Hi yogis and yoginis - Around this time of year I can literally feel the heat, movement and activity of summer beginning to fry my nervous system: my Spirit like a burger that's been on the grill too long, sending up the initial frantic smoke signals of possible destruction.
And while I love enjoying the 2-3 months of midwestern heat to their fullest, the constant movement, doing and activity pull me away from my center, that still small place where God lives and guides and heals and protects me.
My practice lately has been super inward (hence, why I've been a bit reclusive), finding God in the quiet stillness of the NOW -- you know, that unbelievably loving and patient Being just chilling in the background, unobtrusively loving and guiding me underneath my crazy.
What I've realized is that the more I find God in this NOW moment, the more confident I am that S/He will be with me in the next now moment, and then the next one. And as I train my brain (which is literally what yoga/meditation does) to find God HERE, I will no doubt be able to find him/her in whatever awaits me out there, too.
Our practice this month will focus on using gentle breath and movement to quiet the silly ego (who always likes to convince us that we can squeeze just ONE more thing on the calendar) and recenter around the sanity of the Spirit, or as T.S. Elliot says, "the still point of the turning world."
Where ever life has taken you, whether in or out of our All Souls yoga community, I am so grateful for knowing you and for the integral part you've played in this great unfolding. May you be happy, may you be at peace, may you know that you're a beloved child of God.
Om Shanti, Peace be with You, Shalom.
As you may or may not have noticed I’ve been a little quieter these days, less excited about creating and posting the latest, greatest meditation or writing about the increasingly challenging adventures with my growing toddler.
The reality is that I’ve been in a dark, gooey, cocoony sort of place lately where everything that I once knew to be true seems to be crumbling out from underneath me. It’s like watching the tapestry of who I thought I was unwind: one thread at first and then several and then hundreds. Between uncertainty about my faith-practices, my fertility and my family’s future, I’m experiencing an all-hands-on-deck, code red kind of identity crisis.
And during this difficult season, instead of showing up authentically, it’s been easier to hide in my cave, pretending that all is well underneath my make-up mask and Vaseline smile (which, to be fair, is probably a wise evolutionary coping mechanism -- animal packs abandon the weird one, you know. It’s, like, a real thing that we mammals do to each other).
And what sucks is that I reaaaaaally love to tell you cutesy stories about the silly, inspirational things that my daughter says instead of my dark days in the cocoon. Light and fluffy and unicorny is better for business, or so they tell me.
So instead of arriving to this painful season, I’ve decided that it’s easier to just pretend that it’s not happening: to keep my headphones on and my music blaring as I shout “what cocoon, you guys?! I have NO IDEA what you’re talking about.”
Of course, it was in this Disneyland fantasy world that I, not surprisingly, found myself in a car accident: one that was painful enough to sit my ass down and cry out all of the tears that I had been holding in over the last few months.
It’s kind of a relief though, to have permission to say “I am hurting” out loud instead of pretending that I’m not.
But I have always been a scab-picker, dying to pick those babies off before their time, preferring to just strong-arm the shit out of my healing process, wanting it to unfold in my way and on my terms. But the emergence of spring plant life reminds me that I live in a universe that just… KNOWS… how to turn scabs into new skin and caterpillars into butterflies and embryos into babies and acorns into trees without my interference.
I can either let It work to heal and expand me or I can stubbornly cut myself off from Its Intelligently Divine Process. And so, because, whelp, the “do-it-myself” model got me into a traumatic car accident, I’ve had no other choice than to look upward, eyes full of tears saying “Okay, Partner. Show me the way.” And because God respects my free will, She either lets me try to design newer, stronger skin cells on my own (I am exhausted just thinking about that), or I can let go, relax into the process, and let Her do it for me.
Fighting the natural processes of God’s design has felt like swimming upstream -- way harder than heading straight into the turbulent water, knowing that I am surrounded by a team of angels, full of potential butterfly just waiting to emerge from the messy processes that lie ahead.
Wherever you are, whatever season you are in, I invite you to be still and know that God is good, that every challenge exists as an angel in disguise, spurring us into growth and expansion in a full-on, embodied way.
This week at Yoga Church we come together exactly as we are, perfectly imperfect, in whatever time and season we are in to connect with and trust in the Intelligent Spirit that is always leading us in the direction of our expansion, no matter how painfully beautiful the road may be.
