Sources of Resilience

On an episode of Healing Justice Podcast, I was encouraged to think about what my sources of resilience have been and are.  In this time of my life that feels like deep grounding, yet deep transition all at the same time, I want to pause and honor those places, people & internal wells of wisdom that have brought me to this place.

–I want to honor Detroit, my summer childhood running home, and my friends across difference, especially Ramzee and Whitney.

–Running, you taught me about sinking my breath with movement and my first lessons in internal affirmations.  You taught me the nuance between perseverance and knowing when to stop.

–Hashimoto’s, there will be lifelong wisdom from you, my friend.  You taught me to listen to my body, to trust it, to continue to seek healing, even when it seemed like all options were exhausted.  You keep teaching me that my body is my friend, not my enemy.  You teach me daily that I am not what I do.  That there always exists within my body the invitation to rest.

–Therapy-so much therapy in my 20’s!  I’ve learned that with a skilled therapist, your trauma can transform into your teacher.  With an unskilled one, your trauma becomes your ever-increasing nightmare.

–Safe healers-Lesley, Kelsey, Beth, Dina, Mel, Erica, Melissa (x2), Charlie, and so many more.  You save more lives than you realize.

–My voice-learning to speak the cold truth without sugar-coating.  Knowing that the truth will offend some.  But it always has.  Those in power often play deaf to the truth.

–Memphis.  The place where I saw racism up close, not in covert ways in the north.  Where I passed KKK statues in the park.  Where so many questions were asked, and so much anger was sparked.

–My breath.  This powerful source has power to release grief, anger, frustration, powerlessness-all for free!  Breathing deeply helps me create internal and external spaciousness.

–Poetry.  Writing it.  Reading it.  Knowing when something was written just for you.

–Friendships.  My community pushing me forward & encouraging my rest.

& so many more that I could name.

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Arrogance or Bravery?

While sitting in meditation last week, I thought of this David Whyte poem.  It was meditation, and so I let the thought go, but then it came back to me later that day.

Sweet Darkness

When your eyes are tired

the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone

no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark

where the night has eyes

to recognize its own.

There you can be sure

you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb

tonight.

The night will give you a horizon 

further than you can see.

You must learn one thing.

The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds

except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet

confinement of your aloneness

to learn

anything or anyone 

that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

What struck me is that on a surface level, this poem can seem quite arrogant.  It’s a poem of struggle, retreating into solitude, and realizing that you should only spend time around people that make you come alive.  (Does that make someone smart or extremely avoidant?!)

Upon deeper investigation though, this poem is about letting go.  Being alone in the quiet and seeing what’s left.  It’s about figuring out who you are, when you are willing to rip away all the masks.  It’s about knowing you are deeply loved.  It’s about learning to befriend yourself; and to stay true to yourself.  It’s about knowing what is yours to do and what isn’t.  It’s about knowing who your people are; and what people aren’t.

Somehow aloneness becomes a sweet confinement.  The silence rips away all pretense–and you can no longer be a good version of yourself.  You must be your true self.  You must put away all the good things (especially the good things other people want you to do!)–and only long for the best.

This is a beautiful poem for Lent.  “The world was made to be free in.”

These words have been a great support over the last week, as I’m coming to understand what it means for me to give up conformity for Lent.  For me it means hearing the whispering voice say, “What do you want?”  It’s responding honestly to that question.

It means paying attention to when I feel like I have to make someone else in the room comfortable–and realizing where this impulse is coming from.

It means entering into deep rest, remembering that I don’t exist just to serve other people.  It means knowing that I’m worthy.  Worthy of every good thing.

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I excelled at a young age, both academically and athletically.  I was smart, yet practical.  I didn’t quite fit the dumb blonde stereotype.  I beat all the boys when we would race at recess.  I remember having a realization while I was still in elementary school that I intimidated people.  I had strong strengths, but I didn’t like the effect this had in a group.  I would either shrink to make people feel comfortable, or avoid certain people if I wanted to act like myself.

