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Archive for the ‘The In-Between’ Category

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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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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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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Today was a day where words are so inadequate, where one can’t hold all that it contains into a sentence, a post, my hands or my heart.

I was blessed to have spent the day with family and friends near and dear to me honoring life, grieving loss and holding hope. I was reminded of how powerful ritual is, how love can weave together broken hearts, how vital community is and how important we are to one another.  Looking at the people that surrounded me with all of our lives flashing before us, from the picture above, to the moments now so many years later with so much love, light and loss woven within each year, each milestone, each step taken together.  Weaving in and out of each others lives, creating a safety net of community, of connection I was overwhelmed with so many emotions.  With the angelic voice of Heatherlyn lifting our hearts, a moving message about the power of marking the time and the acknowledgement of the difficulty of the firsts of a year after loss an ordinary Sunday afternoon where time was suspended and love was made visible.

Last night I was blessed to hear beautiful music from the talented Leslie Ball whose beautiful stories, sharing and music broke open the hearts of the audience and drew them in from the very first strum of her guitar.  Followed by a reading/talk by Matthew Sanford about his memoir: Waking- A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence. 

When Matthew Sanford was just thirteen, his family’s car skidded off an overpass on an icy Iowa road — killing his father and sister, paralyzing him from the chest down, and changing his life forever. Years later, yoga would dramatically change it again. In WAKING: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence (Rodale, June 2006), Matthew chronicles his journey from the intensive care unit to becoming a paralyzed yoga teacher and founder of a nonprofit organization. Along the way, Matthew gains a deeper understanding of the connection between mind and body, and formulates an entirely new view of existence as a “whole” person.

For years after the devastating accident, Matthew felt a schism, or “silence,” between his mind and his body. As he grew into adulthood, he began studying philosophy in an increasingly frustrating search for answers. Then he discovered yoga. At first, he didn’t even know if a paraplegic could do yoga, but he was willing to try. Guided by his teacher, Matthew began to explore what it truly means to live in a body, and discovered new meaning and purpose in the “distance” between mind and body.

Then while standing in line to get my book signed meeting Joe Stone and learning more about his amazing story.  And being reminded this weekend at every turn, about how people every day experience trauma and transcendence, how people experience love and loss, how we move forwards, backwards and everywhere in-between.  And sometimes it is our own volition that keeps us moving, sometimes it is friends, family, others that share their hope and healing with us, and sometimes it is a moment from a book, a blog, a movie, a stranger that offers what we need at that moment if we are willing to receive the gift.

At the service today, to honor a young life taken much to soon, on what would have been his first birthday, last night hearing Matthew speak, and the stories and songs that Leslie shared, my own experience- they all have common threads… the love of friends and family that sustained us through difficult times, the power of using your experience to guide and help others through, reminders of how dependent we are on one another, reminders that we are all vulnerable to loss as long as we love, that life can change in an instant, that we are all so fragile and yet, so much stronger than we ever knew.

And reading the words from my journal after the funeral one year ago…

It is always the things that you can’t prepare for that hit you the most about grief. Today it was watching as S. and another man went in for the man hug and his suitcoat revealed the hospital band still on his wrist. The dead look in their eyes as shock, grief, fatigue and overwhelm numbed their souls and weighed heavy on their hearts.

It is a wonder we can literally still stand, when grief knocks you to the ground it amazes me that we continue to breathe, that we continue to function in any significant way when you just want to curl up and stop breathing.

And that is the hard part… walking away from the moment where you feel so held, where others feed you, where others tell you when to sit, when to stand, where to go, what to do next… and it is the moments when you have to figure out how to rebuild a life after… what to do next, how to keep going when you feel dead inside.

And somehow it happens. One moment at a time the rebuilding begins. The new castle in the sand. And that is the hard part, with no control over the ebb and flow of the tide, no timeline for how often, when or if the sea will give or it will take away… moments of pure joy and ecstacy in the building of a new castle and then the sweeping in of grief once again and you are left with a mound of wet sand and the decision yet again… to rebuild, to enjoy the process, to sit and let the waves wash over you again and again, to move your castle, to pout, to cry, or to find a new opportunity. Because as long as you love you will be vulnerable to loss, and the deeper your love the deeper your pain, but I have decided there is truly no choice, that my desire to live in love is too strong, even though it is a risk, but the rewards are great. The deeper my love the stronger my support, even when the waves are crashing in and in that moment of being knocked off center there is an underpinning of certainty that I will build again. I will believe in the power of creating another castle, of sharing brief moments of joy, of moments of dancing and honoring all that has been created, all that I have loved and lost. But retaining the little snapshots of joy, little moments of my love being so full and complete that it drowns out any darkness that tries to seep through to color the moment or the memory. It is better to be here… this place where I know that they will be okay… but then the pain of knowing how hard the journey is… how long and how difficult… but also knowing the treasures found along the way…

I was trying to think of how to pull this blog “together” to weave the threads together, to have a striking ending of some sort… but then remembered- that is how life is.  It isn’t packaged neatly, there isn’t always a clear beginning, middle and an end.  Once again I am brought back to the In-Between and how so much of life is lived in the mess where there are no guidebooks and no simple answers.

And sometimes it is all we can do to hold on to one another in love and trust that one step at a time the way will unfold.

We live into the healing, into the meaning of events, sometimes not realizing their full power until many years later.

I can already tell that this was one of those times.

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“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.

Delicious Ambiguity.”

~ Gilda Radner

 

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Permission…

“The deeper your scars, the more room there is to fill them up with love.  Don’t hate your scars, appreciate their depth.”

—Daniel Chidiac

 At times these quotes can be very comforting, and at times they can rub just the wrong way… feeling frustrated that we have scars, angry that they are so deep, hurt that something so large happened to us… And that is how it is when we are deep in healing work, comfort often comes cloaked in many disguises and sometimes changes costumes mid-play.

