Addicted to Purpose

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Who am I outside of being the mother of these children, the wife to this husband?

What is my purpose?

Beyond our work, who are we?

They are all gone, my four favorites, rafting down the Grand Canyon – one week in, one week left to go. I have kept plenty active with running, doctors appointments, managing the farm, walks with friends, movies and meals with my parents. I have written and read, cleaned out the barn and coop. I have also rested, relished my solitude. I have tried to enjoy the unscheduled, the un-harried.

But why do I have to tabulate my progress? Do you need me to? Is God some cosmic accountant waiting to de-bless me if I fail at this test? Am I worth less when I do less?

I wonder if we keep ourselves busy so we won’t have to face the music – the tune of who we are without our dependencies. Our purpose lying within our addiction to production. We operate at our lowest default setting, in constant reaction. Getting through the day in one piece is our primary achievement. Our best parts stuck, souls dwelling on the back burner. No time, not enough, just getting by.

I know we have obligations, bills to pay, lawns to mow, groceries purchased, children to keep alive and challenged, marriages nurtured.  There is a time for everything. Yet, I fear we have lost a bit of our way in the pushing and prodding of ourselves and our families. I fear we have lost some of the beauty in our relentless keeping of schedules.

When I compare my productivity with someone else’s, I presume my life is worth less because I do less. The scarcity rhetoric creeps in with whispers to placate my guilt: invitations to one more committee, one more group, one more cause, one more opportunity to make me more important.

We can see this soulful need to simplify as being an equally soulful need for rest. It seems representative of much of our lives that, looking at the research into sleep patterns in North America, we are most of us chronically underslept. We are burning the candle at both ends, and some of us, if we can, in the middle, too. Rest, as we all know, brings perspective, vitality, and good humor. But it also brings a relaxation into inner silences and images that are sometimes too difficult to face. We might wonder if this has anything to do with our addiction to being busy. Concerning ourselves with the music of the busy outer world, we might not have to face the inner music that was composed as a score for our future destiny. -David Whyte, The Heart Aroused

When we live scattered, running to our activities, accomplishing goals, procuring the American Dream, what happens?

Do we miss the wonder?

What about the dreaming?

Do we see the brokenhearted in our midst?

How about the divine in another?

I don’t like to face this inner music. Before my people set out on their adventure, I had plans  – plans to be productive, to accomplish.

A few items have been crossed from the almighty to-do list, but any thorough audit will reveal holes. Instead I have completed that which is most important for my soul. I perched myself in the yard’s center, with a beer in one hand and book in another. Scooting clouds skirted the mountain horizon while I snuck a peek at a bald eagle buoyed by a current of wind, my bare toes nestled in the damp grass. I closed my eyes and played the soundtrack of scurrying chickens, browsing sheep crunching with righteous greed, birds tweeting from the treetops. I turned my face to the sun, the warmth radiating, supplying my emptiness with the fullness of plenty.

Our purpose is found in living into these moments, setting down our obligations, recognizing the gifts. Our purpose is found in silencing the voices of shame that clamor for earning and striving with the lies of should and must and ought. Our purpose is found in honoring rest and staking our claim on the simple beauty that surrounds us.

Our purpose is in living into how loved we are – by God, by others. Our purpose is in our presence, in being. Our purpose lies in the heart of God, thrumming with grace and abundance.

My family will return, my productivity will resume, some days might be calculated to the minute. But I will remove my shoes, stand firm in the grass, laugh at the animals, drink a beer in the sun, follow the soaring path of the eagle, wonder at the moon’s pull.

In the silence of a still moment, I hope to resume my position, count the gifts, and remember: I am enough, just as I am.

The Sting of Spring

Spring

I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.

-Mark Twain

Spring is the season of rebirth, a resuscitation of our souls – breathing again after short days and bitter nights. Spring offers up her gifts of warmth, surprise sunburns, running-in-shorts weather. The arrival of the land’s best parts, unfurling leaves, nudging heads of half-dead perennials, promised resurrections.

The first violet flowers of grape hyacinth, lilting daffodils, scattered tulips round out my yard’s color palette. Sprouts of peonies thrill me with anticipation. Profuse weeds, confusing dandelions (Is it a flower or a weed?), bountiful mint. Random herbs installed years ago ready to flavor salsa and salads. This majestic season awaiting notice and honor.

I celebrate spring’s arrival alongside grief. Spring is my most difficult of seasons, the intersection of personal life and death – catching me by surprise every single year.

When tragedy happens, a body holds the memory. The subconscious at work, processing with thorough precision what an aware mind will come to understand. The grief surfaces often as an underlying malaise, an undefinable awareness, like shapeless fog hovering and coloring the moments.

Each spring my A-HA! happens. I could mark it on the calendar to save myself the repeated discovery.

Spring is the literal intersection of life and death. My mother died in May of 1984, the age of 37. Her life claimed by complications resulting from a sudden brain aneurysm. I was almost 12, my three siblings stair-stepped behind me. As I skid into the mid-40s, my youngest child approaching the same age I was that May day, I see clearer the harsh injustice of untimely death. This should not be my story, nor should spring be forever marred.