Friends - it is my joy to gather with you tonight at All Souls to practice one of the most helpful techniques that I've been playing with: stillness and present moment awareness as the highest form of worship.
Personally, my life has been in major flux - lots of change and possibilities presenting themselves about where my life is going and how it will unfold. And boy-oh-boy, my mind is having a FIEEEEELD day jumping around like a wild monkey, thinking about all the things that could be, that would be, that should be, that might be. To be completely honest, it's kind of fun to let her go wild and fantasize her little monkey heart out in the beginning, but after awhile, that fun bouncy little thing turns into a monkey on crack -- thinking through all of the things that can go wrong - terribly, awfully wrong. Cracked out, bug-eyed, hyperventilating monkey usually ends with the conclusion that the world will end and I will be forgotten: left for dead, cold, alone and in misery.
Okayyyyyyy, maybe not that extreme, but usually, her story ends up being something similar to the apocalypse of my creation.
We live in a society that worships the head monkey, believing that thinking itself is the way out of any difficult situation or problem; however, my meditation and yoga practice have taught me the exact opposite -- that it's in the un-thinking place that the answers and guidance are revealed, one moment, one breath at a time.
If God is a living, breathing, moving organism of which I am a part, Her presence is right here, in this moment, Her guidance coming to me now and now and now, Her gentle movement like the flow of a stream that I can participate in or resist.
And while sometimes the 72 new books on spirituality I just bought from Amazon are helpful, most times they just get in the way of the perpetual and perfect the guidance of This Holy Moment.
This is why a contemplative practice of mindfulness that consistently grounds me into "what's true now" has been the highest form of worship lately. Because in it, I can feel that the living, breathing God within and around me is always directing me into perpetual resurrection one moment, one sensation, one breath at a time.
But if my body-mind-spirit instrument is bouncing around on-line shopping and Facebook browsing and email checking, playing with a huge list of what has been and what could be, I completely miss the guidance that's being offered to me in the Now.
This is one of the many reasons that we practice yoga: to tune into the present-moment-God-mind over and over again (which literally changes the functioning of the brain), so that when we enter that pivotal and intense moment where we used to clock out and let fear take over, the day will come when we choose to clock in -- to be with challenge and to face it head on do that really scary thing that we're called to do because we know we're guided to do it. Something bigger speaks through us, moves through us, lives through us, if only we can get still enough to let it.
Join me on the mat tonight to clear the mind and to ground into the Present Moment Reality which is holy, wise and unbelievable intelligent.
I have been desperately searching for my faith these days, and the constant chaos that clogs my newsfeed hasn’t made it an easy find. The once bright faith that spurred me out of my old life of addiction and shame has now worn off, asking to be matured as I enter adulthood more acutely aware of the troubled world around me than ever before.
Yoga and meditation (and the occasional Facebook detox ;)), though, have allowed me sweet moments of relief from this world, moments when I get a small glimpse into a Kingdom that is not of this place, one where I can feel the intelligence of a Loving Universe breathing through my breath, pulsing through my heart, living in my body.
I also get glimpses of it in nature, too, surrounded by the intelligent and awe-inspiring System of Life, which is why my daughter Maple and I have adopted a small obsession with “nature shows,” as we like to call them.
Last night we snuggled up with our latest pick, a BBC special called Great Migrations. The documentary follows and uncovers all of the many species who use their genetic antennae to lead them in an unending dance of brilliantly-ordered movement.
Last night’s episode focused specifically on a unique species of antelope, the white-eared kob, that only lives in and migrates through the vast National Parks of Sudan.
Sadly, due to decades of ruinous civil war, the animals were entirely annihilated, or so the scientists thought, completely decimated by guns and human hunger. My heart felt heavy as I witnessed the eternal desolation that came at the greedy and prideful hands of humankind.
Surprisingly though, years after the fighting had ended, a small herd appeared, a group of only 10 or so animals at first: the small few who had found a way to quietly survive during desolate times. Over time, the small herd multiplied -- first to a hundred, then a few more, then to over 100,000. Maple and I watched with tears in our (okay, my) eyes as the animals freely roamed in all their abundant glory, wild and free once again.
