Writing Myself Well

Writing Myself Well

My mind races and I have the undeniable urge to run out of the room.  I grip the arms of my chair to make sure that I don’t.  I am about to share a painful childhood experience with a group of near strangers.  They are staring at me with kind expectancy.  I have willingly agreed to do this for The Allender Center’s Certificate Training program, but now it seems like a foolish, exposing thing to do.  Something akin to how I would feel if I went grocery shopping naked. 

Why would I choose to write about such a tragic time in my life and then willingly share it with others?  Was I crazy?  It seems so counter intuitive to everything I have been taught by my parents, the church and well-meaning friends.  

As a society, we are encouraged to put the past behind us and press onward and upward. “What’s done is done” and “don’t cry over spilled milk” are two refrains I’ve heard over and over again.  Even Paul in the book of Philippians tells us to forget what is behind us and press ahead to the prize that is in Christ. 

I had done a great deal of pressing on, yet my spiritual walk had become anything but joyful and life giving.  Instead, I felt weary, run down and just getting by with a low-grade numbness invading the crevices of my soul.  Could there be another way?  Could it be possible that Jesus was asking me to enter some of the more painful stories of my life; stories that I would much rather keep sealed off never to be opened again? 

What if maybe, just maybe, Jesus is really behind me, not just ahead of me. What if he is wooing and calling me to write and share some of these painful experiences so that I can find redemption from the pain, patterns and debris of my past that is keeping me from experiencing the abundant life I’ve been promised?

Dr. Dan Allender’s book, To Be Told, resonates deeply with me. He states:  

“Our own story is the thing that most influences and shapes our outlook, our tendencies, our choices and our decisions.  It is the force that orients us toward the future, and yet we don’t give it a second thought, much less careful examination.  It’s time we listen to our own story.” 

I guess it was my time.

My voice falters as I begin.  I start to read the particular details of one of my painful childhood stories; the Bee Gee song that was playing on the radio, the sting of the hot August sun on my adolescent skin... 

We had been instructed by our leader not to narrate our stories as if bystanders casually observing the action from a safe distance, but instead to get back down in the dirt of the story.  I was consciously using my senses to kick up the dust as I walk back through it. 

I continue reading, allowing the images, sights, sounds and the presence of the characters involved wash over me.  I could actually feel myself as that twelve-year old girl again. 

I keep sharing this way and as I do my jaw clenches and I feel a heavy knot in the pit of my stomach.  The flush of shame rises from my chest into my face as I recount the intense feelings of powerlessness and betrayal that marked me in this particular story.  I am walking in the valley of the shadow of death and it feels like hell.  Waves of grief come as I experience the pain and agony of this particular time in my life afresh.  I somehow finish but the sorrow is deep and the tears continue to flow. 

I catch my breath and gather the courage to look up, cautiously making eye contact with my fellow story sojourners who have just witnessed my intense valley walk.  Their faces are brimming with tears.  Many of them seem to be as shaken as I am.

There is a deafening silence and then something remarkable happens. 

They begin speaking beauty into my sad and grief filled soul with curiosity, kindness and compassion.  They start making holy observations and pointing out profound truths I had never had eyes to see before.  They ask insightful questions and we explore my story more in depth and then, through shared eyes, new truths are revealed to me.  This stunning care towards me and my story starts to shake loose a new way of seeing and an unbelievable freedom is being born in its wake.  Through this process, I break strong-holds that my past had on me which I didn’t even know existed.  

A torn piece of me is sewn back together again. 

I feel a shiver of joy rush through me and a lightness of being that I still can’t quite explain.

Since that first time, I have pondered, written and shared other foundational stories from my life and have cried many tears in the process.  Each time, I am newly amazed at the transformation that happens when I write and re-enter my stories in this way.  It is in and through the valley where I have found freedom from some deep seeded wounds and vows which were keeping me from experiencing the prize of Christ that Paul was speaking of; joy, delight, love, wellness.

Walking in our valley experiences is not for the faint of heart.  It can be a treacherous path filled with unexpected twists, turns and precarious land mines. And the fruits of this particular labor make it worth the journey.  

Billy Graham once said; "Mountaintops are for views and inspiration, but fruit is grown in the valleys." 

How true I have found this on my own healing path. So, what about you? Will you come and spend a little time in your valleys?  I promise you, the beautiful, majestic mountains are just on the other side, waiting for you. 


You can learn more about The Allender Center and the amazing work they do in the world by clicking HERE

Mind- Full?

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Mind- Full?

What is your mind full of now? 

This is a good question that can help you learn to be present in the moment.  In the moment, you have everything you need.  Sometimes when we take the time to stop and notice, we realize the thoughts we are thinking are driving us in the opposite direction of the one we would choose to go if we were more aware.   Mindfulness practice has many health benefits and is growing in popularity as our culture continues to amp up on speed and multi-tasking. 

