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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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? 

 

 

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.

The Gates of Hope

I’m not going to write much on this post.  I’m slowly coming back to writing by reading poetry, taking walks, and some mornings of “doing nothing” after an emotionally exhausting month. 

An important question that has surfaced over the past year took on a nurturing quality: “Where do you hurt?” 

I gave myself space to acknowledge and feel my hurt at deeper levels, to talk about pain with those I trust, to weep. 

As I give enough space from my soul to warm up to how I actually feel, I’ve experienced that my sense of hope actually grows.  I allow all my emotions to have a voice, and this leads to both a hopeful and a lonely place.  

As you read this powerful poem may you know in your own experience that engaging in your personal struggles actualizes a deeper sense of hope.

 

The Gates of Hope

 

by Reverend Virginia Stafford

 

Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope-

Not the prudent gates of Optimism,

Which are somewhat narrower.

Not the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense;

Nor the strident gates of Self-Righteousness,

Which creak on shrill and angry hinges

(People cannot hear us there; they cannot pass

through)

Nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of

“Everything is gonna’ be all right.”

But a different, sometimes lonely place,

The place of truth-telling,

About your own soul first of all and its condition.

The place of resistance and defiance,

The piece of ground from which you see the world

Both as it is and as it could be

As it will be;

The place from which you glimpse not only struggle,

But the joy of the struggle.

And we stand there, beckoning and calling,

Telling people what we are seeing

Asking people what they see.

 

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Welcome Autumn

Assurance

Written by William Stafford

 

You will never be alone, you hear so deep

a sound when autumn comes.  Yellow

pulls across the hills and thrums,

or the silence after lightning before it says

its names-and then the clouds wide mouthed

apologies. You were aimed from birth:

you will never be alone. Rain

will come, a gutter filled, an Amazon,

long aisles-you never heard so deep a sound,

moss on rock, and years.  You turn your head-

that’s what the silence meant: you’re not alone.

The whole wide word pours down.

 

 

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