asking for help, pacing myself and other life lessons

“it is better to travel well than to arrive.”
-Buddha

about a month ago, i left my full-time, all-consuming job with a winery to pursue and fine-tune some dreams that have been brewing deep inside of me.  namely, yoga and natural health.  my schedule has lightened and is much more determined by me.  my income sources have also lightened, so i’ve added “selling Pampered Chef” to my list of fun endeavors.  all of this has left me on somewhat uneven ground, tilting back and forth as i try to find my sea legs and steady myself again.

a few of my less than shiny character traits have begun to rear their little heads during this time of transition.

recently, my shoulder has begun to hurt.  a deep, burning ache that happens when i’m using the computer or driving and especially after an intense yoga class.  feeling discouraged, i resolved to try harder.  until one day, after class, my arm ached all afternoon.  through two movies and lunch and shopping.  ache, ache, ache.  i hesitated to ask anyone, afraid i would need to lay off of yoga and all the things i’ve been working on. finally, i asked a teacher at the studio if i should just take a break.

“no,” she said, “not necessarily.  you may just be doing something wrong.  you should have a teacher look at your form.”  my relief at being able to keep practicing was short-lived as i considered asking someone to not only watch me practice yoga, but also to offer critique.

i’ve always been incredibly insecure about my “performance” in just about any area of my life.  in an effort to avoid commentary, i strive to do better than any expectations, to wow people before they can decide i’m not good enough or don’t have the skill.  asking for someone to help me see what i couldn’t felt less like help, and more like judgement.

nevertheless, i knew i needed help and it wasn’t going to happen spontaneously.  after class yesterday, i asked my teacher to come over, to watch me.  a couple other students, overhearing my request and having similar questions, stood by.  despite my fears, she listened and offered suggestion, noting my form and how my lack thereof was likely contributing to the pain.  she gave me some exercises to gain strength and i felt humbled.  in one of the best of ways.  humbled that another human would handle my request for help with gentleness and respect.

another character trait that has been known to both help and hurt is my “all or nothing” modus operandi.  “all or nothing” people are great and have a lot to offer.  they go after goals with tenacity and perseverance.  they are passionate and driven and, for lack of a better phrase, get shit done.  but “all or nothing” people are surprisingly fragile, susceptible to burn out and running themselves into ground.

that’s where i found myself in my last work position.  i accepted a job that had long been neglected and was in need of serious, deliberate attention.  i called it my wild stallion.  and initially, i enjoyed it despite the exhausting hours and sleepless nights.  but over time, it took its toll as i worn down more and more.  until i finally had to call it quits.

now, in my new season, i find the drive revving back up and my desire to hit the road running have kicked in.  especially in the area of Pampered Chef, especially after our spring conference last weekend.  i came back convinced i would be a director by July, setting my sites on that goal and going hard after it.

the yoga fell into the shadow of this dream, as did my studying for naturopathy.  suddenly Pampered Chef became the destination, not the vehicle.  i’ve joked that it feeds my need for instant gratification, as my dreams for yoga and natural health are things that will take years to attain.

this is not to say i’m quitting Pampered Chef or anything, as my “all or nothing” personality tends to dictate.  but i do need to put it back into its place, to realign my perspective.  i want to do PC well, to succeed and make money, but it’s not my life’s calling.  it’s not that thing that’s recently awoken within me.  it’s the vehicle for getting there and, who knows, may just pay for all my future dreams.

needless to say, life is busy here.  like the winter, i find my life is in a bit of still hardness. soon the soil will be tilled, the seeds planted, the baby plants growing and thriving and putting off fruits to nourish little bodies.  but for now, it is slow and hibernating and the perfect place to learn big life lessons with gentleness and humility.

