Prescription for a weary soul

We can climb mountains with self-love.  – Samira Wiley

For someone who has never been terribly invested in politics, the 2016 election played an enormous role in many of my recent shifts. Perhaps it’s because I want a better world for my children and their children then the one I see coming to pass, or perhaps because this new season in my life I have more freedom to widen my scope to a more global and less individual focus. Who knows why things shape us as they do. I only know those events, and so many since, have rendered me unable to be silent. I promise this whole post isn’t going to be about politics. I only mention it because since then, I have had to work very hard to maintain a healthy emotional balance, which is what I want to talk about today.

I awoke the day after the mid-term elections feeling soft and fragile, like a bruise. Here in Georgia, things still aren’t fully decided, which honestly, is a miracle in itself. I battled my inner idealist in the weeks leading up to the election. I didn’t want to lean too hard into hope, but couldn’t stop myself from getting swept up in the emotional wave of change. When things didn’t go as I anticipated, I experienced the giant emotional deflation that accompanies large-scale events. Expectations – such a bitch, eh?

Every so often lately, I have to step off the current events train if I want to maintain any form of sanity. Look, I love the internet as much as the next person for near effortless communication and information, but it’s easy to become buried in the never-ending stream of news, opinions, and vitriol. Sometimes I have to let the world move on without me. It doesn’t hurt that it’s November now, the month that makes me want to pull in, and sip whiskey in my flannel pants and pretend no one and nothing else exists outside my own home walls.

That tender, bruised feeling, where my emotions are held back by a blister thin covering, is a warning sign that I have reached the healthy balance threshold. I can keep going, but not effectively. My soul is trying to tell me something important now.

When my emotions fray and snap, I become someone I don’t like. While I am (mostly) no longer concerned if everyone else likes me, it is very important that I like myself. My integrity matters more than a self-righteous rant, a biting comeback or the micro-aggression meant to make you understand just how put-out I am. I’m far from perfect on a good day, but when I lose my focus on loving kindness because I’m swimming around in martyrdom, it’s past time to make adjustments.

Kindness isn’t about “being nice” and remembering I “look prettier when I smile.” That’s just more bullshit. Kindness remembers the counter to gaslighting, greed and rhetoric is being fully grounded in our integrity, recognizing the humanity in each of us. The way to shut down the rage machine isn’t with more rage, but with a strong spine wrapped in gentleness and compassion. When my sharper edges begin to cut people, I’ve allowed the anger I carry become bitterness. Anger is a vital fuel and a necessary tool these days, but bitterness is only ever destructive. I want my flame to burn brightly, not rage out of control destroying others and myself.

One of the concepts I have been so struck with lately is that of being an embodied Creator, a bringer of life. I, personally, have an inherent nurturing streak; it’s always been part of me, not because I am a woman necessarily, but because it is part of my personal nature. Now that my children are grown, I still love to care for people, but I’m thinking about creation and nurturing now on a deeper level. What sort of world am I creating through my actions and interactions? What is the generative force of my time, my expression, my money, and my relationships? What am I giving birth to with my life?

I’m amazed every time I watch my daughters make themselves present in the world. They are boldly creative individuals. The world is made better by their existence. I am not the cause of this creative force, but for a time I was the keeper of it, both inside my body and later inside my guidance. But my sending forth love and generosity into the world embodied by these women isn’t the sum of my contribution to the universe. I want to continue to create environments and opportunities which promote this bold and beautiful self-expression. But I can only bring forth this possibility if I also give life to creative, nurturing spaces for myself when I’m feeling like a small tap might make me shatter.

There’s a difference between other people labeling me hysterical – which they always will – and knowing that my emotions are entirely out of control and causing damage. This is the edge I am walking today, for many reasons, not all political.

