Being Present with a Friend in the Hard Times (Part Two)

I have hens.  I have had hens for thirty-five years.  I just love the girls.  But with chicken food and water outside, it ends up being a “come and get it” smorgasbord for all the rats in the neighborhood.  They live down under the chicken yard.  And they apparently have tunnels all over; lots and lots going on under the surface.  Eventually a few holes popped up here and there.  We were concerned a little, but I was sure it would be fine.  As long as it’s under the surface – out of sight – we can pretend it’s going to be fine.  Then one day, Kevin was walking through the chicken yard, and he stepped on a rat hole, and, well, his whole foot went through because it happened to be where four tunnels all connected!  Yikes!  So, we put a rattrap near the hole and put a recycling tub over the top, and then we went on vacation.  My friend that was caring for the hens while we were gone, texted and said that she lifted up the tub one day to check it out and the rattrap was gone! Nowhere to be found!  It had been taken down into the cavern underneath the surface!  

Pretending that there is nothing going on under the surface of our hearts – that we can just ignore the holes showing up here and there – will eventually lead to a foot breaking through to the realities that are hidden below.  And the tricky thing is that relationship is where our rat holes are revealed!  That’s why community and friendships can feel so hard.  We have good intentions in our denial to be there for a friend, but it gets so complicated when the friend we are trying to support ends up falling into one of our rat holes where we had carefully placed a recycling tub or manhole cover over! (Most people who think they are fully conscious or ‘smart’ and in control, have a big iron manhole cover over their unconscious.”  See Part One for full quote.)  Being honest with ourselves is one of the hardest people to be real with.  But intimacy with a friend begins with honesty with me!  Okay, the unconscious probably feels like a bottomless pit.  That is why we feel afraid of it.  Who knows what horrors are lurking there?  But the lie is that if I keep the recycling tub, or even better, a manhole cover, over my unconscious, then I am safe from the mess and pain that lie under there.   If only.  It’s like water or smoke: it will seep out, dump out, or rage out, and probably on your best friend in the form of sheet rage!  (Again, see Part One.)  Then, if I am especially determined to keep all the unknown chaos buried in the rat cavern; I will often resort to blame.  Who can I blame when I am hell-bent on locking down the hatch on all that I am afraid to feel?  And when blame gets going, friendships end up in a mess and then there are new wounds and possibly new chaos to throw down in the cavern.  And then, oh, the added pain of possibly a lost friendship!

Being as centered as you can, requires time – journaling, reading, silence, spending time in nature, walking – however you do it.   And then add Grace.  In grief, loss, and suffering with friends – it requires lots and lots of grace and mercy for them and for you.  Perhaps you didn’t respond how you wish you would have; didn’t extend mercy to yourself.  Perhaps she didn’t respond right and left you cold or shut you down.  Extend tender compassion for each of you, forgiving our friends and ourselves constantly; daily.  Practice forgiving yourself moment-by-moment.  Anne Lamott says, that “earth is forgiveness school.”  How you treat you is how you will treat your friends.  If you are constantly judging, being harsh and unforgiving to yourself, that’s how you will treat your friends.  

Another place to extend grace is when suffering brings doubts and questions.  “How could God allow this to happen?”  Allow space for your friend to question.  Try not to let their questions make you afraid.  No matter what truth you hold dear, or how harsh their questions may seem to you, allow grace and space for their pain, fear and doubts.  Our fears can trigger each other, especially if it connects with my security or my certitudes.   Extend the gift of freedom to express and explore.  See them through eyes of mercy.

Anne Lamott shares,  “If someone listens, deeply, you’ve been heard, which helps you absorb it, and you can lay it at the feet of the right god.” She also writes, “I’m a recovering higher power: I deeply want to fix and rescue everyone, but can’t.  I have to believe that a real higher power is struggling in this as much as we are.  But horribly, if healing and care are going to get done, it will be love working through us.  Us!  In our current condition, not down the road, when we are in the fullness of our restoration, in wholeness, compassionate detachment, patient amusement.  Us, now. . . I don’t agree with the pace of how slowly we evolve toward patience, wisdom, forgiveness.”

We can also land in a place of judgment to create distance.  If I can dismiss you or part of your story – then I don’t have to feel empathy for you.  It releases me.  I can walk away or just shut down.  If I can judge your choices as foolish or unwise – then I don’t have to walk through the pain you are experiencing or move into grieving with you.  My judging protects me; it justifies my need to not feel what you are enduring, and it keeps me distant, because if I get too close, it might require too much of me.  But remember, being present with a friend does not mean you have to fix it.  That is a hard one for me.  I have always struggled with feeling responsible to DO something once I was aware of your pain.  Sometimes a meal or flowers are a bright spot in a dark loss but it is actually an even greater gift to just sit and listen. It takes a lot more of me to choose to just sit and be present in the midst of suffering.  It hurts to hurt.  Try hard not to judge your friends loss.  Honor any sorrow as unique and sacred. 

Another way we tend to create distance from a friend suffering is by sharing an experience that we or someone we know, has experienced.  We can get in a panic inside and unconsciously need out of the conversation.  It feels to hard – perhaps it is triggering me – maybe touching a story within me that I have never dealt with.  Some signs of you trying to escape: “Oh, my neighbor lost her son…”and we tell the story.  Or “Oh, I had an Aunt that went through that. …” and we tell that story.  ‘Know what happens?  That turns the focus off of our friends present grief and onto me and what I am sharing.  It shuts down my friend’s expression of her sorrow.  Because now my friend is deciding how to respond and perhaps even ends up comforting me.  It shuts down connection.   Sharing platitudes are  ways we can create distance and shut down connection: “God won’t give you more than you can handle”(which is not in the Bible, btw), or “It was meant to be,” or “Time heals all wounds,” or “Forgive and forget,” or “Everything always works out in the end,” to name a few.  Let go of YOU and be with HER.  It’s hard, hard, hard because often I am desperate to not feel the depths of what she is experiencing.  And we can’t really connect when we want to stay on the surface.  

In order to be able to BE with our friends, the goal is to extend compassion, which literally means  “to suffer with. Just being present with; letting go of our own responses to allow space for theirs.  This may have to begin with you extending compassion to yourself.  Caring for your heart is the way to be able “to suffer with.”

What made all the difference for me is when I realized it is not advice that we all need.  Rather, it is to be seen.  Because again, I can keep some distance if I give you advice.  Man, it’s hard! Listen to your friend – see her – validate her suffering, pain, or struggle.  There is so much loneliness in our world today.  You would think that with so much technology, that we would be super connected.  But things like Facebook are not real connection.  I saw on a single friends Facebook page “It costs $0.00 to remind someone they aren’t alone in this world.” She is desperate to be seen.  We are desperate to be seen.

I was with a friend that was going through a difficult and painful time and she was struggling deeply.  She wanted things to be different but it was so scary to step out into a new place.  She was in a dark place.  One day she shared that she was in the place where it feels all is lost and nothing will ever be okay again.  I found that I kept trying to talk her away from the edge; to speak some balance and hope into the ‘hopeless’ darkness she was buried in.  But as I did that she would dig deeper into the pit of despair; she inched closer to the edge.  “Well, this isn’t helping,” I thought.  Then I let go of trying to pull her out.  I let go.  And I sat with her and I did what felt so counter-intuitive to me – I just began validating her pain.  As she said, “It will never be okay, it’s always going to be awful, I’ll never be free of all this . . .” I said, “I know.  This is awful.  It is so painful and so terrible to be in this place. . .”  And you know what happened?  She began to drop her shoulders and grieve.  The darkness softened just a little bit.  And all I did was See her and validate how hard and terrible it is to be in this place.  