Since my recent post about the dilemma of “Merry” Christmas I have been reminded of what an incredible gift permission is.  We don’t allow ourselves often in this culture the permission to be where we are at… we spend so much of our time looking backwards pining for what was, feeling the loss so deeply, wanting to “fix” whatever is broken, or we spend time fantasizing of what “could” be, what we want and punishing ourselves for not being there yet…

What if instead we allowed ourselves permission to be where we are at?

Sometimes that means handling things with grace, poise and composed, and sometimes that means handling things no better than a toddler having a tantrum in the middle of the mall.

Sometimes things will bring comfort that didn’t before, and as your healing takes root, as you move forward the things that used to comfort may not, and you may be looking for a new perspective, a new way of looking at things, a new way of feeling about them.  Your experience may shift from pain into a gift, a new perspective may help you reframe things.  Sometimes you recoil against anything else changing, anything else shifting, it is enough just to walk upright in the world.

I give you permission to handle your life with grace and poise, and I give you permission to have a loud, ugly, tearful temper tantrum that leaves you feeling exhausted but refreshed.

I give you permission to not know what the next step, but the assurance that there will be a next step laid out for you.

I give you permission to be where you are at, and to promise that you won’t be there forever.

I give you permission to stop, to stay in this wave of grief until it subsides.

I give you permission to ride this wave of joy, to feel to the tips of your toes the sheer delight of the first genuine smile as your heart thaws and you feel yourself coming back to life.

I give you permission to feel the hurt, the pain, but also the promise and possibility of the life that will beckon you towards love.

I give you permission to allow the totality of you, with an invitation to travel your own journey in your time, in your way, with the support of all those who love you by your side.

You have permission to be you.

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My brother

Christmas is coming and it brings so many pieces of joy, of light, but for many also of longing and pain.

I have had many conversations recently with people in the midst of various In-Between’s who are struggling with not feeling the joy, with feeling the pain of feeling disingenuous when saying “Merry Christmas”.

My first Christmas after my divorce and the death of my brother I simply didn’t.

I stopped saying “Merry Christmas”, the words felt so hollow, the pain so deep and the gap between joy and the darkness of my heart so wide.  I allowed myself to say “you too” and offer a small smile, but there was no “Merry” that year… and that was okay.  I wish someone would have told me that it was okay.  I wish someone would have told me that it wouldn’t last forever, but that for right then, in those moments there was no “Merry”.  I struggled with wanting to feel “Merry”, I wanted so desperately to be “normal”, I wanted to care, but there wasn’t enough energy left, there wasn’t room in my heart for any “Merry”.

My friend who had lost her daughter was telling me about a Christmas card she received where at the bottom of the card a well-meaning someone had written “I hope all is well”.  Her eyes filed with tears and her voice broke as she shared the pain those words had caused. This is the second year without their daughter to celebrate and all is not well.  Although the capacity to feel joy, to see beauty, to share love will increase right now it is overshadowed by the grief and loss.  Those words stung- a reminder that life is permanently changed, there is a before and after and you aren’t in the place to see that it will ever be “well” again and that the loss looms so large.

Other friends are struggling with the desire for “perfect” Christmases when children are melting down, parents nerves are strung tight, and everyone just seems to be overwhelmed and overstimulated.  We all need to remind each other to hold ourselves gently, to know that our efforts are enough, that even though it doesn’t always feel like it.  The magic of Christmas is that grace weaves it’s way through the difficult moments, that often there is a sparkle of light when you least expect it, and that meaning can be found in the simple moments shared together.  I invite you to remember the most memorable moments of Christmas for you and I doubt they have anything to do with the presents you received but more than likely with the time that is shared, the memories created while catching snowflakes on your tongue, sipping hot chocolate after making snow angels, or watching the snow fall like diamonds in the purple veil of night.   Allow yourself the space to breathe, to be gentle with yourself and to be where you are.  Which may or may not be “Merry”, and that is okay.

May you be held in the magic of the season, may the warmth and love of those in your life hold you close as you heal.  May your brokenness feel a little less sharp, may your tears bring healing and hope and may your heart find the healing that it seeks.

If you are in the midst of grief I offer you these words:

You have permission to not say “Merry Christmas.”

You have permission to be frustrated, to be hurt and to be upset by well-meaning friends and family who don’t understand the depth of your pain, the place you are in or the difficulty this season might bring.

You have permission for the lights that are meant to bring hope instead to sting your heart and illuminate the gap between what you “want” and what you have.

You have permission to cling to the love of those that surround you, to take more than you give, to trust that someday you will be able to give again when life fills you and it is your turn to support, to offer hope, to be the light.  You have permission for that time not to be now.

You have permission to feel great love in the midst of great loss.

You have permission to miss that person, place or thing that you have lost while holding a space in your heart for the possibility of what is yet to come.

You have permission to cry and to laugh and to remember and to share those memories.

And for those who are grieving the loss of someone you love…

You have permission to say their name, to bring up in conversation the memories, the love, the loss that you feel.

You have permission to not know where you are.

You have permission not to be “Merry”.

For those who are supporting those in the midst of grief:

Say the name of those we have lost knowing that your acknowledgment may bring tears, but know that is a part of the healing.  Your remembering soothes our heart.

Acknowledge the struggle that this season may bring.

Ask us to share memories of those that we have lost, allow us the opportunities to remember the love, the laughter and the memories.  Allow us space to keep the love alive in our heart.

Know that your presence is a gift in and of itself.

Know that we may cling to you for the love and light we are looking for – but you are not responsible for making us “Merry”.

Know that even though it doesn’t take the place of what was lost your love is enough.

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