This could kill you.

Monday, June 19, 2017

I walked mostly.  Around the block at first.  My God, I was so damn tired.  And it's not like the tiredness you get from losing a few nights of sleep or the natural tiredness that comes after a crazy-hectic week.  This is like, a bone-weariness that makes you question whether your legs will carry you to the kitchen from the couch.  And it's constant.  Depression is nice like that.  Really slows you down and cramps your active lifestyle:)

But I knew I had to do something.  And I KNEW it was a nervous system that needed a rest from my mind but also gentle movement to keep the blood flowin'.  
I live in a neighborhood that is tucked in to high riverside cliffs, with steep incline's on either end of town and in between.  I had to avoid these.  I didn't think I could get up them.  I was that tired.  But there was a little voice inside that said, "Keep going anyway.  Just do what you can for now.  This is enough."

And I walked.  And walked.  And walked.  Mostly in a few-block radius on flat pavement.  

A renewed love and deeper level of self-compassion for myself was born from that small voice on those simple, daily treks.  A greater level of acceptance for myself on ANY day, no matter how low, unmotivated, ugly, chubby, judgmental, irritated or lost I felt.  Just self-love and acceptance.  I know now without a doubt, this is the place from which all our own personal healing and the WORLD'S healing stems.  We really can't be of any service or good use to others if we're not caring for our own minds and body.

I discovered more about my inner strength and wisdom on that quiet, lonesome trudging along than I EVER could have lost in a sea of cushions in the comfort of my own home.

Until I found myself standing on a small square of concrete on a corner, staring up at a huge hill ahead.
I'd gotten sucked in to a podcast while walking and had meandered downtown without really thinking about where or how far from home I'd wandered.
I've walked this hill countless times before.  Plowing upward pushing two kids in one stroller even, without giving it a second thought. 

But this is what can happen.  When your adrenals have been wrung dry, fear has robbed you of all confidence and memories of what you USED to be able to do don't even matter nor are strong enough to propel you forward.  That is where my mind resided for a time.  Most of my daily thoughts were permeated with the idea that anything I tried to do outside of the norm, would lead to death.  Mostly because of the onslaught of physical symptoms that arrived with any THOUGHT of doing something out of the ordinary.  That's anxiety, folks.  And it's ridiculous.  But EVERYTHING I used to know looked threatening and perilous.  

And according to the response I was getting from my nervous system, you'd have thought I'd just arrived at Base Camp of Everest with a 50 lb. pack attached to my back.  Staring up towards the peak.

"Shit.  I thought.  I don't think I can do it."  I stared up towards the top.  I knew I was being so stupid.  But that's how warped my sense of perception was.  How far I'd strayed from the physically and mentally strong woman I USED to be and thought I was.  

Fortunately for me, there was no way around it.  The only way home was up that hill.  I couldn't turn around and go back the way I came.  It would take me twice as long to get there.  There was no one I felt I could call to come pick me up without being totally ashamed by my having to throw in the towel on an uphill street climb.  After all, I wasn't in a wheelchair.  I had two, totally healthy, working legs.  How the hell would I explain this to anyone?!  "Ah, yeah.  Could you come get me and bring me home?  I just got to this hill and I don't want to walk up it."  I couldn't do that.  


My legs shook, my heart was already racing before I even took a step.  I felt dizzy and nauseous.  I knew I was panicking from the fear of having to face something so big.  What I THOUGHT was so big.  But I knew past all of that, my body was just responding to my thinking.  And that maybe if I could WALK THROUGH it, UP IT, I'd come out the other side eventually?

"This could kill you," I thought.  (And have thought so often since.)  

"This could kill you."  This thing you're about to do.  This thing that is invoking so much fear, doubt, trepidation, reservation, kicking your nervous system in to high gear at the slightest provocation. . .it could kill you.  For sure."  

Like going to the dentist, having to attend a social event, facing someone from your past who brings up a lot of pain, climbing a mountain, going in to a war zone.  The external circumstances vary, but the fear response is all the same. 

"Girl, this could kill you."  (That's what my thoughts told me.  Which I've learned are separate from who we ACTUALLY are.  Thoughts are just words.  Letters of the alphabet.  Whether we think them consciously or they float in to our space subconsciously, they don't have to MEAN anything.  WE give them all the meaning and attention.)

This could kill you. 
But I knew BEYOND that, on a deeper level. . .

IT COULD ALSO BE THE THING THAT SAVES YOU.

It just might be the thing that rescues you from yourself, from the memories and attachments of your past that have held you back.
From the imaginings and projections you've created in your mind of a dreaded future and 
INSTEAD, launches you in to a freedom from your mind, a release from your fearful thinking, like you've never had before.  

It could just do that instead.
And I had to see.

