Speechless

August 16, 2012

my sweet son at four months

Because I’ve yet to create adequate sentences or time to capture how it feels to have been entrusted with mothering this precious child, I hope you won’t mind if I borrow, for now, from Cheryl Strayed’s essay “Baby Weight”:

“My life was a private pleasure dome of self-fulfillment, of doing what I wanted to do when I felt like doing it—or not.          

Which is how I got the shock of my life when, at thirty-five, I had a baby of my own and loved him so entirely I couldn’t honestly remember what I thought my purpose had been on this earth before he came along.”

A New Way Forward

March 14, 2012

I am 37.5 weeks pregnant. As I gradually become a mother to this growing babe and soul within me, my spiritual life has both deepened inwardly and been thrown off track outwardly.

I’ve only been to church a few times in the last nine months. I miss it, yet when I go to regular services, I wish it were different. Since taking part in this new creation, I want now more than ever to hear the feminine honored in church.

When I worship in community, I want to hear “Mother”’ as much as I hear “Father.” (I believe this would make a significant difference in how women are regarded politically, in this country and around the world. But that’s a topic for another day.)

Early in pregnancy and after reading Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon, I had a dream that the Mother Goddess, wearing khakis, came to visit me. In the dream I felt torn, as if I were abandoning the Christian God for the Mother. Doesn’t the all-encompassing entity I believe in include the Mother?

Some have said to me, “What a shame you can’t get past the words.” Yet the words I speak aloud in prayer or proclamation are important to me. Authenticity, especially in my relationship with God, is my lifeblood. It’s made me wonder if most others believe God is male or the words just don’t matter to them. I acknowledge that Jesus of Nazareth was a man. But beyond the span of that individual life, I don’t know. I hope Jesus Christ, the representative of God, is something entirely larger than mere male or female.

For Christmas, my brother-in-law gave me the New Zealand Prayer Book, an Anglican Book of Common Prayer that is intentionally and respectfully gender neutral. In the introduction, R.G. McCullough writes:

“We have gradually been compelled in our pilgrimage to start searching for ways to address God in language which is other than masculine and triumphal… Even new words are only a vehicle for the worship of God, so that we might reach for the things beyond the words in the language of the heart.”

My spiritual unmooring isn’t just about church liturgy. During pregnancy I’ve had to surrender control over my body to the mystery taking place inside me and to look there for God. During the first five and a half months of growing this baby, nausea kept me off my yoga mat, a sacred place that had previously helped me stay grounded and calm in my daily life. Once the nausea went away, I was able to resume a new kind of practice surrounded by 15 other round-bellied women one evening per week. Especially now that my days are quite busy preparing for my maternity leave from work, I’ve needed the permission to go within and connect with myself and with my baby.

I’ve been working on this posting for months, wondering all the while when it would say what I meant to express. I had a sense that I shouldn’t post it until after the recent WomanKind conference – a glorious, deeply meaningful day of 500 women exploring and celebrating their faith and their questions, led by wise female clergy and lay volunteers. Even while worrying about the impact of my changing spiritual places and practices, I’ve consistently felt protected by a power greater than myself and I knew that the day would hold answers for me.

Reverend Lauren Winner, Assistant Professor at Duke Divinity School and author of the beautiful Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, surmised in her closing WomanKind sermon that perhaps God was saying to us through the Exodus story, “You have already done more than enough. Now I simply want you to be with me.” Perhaps I’ve done enough in pregnancy simply by being a vessel for this Divine new creation. Perhaps now I can just be with God for the last weeks of this spiritual, physical and emotional journey.

Thankfully, when I meditate in the morning, God always shows, sits with me, and says to me, “It’s all going to be OK. I love you. I love that baby. I’m right here.”

This journey of pregnancy is almost over. Two more weeks to wait seems very long, though, now that my belly is big, my walk is slow, and my muscles ache. Yet there is still fat to add to my sweet boy’s body, cells still to develop in his brain, and tiny lungs that need more time to practice before they take their first breath of air.

