Stumbling stones and tombs

Stones on the AltarThis Sunday, I noticed a dozen large river stones sitting on the altar. Its the first sunday of Lent and I was reminded of the stone moved from Jesus’ tomb. This started me thinking about stones, caves and tombs, about stumbling and resurrection. Stumbling brought other images into my mind including stumbling block, mental block, writers block, and then start blocks. Can the same block/stone that causes me to stumble also be used to help me push off for a new stronger beginning? What about the stone at the tomb? What does stumbling really look like, when does the stone become a new beginning versus the heavy seal on our tomb? Is the difference between stumbling and starting a matter of perspective?

I was reminded of three writers.

Theologian Father Richard Rohr wrote a book titled, Falling Upward.

The message of Falling Upward is straight forward and bracing: the spiritual life is not static. You will come to a crisis in your life, and after the crisis, if you are open to it, you will enter a space of spiritual refreshment, peace and compassion that you could not have imagined before.

Rohr does not offer a syrupy evasion of this crisis. But he does underline two crucial points. First, God has not abandoned you, even if you are sure that God has. (“All the books of the Bible seem to agree,” notes Rohr, “that somehow God is with us and we are not alone.”) Second, “We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right.” That may be cold comfort during the crisis—when your house has flooded, who wants to think about spiritual growth? But later you will notice. You will wonder how you possibly could have come to where you are without that flood. –Read the full review on Christian Century

In Malcolm Gladwell’s new book David and Goliath, he outlines a question that arose for him as he wrote his previous book Outliers. He noticed that many of the people, thought of as exceptional, also had experienced a difficulty. He discovered people rarely felt they achieved in spite of their difficulty. They achieved because of the difficulty. The difficulty acted as a catalyst or reason for learning uncommon strengths.  As an example, he notes there is a high percentage of entrepreneurs who have Dyslexia.

The stumbling block becomes a seal on our tomb, not when we trip, but when we pick up the stone and continue to carry it with us. Trying to fashion a badge of honor, not realizing it has become a stone around our neck. Gather enough of these and we become buried in a tomb of our own making. A tomb defined by our failures and our misfortune. Why do we carry these around? When we recall the resurrection the tomb is empty, the stone is removed. The women leave the tomb. They leave the place where they experienced deep pain, as they buried their friend and teacher AND they leave the place where he was resurrected. 

Gladwell and Rohr are exploring the same depths as Brene Brown, revealing for us how we learn from our vulnerability, from our stumbles, and our difficulties. We learn more than just how not to trip, we learn our true strengths, we learn the depth of our communities, and sometimes gain clarity about our direction. When we look back we see the distance we have traveled. Gladwell, Rohr, and Brown do not shy away from the trauma these failures hold, they simply call us to remember all that we learn and gain, if we are open to that vulnerability.

Looking at the stones I also remembered the tradition where people leave stones to mark places they encountered God, gained an important spiritual insight, and as a guide in the wilderness. The stones act as reminders and as a ritual to mark a moment in time. A moment that may mean nothing to anyone else. Or may guide them through the same wilderness you traveled. When I look back on my life I hope to see many stones, many places where I encountered God and gained spiritual insight. Even though I now fully comprehend the tremendous amount of pain that may accompany those moments.


Read more about Brene Brown and Vulnerability in a previous post.

Black Dog of Depression and Doubt

Washington Post ApplicationI woke up with the black dog of depression and doubt attempting to make a home with me again. Luckily I had an early dentist appointment, so I pulled myself out of bed..

Once I got home from the appointment I did everything I thought to get going. Had a nice cup of fancy tea, started work and got some exercise. Then I decided to make some pumpkin oat pancakes for lunch. While cooking, I listened to this podcast of Brene Brown speaking with Krista Tippett.

As they spoke about Brene’s research on vulnerability some quotes jumped out at me, “Your capacity for whole heartedness is directly related to your capacity for broken heartedness.” The times when people never thought they would survive, were the moments that so thoroughly defined them. This is often a time when your true strength blossoms.  These are the moments when no matter what you have, you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, you just keep moving forward with whatever strength you have. You move forward with whatever hope you can find. She spoke of how hope is directly related to adversity. Those people who faced adversity early in life, especially were blessed with a capacity to find hope.

Another quote spoke to my feelings today, “For most people being brave and being afraid happen in the same moment.” Sometimes I forget that and I think today was just such a day. So when I feel fear and doubt I lose sight of my bravery. Today when I woke up and remembered that I still haven’t heard from two possible jobs, the doubt that had been creeping along the edge of my days decided to sit squarely in my view, begging me to pay attention only to it. It was hard day to stay focused on anything. Luckily a friend reminded me to let the dog pass through but not stay.

A video posted on UpWorthy a week ago talks about the black dog of depression, perfectly framing the specter of depression that so many people live with everyday. Taking this analogy, I decided that I can see my dog as an overwhelming presence, or I can see it as a dog playing fetch with experiences and emotions I would normally not pay attention to, much like a dog bringing sticks and dead birds to their people. I can take a moment to observe, honor, and hold the life that I have in my hands, brought by a loyal friend.  If I do this then I have a chance to learn and know more deeply what is going on for me. I must remember that the black dog of depression can be trained to simply fetch from the depths those emotions and experiences that are deeply affecting me. Those hidden stones and logs that lurk beneath the surface of daily life. My friend Molly, from AmeriCorps NCCC, also wrote recently about struggling with depression in a great post on her blog.

