Living on six acres of land has been both a blessed and challenging endeavor. And the most challenging part isn’t the weeds, or the coyotes, or keeping Maple from eating chicken poop, it’s having the *perfect* neighbors with a *perfect* yard. God love them, Phil and Carol are retired and have an absolute knack for designing and tending and rethinking their botany -- to the extent that they hold occasional garden walks with over 90 PEOPLE. Every time I pop over to grab my mail or say hello, I am astounded that yet another beautiful flower bed is in full bloom, perfectly tended, perfectly abundant.
It’s kinda like talking to that total babe at the beach with the *perfect* body, trying to get sensical words out of my mouth acting like talking to a gorgeous, half-naked person is totally a normal thing to do while, at the same time, I kinda want to look at her bod because it’s pretty amazing, but if I look too long it’s weird, so I kinda half-look, and officially become the weird/awkward chick in the room. This is me standing in Phil and Carol’s lawn: every. single. time.
As I take the short walk home, wrapped in my shame, all I can see are the distant thistles in my brush, the two-week overgrown grass beneath me, and the smattering of chicken poop on my pavement (or, interchangeably, my robust thighs, stretch marks, and kinda saggy post-breast feeding boobs -- same, same ;)).
But let me be super clear: this sooooooo isn’t about Phil and Carol (or hot beach chick).
This is my sh*t, popping up in yet another crazy and ridiculous (and appropriate metaphor) for my life.
When Phil and Carol came for dinner the other night, I took Carol for a walk around the yard so that I could sheepishly explain (and apologize for) my yard. "I’ve probably ruined all the hard work of the former owners, and I just am not very good at this stuff, and Maple takes up soooo much of my time, and…"
Carol graciously stopped me mid-sentence and said: "Erin, this is YOUR yard now. You can do whatever you want with it. I didn’t start getting into gardening until my kids were out of the house. It’s okay."
And honestly? The truth is that my inner hippie kinda likes the overgrown look -- the flowers wildly popping up in various places, the ability to witness how a poppy seed can travel all the way to my front yard and reseed itself in the middle of my rockbed, the ability to see how, without my intervening, a lot of life can keep happening in amazing and mysterious places.
But growing up in this society has taught me to apologize for myself, for my way, for my truth, especially when it’s disorderly, messy and hippie-ish. I’ve learned that I have to check in with the whole freaking neighborhood before I make decisions about my yard to make sure that I’ve designed it how they like it, and I’ve chosen all of their favorite colors, and that they approve of the layout.
But, as my teacher Glennon Doyle Melton says, the world will change when women stop defending themselves.
The other night I had a dream that I was in the middle of a war-zone, running around frantically, making sure that everyone else was okay, bandaging this woman’s arm and wiping that man’s tears. When I looked down at my own body, I realized that I had no idea what I needed, what was going on with ME. I was tired, and broken, and needing my own love -- and the attention that I could so effortlessly give to others was most magical when first used on myself.
As women we have been told that the main goal in life is to secure a man (thank you, Disney movies), make him happy, and tend to his (and the rest of the family’s) needs until death kindly releases us from this prison -- that sacrifice of oneself is the holiest work on Earth -- but lately, God is asking me to think about this differently.
Yesterday I decided to finally rummage through my stuffed-too-full closet, and as I did so, I realized that I DON’T EVEN LIKE half of my STUFF (which… ahem... is a serious problem, you guys, because a LOOOOOT of my debt has come from this mass of woven cotton). I just... bought all of this crap because I was told that “statement necklaces were in”... no wait “LONG necklaces are in”... no wait “riding boots are in”... no wait “ANKLE BOOTS ARE IN”... the endless chase of my “enoughness” and the approval of the tribe never freaking ending. I collected the heaps of items that didn’t belong in my yard any more, and as I held them in my arms, I wept at the incredible loss of money and time and energy that have gone into pleasing the herd. As I handed them off to my gracious, nonjudgemental friend to scour through and donate, I initially felt anxious because who is Erin when she stops trying to please others -- What will she wear? What will she say? Who will she be? It was a mourning and a relief. And as I did so, my God-voice sweetly urged me to relax, because, as you get out of your own way, She reminded me, there’s a lot more room for Me to show you who you are.
