Falling into grace

Many years ago I fell and hurt myself. Badly. My mother had been unloading groceries from the trunk of the car when my 7-year-old niece rushed out to meet her. She put her hands in the trunk and my mother, not seeing her, slammed the lid down on my niece’s fingers.

Her cries were excruciating and I, envisioning she had lost her fingers, dashed down the deck steps to help.

Instead of helping, however, I made things worse. I ran so fast I tripped over loose gravel and went flying into the air, landing on my chin and then my nose. Rising unsteadily from the ground, I was a bloody mess.

We trekked off to the hospital ER where my niece was proclaimed good as new.

I, on the other hand, needed considerable mending. Every part of my body hurt. I had sprained arms, shoulders and my face had puffed up and turned shades of deep purple and blue. I was going to have to rest and let myself heal. Most of all, I was going to have time to reflect.

fallingFalling down had been a wake-up call to listen. I couldn’t see it then, but the fall was a gift.

As I rested in bed, I asked myself what I was supposed to learn from this experience. The lessons flooded into my soul.

I had been in a stuck place for some time, hesitant to make some major life decisions. I came to realize that the experience was a blessing, calling me to decide where I “stood” in life. Did I really want to “step” forward or was fear paralyzing me?

I also looked at where I was “grounding” myself. Was it in the Divine within me, or was it in my ego, in the business of saving others when there were parts of myself I needed to save first? Most of all, could I love myself for what I had just experienced and grow from it without “falling” into blame?

The major lesson, of course, was the realization that I had been trying to take care of others, to save them. Instead, I needed to focus on my own journey and that when I took care of myself, everything fell into place and I didn’t “fall” in place.

All of us have faced “something” in our lives. It may be traumatic, such as the death of a loved one, loss of a job, a divorce, a life-threatening illness. Or, it may be smaller in scope, such as a week-long flu or a broken leg. Whatever “it” is, the experience is there to love us and teach us.

This can be difficult to accept, because being human, we don’t want pain. We want it to go away so we can go about our lives the way they were before. We want to stay in our stuckness because it’s comfortable.

At that time in my life I thought I had learned all these lessons — learned how to trust and let go. To accept.

Now, as I look back, I smile. Obviously, I hadn’t. As I mended I came to understand that learning is never done and over with.

higher-self-6-672x372Sometimes we felt we had learned what we needed and tackled a huge area of growth — such as losing weight, quitting smoking, or exercising and meditating daily — but then, during a time of stress or vulnerability we slipped back to old behaviors.

Ironically I was learning that this was also part of the learning. That as humans, we are constantly evolving; we are never static.

The good news is that when we feel we have gone backwards, we really haven’t. We can never go back to where we’ve been because every experience changes us. We are no longer the same.

Therefore, we are responding to each experience in a new and different way because we are new and different. It can’t be the same because we are not the same.

As a result, our soul is asking us to look at our situation from this newer perspective, calling us ever deeper into our own unique truth and wholeness. And only we can decide and know what it is we need to grow within us.

Right now, as I care for my father who had a stroke, I find that again I am in a space of learning, to find balance between his care and self-care. But this time, I know I have new strengths and tools to move forward.

Young female legs walking towards the sunset on a dirt road

I may fall to the metaphorical ground at times when I don’t focus on self-nurturing, but I also know I am no longer who I was those many years ago. I know that now I am “grounded” more deeply in the sacred and in past experiences that have taught me well.

It’s never easy. None of it. But if we can indeed bless whatever is happening, no matter how painful, it’s a gift with much to teach us. If we allow it. It is a step forward into acceptance. It is a falling into grace of the most amazing kind.

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The courage to be vulnerable

Much has been written lately about vulnerability. It’s not a topic many of us like to discuss. Yet, vulnerability seems to be gaining more acceptance — thank God. At the risk of being vulnerable, here are some personal stories.