I took on other people’s insecurity.  And over time, I didn’t know what was my energy or what was someone else’s.

I didn’t know this dynamic existed while I was still running and was successful.  I started to realize it when my health started deteriorating, when I could no longer hide behind my external achievements.  I knew then that actually my interior life was empty as well; I thought that I was what I could accomplish, but I was very wrong.

Even when I got sick, people would tell me, “You have such a good attitude” or “I don’t know how you persevere the way you do.”  I would smile to be polite and to make them comfortable–because when you are sick, you are very aware of how your existence makes people very uncomfortable.  I would muster some energy that I didn’t really have to say something trite like, “Well, I do the best that I can.”

Deep down in my bones though, I was tired of my over-responsibility, still trying to make other people in the room comfortable even when I was really sick.

Why?  I wanted to feel like I belonged.  I confused conformity with belonging.  I chose to not remember the basic truth that at an elemental level, that we all belong to each other.

So in order to belong, I would do a lot of emotional labor for other people so they would understand my illness.  I short-changed their learning, so that I could feel understood.

I sought support primarily externally (although I did need this), to the neglect of my own internal support & those in my life who had taught me resilience. The harder work is the inner work.

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During this Lent, what I felt my body saying was, “No more.”

“Take responsibility for your own emotional wake-but that’s it.”

“Really see who you are in the silence.”

The woman that is emerging from this silence is strong and compassionate.  She knows that her strength and compassion are nestled in her own body.  She is in touch with her intuition, and realizes when anxiety creeps in, that she is out of line with herself.  She gives to others, but also gives abundantly to herself.  She recognizes that the price of discovering oneself is misunderstanding and increased conflict–yet knows that the risk is worth it.  Rather than being afraid of her fatigue, she listens to it, for she knows that in it contains much wisdom.  She takes deep breaths, expressing gratitude for the life source that sustains her.  She knows that her power lies in letting go–only which is hers.

______________________________________________________

Here I am.  In the present, as a strong woman.  Yet this time, one who knows her inherent worth and dignity.  I’m no longer the 8 year old on the playground-although that girl is still in me.

So is it arrogant or brave to step into the silence, with all of my gifts, with all of my hard-won wisdom?  Is it arrogant or brave to rest, both alone and in community, in order to give my best self to the world?

Is it arrogant or brave to leave places or people that do not make me come alive?

Is it arrogant or brave to speak truth to power?

Is it arrogant or brave to wander until you know where you are to put down roots?

I say brave, although of course the flip side is that the ones who feel rejected, say arrogant.  Yet, that’s not mine to worry about, is it?

 

Photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash

Diagnosis Day!

On Saturday, I celebrated my diagnosis day.  3 years of having lived with the diagnosis of Hashimoto’s.  It’s been a crazy journey these three years, often very difficult and isolating.  In the midst of the pain and seeming unfairness of it all, there have been some beautiful moments: being attuned and witnessing my own healing journey, the friendships that have formed, starting my own business, and learning to sit with difficult emotions more fully.

I’ve discovered a love of cooking and I’ve honed my writing skills. I’ve found yoga and meditation, contemplative Christianity, and my own inner drive to persevere.  I’m learning to lean into my intuition, my emotions, and my spirituality.  I’m writing a book about the gifts that have been gained from my illness.  I’m gaining life and wisdom from stories, both in digging more deeply into my own and in listening to others.

I posted a few weeks ago about Sick Woman Theory.  After I read it, I wrote a poem, dedicated to Johanna Hevda, the originator of Sick Woman Theory.  This is for all those who are sick, and who feel like they have to fight to be seen and who have been dismissed way too many times.

To All Those Who Shouldn’t Have Made It, But Did, And Do

for Johanna Hevda

You’re here.  You’ve gotten out of bed in some miraculous way.  

 

You showed up.  Maybe that took all your spoons.

 

I’m honored that you chose to spend your limited energy here, with me.