Ten years ago, I took a Zen writing and painting workshop. During class, I drew an ink painting of a mother’s pregnant belly with a round melon-like baby inside. Along the curve of the belly, I inscribed a quotation from the Zen Buddhist teacher Dogen that reads “You should understand the meaning of giving birth to a child.”

I don’t yet, but I believe I’m on my way. When it comes time, I’m excited for my God-designed body to take over and birth not only a son, but a mother, a father, a family and a new way forward.

Leaning on Something Greater

July 11, 2011

This morning in church I received more than I gave. For a mere two-dollar offering and two hours of my time, I was reminded that God is in charge of what grows when we humans sow seeds. After a few weeks’ absence, I was grateful to have pulled myself away from the New York Times Style section, put on a sun dress and lip gloss, kissed my studying husband goodbye, and made it out the door by 9:53 on a Sunday morning (when I’m usually still in my PJ’s). It was good for my soul to be there. Surrounded by a lot of people I don’t know and a few smiling friends, I felt part of a community. I prayed more deeply today than I’m normally able to in church. I always blame my inability on the bright lighting, the dress clothes, and the feeling of being watched. This morning I must have needed humility and God more than I needed to hold onto my excuses for not surrendering to prayer.

As I looked around, I wondered if my fellow parishioners rely on their belief in God as much as I do while, like me, not really knowing for sure if there is a God. I wondered if they were feeling overwhelmed by the pressure of work and life “to-do’s” and the immensity of big goals they hope to accomplish. Do those who come regularly feel calmer because they believe a greater power is here, available to us, at all times?

I can’t tell if it’s from drinking too much iced green tea or if I’m really experiencing anxiety, but lately I’ve been thinking I need to find some calm inside me. The doctor of a dear friend once refused to give her anti-anxiety pills until she changed the pace of her life. Good doctor, I thought at the time. Lately, I need to follow her prescription myself. My mind and my heart feel jam-packed during the week trying to make things happen – good things, fulfilling things, just a lot of things. At night, I’ve started dreaming about work, colleagues, papers shuffling around before me, and unread emails. This is my fear: “What if I don’t get it done? What if I can’t make it happen? What if I don’t succeed?”

The thing is, I find myself thinking there is only one “it,” one version of success. Today I was reminded that perhaps God’s ultimate design is unknown to me right now. So I do my best in the sowing and then let go. For me, this kind of trust is only possible when I give myself some down time – time to be instead of do.

On weekday mornings, I often take a walk before work and listen to sermons by Rob Bell or the Brothers of the Society of St. John the Evangelist. It grounds me in the deeper calm and bigger picture of Love. Their prayers remind me that I’m human, not the machine I expect myself to be. And I forgive myself for not doing things as well as I wish I could.

Save for sivasana at the end of yoga, I haven’t meditated on a regular basis in quite a while. I miss connecting intimately with God through breath, presence and an open heart. This weekend, I made time and I feel a bit healed. It feels similar to coming home at the end of a stressful day and resting in my sweet, strong husband’s hug. I completely lean on him, he makes me laugh and it all feels instantly better.

I’ve preached the being/doing balance to others many times without knowing how hard it was until I was put to the test. My apologies if I’ve done that to you. I do believe it is critical for our health, happiness and effectiveness in the world to regularly lean on some greater power while we take a break. I’m practicing right beside you.

Because it’s important

June 19, 2011

I was sad to learn about the recent passing of Mr. Beverly W. “Booty” Armstrong, one of the first people I met in Richmond and someone who made a lasting impact on me. During my rounds of informational interviews, a potential employer suggested that I speak with Booty about his work with the Virginia Performing Arts Foundation – at the time, the Foundation was raising capital to renovate and expand a historic downtown theater. I asked what motivated him to become involved with the project. He replied, “Honestly, I would rather be at a football game than watching a performance, but I do this because it is important for Richmond.”

