Cissy Brady-Rogers
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Archive for 'positive coping'

When it comes to embodied life, there are no guarantees.

Hip replacement surgery came with warnings but no guarantees. Sadly, and to my dismay, I am one of the unfortunate ones who had complications.

My new hip feels great. It works great. I’m grateful not to wake multiple times during the night because of discomfort. I’m grateful to be walking without pain.

But, I’m hugely disappointed to have suffered nerve damage during surgery. I’ve run the gamut of emotions, from anger and “who’s fault is this” to despair when I let worry take me too far into the future living with a foot that won’t flex properly.

I woke from surgery with a mostly numb left foot and lateral calf, no flexion in my foot or movement in my toes and minimal capacity to extend/point my foot. By the time I left the hospital, some toe movement and extension had returned. The doctors said it would take time.

For a few weeks I had no flexion at all. Slowly, the numbing has eased with some flexion in my toes and ankle returning. And almost full extension has returned. For that, I am grateful and hopeful.

Nerves are slow healers. They regenerate at only 1 to 5 millimeters per day. And, apparently, they are also mysterious! None of the doctors, including the neurologist I consulted with last week, could provide a very clear or direct path forward. Multiple MRI’s and a nerve study test will supposedly get to the root of the problem so a treatment plan can be recommended.

This is not how I envisioned life 30 days after surgery. I knew I’d still be recovering mobility and strength, possibly still using ambulatory assistance. But I didn’t think it would be due to an issue with my foot.

No guarantees!

Last Saturday I led a group of 15 women in what we call “Self-Care from the Inside Out.” One participant, Yolanda, is also a breast cancer survivor with four years of life post-treatment. She laughs easily and sparkles with brightness and positive energy. We swapped stores about the limitations and complications of medical treatment. As cancer patients know all too well, at times you wonder if the consequences of treatments are really worth the hoped for outcome for survival–which, by the way, doesn’t come with a guarantee!

My friend Kerry went to Germany for naturopahtic treatment of bladder cancer a few years ago. She opted to forgo conventional “slash, burn, poison” methods (which would have included the complete removal of her bladder) and chose to pay out-of-pocket for a less drastic alternative. The treatment killed the cancer, she still has her bladder and she’s made significant lifestyle changes to enhance her body’s capacity to remain cancer free! As her husband Jeff writes in his blog about their journey, “Kerry continues to use food as medicine by aggressively pursuing a diet rich with fruits and vegetables, grains and a handful of animal or fish protein a day. Sugar is out save a glass of wine now and then. She will have to cut back on stress by trying to say no to anything pushing her beyond her limits. We know we are not out of the woods; cancer likes to come back.”

An orthopedic surgeon told another friend a few weeks ago that she needed hip replacement. She’s investigating stem cell therapy as an alternative. Of course, it won’t be covered by insurance. But a growing number of patients in the United States are wondering: Since there are no guarantees, perhaps a softer, gentler approach that works with the body rather than against it, might be a better path to explore before more extreme options are engaged!

No guarantees!

As I prepare to lead “A Contemplative Path to Health and Well-being” with Alive and Well Women this coming weekend, I’m drinking my own medicine. I’m working with the Alive and Well philosophy, principles and practices as I discern how to go forward with my foot that will not fully flex. Rather than just following conventional doctor’s recommendations based on facts about how bodies in general operate, I’m seeking clarity in what Eugene Peterson calls “the largeness” of God.

While I desperately want full flexion back and am trusting that will come, the real miracle isn’t physical healing. The real miracle is how I’m finding God in the midst of it. I’m seeing the bigger picture. Everyone suffers. No one gets out without scars, suffering and sadness.

One problem of the “miracle of medicine” is that it gives us the false hope that everything can be cured…and that we can live forever. I know no doctor ever says that. But isn’t that the burden they bear when things don’t go in the hoped for direction? Their job is to support healing. But they don’t get much training in how to cope when things go poorly or how to help people die.

Ultimately, it all comes down to Love. Love is what holds us, sustains us, guides us and helps us face suffering, disease and death with grace. Everything that comes to me is an opportunity to expand my capacity for Love–to give love, receive love and live in loving presence with myself and others. During this season here’s what that looks like:

– Letting Dave care for me, feed me, help me dress and shower, lovingly massage my foot and calf, do all the shopping, cooking and cleaning.

