Friday, April 24, 2015

Where I'm coming into braver skin (#fmf)

If I could describe my insides these past seven months or so, probably longer, I'd say they resemble a house torn apart on every floor. Like a tornado passed through, but instead of a natural disaster, it's more like The Spring Cleaning of Spring Cleanings. You know what I mean? No item - in the closet, the bedroom, the bathroom, the living room, the kitchen, the laundry room, the garage - left unturned. Every piece of furniture examined, every item of clothing, every decoration and scrap of paper and household product. Piles everywhere: what to keep, what to donate, what to toss, what to store away, what to fix, what to finish, what to hang. And the empty spaces that open up, where art is re-imagined, re-assembled, re-created, or created for the first time, or left empty. 

Except, it's not a household. It's my life. It's me. Who I am in my guts, in my soul, in my beliefs, in my relationships, in my skin.

If you're nodding your head, you know what I'm talking about. You know, too, how utterly exhausting this process is. How it takes, most often, everything you have and maybe a little more than you thought you had. It's equal parts invigorating and terrifying; mourning and healing; chaos and peace; clarity and fog.

It's a death and a resurrection.

* * * * * 

In this season, I've harbored a strong instinct to hide away. To let the work happen in the shadowed places, for they've been too fragile to withstand the glare of light quite yet. To allow myself this space to wrestle, to know myself, to grieve, to heal, to transform, to become. I'm learning how much judgment I've passed on myself throughout my life and how pressing it is that I learn to be gentle and kind with myself.  To love myself, if I am to love others from my truest self.

Yes, I'm learning many things, too many to unfold here and many beyond the scope of this post. But one of those things I'm learning is that I'm just beginning to allow myself to need. I've written of this before, but I had yet to know how to go there in practice. How to even identify my needs, let alone learn to accept and express them.  And to express them, I'm learning to be brave in ways that stretch me far beyond my comfort. To take risks. To stop apologizing for my needs. To allow myself to need something other than what I'm given. To not annihilate a need if it cannot be met. To not automatically take what is offered me if it is contrary to what I need. To say no. To face off with guilt. To listen to my own discomfort more than I try to perceive someone else's.

In my faith, in marriage, in friendships, in offers of friendship, in work, in rest, in play, in the invitation to live wholeheartedly, I am learning to step into braver skin. Even when I'm hidden away, to be hidden there in brave authenticity, not fear or shame. This is where I live these days. 

Linking today with Kate and the Five-minute Friday community of writers, to the prompt of: Hide.

Joining also with Kelly and the community of Small Wonder, for the learning I've expressed here seems to fit well within an experience of wonder.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Return of the swallows (#SmallWonder)

The swallows have returned. 

I saw them today, swarming from a distance as I stood on the bank of the river slough that tumbles through one of my favorite parks. I saw them, electrifying the sky, dancing with paper wings and split tails through layers of blue and white and charcoal. I saw them, and my heart soared.

I don't know the exact date they left. It must have been sometime in the fall, as looking ahead toward winter, their biological clocks chimed their departure. I'm told that from here, they often migrate south to California, Arizona and Mexico to winter, where food sources are more abundant for songbirds. All I really know is that one day I noticed they were gone. The fields lay still in the parks, the meadows absent of song. And I missed them, these birds that enliven the backdrop of my world. And what am I to them, but a giant form moving through their own cyclical backdrop? 

Surely they don't know: I am an enraptured observer. A mysterious relative, bound by something more sacred than DNA.  A grateful benefactress of their song and dance across the earth.

They came home by the hundreds and thousands. They came home against fantastic odds, obstacles and hardships I am not privy to, inclement weather conditions and sheer exhaustion. They made it, the ones that filled these skies, and I stood on the ground below witnessing their celebration.

Their triumph.

Their dance of wonder.

And it gave me a glimpse of hope.

Joining these words with Kelly and the Small Wonder community.

Also, if you share an appreciation or love for songbirds, I'd like to pass this onto you. There is a brilliant film in its final stages of production, called The Messenger, about the steady decline of songbirds worldwide. Its goal is to raise awareness, to share a glimpse into the beautiful mystery of migration and its challenges, to promote dialogue and actions that may benefit the conservation of songbirds in our world. If you would like to check it out, you can visit this website (click here).

