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)

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

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.

Love & Light

I don’t write about Faith very often anymore. I have had a Faith Shift and have been grappling with what I believe as it has been evolving. I grew up in such a strict, religious environment and now I don’t even attend church. It’s not that I’ve lost my belief in God, rather I’ve lost my faith in organized religion.

I am sure many people I used to know think that I’ve “fallen away” or “lost sight of my calling.” But the truth is, in these past couple of years I haven’t fallen away, rather I have fallen into the Wastefulness of Grace.

Dealing with my divorce has probably been one of the most crucial turning points for me. Finding God in the midst of it all has been so very difficult and yet breathtaking at the same time. Knowing that His love surpasses my brokenness is astonishing and freeing and healing.

And I am still trying to figure it all out and I still don’t fully know what I believe about religion anymore but I have never felt more at ease about who God is and the vastness of His love for me. There’s no fear in Love because Perfect Love casts out all fear.

There’s a reason for the Journey, There is purpose in the learning … We’re getting there.

– Steffany Gretzinger

I believe in the God of love & light

In the One who surrounds and engulfs and envelopes you as a whole

A whole being, just as you are

Just as you were made

In an unending Ocean of Love

Where drowning is the ultimate end

And the place where a heart can truly begin

Oh the vastness, the greatness, the richness of this Love

That not one can comprehend, prevent, or box in

It is beyond a wildest dream, it is as tender as the hearts deepest wish

Why are you afraid?

You have been led to believe it can’t be this good

You have been told it never could

Cover you

Yet there it is, this Love In the deepest parts of you

Hidden and obscured by lies and abuse, yet unchanged

Unchanged, unending, unfathomable, yet completely yours

This God of pure Love

Sets you free to let go, to give in, to enter the safest place you’ll ever know

The Depths of Love

– Leah Perez