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.

Reframe It

I appreciate structure, I feel at my best when I have a plan and know what is going on. But that’s not life. I am reminded on a an almost daily basis that despite best effort, there are no guaranteed outcomes.

Life has a way of stretching me past my comfort zones pretty consistently. Sometimes I handle this well and just “roll with the punches,” still other times, sudden and unexpected change throws me into an emotional tail spin.

I firmly believe in the power of positive thinking. I read an article recently on the concept of Reframing. Reframing is a way of looking at events, ideas, concepts and emotions that could be viewed negatively and instead changing the perspective to a positive one. Finding the good. “Positive thoughts give rise to happy, contented emotions and negative thoughts result in sad and depressive emotion. These emotions than affect biological changes in the body. Basically, the quality of our thinking affects the emotions we experience  and the state of our physical health”

When circumstances do not go the way that we hoped, intended, or wanted them to, it is easy to slip into a negative headspace. But what is the benefit of that? Sometimes we get so caught up in what “should” have happened that we miss the real meaning of what actually did happen in all of the chaos, beauty and pain. All of our experiences in life hold value, even those that make our heart hurt when we think of them. “Regardless of what’s going on in our lives, we can always ‘reframe’ our situation. So – no matter how bad everything appears to be, we always have the choice to make ourselves feel better by changing the way we view our problems or situations.” There are no guarantees in life. For someone, such as myself, who likes structure and order this often creates a sense of anxiety and stress. However, I believe that there is a strong coorelation between the ability to reframe your thinking and a heart of gratitude and forgiveness. When I find reasons to be grateful for the good in any situation, I am then able to deal with the negative aspects of the situation in a healthier way.

“True forgiveness is when you can say, “Thank you for that experience.”
― Oprah Winfrey

We have to make a concious decision to choose happiness and find the good. We have to actively choose to reframe our world view. We have to make the choice. Our quality of life depends upon it.

“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.”
― Seneca

 

Teach Them to Be Kind

Teaching kindness starts in small ways. As adults, it is challenging to reign in emotion and negativity on a daily basis and so children may hear and see things that are not kind, positive and gentle.  Children learn by example; how we react to situations, people, and circumstances becomes their guideline for behavior. One of the things that we tend to forget is that little ears are listening all the time and soaking in information. Children do not have the mental maturity to effectively process everything they hear. This is why they often misinterpret situations and assume things that are not completely true. However, unaware of their misinterpretation, they do not clarify their misinformation.

Think for a moment about comments that you might say in front of your child such as, “I can’t stand her, she drives me crazy … Did you see what she was wearing last night? … they’re white trash … I’m going to kill him … he’s such a jerk.” When we speak disrespectfully or negatively about other people in front of our children even in a joking manner, we are teaching them that this is normal and acceptable behavior. Knowing that children don’t alway interpret situations and conversations effectively, imagine what they are thinking if you continualisly make negative comments about certain people? They may begin to believe that it is okay to treat some people respectfully but that you don’t have to be kind and respectful to everyone. In essence, they are being taught that targeting someone is acceptable behavior.

Bullying in schools is a major issue and I can’t help but believe that part of it has to do with parenting. If we are not deliberately teaching our children to love with acceptance and treat everyone with kindness, who will? According to the National Center for Education Statistics, one out of every four students report that they are bullied. Though bullies are often potrayed as physically and verbally abusive to their victims, there are also those who bully in a microaggressive way. According to Dr. Derald Wing Sue“Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”  Bullying can be subtle and may be done in such a way that only the victim knows what is going on. As David Rivera states, “Many bullies do not use overt brute strength to overpower their targets, but rather engage in intimidating behaviors that are oftentimes covert and hard to detect.”

This year, I am working with 6th grade. It is my first experience working in a middle school. I love these students; I celebrate in their successes, give them extra support when they need it and love to laugh with them. However, it has been a very eye opening experience when it comes to how subtle bullying can really be. Our goal as a team of teachers is that our students would operate as a community, treating each other with kindness and respect. The school has brought in guest speakers to address the topic of bullying. The students all signed a class contract which included how they were to treat their classmates.

Once a week, I have lunch duty. I watch how my students interact with each other, how they choose their seats, how they like to save seats for certain people and actively avoid sitting with other classmates. I’ve seen the look of hesitation and uncertainty on the face of a student when they can’t find a place they feel comfortable sitting. It is heartbreaking, it is terrible and it is not okay.

Recently we found out that a student had been receiving harassing and derogatory messages for some time. The student threw them away, so there was no evidence at first. However, this student received another note and gave it to the teachers as evidence. The note said, “kill urself.” I don’t feel that I can even put into words just how horrific this is, how terrible. I am equal parts angry and sad. My students are eleven and twelve, how can one of them have that much hate towards another student? How can they be that disconnected from empathy?

The past couple of days as this has unfolded the words, “Teach them to be kind,” kept running through my head. We have to start when they’re young, we have to really think about the things that we are saying and doing around them. We have to be deliberate about connecting with our children and teaching them to have empathy and compassion. In her article, Acts of Kindness: Teaching Children to Care, Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell writes, “While kindness might seem pretty straightforward to learn, it’s a bit more complex than meets the eye. We don’t make children happy when we simply enable them to be receivers of kindness. We escalate their feelings of happiness, improve their well-being, reduce bullying, enrich their friendships, and build peace by teaching them to be givers of kindness.” 

So let’s consider the words we use and the conversations we have in front of our children. Are we teaching kindness or are we exhibiting negativity towards others? Are we practicing compassion and forgiveness? Let’s teach our children to be kind, let’s show them how to be builders of peace.

