Reflecting on Easter

It’s Easter eve, and our family is in the parking lot of In & Out Burger. It’s closed. I guess Easter is an actual holiday in some places!

For our family, Easter was a holiday that kind of snuck up on us. To be slotted between soccer games and work trips and birthday parties. This, compared to Christmas – that we anticipated for weeks and weeks before! Of course, the Easter bunny can’t even compare with Santa Claus and the bounty beneath the tree.

I realized something though too after watching a powerful Easter drama at our church – I blog about it here for the women’s ministry. If Christmas is heart-opening, then Easter is heart-wrenching.

Blood and gore at it’s core, Easter’s about God meeting us in our messy, dark places with a promise of healing. Even in the parking lot of In & Out Burger. Even when it’s closed.

That, and chocolate bunnies are fantastic.

Walk as One Beloved

Today is Good Friday.

It’s the day that the Bible talks about Jesus’s death, before his resurrection. For many Christians, this is the most somber day of the year – a testament to the amount God loves us, to sacrifice his son for us.

Despite being brought up believing in God, I’ve struggled a lot with the Jesus part. Was he a real person? (I’ve come to believe he was a real historical person). Can I really believe in something as far-fetched as a virgin birth, and then, a resurrection?

And perhaps even more fundamentally, do I believe in a God that loves me so radically?

I’ve been reading this book that is spinning me in circles of delight this week – “Life of the Beloved” by Henri Nouwen. He reminds me that God has these words for us, ultimately and most importantly:

You are my Beloved.

It’s hard to hear this voice, especially above the negative voices inside our own head. Writes Nouwen, “I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity or power, but self-rejection…Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us ‘Beloved’. Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence.”

Sha-zam! I actually tried this during this week. Meeting with clients I reminded myself that I have nothing to prove – I’m already the beloved! It definitely took off any pressure I had on myself to perform, or as Nouwen says “prove that I am worth something.”

Walk in the world as one Beloved.

This takes practice. And it also takes people and places to help us. This is one of the reasons I love going to church – not because I am perfect, or because I believe with certainty – but because there, I am reminded that I am beloved by a great God, just as I am – imperfect, filled with doubt, and trying to move closer to Spirit.

We need help to remember that we are uniquely Beloved.

If you’re feeling the tug this week – step into a synagogue or a church or a temple and celebrate the radical love of God. No prerequisites or faith required. And if you’re in San Francisco, check our Cornerstone’s unique creative Easter drama – it is fantastic.

Good Friday.

Winning the Race

If you’ve seen me in the last two weeks, you’ve probably heard me tell you the story of my “first race.” I laugh at myself every time I think about it (in that deep, pleasurable, generous way). Those of you who have seen my competitive spirit will appreciate this! Two weeks ago I reluctantly entered my first running race. It was a fundraiser for Alopecia Areata, the autoimmune disease I have that has caused me to lose most of my hair “Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow.”

When the flyer came in the mail, I saved it but didn’t sign up right away. I guess I wasn’t ready to start alerting my friends and get them to “fundraise” for my cause. Maybe it still felt too personal. Plus I had the excuse of having a soccer game later that day so I couldn’t likely run without tiring myself out.

Then the week of the race approached, and my soccer game was canceled. No more excuses!

Plus it was a 3 mile race. Me and the Tuesday/Thursday ladies had been doing that, and then some. I was ready.

It was starting to drizzle on Saturday, and I showed early to register. I kept my hat on, but I kept looking for others who had no hair. Where were they? In this crew, I didn’t want to stand out but I was also looking for solidarity. No baldies in sight on this blustery day. I saw a woman a few years older than me (full of hair, no less) doing some serious stretches.

This immediately got my ears pricked up a little. If you don’t know this about me yet, I’m a bit competitive. Well, a lot competitive.

You see, this was the first year of this fundraiser, and there didn’t appear to be many people running. Most of the crew had strollers and big jackets and seemed to be doing the walking distance.

Plus it was only three miles.

