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Simple Questions

Last week I listened to a podcast, where the person being interviewed expressed that the words of her yoga teacher were still rattling around in her mind:

“How tender do you want to get? How soft do you want to become?”

Those words made me stop.

I want to be a person who can receive. Someone who can be present, accepting the simple moments as they come and go. I want to be able to be still myself, so I realize what I need and want, and not be so terrified of my fatigue.

I want others to know that they are so important, that I’m willing to get close enough so that they change me.

And yet I’ve lived enough to know that this vulnerability is costly.  My generation values authenticity and vulnerability and yet it’s hard to be the first person to speak, the person to say, “I’m not okay.”

These months have been ones of seeing myself more honestly, seeing my protective walls, and knowing that they don’t just come crashing down in a moment.  It’s more like a slow melting away.

Receptiveness doesn’t mean being a push-over, just as sacrifice means that one must first recognize that there is a self to sacrifice. Without a discerning eye, receptiveness could look like people pleasing and helping could be avoidance.

So I keep returning to stillness, to myself and the Divine, to see how much my ego actually is at work and to see my own goodness and worth more clearly.

Sometimes receptiveness looks like receiving love, being affirmed, being reminded of how valuable I am just for being me. It could mean a hug, a compliment, being still enough to receive this moment, and the unknown that comes with it.

In order to be soft, I want to live into my body, knowing its joys and its pains.  I want to feel what I’m actually feeling, when my jaw tenses up, when my shoulders scrunch to my ears, or when I can actually touch my toes! I want to know when my breath is shallow and when its full. I want to listen to the emotions that rise up in me.

As I daily pay attention to myself, I will be more attune to others, having extra capacity for laughter and tears.

For in times of vulnerability, there is a shared tenderness, and we both could become softer as a result.  Of course, the choice is ours.  We have to be willing to sit “on the mourner’s bench” as Nicholas Wolterstorff likes to say.

The one who is tender speaks bravely, inviting everyone else in the room into a softer, gentler place.

Into a more expansive view of the world.  Into a new emotion, understanding, or empathy.

But there is no force. She could be met with unhelpful silence, misunderstanding, pet answers.

But she also could be met with love and acceptance.  There is great risk in seeking to be tender.

Yet there’s also an invitation to everyone else in the room.

Do you want to be tender and soft too? Will you join me on this journey of honesty, risk, and feeling deeply?

 

 

What I’m Learning in Yoga

The past few Decembers, I’ve taken a silent retreat at Sustainable Faith Indy, as part of my celebration of Advent. I also write down my longings for the year. The first one I wrote down for 2017 was:

Establish a regular yoga practice at Breathing Space

 

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Over Christmas break, I was going to this yoga studio daily, and it’s still my goal to make it at least four times per week, now that work has started back.

This longing is no longing to meet an exercise quota, but because I feel so much better.  I have enough energy to work towards a new goal and try something new.

I get to embrace a form of exercise I never would have if I hadn’t gotten sick.  I choose to move towards yoga with a smile, even though flexibility has never been my strong suit.

My life is slowly being altered as I make these small decisions.

To enter into a sacred space, where I’m encouraged to honor my body and its limitations.  I’m deciding to enter into a yoga studio, rather than buy a gym membership.

To listen to my breath, to notice how relaxed or stressed I am.  I’m deciding to observe my body’s reactions, rather than judge them.

To hold a pose when I feel the right amount of tension, neither under-extending or overextending. I’m deciding to listen to my body’s signals, not to ignore pain or think I can master it.

To stay in the present moment.  I’m noticing when my mind drifts and remind it to come back into focus.

To honor my body’s innate knowledge.  To listen to my body’s wisdom, rather than believing that wisdom just comes from my head.

To rest in Shavasana.  To remember that the culmination of work is rest, not more work.

Here’s to more flexibility and healing in 2017!

What new habits are you taking up in 2017? 