Mindfulness is simply the practice of being aware of what is happening in the moment without judgment.  The awareness is the easy part.  The ‘without judgment’ is where the true work of mindfulness lies.  We are so programmed to sort our experiences and judge every thought, word, and deed as good or bad, right or wrong, black or white.  This either/or type thinking tends to keep us bound to the small mind that judges.  Mindfulness training invites us to take a step back and see things from a larger perspective.  As we loosen our grip and release the tendency to judge and control we grow in acceptance and compassion for what is both within and all around us.

This past week, my kids had no school for spring break.   Because of our work schedules, we were planning on doing a stay-cation much to the kids’ dismay.  On the first adventure of the week we went into the city and saw a musical.  Our friends came to join us and we had a fabulous time.  Before the evening was over, my friend invited us to join them on a last minute excursion to the ocean.  She encouraged and nudged and everything in me said “no.”   Not because I wouldn’t like to steal away and head to the beach, but my mind had a plan for the week and this was not in the cards.  My small mind said, “this is the right plan” and it would not budge.  It got feisty and defensive as I tried to introduce all the reasons why this could be a good plan.  In this moment I was aware of the way my mind was full of judgment and when I took time to pause and engage with what was happening internally, a shift occurred. 

Mindfulness practice is simply noticing yourself caught in the war in your mind and choosing to loosen your grip.  It is the choice that we make to stop the regularly scheduled program of energy draining distraction and cultivating a pause.  In that quiet space, you can shift to a life-giving concentration, and exercise your power to choose.

This is the practice of presence:  Begin by coming to a comfortable seated position.  Give your body permission to relax any tension or strain and simply arrive.  As you let go of the stress, bring your awareness to your breath.  Simply notice the breath as it enters the tip of the nose.  Pause at the top of the inhale and rest in the stillness.  Notice the breath as it exits the tip of the nose.  As you let go of the breath, you have permission to release with it anything that feels like stress.  Pause in the emptiness at the bottom of the exhale letting go completely.  With each breath you are invited to simply love what is without judgment or pressure to control anything, allow the breath to lead you back to that calm place that is your center.  Practice resting there and notice how you feel.  If your mind begins to wander, gently and lovingly bring it back to the breath.  Allow the breath to lead you in the direction of love.

After you practice mindful breathing, you may be able to look at your current reality with new eyes.  Dr. Wayne Dyer wrote “when you change the way you look at things; the things you look at change.”  Sometimes the only thing that shifts in mindfulness practice is our perspective and that is often the most important thing.  When we are able to return to the center and release our judgments, we are able to return to a common flow of Spirit, life and love.  There is an energy greater than we are and it is constantly flowing in a positive direction.  Why don’t you practice stopping next time your mind feels like it is on overflow?  Return to the present moment and breathe in this gift of Spirit and life that is riding on the breath.  Pause and rest in the stillness and remember that everything you need lies within.  Use your exhale as a reminder to let go.  In letting go, we are free!  What are you willing to release this week so that you can move toward the freedom you were meant for?

Last week, after stopping my programmed stress response, I was able to see clearly.  I was able to loosen my grip and release my two beautiful girls to go on a spring break adventure with my dear friend and her daughter.  Because I let go, they were all blessed and so was I, as I found space to breathe and empty out corners of my mind, heart and home.  I am entering this week with gratitude and spaciousness and inviting you to pause and loosen your grip. 

May you be safe.  May you be happy.  May you be healthy.  May you move through the world with ease….

Please join us for our upcoming mindfulness workshop: http://www.sowthat.com/services/from-surviving-to-thriving-a-mindfulnessworkshop

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Its All About Love

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Its All About Love

Have you ever loved something or someone so much that your heart hurt to hold it all? 

This is how I feel about my family.  They are constantly expanding my heart and helping me grow more and more in my capacity to love and be loved. It is a precious and painful gift.  I believe our hearts are meant to continue to expand and open wider and wider into a beautiful love that connect us to our true self, others, God and all of creation.  This perfect love is unlimited and all encompassing and it starts in you.

This Christmas was different for our family.  Instead of gifts, we gave our children a trip to Mexico.  When they asked me what I wanted as a gift, I asked them to take an Enneagram assessment.  My desire for connection is strong and I believe the Enneagram provides language and insights that help us connect to the best possible version of ourselves so we can bring our best to the world. 

In theory it was a great idea, in reality it was a little rough. 

What was learned is that everyone has different levels of awareness, desire, and capacity to engage in these topics.  My family is no different than the world that you will each bring your awareness into.  Some people want to engage and seek to understand and grow, some people will push against and challenge every little bit that you bring to the table.  Some people will want to argue and be right, others won’t say a word in an effort to keep the peace.  Our family discussion represented just some of the differences in personality styles that affect you whether you acknowledge it or not. 