I’ll never forget that straight-shooting and honest statement about why he was doing what he was doing. As I came to know my adopted city, I found Mr. Armstrong to be among a generation of Virginia gentlemen who cared deeply about the community in which they built businesses and raised their children, and who hoped it would continue to be a city in which their grandchildren would want to live and work. (I mention the men because at the time, they were more visible in corporate leadership than equally- involved and -philanthropic women.)

While meeting with this slightly intimidating yet humor-filled man, he also said to me, “You’re quite comfortable talking with wealthy people, aren’t you?” I was taken aback, and hoped I had not been so informal as to be disrespectful. I had just moved from Aspen, where people of different socioeconomic levels mixed on a daily basis, mostly on a recreational level. Friendly, real interaction with people of wealth who cared about their community as I did had been integral to my eight years of non-profit fundraising in that town. However, there is always deference involved when asking someone to invest their hard-earned money in the common good. Even while I firmly believe that it takes many people playing different roles to create good change in the world – those who ask for funding, those who provide it, and the experts and participants who use it to make change happen – I still find it humbling when donors say yes.

I only spoke with Booty a handful of times after that exceptional first meeting, and I hadn’t seen him for several years. However, he continues to be a role model for me in his commitment to issues he considered critical for the health of this city. I suspect we had different political views, but I’ve been repeatedly surprised by the ways that we in this town can come together to work for what is important.

I do my work primarily because I care about creating equal opportunities for people who do not have them. I also do it because I feel affection for this old, traditional, southern city: a city with injuries so deep they will always be felt, and at the same time a city with promise so great it has yet to be fully realized.

Richmond, along with many other high-poverty urban areas, has problems that are too large for us to solve on our own, either as individuals or as small groups. I think these are problems that require God’s help to solve. But I also believe God wants us to give it our best shot, and at least try before depending on divine intervention to cure our ills.

During my workday, while driving from meeting to meeting, I’ve begun asking for knowledge of God’s will for our community and for God to grant us the power to carry it out. While sitting at a table with colleagues who are working towards a common goal, I sometimes ask the Holy Spirit to come into the room with us. I’m not sure it works, but I sense that my own will relaxes and I become open to our creating something greater than any of us can envision on our own.

I will miss Mr. Armstrong’s presence in this city. Though I didn’t know him well, I believe his big spirit and his example will live on as the rest of us continue to care for this place we love.

Some Kind of Naive

May 31, 2011

Please forgive the long pause I’ve taken in my writing during months of wedding planning and my busy day job. My brain was at max capacity. Our wedding was glorious, making it worth every spreadsheet created and to-do list tackled!

Since then, I’ve been wondering when the inspiration to write would return. However, three people told me yesterday they missed my blog (not counting my Mom!) That felt like a nudge from above to keep taking the risk.

This all relates, at least in mind, to the topic for today: naivety.

At my wedding reception, a college friend distributed a lighthearted and mildly embarrassing “Eleanor” quiz, and when I read the entries the next morning, I was surprised and a bit hurt to discover that one of my sisters had described me as “naive.”

According to the Free Dictionary “naive” means: 1.) Lacking worldly experience and understanding, 2.) Showing or characterized by a lack of sophistication and critical judgment.

Pretty sure that inflicting pain was not my sister’s intent, I asked her if she would explain what she meant by her choice of words. She said that I approach the world “leading with trust, rather than caution or fear” and that I am willing to learn my lessons as a result. I admit, indeed, I do and I am.

She also wrote “goofy” when the survey asked for three adjectives that describe me. Now, not many women in a wedding dress would take well to being labeled “goofy.” So again, I asked what she meant; she responded, “open, in touch with glee and humor.” Well, yes, I like to think this is true too! I love to laugh more than just about anything, and luckily I’ve married someone who makes me do so on a regular basis.