I started near the front, and I decided I wanted to keep the younger, fast woman in the lead within my sights. A half mile in, I stripped off my warm cap and passed the serious stretching lady.

A mile in, I decided I was going to win this thing. Someone with Alopecia should win this race, to show that this disease doesn’t hold us back from some serious athletic achievement. And of course that someone was me.

Two miles in, I realized we weren’t even close to 2/3 of the way around the small lake. It hit me with a sledgehammer that this was a 5 mile race and not a 5k.

I kept running.

I got passed by two lean, fast men. I tried to keep up with a couple other younger runners.

In a burst of inspiration, nearing what I thought was the final parking lot, I passed ahead of them and enthusiastically called that we were almost there!

We weren’t.

They passed me again.

I didn’t win. That would have been nice right? But I finished pretty darn fast if I do say so myself.

Anyone want to practice all year with me on the lake course? I’ve got a victory in my future. 🙂

Delight

The word delight has come up a lot in what I’ve been reading lately, including a chapter from Tattoos on the Heart, a quick and compelling read by Gregory Boyle and his work with LA gangmembers.

After spending a truly delightful week with my toes in the sand and my body in the water, I reflected on my friend who now has her own pool! and who admits doesn’t swim in it daily. After spending a half-second thinking I would swim every day I realized that a source of my delight – walks in nature – lies literally right outside my door, and that many days often go by without a walk in my beloved canyon.

I ripped myself away from the computer in the middle of a workday and took a walk in the midday sun.

Moment of delight.

What delights you? What are the moments you can take now, today?

Here’s a poem I wrote about delight, taking a phrase from a beloved poem by an author I need to look up and cite here:

“This is enough, and still there is more.”

Delight, by Megan Himan

 

Seeing the sun set from an airplane window

Feeling the nuzzle of a smooth nose into my neck

Looking up to see a sea turtle swimming past

Closing my eyes and feeling the warm sun on my skin

Reading those words and laughing, again, at their absurdity and truth

Listening to the hum of my child lost in building his creation

Running, just because I can

 

This is enough, and still there is more.

 

A dog’s tail, wagging

Clicking fingernails against the keys

A happy, five-year-old booty shake

The song that makes me sing along

Cherries that stain my fingers.

A pause.

 

This is enough, and still there is more.

Start where you Are

Eight years ago, when I was floundering in my faith and just my sense of self and grounding, I felt a distinct message bubble up to the surface: “Start where you Are.”

At that time, that meant start literally where I was – within a few blocks’ radius to my apartment in urban San Francisco.

I went to a yoga studio a block away, moved my body, and heard the teacher retell the story of the prodigal son before class.

I worked up the courage to step into a church two blocks away, where people looked engaged and happy coming out the door after Sunday services.

Start where you are. Every journey begins with a small step.

“Start Where You Are” is the title of a book I read many years ago, and that I’m re-reading now. It’s written by a well-known female Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron.

I’m slowly working my way through the many nuggets of wisdom here, and I am deeply moved. My library copy is underlined in parts, and for me that makes it all the more sweet.

She starts with self-compassion.

Compassion for others begins with compassion for ourselves. – Pema Chodron

Actually she starts with an even greater truth: that “we already have everything we need” and that our basic wealth and brilliance is there no matter to what bad behaviors and thoughts we cling. As a Christian I translate it like this: we are wonderfully made in God’s image – profoundly loved – and secure in the knowledge that nothing can separate us from God and God’s grace.

I was sitting at the bus stop and started talking to a man in his 30s, after he remarked on how much he liked my hair. After I told him “this is how God made me” (my new standard answer when someone asks me about my Alopecia) and no, it’s not cancer, he took off his hat and showed me his head full of gray. He shyly admitted that his friends had suggested he start dying it but he was hesitant to do so.

He asked if I worried about what other people thought, including my friends and family.

“No”, I answered immediately. It was hard at first, I went on, but it’s just the way I am, and since I have no control over this, I can’t care that much what other people think.