The wisdom of the Enneagram runs deep and expands in all directions.  I don’t believe it can be mastered, but it is an on ramp to self-awareness and love that will carry you forward on your journey toward optimal health, connection, balance, and productivity.  Once you take an assessment or discover your number, you have only just begun.  This starting point is where you get curious and begin to test it out.

For example, if you test as a 7, you want to begin to notice the ways in which your need for fun and adventure might bring you closer to the ones you love and when it might pull you away from them.  Awareness is always the beginning.  From this place of awareness, you always have the power to choose. 

The Enneagram is an invitation to choose love.  The love and acceptance that you bring to yourself on this journey becomes a gift to those around you.  You can only give to others what you yourself have received.  As you begin to rest in the truth of who you are at your core and begin to celebrate your unique goodness, this love and acceptance becomes a safe harbor for those around you.  Once you love and accept yourself, you are able to see past the irritants in the others around you and choose to love and accept them in the unique way that they have been created. 

Just like one discussion around our dinner table didn’t take us to that beautiful vision I had for connection, your work on this journey will take commitment and time.  If you are committed to this journey of self awareness and love, your rewards will be far greater than you could ask or imagine.  At the end of the day we have each been created to give and receive love perfectly and freely.  The wisdom of the Enneagram is a precious gift of love.  To remember that you have been perfectly created and have a unique gift to share with the world is a cause to pause and celebrate, to love yourself as you are, and to take a brave step toward loving those around you exactly as they are today.  Socrates in his wisdom said “An unexamined life is not worth living.” 

Will you commit in 2019 to examine your life in a way that leads you to love yourself and this one life you have been given?  As you begin to notice the goodness and release the judgment and old stories and pressures, you will find energy to learn and grow and flourish into the person you were created to be.  From this place of truth and authority, love will fill your home and workplace and invite those around you to a life that is worth living. 

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Your Pain is a Gift

Your Pain is a Gift

I awoke in a panic at 5 am, feeling like I should jump out of bed and start running.  I had nowhere I needed to be and nothing real pressing in on me, but my heart insisted there was urgency and I needed to move quickly.  I resisted and tried to remind myself it is Saturday and that it is good to rest, but the panic wouldn’t let up.  I finally got up to meditate and as I moved, my husband wrapped his arm around me urging me to stay in bed, but my heart only quickened and a feeling of being trapped came over me.  He thanked me for the fun date night and was so tender and kind.  I began to cry.  My tears were the releasing of the shame I felt for not being able to be more present on our date night.  I went through the motions and followed along, but my heart was not in it.  I couldn’t connect because of the anxiety I was feeling.   The tears fell because I feel sorry that he has to deal with this, and that I have to wake up again feeling “off.”  He didn’t sign up for this and I feel sad that I can’t be the wife/mom/ person I want to be in my anxiety.  I feel broken, scared and unable to flip the switch.  The tears bring a bit of relief to my swirling heart and I know it is going to be ok.

As I sit on my mat to meditate, my mind is swirling.  I notice my connection to the earth and begin to settle.  There is a chaotic energy that tries to pull me away from the stability that sitting in stillness brings.  I notice it and allow it to be without judgment.  I lengthen my spine and start to tune into my breath.  The spaciousness I feel as I breathe mindfully offers me hope.  I pause and rest in the fullness of the breath, knowing that I am filled with Spirit.  I breathe out to release the tension in my heart, the chaos of my thoughts, all that I am holding.  Letting go brings relief.  I am thankful for the way that this simple practice of sitting and breathing anchors me and re-orients me to the divine. 

I wish that I could tell you that this calm stillness that I experience in meditation remains, but for me this is not the case.  It is a continuous practice throughout the day of returning, re-orienting and resting in the stillness.  Some days are easier than others, but for some reason this summer has had many hard days.  It feels like my heart is in a terrible war and the very gift of freedom that I fight to offer to my clients and those I am blessed to work with often alludes me.  I taste it and than “poof!” it is gone.  I believe your pain carries with it a gift and the very message you need in order to move forward.  Many times when the anxiety is intense I stop and write a letter to it, thanking it for being here.  I am learning to love and accept this messenger that is trying to remind me to slow down and trust.

Anxiety is like an unwanted house guest and the more I try to ignore it and banish it to the basement, the more damage it causes to the temple of my heart. Today, I am going to embrace it and listen to it.  I am going to get curious to what it is trying to tell me.  I am going to welcome this energy and love it as a part of me.  The moment I reach out and hold it with tenderness, it seems to dissipate and lose its horrifying grip on me.  Because I love to help people who are struggling to find the peace and freedom they were created to enjoy, I believe it is important to feel this experience fully so that I can truly empathize with others who suffer in this way.  We are not the suffering that we experience, we are the pure light of the world, but sometimes we get tangled up in the dark and lose our way home.  Sometimes we need a guide; someone who will hold our hand and walk along the slippery slopes reminding us that we are going to be ok.

