I Quit

The sweet spot. We are all looking for it. Be it in relationships, the perfect at bat, the ideal buzz, the desired spiritual high. We are searchers by creation. But, I’m tired. This exhausting effort to find the perfect feeling has left me hurt and untrusting of all the people and things. As a control freak, it is even more problematic because my search usually ends in one of two things: judgment of others or shaming of myself. Today, I surrender.

I have recently gone back to therapy. I could make a list of all the reasons that this was the right thing to do, but here is the truth. This ain’t my first rodeo. The topics and lessons and pain and tears have been rooted in the same issues that landed me on my first squishy piece of furniture in 2002. For decades, I have searched for ways to avoid pain. In some seasons, this has manifested itself in taking up new practices. In others, change has required putting down old habits. As someone that has seen the benefits of good mental health work, I should willingly walk into the rooms of professionals with excitement and honor for the transformation that is sure to come.

This time, however, it was not the case. I wanted to avoid this work. There is no better example of the journey of self-discovery and growth than an onion. Seriously, I’m using a Shrek reference for my hardest work. Because in my world, I need Eddie Murphy’s voice to remind me that I stink and that I make people cry. The bottom line is I AM NOT LIKE CAKE. I am a freaking ogre and my layers are many and deep. The only way to deal with the central challenges that I am sitting with for the um-teenth time is to peel back the next freaking layer.

The world that I live in tells me that I have the ability to do it all. I watch so many people in so many arenas of my life living gloriously “successful” lives. I would bet that many reading this think the same of me. “What do you need to work on?” “You have two great kids and a stellar husband.” “Team Hilbrich is a solid fighting machine.” “What could be wrong?” These things are true. And even with the truth of all the great things that life has given me, I have layers upon layers that are very far from the view of the masses. If there is one thing that I have mastered in this life, it is the art of the presentation. Sure, I come off a little mouthy and I have always been bossy and controlling, but in many circles those things have served me (and those that I have advocated for) quite well. I’m so perfected in this area, that my entire interior can be burning to the ground and I can still convince those observing from the periphery that the smoke is just part of the designed decorative accessories.

Want in on a secret? My chase has always been for the perfect combination of success and escape. That’s my sweet spot. The moment that the world believes that I have all the things together and I can simultaneously find the private and perfect ways to have the things that are “mine” out of your view of consumption. That’s how we avoid peeling the next layer. We don’t have to look deeper if we can live in that sweet spot. The one where we can come into our house or car or closet or porch and believe that we are alone and safe. Sure, we are safe from some things in these spaces. There are certainly ways that we can further that belief or prolong seeing the truth of the onion middle by avoiding the inner work but it is still there. And if you are anything like me, avoidance is only temporary. Because one day, you will be sitting in your safe spot and you finally admit that you can never escape your own soul. That’s the lie of the sweet spot. It’s a big fat liar.

For the record, there is nothing like a global pandemic and a major life shift to jerk off multiple layers at one time. This season has been fucking painful. It still is. Because when the layer is pulled off, we can’t put it back on. There is no amount of hot glue that can slap that sucker back on in a way that allows me to sell a together exterior once I have a half peeled layer flapping in the wind. This is the moment that I have a choice. I can live the lie that everything is fine (seriously, people, this is like my least favorite and most overused coverup) or I can face the reality that none of us are fine and instead embrace that the work of wholeness is just that – work. There is no shortcut. There is no easy way. There is no numbing or drinking or relationship or food or self sabotage that will make this magically disappear.

One of the first things that I have been asked to do as I begin this work is to pay attention to my body. Have I mentioned that I do not enjoy slowing down? That is the heart of paying attention. My body is speaking in loud and painful ways to me these days. It is tired. It is in protect mode. It shouts pain and fatigue and irritation and grief from every direction. There is a reason that my therapist asked me to pay attention to my body…bodies do not lie. I lie. My words do not match what I know to be true about my insides when it comes to my “fine-ness,” but my body does not lie. I woke up this morning after 10 hours of sleep (see, bodies don’t lie) and my shoulders were curled in on them selves. My gut was pained. My neck felt weighty. Even in my sleep, my body was screaming for me to listen.