And its in the depths of meditation that I can find the same Life-Force energy in my own body: that the same resilient Spirit that rose the antelopes from the dead, is rising within me too, pushing me forward to shape the very nature of Life with my presence here.
I watch this Force pulsate through Maple as she tirelessly falls down and gets back up, and then learns to fall better, and then one day doesn’t fall much at all. I watch how she’s moved from a crawl to a walk to a run, not so much from my prompting, but more so from an innate place that is the fabric of her nature, too.
My ego-self likes to trick me into thinking that I am a culmination of the straightness of my teeth, the size of my jeans, the number of people who love me, or my current hairstyle. But yoga has taught me that, in fact, I am so much greater than I realize, that I am the very pulsation of Life, arising from the ashes of my ancestors, creating a springboard for my descendants with my every word, action, and movement.
Brene Brown has found, via years of research, that those who live Wholeheartedly (our area of focus this winter/spring) have the ability to “Cultivate a Resilient Spirit”, to find their innate ability to persevere in the face of the ever-shifting kaleidoscope of life, with belief that their presence here is not by chance, that they, too, are part of a larger web of Life.
What we will discover in Yoga Church tomorrow evening is that a resilient spirit is not something that can be taught, but something that is uncovered, like a hidden treasure buried underneath the very place on which you stand. Beyond the measuring stick of the Ego, you will find that are Divine Intelligence incarnate, refining and recreating Itself with every breath.
This gently grounding and stabilizing core-centered class will help you to feel that truth, the truth of who You are.
Last night I forced myself out of my comfort zone by going to a Women’s Christmas event at a local church with some women I met at the gym. I tried everything that I could to get out of going (since I’m a stay at home mom who lives in the sticks, I’ve turned into a painfully awkward, sweaty, fumbly-worded person when placed in situations that are out of my comfort zone).
But one of the ladies arranged a babysitter for Maple and a ride for me, and so, whelp, I had no choice which is how God usually pushes me into the places that I'd rather not go. And so I found myself headed into an arena of 3,000 women, smack-dab in the middle of a sea of “others” (their bumper stickers and casual jokes confirming the differences between us that I had suspected upon invitation).
I initially did the tin-man thing to protect myself, rigidly sitting with arms knotted and legs crossed, decidedly not talking too much (so as to keep both armpits and words in proper place). As the lights went down, my nerve-endings bounced wildly inside my armor. I tried to desperately find the centered, safe “middle space” that I can most readily access on my yoga mat, as I remembered that moments like these are always what the real yoga practice is about.
And every time that I was tempted to slip into my “Erin” costume, the one who was so acutely aware of how I felt "different" in dress, dogma, and politics, my still, small God voice would gently whisper: “I love them all as much as I love you, remember?”
With that urging from within, I took another deep breath, crawling out of my fearful monkey mind and into my body, back into the reality of what was happening in the present moment: beautiful music, heartfelt prayers, joyful tears, women singing and rejoicing and praising. From this centered and present place, I could see that, underneath their costumes, these women were seeking the same exact thing that I seek on my mat and at my church -- to know and experience Universal Love -- only with different rituals, doing it in different ways.
In fact, studies show that if you ask people of all different backgrounds what they really want from life -- whether homeless, rich, Muslim, Christian, black, white, or blue -- all humans will give the same answers: love, peace, happiness, meaning. Yep, you heard me right -- ALL HUMANS. How could this be so when our costumes feel so…. different?
There were several times during last night’s event that I furrowed my brow, wondering why I was called to be here instead of using the babysitter for a restorative yoga class, a pedicure, or even a Catholic mass -- places where I felt nourished and comfortable? What was the purpose of this, exactly? It's because here, God said, feeling your connection to the “others" you're so afraid of, is the holiest place on Earth.
Jesus, in fact, got quite a reputation, for hanging out with “others.” You could argue that he, actually, preferred being in these sweat-inducing places, hanging with Samaritans, loving up on lepers, welcoming the prostitute as friend. His life was spent loving and listening to and healing ALL groups which is what made him the bad*ss love warrior that we continue to gaze at with such awe 2,000 years later.
