean for this space? It probably means I will speak a great deal about God. I may call them Jesus or the Divine, or Spirit or the Universe or Soul or any number of other things. I’ll probaly also use confusing pronouns. Currently She and They/Them seem more appropriate when speaking of the Divine. God’s not a man, that I know, and my record with male religious leaders ain’t great.  I’m definitely avoiding male pronouns for a bit.

I plan to be both playful and honest. As Anne Lamott says,

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

It may make people unhappy or uncomfortable, hell, my life makes me uncomfortable all the time, but it will be real. I’ve had a thousand quiet, private conversations as I tripped and stumbled down the path of deconstruction. I know what the world needs is more voices saying, it’s ok. God’s at the bottom of the slippery slope. Higher up and further in. We can do this; take my hand.

I know professional church wounds as much as it heals and someone has to stand on margins of faith with band-aids and gatorade and sometimes with life support.

I know we need a place to talk about where to go and what to do and who we are when we can no longer be defined by the rules we learned growing up. It’s hard. We all limp out here. But if we remember we move and live under a singing, dancing God who loves with the wild, tender, untamable, unstoppable fury of ten thousand jealous mothers, we can become….whatever we desire to be.

Come now my love. My lovely one come.

Become.

Be whole.

Be.

 

What happened when I finally stopped moving

Learning, Living

My husband was out of town last weekend. I don’t mind when he leaves town as long as its not too long or too many weeks in a row.  I often joke that he is the cog that keeps the family running with any sort of consistency. When Craig goes out of town, I don’t cook. We barely shower. One year Lindsay and I watched three seasons of Doctor Who in three days while Craig was away at camp with the younger two. We strategically planned take-out meals so we could eat them twice and not have to leave the house or spend too long in the kitchen.  I don’t know if you can combine the words sloth and debauchery, but if there was such a word, that describes our household when Craig is away.

Last weekend wasn’t any different. Craig left on Friday. I didn’t cook again until Sunday night. 50% of my meals were cheese and crackers. I don’t even know what the kids ate. I wore pajamas to take people to work. I watched a season of Bones and crocheted. I’m not even ashamed.   Sometimes these types of weekends are necessary in order to reset my mind to the reality of the present.

We’ve done a lot of transitioning over the last year(ish). I feel like we’ve done a decent job rolling through the changes as they’ve come. Yes, there has been some trauma, and we are still dealing with emotional fall-out. But over all, we are recovering in a healthy way. Honestly, changes have been happening so fast, I have taken almost no time to reflect on anything lately. I needed some space to compare the trajectory of my life as it is now to where it was a year ago.

I was in the car in my pajamas at 10:30 Friday night, as I left to go get Bailey from her job, when I realized I haven’t left the house after dark since we moved in. Granted, it’s summer, and I am an introvert, which means rain or shine when it’s 8pm, I want to be holed up in my room recovering from a day of people-ing ( I am who I am, and I like me. You do you.), but this thought led me to the revelation that I have been traveling only between what I consider the ‘safe places’ in my life, basically on survival auto-pilot. Without thinking, I’ve been avoiding anywhere that I might encounter someone emotionally unsafe or to whom I might feel deserves explanations  which I am unwilling to pretty-up for public consumption.  Work to home to places out-of-town. These are the roads I have traveled every day, week after week until months have passed.

No wonder I feel a low level of exhaustion at the end of most weeks, my fight or flight hasn’t lowered at any point this year.  Just like a secret app constantly behind the scenes makes your phone sluggish, my sympathetic nervous system has been ticking along in the background, preparing me to take on attackers at a moment’s notice, and just as quietly draining my energy and emotional reserves.

While I was still digesting this little tid-bit of knowledge, I experienced another sweeping breath of fresh air (I think its because Christmas music was playing in the background): I have more freedom now than I ever have to orchestrate my life the way I want it to be.

Perhaps this concept isn’t revalatory to you, but as I transition out of some abusive relationships and toxic systems, I am only beginning to realize how much of my freedoms I had willingly given away. For a long time, I was a slave to a “higher calling” and while I still believe in the goodness and support which can come from being part of something bigger than ourselves, I no longer believe that I must sacrifice who I am to be part of it. Or, I am learning to believe it. It’s a process.

The fact of the matter is, when changes are flying at you fast and furious, when you are making literal life-altering decisions on the fly and then racing along to stay even a little bit ahead of them, there isn’t a whole lot of time for self-reflection and examination. We’ve been in survival mode for a long time, culminating over the last months with the  few final pieces of the picture (for now) falling into place. It took so much of ourselves to get here, that I haven’t had time to stop and consider what it meant for the future other than the fact that we still have a future, and it’s a good one.

But this weekend I finally stopped. I didn’t read or rush or push ahead or even think very much (or shower regularly, true tale). Coming to a full stop allowed all the whirling, swirling thoughts, ideas, healing truths and stray bits of lies and delusions I’ve been holding tightly to coalesce and settle. Some pieces finally drifted softly away and some quietly sank to the floor of my soul and landed with a soft thump. The idea that I have, at last, the freedom to create the life I want landed with the most impact.  I’ve been contemplating it with awe-struck wonder ever since.

I believe there are seasons in life where we intentionally trade freedom for something bigger than ourselves. The years of raising wee ones, times of living with restriction for a larger purpose whether that restriction is financial, or dietary or living situations are examples of this type of self-limiting. There are also times where mere survival forces us to set severe limits, or we may face a series of less desireable outcomes as a consequence of choices we’ve made. I have lived through many of these seasons. They come and they go, in their turn.

But what I am finally gaining is the perspective to see is how much of myself and my freedom I gave away willingly, but not necessarily. I became less, not because it was required but because I was willing to trade myself for lifestyle which was never meant for me.  What that choice has cost me, and also how much work will be required for me to regain strength in those muscles again, is something I wasn’t ready to face before.  In a way, I am grateful for the pace of life lately. It’s forced me to develop some healthy patterns and boundaries without over-thinking or letting co-dependency rule my emotions. Having moved some distance away from the foundation of those boundaries, now I am able to go back and see where I was and also just how far I have come. Seeing my life from this different perspective makes how far I still have to go, how far I still want to go, a little less daunting.