– Asking friends to come by to “Cissy-sit” in the first few weeks when I didn’t want to be home alone while Dave was at work.

– Letting my friends care for me, feed me, lovingly massage my foot and calf, run errands, drive me to appointments and spend afternoons watching movies with me.

– Going slowly and living a more contemplative life than I normally do when I can move more quickly.

– Being more gentle with myself and patient with Dave than I usually am.

– Not finding someone to “blame” or bring a lawsuit against because things didn’t go as planned!

And that is just the beginning.

If you’re curious about this path that I’ve spent the last 25 years learning to live and the past 11 teaching others, please visit the Alive and Well Women website for more information. We still have a few spots open for the Immersion that begins on Friday, March 31st. Perhaps one of those spots has your name on it??

 

Health, wellness, death and disease are on my mind. The new year launched, along with the usual “New Year – New You” promotions for diets, fitness programs, products and services being sold in the name of health and wellness.

As I watch January unfold, along with social media posts of friends  expressing delight with the 5.2 pounds they lost in one week working out with a new trainer or the increased energy they feel on the detox they started after the holidays, I have mixed feelings. I want my friends to be well. I want them to be in alignment with their bodies, to feel good and have optimal energy. And, I’ve seen and heard too many heartbreaking stories of people who’ve lived on the diet, fitness and wellness roller coasters, bouncing from one program to another, gaining and losing weight over and over again, looking for the answer to whatever health challenge they experience.

As I prayed about how to respond, about how to support and about how I hoped that this time it might really stick, I heard the voice of God’s love reminding me to take an eternal perspective on all these things. And, to remember that while health and wellness is important, in the long run, disease and death can’t be outrun.

I faced cancer at 30, had major shoulder surgery at 50 and am likely to have my left hip replaced this year as I hit 55. I’ve exercised regularly since junior high school, eaten lots of vegetables my entire life and don’t smoke, drink or take drugs. Disease happens anyway!

As I prayed, I got a download from the Spirit. As I went back to read it again, I felt inspired to share it here. For me, this is the Voice of Love reminding me that, as Julian of Norwich proclaimed, it is in the midst of suffering that we most need to experience that, held in God’s love, all will indeed be well.

All you have is today. You could die today. Don’t fear death. Death is not the enemy. Don’t fear disease. Disease is not the enemy. Each day’s sufferings are enough for the day. Don’t add to your burden by projecting into the future or clinging to the past. Today, this day, this moment, is all you have. Show up. Be present. Do your best. Let go of results.

Don’t fear your body. The great lie of health and wellness is that we can overcome and conquer the weakness of the body, bypass aging and never have to grow old or die. The truth is, time isn’t something to be managed, pain isn’t just weakness leaving the body and the value of external remedies and practices is limited. Health…wellness…isn’t the absence of disease but our capacity to live in harmony with ourselves and all living beings amidst the physical, mental emotional and relational disruptions that are part of life. There’s nothing to conquer, overcome, manage or fix! Our work is to be present with what is, listen to our aliveness and let decisions arise from the depths of our Inner Beings where Wisdom dwells.

Some wise person once said that discipline is remembering what you really want.**

It took a lot of discipline for me to show up and stay for 20 minutes in centering prayer today. In fact, it’s taken a lot of discipline to show up most days these past few weeks.

In one of his daily meditations from the Center for Action and Contemplation this week, Richard Rohr reminded me that the union I desire with God is realized not by trying to achieve it, but by surrendering to it. He said that prayer is surrender.

Centering prayer is a prayer of surrender. As Father Thomas Keating wrote in his book, Invitation to Lovethe psychological content of my 20 minutes is irrelevant to the outcome. While I use my centering word to let go of mental material and come back to my center in God’s love, the goal isn’t to not rid myself of awareness, but to surrender myself to God’s presence and action within me.

For me, showing up to centering prayer isn’t the most difficult part. It’s staying still for 20 minutes that I find challenging. The past few days I couldn’t do it. I opened my eyes to see the minutes left on the timer and moved my body about trying to find a more comfortable position. But I stayed present to my intention to surrender. I stayed with myself and God for 20 minutes. I think Keating would say I succeeded!

What I really want is to rest and trust in God’s love. There’s nothing I can do with those 20 minutes that is more essential to my well being or the well being of the world than for me to surrender to God’s love. As Thomas Merton wrote in his Letter to a Young Activist, the highest good I can do will come not from me, but from my allowing myself, in obedience of faith, to be used by God’s love.