So how do we care for ourselves when loving the world has worn us down? That’s not something I can answer for anyone but myself. For me, it includes flannel pants and whiskey sipping, twinkle lights and Christmas music. Not leaving the house for days. It means puttering and organizing and watching movies while crocheting and definitely staying away from news and the internet. It means putting my phone in a drawer, telling FOMO to shut up and snuggling with my husband. These are things which make me whole and promote wellness within. I can’t predict what will work for you. If you aren’t certain, it may mean you’re well overdue for a self-check and some serious self-care. Fear tells us the world can’t run without us, but love tells us there’s more than enough room for self-awareness in the expanse of time.

When I was training for a half-marathon, there were days when I pushed very hard. I ran long and exhausted myself. Then there were days when I rested – and ate a lot of cake. The rest periods were absolutely critical in order to heal and strengthen my body for the next long run. Without rest, everything begins to break down and deteriorate, causing fatigue and injury. Eventually, if we don’t surrender to rest, the body will push back, forcing us to give it the attention it needs.

This Divine work of creation is a marathon. There are days, weeks where we show up and give. Simply being present to see and hear another person is a holy act which draws on the energy of our souls. Most of us have days filled with interactions and activities which slowly deplete our energy and creativity. We then come home and fill our loved ones and living spaces with more of our energy, sleep for a bit – usually not enough, even I am guilty – and repeat the process. This is stressful, even eustress eventually demands a period of rest and regeneration.

This weekend I will be taking a restorative late fall rest. We have a three day weekend which I plan to fully inhabit without interruption from the outside world. Retreat is how I restore my emotional balance and my ability to see and be love in the world. These necessary pauses are how I ground myself again in the type of being I choose to embody. Have you listened to your soul recently? What’s one thing you can do to restore peace and healing to yourself this weekend?

A Prayer for November

Hello November,
I’m so excited to be back with you again. As one of my favorite months of the year, I feel you are underlauded by much of the world. Please know that even though your first day marks the beginning of the Christmas music season for me, I am in no hurry to race through your golden hours. I love everything about you, except the time change – why do we still observe that shit anyway? But I digress, I love everything about you. I love that you begin with brilliant gold sunsets and end with slippers and flannel sheets. I love that for the south, you are the bearer of the leaves changing and the first frost. I love your quiet heartbeat of gratitude which thrums under it all.

Every year I approach you by saying to myself, I will be industrious and handle all the Christmas details this month. And then I never do. I spend long grey afternoons in pajama pants with a blanket, a book, and a warm drink instead. You hold all the promise of productivity, but you also keep pretending we have all the time in the world before the holiday rush. Once that bird hits the table it’s all GO GO GO!! FESTIVITIES COMMENCE! But those first four weeks are like a warm lullaby. Thank you for that.

I have some plans for this month, November. I hope you’ll work with me on them. I want to walk through you for a while each day and contemplate all the changes this year has brought. Who knew when I stepped out with January that we’d travel so far in just a few months? I know this is generally July’s song, but I keep finding new freedom everywhere I turn, and I don’t want to take a moment of these revelations for granted. Just like you always remind us, I am grateful, grateful, grateful for this life I’m building/ receiving – I’m never very sure which one it is. You make a lovely backdrop for this type of meditation, November. Here’s a little more gratitude just for being you.

I hope you’ll bring some new lessons for me, Nov – can I call you, Nov? I’m trying to learn to balance anger at injustice, oppression, and cruelty with openness and vulnerability. Maybe we can work together to keep knocking down walls while maintaining safe boundaries, and to be transparent without remaining a victim. There’s so much I want to do. Help me not race ahead blindly, but ground me in mindfulness and compassion, especially self-compassion. This healing thing isn’t for the close-minded and reckless.

Let’s take a moment to talk about books, ok? Your sister months have delivered some amazing reads. I’ve discovered wisdom in the most unexpected places. I’ve experienced a great deal of joy sharing my bookish discoveries with friends and strangers alike. I even have a growing number of regulars who come looking for suggestions for the next read. I didn’t expect this lovely addition to my life, November. I hope you’ve got plans for me on the shelves and in the stacks. We’ll spend a fair number of hours together there. Let’s make them lovely.