What a gift we can give each other – to just See each other.  No fixing; no pep talks; no advice.  Back in my college classes they taught us to listen and then just paraphrase back what the person just shared.  Active listening.  Compassionate listening.  And the gift is for both of us.  I stop trying to think how to help you or fix your situation and actually hear what you are saying – and then all of a sudden, I am present.  I am here with you.  I am not off in my mind, trying to solve this tragic thing or trying to figure out how to give you hope.  I am just here.  Fully present.  And you know what happens then?  I feel your pain.  I experience compassion.   And I can just weep with you.  But as long as I am trying to fix or help, it keeps me distanced.  Wait a minute!  Of course!  Deep, deep down – the fixing is about me!  If I can keep up in my head and try to ‘help’ in some way, I don’t have to feel what you are going through.  I don’t have to be present.  Because it hurts to hurt.  It hurts to hurt with you.  But, wow!  What a gift we can give each other!

“We think that our job as humans is to avoid pain, our job as parents is to protect our children from pain, and our job as friends is to fix each other’s pain.  Maybe that’s why we all feel like failures so often – because we all have the wrong job description of love.  People who are hurting don’t need Avoiders, Protectors, or Fixers.  What we need are patient, loving witnesses.  People who sit quietly and hold space for us.  People to stand in the helpless vigil to our pain.”  Glennon Doyle 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Being Present with a Friend in the Hard Times (Part One)

The next two posts will be adapted from some sharing I did with a group of women at a retreat recently.

Friendships can be so hard and messy, because, of course, we each bring our mess to the table.  We all carry wounds within us that influence our responses to each other.  Much of it is unconscious which makes friendships even more complicated to maneuver when so much of our story is buried, partly out of survival and partly out of choice.   My childhood beginnings were filled with trauma and terror; torture so intense that in order to survive, I had to dissociate and shut off my heart and mind so I could survive.  That saved me as a child and also allowed me to live as an adult without any of the traumatic memories.  One of the losses however, is that as an adult, not only did I have almost no memories of my childhood – good or bad – but I continued to be shut down and not be present.  I had no childhood experience of love.  

I found God when I was fourteen years old, and as I grew in my faith and my desire to connect with others, I realized I was cut off from those around me, unable to make connection or even really love, and certainly not able to be there for friends in all that they faced in this crazy life.  As I eventually faced my trauma, through years of memory and grief work, I slowly began to wake up and the gift of Presence was one of the new and beautiful experiences.  In this conversation, as we talk about being available for friends as they struggle and hurt, we will be talking a lot about our own transformation to presence, which is a critical key.  

As I was walking through years and years of therapy – living in a dark place of remembering – it was very difficult for many of my friends.  We all experience loss when our friends are walking through something demanding and full of trauma.  It is hard for both of us.  The one going through the crisis feels alone and isolated and the one supporting feels like they are loosing their friend, or at the very least, it is unsettling when the friend we have known and loved is different and changing and grieving deeply.  We may struggle with big, complex feelings, wishing things would stay the same.  We just want things to be the way they were.  The familiar draws us … even if it is hurting us.  It is so challenging to allow each other to grow and change.  Because change always feels like loss.  (So, in any kind of change, be compassionate to yourself.  There is always loss associated with it.)

When we are in a place of trauma, loss, and pain, not all our friends will be able to be present with us in those places.  In fact, many won’t.  Journeys of loss, pain, and crisis are going to require a lot of grace, mercy, love and forgiveness … between friends.  

Fifteen years ago, my husband and I started a church called Renovatus ( Latin for “renovation”).  I had also initiated my therapy for childhood trauma that same year.  At about year six in our Renovatus Church journey, and also six years into the depths of my trauma work, our son and church planting partner, Ryan, got a brain tumor in his spine and we walked together with Ryan, Jessica, and their children for seventeen months before he died.  My sweet dear friends that had been trying to be with me in different ways through my trauma grief work – now were trying to be with me through the loss of our son.  On-going crisis can really challenge friendships as everyone involved is weary and worn.  We had some friends that couldn’t go there with us in the loss of our son.  It was so painful to have friends that couldn’t actively grieve with us.  That created some distance in those relationships for a time.  That can create a wound in the friendship and the relationship is changed – mostly because I am changed – and so a friendship can feel strained and different.  But we must hold the reality of what it is now, and the question is, “What do I do with that friendship?”  Relationship 101: You can’t change the other person.  (I can barely change me!)  Do I experience more loss because my friend has not been able to grieve with me?  Or do I forgive the reality and eventually rebuild with what we have together?  I decided that I already had too much loss and I wasn’t going to lose someone else, if it was up to me.  Yes, friendships will now be different.  And so there is additional loss because it is different.  But it becomes something new.  There can still be love, but it looks different.  Sometimes I miss what some of the friendships were.  But the challenge is to be present with what is.  Relationship that is pretend doesn’t bless anyone.  

The goal with our friends, whether in crisis or not, is to be a safe place; to listen to their story, to see them, and to validate their pain.  I was tempted to say that for both parties to be a safe place, listen to each other’s stories, to really see each other and to validate each other’s pain.  BUT, we have no control over how someone else responds to us or if they choose to be present and really SEE us.  Because it’s never about fixing or judging someone else.  It’s about allowing God to transform me.  How present will I be?

“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded.  It’s a relationship between equals.  Only when we know our own darkness well, can we be present with the darkness of others.”  Pema Chaldron

Kevin is my best friend.  This summer, I had a lot going on, good things like we took grandkids camping for our yearly camping trip – just the four of us.  Good stuff.  But there had been a bunch of ‘good things’ where I was not able to have my centering time.  I am an introvert.  I get centered and empowered by being alone and journaling and reading.  I had used up all my reserve resources and also had several friends in crisis  (my heart was heavy with their pain and trying to just hold it), so I was in an ‘empty’ state.  The tank was out of gas.  But I kept going.  We were getting ready for the next camping trip (which also had me in a panic because I wasn’t sure I could secure any ‘alone’ time to refill, and I knew things were desperate and dangerous).  Kevin was getting the trailer ready for the next trip while I was at work.  How sweet.  But I was in the ‘dark’ place, so when he told me he swept, washed the floor, and washed and changed sheets on the bed in the trailer (Wonderful right? You would think.), I asked, “What sheets did you put on the bed?”  (Because I was sure he put the wrong ones on it.)  He said the green ones. Sure enough!  I then transformed into one of those monsters from a Japanese Godzilla movie and with seaweed and drool dripping from my mouth, I said, “I haaaate those sheeeeets!” Then I turned and crawled back into my lair.

My scary response had nothing to do with sheets or Kevin. The reality is, it had to do with not being in control.  I couldn’t fix my friend’s pain, or get rid of the pancreatic cancer spreading throughout another dear friends body, or ease my son-in-laws heart that his mom has stage-four cancer, or ease my 96-year-old friend’s heart in her final days on this earth, or save my son (because new grief always grabs the hand of past grieves – especially if we never allowed ourselves space to grieve).  So, it all spilled out onto my husband and became about sheets!  With our friends, what we hold unconsciously, does spill out through our interactions, especially if something they are going through triggers something painful within me.  My favorite author and mentor, Richard Rohr says, “that if you don’t transform your pain, you will transmit it to those around you – your family, friends.”  And when two friends, are both living out of their unconscious stuff … Yikes!  The unconscious is very powerful.  There is a lot in there! Misunderstandings and conflict happens, and the sad reality, is that it’s often not really about what’s happening at this moment.  But it sure feels like it’s about sheets!  

One huge thing I can do is to be centered and to try to be open and honest with myself.   Whatever is in my story that has not been brought to the light – the unconscious stuff – I will pass on.  