And if we are to take him as the pure Divine-Light Incarnate, the human who came to demonstrate how this whole God-of-the-Universe thing works, we are to see through his living example that Universal Love weaves itself in and out of the “other” places: between tribes, races, religions, and politics, never selecting who is worthy of healing and who isn’t, who is worthy of being heard and who isn’t, who is worthy of love and who isn’t. We are to see that, yes, in fact, we are one body, linked by a singular, unitive force, as opposed to the separate, angry, and fragmented tribes that we’ve convinced ourselves to be.
This reminded me of a time when my friend Kate took me, in my wild and newfound singledom, to a dance club on the northside of Milwaukee, where she and I were the only two white people in the place. At first the stifling rigidity of it all was nerve-wrecking, “them” looking at “us,” “us” looking at “them,” but after (more than) a few drinks and some good music, our costumes fell off, our shared desire to laugh, dance, and feel free much stronger than the illusion of our otherness. By the end of the night I had sloppily learned most of the club dances by heart thanks to some beautiful black soul sisters who took me under their wing: realizing, in yet another divine paradox, that we can be both different and yet the same. And the only place that realization happens is out of the comfort of our tribe, communing with the "other."
As I came home last night to process the holy purpose of this event, I realized that being with the "others" for three hours, hearing their perspectives and watching their rituals, was a gift that allowed me to see beyond my own costume and into theirs, only to see myself looking back at me -- to have an embodied experience of knowing that “they” and "I" are really quite the same, climbing up the same mountain on different paths, seeking the same Source from which we all came.
As Maple and I played in the snow among the trees today, I couldn’t help but notice that this weaving together is their way, too; the trees so non-judgmentally offering oxygen to everyone in my neighborhood -- not just my family, not just the believers or the non-believers, but all of us. Nope, they say. This Love is for everyone. Take it, use it, love and create and grow with it. And we will be happy.
2016 has been a hard season for a lot of us -- our differences glaring us in the eye more than ever before. But the trees seem to know the secret that we’ve long forgotten, that we are threads on an intertwined tapestry, all swimming in the same sea, breathing the same air, intricate parts of the All of Us puzzle, on a collective journey toward the light.
So whatever heaviness you are feeling, whether it’s the divisions among us or the impending indulgence of the Christmas season or the dark and chilly weather, take a deep breath and notice how the air keeps loving you and every other human glued to this beautiful blue/green ball, breath by breath, moment by moment. Remember that every season is only that -- a period in time that will not last forever. And that while you cannot change the world, you can change yourself, how you interact with whatever "others" are presenting themselves to you this season, and that's a pretty powerful thing. This is what I will celebrate this Christmas season, that the Christ Light of oneness comes again and again and again through my actions, my awareness, and my perspectives if I allow it to.
Happy holidays to you, friends, from my side of the mountain to yours.
This week my grandfather left his body and crossed over to the other side. It was beautiful and awful all at once.
I used to be afraid of watching people die, of the seemingly unbearable pain that inevitably comes from bearing witness to such deep and forever good-bye-ness, but my yoga practice has taught me to yoke (or unite) with all of life - the Good Fridays and the Easter Sundays, the winter and the summer - and to trust that God's in all of it, not just the cotton candy stuff.
So instead of full-on binging on wine and Facebook this week (although I did do my share of that, too ;)), I decided to keep showing up for Death as she entered my home and asked me to sit with Her for awhile. I let Her tear me open: weeping and mourning with Her, laughing and remembering.
And in the intermittent tranquility, between the painful contractions, I could see so clearly that Bob and Johanna were the dedicated master gardeners of our family compound, working and struggling together to bear fruit: fertilizing all 39 of us Earthly descendants with their love of food, their love of family, their love of life.
One of my teachers says it like this: there are two types of people -- the consumers and the farmers. She says that we all have a choice: which do we want to be? A vacuum of consumptive energy pulling inward or an abundance of fertile energy flowing outward? My grandparents consciously chose the later and the remarkable consequences of that choice are breathtaking.
As I enter this holiday season, with a small garden plot of my own and another teeny descendant sprouting up beneath me, I can see that this sacred time was never about the food or the stuff but more about the sacred energy and teachings that were delivered through those transient vehicles.
With every homemade meal grandma made and every dollar bill grandpa snuck in my pocket, with every not-that-great high school musical they attended and itchy-yet-beautiful christmas dress they purchased, they were planting seeds, seeds that said: you are seen, you are loved, now go and do the same for others. And if you study all 39 of us, we're messily and clumsily trying to do just that all because of them. It's gut-wrenchingly beautiful, what these two short human lives were capable of producing together.