Friday, April 3, 2015

On learning the art of self love (#fmf)

A friend wrote this week about the hardness, the goodness, of remembering where we've been.

I want to remember - and I don’t - the feeling of my own frailty when I held my leg in my hands as if it were the torn wing of a butterfly. As if it were somehow detached from my body. I held it lightly and struggled under the weight of its brokenness.

It was almost three years ago. I had just returned home from the doctor. The visit where my cast was cut apart, after more than a month of seeing my leg post surgery, and I came home with a walking boot I wasn’t allowed to walk in yet. No, walking wouldn’t come for another three months, and that, ever so slowly, like a baby. I came home, gathered courage and strength to shower, and sat cradling my leg as tears spilled down.

I’d never felt or seen myself so fragile.

I didn’t know it then, but this was the beginning of a gradual journey I'm on toward loving myself. All my life, I’d been primed to offer compassion and love to others; I really had no foundation for how to extend the same kindness to myself.

* * * * *

Christian culture, in general, is very good at preaching (though not always acting on) love for others. The Greatest Commandment has been summed up in this, many a time: "Love God first. Love others."  All good things, except it completely cuts out the last phrase of the commandment: as you love yourself. We love ourselves too much, this is the message I’ve heard taught and written and spoken in a million different versions. Self love is the root of pride, the root of most sins, after all (or so I've been told), and so we’re never taught it. Or, at best, we hear the last words of the commandment mumbled quickly, as if to say, Don’t linger here. It’s dangerous ground. 

But how can we have made it this far cutting off the legs of the vehicle through which we know love and learn how to love others, modifying Jesus’ words into something we think he meant?

How are we to love others if we do not know how, have not even received permission, to love ourselves? How have we so confused selfishness with having a self?

I don't know. But I can say, it is no easy task unlearning a lifetime of teachings.

I know we cannot cut ourselves out of the picture and say, “Well, God is love. We love others with God’s love, not our own.” We don’t need a self, in essence, we say. God is all we need to love.

And I say, we have strangled and buried our selves for far too long in the soil of this dangerous ground.  

Love must start here, in our own skin, and permeate from the inside out.

* * * *

On my walk from work to my weekly counseling appointment this week, nerves gnawed at my stomach. I knew a hard session awaited me, for I’d felt it growing the past few days, pushing up below the surface. I dreaded the spilling of pain and longed for the safe outlet for it, all in one. And I wished for a close friend walking beside me, walking me there.

But then I realized, I have everything I need to be that friend to myself.

So I imagined myself, walking alongside me. An arm laced through my arm, tucking in close in solidarity, not saying much. Not saying everything was going to be ok. Not changing the subject. Not berating me for being consumed in the pain of all that’s been pressing in, for feeling weary and overwhelmed and withdrawn . Just walking, gently telling me to breathe deep. Reminding me I can do hard things, that we’ll get through this one step at a time, that I'm brave.

I walked myself to the office and sat down, breathing deep, trying to wrap myself in compassion. And I got through the appointment, breath by breath.

When I stepped on a crowded bus with headphones in my ears after my appointment, holding onto a rail to keep from swaying too far, my eyes were shot through with the same look I often have when I catch the bus home from this appointment. The whites a hazy red. My emotions raw and spent.

I nearly hopped off the bus as it crawled through downtown traffic, wishing for a corner to hide in instead of this group of strangers, as the music swelled their notes of peace in my ears. It was almost my undoing, right there on the bus. Until I had the sense of - Jesus - hanging onto the rail opposite me. He wasn’t there physically, of course, but in my mind he was. I imagined him traveling home with me, not saying a word, his presence saying all I needed to hear.

And it said something like this: We’re ok, you and I. We’re on this journey together, and I’m not going anywhere you aren’t.

I nudged myself to awareness, Did you hear that? Hold onto this, Self. This is good.

And so I stayed on that bus, receiving great compassion from God, from me, until we made it all the way home.

Joining Kate and the Five-minute Friday community with so much more than five minutes worth of reflection on today's word, "Good."