What I really want is to surrender my compulsive need to be active, engaged, doing and producing. What I really want is to strengthen my capacity to just be present with myself. What I really want is for all of my doing, activity, engagement and production to expand love within myself and the world around me.

According to Rohr, Keating, Merton and the teachings of many spiritual traditions, the best thing any of us can do in order to be better lovers, is to surrender to a Love greater than ourselves.

Contemplatives practices teach us to surrender. And they demand discipline.

If discipline is remembering what I really want, then asking myself what I really want is essential for staying with the practice in those moments when I’d rather do something else.

The spiritual path of discipline isn’t about force or willpower. It is a path of surrendering to the “Divine action” within us. As Merton puts it, they free us from the need to prove ourselves so we can be more open to the power that wants to work through us, without our taking the credit.

Remembering what we really want, identifying our “Why” can be an important support for showing up and staying on those days when doing, engaging and producing look so much more attractive.

Why do you want to be more disciplined in your spiritual practice?

 

**When I discovered this quote 10 years ago on the internet, it was attributed to Albert Einstein. In the meantime, the internet is full of references attributing it to some fellow named David Campbell. Go figure!

Last week I introduced a group of entrepreneurial Christ followers to the use of contemplative prayer as a means of self-care. I led a simple breathe and body awareness practice, inviting them to “just be” with themselves in God’s presence and notice their experience. What was it like to just stop, let their minds be still, notice their experience without “doing” anything in response to whatever thoughts, feelings or sensation came to mind?

A newbie to contemplative practices reported that for a brief moment, he felt his brain stop working and relax. A calm and bright smile spread across his face as he reflected on the rapid pace of his life and how his mind is always thinking about something. “It felt amazing to just stop and be quiet for a moment.”

Another participant noted a deep sense of gratitude flooding his awareness as he felt his breath and body move in rhythm with each other. He said he felt like God was breathing with him!

Contemplative prayer is a way of praying without words, or with very few words. It’s a way of paying attention to experience as we are held in God’s loving presence, letting our very presence become a prayer as we rest and trust in God’s love.

Miss Liberty Belle - 8 weeks old

Miss Liberty Belle – 8 weeks old

Recently, I’ve recommitted myself to daily centering prayer—a contemplative prayer practice popularized by the writing and teaching of Father Thomas Keating and the community at Contemplative Outreach. From 2007-2014 I had an almost daily practice. Then, a two-week vacation to Ireland and the arrival of Miss Liberty Belle two years ago threw me off my game. Some days, it takes an enormous amount of discipline to show up for my practice. But I know from my experience of both yoga and centering prayer that these simple tools are powerful resources for helping me be a better lover of God, my neighbors and myself. So, after two years of rather sporadic practice, I’ve renewed my commitment to daily centering prayer.

Perhaps you too could use some practical tools to support you in being more at peace with yourself, a kinder and gentler partner, a less reactive employee or boss…Whatever the change you seek, strengthening your capacity to just be with your experience in a loving, non-judgmental way, can be a powerful support in the slow work of becoming!

On September 24th I’ll be leading a women’s retreat on how contemplative practices support spiritual growth—especially in facing the disturbing and disquieting aspects of ourselves that we desperately long to change, but also greatly resist.

Transforming Beauty from Ashes – Saturday, September 24th Retreat

Miss Liberty Belle - 1.5 years old

Miss Liberty Belle – 1.5 years old

I’d love to have you join me and the Alive and Well Women team at the LA County Arboretum from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. for a day of opening up to the life that wants to be born in and through you as you rest and trust in God’s transforming love within compassionate community. The $60 registration fee includes admission to the 127 acre gardens, spacious time for individual reflection, experiential teaching on contemplative practice, facilitated small group and community conversations, and light refreshments. See more details and registration at the Alive and Well Women website.  I hope you can join us!

In case you were wondering, Liberty is flourishing. Thankfully, I’m not as easily distracted by her charming ways I as used to be!

As I wrap up my writing sabbatical, I recognize the self-critical part of me that tells me “You didn’t do enough.” Ever present and ready to condemn me, I’m grateful I can notice that voice of shame, take a breath and soften into the truth that it is enough, that I am enough. I’m grateful for the ways of grace that are only learned through practice: compassion, self-forgiveness and letting go of judgement. And for the way writing my story integrates grace into dark corners still hurting and in need of lovingkindness.