I haven’t always been this way. In my twenties, I approached life with fear instead of trust. Fear of the future. Fear of inadequacy. Fear of scarcity. Fear of others’ opinions of me. When I turned 26, I decided this was no way to live. I was wasting my precious time on Earth being sad and scared. Since then, with the help of innumerable influences, I’ve made conscious choices about how I want to live each day and how I hope my spirit will feel as a result.

This way of living is not for the faint of heart. I’ve been willing to experiment. I have royally screwed up things that have taken years to fix. I’ve embarrassed myself repeatedly and in ways that seem even more mortifying when I look back on them. Even now, when I share some of who I really am at staff meetings, public events or in my Bible study, I doubt the wisdom of doing so. Every time I send this blog to you, I wonder if I have said too much and risked some of my pride.

Many years ago when I lived in DC, I once rode my bike from Capitol Hill to a park in Alexandria. I stopped along the Potomac, stretched out on a grassy lawn and read Hugh Prather’s “Notes on Love and Courage.” In it, he writes, “People need people more than they need pride.” It struck me as truth then, and it still strikes me as truth now, though I have questioned it through the years.

That’s why I participate openly in life and love. I hope that if I do so, someone else might too. I treasure realness.

So, when I speak up, am I doing so for my own good? Or does it, could it, help someone else? Should I share my dreams out loud, risking embarrassment or pity if they don’t come true? What if I kept silent – would I be more powerful were I a private person?

When a question is posed to a group and I have an answer, should I contribute to the conversation or leave more space for others to step up? What if they don’t want to? What if their strategy is to play life closer to the chest?

I try to make conscious decisions about baring my soul, yet I don’t always think through what I might later feel about having done so. Is this naivety?

I share my thoughts, my heart and my experiences because I feel grateful and humbled when others do the same. I believe that if I give what I can of me, my experience of life will be richer. I like hearing your big questions, your hurts, your lessons learned and funny thoughts, your sweetest hopes, and your joys. I’m amazed when you invite me in to see who you really are. So that’s why I do it too.

On Becoming a “We”

February 14, 2011

“The mystery which unites two beings is great; without it the world would not exist.” -The Gospel of Philip, Analogue 40, as translated by Jean-Yves Leloup

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to get married, to become a “we.” It’s already starting to happen. I am still an “I” and I am also now part of a “we.”

Recently I faced having to make a four-figure repair to my 11-year-old car. Upon hearing the shop’s estimate, I wanted to retreat to my room, shed some financial-worry tears, and figure out – on my own – how I was going to pay for it. But sitting on my couch was the man who loves me, waiting and willing to be there for me. I felt so strongly the urge to turn and leave, to be alone in my fear. Instead, I walked toward him, and he reached out his arms and held me. Then he helped me reason things out so I could make the best decision for me and for us.

I’ve spent many years thinking about “I.” Who am I in a family of five sisters? What’s best for me in my career? How do I take care of myself – mind, body and soul – on a daily basis? There is a tradition in some 12-step programs that reads, “Our common welfare should come first; personal progress for the greatest number depends upon unity.” My understanding is that we all win when we put the “we” first.  My fiancé’s 100-year-old grandpa gave us similar advice for our marriage, based on his 68-year experience of shared life with the one he loved. He said that after we say our vows, everything that affects one will also affect the other. I feel myself becoming more careful.

I’m not losing myself or discounting my own needs, rather I’m gratefully discovering what it is like to hold our union as precious. I feel self-full and a little more selfless at the same time. I’ve also decided to add my beloved’s name to mine after we marry. For me, the symbolism is powerful. “I” and “we.”

There is a mysterious connection growing stronger and more fluid between us. We’re growing a “we” and it is a deliberate and beautiful process. I hope this contemplation and practice of “we” in my relationship will also inform how I am in my family, at work, and in the world.

Joy!

December 13, 2010

I’ve recently come to trust, without a doubt, that God cares about my immense joy. I believed that God would care for my heart with solace, healing, and happiness. What I didn’t quite get, until now, was that God could and would blow my mind with totally unearned levels of grace.