So today, I just need to ask the Universe, am I the only one that is really ready to quit? Quit fighting the lie that there is a sweet spot? Quit believing that avoidance is the goal? Quit looking for ways to keep the exterior tougher so that the layer can withstand all that I throw at it? I hate being a quitter. Being is quitter is something that I fight with all of my everything. But my body and mind and soul and spirit and anxious heart and pounding head all tell me that it is time. So for today, I quit.

What If: The Birthday of the Church is My Exit Party?

Today is Pentecost. Pentecost is considered by many modern Christians to the birthday of the Church. According to the Biblical account in the book of Acts that is traced to this day, the original followers of Jesus (including the disciples) were in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Weeks. As the story goes, there was a rushing wind that came through the crowd and caused them to speak in different tongues. It was Peter, one of the twelve, that then explained that it was not drunkenness, but the Spirit of God that had come upon the people. He retold the prophecies that called for such a day. He told of the work of Jesus as a savior who was raised from the dead. In this moment, the more than 3,000 came to repent and believe in Jesus and were baptized. Around the world, this day is celebrated with Confirmations and recommitments to the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church. While there is certainly a different feeling to this Pentecost in many churches today, it is certainly a feast day of celebration for those that follow the rhythms of the story of the Christian faith.

As I have done with so many things in my journey of questions, I began to look at this story as I approached the end of Eastertide and this writing journey. Just like most parties, we each approach a celebration differently. I can’t imagine the scene in Jerusalem that day, but I can imagine it was a bit more chaotic than what I long for when I gather a few friends for a holiday celebration. The fire and tongues and mass baptism only adds further drama to the occasion. As I have reflected on this day that I have long touted as a beautiful visual of God’s presence in the world, I realized that the actual depiction in Scripture is the very scene that repels me from mass faith gatherings, even today. If I had been there and 3,000 people came forward to an altar call, my skeptic mind would be in overdrive. That’s just the truth.

It only further intrigues my questioning heart that this expression of the birth of the Church is enabled and motivated by one of the most deeply personal and tender aspects of faith for me today. The Spirit is something that I cannot deny. I believe in the mystery of the internal nudgeing of Spirit. I long for those moments, when in ways that I can’t explain or understand, the Divine is able to connect with creation. And at my core, I know that the Holy Spirit did not come into existence that day. The Spirit was and is and is to come. The Spirit is and can and does. It always has. Sure, the image of the comforter that comes to connect to humanity after the earthy life of Jesus ended is the common mold of expression in understanding the Spirit, but I believe that the great mystery of the presence of the Divine cannot be separated from Spirit, so from the beginning, so has Spirit been.

What I know for me today is that I’m not interested in the mass movements of religious expression. I am not motivated or stirred by anything that could even appear to be orchestrated group think. Should I encounter a group that I perceive to be drunk in words, actions or behavior, I’m not sure that I would even look long enough to hear the “explanation” of the situation. I am a doubter of the act. What I have realized is that in so many ways, the story that is the example of the birth of the Church is the very reason that I’ve lost my connection with the Church.

I have spent my entire life deeply embedded in the Christian Church. I have literally given every aspect of my life to the work of the institution. I have fought and created and tried. I have planted and studied the systems. I have breathed deeply and lost my breath. 13 years ago, I was a part of a team that began a church in League City, TX. Since that time, I have served as a leader, teacher and elder. In mid-March, I resigned from the elder board and at that time, I took a very important step away from the Church. I journeyed though the end of Lent and Holy Week in an intentional aloneness. When Easter came, I realized that the journey of the next season was being revealed in a global pandemic and in a personal internal one. My Eastertide 50 days of writing has been a public honoring of the private journey that I have been on for years. I made an intentional decision to listen to myself and my own journey in this season. For all of the hard, I am more free than I have been in quite some time.