Just installed last week - Casey Family Tribute at Calvary Cemetery in Seattle

Just installed last week – Casey Family Tribute at Calvary Cemetery in Seattle

I didn’t expect to write a memoir about addiction, sin and grace. Yet that is the story I’ve lived, in ways I’ve resisted sharing with the world–especially as a therapist. But grace is leading me to share the story and entrust the results to God.

Today’s offering, along with a few photos of yesterday’s pilgrimage to the the family plot of paternal great grandparents in Seattle, more on sin, grace and the longing to love in an unloving world.

We choose “sin” as a way to cope with living in an unloving world, a world where we can’t always get the love we long for. We sin as a way to cope with stress and shame. We sin as a way to cope with the emotional vulnerabilities that come with being human. Biblical inventories of sins identify some of the more obvious and destructive ways that we—yearning for love—imperfectly navigate an imperfect world of humans. Especially in order to cope with the shame we feel for being imperfect, for not being enough to meet the demands of our circumstances.

Cousin Nancy Anne Herkenrath, SNJM on Family Heritage Pilgrimage

Cousin Nancy Anne Herkenrath, SNJM on Family Heritage Pilgrimage

Grace enables us to accept limitations, forgive failures and let go of the shame that so easily entangles us in loveless cycles of relationship with ourselves and others. Grace is the ever-present energy of God’s love that enables us to soften in the face of our own and others unloving ways. Grace allows us to stay open, receptive, and vulnerable rather than hardening our hearts. Grace frees us to confess our sins, take responsibility for our unloving ways and learn from our failures.

What’s so amazing about grace is that we can’t control it and it doesn’t control us. But grace is ever present wanting to engage us, seeking to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves. My Great Uncle Solanus Casey, the first American born male venerated (the first of three steps for official canonization) in the Catholic Church, referred to God’s grace as being like the air that permeates us. He suggested that “If we were only to correspond with God’s graces continually being poured out, we’d go from being great sinners one day to being great saints the next.”

Great Uncle Solanus Casey

Great Uncle Solanus Casey

For me, this is the essence of setting my mind on the Spirit: corresponding with the grace of God that wants me to thrive, that wants me to be able to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength and love my neighbor as myself. Jesus said that all the law was summed up in these two commands. Do this, he said, and you will live!

Created by God, in the image of God, what is deepest in us is God’s love. Love is our eternal nature. At our core is a longing to love and be loved.

“Sin” is a word to describe both our human “state” of being limited in our capacity to live in love, as well as the specific ways we manifest falling short of living in love—like my history of addiction. But sin is not what is deepest and most “original” to human nature. As author John Philip Newell puts it, created in God’s image, God’s love is deepest. Sin obscures, but never erases that image. Our human wiring to love and be loved is deeper than sin. And avoiding the pain of love’s absence drives the impulse to sin.

This morning I’m especially grateful for the centrality of God’s love and grace I learned in my family. And for the prayers of my dear Great Uncle, mom, dad and all the other saints interceding for me and for you that we might correspond with the grace being poured out today as we seek to sin less and love more.

I’m on sabbatical this month – taking time away from my customary routines to focus on writing my spiritual memoir. This week I’m working on the topic of sin. Thinking, writing or reading about sin is challenging. So, while they don’t have anything to do with sin, I’m adding a few photos of the beautiful places I’ve been as I’ve traveled in the Pacific Northwest. Grateful for those who’ve hosted me and whose company I’ve enjoyed along the way.

Sunset in Gulf Islands

Sunset in Gulf Islands

The majority of the explanations, definitions and teachings about sin I’ve heard over my forty years of following Christ have been unhelpful.

Most recently, I listened to a sermon on Genesis in which the pastor taught that at its’ root sin is not believing that God is as good as he says he is. He said that every particular sin is an expression of unbelief. He suggested that we steal because we don’t believe God will take care of us. And that we lie because we don’t believe God will take care of us if the truth be known.

I suspect that this pastor hasn’t done much lying or stealing in his life. If he did, I think he’d might have a different perspective.

