Quaker (Not the Oats)

It started yesterday. A need to reconnect, to recenter. As someone who grew up attending church on a regular basis, I find that every now and then I have a deep longing to join with a community for spiritual connection and  contemplation. However, it has been years since I felt at home in a church setting and in the current political climate even less so. This has been both liberating and disconcerting. It’s difficult to rewire the pathways in the brain and painful to come to terms with a changing landscape of your views on the past and how it shaped you. Knowledge and experience will teach you many things but they will also rattle you to the core and demand that you face your demons by not shying away from the truth even if it hurts, even if it makes you question everything you ever “knew” to be true. 

The need to find a place for quiet contemplation and connection led me to a Quaker meeting. I have never attended a meeting before. Instead of being greeted boisterously or not at all (yes this has happened) as has been the case in most churches I have attended, I was greeted quietly and led into a room where other people were sitting silently. There was no altar, no pulpit, no band playing music. Instead, there was silent reverence. It was peaceful. 

During a Quaker meeting, there is no leader. All are welcome, all sit quietly and if anyone feels led to share they do. No one is allowed to speak when someone else is speaking. No one is allowed to debate another person’s point. Less is more. 

I sat quietly in a pew, my head leaned against the wall, a beautiful breeze blowing through the window next to me. I closed my eyes. I was prepared to be in this space of silence. I had left my cell phone in the car, no distractions. 

Nature had a different idea though. The building we were in shares the space with a local Montessori school and they have chickens they care for outside in the yard. The chickens decided that this time of quiet contemplation was the best time to be as loud as possible. I laughed a bit because it was comical. I was frustrated a bit because my goal was to find a place of peace. Then it occurred to me that just like a mantra repeated to clear one’s mind, that if I focused on the noise the chickens were making my mind was clear of all other wandering thoughts. So I settled in and did just that and by the time the chickens finally gave up their incessant chatter, I was calm and relaxing into the new space I was in. 

We all sat together quietly for an hour. Some people spoke briefly, some said nothing at all. Each person who shared said something simple yet meaningful. One woman sang a song and asked those of us who knew it to join if we would like to. The song was one I had known since I was a small child, in some ways so familiar and in other ways like a far away place I used to live. It was oddly comforting to sing along though, “… prepare me to be a sanctuary.” 

Reflecting on the meeting today, I was struck by how often we fill the void with noise to avoid discomfort. It’s foreign to us to sit together quietly and not find it necessary to speak. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about “holding space” for people in my life and what that really looks like. Today, I found that concept so beautifully expressed. Holding space is sitting with someone, literally or figuratively, quietly and without agenda other than to be a place of peaceful sanctuary. In a world so full of noise and chaos, sometimes your silent presence is what’s needed most. When we offer a place for others to land gently and without judgement, we are holding space for healing, connection, and growth. 

Come in she said, I’ll give you shelter from the storm.

xo

Leah

If you’re local to the Merrimack Valley and would like to know more about the meeting I attended click here, Friends Meetinghouse

(Title inspiration goes to the witty and creative Christine Green)

Defiance Moment

What do we hide from?

We hide from the things we fear.

What do we hide from others?

We hide the deepest truth of our hearts.

We live in a constant state of fear and scarcity, never believing that there will be enough to go around, enough to cover it all. We hold ourselves back from truly diving into life and living authentically because we’re afraid we won’t be accepted as we are or that love is somehow a limited resource that we will lose. So instead, we paint on a face that we think will satisfy the “thems” and “theys” and quietly let our truths and dreams die inside.

But when will the defining moment, or the defiance moment, be the turning point that sets you free? It’s up to you. You are the only one who can decide to look fear in the face and move past it. You are the only one who can choose to push past the discomfort of owning your truth and shed the skin of your pretense to become the person you’re truly meant to be.

It’s in learning to let go of preconceived ideas, subconscious baggage, and the knee jerk response to control that you will find the deepest levels of growth. The only person you own is yourself. The only person you can control is yourself. When we stop trying to control things from a place of fear, we can begin to live from a place of authenticity and experience life in its fullest and most beautiful form.