 

But I realize that you didn’t have to; and that would not be wrong.  

 

Funny how we define right and wrong, isn’t it?

 

Funny how we place blame on the sick bodies, those lazy people lying in bed

 

And yet, we are too afraid of their power when in public?

 

 

In our society, sick bodies are queer; and in fact, many queer people are sick.

 

We feel the deviance in being a mystic; so many of the contemplative texts come from sick bodies.  

 

So white contemplatives:  next time we quote from Hildegard of Bingen or Catherine of Sienna or Joan of Arc or Theresa of Avila or Julian of Norwich: remember their female sick bodies.  

 

Do not steal from them their insights, while ignoring their bodies.  

 

Back then they were mystics; now we shut people up in psych wards, give them medicine to numb them, and cut them off from community.  Maybe we should be listening.

 

We are cut off from community, even as we long to find each other.  And find each other we will.  We must.  

 

Blessed are you when you get out of bed, but people feel you should stay in bed to prove you are sick.  

 

Blessed are you when you stay in bed, because you know what rest means more than anyone around you.

 

Blessed are you when you speak up in order to be visible, but people prefer your invisibility.

 

Blessed are you when you are silent, connecting with the Divine, but people prefer to call you crazy.

 

Blessed are you when you go to the doctor, but the doctor calls you hysterical.  

 

Blessed are you when you are your own best doctor, because this white hetero-normative patriarchal medical institution really isn’t for you.

 

Blessed are you when you smile at the cashier, the first person you’ve made eye contact with all day.  

 

Blessed are you when someone looks away from you, because you just parked in a handicapped spot, but don’t look handicapped.

 

Blessed are you when you take time to breathe, for sometimes the earth is your best friend.

 

Blessed are you when you take time to scream, for your rage is justified.

 

Blessed are you, lying in bed all day, still hoping, still yearning for community.  

Blessed are you, seen though invisible, beautiful, though sick, hopeful in your agony.

The Beginning of Summer

Friends, I wanted to thank you for the many gracious responses from my last post.  This last month has been a healing one, full of big and small steps.  It’s been a time of winding down work and enjoying a week off at the end of May.  It’s been a time of full days, and then other days without any plans.  It included lots of reading, yoga and walks outside.  Time perusing book stores, making yummy desserts and eating great food!  A day trip to Columbus to celebrate a friend’s wedding and Bloomington to watch the Indiana State Track Meet.  It’s been a month of hard conversations-but important ones.  A time to talk to health professionals and fill in some gaps in my treatment.  It’s been a month of seeing small outward glimpses of my own inner work.   Of hearing my voice more clearly, seeing greater assertiveness rather than hesitation.

One of the hardest pieces of living in the aftermath of sexual assault is the shame that turned into feeling alone.  Like I was lacking some core piece of belonging.  Intellectually I knew the statistics-I knew that I wasn’t alone in my experience. And I also knew that there are a lot of supportive people around me.  And yet my body was telling a different story.

Here is a piece by John O’Donohue that is a beautiful blessing, which speaks mostly to belonging to yourself, which of course then extends to belonging to others.

For Belonging

 

May you listen to your longing to be free.

May the frames of your belonging be generous enough for your dreams.

May you arise each day with a voice of blessing whispering in your heart.

May you find a harmony between your soul and your life.

May the sanctuary of your soul never become haunted.

May you know the eternal longing that lives at the heart of time.

May there be kindness in your gaze when you look within.

May you never place walls between the light and yourself.

May you allow the wild beauty of the invisible world to gather you, mind you, and embrace you in belonging.

A Blessing for the One Who Listens

 

Sit quietly, plant your feet flat on the floor,

and take a few deep breaths.

Settle your anxious mind.  Do not let thoughts

run circles in your imagination.

Let your breath guide you to a deeper place of seeing.

Let your solitude linger. Try to not be afraid of where

this quiet journey takes you.

 

And when others enter your company,

they will recognize this sturdy ground you stand on.

