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August 7th.
This used to be just like any other day, passing uneventfully by until 8 years ago my grandmother passed away, then three years later I am finding myself again frantically making phone calls throwing clothes in a suitcase and trying to make a flight from South Carolina to Minnesota as quickly as possible.

And now tonight five years later, gathering again with family eating together sharing more laughter than tears I can’t help but think how much has changed.

I am to the place now where the sharp pain has subsided, where life has woven itself back into the tapestry of my life and where chances are the mention of Mitch or Grandma will bring warm nostalgia and the desire to share a story.
And as I think about what has changed the most it all revolves around the word more…

If you ask anyone who has lost someone recently what they want it would be more…

More time

More chances to share the love they have

More time to mend the fences that were built to keep a safe distance

More appreciation of the gifts of the ordinary days, the lazy Sundays together, the impromptu picnics in the backyard just because, a moment of appreciation of a shared meal, of having someone to share your day with, the voice at the other end of the line

More appreciation of life as a precious gift

More laughter

More…

One of the gifts of grief (be it from a death, a loss of a dream, a loss of the life you thought you wanted etc.) is that when your heart is broken open it naturally creates more space for love if you let it.  The walls that we have built to keep ourselves “safe” no longer do, and the world suddenly seems like a very difference place and it is up to you how it changes you…

For me so many things have changed…

Hugs are longer and tighter.

Love is more freely given and received.

It is easier to discern what is truly important.

What has gotten me through the past five years without a doubt is the love of friends and family, those who went out of their way to take care of me when I needed it most, those who shared their stories of grief and loss and growth, those who let me be where I was… some days in the darkness of loss, and sometimes in the light of all the gifts that have been shared… all of those who with words, thought and deed held me in love as I stumbled my way through a difficult time.

Today I am more grateful, more appreciative, more overwhelmed by beauty, more present in the moment, more authentic, more honest, more open, more compassionate and more forgiving.  Not every day of course, and I have my days when I don’t even want to be with myself… but more days that I live in the place of genuine gratitude for the gift of one more day in this life, of one more day being surrounded by the people I love and that love me so deeply and fully.

So here is to more…

More appreciation of each other right now in this moment.

More fun and laughter.

More enjoyment of each day.

More life squeezed out of each day.

More love.

More love, I can hear our hearts cryin’
More love, I know that’s all we need
More love, to flow in between us
To take us and hold us and lift us above
If there’s ever an answer
It’s more love.

Dixie Chicks

 

 

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Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect.

As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.

—Thomas Merton, in a letter to Jim Forest dated February 21, 1966 

I have a wise friend who when I was in the midst of a whirlwind of change gently asked if perhaps instead of focusing on the what of the changes, the what of what I wanted to be and accomplish I would instead focus on the who.

This one shift altered everything.

Rather than looking at my list of to do’s trying to figure out if I was “doing” enough, instead I focused on whether or not I was who I wanted to be in the mist of it all.

It forced me to discern what kind of a person do I want to be, to really chew on that, to figure out what it would truly look like.  Do I want to radiate joy, do I want to be a generous listener, do I want to live out my compassion, what does a life of intention and integrity look like… what kind of a “who” would that be.

Who would I be if I lived out my principles in a more intentional way, if I fully leaned into a wholehearted life of being generous in spirit, in love, in honesty, in joy.

So that has been my latest Erica Experiment… looking at the “Who” of me and letting go of having to know the “What”.

And what has surprised me is that the whats generally fall into place on their own, they don’t need the attention I was lavishing on them, writing and rewriting my to do lists, adding to my dreams, berating myself for having such similar lists week after week because there are only so many hours in a day.

Instead asking at the end of the day if I crossed off enough on my list I have been asking questions like: did I live out love, did I offer my gifts to another, did I connect in a meaningful way, did I share laughter with someone?

Somehow life seems more full, and with less stress I am getting more done, and with more joy, with more gratitude and more grace.


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Colorado April 2012

A beautiful quote that touched me from Ronna Detrick’s recent blog post:

In some ways, the art of spiritual direction lies in uncovering the obvious in our lives and in realizing that everyday events are the means by which God tries to reach us. ~ Alan Jones

After attending a recent event for my church I am reminded again of how hungry people are for connection, for spiritual nourishment, for authentic conversation about so many things- including doubt, certainty, hope, joy, pain, love and connection.  What a beautiful opportunity to be around others who are willing to question, to share, to revel in relationship with one another and with God/Mystery/Love.