I trudged up that hill certain my heart would explode out of my chest and I'd die before even getting to the top.  "How embarrassing," I thought as I took each step.  On the brink of tears.  "They're going to find me laying in a heap halfway up this hill in these horrific sweatpants.  Un-showered, unshaved, sweaty and killed by panic.  And I'm going to miss my son's baseball game because I tried to walk up a hill.  Tragic."  As I inched forward my vision blurred and adrenaline coursed through my body, tightening my chest and ability to take a full breath.  

But I did something different this time.  I smiled at it all.  Invited it to kill me.  Right there.  "Go on then.  Do it.  Take me.  I'm done fighting you."  This body is not mine to keep anyway.  And these sweatpants?  I'm pretty sure my husband has intentions of burning them at some point too."

There was no anger.  No cursing.  No tensing against.  Complete surrender WHILE moving forward in to the intensity of the feelings.

And that was it.  It dissipated in an instant.  All my nervous systems vanished.  My vision cleared.  My heart rate slowed.  My breathing returned to normal.  I was at the top.  Heaving and panting, but I had arrived.

Once you've faced panic, allowed it to sweep over you, what is left to fear?  When you no longer are afraid of fear OR yourself?  You are free.


I've stared in to the eyes of deep depression.  Held hands with some of the greatest of my fears.  And I've learned most importantly, first hand, that "disruption in our lives always leads to greater freedom, inclusion and complexity," as Rob Bell says.

It's true.  

And after a lot of struggling in my life, I realized this minor "disruption" was going to be my greatest teacher.  

And I welcomed it in more willingly after that.  Hill after hill, climb after climb.  Not only did my physical strength grow but so did my mental strength.  One day I found myself jogging.  I don't even know how it began.  It had been so long. . .years since I'd run a mile even?  The XC and track career of my high school days long since vanished.  My new life had given way to the stress of motherhood, extra weight and too many excuses to count.  I lost interest and FEAR, including the fear of pushing myself too hard, became stronger than any quest towards any greater physical strength.  

But I suddenly found myself running again.  And ENJOYING it.  WITHOUT FEAR!  And hiking for hours on end.  I couldn't believe it.  But also knew the work I put in, in learning to accept myself at my absolute worst, paved the way for me to regain the inner confidence, wisdom and strength that I really could do ANYTHING if I could do it without expectation, ego, let the fear do its thing and just see where it took me.

And it's taken me to new heights of acceptance and understanding that I look forward to sharing. . .stay tuned:)
Living WITH fear. . .it's way more fun. . .























A new free-solo climb; approaching anxiety without meds.

Monday, June 12, 2017

I thought to myself, "Whatever I do from this moment forward, HAS to be different than the way I've done things before."
Different than what everyone else seems to be doing.  Or THINKS I should do.
I believed this in my heart, but didn't know how I would pull it off.
Navigate the treacherous terrain of anxiety, panic and depression without some sort of assistance (therapy or drugs.)  

I was so physically exhausted and emotionally empty, NO suggestion or solution really seemed clear or right.
The soothing balm of medication tempted me like a desert mirage. . .promising my "old" self would reemerge quickly, offer hope of a future of permanent inner peace and groundedness.  And if I was REALLY disciplined, maybe even to never have to go in to this state again.

But I also knew deep down it couldn't do that. . .that medication wouldn't SAVE me or make my fears, struggles or doubts go away.  That it would just be a temporary solution to something that required MUCH more than altering my brain chemistry for a short time.
And maybe, just maybe, my "old" self wasn't the direction I was supposed to go?
That the whole point of this downslide was to learn to move FORWARD in to a NEW self?

Meds might be a nice break for my body, I thought, but would most likely lead me down a path of reliance, trying one drug, then another, then maybe even another, until I felt like a "normal" human again.
It was a road I stubbornly wasn't willing to travel.

What if I WAS willing, however, to trust and devote myself FULLY to the program I stumbled across seven years ago?  Maybe, just maybe, I could heal myself, WITHOUT drugs.

It felt a bit like heading in to labor "au natural," with the well-laid plan of NOT getting an epidural to numb the pains of childbirth and bring instant comfort, but knowing this wouldn't be the easy way.  It was going to be hard, hurt a lot and be completely exhausting.  It was ANOTHER way I had to try first.

I'd heard enough, read enough, listened enough to other fellow sufferers describe THEIR experiences with SSRI's to be totally convinced that it was not a path I was willing to try.
I entertained it briefly, but to be honest?  I was willing to die to how I felt than go down that road.  Stubborn, I told you.  Maybe a bit too proud.  

And I also wanted so badly to be able to trust myself again.  And really FEEL all the pain I was feeling (childbirth without the drugs,) and see where it took me.  Even if that meant death.

So how do you even begin to start to dissect and dismantle lifelong unhealthy habits?
Smooth out decades-long grooves of fear, doubt and insecurity?
Allow a physical body to heal from sensitized nerves and depleted adrenals?