The truth of my struggle only came to me later. I wish I had the insight and vulnerability to share with him then. But now there is this:

I don’t care about the looks of strangers. I walk around proudly with my bald(ing) head, without being ashamed or covering up with a hat. Yet when I come home at the end of the day, and catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I am still surprised. And I struggle, not with what other people think of me, but what I think of myself. Am I beautiful, just the way I am?

Start with self-compassion.

God on My Shoulder

I felt God on my shoulder today.

As I walked through my day, I encountered person after person that I knew I was supposed to meet. In an earlier time, I would have chalked it all up to coincidence. But I’ve been walking, crawling, stumbling and running along this faith journey for some time now – and if there’s one thing I believe, it’s that those coincidences were meant to be.

First I walked out of our church after volunteering with the toddlers for a few hours (great when they aren’t your own!) and literally ran into my old neighbor who is days away from giving birth to her second child. She’s apprehensive, and I hope I gave her words of encouragement and peace. I felt like I was meant to speak to her to give her a boost.

Then I ran into a second old neighbor – who is gaining increasing recognition for his art but struggling with a lack of a steady income.

I ran into another friend of a friend, weighing what it means to be a working mom and split between two roles.

And ultimately, I rode the Bart home with an older man named Steve, who asked me about my hair, and seemed genuinely moved by my decision to tell him of my grief and ultimate gratitude for this journey that has brought me closer to God. He asked me what church I went to (Cornerstone), and he’d thought many times about going there but was concerned about the neighborhood. He felt like God was tugging him back from some bad habits.

I’m from Minnesota, and there are a few commonalities about these amazing folk: one, there’s lots of church and synagogue attendees there and two, no one really talks much about their faith.

You see, talking about God on the Bart train doesn’t come easy to me. I know other people in my small groups over the years who have prayed for the chance to share their faith with others. Not me! Faith, in my upbringing, is meant to be private. And so, I was kind of shocked by myself and the circumstances to be having such a poignant, natural conversation with someone who clearly was in pain and seeking something.

God on my shoulder.

I’m still reflecting on the day, and how many opportunities God threw at me to be a light to others. And it felt good. Things and conversations just happened.

So what was I doing today that was so different from my usual, rushed, focused self?

1) I was resting. This shouldn’t be a big surprise. I took the day off my professional work, and made plans to spend the day doing things for myself.

2) I wasn’t rushing.

I planned enough time between appointments that when I had those divine meetings I settled in and let it happen, and didn’t feel the perfectionist-tug of not wanting to be late to the next thing.

3) I was taking care of my body.

This actually surprises me the most. After volunteering with the toddlers (which, now that my sons are in school, always gives me a boost), I planned a dentist appointment and then a massage to help my immune system. I think God wants us to take care of ourselves – not in a mind-numbing watch 5-hours straight of TV or go splurge on new clothes sort of way – but in a truly life-giving sort of way. It’s hard for me to even schedule sometimes, but today was such a present reminder that taking care of myself will bring me closer to God and the work that God has for me in this world. And no doubt, I’ll feel better and more energetic too!

Words that Stand the Test of Time

In some ways, blog posts are like whispers in the wind. The feelings, real as they are, might pass and move on tomorrow. And yet some truths remain unchanged throughout my moods, and the passing of day to day.

I’m reading this book by a leading contemporary author that had “Meditations” in the title.

Mostly they are letters that are her reactions to contemporary events. Yet by the time this book has been published, those events are now eight years past.

Despite loving this author’s work in general, I’m struggling with this book. I honestly don’t want to hear her musings or letters on political events that happened eight years ago. I can barely focus on critique and commentary of events happening today.

I’ve realized that I’m searching for books that have withstood the test of time for meaning and relevancy.

After putting it aside for many months, I finally picked up my Bible again last week. Written by countless authors, thousands of years ago, over many thousands of years, it is chock full of interesting stories and letters.

I am also looking for other timeless books, both spiritual and otherwise.

Can anyone recommend a book that they’d recommend on parenting, self-reflection, meditation, or faith that they read and again and again over time? Post them in the comments!