Richard Rohr shares, “The fatal mistake of ego consciousness is that it excludes and eliminates the unconscious (where both deep goodness and deep badness lie hidden . . . But the human ego prefers knowing and being certain over being honest. ‘Don’t bother me with the truth, I want to be in control,’ it invariably says. Most people who think they are fully conscious or ‘smart’ and in control, have a big iron manhole cover over their unconscious. It does give them a sense of being right and in charge, but it seldom yields compassion, community, or wisdom.  We are led forward by brightness, a larger force field, that is willing to include the negative, the problematic, the difficult, the unknown — all of which I do not fully understand. ‘Take the log out of your own eye first and then you will see clearly,’ Jesus says (Luke 6:42). By the log, I think he is referring to the big thing we do not want to see, which many of us call ‘the shadow self.’ God’s brightness does not exclude or deny anything. Divine perfection is precisely the ability to include imperfection; whereas we think we must exclude, deny, and even punish it! The flow of grace is an increasing ability to forgive reality for being what it is … instead of what we want it to be!”

I want to end Part One of this blog on “being present with friends in crisis,” with some practical direction for identifying your shadow (which is everything within us that we don’t know about ourselves) – the unconscious stuff.  Here are some helpful thoughts from Scott Jeffrey’s book, “A Complete Guide to Working with Your Shadow.” 

“One of the best ways to identify your shadow is to pay attention to your emotional reactions toward other people.  Sure, your colleagues might be aggressive, arrogant, inconsiderate, or impatient, but if you don’t have those same qualities with in you, you won’t have a strong reaction to their behavior.  If you’re paying close attention, you can train yourself to notice your shadow when you witness a strong negative emotional response to others.  But we rarely have time to work with those emotions on the spot.  At the end of the day, it’s helpful to take five or ten minutes to reflect on your interactions with others and your related reactions.  

Whatever bothers you in another is likely a disowned part within yourself.  Get to know that part, accept it, make it a part of you and next time, it may not evoke a strong emotional charge when you observe it in another.” 

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

“Be Brave” continues. . .

Welcome Jen, to the “Be Brave” movement! Your new beautiful tattoo speaks of your already brave heart!

“MANIFESTO OF THE BRAVE AND BROKENHEARTED:There is no greater threat to the critics and cynics and fear mongers than those of us who are willing to fall, because we have learned how to rise with skinned knees and bruised hearts; we choose owning our stories of struggle, over hiding, over hustling, over pretending. When we deny our stories, they define us. When we run from struggle, we are never free. So we turn toward truth and look it in the eye. We will not be characters in our stories. Not villains, not victims, not even heroes. We are the authors of our lives. We write our own daring endings. We craft love from heartbreak, compassion from shame, grace from disappointment, courage from failure. Showing up is our power. Story is our way home. Truth is our song. We are the brave and brokenhearted. We are rising strong.”
― Brené Brown, Rising Strong

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

37 Years Old

It’s been sunny these last days of July.  But this morning, rain has come.  Sad and gray; kind of how I feel on the inside today.  I’m sitting at my coffee shop, doing some self-care by sitting still for a while with my coffee and my bagel.  I do have to say that the self-care coffee part is for my heart; it’s not for my body, because coffee burns my tummy …but I just want it so much …emotionally speaking. I am at that place where my body is trying to tell me to make some changes, like not drinking my decaf coffee, no caffeine, no potato, no sugar, no dairy and no gluten.  I think that is a lot of demands for a body to make.  But, as I am experiencing some of the consequences of ignoring my body’s prodding, (which I won’t go into because I’m trying hard to be in denial of them)  I’m beginning to crack, and wishing someone would come cook dairy free, gluten free, sugar free, potato free meals for me. I would totally be their best friend if they would just do that.  

Today my son was born 37 years ago.  It was my due date and very early in the morning, my water broke.  He was my number three baby, so labor wasn’t too long.  This was back in the day when the ‘in’thing was natural childbirth with no epidural or anything else.  So there was some desperate grabbing of Kevin’s shirt collar with both fists as I tried to escape the labor pains.  Luckily, Ryan was born after only about eight hours.  This was also back when most deliveries were surprises:  boy or girl.  After having two girls, we just expected it to be another girl.  It was an amazing surprise to see a little boy squeeze out! He was our tiniest baby at 7 pounds 5 ounces.  They laid him on my tummy and we cried.  He peed. 

All week I have been preparing for today; going in and out of sadness throughout the week, which made the days feel heavy.  Rightfully so.  My son, who died 6 years and 8 months ago is not here to celebrate his birthday today. We all grieve differently. Seriously different.  Some of us want to be with people so we don’t feel alone and completely overwhelmed with our sad feelings. Some of us, like me, need time alone to allow the grief to emerge.  When I am with people, somehow my sorrow is pushed to the side so I can be present with my friends.  Well …somewhat present.  When we are carrying the huge feelings of loss, its difficult to be completely present. So, I spent the morning by myself at my coffee shop – hiding in my booth.  But when I returned home, my husband had been immersed in his grief as well. And that’s when it can get tricky.  Because, for me at least, I realize there is some anger behind my grief.  I don’t want this to be our story.  I don’t want Ryan to be gone.  And so once I am home, as we begin interacting about some house projects for the day – all my intense, angry, frustrated, deeply sorrowful feelings ooze out.  Maybe not “ooze.”  It’s more like a volcano with lava that is hot and spreading with a scary intensity that says, “you better get out of the way!” I am not proud that sometimes my grief makes my loved one afraid he is going to get burned.  But to be honest and fair, I try to warn everyone to stay away. Sometimes it even requires some alcohol. (Not for my spouse, but for me). Okay, it doesn’t require alcohol, but once in a while, on fiercely hard days, it is a comfort food – like the Mint Mojito and chocolate chip cookies I am having right now.  ‘Just saying. But I am convinced that it is best to get my muck boots on and wade through the messy, sad stuff that comes up. Because it’s all inside me.  It’s all here anyway.  Pretending it’s not inside me doesn’t make it true.  And I also think that all the tragic, devastating losses that we each encounter in life, deserves some time.  You survived something you never thought you could, and that loss is worthy of some tears and some prime time.  

Today I read again a favorite beautifully illustrated book, Tear Soup: “One day as Grandy and Chester were going for a drive, Chester asked, ‘Mom says you’ve been making tear soup.   What does that mean?’  ‘Well, tear soup is a way for you to sort through all the different types of feelings and memories you have when you lose someone or something special. . . Some days when you are making tear soup it’s even hard to breathe.’   There were things that Grandy never wanted to forget. These included the good times and the bad times, the silly and the sad times.  With her arms full of memories Grandy made many trips to the kitchen. One at a time, she slowly stirred all her precious . . . memories into the pot.  . . . ‘So what else have you learned by making tear soup, Grandy?’  ‘I’ve learned that grief, like a pot of soup, changes the longer it simmers and the more things you put into it . . . And most importantly, I’ve learned that there is something down deep within all of us ready to help us survive the things we think we can’t survive.’”And so today, I took extra time to remember.

As a little boy, Ryan loved to dress up in costumes.  Anything could be a costume.  He would mix and match whatever he found, and pretend he was a mailman, cowboy, or perhaps an eccentric traveler.  He loved the Bible and as early as two years old, toted it around with him.  He loved to journal.  Even when he could barely write his letters, he would make meaningful scribbles that I knew were profound to him.  Ryan always had a wisdom beyond his age.  As a preschooler, he would speak truth into a moment that either made us smile or weep just a little.  That insightful wisdom continued through his life of thirty years, with the most powerful, enlightened, mysterious and funny insights.  (One of his deep desires in childhood was a wish that we would have named him “Jokey.”)Those insights were beautifully shared in his blog posts in the last 17 months of his life.  ( We discovered after we could not stop Ryan from running after his sisters with mouth open, trying to bite them throughout the day, that he was allergic to red food dye.  And that would make him crazy, bouncing off the walls . . . savagely biting anything in his path.  But once the drugs and dye were out of his system –  Ryan loved people even as a little boy.  Everyone belonged.  Always. 