They probably will not have words to describe your presence.

Yet you are marked by a quiet self-confidence, listening,

attentiveness, tranquility, and joy.

When others spend time with you, they feel honored.

 

However, this is an act of returning to the quiet,

and learning to listen to the daily whispers of God.

 

So return, and keep returning.

The quiet will soften you and make you

open to the world.

Open enough to realize there is someone

always yearning to listen to you.

A Blessing for My Body

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For so long I knew you to be my enemy.

You were attacking me, as my health continued to decline-

or so I thought.

Now I know you were just trying to keep me alive.

You gave me warning signs that all was not well-

and you were compensating the best ways you knew how.

 

And so today, I honor you.

May you keep restoring me to balance,

day by day.

Bless you for teaching me how to care for myself.

Keep me in tune with your signs, that I can accept

the gift of equilibrium.

Remind me when I wander outside my capacity

that not everything is my job.

Allow me to experience the fullness of my breath,

that I am alive:

no matter how great fatigue’s presence is today.

A Blessing for My Mind

Over the next few weeks I’m going to share some blessings I’ve written recently.  The theme that has surfaced in all these blessings is gratitude.  Gratitude for this journey I’m on and those on the journey with me.  I’ve written these blessings to myself, but also knowing that the blessing extends to others as well.  May you join me in blessing your integrated self: mind, body, and soul over the coming weeks.

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A Blessing For My Mind

May you keep growing in me dreams and wonderful thoughts.

Enlarge my imagination so I may perceive new worlds.

May some ponderings surprise me, leading me to new places and people.

When you get cloudy and exhausted

lead me to nurture my body once again.

As I sink into my breath, may your rattling thoughts cease.

Allow me to inhabit my body fully.

When anxious thoughts take over,

bring me back to my breath in silence.

May you know your limits, that sometimes what you say isn’t true.

May you know when to step aside, so the body’s knowledge

which never lies, can speak.

 

“You Have Hashimoto’s”

On Friday of this week, is my Diagnosis Day.  Two years ago, I was told, “You have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.”

I was both relieved, and at the same time intuitively knew, this was only the beginning.  I had a long journey ahead of me.  And yet the diagnosis was step 1.  And after 10 years of searching, I finally knew what was wrong.  There was nothing particularly special about that day.  After a 2 hour diagnosis appointment, I went home and laid in bed the rest of the day.  I’m sure it was a combination of research, of Netflix, of napping.

It was both an ordinary day, and in a very real way, my life had changed.  I knew how to help myself.  In the middle of winter, I received amazing clarity.  I wasn’t lying for 10 years; I was right.  I was in pain, I was fatigued, and I was unfortunately moved around the healthcare system, without answers.  But the clarity that came to me that day was a glimmer of hope that I could trust my intuition, and that a few people must know how to listen.

At first this listening came in the form of doctors, and yet as I learned how to talk about my condition, compassion from others followed.  And then there’s “knowing” from an author I will never meet.  This blessing, written by John O’Donohue, felt like it was written for me.  I came across this last summer, and the thought of “harvesting this slow light” put words to the journey I wanted to embark on.  And now, I’m trying to listen to the wisdom in these simple, yet powerful words.

 

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For a Friend on the Arrival of Illness

Now is the time of dark invitation

Beyond a frontier you did not expect;

Abruptly, your old life seems distant.

 

You barely noticed how each day opened

A path through fields never questioned,

Yet expected, deep down, to hold treasure.

Now your time on earth becomes full of threat;

Before your eyes your future shrinks.

 

You lived absorbed in the day-to-day,

So continuous with everything around you,

That you could forget you were separate;

 

Now this dark companion has come between you.

Distances have opened in your eyes.

You feel that against your will

A stranger has married your heart.

 

Nothing before has made you

Feel so isolated and lost.

 

When the reverberations of shock subside in you,

May grace come to restore you to balance.

May it shape a new space in your heart

To embrace this illness as a teacher

Who has come to open your life to new worlds.