Most of all, November, I hope you’ll remind me to slow down and breathe. Of all the lessons I am slow to learn, this is the one I need the most. Remind me to open the sunroof, sit on the porch, light the fire, have the wine, meet a friend for dinner and laugh. I really hope you remind me to laugh, it’s my new favorite thing. I know it may seem I have high hopes for us this year, but I believe all of these things and more are possible. We’re going to have a great thirty days together. And maybe next year, we work on ditching the time change, eh? But for now, I think we’re just about perfect.

Here’s to a great month!
D.

September Song

“Oh it’s a long, long while from May to December, but the days grow short when we reach September” — Maxwell Anderson

 

September has been a hot mess of a month, perhaps the meanest one this summer. I can’t even talk about the temperatures except to say that the last two days I have at least not wanted to die the moment I stepped outdoors. Party’s over summer; SEE YA! But mostly the weather has served to underscore the discomfort of some necessary soul work. It’s been six months since Craig was fired from his position in ministry. The first three months we spent adjusting to me working full time and him not working at all (Oy Vey!). The second three months we spent adjusting to his new job and both of us working full time at which point I completely gave up ever caring about what’s for dinner or whether anyone eats at all.

 

And here we are. Forty-eight hours from the final severance check, the final tie to anything church-related, and me with enough normalcy and time on my hands to start uncovering the wounds and scars in order to see what’s left of me. The good news: I seem mostly intact.

 

I don’t know what I expected to happen at this point, but in some ways, I think I hoped to be further along than this? Which is silly, really. A decade of damage doesn’t magically go away in only six months. Perhaps it’s the settling that has me unsettled. For six months everything was new and exciting and amazing. RAH! RAH! RAH! And now? Well, now we’re settled. This is life. Probably life until we retire to the beach and what the hell are we going to do with it? That’s a question, isn’t it? Probably not one I’ll answer in one morning of writing.

 

You see, I’ve started making myself write every morning again. Most of it is not for public consumption but some of it may evolve into thoughts worth sharing. The thing about all this freedom is that I don’t want to squander it. I literally have everything I wanted, everything I asked the Universe for this time last year and I don’t want to waste time wallowing about in the mire of victimhood. And yet, I’ve rumbled with the chains of professional religion for so long, I haven’t quite figured out how to live without them. I’m so buoyant I don’t know what to do with my limbs, and I worry about floating away instead of using my freedom to fly. Or maybe I’m just creating my own drama now that I’m free of drama thrust upon me. I wouldn’t put it past me.

 

We’re racing into my favorite time of year. The span from October to January is traditionally a time I thrive. I’m using these creative morning moments to look at the months ahead as a canvas to paint on rather than a soapbox to stand on.  Now that I’m finally free to share whatever opinions I want, I feel less inclined to. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have to worry about setting myself apart from a culture which lately has me feeling more and more ashamed of its image. I’m looking forward to creating my own image and identity and exploring Divine images and identities previously unknown to me. For the past two years, we hoped to be done with Milledgeville by the close of the waning year, but this year we’ve chosen a new outlook. We’re ready to thrive in a place which grew on us when we weren’t looking and provided a chance at something entirely new in ways we never expected.

 

These are gifts I can’t ignore.

 

Last night as I was climbing into bed, I thought to myself, “This is my real life. What am I going to do with it now?” I know, nice put you sleep thoughts, aren’t they? But the truth of them is still ringing in my head this morning. This is my real life. I’m not waiting to move, or for the other shoe to drop – An aside, I don’t know how many shoes those people wore, but they dropped them at least monthly for years – or for things to get better. This is my real life to shape and create and do with whatever I please. The only person I answer to is just as invested in creating a great life with me as I am, which is another gift I don’t take lightly. Along the way, I’m certain to talk about my life experiences, both recently and long past. They have me shaped into the person I am, a damn fine, imperfect and evolving human being, more gifts upon gifts.

 

What will I do with my real life, my wild and precious life? I guess that’s partly what this space is for now, to unwrap all the gifts that freedom reveals and all the ways I am learning to grow and fly in it. This doesn’t have to be the settling place, instead, it can be a launching pad, a dynamic space which includes my wounds and experiences but isn’t limited by them. Where both what has happened to me and what I do with it propel me forward instead of constantly dragging me back.

 

What does life look like when the kids are grown and the mid-life crises are navigated, when the careers have changed and the retirement plans are decided and all that freedom you thought you had when you graduated college as a “real grown-up” (don’t take offense, I use quotation marks when I call myself a “real grown-up” too) finally makes an appearance?  Well, I don’t know. But I plan to find out – starting now, at the end of a hot, messy September.

What happened when I finally stopped moving

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.

 

How it feels to leave church

I met a friend while doing some birthday shopping this week. We were out in public and as we chatted a bit, she said some things which made me realize she didn’t know about our recent life changes. When I told her my husband left his church position, her next question is the one which seems the inevitable follow-up: where are you going to church now?

For years I’ve witnessed the tongue clucking, pearl clutching, shake-your-head-in-shame response to people who forgo the experience of the Sunday church service. I know what to expect when I give my reply. Still, I take a deep breath and mentally gird my loins every time I speak it aloud. At this point, I’m not telling people what they want to hear.

We aren’t attending a church service, right now.

(I use the words ‘right now’ to soften the blow. Eventually my husband will miss church, but me, I have no plans to return to evangelical church, not now, not ever. Not church as we’ve experienced it.)

I realize this question, and the ensuing behavior correcting protests which follow are seen as a loving way to ‘guide me back into the fold.’ Clearly, I’ve backslidden in some invisible way. I need only be reminded of the importance of having a place to worship and the tribe which accompanies my brand of loyalty. I can be fixed. After all, God commanded us to go to church is part of the doctrine I’ve been fed for decades.  But I’m no longer swallowing religious platitudes wholeheartedly, and unfortunately, I can’t seem to find those verses.

Please, don’t go quoting Paul at me, now. Paul isn’t God and our female church population aren’t wearing head covers, either.

Leaving church for me is a strange untethering, like walking around in unlaced shoes. Sure there’s more room for comfort, but my stride is a bit awkward while I adjust to the change.  As much as I enjoy the freedom of being myself after years of failed attempts at conformity, it doesn’t make facing people’s reactions any easier.

What I’m not saying is being part of a church is wrong or bad, nor am I demeaning people who find great depth and meaning in their religious community. I just don’t buy into the whole ‘worship service experience’ as the end-all-be-all test of my relationship wth God or my ability to develop and thrive as a spiritual being.  I have repeatedly been loved more deeply and treated more humanely by those outside the church community than those associated with it.

I don’t think church is a bad thing, but I absolutely think the way I experience it currently is a toxic environment for me.

Leaving church has made me feel a bit like Paul who had an experience with the Divine (in the middle of a common street, no less. No alter call required) which caused scales to fall from his eyes. After this experience he never saw the same way again. He never rested very easy with established religious leaders afterwards, either.  Paul found himself in all sorts of communities: professional, neighborhood, long distance, home gatherings. We call these communities church, now, but then they simply called it ‘ecclesia,’ literally, a gathering of people. In fact, the word ecclesia was informal and organic long before we grabbed it and mashed it into a religious construct and declared it superior to any other gathering.

I do believe we are called to community. Even this hardcore introvert recognizes the need for connection. I’m part of many groups of all sorts and constructs. Most are open and welcoming, a few are new and a little intimidating. None of them force me to believe a certain set of doctrinal norms to be accepted. In fact, most of them don’t give a hot damn about my theology. It’s my humanity they love and care for, my emotions, my health, my needs and my person.

These groups are all ecclesia to me, a group of people working together for a common goal and taking care of each other along the way. To say the divine is not in our midst as we go along, is to limit the Divine in ways I no longer recognize.

I’m still sorting out what it means to be spiritual but not evangelical.  I’m still a Christian in that I still see Jesus as the true revelation of God, even though I no longer see Jesus as exclusive or final revelation of God. I’m releasing inerrancy, exclusivity, superiority, mysogyny, nationalism, violence and retribution and leaning into the inherent goodness of humanity, the beauty, fragility and diversity of this earth, blessing over curse, love over morality, peace over punishment, but it is often difficult to rewrite the tracks written into my heart and mind for so long.

Mostly I’m setting the healthy boundary that no person or group of people automatically has the authority to tell me what to think and how to feel based on religious positioning. Authority doesn’t indicate relationship, compassion or compatibility. Spirituality and development aren’t one size fits all endeavors; acronyms are cheap ways to dictate behavior modification and call it community.

Maybe your experience is different. I hope your experience is different. No one should experience the layers of rejection I have from an organization professing unconditional love. But I know there are many of us on the outside, and we deserve a space to talk about our experience too. This is my space, and you’re welcome here even if you are reading this on your phone in the middle of Sunday service thinking I’ve got it all wrong. In some ways, I am sure I do; I’m just no longer concerned with getting it all perfectly right.

No, I’m not ‘going to church’ right now. But I am part of community, ones which make me better, which change my thinking and transform my life, but most importantly, communities which make me more of who I was created to be instead of less like me and more like someone else’s vision of who I should be.  My ecclesia is exactly as its meant to be even if it isn’t at 10am on Sunday morning with three songs to get me in the mood for God.  I know, that may make you uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable sometimes, too. But mostly, it makes me grateful and joyful and full of love and life. I think Jesus called it, worshipping in Spirit and Truth.  He didn’t limit that to service times or congregation.

 

 

Better

Last week I wrote about time, how I track it in small increments and try to capture it’s shape and meaning.  I am a marker of time watching the moon, following the seasons, counting the hours and minutes of daylight. This week is the summer solstice, the turning of the earth. This week we mark the longest days this year will see. We begin the turning of Earth towards dark and cool and rest.

This week also marks three months since…well, since things got better.

It feels strange to say it that way. The last time we were involuntarily ousted from a place of worship, it seemed a more catastrophic event had never happened to us. This time, we only feel peace. Peace and release and the most amazing sense of freedom.

I’ve observed time for many reasons: birthdays and cancerversaries, weddings and funerals, travels and trials, events good and bad and those simply unimaginable. I try to take note of the events which change and shape me, even years later, watching for growth and change, noting scars and swimming in grace.

The day I left professional church, whether only for now or for good, is the day my life began turning for the better. The same way the earth tilts to the sun, the way a sunflower tracks the path of light across the sky, my soul is turning to the warmth and light of growing into my nature.

We, my family and I, are getting better. Healing. We are remembering who we were before we crammed our souls into shapes they weren’t created to hold. I tried to uphold a way of thinking and living which directly contradicted the contours of my heart, growing stunted and brittle. I didn’t begin in this distorted form, but as I grew and changed my environment didn’t. I withered and stunted like a flower left too long under a blazing and relentless summer sky.

Life has turned, and our parched, weary souls are remembering what it means to rest and find water in unexpected places.  We find ourselves with new relationships and shifting communities whose gentle presence asks no more of us than to be exactly who we are. Mother God can handle the rest, and all will be well.

While I’ve been at odds with the Bible lately, I find myself leaning into the Message translation in moments when I do reflect on a book I hope to connect with again some day.  Today, I am meditating on these words:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

‘Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.’ This is a promise I can rest in for awhile.

It is the time of turning seasons, and we are better for it and in it.