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awaken my soul

i walked into a coffee shop in Grand Rapids, MI, content to know no one.  to sip a delectable latte and study for a couple hours.  in town for work, i had nowhere to be and no one to demand my time until 3p.

within just a few minutes of finding a spot to settle in, i heard my name from a voice behind me.  i turned, not sure who could know me in this city, only to find an old friend from college days.  he was actually a friend i knew through an ex-boyfriend, and he had transferred to another school after our freshman year.  we saw each other off and on over the next few years, as our paths crossed in various ways, but that would have to have been nearly 8 years ago.

of course, the natural questions came forth and i quickly learned that he doesn’t live here either, but is fundraising to move his family to Spain for mission work.  i always find in these situations that i have so many questions and an eager desire to know what the other person is up to, that i don’t share much about myself.  even when asked.  so i briefly mentioned that i was in the city for work, but at the coffee shop to study.  then i went back to asking about him.

but he persisted, and i found my pulse quickening and my eyes brightening as i explained my desire to study naturopathy and natural healing options, as well as go through yoga teacher training, and my hope to combine the two.

and then i said something i wish i could recapture and put in a bottle, to carry around with me at all times.

i said, “it’s one of those things that just makes me feel alive and excited every time i think about it.  i think we need to pay attention to that, because that’s how we know what we’re supposed to offer to world.”  he nodded emphatically, and smiled, and got excited with me.

as a young person, i thought passion about life was a given, and i watched older people with quick judgment about the dutiful lives they seemed to live, committed and busy, but without much true passion.  i took that passion for granted, as i went to school and bought  cars and bounced from one idea to another.

but somewhere along the way, slowly but surely, my overabundance of passion began to dim.  and now here i sit, feeling slightly jaded about life, wondering if anything could ever feel “new” again, could make my blood race with excitement and passion.  dramatic perhaps, but these have been the honest workings of my mind lately.

then an old friend pops up in a coffee shop in a strange city, and asks what i’m up to.

the thing about “distance learning” is that i could legitimately go through my entire study without talking about it.  i could slink about with my textbook and highlighter, and do my thing in the corner where no one could see.  where no one could ask what it is i’m studying, or why.  they could never hear my heart for the subject, and worse, neither could i.

so, a friend walks into my world, and asks that simple question, and without thought i spew off a stream of thoughts about what i’d really like to be doing, how i’d really like my life to look, and feel that passion bubbling up under the surface just as in days of old.  and i feel a ray of sunshine peep through gray snow-filled clouds, as if to say that Spring is on it’s way, and keep going because all this is a sign that you’re on the right path.

afterall, we are all created to offer something beautiful to the world, to awaken others to live their lives wholly and fully.  but we can only know that by finding that thing that makes us feel awake and alive, and chasing it with all we have.

looking for a sign

i have to start this post with 2 disclosures.
1. i haven’t prayed in a loonngg time.  and 2. i’m not really a person for “signs.”

that being said, i experienced both yesterday and it pivotal.

let’s back up a bit.

i’ve been thinking for awhile time, but even moreso in the last 6 months, that i’ve wanted to pursue some further education in the natural health field.  i did an intense batch of research back in February/March timeframe and settled on the school and program i wanted to pursue.  what i didn’t settle on was the financial solution.  so i put everything on hold until i could remedy my finances a bit and carve out the money needed to begin.  i set my goal for August and moved on, carrying the packet of information on this program with me regularly, pulling it out every now and then to remind me of my real focus.  my true north.

then August came.  and went.  and the money wasn’t really there like i expected.

but September was different.  September saw a bonus that would comfortable cover the initial down payment.  September saw me really have to wrestle with, literally, putting my money where my mouth had been for so many months.  i would get incredibly close to enrolling in the program, only to find myself shirking back in fear.  i wrestled with my hesitation, and what i would tell someone else in my position.  coaching myself to take a risk and follow my heart and all that cliche’d nonsense that is actually really good advice.  i told anyone who would listen about my struggle but internally i would feel an overwhelming chorus of “YES” anytime i considered the program or read the course descriptions.

and then i decided to try something different.  i decided to try prayer.

ever since leaving the church earlier last year, i’ve avoided any of the old practices i used to observe, needing a deep separation from anything that reminded me of that world.  it’s not that i’ve felt prayer to be bad; i’ve just not felt overwhelmingly convinced of who or what i was praying to, of what exactly was out there to receive my prayers, and even to the extent of what would want to even interact with us enough to want to answer our prayers.

i wouldn’t have even considered the option had i not been to visit with a spiritual guide of sorts, who’s first piece of advice was the practice of meditation.  his suggestion was simple: use meditation to pray, be specific and come with questions you want answered, and, if necessary, ask for a sign.  he mentioned feathers and butterflies or anything else that might serve as validation.

so yesterday morning i sat down, crossed my legs and closed my eyes.  i began to slow my breathing and focus my thoughts.