I connected briefly with a dear friend today, she had brought over a little vase of miniature roses to speak into our grief and add to our tear soup.   She shared that she noticed the unexpected rain this morning and thought heaven was weeping with us.  I love when even in the unconscious – we connect.   

And no, the mint mojitio and chocolate chip cookies did not set well on my tummy.  Truth be told. 

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

If I’m Honest

If I’m honest . . . I admit that when I have leftovers after a meal, I feel bad throwing them away because of all the starving children all around the world.  So, I carefully store the extra casserole in the refrigerator and wait until it turns green and fuzzy and then I can feel a sense of accomplishment when I throw it away . . . because I have actually cleaned a little bit of the refrigerator! 

If I’m honest . . . I confess that I have over 50 wine glasses. I love them.  Some are crystal that a friend gave me, some are stemless, some are colorful, and some are filled with memories – including several that we carefully inscribed with Y2K.  Here’s the thing – Kevin doesn’t drink wine. And as of a couple years ago, wine hurts my tummy, so I don’t either.  Why do I keep them?  Why do I still want to buy more when I see lovely ones?  (I don’t buy them but I really want to).  Maybe it is seeded in my dreams of hosting lovely parties every weekend . . . because that’s going to happen.  I actually don’t know why I love them so much.  (I am also working on a blog on Scarcity.  But I don’t think wine glasses fall into that category.  I really don’t think I am afraid I won’t have a wine glass to use).

If I’m honest . . . the truth is, when summer comes, I carefully pick my raspberries, blueberries and Marion berries from my garden.  I gingerly wash them and bag them up for the freezer.  It takes so much time to pick them and they are so colorful, delicious and wonderful that I only want to use them for extra special occasions.   And the months roll on and then the next summer comes and there they are, in the freezer – all freezer-burnt, because I was waiting for some imaginary, extraordinarily special, worthy event to serve my berry gold.  And so I have to throw them away. Tragic.

“Struggling with one’s own shadow self, facing interior conflicts and moral failures, undergoing rejection and abandonment, all daily humiliations, experiencing any kind of abuse or form of limitation, can be gateways into deeper consciousness and the flowering of the soul — if we allow them to be. These experiences give us a window into our naked nowness, because very real contradictions are always staring us in the face. Except for God, nothing is perfectly anything. Even as we set necessary and healthy boundaries, we are also invited to forgive what is, to weep over and accept our own interior poverty.”  Richard Rohr Daily Meditations, 6/19/19

Let’s be honest.  Being honest with ourselves is not as easy as one would think.  It takes courage to be honest – especially with ourselves. Once I can “forgive what is, to weep over and accept my own interior poverty,” then I can forgive and accept you and your inconsistencies. You can only pass on to others what you have accepted in yourself first.  It’s all those contradictions that we get so uncomfortable with.  We want desperately to pretend they aren’t there – so I put the leftovers in the refrigerator . . . or I spend years over scheduling.  What about being honest with my time?  That’s been a long journey.  I have years of over scheduling – packing in the days. As I ponder the source of cramming and abusing ‘time,’ I realize it is complex.  But I think the source is deep; a place of fear.  Maybe even scarcity.  Digging deeper, for me, it’s about the fear of abandonment.  I came out of childhood desperate to take care of my world, so I wouldn’t be abandoned.  

How is that helpful?  We don’t want to feel those hard feelings.  It takes lots of time to ask the hard questions and root out the source. So we deceive ourselves and just manage the surface results of our coping strategies.  I just need to find more cupboards to store my wine glasses. But the crazy thing is that when we dig down and sort through and ask the hard questions and choose to be honest about a certain interesting puzzling choice we continue to make, there is a healing and freedom that comes.  You don’t even have to fix anything.  Just look at it.  That is enough.  Looking is where the courage is.  Just look. The exposure is enough.  

The source of my time abuse is exposed.  And my response is crucial.  The little child you were, is still with you and holds a lot of the source of your grown up struggles.  Little Brenda is still afraid of being abandon.  Little you is still afraid of whatever the wounds of your childhood were.  It’s all still inside us.  Where else would it be?  And so the invitation is to speak to ourselves with compassion and tenderness, because we are really speaking to a child that is afraid.  All any of us want is to be seen and have our feelings and stories validated.  Acknowledge the fear and then speak honestly to your heart with warmth, comfort, kindness and understanding.  Don’t discount the feelings.  They are real.  A child’s feelings may seem unfounded to us, but they are based in something real from their perspective.  That is true of the child within you as well.

The good news is that I am actually going to use my frozen berries this year. I hope I get to share a cobbler with some of you.  I am determined to be honest with those leftovers – which will actually save me time too!  My fear of abandonment is slowly experiencing healing as I choose to forgive the reality of my past wounds.  And so I am freer to place margins throughout my days; margins of time sprinkled amongst my appointments and ‘to do’ lists, which gives me breath, hope, peace and a spaciousness that renews me.  But I think I’m keeping all my wine glasses.  I don’t know why.  I just am.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Who Is Driving?

I didn’t realize that writing about this subject would open me up and expose that shame is still lurking in my cells.  It feels like once it gets inside the cell walls – it’s stuck in there and threatens to multiply and take over.  Perfectionism is where it shows up in me.

Perfectionism is an addiction like drugs, alcohol, gluttony, and frantic busyness (or whatever yours may be) and shame is what fuels it underneath.  Shame drives it!  What is your medication of choice?  What I mean by that is this: What do you use to numb and run from the pain in your story? Whatever means you choose – underneath it is shame.  

Shame is an attack on your identity.  Shame is dark and evil because it speaks into who you are, whereas guilt is about what you have done.  There is no good shame.  Shame says, “you are bad,” “you are ugly,” “you are worthless.”  Shame’s goal is to destroy your identity.  

“With shame, something other than love is driving you. You are hustling for your worth.” Brene Brown 

I can tell when I’ve gotten back into hustling for my worth because there is no space for presence, and my feelings and emotions shut down.  There was a point several years after my son died that I thought I was coming to a new place in my grief journey because I wasn’t “feeling” anything.  But as I searched further inside myself, I realized I was back to hustling and working the perfection game.  That’s why we choose addiction because it numbs the pain. It has been interesting watching my grief journey.  How my perfectionism will kick in and I am numb for a while.  And then I realized I missed missing Ryan.  And so, I would choose to wake up again; say no to shame and try to show compassion to myself over the complicated process of grief and be willing to hurt.  

Brene Brown encourages, “Most of us numb to ‘take the edge off’ vulnerability, pain and discomfort.  When we stop numbing and those sharp edges come back into our lives, we see how leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability teaches us how to live with joy, gratitude and grace.  Feeling the struggle gives me the courage to change what’s happening and practice gratitude for what’s going well (even if I have to look hard for it). Feeling the joy gives me the strength and perspective to move forward, out of the dark.”

As I am considering this blog post, some of the notes I am drawing from, are journals from three years ago.  As I read and began to write, I realized that I was getting emotional, feeling anxiety and my current level of perfectionism was being revealed.  There are always more layers in the onion – always more to unpack, look at, extend compassion to, and to let go of.  Always. Bummer.  

I decided I needed to do some unpacking.  Looking back to my childhood, what was driving my perfectionism?  Shame. But what’s driving the shame? Fear. Fear of messing up; fear of abandonment.   If I don’t do enough, or don’t do it “right” enough, I will be abandon.  I will be alone.  I was told that in many ways as a child.  “Do what you are told to do, or someone will be hurt.”  “If you don’t perform well enough or if you refuse, others will suffer.” “If you tell, people will be wounded; your family will suffer.”  “Obedience is your only hope of not being abandon and alone or worse.” But shame doesn’t need such toxic messages to find its way in.  There are many seemingly benign messages that usher shame into our thinking.