Perspective is everything. How we see things, how we view reality, how we understand biblical teaching, is informed by our life experiences. Ultimately, if there is an objective reality or “truth” about God, human nature, sin and all the other issues theologians and pastors attempt to conceptualize and put into words, no human being is capable of holding in consciousness, defining or communicating that objective “truth” objectively. All attempts to communicate eternal truth are subject to human subjectivity.

Vancouver Marina at Sunset

Vancouver Marina at Sunset

That’s what led me to write a memoir. I’m owning my subjectivity. You can argue doctrine and ideology all you want. But you can’t argue with my story. My story is my story. You may not like how I’ve come to understand reality or what I believe about sin. But you can’t deny the wisdom of my lived experience.

My theology professor at Fuller Seminary, Ray Anderson, used to say that a theological essay without a story is not a good theological essay. I’d say that a theological essay or sermon or teaching that doesn’t help me become a better lover, is not a good one. When all the theologizing is over, I want to know: does it help me be a better lover of God, my neighbor and myself? Jesus said that all the law was summed up in two commands: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Do this, he said, and you will live!

Jesus didn’t come to put a cage of ideology around us to keep us safe from unorthodox views of God and life. He came to set us free. He came to give us life and give it abundantly.

My journey to sin less and love better has led me to what will be considered by some an unorthodox and heretical view of human nature and sin. So be it. That’s why I’m writing a memoir and not a theological essay!

Amtrak Cascades - Vancouver to Seattle

Amtrak Cascades – Vancouver to Seattle

I never doubted God’s love or care for me. It’s people I couldn’t trust. I lied to my mom because I feared the emotionally rejecting way her attempts at discipline were most often administrated.

It wasn’t God’s care or love I didn’t trust. At its core, it wasn’t even my mom’s care or love I doubted. I knew she loved me. At an intuitive level, I sensed her care. But I didn’t trust her ability to respond to the limits of life, it’s problems, trials and challenges in life-giving ways. I didn’t believe in her capacity to emotionally care for me the way I needed to be cared for. That’s why I lied as a child. Not because of some eternal stain of “sin” that predetermined me to be a liar.

Created by God, in the image of God, what was deepest in me was God’s eternal love. Love is my eternal nature. At my core was and is a longing to love and be loved. I want to live in loving relationship, all the time.

Jesus’ mystical prayer for his disciples in John 17 reflects this ultimate longing for loving unity among all created existence that is the core of my human nature. He prays for a restoration of the original harmony reflected in the creation story–the humans are naked and without shame, in harmony with God, one another, themselves and the earth.  Jesus prays for restoration of our eternal oneness, praying, “that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me…that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:21, 26, NASB)

Bainbridge Island Trees

Bainbridge Island Trees

But living in perfect harmony isn’t possible in limited temporal reality. In limited human life, we must develop capacities to cope with individuation, separation and limitations.

In real life, living in perfect harmony with all people, all the time, is impossible. And I think that coping and surviving in an unloving world has a lot to do with what my Christian tradition calls sin.

Father Richard Rohr says that the entire second half of life is about letting go…of ego, of doing, of the need to prove myself, of having things my way.

There’s a lot to let go of!

We Love You Cobbs

We Love You Cobbs

This past weekend I said goodbye to a dear friend, a soul sister who has walked with me the past ten years. A group of friends surprised her family Saturday morning. We showed up at their estimated time of departure to send them off with one last outpouring of love. Some helped finish packing, others vacuumed, some stood around visiting and drinking coffee. Then, we waved them off to the great adventure awaiting them in Washington.

When I returned home, I cried.

The tears began slipping out in little bits a few months ago when Lauren first told me she was moving.

Then again last Saturday night at a going away party.

Then again at her final yoga class with me last Wednesday. At the end of class, as the rest of the students lay in final resting pose, I went and adjusted her shoulders for the last time. Then, I looked at her face, so serene and lovely, and began to cry, again.

Goodbye Soul Friend

Goodbye Soul Friend

I know the tears speak of other “letting go” experiences. Of more than just a friend moving away. They remind me of the many I’ve loved who’ve moved on, either geographically or through death. The many I’ve known and loved who are no longer just around the corner, up the freeway, or a phone call away.

When I went to my yoga mat later Saturday morning, more tears came.

Not just for Lauren, but for Colleen, for Dee, for Peggy, for Andrea and Paul, for Marsha and Greg, for Francie, for Linda, for Patty and John, for so many soul friends who came and went as I’ve spent most of my life planted here in Los Angeles.