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I was a child in second grade in South Texas where the good Sisters decided we would put on a play. Including a dance.

I loved to dance. It brought me joy. I remember twirling on my toes in our small living room at home, waving my arms and then leaping — like a ballerina — from chair to chair in spontaneous abandon.child dancing

One day, Sister had a rehearsal and the second graders were invited to watch. I sat in that cavernous auditorium on a sweltering day, watching Sister guide the fourth-graders into pairs, then into a circle.

The pianist began playing and my eyes widened as the children skipped and spun and clicked their heels to the floor. Despite my legs dangling from the cold metal chair, my feet were tapping.

As I watched, I just KNEW I could do this dance. I memorized every step, every move.

Then Sister asked if she could have some of the younger children try the dance. My hand shot into the air without hesitation.

I joined the circle and the pianist began the music. And then it happened. I was out of step, out of line. I bumped into the other children. They giggled. Sister told me perhaps I shouldn’t dance. That maybe I wasn’t really good at it and I should sit down and just watch the others.

I share this story not to blame the Sister. At that time, I suppose she was doing her best, organizing the dance and play and handling 70 unruly children. Instead, I share this story because I made myself vulnerable. I was willing to risk.

But as a result, I was also shamed. In front of my classmates. And shame is basically a fear of disconnection — that something about us, if other people see it, makes us feel that we aren’t worthy. That we just aren’t good enough.

woman wearyThis sense of shame happened again when we moved from Texas to Philadelphia. I was in fourth grade, adjusting to a new culture. And when I opened my mouth to answer a question, my Texas drawl spilled out like thick molasses and my classmates roared in laughter. I lost my accent quickly.

These stories are not meant to be self-indulgent or some kind of therapy (been there, done that), but to show how many of our childhood experiences shape us.

So what do we do with all those shameful experiences of childhood — or even adulthood? How do we find the courage to be imperfect, to be willing to let go of who we think we are, to who we REALLY are? How do we allow ourselves to be seen, to be vulnerable?

The answer will be individual to each person. Some enter therapy or try a variety of healing modalities. Prayer, meditation or gratitude. But whatever process we use, ultimately we will need courage. The courage to be imperfect and to be kind to ourselves. No matter what.

Researcher and story-teller Brene Brown has become the spokesperson for vulnerability and in her book The Gifts of Imperfection she writes, “Vulnerability is at the core of fear, anxiety and shame …”

Sadly, we are losing our tolerance for vulnerability today, Brown writes. Instead, we are numbing ourselves to it. But when we do this, we also numb joy, gratitude and happiness.

So here’s one last personal story. It seems the Universe or Divine keeps inviting me to a deeper place of vulnerability And I don’t like it. Not one bit. But I was asked recently to speak at a press conference about caregiving. For those who follow my blog, you know I’ve been caring for my dad who had a stroke three years ago.

It was a privilege to create more awareness about this issue, but to speak in front of the media terrified me. I pushed past my fears and said yes.

But when the article and photo appeared in print and I became so public, those old shames of “not being good enough” — not attractive enough, overweight, too old, not articulate enough — came bounding out and screaming at me.

I’m still in the midst of processing all this and I realize that writing this blog is also part of this process. In fact, here’s a dose of authenticity for you — I tend to hide behind the written word as to NOT be public — if that makes sense.

So, on a deeper level, with this press conference, I was aware that I was given another opportunity to risk. To be vulnerable. To be seen. Warts and all.

I am still not comfortable with all this “vulnerability” business and it’s taking more courage than I have. Thankfully, I am blessed by the support of my Higher Power who leads me beside the “still” and “turbulent” waters and the encouragement of friends who hold me up in faith.

self loveStill. Becoming vulnerable — being seen — is a challenge for me. But the risks are well worth the rewards, because, as Brown writes, ” … vulnerability is also the birthplace of joy, belonging, creativity and faith … in vulnerability we find what gives life purpose and meaning.”