Slowly.  VERY slowly and VERY patiently.
Like, with all the patience you can find.

From my vantage point at the time (picture someone lying at the bottom of a deep cave, with zero energy, motivation, confidence or even a rope to find their way out.)  That's what I felt and thought.
It felt totally hopeless.  

I was already surrendering to the fact that this is where I would probably die.  
As I had known no depth of suffering, exhaustion and emptiness like this, ever in my life.

(I kind of wish for your sake, this was the intro to some harrowing narrative of falling in to an ACTUAL hole while on a month-long North Face sponsored expedition, having had to cut off a limb or something to get out of a tight spot.  That's some thrilling and inspirational stuff right there. But my story is not that exciting.)  
It's pretty boring, actually.

Rather, a DIFFERENT version of what falling apart, suffering and then gaining new ground can actually feel like for a lot of people, with OR without the assistance of medication.  

Getting up and moving my body while feeling so hellish and run down, seemed counter-intuitive.  But "whatever I do from this moment forward, has to be different than the way I've done things before."  Turns out MOVING can be the best medicine to heal depression.

From my years of extensive research and experience, I knew the fatigue I was feeling was 95% emotional.  That it was only on the surface.  
But as many sufferers of depression know, it FEELS crippling, paralyzing, as if taking ONE STEP might drop you to the ground never to rise again.

It doesn't matter how "surface level" it actually is.
It is a sorrow, despair and tiredness that FEELS to go straight to the bone.

But for me, healing began with movement.  Surrendering to the way I felt, BUT also deciding to move.  NOT laying on the couch in a pool of self-pity, but taking small steps forward each day in to greater healing and deeper self-awareness of my body and attachment to my thoughts.

It's safe to say I wore a groove in the sidewalks, perpendicular to the cracks, within a two mile radius of my house.
I shuffled the tread off my running shoes completely.
This, after weeks and weeks, no. . .more like months and months of walking, walking, walking.  Just walking.  Nothing more.  That's all I could handle.

Thinking, praying and crying to whomever in the space outside my head would listen.
Months and months, no. . .more like years and years of anxiety, fear, panic and doubt had caught up with me once again, as these things tend to do when our only approach has been to fight or run.  

I learned you can only resist for so long before you have no choice but to put the gloves down and admit defeat.
At the very least, reassess your approach and ask yourself why it's not working and why this way of living is no longer sustainable.

But it's the best kind of defeat, because it doesn't actually have to kill you.  The only thing you have to do is give up yourself. 
Not give up ON yourself, but let go of the thoughts and ideas in your head of who you THINK you are, or are SUPPOSED to be.
It's not you.

And this new attitude adjustment gives your body the much-needed break it deserves.  

Nothing captures the effects of a fear-filled or fast-paced life more than the human body; our constant tension, stress, anger, rage, will ALWAYS lend itself to some form of illness, physical pain and exhaustion. . .I DO believe our bodies are ALWAYS telling the truth of our emotional state of the moment, 
but we're usually too proud, scared or in denial to tune in and listen.  So we keep pushing.

A life of running, chasing, proving, performing and perfectionism ISN'T sustainable and it put me in to the biggest doozy of burnout I'd ever experienced.

Our bodies are beautifully and naturally made with an ancient wisdom that repairs and heals itself, but not if we keep blocking our own way and fighting the natural flowing current under our everyday lives.

I have a different relationship now and a renewed perspective on anxiety and depression gained from my own unraveling.
It needs to be ALLOWED and embraced in its entirety (as hard as that is,) not only to get back in a more natural rhythm of life, but to obtain the priceless perspective of self-compassion, awareness, presence and above all else, ACCEPTANCE of things as they are, WITHOUT trying to change any of it.

This approach, without meds, DOES feel like trying to free-solo climb El Capitan in Yosemite.  (Done recently by Alex Honnold.  I'm kind of in to climbing stories at the moment.)

This is how insurmountable this feat would (and did) feel to a non-experienced nervous sufferer; to just ALLOW anxiety and depression be as it is without trying to medicate it.  It did often times feel like scaling a vertical wall of 3,000 feet, rope-less, no safety gear, nor even a decent view of the top so I knew I was getting somewhere.  

It felt literally like placing one toehold, one slippery grip of a hand at a time, on unpredictable ledges.  Thinking I'm moving forward but not really sure.  Not quite trusting if the next push upward would bring me to new heights or find me flat on my back again, back at square one.  Or, well, dead.  

For me, it was quite honestly a game of move and surrender.  Move.  Surrender.  Move again, surrender.  Drop all expectations and just move.  Surrender.  

It tested every aspect of myself. . .strength, willingness, determination, my ability to accept myself and the moment, but also brought in to question my life as a whole; how I moved, made decisions, nurtured myself, accepted support. . .a level of awareness and humility I'd never been asked to go in to before.

