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Archive for March, 2012

In talking with a friend who is finding his way through the ending of a relationship I wrote these words to help ease his transition:

Know that you are held in my love as you transition, as you honor you, as you leap into the love that the Universe has waiting for you now in different forms, and in the future as that love takes the form of another human…

His response: “That’s like a prayer and a blessing wrapped into one.”

And it got me thinking about prayers and blessings, and the power our words have – to help heal, to share certainty when our worlds feel uncertain, and the gentle reminder we are so loved as the words and truth travel from heart to heart.

When I was in high school Pastor Paul Gauche would always end the service with the following Benediction.  To this day my heart still smiles and I can hear his voice echoing in my ears when I read it:

And now as you go from this place, go knowing that you are saved by grace; you are justified, you are forgiven, you are sought out, you are beloved, you are hidden in Christ and made for the glory of God.

You are known, you are never forsaken, you are held in the palm of God’s hand, you are loved. 

May God’s peace and power go with us until we gather again, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

I never tired of hearing those words.  There were many times I would find refuge in them, in the certainty with which he conveyed them to the congregation.  I would close my eyes and for a moment it was as though God himself was bestowing blessings upon me.

Those words spoken each week reminded me that we are known, we are loved, we are sought out, that we need to be reminded on a regular basis that we are chosen, we are so very loved.

We need to be reminded that love seeks to know us, to embrace us, to give us the gifts of presence, the security of being held.  We are given the opportunity so many times to share that with others, to offer those very same gifts that love longs to share with us and we are invited to receive the love that the Universe has waiting for us.
My own faith journey has taken twists and turns since sitting in those pews so long ago but the love that was woven through and held together those words has never left.  The assurance of something larger than myself, something beyond my comprehension, some mystery that holds us close has always drawn me back.  Back to the questions, to the certainty, to the struggle of trying to convey what my heart knows and my head wants to dissect and “prove”.

God is such a heavy word, laden with so much that sometimes I fear using it because I have more questions than answers and so often I don’t want others to think that I have confined God into a little box.  All I know is the closest I have come to God is a swelling from within my soul of love, a deep sense of gratitude for all that I have been given.  I know that in the darkest moments I have been held, that something has threaded my life together to create a beautiful tapestry from bits and scraps that have woven into something beautiful, and sometimes I choose to call it God.

All I know is that there is a homing device of sorts within me, a still, small voice, a sixth sense, a deep knowing, intuition perhaps, angelic guidance, acestoral assistance, perhaps all of those things, perhaps none of them… and for me it is not so much about naming it as living in the intimacy and ecstacy of being near to such lightness of being, to the vibrating core of light and love that I can see but can’t quite seem to explain that guides me, that surrounds me, that heals me.  This healing, this love, this pure goodness, this light, this energy, this something…  brings me peace, leaves me feeling bathed in love and overflowing with gratitude.

For someone who loves to put words to experiences, who strives to name things, who wants to share intimate experiences of the soul with others to deepen relationships it is hard to not know what words to use.  The words that we have are so small, so shallow, so insignificant when faced with the reality of a love that large, that deep, that powerful, that full, that radiant…  and I am torn between trying and failing and just sitting in it not trying to explain it just sharing it without words… and I suppose that is my happy medium… to do both… to do my best to try to explain and when words fail to radiate love from the very depth of my being.

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Last week I submitted an essay for a contest called Notes and Words.  The reason I entered the contest was because in addition to some amazing prizes the essayist that won received:

introductions to:

  • Michael Chabon, Pulitzer Prize winner
  • Anne Lamott, New York Times bestselling author
  • John Hodgman, The Daily Show and HBO’s Bored to Death
  • Kelly Corrigan, New York Times bestselling author

It was the introductions to Anne Lamott and Kelly Corrigan that really caught my eye.  And so I put it out there to the Universe, in my prayers, in my heart that that is what I wanted.  I wanted to be able to connect with them, to thank them for their bravery, for their words, for putting their souls on paper.  So I crossed my fingers and toes, submitted my essay and let it go.

When author Brene’ Brown came to town to speak I knew that there were a million and three things I wanted to say to her and yet I knew that when I and the three hundred others stood in front of her to get our books signed I wouldn’t be able to tell her all of the things I wanted to share so I decided to write a letter to her.  I was nervous, but just knew that I needed to do that.  She had been brave enough to put her book out there for all the world to see, the least I could do is to share my honest response.   It wasn’t until a friend said in a wistful voice “Wow, that was really brave” that it occurred to me that it indeed might be.  After giving her the letter, and realizing that for me in that moment it wasn’t about her response, it was about doing it- my giving, sharing and becoming brave was more important.   And it felt amazing, to be able to simply do something that scared me, that stretched me and let it go.