“ok,” i said with some skepticism.  “ok, whoever you are out there, tell me…should i start this program?  that’s what i want to know.  and send me a sign…a sign of….” my brain immediately thought “turtle,” my rational self thought that was silly.  still, “turtle” kept coming back to mind, over and over.  “ok,” i said, “show me a turtle.  if you think i should do this program.  show me a turtle.”

it was all i could do to remember to find a turtle.  i was on a business trip and busy with different activities and had to keep reminding myself to find a turtle in a place that was not really known to have turtle inhabitants.

towards the afternoon, on a walk across the island we were on, a sign caught my eye.  it looked exactly like one we had seen in the Florida Keys so i walked over to it, only to find this:

tortugas

that’s right, the bar was called “Tortugas,” the spanish word for “Turtles.”  it was not altogether obvious, lost in so many other messages.  but it was there nonetheless.

it was my sign.

but truth be told, it was really just an affirmation of what i already knew to be true.  that’s the thing about signs.  they really just help you to have the courage to choose the path you’re already on, to give you the confidence you need to put your foot out and take that risk.  it minimizes the hives and hyperventilation you feel when thinking about jumping off that cliff.

i registered for that program this evening, and will be starting a Doctor of Naturopathy as soon as they accept my application. happy to finally replace the debilitation of fear with the exhilaration of excitement; thankful for whoever or whatever is out there that sent “tortugas” to nudge me forward.

new perspective/the pursuit of truth

the last thing you could really call me lately is contemplative.  i’ve been obsessed with winning a skydiving package (go here to vote! . . .sorry, had to plug it), dealing with high drama in the man department, exploring options for my next life adventure, and running like mad trying to get the next art exhibit set up.

all the while, Lent is passing me by.

Lent comes out of the Catholic tradition and so is, in very nature, meant to be a contemplative time, a cleansing and preparation for the death and subsequent resurrection of Christ.  it is a time to reflect on our own death and rebirth.  it is a season of deep introspection.

i’ve been attending a Lent-focused yoga series and our focus today was “new perspective.”  as our instructor intimated, Lent is a time for taking inventory of life, identifying those things that no longer serve us, and letting them go.  this is definitely a season of that for me, to the point where every direction i turn, there seems to be a new perspective on myself, a new confidence in how I was wired, a new way of believing in myself to make decisions i need to make.

one of these great revelations is that i’m bored.

i learned a little one never to utter these words in the presence of my parents.  “if you can’t find something to do, I’ll give you something,” my parents would warn.  and it was never good.  like one of the recent episodes of my favorite show, Modern Family, i could easily find myself cleaning the cupboards or doing some other undesirable activity.  so, i’ve learned to restrain my honesty in that area.

but i am.  i am unchallenged in many areas of my life, especially vocationally and environmentally.  i enjoy what i’m doing and LOVE my city, but still…i yearn for something bigger, for new experiences.

new perspectives.

in my Lent reading for today, i came across this beautiful passage:

it’s who you are and the way you live that count before God.  your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth.  that’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship.
-john 4:23, the message

the pursuit of truth.

what does this mean?

for me, it means not accepting the black & white, this is right/that is wrong response.  it means testing the boundaries, trying something new, making mistakes.  looking in unexpected places.  putting my foot over the edge to see if there’s a path (catch the Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade reference??).  being willing to get my hands dirty.

because the pursuit of truth is messy.  and risky.  and may involve some pain.

but it is so beautiful.

one of my favorite Jewish parables is told in the movie, Then She Found Me (fantastic movie).  in fact, that’s where i heard.  it goes as such:

There is a Jewish story, an ordinary Jewish joke.  A father was teaching his little son to be less afraid, to have more courage by having him jump down the stairs.

He put his son on the second stair and said ‘jump and I will catch you’ then the third stair and said ‘jump and I will catch you’.  The little boy was afraid but he trusted his father and did what he was told and jumped into his arms.  The father put him on the next step and then the next each time telling him ‘jump and I will catch you’.

Then the boy jumped from a very high step but this time the father stepped back and the boy fell flat on his face.  He picked himself up bleeding and crying and the father said to him ‘that’ll teach you’.

When his father caught him he felt filled with love and when he didn’t he was filled with something else, something more – Life.

during this Lent season, may you feel less afraid and more filled with courage to have new perspective.  the pursue truth, in all its varied and complex forms. to climb to the tops of mountains and jump off.  to allow yourself the space to be filled with Life.