And questions: How to live our faith on an everyday basis, how God reaches out to us, what pieces of our life hold meaning, where Love shows up in our lives, how we are blessing others, how we are being blessed… so wonderful to sit with these questions, to share thoughts and to hear the hearts of others.

One of the many conversations that struck me was about the love of friends, and how that is a special kind of love, an elevated kind of love because it is a constant choice we make to be in one another’s lives.  There isn’t a formal contract, or a bloodline that holds us together, instead it is a choice that we continue to make to bless and be blessed by sharing, by coming together, by holding one another in love and committing acts of kindness to sustain the relationship.

And something that resonated deeply was her assertion that friendship by it’s very definition is an act of grace.  Something I will be mulling over for the next few days…

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I shared with you one of my Erica Experiments-  about saying Goodbye to TV.  And the truth of the matter is over the past two years I have been engaging in several other experiments, and I am ready to be brave and share some of them with you.

Here is a short list of what I have been experimenting with:

living with more intention,

saying no more often so I can say YES to the things that matter,

prioritizing differently,

surrounding myself with the positive in a conscious way while embracing those difficult things that are real and need attention like grief and loss,

choosing to turn towards the light,

embracing my flaws and being able to love myself in the midst of, in spite of and because of my imperfections

being vulnerable and courageous.  

learning new language that supports me- speaking to myself life a friend- someone I love, value and cherish rather than someone I have to tolerate.  

learning how to truly accept a compliment

learning how to allow myself to celebrate my achievements instead of constantly looking to the “next” way to prove myself 

thinking about and shifting how I show up in the world,

learning how to see my gifts, learning how to share them,

learning how to fill myself first and how to give from joy and abundance not from feeling like I “have to” or from a space of lack, 

learning that I am worthy of love and belonging

delving more deeply into my relationship with something larger than myself (aka God, the Universe, the Mystery) and shared some of that in the Benedictions post,

taking big leaps with owning my dreams and saying them out loud  

living authentically and being willing to risk dissapointment

learning to tell the truth- to myself and others 

learning big lessons about letting go, about deep trust, about listening to my intuition, about holding myself gently and A LOT about forgiving myself. 

At first I share what I have been learning only with my trusty journal.  And then because I can’t help myself I would strike up a conversation with someone and when I would share my struggle, or my truth, or my learning more often than not they would lean in, their voice would get quiet their eyes searching mine wondering how I could see straight to their heart and and they would whisper “me too”.  Time and time again I realized that I wasn’t alone.

Our hearts our so similar, they are jagged and cracked, tender and bruised and yet they are so beautiful.

In spite of it all here we are- our hearts still beating.  We marvel in wonder at one another’s courage, bravery and we love them so fiercely- and yet we forget to offer ourselves that same fierce love.

And then quotes would be on my Facebook page, I would stumble onto a blog post, or another conversation and I would be reminded that these are things that we all struggle with, that we all muddle through, and so often we do it on our own because we think we are the “only ones.”  And yet, we have this amazing connection, we have all of these wonderful similarities, and so often we don’t reach out to realize how achingly beautiful we all are, how wonderfully tender and resilient we are… we see it in others certainly, but we often refuse to see it in ourselves.

I have a picture of myself as a child on my fridge, now with a picture of my niece next to it and it is striking the similarities.  And wonder when i stopped looking at myself with kind eyes.  When I look at pictures of Annabelle I see a purity of spirit, a tiny human brimming over with love, with innocence and joy.  I see nothing but beauty.  So one of my grand Erica Experiments has been to look at myself through kind eyes.

In pictures when I look with kind eyes I see it all in such a different light, so full of possibility, so tender, so adorable, and I don’t pick apart and analyze any of it.  I think the random curls in her hair are precious and part of the very reason she radiates beauty.

What if we all looked at ourselves with kind eyes.  So that has been my road to self-love lately.  Asking myself to look with kind eyes at myself and the rest of the world.

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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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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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