On the other side of fear is your freedom.

 

 

Building a Growth Mindset

 

The other morning, we sat outside on our porch and I gave Madi a notebook to write in. She sat down willingly but then began to shut down and I could see her anxiety building. Writing comes easily and naturally to me, it always has but Madi struggles with both reading and writing. Writing is an instant stressor for her and often creates feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. Knowing this, I decided to use soft music, a tool that has worked with her before, to help her feel relaxed and focused. At first she sat there stuck and frustrated then I told her that she didn’t need to write anything in particular and she didn’t need to spell everything correctly. I encouraged her to write whatever came into her mind and as an English teacher I once knew said, “throw up on the paper and edit later.” So she began to write …

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She finished writing and handed this to me and I cried. I was so proud of her for processing her big emotions and not giving up. I gave her a hug and told her that I appreciated that she stuck with it even though it was hard. Then I said, “Look! Do you see how your mood changed as you wrote?” She smiled and nodded. Then we sat down together and edited the words she misspelled and she was open and receptive, feeling completely positive. It was a beautiful thing.

I have always found writing therapeutic, especially in terms of processing difficult emotion and anxiety. I struggled with anxiety from the time I was a child but did not know what I was dealing with until I was an adult. Because of this, I lacked the tools I needed to successfully and effectively process through my anxiety and this negatively effected many areas of my life and relationships. To this day, I am continually navigating this aspect of myself and learning to channel it in a positive way instead of allowing it to process through me as a destructive force.

Now as a parent, I have a child who deals with anxiety as well. Often, my own experiences with anxiety have helped me to model and facilitate the use of effective coping strategies for her. However, there are times that our anxiety bounces off each other and I struggle to maintain the calm composure she needs to learn how to process these heavy and challenging emotions. We have begun to refer to this as “crashing cars,” because sometimes when we are both struggling our emotional responses “crash” into each other.

Parenting has challenged me on every level of personal growth and development. It has made me aware of the areas in my life that are not so pretty and require intentional work to heal and create new path ways for negative emotions to become positive growth.

Recently, I’ve begun to use Carol Dweck’s Fixed vs. Growth Mindset research with Madi – the goal is to change the “I can’t” headspace to the “I can’t yet but if I keep trying, I will succeed.” In her book Dweck states, “For students with the growth mindset, it doesn’t make sense to stop trying … working harder was not something that made you vulnerable, but something that made you smarter.”

I am working to help Madi build a growth mindset while also giving her effective coping skills to help her process through the anxiety she experiences when things become challenging.  When challenges become a positive rather than a negative, it releases the pressure of perfection and allows for creativity to flourish. Fear of failure causes the brain to shut down and stifles the ability to process. We remove the fear of failure when we allow for mistakes and see them as stepping stones to growth and success. When we operate from a growth mindset, we can step back and take our anxiety for what it is – a feeling. No matter how genuine, difficult, and valid a feeling it is, we do not have to allow it to control us and dictate our life. We can simply sit with it, allow it, and know it will pass. Then move forward and tackle the challenge head on.

“If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.”
— Carol S. Dweck

 

Change

Change can’t be forced or stopped. Sometimes it’s sudden, sometimes it’s gradual. There is no perfect map to guide us through the changes life brings our way. All we can do is allow the change instead of fighting it. We must find a way to flow with the change, to allow it to promote growth and endurance. Fighting change won’t stop the change itself and will only make the inevitable journey harder to navigate. We have the choice to move forward with bitterness and resentment or with grace and courage.

The choice is always ours and that is where our power lies.