 

 

Advent and Reflection

On Friday, I went to Sustainable Faith Indy (SFI) for a 4 hour silent Advent retreat.

SFI holds snapshots of my healing process.  The first time I took a silent retreat was two years ago during Advent.  I had just quit my job at the Oaks Academy, and I wasn’t yet diagnosed with Hashimoto’s.  I had no job, was moving out of my apartment the next month, and I had no idea what to do to help myself.  I was desperate, anxious, and yet too exhausted to feel those emotions that strongly. Numb was a better description.

On these retreats, Advent guides are prepared for each participant.  As I looked through my guide from two years ago, I found in its pages a poem that reveals the depth of my sadness, of my desire for healing:

When Sickness Prevails

Fatigue helps me to befriend stillness

even when I scream into its void.

Silence reveals who I really am:

my fears, doubts, joys, and thoughts

and in that rest I know I am sick.

 

When sickness prevails, rest doesn’t satisfy.

Emotions run rampant, loneliness sucks me dry.

Fear overtakes my mind. I feel stuck.

Stuck in this moment, in this depressing hour

Never to get out.

 

When sickness prevails, friends are few.

I ask for what I need, but I am shut-in,

unable to do much activity outside my apartment

and then largely forgotten.

Forgotten because busyness reigns and words are cheap.

 

When sickness prevails and I am alone,

I try to distract myself and not feel.

Eventually I am still enough to cry

and those tears are held by those

acquainted with grief,

when sickness prevails.

 

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As I read this poem now, I am sad as I think back to that time, and yet simply grateful that two years later reflects a much different story.  As I sat down at the lunch table at SFI before my afternoon retreat started, I thought,

“I am among friends.”

Two years ago, I also wrote down a few longings I had, that are now a part of my every day life.

  • I wanted adult friendships, not mentors.  I wanted people who could handle walking with me in my story, yet saw me as valuable, and were willing to learn from me as well.
  • I wanted to feel like I could be included in the life of the church, not just as someone to help, but one with a vibrant story to share, even if I broached uncomfortable territory.
  • I wanted to journey with a few friends dealing or had dealt with sickness.  I wanted to feel like I wasn’t alone.

And this Christmas, all of these longings have been given to me.  I have several adult friendships, who walk with me in my story, and seek my healing right alongside me.  I have been lovingly included at Dwelling Place, and I have several friends with sickness, who help keep me grounded when I’m becoming fearful again or coming unglued, or want to give up.

In the midst of profound struggle, I have been given many gifts.

What are you reflecting on this Christmas?  What gifts have you been given? 

 

 

Advent and Vulnerability

I’ve approached Advent this year with my fists clenched, if I’m honest.

It seems like too much of a risk to be vulnerable.  I’m teary-eyed, but don’t exactly know what I need.

Dependence seems scary.

Yet as I pay attention to my fear, my anxiety, and my tears, I know that I’m being invited to trust, to let my guard down just a little bit more, to let myself feel what I need.

It’s been a brutal three years of loss.  Loss of health, jobs, friendships, a stable place to call home.

I found deep resources within myself as I learned to survive, as I learned to rely on the help of strangers.  There is a strength and a bravery in me that I didn’t know I had.

Yet as I’ve slowly been piecing my life back together, I’m coming to terms that I experienced deep wounds of isolation-and it will take time to heal.

I wasn’t made just to be strong, but also vulnerable.  I wasn’t made just to survive, but to heal and pay attention to my life.

I’m made to be deeply dependent, even as I risk my fears of being a burden, of being misunderstood, of being ignored, of not being believed.

As I acknowledge my humanity, of what I can’t handle on my own, I will feel free.  I will honor who I truly am, and honor those I meet.

Part of why this journey is so hard is because many people are not vulnerable.  I haven’t had many models of ongoing healthy vulnerability.  I know that I need to receive help, and have the relationship be more one-sided.  And yet many times I long for mutual vulnerability.