In every moment we have the power to choose.  What are you going to choose today?  Why don’t you take a moment to sit in stillness?   As you return to the present moment, you will find that the peace you are longing for is already within.  Practice opening up and allowing this beautiful gift of light to flow through you.  Pause often and rest in this stillness, abide in the love you were made for.  Breathe away the pain and tension you have carried so patiently on your shoulders and know that you are on a journey toward wholeness.  Every little thing you experience is growing you and shaping you and making you amazing.  Trust it!

 

Why I choose to tribe.

Why I choose to tribe.

I’ve got this.  If I need help, I must be weak.  Others can’t know. What would they think?”

I don’t know the pain many live with on a daily basis called depression. My heart goes out to those of you who do. My ache is more like an undercurrent, reaching an abrupt peak similar to opening the refrigerator to discover something has been slowly rotting and abruptly needs to be tossed. It can overtake me and I’m suddenly aware I’ve been drifting.

I know what drifting feels like. When I was 17, I joined a friend and her family for a weekend at their Wisconsin lake house. Upon returning from a day of water skiing, I chose to grab a firm, brightly colored raft and just close my eyes momentarily near the pier before joining the others up at the house for dinner. With each slow, back-and-forth movement, I went deeper into what I still remember feeling like an embryonic state of incredible peace.

After what I estimated to be about 15 minutes, I opened my eyes only to discover I could barely spot the pier on the horizon. Panicked, I sat up and found I was practically in the middle of the lake! It took nearly an hour of exhausting my paddling arms to reach the shore. Thankfully, my friend and her family were waiting for me.

Drifting is like that. I fall into a similar place when I’m out of my usual rhythm of meeting regularly with my circle of friends or intentionally talking with others. A recent conversation with a dear friend revealed this even more.

“What contributed to you feeling out of sync?” she asked. I had been explaining to her the “funk” in which I found myself recently during the holidays. I was keenly aware of my answer, which was simple, yet humbling.

“I’ve missed talking with you and meeting with others,” I said. Naming such meek truth felt weak and needy. And yet, it was exactly true and what I needed to say. Her empathic response was tender and moved me one step closer to exposing the lies.

“I’ve got this.  If I need help, I must be weak.  Others can’t know.

What would they think?”

Lies like these bombarded me growing up and I easily find the culture reinforcing them. Get up. Tough it out. And, never ever need others.

The truth is I do need others. Desperately. The God who made me, alone, is NOT enough because he presents himself through others. Those who know me best remind me that I’m not crazy, that I can be giving and that I offer goodness to this world. They see things in me that I easily forget. I need them because I need these reminders. And they do too.

Perhaps 2018 is your year to try a tribe. While I offer no money-back guarantee, I can easily say that I’ve never regretted a regular dose of others who know and love me well.

 

The God Who Sees the Heart of a Parent

Exhausted mom.jpg

I love this time of year. Stores are stocked with backpacks and Facebook is plastered with first-day photos. There’s a newness in the air, full of new starts and hope. This will be the year she makes new friends. This is the year he will get a teacher who believes in him. The hope of a parent is as fierce as a storm, and it will outweigh any desire a mom or dad will ever have for themselves.

 While not a parent myself, I certainly have a special place in my heart for those Moms and Dads I know, faithfully navigating each careful step, each cautious word, weighing it, sizing it, picking their battles prudently. Choosing. Wondering. Regretting. Shaming. Rising. Confessing. Battling. Knowing and never knowing for certain how each moment of their day went.

 I often pray for the parents I know whom I call friends. They are gutsy in ways I’ve never had to be. I think I’m fairly good at multi-tasking but I’ve never had to multi-task matters of the heart like needing to choose to be at one child’s first recital versus another child’s first soccer game. I think I’d cave like Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice. I am in awe of the parents I know and I believe God is too.

 The story of Hagar in the book of Genesis has always struck a deep cord in me. Here’s Hagar, a young slave girl who, by no choice of her own, became the means to an end for Abraham and Sarah’s desire to have a child and see God’s promise come into fruition. However, Sarah comes to so bitterly resent Hagar that she casts her out to the desert to die alone. It is then that the angel of the Lord sees her and instructs her. Upon this encounter, it is said that Hagar 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.’”

 I sometimes wonder about all of those astounding moments that God sees the true heart of a parent – all those moments in the desert when shame screams and Evil accuses and there is no way of knowing if you handled the situation right. After all, there is a child inside that Mom or Dad, desperately doing all they can and sometimes simply caves in exhaustion.