Letting go of perfectionism?  How is that possible when obedience was forced by fear and pain into every cell of my body?  

I met God for the first time as a young teen.  He found me in prison – not a prison made by bars and locks but a prison set up by fear.  I was so ready to obey anything God asked of me.  I was programed to.  God’s words in the Bible were telling me, “ If you obey, you will be safe.” Everything inside me was full in. I had hope.  Protection.  God is bigger than evil.  The Words I read promised that the one thing I knew how to do – obey – was what He required for protection and safety.  A flawed view, I know.  But to a little girl looking for a way out of hell – looking for someone to save and rescue her – I latched on tight and for life.  

But as I grew older, my faith, love and trust of God grew on that distorted foundation.  All that was in me rested on the promise of protection and security and I continued my commitment to obedience.  It was my survival strategy.   All of us, in childhood, come up with a survival strategy.  Our ego takes on the job quite willingly, and we come up with our own plan.  Usually, it is skewed because we are children responding to our confusing, wounding world.  Enneagram speaks into this in detail and is a beautiful and helpful way to see our survival strategies and learn about how to turn those to be healthy and life giving. (Do yourself a favor and look up Enneagram!)

But as the years progressed, “obedience” as my M.O. was cemented into my cells.  Perfectionism.  It was camouflaged by acts of service, working hard, keeping busy, and caring for my world.  The knowledge of what was driving me and where it was birthed was lost and hidden from my consciousness.  Richard Rohr shares, “When you don’t want self-knowledge – you don’t want to face your shadow self.  You don’t want to see the dark side that we all have.  For too long the spirituality of perfection has caused us to split and pretend that we are always and only good.  You pay a big price when you put all your energy into keeping such a heavy lid on the unconscious.”  

And then something happens in our lives: a tragedy, death of a loved one, loss of a career, a chronic illness, some life crisis that is an invitation to wake up and begin looking at the complex onion that we are with all our layers.  An invitation to observe our addictions and to start digging – to be brave – to stare shame in the face and say “NO!”  To say, “I will no longer allow shame to destroy my identity.  I will say “Yes!” to God restoring my original purpose and intended beauty.  We are all made in the image of God – in the image of Love.  Choose to let love drive you.  

Choosing to lift the lid on the unconscious and wake up is not easy and takes courage.  But it is where we can be fully alive.  Here is one place you can begin: self-compassion.  It can be found within good self-care, like having good margins with our time, taking naps, or getting a massage.  But I think where the real power comes is in how we talk to ourselves. What does your self-talk inside your head sound like?  That reveals a lot.  While shame wants to destroy you – you can change how you speak to yourself and what/whom you allow to speak to you. 

Numbing is shutting myself down.  Actually saying to myself, “I won’t feel what you are feeling. You are on your own.  I will NOT be with you.”

Comfort yourself.  Actually extending grace, love, forgiveness and mercy to yourself. Actually saying to yourself, “I WILL feel what I am carrying in my heart and body.  It is real.  The pain is real and to shut it down is to abandon myself.  I am here.  I am sad that this hurts.”

Spend some time each day, casting out shame and inviting in compassion and grace.  It is helpful to choose a time or a few moments when you are doing a daily chore when you know you can focus and speak this message to yourself.  I chose each morning while I am standing filling water troughs at my horse barn.  Being still, taking note of your breath, breathe shame out of every cell of your body and send it out of this world. And then breathe in compassion and grace to come in and fill every cell of your body. 

It is important to compassionately observe yourself. Listen to the self-talk that goes on inside your head.  Are you beating yourself up?  Do you degrade yourself? Do you constantly judge yourself?  That is shame talking.  Cast it out.  Be tough with the shame, but extremely gentle with you.  Everyone on the planet was made in the image of God. Including you. You are his dwelling place.  He is in everything he has made.  He loves it all.  Look at Genesis chapter one.  Not only does he love you, but he has partnered with you to love everyone and everything else.  Right now as you are reading this, what are your thoughts?  If they are negative and you are feeling like God is crazy to partner with you, take note of it.  Now, don’t beat yourself up.  Just listen to how you speak to yourself and then choose to extend compassion and mercy. I have done this practice, and found myself in tears as I received compassion formyself,frommyself!  I was so surprised that I had the power to bless my heart.  And you know what?  As Richard Rohr reminds me, “how you love yourself, is how you will love everything else.”  As you practice compassion and mercy to yourself, it will spill over onto everyone around you! And voilà, the world is a better place! 

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

A Wrinkle In Time

So, my husband asked me to “sit” for the art class he is teaching, as they needed another face to draw.  When he said I could just sit there and read, I accepted the job.  But here’s the thing – I have always struggled with vanity: my knobby knees, my super skinny legs (ladies, not the kind of model skinny all of us wish for – but sticks with big giant knees), and during certain periods of time – my overbite – that caused me to be self-conscious about my smile.  In fact, I made Kevin promise that when I die he will glue my lips together so my face won’t consist of my lips receding and leaving my big over bite teeth exposed.  Since my second round of braces, I’m feeling better about the fear of overbite teeth exposure.  

But my favorite thing about my body for most of my life was that I looked younger than I actually was.  Once when I was getting my hair cut while in college, the beautician asked me if my mom drove me to my appointment.  That was a little painful, because when you are young – you want to look older that you are.  Well, as time progressed, I still looked at least 10 years younger than I was. Lovely.  For whatever reason, menopause came late for me.  Again, lovely.  But here’s the thing – when menopause hit in my late 50’s – all the trauma, tragedy, stress, tension, suffering, difficulties of the last 15 years, showed up in my face.  Wrinkles. A lot of them.  Which of course brought on more stress and distress – I aged 20 years in 5.  I googled it. I google everything.  Because most things – the tickle on my head, the twitch on my eyelid, the cramps in my feet – I’m sure it’s all cancer.  So, I google.  And every time – literally – it says, all of the above is most often caused by stress.  And when I googled how to not be as wrinkly – google said, “Avoid stress.”  Of course, it suggested, eat your greens and drink lots of water, but mostly, “try to relax and let go.”  Which led me to buy lots of different lotions, oils, and tonics . . . to try to calm my wrinkles.  My face became very moist and soft but just as wrinkly. Well, I began to process the alternatives.  The most obvious one (besides plastic surgery, of course, which I considered in a moment of panic) is to not ‘get’ to age – meaning not being alive. I reminded myself what a privilege it is that I get to age.  I would give anything to have traded with my son, who died at 30, and let him get the chance to raise his babies and age, at least, to my age of 61. I get to have wrinkles.  A young friend of mine (40 years old); just had a heart attack – called the “widow maker” because most don’t survive it.  She did survive and we are so thankful.  But it is another reminder of how fragile life is and how brief.  

As I ponder that reality, I am reminded to value this moment.  We each, daily, hold and try to sort through, disappointments, wounds, loss, and fears. We are painfully aware that we live in a broken world. But each moment also has beauty and life . . . and yes, possibly, wrinkles.  How do I find my way from being overwhelmed, afraid and stressed to a place of peace and surrender?  For me, a large piece of that journey has been presence and gratitude.  I want to choose to be here and now, even if it is sad, painful and … wrinkly.  And I want to embrace the beauty of being here. For today, I get to be 61. When I get startled occasionally, as I pass by a mirror in the store or look in the rear view mirror, and the light is especially revealing and not helping me to pretend I’m younger at all – I remind myself that I have earned every single wrinkle.  I am a survivor!  I made it through hell!  And I have wrinkles to prove it!  