But it is.

Spring is when my world shifted upon its axis, innocence shattered, hope suspended, a child’s belief ignored. Spring is when I was denied a miracle that I believed we all deserved. Spring is when life as I knew it ended – the door slammed – new beginnings of unexpected chapters.

In the manner of these things, you keep going. Groceries get purchased, laundry is sorted, beds are carelessly made, little brothers’ hair brushed, pets fed (or not), school and church attended. Time advances, marching on, regardless of the grieving. No time-outs.

I grew up early, age twelve the moment I owned responsibility and was needed. My cracked childhood sewn together with imperfect stitches. A young life informed by death, my new lens, through which I squinted for glimmers of light, rays of hope.

One might consider this a tragedy. It is. But if you open to grief and reach a truce with God for maybe five minutes one afternoon, the shadows might part for a moment. And then, down the path, the darkness hides longer and longer, light peeking in brighter and brighter, at more frequent intervals. What shows up is this beautiful and breathtaking crafting of circumstances and people and almost perfect moments and seeming coincidences and awe-inspiring wonder that bloom out of the soil of despair.

Death does inform my life. Death is my lens, through which I live. Every decision, death weighs in. This just is.

But the fear, the fear of death is what has to be managed and surrendered. In living well and living loved, free from fear, I am informed by death but I am not ruled by death. Fear of death cannot define my existence, my work in the world – as a mother, a wife, friend, daughter, sister, human. While death can be a comfortable companion, the fear of death must be set aside, resulting in a life lived in defiance.

Death must never have the final say. The brave souls who grieve, who open themselves up to feeling – they know the proud scars they bear, scars of strength and impossibility, scars of grace and holding on, scars of wonder and new life. Grieving is living. Grieving the loss of my mother, the loss of my life and my innocence allows me to live better into my space. The reality and truth of death is ever-present. And the emergence of spring, hammers in the acute truth of loss.

Spring will always be melancholy, DNA holding my burden. And while death informs most of my days – the new shoots, fragrant blossoms, and dandelion orbs each proclaim victory.  A new life was born from the death of my mother, the piecing of tragedy’s fragments bore within me a pride I own that is mine. The fertility of the soil signals the fertility of my story, abundant growth emerging from hopeless shambles. A new life born, a person who has become as a result of the tyranny of death.

Spring holds the hope, the  landscape resurrected, the nourishment of the soil, the proclamation of victory over the vestiges of frozen cold.

O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? (1 Corinthians 15:55)

O death, you’ve got nothing on me.

How I Chose to Live Whole-r

We have been created to feedthe world.-2

Aside from the death of my mother, those were the hardest years of my life.

My desperate words, often used to describe the tenor of our children’s early years. I, of course, adored our little ones believing them perfect, the most precious of dictators. But, inside I was a wreck. I could no longer continue with this impairment, the pressures of a traveling husband, small house, poopie pants and sleepless nights. All of this combined with my unruly insides, my expectation, my wrestle was too much. The tyrannical pattern of proving and earning, taking its toll. It was time to choose my greatest personal struggle.

It was time to choose my own suffering.

Raising children to become decent grown-ups is tough work. This grand experiment of parenting offers the most tremendous and rewarding of challenges. However, I suspect the task may have been less daunting and fearsome if I was whole-r. Not holier. Whole-r.

Our worth, our ability to love ourselves and therefore experience the love of God is a lifelong journey. There are no shortcuts. We must slog through the valley of the shadow of our figurative death before abundant life can be ours.

And so, at the birth of my second child, my only daughter, I commenced the work of tackling my food issues. I took the leap, I chose the hard road of walking through my greatest personal struggle. I chose the valley of suffering.

I could lay the blame of these tough years at their little toddler feet. I could eliminate the need for my own accountability, but I will not. It was me. The years were rough. I was compromised, my limp so pronounced I was incapable of any grace or mercy towards myself or anyone else. I was a walking measuring stick, ticking my value, my better or worse-than against those that presented a threat. I was defined by the striving, the need to win, the power of performance.

I learned how to eat according to my intuition, governing consumption by my physical hunger and fullness. While I found the practice beneficial, moving me toward a useful understanding of why and how much I ate, the greatest gift was not a pant size or a number on the scale. The greatest gift – I was introduced to God, through the portal of desperation and surrender, letting go of my need to control, my fear of living as I was created. This God I discovered was one of love and generosity. This God did not base rewards upon performance.  God showed up. God filled me. God revealed that food is just food, a beautiful way to celebrate and honor and experience life. But the food, the clothing size, the number on the scale could not determine my worth.

I wish I could claim all my problems were solved, that I was fixed. No, in fact, I still plod through The Valley. The work can be treacherous, uncovering bit by bit the coping, jealousy, competitive drive, scarcity. Fourteen years in, I still experience days sacrificed to the demand of my body’s fantasy. These days are now fewer and farther apart, grace rushing in, dispensing the balm of relief.