But unlike climbing, getting to know anxiety and it's counterpart, depression, requires no detailed preparation, no obsessive training, no one armed pull-ups, no rehearsing, no pre-mapping, no chalking a route of solid holds.

You can choose at any time, to go right into it.  TOWARDS and THROUGH your fearful, doubting thoughts and see what happens.  Watch instead of engage.  Move.  Surrender.  

You can simply WALK through it.
Which is what I did.

(To be continued. . .a walk turns in to a run.)























The End of Yourself.

Monday, May 1, 2017

I was listening to a podcast recently from one of my fave's Rob Bell, on "The Good News about Nothing."
I listened to it twice as #1.  I'm still struggling with finding faith/God/church, so will grab on where I can, with the things that challenge conventional wisdom, and #2.  It resonated so deeply with me.
I've experienced the type of loss he discusses (not just the death of a loved one,)
but rather "an emptying of the self and a death of all the things I so carefully and strategically attached my self-worth and value to."
THAT loss.
I was listening while I was out on the trails with Lucy and stopped dead in my tracks.
I thought, "Yeah.  I know what that's like."
I forget this is a common human experience and when I hear someone else explain what I have come to know in THEIR words, I have to smile.  Because, yeah.  I too GOT to experience that, as painful as it was.
But it changed my life.
{I wrote about it here and here .  Start with the last one first.  There was a lot of life in between those two posts as well, if you want to read more.)
But yes.
This I can talk about.
I don't know much, but I know about coming to the end of yourself without actually dying.  And by "self," I mean the self you have created.  The self you THINK you are or that you should be.
Humbly coming down off your high horse to the level of acceptance and understanding needed to move forward in life more freely, graciously and with more compassion for yourself and others.
(And don't get it twisted.  I still have to practice this daily.)
I haven't mastered this nor know if I ever will.  But I'm awake to it now.
If or when you arrive to this empty space and sit with it in all your discomfort for a time, you realize there's SO.MUCH.MORE to see.
Past your doubts, fears, judgments, projections, perceptions of all things is the TRUTH of who you are.
An inner power and knowing as expansive as the skies above.
BUT. 
You can't get to this until you drop everything you've carried with you and accept WHO and where you are now.
And that is where I began.  
I do believe for many hard-headed, stubborn types like myself, it takes complete devastation, trauma or even great loss to be reawakened this way.  A giant disruption, if you will, to life as you have known it.
It's the hard and painful way, for sure.  
For me, that is what was required to really teach me and open my eyes to not just how I was living and viewing the world, but how to PROCEED in it with more humility and less fear.

When there is literally no place else to go and nothing left to do, realizing that despite the scenario you find yourself in, no one but YOU is to blame for your response, you have no choice but to bow your head, completely put your hands up in surrender and let go to what is.  To face YOURSELF.  It's terrifying and by far the most liberating thing you could ever do.

I bring this up again in writing here, because I have some distance from it now.  More clarity and understanding.
I am beyond grateful for the lessons, experiences, shift in perspective and the beautiful connections this "undoing" in my life has brought and continues to bring.
For the intellectual and spiritual maturity it has gifted me and continues to teach me each day.
As Rob Bell encouraged and confirmed in this podcast,
"You hit the wall?  Excellent.
You lose control?  Awesome.
You've reached the place of death.  And from THIS space, if you accept the invitation, can a new life be birthed."

One of my greatest and most cherished mentors, David, would laugh heartily in is "Kiwi" accent in response to me, on yet another call, griping about how lost and alone and miserable I felt.  "Oh Liz!  I'm SO HAPPY for you!!!  Truly I am!  What a wonderful place to be!!!"  And he was genuinely excited and enthusiastic about my either overly-anxious or depleted state of the day, because this, "THIS, your worst day, will become your BEST day."  Because THIS is what will teach you to find and USE that inner voice that has been in you all along.  
FROM
THIS
PLACE
you will come to see what you are capable of and build a confidence like you've never had before.
And so I did.
In between resting, reading, trying to eat really well, being kind to myself and my children the best I could, life was narrowed down each day to ONLY what I was willing and able to do in the moment so my body could heal.
With each footstep, I had no choice but to resist the urge to fix or fight against it all and put my faith in something bigger.  I called it God.  That made it simple.  But I've come to wonder if maybe God and my right inner voice are one and the same?

Either way, I'm learning to trust both.  God and myself.

