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)

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

 

After

Disappointment

Chokes my words, closes my throat

Sadness

The heart aches, in the deepest place

The overflow drowns my clarity

Of all the years and along every road

I have held so tightly to this HOPE

That in everything there is purpose

In everything there is meaning

But I feel my fingers slipping

I feel myself losing the battle

After …

Fighting so hard

Fighting so long

Have I always been wrong?

 

 

 

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

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.

Artificial Heart

Puppet strings

and shiny things

A shallow attempt to hide

your artificial  heart

Expectations are your puppeteer

as you grin ear to ear

A hallow attempt to be

anything but who you are

You live in this suspended state

Awaiting some different fate

But when will you realize that only you

can sever the ties

That keep your truth locked

deep inside

Ending this robotic dance

of leaving your destiny in someone else hands

 

via Daily Prompt: Artificial

The Slow Down

I think of Fall and the way it eases us back into a slower pace, a more scheduled routine, an earlier end to our nights. I think of Madi and how like Nature, she is always pushing me toward the slow down.

She takes her time, she does not comprehend the need for rush or urgency. She has always been this way. I have not. I rush head long into everything. I push myself past my own limitations. For so long I have lived on the edge of urgency even when nothing was truly demanding that type of intensity.

I am learning … I am learning that sometimes it’s best to step back, to reassess and to just be here in this moment allowing myself the time to process without pressure. This is something that I will forever be learning, this is my lesson in this life. To learn patience, to learn trust and to let go of all my preconceived ideas of how life should be.

This morning Madi took it very slow waking up and getting ready; this was hard for me. I used to get really upset. I used to make our mornings more miserable than necessary and set a bad tone for our day out of frustration. She is teaching me and I am listening. She has a tender heart and a gentle spirit. She vibes off of my moods. My stress is not worth her heart. She needs me to send her off into the day feeling peaceful and confident in herself. She does not deserve to feel sad or as if she is doing something wrong because she takes her time.

I am learning to prepare as much as I can beforehand to minimize morning stress and just let the rest go. I would love to be at work a half an hour early but for now that is not my reality – let it go. I would love to eat breakfast before I leave the house, who has time? – let it go. I would love to stop for coffee on the way, that ain’t happening – let it go. All of these things really don’t matter in the grande scheme of things but she does.

In the same way, I feel that life is pointing me into the slow down. Sometimes suddenly and other times gradually it is awakening me to the fact that so much of my stress and anxiety are self inflicted. Perfect isn’t reality and sometime good enough really is enough. Why the rush? When I rush I am actually missing out on the moments and that’s where life is, in the moments. 

Growth takes time, I can not rush the process. Slowly, steadily life unfolds and I really have no control of it after all.

once-she-stopped-rushing-through-life

Fear, it’s holding you down

fear

ˈfir/
noun
  1. 1.
    an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.

Fear is caused by “belief.”However, belief does not mean that what you are thinking is actually true. But we get stuck, so stuck in the belief aspect of fear that we become paralyzed, unable to react/act rationally. We isolate ourselves, we minimize ourselves, we miss out on living fully alive.

These past few days I have had to deal with a lot of things that I am afraid of. A lot of emotion has come to the surface and as I contemplate the source of a lot of my pain and confusion, I am becoming aware of how often I react and respond out of fear and not from a place of courage. I am learning; I am able to stand my ground far better than I was a year ago but it is a process and I still fall into the fear trap.

There are many ways that fear can cripple us if we allow it to.

Boundaries – When I operate from a place of fear I do not allow others the proper boundaries nor do I protect myself by maintaining the proper boundaries that I need.

Expectations – When I operate from a place of fear, I need to be in control and so I place unrealistic expectations on myself and on others.

Self Preservation – When I operate from a place of fear, I do not believe that I have enough or that I am enough so I cling tightly and don’t allow myself or others breathing space.

Blame – When I operate from a place of fear, I do not want to be wrong so it is easier to blame or deflect than to take responsibility for my own actions.

Excuses – When I operate from a place of fear, I try to justify with excuses for my behavior because it is easier than taking ownership and responsibility.

How can we combat the demon of fear? By facing it head on. By admitting that we are afraid, that we are wrong, that we don’t always get it right and loving ourself and others through that process. By letting go of unrealistic expectations and the need to cling on to others in an attempt to feel whole or validated.

 

The opposite of fear is bravery; it’s not the absence of fear but the answer to fear. Bravery is being afraid and moving forward anyway. Bravery is standing up and doing the right thing not the easy thing, not the comfortable thing. Bravery means that I am able and willing to admit when I am wrong, own it and begin taking the steps I need to take to change.

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
– Nelson Mandela

The Next Chapter Begins

It was a wonderful Summer. Madi and I spent days and days by the Ocean with friends and family. We soaked up the Sun, we had lots of Ice Coffee/Juice, Donuts, and Ice Cream. I personally have so many great memories of back decks and beers/Sangria. Summer 2013 officially rocked!

Now here we are in September. I was apprehensive but excited at the same time as we approached this new chapter in our life and stepped off into a great unknown – Full time work for me and back to school for Madison. We have had a great ride Miss Madi and I; full of ups and downs for sure but full of so much more love and joy than I could have possibly imagined before I had my little beauty.

The first day …  

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And we didn’t cry a single tear    … talk about Growth!! We both had a wonderful day and we were both excited about our new adventure and we both wanted to go back the next day.

Life is full of seemingly small, but rather large Miracles.

We also thought it would be fun to take pictures of each other, I’m rather impressed by her camera skills but then again, she hasn’t met a touch screen she doesn’t know how to handle!

And so here we are our second week in and now I have school to add to my schedule and today at one point I started to feel like maybe I overestimated my ability to take on so much all at once and then I realized that I have to live what I preach – It’s All About Your Attitude!

ImageThe challenges are always great, but “If we are growing, we are always going to be outside our comfort zone.” * I was exhausted during class, but I made it and then I did one of my favorite things, blasted my music, windows rolled down, and enjoyed the beautiful night drive. I came home energized and feeling alive! Life is Good, your life is good too,  you just have to realize it, embrace it, and live alive.

And breath in the quiet moments that are ours to enjoy like I did on my short lunch break in the Woods … Embrace the Moment, Live Alive.

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 “She didn’t Talk About It, She did It!”

Wishing You Love, Peace, & Joy Always,

Leah 🙂

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*John Maxwell