 

May you find in yourself

A courageous hospitality

Toward what is difficult,

Painful, and unknown.

 

May you learn to use this illness

As a lantern to illuminate

The new qualities that will emerge in you.

 

May the fragile harvesting of this slow light

Help to release whatever has become false in you.

May you trust this light to clear a path

Through all the fog of old unease and anxiety

Until you feel arising within you a tranquility

Profound enough to call the storm to stillness.

 

May you find the wisdom to listen to your illness:

Ask it why it came.  Why it chose your friendship.

Where it wants to take you.  What it wants you to know.

What quality of space it wants to create in you.

What you need to learn to become more fully

yourself

That your presence may shine in the world.

 

May you keep faith with your body,

Learning to see it as a holy sanctuary

Which can bring this night-wound gradually

Toward the healing and freedom of dawn.

 

May you be granted the courage and vision

To work through passivity and self-pity,

To see the beauty you can harvest

From the riches of this dark invitation.

 

May you learn to receive it graciously,

And promise to learn swiftly

That it may leave you newborn,

Willing to dedicate your time to birth.

 

On Friday, I will write about what it has meant to receive an illness,  to train my eye to see the slow light that is emerging daily.

Health Update-Winter 2017

Last week, I met with my doctor.  These check-ups are met with a variety of emotions: anything from a bit of nervousness, to feeling calm and relieved.  While we generally only discuss the past several months since the last appointment, I still bring my whole medical journey with me.  It doesn’t get left at the door.

I’ve now been seeing doctors regularly for about half my life.  And for most of that time doctors did not know what was going on with me.  I was told that I was fine or that my symptoms were in my head.  I’m glad it’s different now.  I’m completely believed and my medications and supplements are prescribed mainly for how I feel, before how I feel is proven by a lab test.

And I’m glad to report that I’m doing really well.  Minor changes were made to my treatment plan, but the overall message was “Keep doing what you’re doing.”  My doctor told me that I’m doing better now than he expected.  While there still are minor setbacks, there still is a sizable forward momentum.  I’m starting to feel what it’s like to be healthy again.  And it’s a good feeling.

img_3872 wisco-game

While you as the reader can’t see the few tears while I write this, writing this post is emotional.  I didn’t think I would experience the day when I felt as good as I do now.  I didn’t think it was impossible.  After 10 years of no answers and my health continuing to get worse, hoping for relief felt exhausting at best and stupid at worst.  And despite my doubt and resignation at times, I have quite a team walking this with me.

I have supportive doctors and nurses.  I have health food stores, farmer’s markets, and an online community that helped me figure out how to make things that actually taste good.  I have friends who are sick and friends who are healthy.  I have nature, walking trails, a yoga studio close by.  I have books that I’ll just plow through on my more tired-and-stay-inside kind of days.  I have people to help me process my spiritual journey, and how my illness has transformed and continues to transform my relationship with God.  In fact, my illness has been the reason why I ever met a gentle, weeping God in the first place. I have a job that I enjoy.  I have a lifestyle that continues to help sustain my healing.

As I keep healing, there’s a question that keeps circulating in my mind, “What now?”  There’s no clear answer or plan to this question.  Yet for a few years, all my energy went into healing, and I had to turn inward, just to survive.  Now all the lessons and gifts I’ve received by learning to take care of myself every day, can move outward.  I look forward to exploring this question more this year.  But for now, here’s a poem by David Whyte that resonates with me and my journey.

Journey 

Above the mountains

the geese turn into

the light again

painting their

black silhouettes 

on an open sky. 

Sometimes everything

has to be

enscribed across

the heavens

so you can find 

the one line

already written 

inside you.

Sometimes it takes

a great sky

to find that 

small, bright

and indescribable

wedge of freedom

in your own heart.

Sometimes with 

the bones of the black

sticks left when the fire

has gone out

someone has written

something new

in the ashes 

of your life.

You are not leaving

you are arriving.

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.

 

sfi

 

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?