I learned how often we're in so much denial about our lives, how easily we betray ourselves and yet it doesn't even register because we've become so immune to doing it.  It was unbelievably lonely and isolating to go against the conditioning of my upbringing, but the way I'd lived my life up to that point.  It led me to walk away from certain friendships, institutions that drained and expected more from me than I was willing or able to give.  It asked me to drop the ego-fueled identities I'd clung desperately to to make a name for myself; being an entrepreneur, an artist, a teacher and instead it forced me to set all these things down until I could either resurface with more authentic intentions or quit all together. 
I had to be okay being seen at my most vulnerable and learn to love myself regardless, and understand that asking for help is not weakness, but one of our greatest gifts and strengths.  

How often everything in me, physically and spiritually, felt tethered to the house, to my bed, the couch, to the lack of motivation and energy.  A complete 180 from the vitality, curiosity and drive that had always been my daily force.
A walk around the block was a HUGE endeavor.  I know it sounds ridiculous, and unless you've been there, it's hard to explain or even imagine.  But it literally was all I could handle.  
Yet I KNEW healing from this, living a life ALONGSIDE fear and sadness, was going to require I keep moving.  Not passively, but in an ACTIVE practice.

Oh, how treacherous the miles felt.  To take those small steps forward but also walk through the mental concepts I'd built my life on and step OUT of the small world I had created in my mind and held myself hostage to.


I heard this at church the other day, "How often we need to act CONTRARY to our feelings.  Feelings are fluid.  And fear will always be there.  But FAITH is an ACTION you can take.  Our actions can either FUEL our feelings or help us to step outside of them and just trust."  
Yes, how often I had and HAVE to do that. . .choose an action that doesn't FEEL natural but is necessary for my growth and purpose and has invariably, given meaning and motivation to my life again.  How often, daily still, I have to remind myself our bodies were meant to MOVE and our thoughts of the moment should be given far less credence than the natural energy and wisdom that lies within us.

So I've had to do that.  How walking turned in to a run. . .

Stay tuned. . .

Love, 
Liz



"I begged the universe for a small beam of light but honey, you were the rising sun after a never ending night."  -Realm of The Raven Poetry

A Grandmother's Love.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Death is weird, isn't it?  I mean. . .if you can step outside of the rush of intense feelings that come in the wake of a loved one's passing. . .the heaviness of the grief, despair, emptiness, even anger. . .it's just. . .weird.  One minute we're here, the next we're just. . .gone.  It's mysterious but miraculous.  

For an anxiously-minded person like myself, who, I hate to say, has spent much of her life wondering about death, worrying about it, anticipating it, terrified of it. . .I'm beginning to understand more and more how silly it is to worry about this.  Aside from the fact we know we'll all experience it at one point or another, we have no idea what it's like.  As one of my greatest teachers Claire Week's has said, "Sudden death gives no time for its contemplation, so why should we fear it?  It seems foolish to worry about something we would know nothing about."  Duh.  That being said, she continues, "If we are prepared to go along with nature as willingly as possible, she will make our death rather like our birth - while we will be the star performer, we will be unaware of the performance."  Yes.  

On odd nights when I'm startled awake by an intense dream or finding myself restless beneath the covers, I lie in bed quietly staring out the windows at the dark, my mind racing through all the imaginings a tired brain but awake body can create.  Worries and fears about my children, myself, my husband, the future, mistakes made in the past. . .I know this is nothing unique to me.  I have, however, chosen to do two things when this happens.  1.  I pray.  Simple enough.  But I pray for people I love, especially those who I know are struggling, in pain, or feeling lost.  Those I have hurt or who have hurt me.  AND #2.  I write eulogies.  I know.  Even more weird.  But it makes me smile to honor the lives of people I love the most, with words to reflect my perception of how amazing that person is.  And I started writing to honor my Grandmother's life over ten years ago.  It's been sitting in a file on my computer desktop and I've been adding to it or deleting from it privately, in hopes that one day, when she slipped quietly from this world to the next, I could pay sincere and honest homage to a woman who was so important to my upbringing and my sense of value in the world.  

Grandma Chica.  That’s what we called her.  As a small child, her name ‘Francesca,’ was too hard for her to pronounce and came out as ‘Chica.’  So that was her nickname for a period of time.  Word of this story got out when we were young and because it was also so easy for us kids to say, Grandma Chica she became.  Consequently, my Grandpa became Chica as well, because, well, he is married to her.  So they must BOTH be a ‘Chica.’  They were aptly named Grandma and Grandpa Chica until it lost its luster and we were old enough to call them by their first names, Ray and Fran.  But for two decades, it was off to Grandma and Grandpa Chica’s house we’d go almost every Sunday after church.  It was the one thing that got me through those seemingly long, torturous Catholic masses of my childhood.  We knew if we were really good during the myriad rituals of a Sunday service, we’d be rewarded with a short road trip west to Anoka to see Grandma and Grandpa Chica.  