Last Saturday, my beloved boyfriend bent down on one knee and with tears in his eyes, asked me to marry him. And of course I said YES! To know that the man I adore loves me enough to want to spend his life with me… well, it is a profound feeling. When I look at his sweet, handsome face, I am so hopeful about our life together.

I owe God my humility and a huge dose gratitude for bringing into my life someone who fit my soul. I love being alone, yet he has become an integral part of my life and with him, I feel more joy and more peace than I’ve ever known on my own.

As some of you are well aware, I am almost always late, and at the same time, not terribly patient. I believe that despite my periodic emotional questioning as to when my turn would come, God knew that waiting would be oh so good for me. I’ve grown in my capacity to love. I’ve become more whole, whole enough to now merge with another.

I’m convinced that God orchestrated this waiting for just the right man, just the right me and just the right time. I want to say thank you to the Big Powerful Heart for loving me that much.  

And thank you too for being with me on my journey through this blog, and for being out there in the world, vulnerable in your own way.  

When I look at my ring, I feel our love has been there all along. I believe we are meant for each other and that is why it feels so good and so easy to be with him. He is kind to me, even when I send him seven emails about our wedding after he’s worked a 36-hour shift.

Word has it that marriage is hard and the statistics aren’t good. I hope, though, that ours will be filled with wonder and laughter. Now more than ever before, I understand the yearning of same sex couples to marry. This feeling of saying “yes” to formally and reverently binding my life with that of my beloved… anyone who loves another should be able to take this step.

Twelve months ago on my 41st birthday, I declared it would be the Year of Love. Indeed it was, and with more to come! My sweet man’s proposal proved to me that sometimes good things, the things I want more dearly than anything else, really do happen.

A different kind of thanks

November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving might not the best time to talk about evil. Or maybe it is. Perhaps acknowledging what seems lately to be an overabundance of evil in the world makes me even more grateful for the good I do see and the good I can create.

It overwhelms me how huge some problems seem – systems of violence, inequity and greed. Maybe I’m watching too many shockingly real episodes of “The Wire.” Or maybe it’s because my favorite character on “Private Practice,” Charlotte, was brutally raped. In real life, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted every two minutes. My current obsession with the dark side could also be driven by my disbelief at the inequitable opportunities that exist for children to succeed. I need only check the “most viewed” articles in my local paper to see a daily list of shootings, murders and cases of abuse. 

“What a bummer of a message,” you might be saying! I felt the same way the other night while trying to decompress from “The Wire” Season 4. I decided that even though I want to lessen the bad in the world and will work to do so, I can choose to focus on what is good in my life. Sometimes, I just need to notice how pretty the golden leaves are on my street, and take a minute to be in awe at the magnificent full moon or mindlessly silly with my boyfriend. It’s rejuvenating.

I do wish though that God would just eradicate evil – all of it. I’m beginning to wonder if that’s not what God is for. Wouldn’t He have already done so if He were going to? There’s certainly been plenty of monumental suffering in the history of time that could have been stopped were that God’s job.

A friend of mine, a funny, wise, lawyerly woman, believes in the devil. She believes there is a force intentionally creating and orchestrating evil in the world. I’m not quite there yet, but I do think it might just be semantics. I can understand that there are deep psychological and sociological reasons that may cause a person or a society to commit atrocities against other living beings. Even though I understand where it might come from, I will never get over the fact that it actually happens.

Sometimes I think evil exists so that we will continue to evolve as humans into our higher selves. I heard Rob Bell say in an interview, “Your divine calling is to meet the world at its greatest points of suffering.” Maybe God is waiting for us to do the good we are capable of doing. Maybe that’s what we are for.

I believe there are solutions to the issues we face – many have already been identified, just not fully implemented. I think God will indeed help us when we help each other. Maybe this is our job. The point of being here. In the face of evil in our world, we are not helpless and we are not powerless. I’m grateful for that.

Happy Thanksgiving.