I may have communicated mixed messages, but I have been on a journey of valuing and honoring my body.  Our bodies are amazing.  Did you know that your body holds all the trauma and pain you have walked through in your life? Much of the trauma from childhood, we have little memory of, but our bodies hold it tenderly and carefully for us.  What a beautiful gift – that our bodies hold a lot of the hard parts of our lives so we can function.  You may not even realize how much is being held for you.  Most of us are unaware of that truth until later in life our body begins to reveal some of our story.  Perhaps it is bad dreams, different kinds of body aches, tummy problems . . . an invitation to listen and ask if there is something our bodies want to share.  Our body holding, is a temporary holding – until we are ready to process and own some of the unconscious parts of our stories.  Since the trauma is still a part of us, there comes a point when our body needs help.  It’s time to listen.  It can feel very scary.  But it is the process to freedom.  Knowledge, insight and eventually liberation – part of you may have always wondered why you have certain fears, anxieties or feeling paralyzed to really embrace parts of your life.  Well, when your body extends the invitation, have courage and say yes.  

So, there I was, sitting for the art drawing class, and reading my book.  I was reading Anne Lamott’s book, Traveling Mercies.  The irony was that the chapter I was on was “The Aunties.”  (In the art class, I did realize that looking down, reading, was probably not the most flattering posture for my wrinkles but, you know, I didn’t care … mostly.)

As I was having my face drawn, Anne Lamott was talking about her struggle with her body:

“So I was in the Mexican state of Oaxaca . . . Until recently, I was afraid to say that I am beautiful out loud for fear that people would look at me with cruel scrutiny and see a thinnish woman with tired wrinkly eyes, flabby thighs, scraggly-scraggly hair, and scraggly-scraggly teeth.  I was afraid they would see the spidery veins on my legs and note that my bottom appears to be making a break for freedom from the confines of my swimsuit . . . After unpacking, I put on my best black swimsuit.  It was very expensive when I got it, very alluring.  The only fly in the ointment was that it no longer fit. Actually, I’m not positive it ever did, but at least I used to be able to get it on without bruising. .  .  anyway. I got my suit on and waddled down to the beach.  I was not wearing a cover-up, not even a T-shirt.  I had decided I was going to take my thighs and butt with me proudly wherever I went.  I decided, in fact, on the way to the beach that I would treat them as if they were beloved elderly aunties, the kind who did embarrassing things at the beach, like roll their stockings into tubes around their ankles, but whom I was proud of because they were so great in every real and important way.  So, we walked along, the three of us, the aunties and I . . . I imagined that I could feel the aunties beaming, as if they had been held captive in a dark closet too long, like Patty Hearst.  Freed finally to stroll on a sandy Mexican beach: what a beautiful story.”

As I read, and tried to keep my pose – I smiled a lot  (smiling only in my mind, because of course, I couldn’t move as they were drawing me) as I read about the aunties and as the class drew my wrinkles.  I am thankful to have some peace around change – everything changes.  And change often involves loss.  And I grieved for a while the wrinkly reality of growing older.  As I experience some acceptance and peace around it all – and the gratitude that I still have today to live and love (‘cause that’s all any of us have), and as I am filled with thanks that my body did hold huge painful pieces of my story for me till I was ready to listen, see, grieve and taste some freedom . . . I have to admit, I do try to smile a lot because it spreads my wrinkles out so I look younger.  

I want to leave you with a beautiful practice of letting go and presence posted recently on Richard Rohr’s daily meditations – “Thich Nhat Hanh teaches this wisdom through the ceremony and meditation of tea (a Buddhist parallel to the Christian Eucharist):

“You must be completely awake in the present to enjoy the tea.
Only in the awareness of the present, can your hands feel the pleasant warmth of the cup.
Only in the present, can you savor the aroma, taste the sweetness, appreciate the delicacy.
If you are ruminating about the past, or worrying about the future, you will completely miss the experience of enjoying the cup of tea.
You will look down at the cup, and the tea will be gone.
Life is like that.
If you are not fully present, you will look around and it will be gone.
You will have missed the feel, the aroma, the delicacy and beauty of life.
It will seem to be speeding past you. The past is finished.
Learn from it and let it go.
The future is not even here yet. Plan for it, but do not waste your time worrying about it.
Worrying is worthless.
When you stop ruminating about what has already happened, when you stop worrying about what might never happen, then you will be in the present moment.
Then you will begin to experience joy in life.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Letting Go

“We cannot attain the presence of God because we’re already totally in the presence of God.  What’s absent is awareness.”  Everything Belongs,by Richard Rohr

This feels risky and crazy to post a blog on prayer. Thousands of books have been written on prayer and I’m going to write 1500 words on the subject?  But there are a few things I would like to process with you, knowing it is a forever process of the deep mystery of God and his relationship with humanity. I think it is valuable to share and journey together – even if it is just dipping our little toe in.

Ever since I noticed God and chose to follow Him back in high school, I have always had a difficult time with prayer.  I have struggled with feeling like I wasn’t a faithful pray-er – so easily distracted – finding my mind thinking about a million things to do, and then feeling frustrated because I got distracted and didn’t utter the needed words for my friends and loved ones that were desperate for help and intervention – or at least didn’t utter them long enough (I have no idea how long one is supposed to be uttering to get God to respond.  Let’s be honest, we want God to be on our side, wanting what wewant and for Him to intervene and help us out). I struggled with trying to sound really spiritual in my prayers uttered out loud.  I think that perhaps that meant I was praying to my friends and not to God.  I certainly have struggled with my posture in prayer – kneeling or laying before God feels too humbling (that is a whole other blog) and distracting for me.  I’ve had my prayer lists for those who needed me to be faithful in prayer, but I got overwhelmed because the needs around me were great and many, and so I shut down.  There were periods of time that I spent my quiet time going through the different kinds of prayer – trying to pray through each area of praise, adoration, gratitude, and petition.  And then when thousands upon thousands prayed for our son to be healed and God didn’t intervene – I processed that maybe if I had prayed more fervently or laid prostrate in prayer more often my son would have been healed.  

Since the death of our son over 6 years ago, I have set all the above aside and began to search and listen for something more real. Prayer must be something more. 

“We may think of prayer as thoughts or feelings expressed in words. But this is only one expression. . . . Prayer is the opening of mind and heart—our whole being—to God, the Ultimate Mystery, beyond thoughts, words, and emotions. Through grace we open our awareness to God whom we know by faith is within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than choosing—closer than consciousness itself.” —Thomas Keating

I am not going to try to speak into whether God breaks in to our lives and brings healing or not.  (That would take a lot more than 1500 words! And that would take getting a window into the question of the ages.)  Except to say that through my journey of opening my eyes to all the suffering of the world, I have very few answers.  I used to have a bunch. But what I do know is that there is a Creator of this complex beautiful world.  And that He loves all He has made and that He is here.  He is here in each of us.  And I believe He aches with us through all the pain and loss.  I don’t have the answers about all the suffering in this world – but I know Jesus came to show us that He is present. That He is with us.  Emmanuel: God with us.  And quoting Peter, “Lord, there is no one else that we can go to!  You have the words of life.”  John 6:68.  Because I believe He is present in each of us – He shows up when we show up in each others lives.  

In my search, I discovered that prayer is so much more than words.  In fact, I think words are the least important part of prayer.  It’s more about surrender; about empting myself and about noticing my world and being present to God as He reveals himself through the beauty of nature and people.  (At times, it seems easier to see Him in the former than the latter.)

Barbara Brown Taylor shares in her book, An Altar in the World, some thoughts from Brother David Steindl-Rast, an Austrian Benedictine Monk, “prayer is not the same thing as prayers. Prayers are important but prayer, according to Brother David, is waking up to the presence of God no matter where I am or what I am doing.  When I am fully alert to whatever or whoever is right in front of me; when I am electrically aware of the tremendous gift of being alive; when I am able to give myself wholly to the moment I am in, then I am in prayer. Prayer is happening, and it is not necessarily something that I am doing.  God is happening, and I am lucky enough to know that I am in The Midst.”  