Often times, my aunts, uncles and cousins galore would show up too and we’d make a day of it.  It was like Christmas every Sunday.  Ah, the memories we made in their home.  We were always greeted with warmth, unconditional love and the best homemade chocolate chip cookies and fresh baked bread you could ever have.
I’m Liz, by the way.  Fran’s second oldest grandchild, the FIRST granddaughter born on my mother's side.
I can only speak from MY perceptions and the personal relationship I had with her.  BUT I know each one of my cousins could attest to having a unique and special bond with her, no matter our age, beliefs, accomplishments or mistakes, or roost on the branches of our family tree.  She undoubtedly loved all of us equally, in her own special way and with her whole heart.

I can tell you what I’ve come to know and understand about her as our Grandmother.  I can honestly say, NO ONE could’ve filled the shoes (or slippers, for that matter) more beautifully.  
(This is my new favorite picture, Grandma with my cousin Marty.)

There was rarely a time she didn’t welcome your arrival to their kitchen, by cupping your face in her soft, warm hands and planting a big, red lipsticked kiss on your cheek.  Whether she greeted you in her robe and slippers or in an outfit she spent all week planning, she always had fresh lipstick on.  Some bright shade of fuchsia or red, colors not many women can pull off.  
I would have weekend-long sleepover’s at their house from as young as grade school up until high school because I loved being with her so much.  She was like a best girlfriend, despite being 61 years older and with more experience and wisdom than any girls my age could ever offer.  Rarely would she share any insights or suggestions on how to live my life, but she just LISTENED.  JUST.  LISTENED.  Better than anyone I know.  And gosh, sometime that’s all we need.  Someone to just HEAR us and be present with us.  I think it’s why I appreciated and saw the true gift it was just to sit with her.

We’d spend countless hours talking, or rather, me talking, her listening intently, while she quietly rocked in her chair.  And she never seemed to get bored with me.  She seemed GENUINELY interested in everything that was going on in my life and never uttered a word of disdain or judgment.  She just held space for me wherever I was at in life.  She just showed up to love me. 

And before I knew it, it’d be two in the morning.  Neither one of us having moved, my Grandpa long since gone to bed.  And the two of us sat, a coffee table lamp illuminating her face as she rocked and smiled, listening to the stories of my life.  She never admitted defeat to tiredness but simply swayed in that chair and listened until I’d say, “Ok.  Grandma.  I’m tired.  I can’t talk anymore.”  And she’d smile and say Good Night and we’d reconvene at breakfast.  And before I left, she’d always kiss me on the cheek, whisper “I love you” in my ear and sneak a five dollar bill in to my hand.

The woman didn’t forget a thing!  All my old boyfriends, junior high drama, my struggles in college, I don’t know where she kept it in her brain, but she could pull up stories and information from YEARS ago about people and places I could barely remember.  “What ever happened to so and so?”  she’d ask.  “How is she doing now?”  I’ve always been in awe of the health and longevity of her memory, but also her unbelievable ability to retain and recite everything she knew about not just my life, but everyone she met.  A true testament to how well she REALLY listened and cared about OUR lives over the years.

You needed to understand once your foot crossed the threshold of the back porch door in to the kitchen, you had to commit.  There was never a, “Oh, I’m just stopping in for a minute.”  Once you sat down at the little round table draped with a soft linen table cloth, you were now in HER territory and FOOD would be how she and Grandpa got you to stay and made you feel loved.

She never let you leave with an empty stomach or even HALF empty, for that matter.  She was always standing quietly off to the side or perched atop a stool in the corner of the kitchen, ready to jump at the first sign of an empty bowl or finished plate.  She and Grandpa together, worked tirelessly to provide a smorgasbord of anything you wanted when you stopped in for a visit. . .spaghetti, Chow Mein, a ham sandwich, pickled herring, whatever your heart desired.  Sometimes all of those things at once.  A hodge podge of her and Grandpas’ specialties to fill you up and then some, before you stepped foot back out in to the world.  Together, between Grandpa staying on top of the dishes piling up in the sink and Grandma stirring various pots on the stove, they were the ultimate hosts.  

And although you may have left feeling like you'd overdone it, you always had a belly bursting with good food and a full heart. 

I can’t share much with you about her and Grandpa’s SEVENTY years of marriage other than the few stories I’ve heard and my own observations.  My Grandfather is always telling us hilarious stories from his past or about my aunts and uncles as kids, which usually have him laughing so hard he’s in tears before he can even get it all out.  My Grandma would just look at him and say, “Oh, Ray, honestly.”  But she could never help giggling herself no matter how hard she tried to act unimpressed by him and his antics.  She always caved in to a muffled snicker and shake of her head in irritation.  But you could see the love and dedication to him in her eyes.  
I know that tells you very little about the love they shared, how they complemented each other so beautifully, their devotion to their family, but I know their love HAS and will continue to be an inspiration of what it means to weather life’s storm’s together, keep humor and laughter at the center and a strong faith as your guide.