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As I turn my thoughts toward Advent, I thought of a phrase I grew up hearing,

“Jesus doesn’t need you, but he wants you.”

While I understand what this phrase is trying to say, we often make light of Christ’s humanity.  We are scared of Christ as baby, because we feel more safe it He’s powerful.

Christ did need people, born as a baby, completely dependent.  He would have died without the safety and nourishment of his family.

Maybe when he said, “The kingdom of heaven belongs to little children,” he knew what he was saying.

As adults, it’s our journey to return to a place of unwavering trust, like a child.  To be free.  To be unashamed. To give because we have no reason not to.

Advent is an invitation to vulnerability and dependence-to echo Christ’s first cries of “I need help.”

Moments of vulnerability are simple, yet profound.

Terrifying, yet peaceful.

Tear-filled, yet silent.

I know this journey is worthwhile, and yet I need to remember again.

The Longing of Advent

When we commit to resting during Advent, some of our longings arise.  When we move more slowly and are more observant, we may also come into contact with the longings of others.

Post-election, and into Advent I have been reading African-American poetry.  These poems are beautiful and gritty and they demand an emotional response.  Below are two in particular that have grabbed my attention:

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Frederick Douglass

Written by Robert Hayden

When it is finally ours; this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful

and terrible thing, needful to man as air,

usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,

when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,

reflex action: when it is finally won; when it is more

than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:

this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro

beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world

where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,

this man, superb in love and logic, this man

shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues’ rhetoric,

not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,

but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives

fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.

Tomorrow

Written by E. Ethelbert Miller

tomorrow

i will take the

journey back

sail

the

middle passage

it

would be better

to be packed

like spoons again

than to continue to

live among

knives and forks

In these days, there is still so much hate, and that hate starts with me.  It starts with my ignorance, my fear of another,  my unwillingness to grow and change, my fear of vulnerability.  In this very hate, Christ was born.  People weren’t paying attention.  Divisions existed.

To some, Christ is born so commonly, without recognition.  And in his birth, he asks us to give up power and to embrace a life of listening and quiet, so we might start to hear the voices we have been ignoring.

To others, Christ is the balm of relief, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.  He is brother and friend.  He is the one who has been oppressed, who has been misunderstood, ignored, hated, shunned and abused.  He has come to bring solidarity and comfort.  To those weeping, He says, “I’m sorry and I’m here.”

As many of us are still grieving post-election, and trying to hope for better tomorrows, you are in good company.  Yet, as Robert Hayden says, politics are the not the true means of achieving freedom.  Freedom must truly start with my own heart, with making eye contact with a stranger, with desiring a diversity of friendships.

Advent’s message of freedom comes in the form of a baby, a vulnerable baby in need of protection, comfort and love.  Freedom sounds like vulnerability:

  • “I don’t know what your suffering is like, but I want to listen and hear your story.”
  • “Could you help me see my own blind spots, where hatred and prejudice linger?”
  • “I’ve never told anyone this before, but could you listen to some hard parts of my life?”
  • “Help me! I don’t know how to help myself.”

As we rest, slow down, and linger, may we realize both how much we are loved, and how much division there exists in this world.  We all on some level desire freedom, and in diverse relationships may we discover that we all need and are needed.  Advent in so many ways, actually teaches us that we think too much of our own importance, and we really just need help.

Rest and Advent

Sickness and forced rest continue to teach me a lot.  Over Thanksgiving break, I got sick with a cold.  I was fighting it off for several days, then Thanksgiving afternoon the sore throat hit, and I was on the couch, not really paying attention to much.  But Friday just meant watching 6 hours of Gilmore Girls, eating leftovers and drinking lots of tea, coughing and blowing my nose, and sleeping.

Even though I felt awful, I came back to the thought, “It’s good to just completely rest”.  I’m a lot better at resting than I used to be. I set aside time to read, to write, to just watch TV.  I make sure that I don’t have too much going on.  I can say “no” when I need to.  However, being sick is an invitation to just care for your body, and not really worry about much else.