As I have walked through the tragedy of my abusive childhood and of loosing our son. The path I eventually found myself on was one of pursuing presence; choosing a daily goal of surrender or letting go; giving God access to all of me.  I believe that is the path of prayer.  Yes, words are spoken and pleas are made for those we love and are concerned about, but the larger place of prayer, I believe, is lived and not spoken. 

“Our awareness of the supportive presence of God is outside of and beyond our power to express in word or conceive in thought. This gift of contemplative prayer is not a way of thinking.  It’s much more a way of notthinking.  It’s not a way of talking; it finally moves beyond words into silence.  It moves into the mystery that is too deep for words.  I have said for years that our expression “peace of mind” is a contradiction in terms.  I have never met anyone who is at peace who is in their mind, and I have never met anyone in their head who is at peace.  Prayer must lead us beyond mind, words, and ideas to a more spacious place where God has a chance to get in.  

While the prayer of words is an attempt to express to ourselves, our dependence on the great mystery, the prayer of silence is not so much to express, but to experience, that dependence.  We acknowledge and rejoice that we are beloved, created out of nothing.” Everything Belongs.

Contemplative prayer has come to mean a time of letting go and surrender for me. It has been recommended to have a twenty-minute time of centering prayer in the morning.  This practice is about centering and calming our hearts.  It’s about giving our egos – who really love to be in charge – a break. It is in stillness that we hear the whispering voice of God.  And in silence we give God access to our whole being.  Find a place you can sit or walk. During this twenty-minute contemplative prayer, the goal first is to invite God’s presence and action within you. He already lives in you but you are now giving permission for Him to have access to every cell and space.   As you extend this invitation, let go of any thoughts that come into your mind.  This is not about empting your mind as much as it is about surrendering your constant attempts to control, calculate and obsess.  Choose a word or words to gently re-center and quiet your mind.  Lately, I have been using the phrase “I compassionately and courageously let go.”  This phrase has been a powerful tool for me in my surrender as compassion speaks into my wounded history and I need to call forth courage to trust that as I let go of all that is heavy on my heart – He carries it all for me and rest in that He carries me as well.  You can choose whatever word or phrase will be helpful to re-direct your mind.

As you go through your twenty minutes, thoughts will come in – powerfully and unrelenting sometimes – but just gently redirect your mind by saying your word or phrase. As you sit, be attentive to your body, especially tuning into your breath.  Breathe deep tummy breaths through your nose and relaxed breaths out through your mouth.  Continue deep breaths and repeating your special word or phrase.  At the end of your twenty minutes – sometimes it will ‘feel’ like an hour – remain with eyes closed in silence for a moment with a few final deep breaths.  

 There is an app that I use called Centering Prayer.  It has readings, a timer and different sounds to begin and end your prayer session.  You don’t need it, but use it if it is helpful. 

“The contemplative journey is the most responsible of all responses of God because so much depends on it – the future of humanity, the healing of the wounds of humanity, our own deepest healing.  It’s not just a method of meditation or a practice to find personal peace.  It’s basically a total acceptance of the human condition in all its ramifications, including its desperate woundedness . . . Humans are fully capable of becoming God, not in the fullest sense of the term, but in a very real way, where the light, life and love of God are pouring through them, channeling a source of healing, compassion, and reconciliation wherever they go and whatever they do. They are rooted in the divine compassion and mercy, and are manifesting . . . the pure light of the image and likeness of God within them, which is the assimilation of the mind and heart of Christ in everyday life.”  Thomas Keating, Heartfulness: Transformation in Christ.

Richard Rohr says, Contemplative prayer “may feel like nothing, but it ends up being everything.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

I See You

img_1170“The wisdom of the Desert Fathers includes the wisdom that the hardest spiritual work in the world is to love the neighbor as the self – to encounter another human being not as someone you can use, change, fix, help, save, enroll, convince or control, but simply as someone who can spring you from the prison of yourself, if you will allow it.”  Barbara Brown Taylor

My eyes now see suffering everywhere.  I think that is partially due to my eyes being closed for so many years. Hiding.  Shut down.  Turned away. Afraid. But then something happens to wake us up.  An invitation to open our eyes.  We don’t always say yes to the invitation.  (the invitation usually comes through pain and suffering) The familiar feels too warm and cozy and safe – even if it is stealing our life away.

But if we do say yes – if we are willing to brave opening our eyes – it is shocking.  There is so much to see.  I think deep down, I knew that if I ever opened my eyes, then I wouldn’t just see but I would have to feel what I saw as well.  Feeling is a part of seeing.  Maybe feeling is more what we are avoiding.  Because as I awoke, I hurt.  That’s just the thing I was trying to avoid. Pain.  (As we open our eyes, we also see Joy!  But for this blog I am focusing on our struggle to be present with pain and a brave choice to ‘be with’each other in all the varied challenges of life).

As I began to thaw – to wake up – I began to cry.  Since I had been shut down for 45 years, tears were a rarity.  The surprise was how soothing those tears are – how they feel like suave and cozy socks to my heart.  Slowly, over years, they became friends that I welcome.

The waking up process gifted me with an evolving level of presence.  My early life was a survival level of dissociation.  So, presence was very foreign.  But as I evolved – I also could see that presence and seeing is a gift – not only a gift to me (I get to actually be more alive) but a gift to those around me.  I’m realizing that all each of us really want and need is to be seen.  To be seen and have our life validated. Love.  Brene Brown shares“I thought faith would say, ‘I’ll take away the pain and discomfort,’ but what it ended up saying was, ‘I’ll sit with you in it.’” When it becomes ok to feel my own hurt – then I can sit with you in yours as well.

We are made from the very beginning with the need to be seen.  It is survival to have human connection.  Infants must have a connection with an adult.  If a baby is not ‘seen’– even if all their food needs are met – they cease to thrive and can die. From birth through our whole lives – we need connection with another human being.

In Genesis, we read the story of Hagar, an Egyptian slave of Abraham and Sarah, who was running away from being abused by Sarah.  Hagar, alone in the desert, encountered God, “She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me, “for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”Genesis 16:13  Hagar’s problems were not solved but she was seen and that made all the difference.

We want to be seen.  “See me!”we cry in so many different ways.  Social media gives us the impression of being seen.  Desperation to not be alone but feeling too wounded to engage in community, we will settle for pseudo relationships which leaves us still feeling isolated.

A good friend and I hadn’t got to connect in awhile, we had much to share and catch up on. We both were wanting to be seen and be heard – so we were talking over each other, and I’m not sure there was a lot of listening happening and therefore neither of us went away having felt validated and seen. Another friend of mine shared the story of when her daughter was about four years old.  The little girl was trying to communicate with her mom while mom was busy on a project.  The mom kept telling her, “I’m listening.”  The little daughter persisted and finally, grabbed the moms face, holding her mom’s face in her hands and looked into her mom’s eyes and said, “I need you to listen with your eyes!”

When we are wounded by someone, often all it takes for healing is to feel heard and seen. My husband and I lead a small church and we had made a decision that affected a family in a way that was hurtful.  There was a miscommunication and the relationship was in jeopardy and would have been lost.  But a moment came where we were able to actually listen to our friend and hear their pain and hurt at our decision.  The problem didn’t have an easy solution but we were able to see each other on a deeper level and healing began to happen.