(The above picture was funny because she was trying to whisper in to his ear to go grab cash to send me home with, as she often did, but he couldn't hear her, and she couldn't understand why he couldn't hear HER, and they just both ended up giggling and she finally said, "Oh, forget it, Ray."

I can’t tell you a whole lot about her as a mother.  From what I understand, she barely survived raising five children.  And from some of the stories I’ve heard about the five of them?  The woman deserves a medal.  She was on her own most days of the week as my Grandpa was on the road for work.  Left to her own devices to discipline and keep in line the lot of them.  I have no doubt that’s one of the reasons she kept a Rosary close at hand, devoting an hour daily to prayer.  Those five gave her a run for her money.  But I CAN say that the men and women I’ve come to know as my aunts and uncles, her children, are some of the most kind, loving and most hilarious individuals you’ll ever meet.  Doug, Kevin, Pam, Jane and Jennifer have the best parts of her and Grandpa, in all of them. 
I have a sense fear and anxiety held her back from doing some of the things she may have wanted to experience in this life, as those feelings do for many of us.  She wasn't a natural risk-taker.  Familiarity and comfort were her mainstays.  I know she rarely ventured far from home.  She never flew on a plane, traveled oversees, or dared to veer too far off the straight and narrow, but it’s okay.  It’s the way she preferred it.  Instead, she made it her life’s ministry, to support her family through daily prayer, her faith and keeping their home open to all of us, at any time, to find refuge, love and a hot meal.  And for that, we are so grateful.
As a grandmother, Grandma Chica was a quiet but powerful force and vessel of unconditional love.  Although her passing leaves an emptiness in all of us that knew and loved her, I know her greatest attributes as a wife, mother, sister and friend will continue to live on through each of us.  She was gracefully by our side in space and spirit on this earth and will CONTINUE to be from where she stands in the next realm.  She displayed beautifully how to REALLY love and LISTEN and dedicated her life to serving her family and anyone else that walked through the door.
I imagine as her physical body has passed and her undying spirit moves on, she’s been greeted by the Divine the same way she greeted us; two soft, gentle hands cupping her face, whispering in her ear the same way she did for me, for us, “I love you.  And, "Welcome Home.”




Walking in to Authenticity, Part 2. Freedom in Faith.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The dog park is a pretty fascinating place to hang.  Man, the stories.
I could write a book on the lives of others I've picked up along the way.
What simply began as a place I would take my dog to run free, has at times, become a place I hear lifelong list's of ailments (of the humans AND the dogs,) their breed's, ages, personality quirks and where I've continued to discover how much people just want to talk.  Just want to shareCrave connection and acceptance and just want to be seen and heard.

I sat on the bench across from this older man, late 60's maybe?  He was bundled up on a cold, September morning in a fleece jacket and ball cap.  His dog wasn't even there.  He had just stopped in to say hello to my friend I was with.  Come to find he's actually a neighbor, a relatively "positive" guy despite the hardships he's endured, most recently losing his wife of 30+ years to cancer.  I'm genuinely interested in talking with him and getting to know him and hearing his story.

He seems sweet and kind, sincerely curious about my life as well.
He's a great listener.  Scratching his thick beard and puffing on a pipe, sensitive to my friends' and my comfort with the smoke billowing forth in to our faces.  "Would you ladies mind if I smoked this here?"  We both shook our heads, "Nah.  It's fine.  Go ahead."  (Although I did mind.  I hate smoke.)

But I like him.  We could be friends.  He seems wise and nurturing.  The widowed dad of a son not much younger than us, working a job that has him on the road five days a week, helping him to move on after heartbreaking loss.

And then he says this.  "You gals, I was here the other day.  This queer was here with his dog."  He laughed.  "You shoulda' seen him.  Prancing around on his tip toes. . .man, he was so light in the loafers.  You shoulda' seen it!"  He chuckled heartily at his renditionTook a pull off his pipe.  A man careful about where he smoked, but seemingly unconcerned with the offensiveness of such a comment, if THAT would upset us. 
Totally unaware how this added zero value or significance to the "polite" conversation we were having otherwise.  It was like being slapped across the face.   
I thought, "Why?  Why.  Why did you have to say that."

A completely horrific, bigoted and unnecessary remark.  And although language like this still exists in our world, although we've heard so much of this kind of talk in recent days, the sting of anti-gay rhetoric like this never nor should ever, be accepted or tolerated.

My heart sank.  I felt a rage bubbling within, but it was drowned instantly by sadness and disappointment.  I weakly replied, 
"Well?  He is probably really happy to be who he is."  
I didn't even know this man.  He just got done telling us about what it's been like with his wife gone and his adult son moving back in with him.  In that moment, I held my tongue.  I didn't feel like I could or SHOULD completely lose my shit on him.  But my response in defense of the gay man he spoke of was so lame.  And I left that morning feeling I hadn't done my part.  Hadn't done any good.  Hadn't defended this gay man who unknowingly STILL falls prey to judgment, non-acceptance, ignorance and hatred.