Not just for the living, but for my mom, my dad, aunts and uncles, grandparents I never met, people I grew up with, former pastors and their wives, many dear saints we worshipped with in churches over the years, no longer with us in body.

This week, I’m most aware that it’s another opportunity to let go of the love I want and open myself up to the love I already have.

Recommended Couples Resource

Recommended Couples Resource

A still popular self-help book, Getting the Love You Want, was first published over 20 years ago. It’s a good resource for helping couples develop more supportive, satisfying relationships.

And, getting the love you want isn’t always possible, even with the ones you love.

I wanted Lauren and her family to stay in California.

I want Paul and Andy to live next door.

I wanted to have a child.

The story is complex and many layered.

We never talked about it before marriage. I just assumed we’d have children.

Three years into our marriage, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and the doctors recommended we wait five years, just to be “sure.”

A few years later, my husband, who’d been my “commando” following my diagnosis, fell into a depression. He realized he’d probably been depressed his whole life and was finally beginning to deal with it.

Once I was ready to have kids. He wasn’t.

I stopped going to baby showers or hanging out with friends who had small children. It was too painful.

He wasn’t ready to say “yes” or “no.”

A few more years passed. Individual therapy. Couples therapy. Trying to work it out.

I got older. I felt my body changing. I wondered if having a child in my forties was a good idea. And found myself in tears every month during ovulation, grieving yet another opportunity to birth love into the world.

He still wasn’t ready to say “yes” or “no.” He wanted me to be happy, but didn’t feel a strong urge for fatherhood. And, he worried, “What if…cancer came back…depression reemerged…” Images of himself as a depressed, single dad haunted him.

After years of wrestling within myself, therapy with my husband, pastoral counseling, considering divorce, and shedding many tears in prayer, I made the decision to “let go” of the love I longed for with a child of my own body, in order to hold onto the love, I already had with my husband.

Letting go of the love I wanted. Keeping the love, I already had.

It wasn’t easy. It still isn’t easy.

On days like Saturday when a community of moms, dads and kids gather to send off another family, noticing I’m the only one there without children.

On days like Mother’s day last month or Father’s day yesterday when the focus is on the family.

And, I’m grateful for the wise ones like Richard Rohr who remind me that this is the path to life. No one gets to “have it all.” And, even if we get to have it all, once we get it, we’re told to let it all go.

Many major spiritual traditions offer teachings about letting go.

The Buddha said “You only lose what you cling to.”

The twelve step tradition tells us to “Let go and let God.”

From my faith tradition, I especially like Eugene Peterson’s translation of Jesus’ teaching on letting go.

“Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat—I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? If any of you is embarrassed with me and the way I’m leading you, know that the Son of Man will be far more embarrassed with you when he arrives in all his splendor in company with the Father and the holy angels. This isn’t, you realize, pie in the sky by and by. Some who have taken their stand right here are going to see it happen, see with their own eyes the kingdom of God.”

Gifts are all around us. The kingdom of God is now.

May I have eyes to see the love around me today. In my husband, family and friends, but also in my neighbors, the grocery store clerk or the kind gestures offered by strangers.

For more on letting go, check out the offerings of my blogging community, beginning with Sarah who writes with heartfelt depth and wisdom on walking with her mom through ovarian cancer.

My favorite scripture about hope begins with hopelessness: “When everything was hopeless, Abraham believed anyway, deciding to live not on the basis of what he saw he couldn’t do but on what God said he would do.” In Eugene Peterson’s interpretation of the Abraham story “We call Abraham ‘father’ not because he got God’s attention by living like a saint, but because God made something out of Abraham when he was a nobody” (Romans 4.17-18, The Message).

Hope begins in hopelessness and being a nobody. 

My greatest moments of hopelessness and feeling like a nobody lie in the distant past.  In comparison to the plight of refuges, victims of violence, poverty, and oppression, my past and current moments of hopelessness are minimal. I am one of the most privileged people in the world when it comes to safety, freedom and provision.  Yet, as I tell my clients when they begin to minimize their problems, there is no measuring stick for suffering.

I wrote this poem about hope during a period of deep suffering. After years of trying to control and enjoy alcohol, I’d surrendered to the fact that I was an alcoholic. Waking up to my life, seeing things clearly, feeling things deeply, I entered into a period of painful transformation. I questioned my faith, my marriage, my career, my life. After a particularly intense week when most days included significant tears, this came to me.  Reading it now, my editor-self wants to throw it in the trash can. She thinks it’s trite, simplistic and shallow. But my soul-self knows it’s an authentic expression of what I needed to hear during a time of hopelessness.