I wanted to make it a habit to sink into that feeling of making courageous choices, to stretch my comfort zone, to reach out in acts of bravery on a regular basis.  So I made a list of things that would be brave for me, lists of people that I wanted to write to, to thank them, to share with them pieces of how they have inspired me, to celebrate what they bring to the world.  And I have been committing my “Acts of Bravery” every month since.  Sometimes it is letters, sometimes it is a blog post I am scared to publish, a conversation that requires me to be vulnerable, a workout that challenges me, or setting my book free into the world.  More often than not it means letting go of control or the outcome in various ways.  Since this commitment I have published my book, wrote several blog posts that required me to summon my courage to hit Publish, sent a letter to SARK, Brene’ Brown, Shauna Ahern from Gluten Free Girl, Jen Gray and Katrina Kenison (which is being mailed this week) and have started a list on my desktop that is titled “Acts of Bravery” where I keep all of the things that I have done, and those that I plan to do.

On Saturday I ran into some friends who mentioned “Oh Erica, you read Anne Lamott right?  Did you know that she will be doing a book signing in the cities on Monday?”  (Enter a chorus of angels singing)  Really!?!?

An opportunity for another committing another “Act of Bravery.”

(A blurry) Anne Lamott and I tonight (with my book and my letter!)

What you can’t see is two of my friends cheering me on in the background as I committed another Act of Bravery.

I am reminded every time I do this, it is a lot easier to be brave when you have your cheering section at your side.  When I share with others what I am doing, why I am doing it I have gotten amazing amounts of support.  I believe people are drawn to support dreams [and I do believe you have to choose your support system carefully.  As Brene’ Brown reminds us- “share with those who have earned the right to hear your story”]  I believe we want to see the best in each other and we want to encourage each other to shine brightly in this world and to do that we have to give others an opportunity to support us, to be in on the dreams.

People can’t support what they don’t know- they can’t share in dreams that aren’t spoken.

I have been reminded time and time again that courage expands when it is spoken, bravery grows by leaps and bounds when given the right nourishment and that we sometimes need a nudge to keep dreaming big.

So here is your nudge to keep dreaming big, here is your invitation to bravery…

What Acts of Bravery will you commit?

The world is waiting!

 

P.S.  The connectedness of all of this- these lessons, these themes, the weaving together of reminders I need and the ways that the Universe/God gets my attention never ceases to amaze me… and leaves me in awe, feeling known, loved and held.  Tonight while going to Jen Gray’s site for the first time in awhile to link to her name her most recent blog post from March 13th included an Anne Lamott quote… grace indeed.

I do not understand the mystery of grace only that it meets us where we are
but does not leave us where it found us..

~ anne lamott

 

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The above graphic is from Kristin Noelle.  Her site Trust Tending sends out these beautiful little Trust Notes each week and they are simply delightful.  She has all sorts of other great free and wonderful things you can sign up for as well.

About two months ago for a variety of reasons I decided to get rid of TV (note that I did wait until after football season was over).   Everyone has their vice right?  But for me it went back to looking more closely at my life and living more intentionally.  Although I didn’t watch a whole lot of tv I would find myself turning it on and watching things that after an hour I wondered… did I really need to know which flat they chose in London, or what the final outcome of the Extreme Makeover was?  And all watching the Food Network all it would do is make me hungry… and I wasn’t working on things that were truly feeding me.  Right now I am focusing on saving money, on putting my time and energy into things that deserve them and I realized TV didn’t fit for me anymore.  After getting sick and not turning it on for a few days I decide to take the plunge and I decided to make it into a fun experiment and get rid of TV, at least for the summer.

Giving up TV for the first week or so was a bit tough because it is so instinctual to come in the house and turn it on, “catch up” on the day and what I missed.  But I realize that with all of the access to news online and listening to NPR I am still up to date with current events.  I also worried about whether or not I would have something to talk about with certain people if we didn’t share our stories of the most recent episode of X show… but I am realizing that we are having better conversations about ourselves rather than some other stranger’s life.

Sometimes there is an echoey silence when there isn’t radio or TV on to fill it.  So it started me thinking about silence, and what would happen if I truly befriended silence, and thus the 40 Days of Silence  was born.