So, while Shawn and I run around like headless chickens trying to prepare our first Thanksgiving feast, I feel Grandma and Grandpa everywhere, whispering to us from the other side: "Psssst! The food is only a decoy, remember? Love is what all this mess is really about. Breathe it in. Flow it out. Into your food, your words, your presence, your friends, your 'enemies.'" And I am so grateful for that.
May you take a deep breath into the present moment and savor the many small miracles unfolding in front you this holiday. May you receive God's love and farm it out wherever you go, through whatever vehicles you're called to use. Happy Thanksgiving, friends.
Take a deep breath into this difficult moment.
Sit with it long enough
to hear its personal invitation.
You who stand on the shoreline,
watching as life passes before you
… afraid to be in it,
afraid not to be …
step into the turbulent waters
and let them transform you.
Once you're in
you will Understand.
You will become familiar with Its way:
sometimes brutal and bloodthirsty
sometimes slow and still.
Most notably, you will stand witness to Its
Then, you will believe in Its power.
You will let Its wild way give birth
to a fearlessness within you
that could not have been unleashed
You will let your anger
show you what you stand for
and then you will
stand for that
by being it.
Behind your desk.
At the dinner table.
With everyone and no one.
Try not to waste your energy
throwing mud into a river
that you cannot understand
from the shoreline, my love.
Instead, join the process.
Watch it transform you,
watch as you
Last weekend my husband and I traveled down into central Florida for his 20th high school reunion. I was equal parts excited and nervous -- the word “high school” still triggering nauseating memories of the hair-raising four year competition for grades, popularity, and boys.
So with all of my insecurities stirred up, Shawn drops this dusey of a bomb: “you know, babe, word has it that my ex-girlfriend is going to be there.” He’s learned (from a similar misstep) to tell me these things in advance.
Now, let me be clear -- a lot has changed for me since high school. After a lot of therapy and a lot of yoga and a lot of prayer, I’ve gotten pretty good at this “loving my perfectly imperfect self” thing, more confident in the unique drummer who’s running the Erin show. But that insecure 16 year-old monster who doesn’t know her inherent worth still lives in a small cave on the back of my compound, at the ready in moments like these.
So when Shawn dropped this information right in the middle of the dinner table before heading to meet the gang, this monster -- who recently has made appearances at the gym, the company picnic, and upon seeing herself naked in the mirror -- awoke from her slumber.
“I have to go the bathroom,” I lied, as I promptly found my way to a full length mirror to ensure that my thrown-in-my-bag-without-thinking outfit looked as put together as I had hoped. I checked every tooth crevice for food, noticing the crooked and slightly browning ones with more disgust than an hour ago. I fluffed my hair and caked on another layer of mask as the monster stretched from her long nap in the pit of my stomach.
“What took you so long?” Shawn asked. “And what did you do to your face?” (He’s so good, like really really good at detecting and calling out my bullshit without even knowing that that’s what he’s doing.)
We walked from the restaurant to the bar, hand in hand, as I noticed my belly pooch (which ironically doubled in size over the last half hour) in the window reflections along the way.
Looking back now it’s hard to know exactly what stories I’ve been told about women, and myself, that have created this beast and why she believes that other women are her enemies, that her worth comes from the costume she's wearing, that life is a never-ending competition for the Prom ballot, but I’d like to bet that Walt Disney and the creators of Saved by the Bell have something to do with it.
We entered the scene and I immediately scanned the room to find nothing. I awkwardly made conversation with people I don’t really know about things that I don’t really care about, waiting for the “big moment” to arrive.
About two hours and three drinks later, I had tamed my monster (numbing her with alcohol as I so expertly learned to do in college) when I saw HER across the room: thick, beautiful dark hair, stunning blue eyes, and an air of confidence hanging around her like magic dust.
How did I know it was her, you ask? Oh yee of little Facebook experience, you have much to learn.
We did the half-look thing at each other a few times, my drunken monster now coherent enough to stay mostly aware of where she was in the room as I continued to talk to people I don't know about things that I don't care about.
We did an awkward dance around the bar a few times until there was no other way that we could avoid each other, acting as if this final point of contact had been - oh my GOSH! - totally random all along.