Hope

The sky is crying but don’t be afraid.

Drops of life stream down from above.

Torrents of tears,

rivers of grief,

streams of compassion,

symbols of love.

The sky is sobbing but don’t run away.

Wait.  Be still. Listen.

See what may come.

Waves of life,

pools of refreshment,

springs of peace,

oceans of joy.

The sky is smiling now.  It always happens this way.

Clouds gone.  Sun shines.

In every birth there is a loss.

In every death there is a gain.

Rainbow of hope tells the world that for now– it must be this way.

Hope begins in hopelessness. Tears don’t last forever. Suffering  and death are not the final word.

As author Tony Campolo famously preached, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!”

For more on hope, please check out my blogroll friend’s reflections – beginning with Allison Hughes. 

My mom taught me from an early age about loving the unlovable: “I may not like what you do, but I will always love you.”

Usually stated after she’d blown her top in anger while trying to contain and appropriately discipline the wild child energies of my brother and I, the message “No matter what you do, you are loved” went deep into my heart and mind.

Like teenagers throughout history, while working through my adolescent differentiation process, I was convinced my mom didn’t love me. “If you really loved me…” followed by a litany of parental errors filled my mind much of the time.

- “If you really loved me, you would let me do what I want.”

- “If you really loved me, you would give me what I ask for.”

- “If you really loved me, you wouldn’t be depressed and crazy.”

- “If you really loved me, you would make the pain go away.”

- “If you really loved me, you and dad wouldn’t have divorced.”

Volatile arguments with mom marked my teen years. At times I hated her. At other times I felt deep compassion for her suffering. Most of the time I was too busy avoiding and denying the painful reality of her depression, addictions and suicidality to feel anything but indifference.

In her better moments, she did her best to guide my emerging wild feminine nature. Yet as strong willed as she was, her depressed middle-aged energy was no match for my angry adolescent intensity. Her attempts to set boundaries around my choice of friends, where I went and what I did, were sadly ineffective. I’d tell her where I was going and what I was planning to do–sometimes truthfully but most often not. She’d extend some parental guidance in an effort to do her job: “Be sure to call if your plans change.” I’d verbally assent to the plan while knowing all along she’d be out cold by the time I came home and it wouldn’t matter anyway.

As her disease progressed and I became increasingly frightened and resentful of her weakness and ineffectiveness, I acted out my own insecurities in a show of hostility. I responded with outright disrespect and at times, even contempt. I’d laugh at her and dare her to “try and make me” come home at a certain hour.  Sometimes she’d fight back with further attempts to assert her authority, but I’d respond with more venomous words. I have more memories than I’d like of calling her a “fuckin’ bitch” or other hateful things.

And yet, through it all, she’d faithfully call me back to love. Often initiating a conversation about “a new beginning” when our relationship was in more a emotionally stable place. She’d apologize for her “craziness.” I’d cry and admit I loved her and didn’t mean what I’d said. We’d forgive each other and carry on–for a few days, a week or two, sometimes longer, until our next upheaval. The message that I heard time and again:

“No matter how badly you behave, I will always love you.”

Me & Mom in a Box 1984 - Remarkable & Silly Mother

Me & Mom in a Box 1984 – Remarkable & Silly Mother

Ours was never the cozy, intimate, “best friends” kind of mother-daughter relationship. We enjoyed each other at times, laughed and had fun. But it wasn’t a sweet or easy love. Even to her dying days we struggled to love each other well through our words and actions. Yet, in the depths of my innermost being, I knew I was her beloved and precious only daughter. She loved me fiercely, deeply and strongly. She taught me to love and forgive the unlovable in myself and others.

Reflecting on our relationship, I’m grateful she died when I was only 30. Her physical passing put an end to my struggle to love the parts of her I didn’t like, to forgive the things she did that hurt me. Her limited, broken, imperfect human self no longer inhibiting her capacity to love, her goodness lives on in and through me. I see her charm, her wit, her ability to stand up among a group of strangers and speak boldly and clearly–when I engage in those ways. I see her in my mannerisms and the ways I’m physically aging.

