Who are you?

Strange things happen as you grow older. You start to lose things. Hair, energy, car keys, lists to help you remember, and why in the world you walked into that room. What was I going in there to get?

But sometimes, loss can be a blessing. It strips down and shows us what is no longer necessary.

Most important, I believe we begin to lose our false self. What is that?

In his book Adam’s Return, Richard Rohr, the Franciscan priest, says:

“Our false self is who we think we are. It is our mental self-image and social agreement, which most people spend their whole lives living up to — or down to.”

For many of us, this becomes an all-consuming effort. We create this other persona that we feel society wants, or our family and friends expect of us. For me, it was years spent working in the writing field, for newspapers and magazines, and a few stints in the corporate world.

As an ambitious young working woman, my persona was about fine clothes, a good salary, making an impact with my words, earning writing awards, my by-line.

Were those wrong? No. All of those were necessary and part of my journey. I had to pay bills after all. And on some level, writing offered me an avenue to use my gift of writing to educate and inform many people.

But at some point, I began to realize there was more to life than this. These “things” were not at the deepest level about my true self.

One of my favorite authors Sue Monk Kidd writes: “In our youth we set up inner myths and stories to live by but around the midlife juncture these patterns begin to crumble. It feels to us like a collapsing of all that is, but it’s a holy quaking.”

That “holy quaking” can lead us to our true self. And what is that?

Simply put, the true self pulls us closer to the Divine, to God. I think children and animals show us how to do this best. They have no hidden agendas, take no offense at slights, but simply delight in the purity of being themselves. They are who God created them to be.

A friend of mine scolded his dog one day for jumping into a basket of clean clothes. But the dog didn’t know she had done anything wrong — she was living in pure innocence and joy as God had made her — and just as quickly forgot about her “mistake” and went about playing and wagging her tail.

I’ve also had the privilege of knowing a handful of people in my life who I sensed were living in the integrity of their true selves. They accepted themselves, knew who they were, both flaws and sanctity — and in their presence, I felt an ease and grace.

As we move closer to our true selves, I believe the more loving parts of ourselves are magnified. And we begin to accept those parts that hide in façade or selfishness. Or they simply disappear in the light of that love.

Discovering our true selves is not so much about what we do, but what God does, says Rohr.

“And what God does—what life does—is gradually destabilize the supposed boundaries of the small self so we can awaken inside of the Large Self, which we call God. This usually happens through experiences of great love or great suffering or inner prayer journeys that allow the private ego to collapse back into the True Self, who we are in God.”

For me, the journey toward discovering the true self has come late in life in caring for my father. In honesty, all facades and pretenses crumbled in the call to be of loving service and this ongoing experience has graced me to see myself as I am in God’s eyes — holy and flawed, sacred and scared, selfish and loving.

But I am — like everyone else — always in process with this. Living from our true selves is a journey, or as Rohr says, “a dance between the loneliness and desperation of the false self and the fullness of the true self, which is ever re-discovered and experienced anew as an ultimate homecoming.”

So, I find as I am growing older, I am also growing up — spiritually. Even better, waking up. And like most of us, I am still learning to navigate the mysterious pathways to who I really am. Warts and all.

Home to my true self. In God. In the divine. In love.

 

 

 

The Nellie nobody knows

This year has not started out in stellar fashion. My laptop went kaput. Cha-ching. My car needed front brakes. Cha-ching. And I have a health issue that I’m hoping is not serious and fixable.

Given all this, I had a word with the Divine the other day and asked if I could please have a respite. I didn’t hear back. I usually don’t. But what I did receive in meditation is that life will always be filled with challenges.

And it’s not so much the challenges, but how we respond to them.

life challenges“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know that,” I retorted, just a tad pissed off at that Great Force of Love. “But couldn’t you give me some time off for good behavior? A beach in Hawaii for three months where I soak in the sun and sip on rainbow-colored drinks with tiny umbrellas?”

I think I heard a Divine snigger somewhere in the distance, but I couldn’t be sure.

The truth is, anyone who has a pulse faces life challenges. An even deeper truth is that some of those challenges are horrific. There are the Syrian refugees, for example. They have lost everything. Every blessed thing.

There are those who are homeless in the bitter cold, some of them veterans who now have mental problems as a result of combat. Those facing a terminal illness or those grieving the loss of a parent, child or partner.

Then there are those who are about to commit suicide because the pain is so deep they just can’t go on anymore. (And if you’re contemplating taking your life, please don’t. Here’s a story I’d like you to read.)

My dad, before he had the stroke, was an amazing man and inspirational speaker.  He worked at a major TV market in Philadelphia for years before he retired. But his great love was giving his speeches and helping others.

girl by oceanWhen he was in his 20s, studying radio broadcast engineering in Puerto Rico, he had been walking on a beach. There, he saw a young woman, leaning against a palm tree and crying. She seemed distraught. My father wondered what he should do. Should he go up to her and ask what was wrong? Should he offer help? Not knowing what to do he kept walking on the beach.

When he returned that way an hour later, he saw a commotion on the beach. The woman had drowned herself.

And she had left a note. “My name is Nellie. The Nellie nobody knows. The Nellie no one cares about.”

From that day forward my father vowed he would never walk by anyone again who seemed troubled. He would tell others in his talks about this young girl and he would tell them that life was precious, that if they needed anyone to talk to, they could call him — any time of day, no matter where in the world they were. And he gave them his home number.

I wish now I could ask dad more about those stories. But the stroke impacted his cognition and speech. I do recall, however, that many young people did phone him. And dad would tell them again and again — life is worth living. You are here to do something with your life, to serve others with your gifts. He would tell them that they were loved. And that they mattered.

So here’s the deal, gang. Yes, life has challenges. No getting away from them. Some will be beyond imagining and you’ll feel like you can’t get through them. But you will. I haven’t been tested that deeply yet, but I figure at some point I will. And I’ll have to remember my words that yes, I’ll get through whatever “it” is, too.

But for the most part, the challenges in life will be ordinary, such as car or computer problems, or perhaps a bit more demanding, such as a health issue. No matter what comes our way, we can indeed choose how to respond.

hug yourselfAnd I’ll be honest here, I don’t always respond well. Sometimes I’ll throw a mini-tantrum. But that’s OK because I’m human. We all are. And it’s fine to be angry or upset about something that can feel overwhelming.

But I don’t stay there. Eventually, I settle in, take a deep breath, and am thankful. Thankful? You bet.

Life may be hard at times, but it is THE precious gift of life. My life. Your life. We learn, we grow, we stumble, we get up. It’s all part of the package deal of this thing we call “being human.”

And hopefully, we help each other along the way.

So be a light for someone else today. Don’t walk by them. Say hello if nothing else. And while you’re at it, hug yourself for all you’ve been through. You deserve it. I’ll do the same.