 If you are a parent, know that God sees you. He sees and knows your limited wisdom, knowledge and credentials when it comes to parenting. Let Him parent you and fill the gaps where you are beyond uncertain. Allow Him to attune His gaze to you and linger long enough for you to respond, like Hagar: “I have now seen the One who sees me.”

 

The Pathway to Kindness

The Pathway to Kindness

“…You don’t answer to a wide swath of people and their opinions, even if they’re good people, with good opinions.  You were made by hand with great love by the God of the universe, and he planted deep inside of you a set of loves and dreams and idiosyncrasies, and you can ignore them as long as you want, but they will at some point start yelling. Worse than that, if you ignore them long enough, they will go silent, and that’s a real tragedy.”

These sentences in Shauna Niequist’s book, Present Over Perfect, hit me hard. I’ve known, deep in my heart, for decades, that the only One I answer to is the God who created me, knows me and has only the best for me. So, why does my time constantly get filled up with the wide swath of others? 

I was reminded recently of a time when I was introduced to an experience where solitude with God produced an awareness of God’s delight in me like nothing else. I had just finished my sophomore year in college and decided to spend the summer working at a camp called Spring Hill in Michigan. Our Director, Mark, would lead the twelve of us, his leadership team, on a solitude hike, each of us having only a blanket, bug spray and our Bible in hand.

With only the sound of our feet on the ground beneath us, he would stop and point to a tree, long off the path, to the next person in line. This would be their designated solitude spot for the next three hours, when we were “picked up” by the same hiking line in which we entered. It was risky, as a director, to go to such lengths to serve up such a solitude “table” for us, but I am forever grateful he did.    

This was in the late 80’s – long before solitude retreats, mindfulness apps, life maps or any of the sophisticated, organized retreats I’ve attended in recent years. I even recall bringing a canteen since bottled water had not yet been marketed. It was a complete “unplug” with a blanket as my only luxury.

But, what happened in those three hours long stays in my memory. The first 40 minutes or so, as Mark predicted, I slept. And his kind instructions, prior to our hike, not only gave me permission to sleep, but challenged me to relish in the much-needed nap. “This is your time to be a child of the great Father who loves you and knows your limitations. Cooperate with him and enjoy the sleep,” he would say.

Brushing off my sleepy eyes, I looked around at the beauty of my surroundings: the expansive trees and their long shadows shading me; the distinct sound of the distant blue jay; the tall pines swaying slowly against the sky. I felt small but deeply important, knowing I was not there by accident and definitely not alone.

Over the course of the hours that passed, the quiet served as a platform for whatever God wished to bring my way. Sometimes it was very little – a faint whisper of “Don’t forget… I’m crazy about you, Natalie.” Other times it was a more distinct impression of a tough relationship or what I hoped the end of the summer might bring. One time I did a handstand against the tree, remembering how I loved to see the world upside down when I was much younger.

Over the years, I took those same principles from Spring Hill and carried them into an annual practice. Being alone with God freed me from the numerous “shoulds” shouting in my head. I was free to be a child, without answers and without anything to prove. I’d imagine and create, dream and pour out my heart in tears. At the end of my time with God, I recall being somewhat sad, not that my time with Him ended, but it shifted back into a reality that was harder for me to concentrate on His presence.

“Be kind to yourself.” A couple months ago, I had put the written calligraphy card on my bookshelf to remind myself that sometimes the voice inside my own head is the worst enemy of all. Carving out time for myself to be with God is the pathway to kindness.

Do you know your path to kindness?  Do you know the desires of your heart and what brings delight to your soul?  

You are worthy of the journey to uncover it. 

 

 

 

 

Turning Toward

Turning Toward

 “Did you write today?” I asked half heartedly. “Yes, did you?” Kevin asked expectantly.  We sat together for the first time in over a week.  Just the two of us.  Every time I sit in this chair by the window, my heart exhales.  I love the way the chairs are turned toward one another which is the posture my heart most longs for.  I want to see his face, to know his heart.  I want him to listen to me.  To really listen, tuning out all of the other pressures and distractions that vie for his attention.  Today as I sit with so much swirling inside of me, my heart trembles.  It feels guarded and scared.  He is busy and distracted, he’s physically there but not really. Busy feels dangerous to me.  I remember wanting so much more than I could ever get from my mom when I was small.  She was busy. Though I know I am a priority to Kevin, that scared and broken part of my heart can’t tell the difference.  His busy season triggers my deep wound and I get swirled up in the strong emotion and move into fight/flight/freeze.  Though I want to run away and refuse him access to my tender heart, I choose to stay.  With consistent practice, I am learning to keep showing up and turning toward him even when its hard. 