And here’s something else that’s encouraging — that little girl who didn’t think she could dance? I’m hugging her and telling her it is OK to make mistakes. She doesn’t have to be perfect. I’m assuring her that she is enough, just as she is.

I’m learning to love her. Even as she stumbles. A step at a time. A step at a time.

 

Displaced people

I tend to write about “letting go” and “dying” a great deal. I don’t do it intentionally. It just seems an overwhelming theme in my life these days.

Perhaps it’s the result of aging. We tend to lose much as we grow older. Here are some thoughts and “stories for the journey” about all this.

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When I was 10 years old, I was uprooted. I was plucked from the flat Texas earth, the oppressive heat and humidity, the lazy pace of long days to the fast-paced blur of the Philadelphia area.

Dirty. Cold. Dark. I hated it. Cheese steaks  and pretzels with mustard? What the heck was that  stuff? Dad’s work had transferred him to the Northeast so I didn’t have much choice.

Still. I was displaced. And not feeling at home, not one bit.

angelI share this story not as a “poor-me” event, but as a life-changing one. It made me realize that at heart we are all aliens — that we are all “displaced people” whether we like it or not.  No matter our spiritual or religious beliefs, or lack thereof, we all seem to be aware that this is not our home.

That restlessness that settles on our spirit and rattles us at odd moments or wakes us in the middle of the night? That is our soul reminding us that “home” is not here; here is temporary. Within us is a deep longing for our true home. I think that’s why we resonate to movies like The Wizard of Oz, E.T., The Castaway or more recently The Martian.

Here are some stories:

I bumped into a family friend and his wife a few months ago. I had heard she had been diagnosed with cancer. But I hadn’t seen them in some time and when I did, I had to hide the sharp inhale of breath, the shock of seeing her so changed — frail with a haggard frame and a cap covering her shorn head. Despite that, she smiled and we chatted. They told me the cancer was inoperable.

And then, she pointed to her husband and said:

“He wants me to sit around all the time and do nothing. But look at me! I’m alive now! Here. Now. I’m not dead yet. I have things I want to keep doing.”

After the brief conversation, we all hugged. I felt life and warmth. And the wisdom of her words.

Another woman, Joey Feek, is now in the process of going home. Joey is part of the famous country music duo Joey + Rory and a few months ago, her cancer returned. She is at home now, with her husband Rory and their precious daughter, Indiana, who was born with Down Syndrome.

I follow Rory’s blog (and you might want to as well: http://thislifeilive.com/) and I am always amazed, that despite the pall of sickness and death around them, this family is always bringing joy and light to the world, with their music and Rory’s inspiring words.

Then there is my dear dad. He is still with us, but after suffering a stroke three years ago, and at 89 years of age, I wonder how much longer he will be here. My heart will break when he goes home to God.

death-dying-and-spiritualitySo, yes, I do write a great deal about dying. Perhaps it’s because I most need to learn and accept this lesson. And what lesson is that? That death is the sharp edge that defines life, gives it depth and meaning. Dying and death point the way to life, showing us that life exists only in the present moment.

We can accept with grace and gratitude that for now we are given life to live on earth — to enjoy the caress of the wind on our face and arms; the scent of perfumed earth after a summer’s rain; the skip of a child lost in complete and unbounded joy.

The truth is — “now” is all we have. It is a gift. A grace. And it is enough.

Sue Monk Kidd, one of my favorite writers, says this:

“We have to acknowledge sometimes that this moment is enough, this place is enough, I am enough … it grounds us in our being. It grounds us home.”

So, in this sense, perhaps we are always home. Now. In the moment. Never truly displaced.

And how beautiful is that?

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(I have deep Southern roots and this is one of my favorite Gospel hymns, sung and recorded by Joey Feek, as she was undergoing chemo treatments. It makes me cry. No matter your religious beliefs, this song poignantly speaks to “coming home.”)