Last night, Claire and I went to Target. She needed a new swimsuit. Claire is our middle child bookended by brothers. Generous and kind, confident and determined, she amazes me. Claire’s body is her own, carrying herself with a presence foreign to many at 14. Inhabiting her skin with grace and pride, she holds my foremost parenting fear – the fear that I might somehow pass to her my deepest wound, this hatred of my body.

You can blame your mother, you can blame your father and his father for the problems with which you are destined to wrestle, but ultimately you are the one in whom they have made a home. You are the one who must say Thus far and no farther, and then go down and confront them yourself.  

                                          -David Whyte, A Heart Aroused

This fear claims nothing.

I did it. I blamed. I wrestled. Insecurity and hatred squatted in this space for far too long.

I stood firm. I announced: Thus far and no farther.

I went down. I confronted.

I confronted my problem with imperfect ferocity. I confronted my problem with appropriate anger. I confronted my problem with a defiant, No more, damn it. I will no longer live under your tyranny.

I pulled Claire aside in the shampoo aisle. I looked her in the eye, demanding she return my gaze. She needed to know the weight, the power of my request. I insisted: Claire, do not try these swimsuits on and hate yourself. Do not pay attention or give power to the voices. Be kind. You are loved, your body is beautiful, you are beautiful.

The cycle of disorder and proving, earning and striving stops with us. For all of the daughters and sons, let us stand firm, and with authority say:

Thus far and no farther, damn it.

Whatever power I hold, the starvation and binging, the self hatred and drive for perfection stops with me, with us. Her beauty, my beauty, our beauty is not a threat. Our desire is not a threat. We have been created to feed the world.

We are loved and we are breathtaking.

 

Malibu Static

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Two weeks ago Eric and I took a whirlwind tour of California. After flying into LAX late on a Tuesday night, we managed an In-n-Out Cheeseburger stop before cruising to the central San Joaquin Valley. Our three day excursion took us from L.A. to Porterville to Cambria, sleeping in the same hotel we occupied for an evening while honeymooning 23 years ago. And Cambria back to L.A. via the scenic, beach hugging Pacific Coast Highway.

Driving south we traveled the ocean bluffs near San Luis Obispo and Morrow Bay, with beer and lunch in the Dutch village of Solvang. We witnessed the consequences of severe drought, the dry and bare hillsides of Santa Barbara, PCH ushering us to the money-laden, disaster-threatened mountains of Malibu. Struck by the beauty of our native state, we trekked along playing our favorite game, imagining how our lives would look, answering the questions of where the kids would go to school, how we could make a living while also trying to fathom how the masses cobble together enough money to craft a living, where real estate hovers far above the one-million dollar mark for a modest family home.

The Hyundai’s radio was fine, providing enough amps for our iTunes library to be palatable. As we approached Malibu I tuned into NPR, discovering the mismatch between coastal topography and suitable radio reception. Winding the narrow highway through scatters of mansions and storefronts, canyons and curves did not bode well for our listening pleasure. The station hard to track, required I surf for another.

I found the next station and the next, and the next once the static became too unbearable. I think I discovered four different NPR’s.

My personal calling, like the Malibu coastline, is shifting. My desires are changing, my goals deviating from the person I was a decade ago. What once appealed to me no longer does. What I once pursued holds little value. This transition is welcome, yet I’m left with this old station, these old messages from my former self. These shoulds bid for my attention, while I know they are no longer part of who I am or want to be, they continue to beckon and make empty promises.

I have to change the station. I have to stop, re-evaluate, and challenge these tapes. I imagined this seamless transition, where my former callings would fade with instantaneous ease, while the new would blossom and grow fruit with effortless grace. Instead I am left with the weird, lurching sensation, where one moment I’m solid and secure in my present path, and the next…well…I’m not. One moment I’m living into my future, the next I’m stuck in the past. Push and pull. Back and forth.

We ushered in spring break with a long visit to our mountain cabin this past weekend. I could not settle into stillness and rest.  Oftentimes I find great peace, the scenery and mountain life spurring my senses, inspiring ideas. But I was stuck, overwhelmed by the former longings, the past nudges. The solitude and space  conspired against me to unearth the final vestiges of these departed dreams. The messages of shame tempting and coaxing my return to the old me, the old call, clamoring for attention and resurrection.

This work is a process, one where the new path must be given priority and value, while the former recedes. Instead of waiting for the static to clear, remaining on the defunct channel, my work is to change the station. This is an important choice, for if I live splitting the difference I live ineffectual, depthless in both.

Never are these transitions perfect and seamless. Never are they without grief, as we surrender the old and embrace the new. The joints are harsh and imperfect – yet, somehow the final product is this remarkable tapestry of a well lived life. A portrait of beauty, a legacy, forged from the heat of these tenuous times.

I wish it was easier and different for me. I wish I could gaze forward without a backward glance, but this is impossible. The process with the starts and stops and pushes and pulls mold us into our becoming. I want to withstand the shifting landscape. I want a solid and sure foundation, built on strength and honesty and surrender.

As one station fades and another becomes clear, as one call vanishes and the other prevails I can rest in the knowledge and truth that I am loved without condition, my proof never needed, my purchase solid in hope.