 Kevin and I have been writing together with some consistency for about 5 months.  It has been some of the most holy work we have engaged together in our entire marriage.  Something happens when you open up a blank page and just pour out the contents of your heart.  Sometimes it is an awful rant that would be better left unshared.  Often it contains truth that exposes and disrupts.  Sometimes it is a beautiful prayer and a celebration of all that is right in our world.  You never know what is going to come up when you open up and write without reservation.  That’s the way I write, but it takes practice.  I have been doing these daily dumps for over ten years and it has changed my life.  I like to think of it as taking out the trash.  Emptying so that the light can fill and flow freely through me.  Sharing it with someone you love is another story.  It takes tremendous courage.  Vulnerability is scary as hell, but I am committed to it.  What’s the alternative?  Living a big lie?  Covering it all up until you implode or explode or get sick because all the tension you hold?  I prefer to shine the light of awareness and to find language and connection in the midst of the storms of life.  If we wait to share our hearts til everything is packaged neatly with a big bow around it, it will never happen.  The time is now!

 The fact that we can sit turned toward one another and tell the truth about what is going on inside of us is such a testimony to God’s goodness and grace.  I remember years of both of us being completely distracted and numbed out and cut off from the longings and whispers of our hearts.  We were deadened in a way and going through the motions; doing life side by side or even back to back in opposition when things got bad. It was all we knew.  We were survivors and just struggling to make it through the day.  Over the past 15 years I have been on a spiritual journey and it has been some of the most challenging work I have known and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  Healing and restoring the wounded heart is the only way to live the life we are called to live.  As my heart started to heal, I began to realize that my needs and desires were not a burden but a good thing.  My desire felt scary, but I had good friends around me affirming me and encouraging me to acknowledge and ask for what I needed.  Every time I turned toward Kevin with a need, I felt weak and needy.  His response vacillated from withdrawal to anger and very rarely did it seem like he heard me, understood, or had any ability to move toward my desire.  This only reinforced the lie that I am “too much.”  My need triggering his shame.  His anger, triggering mine.  So we dance, round and round in circles, stepping on toes and getting nowhere.  In every moment we have the power to choose.  What we do with our disappointment, pain, and desire really matters. 

 We continue to practice extending grace, asking for forgiveness, speaking the truth in love and turning toward one another, even when it hurts.  The writing has helped establish pathways of trust and a growing intimacy which is what every heart needs and longs for.  David Augsburger wrote “Being listened to is so close to being loved, we can seldom tell the difference.” Even if Kevin’s head is full and his heart is spent from the day, it really means the world to me that he would take the time to write with the hopes of connection.  We are each works in progress and we get it wrong more often than we get it right, but when we write and share we are truly writing our relationship well.  This is a sacred gift that the whole world needs.  I challenge you to start with yourself.  Make yourself a priority.  Open a notebook and write for three pages without stopping, judging, editing or even thinking about what you wrote.  Simply write!  Allow your heart to speak and notice how liberating it feels.  If you try this and want to begin to impact other around you, choose one person who you want to focus your love on.  It could be a relationship that feels stuck, or even dead, like our marriage felt long ago.  You can write about what hurts and what you really want.  Try to find language for what is stored up in your heart.  It might hurt, but I promise you, it will lead to healing, growth and better connection.  Simply begin…

           

The Intersection

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The Intersection

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger; Beauty from ashes – You’ve heard all the clichés. Throughout my life, I’ve always had a sense that there’s more and that these clichés are actually true. I am the person I am today because of the circumstances of my life, right?

While I believe this is true, I’m now convinced there’s more. There are more than just ashes supernaturally making my difficult circumstances beautiful. This is both good news and problematic. Good news because it says my pain is worth something – that there is a purpose that is good. Problematic because it requires something of me, something that is difficult and brave and deeply uncomfortable. ”I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us,” says Paul in Romans 8:18. The operative word here is in us. Glory is revealed in me? Yes, but only when I compare it to my present sufferings – which requires me to look at them—and a hard look at them with Jesus at my side, nudging me with the hope that glorious purpose can be birthed.

This means that when I feel the unease of God’s hand gently pressing something specific on me, I embrace it and linger in it, holding it in my hands delicately, like a newborn. It requires me to turn away from distractions – a glass of wine, another humorous video or simply scroll my Facebook newsfeed again. I will do anything to distract myself from the twinge of uneasiness.

Jesus’ own life was a beautiful, and tragic, mix of purpose and pain. He’s described as a man well acquainted with grief, perhaps because He was crystal-clear in his purpose, right to the cross. Unlike Him, we deeply desire purpose but often want it without the pain. We want to be the passionate, strong leader our church teaches us to be, but often we want to go unscathed in the process.