What I am not doing in this season in committing to anything but my own personal journey of today. I am taking a very deliberate step out of Church life, and I don’t know if I will go back. My plan for this morning does not look anything like the Sunday mornings of the last 45 years of my life. If you were to Find My Friend me right now, you would probably see that I am walking a labyrinth. I can promise you that I have already acknowledged the Creator today. I can assure you that my porch and my tomato plants have become sanctuary for me. I am not without a sense of Spirit.

Here, on this day when we remember that a deeply personal revelation of the Divine was integral in the work and the lives of the followers of Jesus, I like to imagine that I am one that was sitting in the garden on the edge of the city wall. This is the same garden that I sat in with Jesus the night that he was taken to his death. That’s my holy space. I don’t need to be in the crowd of 3,000 to experience the wind. I can assure you that the separation from the business and the mass and paperwork and the thinking about all the ways that other people need to experience a gathering is not where I am feeling the work of God today. I am happily sitting outside the gathering, with an open and questioning awareness. And the Spirit of the Divine Gift and Mysterious Wonder that is beyond anything that I could have ever dreamed of, is blowing a new fresh wind into my life.

What If: You Don’t Need to Worry About My Faith?

I’ve shared many stories about my questions and doubts during this ‘What If’ journey. In the process of publicly voicing the changes that have long been inside of me, there has been a shift. Almost without exception, I have experienced one of three responses from those that are following along. The sociology/psychology nut in me finds this study in human behavior wildly fascinating. Do I have your interest piqued?

Friend #1 is explorer. My inbox is filled with bigger, deeper, more pushing and more shoving into even deeper places thanks to this friend group. Truth be told, this is a small group. What I have discovered in this process is that most of the time, only those that have previously gone before me in an exploratory process are comfortable in this space. Well, that or friends that never had my boxes in the first place! Whatever the motivation for holding this space may be, this group of friends has a unique role. You make me uncomfortable. You have spoken to things that I did not want to consider. I have pushed back on you. On many occasions, you have been the reason that I have bravely stepped out of my boxes. You have also been the caution flags that I have needed. You have reminded me about safety and choice. You have forced me to think before speaking. And most of these vital lessons have come because somewhere in your own process, you have been wounded. Thank you is wildly insufficient.

Friend #2 is distant. This entire conversation is one of two things for #2: uninteresting or unhelpful. Whatever the case, there is not a need to discuss and explore the questions that have rambled through my mind and sparked wonder and discovery in my own exploration. I have heard from this group, “You do you.” While this is often the approach of less-mystical dreamers, I have felt an off-putting distance as I wander into the realm of questioning Spirit. No doubt, this ability to come at life from this position is constructed from a pre-established understanding of certainty. While I would love to share deeper parts of this journey with my model #2 friends, I also fully recognize that without those that are not constantly running the race of deconstructed discovery, this would be a very exhausting world. So to those that hold space for my questions, but do not eagerly jump into the boat of wild thought with me, thank you for waiting safely for me on the shore.

Friend #3 is terrified. To this group of friends, I see you. I love you. I do not need to be saved from this journey. I know that many of you know me in the context of a faith leader. I understand that anytime a shift or change takes place in the life of someone you love, it can be unsettling. The beauty of this journey and the season that I find myself in today is that I am not alone. I am very much alive and thriving and exploring and growing. If you could see me today, you would feel a lightness that I have not had in…well, forever. I am actively leaning into living in ways that I did not know existed. One of the things that I know to have been true in past experiences in church life is an expectation to “be our brother/sister’s keeper.” I want to assure you that you are off the hook on this one. Not only do I have those that are loving me deeply in this season, but I have committed to not going alone on this journey. The real danger zones in my life are entered in secrecy. I know that journeying on the road with no co-passengers is a bad idea for so many reasons. I have chosen wisely. You need not worry or feel the need to rescue. I am not in danger. I actually feel more safe and cared for than I have been in many years. Thank you. Thank you.