Turns out the anxiety and stress I experienced while submitting the applications for 2 writing internships, is now just hanging on me as I wait to hear word. The opportunities will determine my direction for the next year, and possibly longer.  This intense emotion reminds me of just how important this new direction is to me.

Another reminder in the podcast, reminded me that for whole hearted people the judgement between good work and good you is always separate. I may not get the internships and that does not mean my writing is not good, or that I am unworthy of love and belonging. My family and friends remind me of that love every moment of every day, even if I am far away.

Thank you black dog for reminding me of that love, of that passion for a career that aligns my talents and concerns, of my capacity for broken heartedness and wholeheartedness.

2 years & 35 lbs later

Running ShoesFor a long time, partly in a bid to be better than the body conscious people obsessed with being thin, I have detached myself from my body. However, in reality, I was body conscious and I didn’t like what I saw. I mostly just didn’t pay much attention to my body though I ate a well balanced diet and was fairly active.

In my 20’s, I did learn to appreciate my body yet, my weight loss and fitness level seemed to happen by accident. I realize now that the love I had for my body was limited by my belief that I wasn’t choosing my shape. It chose me. There was little participation and no intention for my body. I took the phrase, “it doesn’t matter what you look like, it matters who you are” to a space that meant it was ok to neglect my body in fact, it was preferable.

A few years ago, I found a 2nd place ribbon from the 2nd grade, for cross-country running.  I was shocked that I couldn’t remember being a cross country runner though, even 20 years later, I could somehow remember loving to run.  Soon after I began to run with friends and on my own. Then I ran my first half marathon 2 years ago, at 30 years old.

This winter, when I was in Uganda, so much attention was placed on my body, especially as a white woman that, at times, I almost felt naked walking the streets fully clothed. At the end of the 2 months, I saw an ad for a half marathon in DC occurring 2 days after I returned. In that moment I realized just how little exercise and just how much posho (maize), and matoke (plantains) I had eaten.  I decided that I was going to kick my fitness level into the next gear, the moment I got off the plane.

Just a few days before I boarded the plane to return home, I also realized just how little attention I had paid to my body in my life.  For the 2 months I was in Uganda, I had noticed and paid attention to every piece of food I ate, applied copious amounts of sunscreen and bug spray daily, felt the heat, encountered new bugs and animals that held unknown poisons, and took daily pills to ward off malaria. I wrote about this vulnerability in an earlier post.

A Buddhist proverb states, (that)

When the student is ready, the teacher will arrive.

Last Thanksgiving I was blessed with a sad gift. My grandmother passed away days before her 89 birthday and I was given a small inheritance, just enough to extend my 3 months of retraining and career exploration into a year.  It also meant that when I returned from Uganda I could hire my friend, Errick McAdams, to be my personal trainer to help me kick my fitness level up.

By all measurements I was overweight, even if I was happy. Errick asked me what my weight goal was, so I picked a number that the BMI said I should aim for, but assured him my weight was less important than my fitness level. He was/is the teacher I needed for this new re-meeting of my soul and my body.  He pushed me when I needed it and pulled me back when I pushed myself too hard. He taught me and listened to me. And when we reached the 20 pounds that I previously thought was an unreachable goal, he listened again and we painted a picture of a new reality. He helped me shape this amazing body. He also helped me experience and develop a new partnership with my gene’s, my food, and my activity. Together I lost 35 pounds and dropped 4 pant sizes.

In writing a thank you note to him, I realized an important lesson from these 6 months. Yes I loved my body when I was a size 14 and 200 pounds.  I thought I was beautiful and spent a lot of time working through my hangups.  I loved its shape and could really rock my curves. I was fit enough to enjoy the activities I loved and I ate pretty well.  However, it was a love based on my view that it was a shape gifted to me without my say and only superficially affected by my participation.  The new love of my body, is an appreciation for the hard work of the last 6 months, its also a re-acquaintance with the shape and feel of this body.

This weight loss and fitness journey was an embodiment of this past 2 years learning, of leaving my job at the church and moving across country. My gift of ministry to teenagers and people is a very real gift, that I love. Though in the years I worked at the church, I was only utilizing a very small portion of my gifts.  More than a year ago, as I began to contemplate my move, I began again to participate and shape a new future for myself. I began to dive deeper, to explore ALL that moved me, and enlivened me. I began to create a future where I listened to ALL that God had shown me and laid on my heart, as both passions and concerns.

I could’t have begun to discover the depth of my gifts, until I began to use, embrace, and experience my first gifts.  Its like Maya Angelou says,

You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.

The more of my gifts that I use, the more I discover, that is God’s true abundance and riches. I have started to see my gifts, concerns, and abilities as a partnership with God to engage the world and my soul.  As I do so, those gifts appear to be unending. The truth is that when we begin to embrace our blessings, we are healed and challenged to continue birthing and rediscovering, new blessings as they emerge.