The last 10 years my close up vision has been declining.  So, reading glasses have been my constant companion – well, they needed to be but where DID I leave those darn things.  I refused to wear a chain to keep them around my neck, which meant I’m always looking for them.   Well, I finally got tired of looking for my forever lost glasses and I was ready to actually See all the time.  I ordered progressive glasses.  Here is the thing – when you wear readers, you don’t wear them in the bathroom when you are getting ready or in the car when you are looking in the mirror. So, when for the first time, I had them on while doing my makeup – yikes! Where did all those wrinkles come from?! Shocking!  I had no idea I was that old.  It can be painful and disturbing to See.  (Ok, in the whole scheme of hard things – wrinkles may not be at the top of the list.) But there are moments when the story is too hard to hear – more pain than I want to know about – that’s when we want to run or shut down.  Because if I cant fix your pain, then what do I do with it?  All there is to do is to feel it with you – “to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice”, Romans 12:15.  And that’s where the rub is – We don’t want to feel pain – yours or mine.  It’s especially hard to seeand not try to fix if it’s someone close like a family member. Everything in us wants to take the pain away and figure out some way to speak into their plight.  I don’t know if there is any struggle stronger than letting go of trying to rescue and to choose to just Be with a loved one in pain. But it is so worth it to do whatever we have to do to take care of our own heart in order to just be present, which makes us a safe place.

If we can meet in a place of mercy and compassion – be brave and choose to feel – and realize that I can’t fix you and you can’t fix me – that the gift we give each other is in the seeing – then the world doesn’t look quite as harsh and lonely­ – we each have hope.

“Empathy has no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of ‘You’re not alone.’” – Brené Brown

“What we have most in common is not religion but humanity.  I learned this from my religion, which also teaches me that encountering another human being is as close to God as I may ever get – in the eye-to-eye thing, the person-to-person thing – which is where God’s Beloved has promised to show up.  Paradoxically, the point is not to see him.  The point is to see the person standing right in front of me, who has no substitute, who can never be replaced, whose heart holds things for which there is no language, whose life is an unsolved mystery.”  Barbara Brown Taylor

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


UnknownKintsugi translated “golden joinery” or “golden repair” is the centuries-old Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with gold.  This practice is related to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, which calls for seeing beauty in the flawed or imperfect.  The repair method was also born from the Japanese feeling of mottainai, which expresses regret when something is wasted, as well as mushin, the acceptance of change.

The word “sincere” has a history of meaning: honest, free from adulteration, marked by genuineness and “without wax.”   When a potter had a cracked pot, the dilemma was to throw it away and experience a loss of income or another choice was to fill the holes or cracks with wax and some clay dust – so it looks “perfect.”  But later when the pot was used to cook – the wax would melt and the pot exposed as broken and flawed.  Therefore a pot that was purchased that was “sincere” was a pot that was “without wax” – true and honest.

Gold or wax . . .

Denial, pretending, hiding, being ‘insincere’. . . can so often feel like the only way to survival and success. Vulnerability – our flaws and brokenness being exposed  – feels contrary to feeling safe and effective.

Pretending and denial is how I got through my childhood.  I didn’t know I was pretending – I was trying to create a reality that I could handle, cope with, and please those around me – which was a good survival choice during that period of my life.  But once I was an adult, it morphed into a goal of trying to conform and “not do anything wrong”and to try to hide my imperfection. I was still trying to create a reality where I felt safe and accepted and it seemed to me that the best way was to spin things so I looked good.  My experience told me that was the way to acceptance and love.

Parker Palmer shares, “Afraid that our inner light will be extinguished or our inner darkness exposed, we hide our true identities from each other.  In the process, we become separated from our own souls.  We end up living divided lives, so far removed from the truth we hold within that we cannot know the integrity that comes from being what you are.”

This is a life-long journey of courage to face my divided self and begin to open my eyes to when and how I am in denial, hiding, or pretending.  It takes courage because I believe we have often closed down in an effort to keep our hearts safe from pain, abandonment, rejection. . . but I must choose to begin to SEE.

“There’s something so human about feeling embarrassed, about wanting to hide, about wanting to conceal and control the out-of-control and painful things about our lives and stories and families.  Love, though, doesn’t allow hiding.  Love invites selves and whole stories out into the light.”Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist.

Richard Rohr shares, “We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right . . . yet nothing in us wants to believe it. . . . Falling down is how humans come to consciousness! . . . If there is such a thing as human perfection, it seems to emerge precisely how we handle the imperfection that is everywhere, especially in ourselves.  What a clever place for God to hide His holiness, so that only the humble and earnest will find it. . . . I would say that the demand for the perfect is the greatest enemy of true goodness. . . . When I am weak, then I am strong.”

As I begin to observe myself covering up my mistakes, flaws, and imperfections – how I respond is crucial. Since my fear of rejection and pain, and my deep need to feel safe are all key motivations – its important that I don’t beat myself up. “Seriously, you did that again?”  No, the path to truth and authenticity is compassion and gentleness. “It’s His kindness that leads us. . .Romans 2:4 “The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.Psalm 103:8. That may sound counter-intuitive, since we human beings tend to want to punish and shame – which does not invite the shy, quiet, gentle soul to presence – God’s original purpose and intended beauty for me. I need to be a safe place – not just for you, but for me – to be authentic with myself!  Because when I pretend, I don’t just fool you – I fool me too.  Being honest starts with being truthful with my own heart.  If I feel safe and can trust one person – me – then I am on the path to being able to be authentic with you – which then brings you and me to a beautiful connection that blesses not just us but the larger community as well.

Finding the beauty in my humanness takes courage.  Getting comfortable with the words, “I’m sorry”– that takes a while – it hurts sometimes to even let those words come out of my mouth.  Actual pain.  Choosing to embrace my humanity – flawed and imperfect, beautiful and unique. But it doesn’t feel good to have cracks.  Things leak out.  But the more I choose to cover over my cracks with the false medium of wax – to be in denial of my truth, the less I am able to be present with others.  Connection is lost.  I’m choosing to live in my own little pretend world where I can live without conflict or pain (which is not true – this plan to be creator of my own world actually creates more distance and loss).  My dissociation (being somewhere other than the present) and inability to see my reality kept me from connection and intimacy with those around me.  Anne Lamott shares in her book, Almost Everything, “Its ridiculous how hard life is.  Denial and avoidance are unsuccessful strategies, but truth and awareness mend.”But truth and awareness require me choosing a million times a day to be in the moment. But owning my mess is so slippery – like trying to hold a tadpole or tapioca pearls.  It reminds me of water – how if there is even the tiniest crack, it will find a way out. Pain for me is like that – right in the middle of choosing to be present to something hard – I find that my mind has found an escape hatch and I realize I shut down my processing or being present to the current difficulty and I find myself thinking about posting that treadmill on Craigslist.

I want to conclude with some more wisdom from Richard Rohr:

“Maybe its about forgiving our imperfections– to embrace them and even weep over them. Jesus was never upset at those who ‘do it wrong’but only with people who pretend (hypocrites – which means ‘actor’) that they are “perfect.”

“The path to union (putting the broken pieces together – or holding the cracks in me) is different than the path of perfection.  Perfection gives the impression that by effort I can achieve wholeness separate from God, from anyone else, or from connection to the Whole. It appeals to our individualism and our ego.  Union is instead about forgiveness, integration, patience and compassion.

“The transformed self, living in union, no longer lives in shame or denial of its weakness, but even lives with rejoicing because it does not need to pretend that it is any more than it actually is which is now more than enough.”

“We’ve spent all our life trying to avoid falling because we don’t want to look bad.  Yet spirituality isn’t about perfection . . . The only perfection available to us humans is the ability to include and forgive our imperfection.  But the ego doesn’t want to believe that.  The ego doesn’t want to surrender to its inherent brokenness and poverty. Yet, the truth is realizing your imperfection is the beginning of freedom and grace.  There is such freedom in no longer pretending to be something I’m not.”

My story screams, “hide your flaws!”  It seems to be imbedded in my cells. But the good news is that God has access to my cells and yours.  He is present in us and loves and values each and every part of us – cracks and all – even if our cracks have some wax carefully stuffed in there.  I wonder if compassion and forgiveness has the power to transform wax into gold.  I think so.


Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments