Saturday, December 31, 2011
I also chose a word for the new year. A word that summed up everything that I was committed to pursuing and fighting for. The word I chose was Together.
One of my desires at the time was to feel "together" within myself. Not as in, "Yep, I've got it all together," but in the sense of feeling whole and in touch with all of the parts of me that I had not previously accepted or embraced. 2011 has proved to be a year of discovering who I really am, and uncovering many of the false images I have had about myself.
But in the middle of the year, my word also challenged me to my core. In the midst of feeling daunted and confused about the changes that emerged in my life, I heard a whisper in my heart, urging me to adopt a new word for the remainder of 2011: Grace.
I needed to take a step back. I needed to hold on to Grace when everything in my life--instead of feeling together--seemed to be ripping apart at the seams.
I'm thankful for that experience because it takes the pressure off choosing this year's word. I can set my eyes on a course, just like I did in 2010, but I know full well that I may get redirected.
When I think of my word for 2012, I get a picture in my mind.
I have been in one of the hardest seasons of my life. I feel like I've been standing at the edge of a shoreline and these great waves have come one after another. They are fierce, they are intense, and they are unrelenting. Their sheer force have threatened to beat me up and knock me over, but I have remained standing—with my eyes closed and my arms spread out beside me.
I know the waves aren’t going to stop. I am in the midst of a storm, and (unfortunately) I don’t think that storm is going to cease just because I am on the cusp of a new year! So I have decided to take the momentum and strength that I have gained in the last 7 months of GRACE into the year 2012, so I can continue to STAND.
STAND. That's the word.
STAND. (I wanted to write it one more time because every time I have thought about it in the past few weeks I see just as it is written. In big, bold capital letters.)
STAND makes me think of a verse in the Bible. It is found in a passage that describes how there is a cosmic struggle going on in our world (and therefore our lives) every day. Paul, the writer, encourages his friends to gird themselves with spiritual armor and to be aware of the battle that rages on--often unseen.
The verse I am thinking of says this: "Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand." (Ephesians 6:13)
In 2012, I am going to STAND.
I realize that the storm I am faced with may continue to rage, but I am going to stand. I realize that there may be times when I feel battered and bruised, but I am going to stand.
And in the midst of it all, I will lift my eyes to heaven and thank God that though I may be drenched, my feet are planted firmly and I will not be knocked down.
I'm standing. What are you doing in 2012? Have you picked a word?
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
When I landed in the Great Unknown, all my mail from the Land Where I Came From was automatically forwarded.
Sometimes I forget that not everyone who sends me messages knows my new address. So I’m caught off guard when I get a random postcard from those who are still comfortably planted in another land with questions like, “Where have you been?” or “What’s new?”
I feel frazzled, tongue-tied. All of the turmoil that is delicately residing just beneath the surface of my soul starts to churn—and it takes awhile for things to settle again.
Even after all of this writing and staking claim to my reality, I still want to pretend—for my sake, not theirs—that nothing has changed. I want to casually reply: “Not much going on with me. How ‘bout you?”
Since I can’t answer honestly with those words, I try to figure out a way for that response to be true.
This is when I wonder if I’m related to the Grimm brothers because I start concocting this fantastic fairy tale about how my time here will come to an abrupt halt because of a great rescue that ends my troubles forever. I can spend hours (or days, if I’m not careful) fantasizing about all the details leading up to a variety of happy endings—each more unlikely than the first.
When I give in to the urge and live in fantasy-land for too long I feel exhausted. And I inevitably get interrupted by the truth-teller in me.
“You really want to get out of here like that?” she asks me squarely. “And what do you think life will be like if you do get OUT? Do you remember why you left your other land? Do you remember why you came here?”
Yes. I remember.
I guess my active imagination was just a variation of an adult tantrum. And I end up right where I started: I’m still here.
A fellow traveler, someone who came here years before me, has repeatedly asked me an equally challenging question in the midst of my tantrums: “Why are you wasting all that beautiful energy trying to change something that you can’t?”
I don’t have an answer. All I can do is file my behavior in the mental folder labeled “Do not repeat.” (Sadly, it’s a well-worn file that I am very familiar with. I often find myself rummaging through its contents with feigned ignorance as I mumble, “What was that thing I wasn’t going to do again?”)
I can also make a decision to use all of that “beautiful energy” for a different purpose. I can use it to propel me forward.
Monday, November 7, 2011
The season always end with the top three designers creating a collection that is presented in a runway show. This year the judges were so impressed with the final four that they broke tradition and let them all go to the runway.
While I enjoyed seeing what each of them had to present, I was paying more attention to the story that unfolded. Each one of the final four either dedicated or attributed the inspiration for their designs to a family member who had passed away. Two designers lost their mothers and two lost their brothers.
Why was there such an overwhelming commonality of loss? What is it about pain that propels people artistically?
As I have been writing about my travels through the Great Unknown, I find that when things go smoothly--when the water is running clear, my pack fits right and my feet aren't sore--I just don't have much to say (not in this space anyway).
It's when I slip and fall--and still have fresh blood dripping down my knees--that I feel most compelled to write. It's in those moments that I feel the pull to put pen to paper and make my story known.
I don't have a tidy explanation for this. I only know it's true. Somehow each time I sit down to document the truth of my present experiences, a little bit of the sorrow that has held my soul bound for so long loosens its grip and unravels a little more.
Friday, October 28, 2011
Sometimes a broken heart speaks in a whisper, sometimes through muffled cries, and sometimes through loud demands.
Tonight my broken heart cried out with perfect clarity: "Encourage me!" So I tried to do just that.
In true 2011 style, I googled that exact request, and the Internet answered back.
I landed on a site that had a video about Derek Redmond--an Olympic athlete who suffered a terrible disappointment during his 400-meter race.
Just 150 yards in (less than half-way through), he tore his hamstring and fell to the ground in pain.
In the midst of his agony and defeat, Derek made a courageous decision.
He rose to his feet and began hobbling along the track, determined to finish the race.
Suddenly, an older man emerged on the field. It was Derek's father.
He put his son's arm around his neck. The young runner sobbed, leaned in, and buried his head in his papa's chest.
The two of them slowly walked the track together. Derek was in obvious pain, yet he continued to move forward.
And Derek finished the race that day.
The footage I watched is accompanied by a song (now playing on my blog) that was an anthem to me 7 years ago during a very pivotal time in my life. As soon as it began, my broken heart breathed deeply and gave up the tears it has been holding back all day.
I needed to hear that anthem again. And I needed to be reminded of this:
The journey through the Unknown isn't about speed--it's not a race--but it is important to finish.
Even if I am tempted to turn back and run the other way, even if I feel like I can't hack it in the tough terrain, and even if I trip and fall, there's always Someone here to walk alongside me so I can keep going... until my time here is done.
Monday, October 24, 2011
Jesus was tempted when He was out in the wilderness--alone--in unfamiliar territory. And yet, He was right where He was supposed to be.
I jumped out of a plane, landed in the Great Unknown, embraced the Silence as my traveling companion... and yet I feel stuck.
My journey thus far has been about forward movement. Writing about it using colorful metaphors has helped me to view this process through the lens of adventure.
But today I want to stop moving and camp out right where I am. I feel battle-worn and I'm craving a taste of the familiar.
It's in moments like these that I am tempted.
I am confronted with a barrage of rationalizations about why I should pack up my stuff and start heading in the opposite direction--back to the Land Where I Came From: the land of denial, complacency and half-awake living.
I want to believe that instead of putting more and more distance between me and that familiar territory, I should start inching my way back toward it--in the hopes that the "me" I have discovered in the Great Unknown will somehow follow me back to that Land.
I try to convince myself that I've journeyed far enough into the Great Unknown to have learned the lessons the terrain has to teach me; so I can say "Been there, done that, got the T-shirt" and call it a day.
"I'm wiser now," I tell myself, "I can go back; this time it'll be different."
This kind of thinking, by the way, is precisely how I stayed in the Land Where I Came From for so long. I'd dip my toe into the river on the outskirts of the Great Unknown with the confidence that I didn't need to journey any farther in for my life to really change. I figured I could cling to security and comfort and still grow to my full stature.
The wiser part of me knew that none of that was true. There are no shortcuts to healing, to growing, to making lasting change. And the good stuff takes time. There's no way around it.
But when I dip back down into the valleys, it's hard to remember that there is anything else ahead except for more valleys. Instead of feeling propelled by the beauty that's waiting for me down the road, I feel overwhelmed by the prospect of how much further I may have to go to actually get there.
Inspiration gives way to exhaustion and I don't want to take another step.
Except I'm not going to stop.
All the signs are pointing me further into the Unknown. It's teeming with life. But I want to leave a marker here because I know every sojourner faces the same temptation--to camp out or to head back toward "home"--at some point in their journey into the Unknown.
I'm putting my signpost in the ground to stir the hearts of other troubled travelers who will pass this point and feel like giving up, giving in, packing up and heading back to the Land where they came from.
Instead, I hope they'll stop, look up, read these words and courageously continue to move in deeper still.
Today I'm that traveler. I need the signpost more than anyone else. I am reading these words and tuning my ears to my wiser part that has spoken but been ignored for way too many years.
I'm tempted to go back. But I'm not giving in.
Monday, October 10, 2011
The great unknown is full of hidden treasures. The tricky thing is you have to venture deeper--uncomfortably farther--in if you want to claim them as your own.
Once I faced this reality, and knew I'd be living here for awhile, I decided to lighten my load--empty out my pack--so I can last here for the long haul.
One of the first things that had to go was the Noise. Even though we'd grown accustomed to being together, I knew I couldn't travel with it anymore.
To my surprise, as soon as I kicked it out, something else showed up in its place.
At first it was a relief to have another traveling companion. The Noise had been taking up so much space that my pack felt EMPTY without it. I was thankful for the Silence.
When the Noise was around, the air was always filled with energy. It was a frantic energy, but it kept me busy--preoccupied--nonetheless.
The Silence has its own kind of energy. It's foreign to me and it takes some getting used to.
It didn't take long for me to grow uncomfortable with the Silence. I started to crave my old "friend" again. I needed something familiar in this totally new terrain. I started fantasizing about the Noise.
Even though I wasn't carrying it with me, the Noise knew me well enough to stay close by. Sensing when I was the weakest, the Noise would press up against me--trying to block my path--and taunt: "Are you bored yet? It's much more exciting with me around. Just let me in for a few minutes. You'll see, it'll be like old times..."
And the Silence would wait. I would feel its piercing gaze as it gently whispered: "It's your call. But it's the Noise or me. You can't have both. You have to choose."
When I first landed, I was easily swayed by the Noise--I'd shrug my shoulders and reassure myself: "Just a little bit of Noise won't hurt. I mean it's just so quiet here without it."
But it didn't take long to see that the Noise always brings its friends with it: Frenzy, Anxiety, Panic and Fear. It's a big party until they show up.
I'm happy to say it's been awhile since I've invited them back in. The Silence has been with me for a good, long stretch. It's teaching me things that I simply couldn't hear when the Noise was around.
The Noise never let me get in word edge-wise, and all the Silence does is listen. Most of the time as we travel along we are each happy saying nothing.
As our relationship has deepened, I'm talking more. I'm asking questions. It doesn't always answer right back--it's not not the way of The Silence--but just at the right time, it'll look me in the eyes and share something I've been longing to hear.
The Silence also has its own set of friends: Sadness, Pain, Hope and Peace. I've met them all before, but the Noise was boisterous and bullying when they were around, feeling threatened by their presence. "We don't need them," it'd convince me, "we're doing just fine on our own."
The Silence is gentle. Unlike the Noise, it has nothing to prove. It is patient and polite. It always asks for permission before it lets its friends in: "Sadness wants to come for a visit... Would that be alright?"
I'm learning to trust the Silence. And that means trusting what shows up with it. I don't look forward to the visits from Pain, but when the Silence asks to let it in, I know I'll be okay.
And if it weren't for the Silence, I'd have never known what it's like to travel this distance with Peace on my back.
The great unknown is full of hidden treasure. I'm traveling deeper--uncomfortably farther--in to claim them as my own.
Saturday, October 1, 2011
We brew coffee, check email, wash dishes, work, rest, sleep. We have days that go just as planned and days where nothing goes the way we want it to at all. But until an alarm sounds--a death, a disease, a diagnosis, a discovery, the thing that hurls us right into the middle of it--we live as if it doesn't exist.
IT is the great UNKNOWN.
Sounds scary, doesn't it?
It sounds scary because it's a place where we've never been. It's that area we've yet to explore.
I've done my best to pretend it wasn't there. I've tried to convince myself that it was a place I'd never travel to. A place that I didn't need to see. Leave it to other brave souls, I thought, that is not for me.
As it turns out my airborne travel, the free fall, landed me here: in the great unknown.
As soon as my feet hit the ground, I surveyed the land and--being true to my first instincts--immediately assessed the quickest way OUT.
To my left were soaring, jagged walls of rock. And I had no gear to climb them.
To my right were raging rapids. And I had no raft to ride them.
I panicked. I looked left and right again. Scrambled for a way OUT. I wanted out. Out!!
"Won't someone get me out of here?" I yelled--feeling immediately hoarse. "Anyone? Anyone? Isn't there anything anyone can do?"
And my voice echoed off the rocks and mingled with the whooshing of the waters.
So I cried out again. Frantic to be heard. To be rescued. To be anywhere but HERE.
And again my calls echoed and mingled and whooshed. And I waited. I waited for the answer.
Night came. And it seemed to last for days.
The sun did rise (it always does), but it faded behind the thick clouds that had gathered through the night.
And just when I thought the sun would shine and provide light and warmth and illuminate the way OUT, it began to rain. And I had no umbrella.
And the rain seemed to last for days.
The clouds did clear (they always do), and then night came.
When the sun rose again the next morning, my clothes were still damp from the day before.
The clouds returned and filled the sky again that day, but they were not as thick as they had been the day before. And for the first time since my landing, the sun shone brightly--just for a moment.
And in that brief moment of sunshine, my heart knew something. My heart knew that no one was going to come to my rescue. There really wasn't anything anyone could do.
But panic didn't strike. Peace came.
I knew then that I didn't need a rescue... I simply needed to go through.
Since that day, the day the sun broke through, I am still making my way through the unknown. I'm still surrounded by walls of rock and raging waters, and yes, it still rains. But I am learning to dance in the rain.
The unknown exists beyond the fringe of our comfort zones. It stands outside the borders of safe, easy, predictable and neat. It's a place we all have to visit.
If you've been here, then what I've described is familiar terrain. And if you haven't travelled here yet, allow me to reassure you of something.
Although it's not a place most choose to travel to, many have been here and many are journeying their way through. And though at times you will feel lonely, you don't need a rescue because you are never alone.
Sunday, September 25, 2011
I get frantic. I get impatient. I want to pull on the cord and unfurl the parachute in the hopes that I can direct my descent a little sooner. But it never works out the way I want it to. I end up floating through the air and waiting longer than I would have if I had let things unfold at the right time; and I end up even more anxious to get my feet onto solid ground.
There's no stopping the free fall because I'm already out of the plane. So I can either enjoy the scenery around me, appreciate the wind in my face, celebrate the feeling of being ALIVE... or... I can count the minutes, the seconds until "it's all over" and live with my eyes shut tight.
I'm blinking... Sometimes my eyes are open, sometimes they're closed, but I'm in the air and I'm not sure when I'm coming down.
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
I took Zach swimming at a neighbor’s pool. On the drive home I was very aware of something going on inside of me. I wasn’t upset, anxious or afraid. But I felt out of my element.
I realized that part of me not used to living with so much peace.
I have been living for many of the past nine years in a state of crisis. Except for short seasons of respite, at least one area of my life has been in a state of major disarray.
So days like today--when the rhythm is slow and melodic, even lullaby-ish--are not what I am used to.
In the past, days like today--instead of refreshing my soul and restoring hope--would cause me to go into a tailspin. I would start to feel irritable, angry or off-balance and I wouldn’t know why.
I would do some soul-searching and realize that I was getting trapped in the vortex of waiting for the other shoe to drop. But it would usually take me days to catch this cycle. And I didn’t really know how to resolve it.
I felt like I was living in a soup of survival and dread all mixed together… a pot ready to boil over… with anxiety steaming out the sides and making the lid quiver and shake.
So instead of fully enjoying the good moments when they came, I was straddled between realities. I had one foot in the present, semi-appreciative for the good things I was experiencing, and one foot in the past--as a way to remind myself that tragedy can strike any moment and to prepare my future self for that reality.
Not all the time. Not all the time. But a lot of the time.
Today was different.
As soon as I heard that old melody--the one that sounds like the notes on the Jaws movie that tell us the predator is coming--that predicts “something bad is going to happen,” I addressed it.
I reassured my heart, my brain, myself that it’s okay. It’s okay to have a good day. It doesn’t mean the world is going to fall apart tomorrow.
I acknowledged that Yes, things have happened in my life that shattered my illusions of what I thought reality was… events that were unexpected and tragic and seemed to go on and on.
And yet… Today. Today was not one of those earth-shattering days. And I don’t suspect tomorrow will be either.
But that’s not the point. Today is the point.
I didn’t miss Today because I was thinking about yesterday’s tragedy and using that as a forecast of today’s misery or tomorrow’s what ifs. I enjoyed today.
That’s all I can do. I can enjoy today. And tomorrow, I’ll enjoy tomorrow. But it’s still today.
And today is a good day.
P.S. In total honesty, I was reticent to post this. My first thought was, “Oh no, now what’s going to happen tomorrow?” So I had to reassure my heart, my brain, myself all over again. It’s okay. It’s going to be okay.