I know she’s proud of the women I’ve become and that I’m still working on loving the unlovable in myself and others. And I am forever grateful and proud to be the daughter of Moira Deidre Ford! May she rest in peace.

I’m blessed to participate in a blogroll with a writing group. Please check out Staci’s blog for more on loving the unlovable. 

 

Stephanie Says Yes to Rest - Camping in Joshua Tree

Stephanie Says Yes to Rest – Camping in Joshua Tree

My friend Stephanie’s fierce commitment to living wholeheartedly and authentically inspires me. She shared her poem “Say Yes to Rest” with me in early October. She listened to her body’s signals and made a radical choice to take a few days off from work before she got sick. I was proud of her and grateful for the ways we support each other in self-care. And I knew it would be meaningful to those who follow my blog. I appreciate her willingness to share the wisdom of her lived experience here.

Say Yes to Rest by Stephanie Jenkins

The street outside my window is filled
with the rush of cars; their dirty engines
propel them in opposing directions
with equal measures of hurry
as if, for each one, there is an unseen fire
somewhere that only that one driver can put out.

I have pulled myself out of the hustle
and bustle today; I have crawled
out of the jaws of the beast
refusing to be devoured.

The ache that runs through my body, the piercing
in my skull, the awful pressure on my throat
like two angry hands pushing, are evidence
that I barely survived. My eyes throb,
there is a stabbing in my right side.

This is the violence of our day–we abuse both
earth and body in our relentless pursuit of productivity.
The thirst for output that refuses to be slaked
has indeed given us more…
more anxiety,
more fear,
more pollution,
more poverty,
more violence,
so much more…

Today I want less. I push pause
on the crazy, frenetic rush. I enter
into my own slice of Sabbath. I tend
to my aching bones with loving care.

I want to see what is real in this world,
my eyes long to be healed by the vision
of the rose unfurling towards the sun;
my body asks to be rocked and soothed
in the ocean’s cool embrace; my bones beg
the soft give of soil rather than the harshness of pavement;
my skin thirsts for canyon breezes and dappled light
instead of conditioned air and florescent bulbs.

And today I say yes to my longings.
I say yes to rest, yes to wild, yes to free.
Today I say yes to Love,
so I might find again what is real in this world.
__________

After sitting with Stephanie’s poem, wondering how to fit it into a blog so I could share it with others, I realized that I was the one who needed the lesson. Stephanie’s words were prophetic–calling me to “crawl out of the jaws of the beast” lest I too be devoured by the ways I’d fallen prey to believing if I just worked harder, more efficiently or found the right time management tool I’d be more successful. Stephanie helped name my experience.

Following a very busy September and first two weeks of October I found myself depleted, out-of-alignment with myself and God, and in deep need of refueling. As Alive and Well Women enters its second year, I was experiencing the emotional exhaustion and decreased sense of personal accomplishment that accompanies burnout–and is an occupational hazard of helping professionals! The goodness, blessings and excitement of birthing a nonprofit had worn off. Amidst the busyness of my rushed and useful life, I’d lost my center, my “why” and “how” of the work I am called to do in the world. Distracted and anxious about “what” I was doing, my self-worth and identity were becoming overly attached to my level of productivity. As Thomas Merton wrote in his Letter to a Young Activist, that is not the right use of my work!

Merton speaks to the activist in all of us when he advises: “All the good that you will do will come not from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God’s love. Think of this more, and gradually you will be free from the need to prove yourself, and you can be more open to the power that will work through you without your knowing it.”

Saying Yes to Rest in Coronado by Day

Saying Yes to Rest in Coronado by Day

I’m grateful that self-care and authenticity are the heart of Alive and Well. We are committed to practice what we preach. And I’m grateful for the remarkable team God is bringing together to support one another in these values and empower others to do the same. With their support and a very generous scholarship from The Cottage on Coronado, I spent last week recovering my center, remembering that the success or failure of anything I do is not a reflection of my self-worth.

It wasn’t easy to say “No” to the many tasks left undone on my list. As noted in research on the stresses of nonprofit work, despite the intrinsic rewards of the work we do, jobs in this sector often come with high demands, long working hours and low pay!  My main work is to stay rooted and grounded in God’s love and entrust outcomes to God’s care.

The wisdom of Stephanie’s experience is a gift to remember as we head into what can become a very frenetic season.  May we listen to our lives, find courage to press the pause button, and take time to rest!