My own sense of purpose is somewhat vague to me during this present season. I wrestle to unearth that which I sense God drawing me to look at, deeply held beliefs due to scars in my past, as well as patterns of relating that I keep clutched. I cooperate, slowly letting go like a child releasing a blanket of security, trusting God will someday bring purpose to all the difficult grappling.

In the words of speaker, writer and thought-leader, Dan Allender, to have purpose “…one needs to have walked where few choose to tread – the valley of the shadow of death.” The irony of this is that it is actually good news. In a sense God’s only requirement for us to have purpose is to look inward, with Him, at the truth of our trauma and brokenness. Only then, after being refined, will our profound purpose be revealed. Beauty from ashes? Oh yes, with a relentless trust that our purpose is something God had in mind for us all along.

 

Join us April 28th for our Unleash Your Life Purpose Workshop and begin to find and unleash your unique and stunning purpose into this world. 

 

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All Things New

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All Things New

We are made for community. I knew this from my earliest days. I remember trying to be bigger than I was to tag along with my older siblings. I never wanted to be left behind or told I was too small or young to join in the fun. Sometimes I still feel that familiar pang of pain at the injustice of not being included. My friend John says, “being invited and being welcomed are two different things. Whether invited or not, you are always welcome around here.” This is how I think the body of Christ should be, but sometimes it feels like some exclusive club that I don’t have the members only card needed to get past the door guard.

We celebrated the sacrament of Eucharist yesterday, which happens about once a month at our church. One talented artist told a story about running away in his youth and how his family welcomed him back to the table with love. This was an excellent segue to the story of the prodigal son and a great reminder that our heavenly father is just like the father in this story. That he has prepared a place for us at the table and he delights in our return to him. Although I feel the nearness of his presence in my breath and in nature, in my relationships, and in my work and ministry, I am feeling disconnected from his presence in the church. This breaks my heart because I know the church is the bride of Christ and the hope of the world.

I am trying to figure out when it happened and how to repair what feels like a tiny hairline fracture that is quickly spreading and dividing me from the place that I call home. While on a walk with a dear friend, she asked good questions and let me rant about the church that we both love dearly. She said, “the church is just broken people like you and me, but they have liability issues.” They have to present well and pretend that everything is perfect from up there, so they don’t get sued. To me, that seems inauthentic and feels like a breach of trust. I want to believe that my church is special. It was in this church that I first tasted real Christian community, and that I fell hook line and sinker for the Acts 2 community that they were selling; where people take off their masks and bring their whole selves to the table. I feel confused by the mixed messages I am receiving. I realize that the pain that this stirs causes me to want to run far and fast in the other direction, but I know wherever I go, there I am. I want to be a part of the solution.

I signed up to lead a Journey Group which helps provide care for those who have experienced trauma and abuse. Unfortunately, I was not chosen to lead which reinforced a lie, that my church doesn’t want to use my gifts. I showed up anyway. I love my church and I want to care for its people, but after one session, we were told that we needed to go through a 12 step recovery program if we wanted to lead, and since that time, our church stopped offering Journey Groups. In a church this size it is near impossible to meet all the needs of the people, so instead of pastoral care, they changed their name to pastoral response. As much as I want to be invited in and be used in my church, I know that my work in the world is to care deeply for those who are broken. So, instead of begging to be welcomed in and used within the walls of the church, I will follow Jesus out into the world and go where he leads me. I will enter the walls of my church with gratitude for the gift that I receive there, imperfect as it may seem through my eyes that were made for heaven. I will practice gratitude and worship God in the walls of my church as best as I am able. I will release the pain I feel and surrender my desire at the foot of the cross. I will trust in God’s promise:

“He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making all things new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” – Revelation 21:5

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The Path to Purpose

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The Path to Purpose

I love the Wizard of Oz.  When I was a little girl, I would eagerly anticipate the one time a year it was played on the television.  We all crammed into the living room and gathered around the 18-inch screen.  Though times have changed, there are a few universal themes that the movie ushered in to my young and developing mind.  I remember being enamored by the contrast between the black and white of the daily grind and the vibrant colors of Oz.  Are you living a black and white, going through the motions kind of life?  Do you long to live in full color with sparkling ruby slippers and all?  The journey toward purpose is a journey inward, back to the truth of who you are.  But how do you get there?  Where do you begin? Simply take a step for a change and just follow the yellow brick road…

Another part of the movie that struck me was young Dorothy’s courage to step into the great unknown all alone. Once she stepped onto the path, everything she needed appeared. She found her community by stepping out in faith. She reached out to help a scarecrow who was up in a lurch, pausing along the way to oil up a rusty tin man, and looking beyond a cowardly lion’s roar to see the sweet and tender interior. Maybe our tribe, the people we need to help fulfill our life’s purpose, are right outside of our door. We only need courage enough to take a step for a change, reach out and help someone, and just follow the yellow brick road…

Finally, the most profound truth of the movie, is that everything that is really needed has been there all along. We travel great distances in search or something; striving and reaching, when the best thing is always to cultivate a pause, and turn in to notice.  There is so much magnificence within… Celebrate it!  Let your heart say thank you for the mind, heart, courage and pathway home to the center that has been within you all along.  Be brave like Dorothy Gale and show up for yourself for a change. 