One of the very real challenges of being a writer and a life-sharer is that people think they have access and knowledge of your life. While I always long for truth in my tales of life lessons and experiences, it is often hard to remember that the words on this screen are not all of me. What I share and write about is the portion of the journey that is for public consumption. I still have very real private feelings and experiences, many of which, shape and mold me in ways that words on a page cannot express.

Because of that reality, I am refining the way that I respond to expressions about my writing. I feel passionalty about sharing and exploring the real through writing. I do not feel the same way about explaining and defending my life. I have taken wise counsel from those that have gone ahead of me on this journey and I know I will not find joy or comfort in responding to every individual communication to my work. What I hope is that my words make you think about your own journey rather than analyzing or unpacking mine. That sacred work is mine to do. And while I fumble through the journey of discovery, I will share insights along the way. Of course, we will see things differently. Isn’t that the beauty of the human journey? Those are the stories that I want to hear. How is your soul evolving? How is adventure taking hold in your life? How is life coming forth from the places of death? If you feel like sending me a message or reaching out in text, these are the things that I want to know!

To all of the friends that read and explore and feel and sit back and observe, you are woven into this journey in special ways. Worry not, my friends, no need to send out a rescue boat because your sister Lacy is already racing her own little speed boat all over the ocean of life’s wonder. Jump in, the water is quite perfect.

What If: Deconstruction Does Not Require a Rebuild?

In 2002, I began a conscious journey of question asking. At that time, I was not familiar with the term “deconstruction,” but over the last almost 2 decades, that word has come to encompass the more common conversations among many modern progressive leaning Christians. Some have walked away from faith completely. Others have unpacked long held beliefs of theology and yet held onto the roots of the traditions. As this term became more trendy, I have seen some begin to bristle at the idea that what began as a form of rebelling has become quite mainstream. In certain faith circles, a journey of deconstruction is the only entrance ticket.

The interesting part of this journey for me is that I never planned to still be on this road. What began as an attempt to gently unpack understandings that felt stifling and old, has landed me years later in places that I never intended to go. These are arenas that I would have told you, even a few years ago, were beyond my desire and longing. I wrongly assumed that I would explore some messy beliefs and then pack the rest of life in neatly held depositories for open minded exploration. As I’ve discovered, that’s not how it works.

When I gave myself permission to ask the first question, I opened a way of thinking that I could not rebottle. In some ways, I feel like I rubbed a lamp and out popped the magic question asking genie, a genie with unlimited questions. Once I realized that the first question only added depth and richness to the journey of my life, I grew to love the questions. I realized that the unknown was not bad. I came to believe that the beauty of the journey of life was actually more fully known in the doubts and struggles.

As the one in the midst of the deconstructed way of life, I have never felt threatening. I have, however, quickly discovered that my journey makes others very uncomfortable. I will have more words about this particular part of the journey tomorrow, but what I need to say today is that I’m not finished. I’m not even close to being “deconstructed.” So, dear ones that are confused and concerned, hold on tight.

At the very heart of every good question asker is the deep desire to fully engage. When we stop living from the posture of individual containers in a segregated life and intentionally chose to move into integrated and holistic living, we change. Our entire outlook on growth and humanity and spirit and our physical bodies and our mental health begin to align in ways that can be absolutely uncomfortable for those that have chosen to live from multiple bucket. For me, deconstruction has literally wrecked the ability to keep a particular issue, idea or belief in its own compartmentalized thought container. And while this intentional shift has been so life giving, it has disrupted all of the things.

I can no longer see things that were once very right and wrong or black and white as anything but gray. When I apply that to the ways that I have always operated, it causes an immediate shift in priorities. This way of thinking has moved me into spaces of wonderful doubt and loving embracing. It has pushed me to call out injustice and oppression that I would have never acknowledged for fear of displaying spiritually wrong thought. It has even required that I reframe the “biggies” of life like parenting and marriage and friendship. I think it is safe to say that I am (at least) middle aged. At 45, I’m confident that I have lived long enough to have my own experiences and understanding, yet separating from ‘others’ thoughts, and fully embracing the reality that I have the ability to frame my life through my own lens and belief system, is still new ground for me.