This time of year in the midst of Christmas-everything, nature is telling us to rest.  The days keep getting shorter, and ironically we try to get more done.  There’s the shopping, the baking, the traveling, the attending of parties, the decorating. But what if this Advent we listened to nature a little bit more?  What if we took a walk in the crisp winter air instead of congregating in shopping malls?  What if nature actually helped us prepare for Advent?

The season of Advent contains longing, desire, and waiting.  I know that when I rest, I become aware of my deepest longing and desires.  As I rest, I can grow a larger “holding tank” for all that I hope for and feel.  I’m not trying to escape or to hide my desires.  And as a pattern of rest continues, I’ve found that I desire to rest in community.

Rest takes on a particular necessity to those who experience intense suffering.  Or for those who feels that they cannot rest, they long for it deeply.  We all as humans, long for a reprieve in the midst of suffering.  We want a pause button.  We long for a meaningful conversation, appropriate touch, eye contact, for time to slow down, to share a meal with someone else.  We want to be seen, not ignored or forgotten.

As we rest, we have the reserve to reach out to those in need of rest.  Our emotions, no longer deadened, can view a person’s suffering from a compassionate heart.  We comfort those, as someone else helped to comfort us.  As we experience Advent this year, we can take comfort in Christ as vulnerable, needy baby. He had limits as we do.

Rest allows us to embrace our limitations, and to find a communal life among the suffering.  I’m certain that Christ must be in our midst with a teary eye.

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(Rest can also be your roommate laying on the ground with her dog after putting up the Christmas tree 🙂

Downward Descent

My fastest 5K ever came on the first meet of my high school career.  I ran for two more years and never got faster–but in fact more sick, as symptoms of my Hashimoto’s began to surface.

I made the most money my first year teaching in Memphis.  It doesn’t look like I’ll make close to that anytime soon.

These two facts have made me ask important questions lately:

  • What does it mean to live a simple life?
  • What have I gained in giving up power and prestige?
  • How has my life’s course been redirected?

I now see the world from a different lens, than I did even a few years ago.  I’m more observant of human struggle, more likely to seek solidarity among the weak, with those who have a powerful voice, but that voice is culturally silenced. I’ve learned that the powerful only have one view of the world-and they try to perpetuate that view as correct, rather than simply as one view.

The weak and the vulnerable have an entirely different view of the world.  And theirs’ is the view I wish to know.  The one I hope to emulate.

Credentials do not mean that much to me now. I gave up the much edgier world of urban education where I wrongly believed that these kids needed me.  I now spend many hours in a cubicle without windows working with children one-on-one helping them to read.  It’s not a glamorous job, yet its a beautiful way to spend my days.  There’s a simplicity about my life now that I crave more and more of.

I’m free to speak softly to my students.

I’m free to look at them with tears streaming down their face and say, “You’re doing a good job.”

I’m free to see elementary students who struggle as having immense strength and courage.

I’m free to tell parents who wonder if they’ve failed their children that “You have done nothing wrong.”

 

I more readily believe that these one-on-one interactions are changing me. Yes, I help students learn to read, and help encourage their potential and I encounter students who encourage me to be brave and to embrace my limitations.

Ironically in learning to accept my descent downward, I have found my voice.  I hear it growing louder and louder, even as I live simpler and simpler. I desire to heal, not to be entertained.  I desire to be an active participant in my own life, not wish that I was living someone else’s.

Some people ask me if I run anymore.  I don’t.  Somedays I wish I still could, but I can’t make it more than a quarter mile.  Some days I care, but most days I don’t.  I entered a yoga studio last weekend for the first time in over a year, and I felt at home.  I was spoken to gently, and the movements were nurturing to my body.  I listened to my breath, rather than racing to see if I could win.

I now have the margin to pay attention and to enjoy my life and those around me.  This is the greatest gift.

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