Today I…

have spent 5 hours working on carving a block print, adding rain drops and a gnarly tree and mountains to the landscape.

finally watched True Grit.  love.

am having grace for myself for consuming pretzels and two diet cokes.

have felt inexplainable hope and a thirst for adventure, that seems to have its roots deep, deep in my soul.

realized i am ready to start dreaming for two (which may become the hook line for a new poem).

have gotten to have random chats with friends from all different parts of my life.  so grateful for these beautiful people (you know who you are!)

am full of poetry.  or at least poetic lines.

am alive.

the seed sprouts in the scar: Tijuana

one of my fondest memories at my grandmother’s house as a child was during a snow storm.  i grew up outside the city limits and we were often without power if a big snow hit.  my grandma’s house was tucked away inside the grand city of Lebanon, where somehow she was not as prone to outages–probably due to the protection of closer buildings, less wind and drifting of snow, presence of snow plows–and we went there to stay warm while we waited.

i remember late nights there, sitting on the couch in front of her big, wide-open front window.  i was amazed at how orange the sky looked as the night lights reflected off the snow.  if i let my imagination run free, i could imagine that it was actually light enough to be day.  i think deep down, i was mostly amazed that such life seemed to be happening in the middle of the night, in the midst of a snow storm.  life was happening amidst the chaos.

before we left for this trip, my roommate said:

“the seed sprouts in the scar.”

on further prompting, she explained a Wendell Berry poem, where he describes how the earth must be scarred, must be turned over and over, and the land looking nothing as it did before the plowing.  but how that also must happen for a seed to be planted and grow.  she thought this was fitting for the current state of our group, that we may be scarred, but there is always great promise for new growth.

A beautiful tree blossoms in the dump.

that is my summation of my time in Tijuana, as well.  to say God was present seems not-enough; so much was birthed there that it is hard to yet see all the fruits.  we walked the red light district and looked into the eyes of teenage prostitutes.  we sat on tree stumps in the bottom of the dump, the city dump turned neighborhood and talked about life.  we played with the most beautiful kids in the world.  we were Jesus and we met Jesus in them.  it is almost too much to explain, so i will share just one story.

as we walked through the dump (literally, it was once a working dump, has been covered with dirt, and now many who have found no other place to call home, have built a house in the dump and try their best to make a life), a man and his wife came up beside us.  the had just come from deep in the dump.  he explained that she was feeling down, so he took her there to see if they could find a plant to bring back to their home.  sure enough, in the center of her palm, she cradled a beautiful, freshly sprouted plant.

they showed us their home, and shared how the recent storms had washed rocks through the wall and over the beds of their sons.  they had only just the day before been able to clear the house of rocks and reestablish the back wall.  they warmly invited us in to see.

The outside of the home.

The outside of the home.

...and the inside.

we shared this story with the woman in charge of the orphanage later.  she told us she had a church group coming in soon to build a house, and she needed a family to allocate it to.  the next morning, we delivered the good news.  by Feb. 5th, this family will have a new home.  a beautiful plant sprouts in the dump, and the seed sprouts in the scar, and a redeeming Creator blesses his broken people with good gifts.

A house hangs laundry in the dump. Just beneath those rolling green hills are years of trash.

Valeria, Evelyn and Alicia...some of my playmates at the orphanage in Rosarito.

Enjoying the beauty of the beach.

body ministry

after lecturing about the sermon on the mount, Larry (our leader) had to leave class to attend a dr’s appointment with his wife.  he left us with 6 yellow sheets of his scribblings, no instructions and a little over an hour left of class.

one of the ladies in the class picked up one page and read:

made for:
compassion
community
inspiration
imagination
communication
companionship

not just know Truth, but become Truth

at first, i wanted to laugh, not knowing exactly what to do with that.  but then one of the guys suggested we go around the room and tell each person what characteristics, from that list or elsewhere, that we see in them.

what proceeded was an amazingly refreshing time of sharing the things we’ve been able to observe in one another on this journey so far.  one person was “it” at a time, and we each shared the beauty we saw in them, before moving on to the next person.  it was healing, in many ways, and encouraging, to know that others see what we often cannot.

sometimes it’s necessary to stop on the journey and not only let the body rest, but to minister to it, with love and tenderness.  and it’s equally important to allow yourself be loved on.