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Strength in Community

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Strength in Community

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:  If either of them falls down, one can help the other up… A chord of three strands is not easily broken.” Ephesians 4:9-10, 12

I first experienced the tremendous healing power of a group when working with kids at the wellness center a few years ago.  There were 10 kids in the room ranging from 7 – 12.  They were all girls and the other thing they had in common was that cancer was affecting their life.  One day a 9-year-old girl was lying on her mat, too sick from her treatment to participate in the yoga.  Another girl made a comment that it wasn’t fair that she wasn’t doing it.  Her older sister shot up like a rocket and leaned way into the other girl’s space and said, “It’s because she’s got cancer!”  Another young girl in a quiet and sad voice said, “my dad just died from cancer,” and one more girl spoke up to say, “My dad died last year from cancer.”  I threw my plan out the window and used the next hour to bring to light the elephant in the room.  When I first began volunteering there, I was determined to provide a fun distraction from the cancer.  I tried not to mention the “C” word unless one of the kids brought it up, and they rarely did, because they were happy to get a break form it. 

We began to pretend our minds were televisions and we each held our remote and practiced pushing pause, we turned in to focus on the unchanging light within each one of our hearts.  We paused to breathe deeply and exhale away the tension and fear and sadness we shared.  The light inside of each of our hearts seemed to be connected to our loved ones and together it was stronger.  The children identified what was hard about cancer and suddenly they didn’t feel so alone in their pain and it loosened its grip, jut a bit.  I explained that every person in that room had the cancer channel on their T.V.  It is a hard place to wait.  It’s helpful to remember, but also important not to stay too long in the place of sadness.  We have the power to push pause or change the channel at any moment.  The children were invited to remember a precious memory from the past, a happy day or moment, before cancer showed up.  You could see the smiles on the kids’ faces as they remembered when life was “normal.”  The kids learned how important it is to remember our loved ones with gratitude, for this is how they live on in our hearts.  We can turn our remote controls to a place of happy remembering whenever we want, but be careful not to stay too long there either.  We have to live in the present moment and work in each moment to carry the light of those we have loved and lost out into the world.  Today, in the midst of being too close to cancer, I remember that group with profound gratitude because it helped me name my own grief and fear around the disease. 

The next time I found myself in a group that rocked my world was a “Listen to My Life” personal story mapping group.  Seven of us met weekly in a friend’s living room for over a year to unpack our stories and begin to recognize and reflect back to one another the work that God has been doing in our lives from the beginning.  Sometimes we miss the forest through the trees and we need caring eyes and loving gazes in the dark places of confusion and shame.  It is so transformative to have love in the valleys and company all along the journey.  As we entered into the intimate places of our stories together our compassion and love grew beyond what we could have hoped for or imagined.  We began to recognize universal themes of humanity that felt so personal until we noticed them threaded through the fibers of other stories at the table.  Dan Allender said, “We can’t see our face unless it’s reflected back in the face of another.”  The mirroring and attunement that happened at that table changed my brain and my life.  I healed in deep places that I didn’t even realize I was broken in.  To offer this gift of sacred community and hold safe containers of care is one of the primary missions of SOW that…

I also sat in a circle with 86 others at a woman’s retreat this week.  It was a beautiful space filled with courageous and blessed women.  After spending an hour moving and breathing and praying with our mind, body and Spirit, you could feel a lightness and beauty and ease floating through that space.  The women did a guided meditation in which they scanned their bodies for the clenched fist and places they were still clinging tightly and were invited to let go and breathe life and blessing into every fiber of their beings.  They turned to face another person in the circle and for just 3 minutes were asked to share their hearts and then practice listening from the heart.  After that exercise each woman checked out with a word, the harvest of blessing that they would take back into their daily walk.  It was holy and beautiful and affirmed the profound need and value of community.  We spend our lives serving and giving and doing, but the time has come for us to cultivate a pause, to be still and allow loving eyes to rest upon us.  We must show up for ourselves and come to the table of blessing, to be seen, known and loved.  If this is what your heart needs, please click the link to sign up for our “Lighten UP – wellness group” starting this month.

"Knowledge is power.  Community is strength & positive attitude is everything.”

                                                                                                -Lance Armstrong
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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