Gripped by Grief

Tonight I almost couldn’t bear to write.

It was easier to think about starting on the piles of laundry, and losing myself in a British period-piece miniseries (there are some other great ones out right now for those mourning the end of Downton Abby).

Tonight I’m wrecked by grief. It’s logged in my throat and my chest. Like a potato I’ve swallowed whole and can’t seem to dislodge.

Only this grief isn’t about what I’ve lost. It’s about what’ I’ve got to lose.

I guess fear could be closer to the word. I feel this sinking feeling of something slipping away, and I’m grieving my life without it. Only I haven’t lost anything yet.

That’s the worst part of it – to be sitting with this potato! – and wondering whether I’m gripped by irrational anxiety, or my better intuition.

A friend recommended the book “A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art you Were Made to Live.” There are many, many gems in here about how we are all artists in this life. This week I was moved by what Emily Freeman says about grief:

Grief does deep, important, sacred work. We have to pay attention to what grieves us and be willing to be fully human, both in what makes us come alive and what has the capacity to shut us down. What breaks our heart reminds us of what is deeply important to us. It is often from this place that our most beautiful, honest, generous art comes. (Freeman, A Million Little Ways)

And in the end, I know that this is truth: to be human is to sometimes be heartbroken. And what a gift this is! That we can soar with love and gratitude so fierce that we feel loss equally deeply when it comes.

So I breathe. Already the potato has moved down from my chest, into my upper stomach. By tomorrow morning it may be gone. And I’ll be standing in church singing of God’s love for me that embraces all this grief, all this joy, and everything in between. And how awesome is that.

Asking for What I Need

I witnessed an awkward exchange on the plane last week.

A woman coming on the plane, to woman sitting in the aisle seat.

“Do you mind sitting in the window?”

The response – “Actually, sometimes I feel a little sick.  I don’t really want to move.”

And then, looking at her ticket – “Actually I’ve got 7C [the aisle]”

Confusion and apologies followed.

It’s so much easier to see the obvious in others’ lives – it would have been better? more straightforward? if she had just stated her needs plainly: “It looks like I’ve got the aisle seat” instead of dancing around the issue.

Sometimes, when I finally get around to the (revolutionary, for me) act of stating my needs they are so pent up that the come out in awkward, resentful missives.

But I’m practicing. Often the hard part is figuring out what I need in the moment, so I can be comfortable, healthy and present for the people around me. I still have a hard time returning food in a restaurant. But with my family and loved ones and colleagues, I’m taking some slow steps to state the obvious when I really care about the outcome.

I’ve got the aisle seat!

The Hard Work of Being Deliberate

I wrote this post last weekend, on an airplane. Here’s to being deliberate!

I’m on a plane back to San Francisco, and since it’s Saturday, I’m cautiously continuing my Sabbath experiment with no media use for the day.

Only I’m flying on Virgin America – with those nifty seat-back media screens – and I’ve had to press the off button no less than four times in the first hour of the flight. It seems the pesky thing keeps turning itself on again – tempting me with a movie or a distraction from the sitting still with my own thoughts for hours at a time.

I’m realizing that’s the way it is with anything worth doing. That it’s not just a decision in a moment in time, but a steady pressing of the off button to what the world wants me to do, versus what’s right for me in this moment. Like cleaning my desk! I gear up to spend hours to get it done, and then a week later – it needs maintenance. Continued attention.

My friend Andjana sent me a New York Times article about the The All or Nothing Marriage today. The jist is this: people today have the possibility of more satisfying and enriching marriages than ever in history – but marriages take more work than ever before. The connection and work and loyalty of a shared life isn’t something that can be taken for granted in a mutual need of each other  – but is something that must be invested in, or lost.

I just finished a great novel “The Story of  a Marriage” by Andrew Greer.  It’s full of twists and turns and is set in San Francisco which is fun. But ultimately it’s the story about relationships, love and passion and the movements in a long span of life that define us.

So I’ll keep pressing the off button today. Only four more hours to go!