I have been reading and writing more, I have been listening to more music, I have been getting more restful sleep, I have been working out more, I have been praying and meditating more, I have been outside more, I have enjoyed my silence more, and one of the unexpected benefits is that I am more content.  When I do go online to watch my shows that I watch I do so intentionally, with the purpose of enjoying them, not as a default setting or as filler.

What has brought me the most peace is not having the constant underlying reminders of what I “need”, what I “can’t live without” and how I don’t “measure up” – the empty promises IF I got this certain product or service my life would be amazing.  The average American consumes over 3,000 ads per day, between radio, TV, billboards, newspapers, online etc. and it seeps into our subconscious coloring our opinions of ourselves and our lives.

Another unexpected benefit is that I have been having some great conversations as a result of this little experiment.  Turns out several of my friends have done this at the same time without really talking about it, and I have yet to find one that wishes they had it back.   It also has created some great conversation about what role the TV plays in our lives.  And for many it isn’t about cutting it out completely so much as it is being more mindful about it, for many it isn’t something they want to consider but the talk of an experiment to change something inspires them to think of some other experiment they have been toying with but haven’t yet done.

What experiment would push your comfort zone?  What kind of experiment could create more space for you to follow your dreams, to invite more fun and joy into your life, to create deeper relationships?  What kind of experiment could get you out of your rut and into your radiant life?

 

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I had the privilege yesterday of speaking to a Loss of Spouse Support group.  I read them a few excerpts from The In-Between and then we talked about the various stages and places they were at, where they have been and will be.

For several in the group it had been about a year, some a little more, but for two it had only been a few months.  When I got done reading I had asked the group “What does your In-Between look like?”  A woman who had just lost her husband a few months ago said, “I think I have the wrong answer.  I don’t think I am in an In-Between…”  Her voice cracked as she continued, “I am not even there yet.”  She clasped her husband’s wedding ring in her hand that now resides on a slender chain around her neck and I could see her clinging to the slim hope that it won’t hurt like this forever.

Tears sprang to my eyes as I thought how often we think we have the “wrong” answer.  How often we are stuck in the thought that we should be anywhere else but where we are.  How often we think that we are handling our grief, our children, our jobs, our friendships in the “wrong” way.  And sometimes yes, things need to change, but more often than not it is only because we haven’t given ourselves the compassion and more objective look that we give to others.

No one in that group thought she should be anywhere but where she was, and it struck me to see how everyone was literally leaning forward with compassion, their hearts scooping her up to hold her in love and this tender place of knowing.  Sometimes we need that mirror for ourselves.  To remind ourselves that we are doing the best we can with what we have, with what we know, and that is enough.

And as I looked to the eyes around the room I silently prayed that they would hold themselves gently as they grieve, to remember that it will take longer than they want it to, to know they are held in love as they go through this difficult time.  And tonight I came across this poem by one of my favorite authors that speaks so eloquently to the In-Between time and is the prayer I extend to all those who need to hear these words:

A Blessing for One Who is Exhausted

By John O’Donohue

When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like an endless, increasing weight,

The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laborsome events of will.

Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.

The tide you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;
And you cannot push yourself back to life.

You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken for the race of days.

At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.

You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.

Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.

Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.

Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.

Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.

Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.

Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.

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Northern Minnesota

Silence…

I have been following my own advice and making time and space to find silence lately, some days five minutes comes easily, and then some days finding myself rushing until the moment I lay down at night only to realize that I never took that time to be silent and still.

I have found silence in various places lately.  Last week I spent one of my 5 minutes with my nephew after putting him to bed, sitting in the chair in his room sharing the sacred space before a little one goes to sleep just listening to him breathe in and out.

This weekend I went on an adventure to Northern Minnesota where silence was woven through the weekend.  Snowshoeing as the snow gently fell walking in silence on freshly fallen snow.  The sounds of the forest muted by the 10 inches of fresh snow they had gotten a few days before and stillness emanating from every tree and rock.  Sitting by a fire in silence with a friend, a glass of wine and no internet, no cell phone reception, watching the waves and listening to the lake.

It reminded me that by giving myself silence, by taking the time to soak it all in things sort themselves out, so often I fall into the habit of fixing everything now, going faster, doing bigger, better things- and so often it is in the silence that reminds me that this moment is enough just as it is.

And as will almost always happen, when I step into stillness, when I offer myself the time to stop, to get off the hamster wheel I emerge refreshed and ready to reengage, recommitting to my promise to myself to live my life from a more authentic, clear, and centered place.