“Hiiiiiii, Liz! So nice to meet you,” I exclaimed, drunken monster now on high alert. I reached out for a handshake, to which she responded with a huge hug -- and not just a tap-tap-tap-on-your-back kind of hug, but the Mama bear kind, the kind that completely and totally bound us together, bosom to bosom; the kind that tucked our respective chins into our respective shoulder creases; the kind that says, I see YOU and I’m so grateful to meet you.
“Erin,” she said, as she pulled away to look me square in the eyes, “you are an answered prayer,” pulling me in for yet another intoxicating, I-really-mean-it hug. “I just want you to know that when Shawn and I broke up I prayed that another woman could love him well and here you are.” Insert yet another super awesome hug.
My eyes welled with tears of joy and relief as I told the monster that, no, no darling, you won’t be needed here any longer. I took another deep breath and let Liz’s magic take over me once more as I morphed from scared, crazed monster back into the perfectly-imperfect Love Warrior at my core, the good witch that I really am beneath my mask.
Like glittery smoke, words of love and light flowed freely from my mouth as I shared my gratitude for HER, explaining that I know full well that every woman who came before me has prepared Shawn for our marriage, feeling relieved that I could genuinely match Liz’s beauty and grace so swiftly.
For the rest of the night, to Shawn’s delight, Liz and I were attached at the hip. We talked about Being the Light, about her ministry with the elderly, about our favorite band, and who we used to be in high school. We were in the same club now, sisters, sharing and laughing and dancing together, bound by the nectar of love and respect as opposed to separated by the toxicity of fear and self-doubt.
This woman made the choice to work her miraculous Love magic upon me, reminding me once again, why the story of my Main Man, the Miracle Worker (aka the Big J or Jesus the Christ), speaks to me so fully and completely. If you don't know it well, this man boldly walked into every effed up, frazzled, falling apart situation and just TRANSMUTED the whole damn place with nothing but a huge-ass magic Love wand.
As a cradle Catholic I was taught that we are supposed to just sit around taking communion, analyzing and talking about how great He was, but instead, I think, He wants us to do the opposite. He wants us to stop watching and to start doing, to get up and DO AS HE DID, carrying our little magic Love wands wherever we go, using them in the classroom, the old home, the dental chair, the gas station, and the dinner table, to light up this darkening scene one tiny act of magic at a time, just as this badass woman warrior did for me.
When we realize that we are all children of God, worthy of love and belonging, and that we are all on the same team, that there's no "us vs them" just one big US, we free ourselves from these terrifying games of prom queen and king, honors-student and dropout, ex-girlfriend and wife, Republican and Democrat: games that separate and divide us instead of binding, connecting, and holding us together.
What if we could all be LIZ, praying for our “enemies” and loving our sisters, no matter who they are or what their story, knowing that we belong to each other and that these small collective acts are the only way that we will heal the big Trump-sized monsters of the world?
The world needs our collective powers more than ever and here, my friends, is the secret that nobody knows: they activate when we can look into the eyes of our sister, and see ourselves looking back at us.
I can feel it starting to happen again -- the darkening of the morning, the falling of tiny leaves, the browning of plant matter: everywhere I look I see that life is starting to pull away from us again, that the end of a season is here.
This week I sat in my first yoga studio on her dying day as a participant in the final class of her life. As I settled into meditation, I saw all of the former versions of Erin like shadows walking in and out of that space, tears pooling in my eyes and rolling down my face as I reflected on all of the gifts that she gave me, especially during the peak of my depression when I was coming 2-3x per week. With each practice, my downy wings strengthened and I’d venture out into the world to try flying on my own, always knowing she was there, ready to be a landing pad when it got too hard.
As I got more and more comfortable in my own skin, I needed the studio less and less. I met my husband and we moved out of the city to start a new life in the country together, no longer dependent on the studio's life support. But when I got word of the diagnosis, that this was the end, I knew I had to make it to say my goodbyes and thank her before she left us. As I lay in savasana, my teacher reminded me that what was happening to her is simply a part of the natural paradigm: that all things, whether we’d like to admit it or not, will end and crumble. "This, students, is how it works: the seedling of an idea, the bearing of great fruit, and the end of a cycle."