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Better Than I Thought It Would Be

 

And you cannot imagine all the places you’ll see Jesus
But you’ll find Him everywhere you thought He wasn’t supposed to go

… And feel all the hunger, the bellies and the bones
Shout for the prisoner, cry for justice, loud and long
And march with the victims, as Jesus marches on
And sit at all the tables, ’cause Jesus eats with everyone
And dance to the music, if you can’t sing its native tongue
And cry for the wombs, the mothers and the empty arms
And hold high the warriors, fighting now for freedoms’ song

And love, love, love, love
Like it’s your own blood
And love, love, love, love
As you have been loved

I have heard this song before many times. In fact, this whole Nichole Nordeman album, Every Mile Mattered,  landed in my lap like a beautiful gift and a time bomb at the same time and I have gone back to it over and over again since it came out this Summer.

Today though as I listened to this song, I thought about Madison. I thought about the marches I have taken her to, I thought about the way that I am raising her to see God in a completely different way than I knew him when I was her age. Yet at the same time, maybe it’s not completely different after all because the love has never changed, only my perspective has. Where I once saw division and lines, I now see connection and community. Where I once believed that some things were too big for grace to cover, instead I have found that grace is actually an endless, wonderful abyss that I am always falling into.

The only walls that are around our hearts are the ones we build ourselves through fear and pain. Fear has a way of making us choose sides, of clouding our perspective, of creating a need to be right and in turn making others wrong. Pain causes us to shrink into ourselves, to hide ourselves, to not allow and embrace connection and community. But that is never the way it was supposed to be. We need each other, we belong to each other, we are in this crazy, messy, beautiful life together whether we like it or not.

I can look back over the past ten to twelve years of my life and see the various ways life began to create cracks in my “reality.” The more that I learned, the more people that I connected with, the more experiences I had, all began to open my eyes and shake me out of my comfort zones. And the pain … oh the lessons that pain will teach you. Through a marriage of connections and pain, my heart cracked wide open to a world so much bigger than I ever knew.

I can not judge you when I am standing next to you in the trenches of life asking the same questions that you are. I can not judge you when you are extending love and grace to me even when it is undeserved. I can not judge you when you are sharing your raw and authentic self with me. I can not judge you when I sit down at a table with you and share a meal. I can not judge you when I sit at a bar with you and share a beer. I can not judge you when we cry – sometimes you cry, sometimes I cry, sometimes we both cry.

Instead, I have fallen in love with the beautiful imperfection of the souls that are around me and I am pretty sure God is in love with them too.

And so, I am teaching Madison, that we love, love, love as we have been loved. Even when it’s uncomfortable, even when it hurts, even when we are not guaranteed that the other person will love us back quite the same. We love those who are different; we appreciate the beauty and imperfection that is the very soul of what it means to be here in this life and to be human.

And so we march alongside those who share similarities and differences with us because we believe in love, we believe in grace, we believe in connection, we believe in each other.

It’s not what I ever expected Grace to look like, it’s not what I ever expected God to look like – in fact, it is so much better than I thought it would be.

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xo

Leah

Still Here

Grief is a strange thing. It comes back in unexpected ways and stops you in your tracks. All of sudden the emotion is there whether you are prepared to deal with it or not. We look for closure, for finalization as a bridge to move forward. However, as time goes by, I am left wondering if closure is actually a reality or if we simply learn to live with the heaviness while still embracing new life, new joy. Life doesn’t stop and so we must continue to move forward even if a clear path does not present itself.


Sunday, the last sail race of the season, was significant, yet again. The end of my sailing season and the beginning of Fall, marking transition and loss in similar and different ways for the second year in a row. Last years race was dark and stormy, mirroring the events that were happening in my life and relationship at the time. In that relationship, I had found a new hope and so the loss of that was significant. Now, I fear it may still paint some of my views on love and my emotional reactions to connecting with other people.


Recently, I was challenged to view connections with other people as lessons I learn rather than focusing on the loss that I experienced. So what did I learn? I learned to stand my ground, I learned to speak my truth even when it was constantly questioned. I learned that I wanted more in life, more in my relationship. I learned to let go of a toxic situation because I am worth more than that, I do not need to allow that type of energy into my life and by default my daughter’s life.