I know now nothing I could've said would've changed the old man or enlightened him in any wayHe no doubt has a LIFETIME of conditioning, convictions, judgments, hatred from his OWN pain built up in and around him that I could never permeate.

But I don't know how to stand alongside people like this, with love and acceptance.
How do you do that?  
How do you respect someone who believes in such deeply, debilitating prejudices?
And doesn't view human life the same way you do?
HOW DO YOU DO THAT? 
No, really.  I genuinely want to know.  How do you love and accept someone who's destructive opinions and belief's you don't RESPECT? 

Although I didn't have the courage to stand up to this stranger in that moment, who in a few crude remarks spoke against everything I believe in, I knew from that point on, I would NOT settle for anything less than our highest capacity of our human consciousness, to love, embrace and defend ALL walks of life completely, without question.

That I HAVE to require more of myself, my friends, my family and my faith.  I know there may not be a whole lot I can do to change the minds of people that feel this way, even harder for me at the moment, to love even THIS guy for his beliefs, but I CAN love and accept with even MORE intensity, those who have been cast aside, told they need to be "saved" or forgiven in order to be loved by God or seen as the whole, beautiful soul they already are.  To continue to contribute to allowing, inspiring and igniting the TRUE SELF of our fellow humans to be revealed and shared and to shine through.  No less than that.

I love what John Shelby Spong says.
"WE can either follow Christ or maintain our prejudices.  There can be no compromise.  A church unified in prejudice cannot possibly be the body of Christ.  Any prejudice based on who a person is, his or her very being as a child of God, cannot be a part of the church's life."  Whether from the church we grew up in or the family that raised us, we NEED to require more.

WHEN WE ARE HURTING OTHERS,  
JUDGING OTHERS, 
CONDEMNING OTHERS, 
WE ARE DOING IT TO OURSELVES.

We are ALL THE SAME.
ALL WHOLE, as we are.

We all CAME FROM AND ARE GOING TO the SAME PLACE
despite the differences in our physical forms, our sexual preferences, our behaviors, personalities and pain.
So we CANNOT continue to allow this type of language, judgment or separation to exist in our presence. 

I realized that clearly, I'm also judging this man for sharing his own pain and disillusionment (albeit, in a destructive way,) some of which is probably not his fault.  Maybe it was how he was brought up, what HE was made to believe, was told was the TRUTH.  I know any anger I feel towards him or frustrations towards establishments that still hold strong to their beliefs, is pointlessThe shifts and changes required to live in a more loving, compassionate, accepting presence?  Will have to come from within their OWN hearts.

When I step in to the Catholic church today, much like the one I was raised in, I still observe it's architecture with the awe and wonder of a child.  The strong, faith-filled communities that have been built within and around it, the idea of God and Jesus at its center.  I revel in its undeniable beauty, size and design.  We send our kids to Catholic school, as I CRAVE for them to have SOME foundation in faith.  To know God and the stories of the life of Jesus.  

But, as John Shelby-Spong shares, "Ultimately, the resurrection is a call to Universalism.  Go to all the world, go beyond the boundaries of your fears.  Go to those you have defined as unclean, unworthy, unsaved, uncircumsized and unbaptized.  Go to those you have reduced to being in the object of your prejudices.  Go to those who are different.  Go to the rejected of the world and teach them what I have taught you, namely that God IS LOVE and that love embraces all that God has made, that love has no boundaries, that love rejects no one and that love is the essence of the gospel.  The Great Commission was never meant to be a charge to us to convert the heathen, as it has so often been interpreted to be.  It was and is a call to see everyone as living inside the love of God."

To EXPLORE a faith-filled life with curiosity, deep questioning, never settling on what is portrayed to them as the ONLY truth and to recognize the divine being and beautiful inner voice they possess already.  To know that if they love and see others as inherently HOLY beings, they will see themselves as the same.

This current struggle for me, like most, does not come without pain and heartbreak.  Frustration and despair.  I am still FULL of confusion and questionsBut on the tails of our human suffering I've learned always comes an even greater invitation to live in a more expansive and inclusive way in the world.  An (initially) uncomfortable stretching and opening of our hearts and minds to go beyond what we think or have been told is truth.    
To be uprooted again and again, so we can grow.  
To lose our faith over and over, so we can find it again.

(And truly, if you have suggestions, ideas, your OWN truths that you think might be helpful on how you continue to love and be with people whose opinions and beliefs are so opposite your own, do share.  If you can't leave a comment here (sometimes tricky,) just email me at ewesterhaus@gmail.com or leave me a note on FB.  LOVE to hear others' thoughts on this struggle.)