And with this, I realized that the holiest work on Earth is not to abandon myself for the sake of others, but to OWN myself for the sake of others -- and that there is truly no other way to be. That the bravest and most attractive people on Earth embody their unique and specific “child-of-God-ness” and stand in their yard (or in their two-piece), exactly as they are, exactly as they feel like, and without apology.
Last week I took my daughter to the “Big Kids Room” at our gym for the first time. It was scary for both of us -- the room is just so big and echoey, and the kids are just so loud and pushy, and the directors are just so … few. In a sea of big kids, I couldn’t bring myself to imagine my small-for-her-age, porcelain skinned, blue-eyed girl finding her way around that place. But as I watched the $70/month tick away from my bank account and my clothes tighten from a little too much summertime fun, I knew that it was time.
M and I had talked about the “Big Kids Room” for weeks, how she was a big girl now and that big girls can do hard things… and after much anticipation, the day to do the hard thing was finally here. I could have predicted the unfolding of the drama down to the very last detail -- her desperately clinging body, my smelly nervous sweat, and the unconvincing “everything is fine” smile I’ve gotten so good at. I resorted to my usual fawn-like coping mechanism -- making small talk with the woman at the check-in desk, complimenting her profusely (secretly hoping to manipulate her into liking ME so that she would like M and prevent her from dying in the end-of-days big wooden block explosion that was obviously going to happen while she was there). With a few hard plucks, I handed the screaming, wiggling baby mammal to the innocent college kid at the desk, and before I knew it, I was toddler-free, making a mad dash out of the room. I mentally wagged a threatening finger to her guardian angels, and turned up my music so as to numb out these feels of discomfort during my precious child-free time.
When I returned an hour later, M was sitting at the kiddie table mid-room, wearing her pink-tinted sunglasses, eating her applesauce squeezy pack, and giggling at the kids who ran around her in circles. She. Was. Fine. “Mom!!!!” she screamed confidently. “I’m playing with the BIG KIDS.” I have never seen her so proud of herself. We merrily reunited and, holding hands, walked to the car, both relieved to be safely on the other side of that bridge together.
Lately it seems that God keeps asking me to cross hard bridges -- to do things that I really don’t want to do like leave my family to travel halfway across the world to Northern Uganda (where I will, no doubt, get my *ss kicked), or watch my husband start another God-knows-how-long project in California while I transition to lonely nights on the couch, or navigate these disorienting times of terror, fear and injustice on Earth. “But I reaaaaaally don’t want to,” I seem to be whining in my baby mammal voice about three times a day as I desperately cling to God’s chest. And then today, right when I needed to hear it, my spin teacher shouted “C’mon…. no CHALLENGE, no CHANGE, folks! Keep going; you’ve got this!” My entire body lit up with that tingly Truth feeling as I felt the reality of these words sink into my cells. No challenge, no change.
As I look around to the expanding life of vegetables and flowers and trees in my yard, I begin to understand in a literal way that “if you’re not growing, you’re dying” as this is truly how it works in the organic paradigm. As a part of this beautiful, evolving planet of Holy God energy, I know that I not only want to, but came here specifically to expand and expand and expand into more than I was in the last moment, and the one before that, and the one before that. Change and expansion is not only the nature of the Universe, but the nature of all things including me. And how does this unconditionally loving God make me into more than I was yesterday? Why, with a series of perfectly designed challenges that will propel me enough to evolve one step closer my fullness, of course. As a mammal, I crave the stifling comfort of static stability; yet, as a Divine Being, I somehow know that Earth School isn’t the place for that, that if I am not growing, I’m dying, too.
So instead of resenting, complaining about and kicking my feet against these hair-raising bridges that I am being asked to cross, I am going to choose to see them as my angels in disguise, the perfect experiences to help me draw from something deeper that can only come forth through the first time in the big kids room, or mission work abroad, or facing my loneliness, and these uncertain and dark times on Earth.
Oh yes, God loves me so much that She keeps poking me in the ribs and inviting me to step into and witness my own Godly strength, one bridge at a time.
This week on the yoga mat, we will put this idea into practice, tapping into our inner resolve, our God-strength, as we, challenge by challenge, find an embodied way to discover what we are really made of, and the depths of who God is calling us to be here on Earth. One pose at a time, one challenge at a time, we will expand into our fullness together.
Yoga Teacher and Student, Speaker, Writer, Mother, Wife, Friend, Daughter, Sister, Human