This year, was a clear, beautiful, sunny day with no wind. A new mirror of current events. I am far more grounded and centered, far more okay this year than I was at this time last year. I can see the light despite the pain and darkness I have experienced. In a strange way, “no wind,” seems like the perfect metaphor for a relationship that I have fought for on and off again for almost four years with very little forward motion. Without wind, there is no race. The end.


However, I am too close to the experience to process the lessons I learned at this time. Instead I find my heart wrapped up in the loss and lack of closure for both situations. I find myself hopeful but grieving. I find myself alive but broken. I find myself resigned and yet I can not quiet the fight that is constantly going on in my heart. Letting go without a defined sense of closure is hard to do.


I organize things, I fix things, I make things neat and pretty – I can not do that this time around and it goes against the grain of who I am at the deepest level. I love until it hurts, literally, I don’t let go. However, this time, I have to let go. I can not hold on anymore. If I learned anything last year, it is that I matter and that I am the one who determines my path, no one else. However, there is still a level of heaviness in that knowledge and always grief in letting go.


Some days, my heart carries this weight well and I am able to go about my day with a sense of purpose and hope in new things to come. However, on days when my defenses are down and the grief hits unexpectedly, I struggle to remain steady and hopeful. I will not remain there though, I have fought too hard and stood my ground too long to give up now. So instead, I carry the grief and loss, joy and pain, love and let go, hope and brokenness inside my heart as graciously as I am able to and I keep on moving forward.

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I’m still here, I’m still smiling, I’d say that’s winning.

xo

leah

Grown into Grace

 

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Caught in a whirlwind or two.
Divinely, my sail caught the winds of you,
and changed my point of view.
Never hopelessly lost, you see.
Spirit wind set its course for me.

And calmed the waters of a troubled soul.
Pulled the anchor from the depths below.
Set a horizon of direction
in this heart of mine.

– Watermark

 

I left organized religion a few years ago. When I say I left religion I do not mean I lost my faith or belief in God. However, the damage that organized religion caused in my own life set me on a path to seek out what faith really means and just how far God’s love and grace actually extends.

I’ll never forget the beginning of my divorce. I remember crying and saying, “This is the worst thing I’ve ever done, this is the worst thing I’ve ever done to someone.” I also remember thinking that this was too big, too big for grace to cover. I was so scared I’d never heal, never be forgiven, never find restoration.

I had no idea that the very grace I doubted could cover me would ultimately be what has carried me through some of the hardest moments of my life.

These years have been hard. I’ve struggled emotionally, physically, financially, and of course spiritually. I lost my house and then my puppy in the same year. I have had my heart broken over and over again. I don’t know if I’ve ever cried so much in my entire life.

But I found a grace so much bigger than I ever imagined in all the little moments that were still beautiful despite the heartache and pain.

I completed my degree and received high honors while parenting, working, and finalizing a divorce.

I gained a village to raise my child with, a friend and an ally in my daughters Step Mother. This is one of the most beautiful gifts. Our family may not be made of blood but it is most definitely made of LOVE.

I found a new passion in Sailing. It has been one of the most therapeutic parts of this journey, both empowering and calming to my soul.

I have met some of the most wonderful people along the way. I would never have had the opportunity to know them if I had not set out on this journey.

I have grown and I have changed in so many ways. I’ve found my voice and comfort in my own skin. I have solidified my core values and learned what it means to stand my ground despite my fear.

I am watching my daughter become an incredible person full of love, tenacity, intuition, and joy. She is brave, she is strong, she is kind.

I am still standing, I still have hope.

All of this … Grace, amazing, overwhelming, unfailing grace. God is not inside the walls of religion. God is not confined by tradition and expectation. He walks beside us, he is in the moments of every day, mundane life.

Grace never gives up, there’s nothing so big that it can not be covered by grace. I know because I live and breathe in it every day and I always have. Now I know. I have finally grown into grace.

In the darkest moments of the soul, I hope you too will find the beauty and the Grace.