I found this quote upon my return and smiled as I thought about the wisdom of the Lake and all that it had shared with me this weekend.

Wash the dust from your soul and heart with wisdom’s water.

~Rumi

After sitting, centering, being silent I found that my words were tumbling forth… and this is part of a response to a journal prompt my friend had given me:

As I listen to the lake

As I listen to the lake it reminds me that it is a big, vast lake, filled with so many individual droplets of water, yet all are integral to the whole… there are water droplets who revel in splashing against the rocks, who love the idea of jumping onto the shore, and other drops of water who prefer to be in the still, depth and center of the lake… there are yet others who want to glide on the top, gently swaying and rocking, and other drops who want to travel a long ways- distance is their goal, and others who long to stay as close to their home as possible… and all ways lead to the beauty, reflect the who of the lake… the lake is all of them and none of them… the lake simply is… this ancient stillness, this watery heartbeat of the waves… in and out… pulled by the moon, warmed by the sun…

As I listen to the lake it reminds me that there are so many worlds yet to explore, there is so much left to uncover, unearth…

I have only just begun.

Indeed, I have been struggling with a few things lately that have taken a toll on my soul, and my healing has been found in this silence.  This silence has held me in the midst of so much grace, in so much love, in so much compassion.  The silence has helped heal old wounds, it has given me strength to support others as they navigate difficult times, it has given me strength to make brave choices, it has reminded me of my power and my voice and it has reminded me to move with more intention in my life.

In the silence I have heard the voice of love remind me that the story is not over yet, there is so much of my life yet to be written.

In so many ways I have only just begun.

Sitting with silence has brought me so many gifts and I am looking forward to hearing if any of you are experiencing the same…

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It is March 1st.

March is my favorite month for a variety of reasons, including the fact that it is a birthday month for 14 of my favorite people, including my brother, my dad, my sister-in-law, cousin, aunts, friends and ME!

I was thinking about birthday gifts and cards (14 is a lot to think about!) and also about what I would want to give myself- I have decided that I want to celebrate selling 1,000 books!  So far I have sold 664 books (let’s take a moment for a happy dance here!)  Which for those of you who are great at math (and for the rest of us who are reliant on calculators) means that I will need to sell 336 by March 30th to reach my goal.

I have had so many of you reach out and help me make my previous goals already and I am so humbled by all of the people who have shared my words with your friends, family members and loved ones who have needed them, those who have posted on your wall sharing the links and heartfelt comments with your friends, moments that you have sought me out in person, on FB, or in e-mails sharing how the book has touched you.

And that is what I want… for no one to feel like they are navigating the In-Between on their own, like you have a friend beside you that will be will you in the quiet moments witnessing your strength when you forget, honoring how far you have come while promising to be with you in the journey to come, offering love freely and reminding you that we move forward one step at a time.

So to help me to that end, please keep sharing your stories, to remind me that this is needed.  Please keep sharing the book, to help provide a light in the midst of darkness.  Keep sharing your thoughts about where the book might find a home in your hometown- a small gift shop, a flower shop, a funeral home etc.  Keep sharing the blog posts that touch you.  Keep sharing your love. 

And if you haven’t listened yet here is a 15 minute interview with Teri Knight from KYMN Radio in Northfield, MN that shares the story behind the book and so much more.  It was such a gift to be able to talk with someone who “gets” the book, and the need for it in the world. 

Before life turned upside down I wouldn’t have dreamed of  asking for help like this, or wanted to break 1,000 books sold… but one of the benefits of having your life as you knew it come crashing down is that you get to rebuild your new life and try out new ways of being.  You get to practice a lot of receiving, and asking for help… and you the world doesn’t implode, and people still love you- often even more so because they see all of you- your strength and your struggle.   And what I have found time and time again (in my life and others) is that when you have a dream, when it is ready to be made real and when you ask for help from others more often than not people will respond with something like “Why didn’t you ask sooner?” or “How can I help?”   I have also learned that if I say it outloud I hold myself accountable, if I say it outloud it become a conversation piece and people are more likely to talk to me about it, wanting to know where I am at in the process reminding me to keep going towards my goal.  If I say it outloud people can participate in making my dreams come true.

And that is the best birthday present, the one that lives on through the year… knowing you are loved and supported, knowing that people in ways large and small continue to support you… and that is the true gift and what I celebrate every day. 

AND since it is a birthday month for me I want to be able to give away some books too… and I will be posting more soon about that.  So stay tuned!

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