But because I live in a world of stainless steel, organ transplants, and lifetime warranties I’d rather trick myself into believing that somehow this “all things go” concept doesn’t apply to me -- that I can say “ummm, yes to everything except to that part, God, please and thank you.” But lately, everywhere I look I can see traces of endings and somehow feel God saying “sorry, kid, this applies to you, too.”
In one week’s time I will head to Uganda for the third time, representing the international outreach program at our church. I used to get excited for these trips, for the adorable pictures I’d get of me and innocent little African kids, for the interesting stories that I would tell, for all the attention and adoration that I’d get for *saving the world.* But three trips in is enough to kick my foolish ego shit to the curb, enough to teach me that dropping down into a post-war world living in third world poverty is not a photo-op or a silly game or something to brag about.
The cliche is true: that *mission work* rattles and shakes and transforms the giver more than anyone. For me, the greatest transformation happened as I sat with people who are well aware of the death paradigm, witnessing the dying of crops to drought, the dying of a culture to war, the dying of their children to slavery, and -- shocker of all shockers -- continue to believe in Go(o)d. And not just a “check-the-Sunday-box-get-your-cookie-and-leave” kind of Go(o)d, but a Living One that gets them up in the morning because they know that from ashes something better will always rise, that death isn’t the end, but the beginning of God’s plan for something else.
But in my steel and plastic westernized mind, I’ve learned that endings are to be avoided at all costs, that every wound needs my immediate fixing, that seeing destruction means that I have to stop it, at whatever cost, and however I am able, that it's both my job and responsibility to play God and *save the world* all by myself.
When I landed there five years ago, the hardest part for me was seeing the masses of orphaned children. It was like walking into the ER, witnessing a big huge artery, wide open, bleeding all over the room. And so, true to my nature, I grabbed the first band-aid in sight, believing that I could stop the blood from escaping all by myself. But what I’m learning is that with a wound as big as orphaned children suffocating from PTSD, you’re gonna need a lot more than little Erin hands - you’re gonna need about ten more doctors, an industrial sized band-aide, and a healthy immune system to heal something like that.
When Shawn, my husband, first went to Uganda, he sat in the middle of the bloody mess, just loving people and listening to them, until he heard, several years in, that helping the people to start a small business could really change things. And through this process of listening and waiting and moving with the current, the business was born with great success, with a healthy prognosis, a strong body and all of the right doctors -- builders, financial planners, managers, engineers, operators -- coming to support the birth. Because Shawn’s work stemmed from a listening to and moving with, instead of a guilt-infested quick-fix, it is alive and well.
But because I’ve tried to hold the wound of orphaned children closed all by myself, with a generic brand band-aid, and a failing immune system, the prognosis is not looking good. Not miserable -- more like experiencing slow blood loss that, if not attended to soon, has about a three year life expectancy.
What I’m realizing is that when things start to die, I immediately go into my shame cycle, having been taught that when something goes wrong, it’s my fault, that if only I would have just ________________, this NEVER would have happened. But lately God’s telling me otherwise: that death, my dear, can’t be avoided. It’s part of the deal. And if you wait around long enough, you’ll see that it’s never really the end.
And this is why I’m so emotional about going to Uganda this time. Because the band-aid is sopping wet and leaking all over the place, the blood isn’t clotting, and it’s clear that the body isn’t working right. There’s blood on my hands and pools of it on the floor all around me and - I know this will come as a surprise to you - I’m realizing that... I’m just… not God.
I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to resuscitate dying things like jobs and friendships and romantic relationships and every single time I’ve found that when it’s time has come to an end, no matter what I do, it’s just not going to happen. Surrendering to the completion of these cycles has allowed me the gift of witnessing new jobs and friends and partners spring up from the dead things -- I see now that surrendering to the process while believing in the possbility of new life is maybe this whole "faith" thing is all about.
So I have no idea what the hell’s going to happen when I step into the operating room next week. I’m trying to remember that yes, miracles are possible, and the body may start to respond to the treatment, but I also have to be realistic enough to know that I alone cannot (((and should not))) try save the world, that death is part of this whole chaotically beautiful *life* thing I signed up for, and that, when it happens, it’s never the end of the story.
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.
Yoga Teacher and Student, Speaker, Writer, Mother, Wife, Friend, Daughter, Sister, Human