Asking Questions, Finding Grace, Taking Chances

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The Summer of 2013 completely changed the course of my life. I didn’t see it coming until it was in my face and then I realized it was something I had known for a long time. The heart ache, the guilt, and the tears that followed have been intense but yet I have found a strength I didn’t know I had and grace that went far beyond anything I had ever imagined. Lately, I have begun to come out of a self induced hibernation.

Losing the me I’d always known and the life that went a long with it, left me reeling and falling flat on my face over and over. I was overwhelmed and so I shut down. I had dreams of babies and a white picket fence life since I was about five. No one could have prepared me for the heart ache of the past five years – postpartum depression, loss of income, and finally divorce. I didn’t see it coming until everything fell apart. This wasn’t my dream! This wasn’t how it was suppose to happen! This isn’t the picture I painted!

All of a sudden, I had to reimagine my life, repaint the picture, and make something beautiful out of all the broken pieces. I am still working on this, still processing what my “new life” will look like.

In many ways, I shut down on friendships because I was so overwhelmed with trying to figure out my place. Especially with friends who seemed to embody the dream I once had of a perfect little family, in a perfect little house, living the perfect life.

Obviously, I understand that nothing is perfect, but watching someone else find a way to make my dream a reality for themselves was just too painful for me to deal with. How does one fit in at play dates, birthday parties, cookouts, etc., when they’re no longer part of a typical family unit?

All the while, I was also juggling working full time and going to school full time. I got to a point where I was struggling just to process conversations and retain basic information. I felt like a shell of myself and just wanted so desperately to feel strong and together again. I cried a lot, probably more than I’ve ever cried in my life.

Yet, here I am, I’m still standing! I’m regaining my footing and finding my way. It has not gotten any easier, moments when I’m alone and Madi is gone still really, really suck. Somehow though, I am finding a new sense of peace and the ability to just be. I am still hibernating in some ways, not because I don’t love everyone per usual me, rather because this journey is so intense and personal it takes a lot of energy and time to process.

I am so extremely thankful for the handful of people who have seen me at my absolute worst and yet stayed in the mess with me. I am stronger because of them. They have offered both support and tough love. They refuse to let me wallow but they are always there to hear me out no matter how crazy I am sure I have sounded. Yes, I am strong, but they made me stronger.

Better days are on the way, I am sure of it now. 🙂

Xo
Leah

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Stumbling Forward …

Winter has always been a difficult Season for me … I live for Sunshine and the outdoors so the Winter months feel as if they drag on endlessly, this Winter was especially hard. In the Summer of 2013, my life changed drastically and the road that I had originally mapped out for myself became new and uncertain. I love change because it causes me to grow in new ways and expand my horizons, I hate change because it is brutal, painful, and pushes me out of my comfort zone.

I was living a “typical” life, a “normal” life and then I wasn’t anymore … My marriage of eight years ended and although it was a decision that I fully supported, it still left me in a state of chaos and all I could do was keep stumbling forward and stumble I did! I found that it wasn’t the person I missed but the tradition of it all that I missed. What do you do for the Holidays? What do you do on Sunday when everyone else is with their family? What do you do when you hang out with your married friends and they’re bitching about their husbands and you’re thinking, “the things that frustrate you are so minor, let it go …”

My divorce was the hardest thing that I have ever done and I am not being dramatic about that at all. I was always the “good girl,” I lived and still do live my life for the most part, to make other people happy and eliminate pain as much as possible. The truth sucks sometimes, the truth is painful and messy; it makes you want to run away and keep running. However, thanks to my beautiful gift, Madison, I was forced to stay in the pain and chaos and fight to make something beautiful out of all the broken pieces.

For the first time in forever, I had to stand my ground and speak my truth even though it was not what other people wanted to hear. I was scared and then I was pleasantly surprised … the love, support, and understanding that was given to us was amazing. The judgement I feared was so minor in comparison to the grace that has been extended to us. Fear makes you run and hide but it is not the choice you should make when you are going through a painful and difficult situation. We all need each other, letting go of fear and allowing others into our brokenness is one of the most beautiful experiences life has to offer. We are all broken, we are all stumbling, and when we reach out to each other in pain and with honesty, love is waiting there.

The Winter months were difficult, full of change, angst, and rediscovery; but then Spring … And I feel that we’ve all turned a corner. There is a new normal now, there is a new happiness and peace. And these words from one of my favorite authors explains it all so clearly and resonates with me so deeply:

“And sometimes, a woman decides to leave — not because she has given up, but because she refuses to give up. Sometimes she leaves, not because she’s confused or lost, but because things are just becoming painfully clear … And sometimes she leaves because in terms of parenting, she’s taking the long view. She knows that staying might help her children in the short run, but that staying — with everyone in his current state of being — would hurt her children in the long run. Because she never wants to tell her children that she compromised her integrity for them — that’s too heavy a burden for them to bear. They never asked for a martyr mother. And because she never, ever wants them to martyr themselves for marriage. Because she wants them to know that there is a chasm wide gulf between co-dependence and love.”  – Glennon Melton Doyle

Because sometimes in life, the hardest thing and the right thing are the same … I can’t tell Madison how to be a strong and independent woman, I have to show her by the way that I live my life.

And I have been blessed beyond measure to be surrounded by the love and support of such dear, sweet friends and I am amazed at the beautiful relationship that I have developed with my ex husband’s new girlfriend as we share the responsibility of caring for and loving Miss Madison – The word that comes to mind is GRACE. When you allow your heart to remain open in the face of bitter disappointment and pursue peace, you will be surprised at the results. There’s no such thing as “normal.” We are all living in the best way we know how, we are all loving as much as we are capable of, and we are all stumbling forward – So let’s just keep moving forward because at the end of the day, that’s all we can do.

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Love, Grace, & Peace to you … 

xo

Leah