What does this mean? Why does this matter? It matters because this is only the beginning. Deconstruction is merely the jumping off point. I like to think that much of my current state of existence is the a mid-air flight of a big fearless leap. Sure, your stomach is in your throat some days. Of course, there is a fear of sticking the landing without over-rotating or belly flopping. These are the very normal life experiences of risk. But what I have found is that the adventure of the decision to jump – the thrill of running to the edge – the moment of bravery that launches your life in a no take-backs kind of way, is simply glorious. There is absolutely no way to stop deconstruction. If I am honest, why would I want to? If deconstruction is an open handed question asking life, I’m here for it. I’m all in for all the things. I’m ready to live the rest of my life asking the questions that wreck the status quo and require me to know MY very own reason for belief and being.

May we sit in the midst of the deconstruction and be completely content that the rebuild is the not the journey.

May we see that the real challenge is not re-construction, but the realization that our world assumes that a structure is needed.

May we enjoy this formless state of contentment, with its warmth and invitation to rest in the unrestricted.

Cheers to the jump, my friends!

What If: Social Distancing Changes “Community” Forever?

Anyone want to take a swing at this one for me? ‘Cause I have a few things to say and they may not be the warm fuzzies that people want to hear. Who is ready?

This has been one weird season of life. There is a very real sense that our world will never be the same. I’m still keeping count, and it has been 87 days since I have seen Mom and Dad. I didn’t go 87 days without a visit when I lived in the state of Kentucky. I’m freaking over this. And guess what? I’m gonna see their little faces in just a week. I cannot wait. It will be on a porch with some distance between us, but I’m here for all the social distance love. All of it. But, when I just get really freaking honest, I must admit something very real. I don’t miss many people the way that I miss my parents. At all.

If there has been one thing that has come rushing to the surface in my relationships during quarantine it is that with the passage of time and removal of expectations, my circle is growing smaller. I have spent many years believing that to be “nice” and “kind” and a “friend” I need to continually expand the circles. This experience has proven to me that the width of my circle means so little to me, but the DEPTH of my circle is an entirely different conversation.

I’ve done some excavation work the last 3 months. I have spent considerable time shedding false narratives that have convinced me that things are “fine.” As I have unpacked the fine-ness of my life, I have taken a good hard reflective and challenging look at the relationships in my path. While I can’t seem to be motivated to honor Marie Kondo’s clutter goals, I have very honestly asked myself “do they bring me joy?” on more than one occasion. And, the answer is not always affirmative.

While I do not think that this season of life has caused things to happen, I do think that the intentional slowing, the time to process, the space for thought and observation and response has magnified the things that were already happening in my life. In some ways, I think I received a gift of intensified pressurization and in the process, I was able to step into and out of some spaces that I had avoided addressing in the midst of life busyness. The full calendar, the routine, the structure – they can be good. But for me, they were muffling the cries of needed attention. One of the single most important areas of this truth is in the way I see community.

I can be with people all day long. I can talk and read and Snap and Tweet @you. I can “connect” in the ways that I am supposed to. All of these things can happen in the name of forming connection and community and at the end of the day, there is still a very good chance that you are not my community. My people know that “community” with me is often defined in the best meme. Making your way to my shortest of short lists means that on a really bad day, you might (and let’s be real, it’s a baaaadddd day when I actually choose this option) get a text saying “do you have time to talk?” Community is not a Thursday at 7:30 event. It is not a standing once a week obligation. It is not even a predictable pattern.

My deepest community is found in the hard, messy, real, foul mouthed, smoke blowing, pretending I’m not crying moments – where life is falling apart and you are the person that I trust enough to call. For years, I have lulled myself into believing that there was a way to schedule connection. But the honest truth is that until you are staring at the bottom, until you are sitting in the midst of the most painful and can’t move, until you are so scared that you don’t even know how to take the next step, you may not even know you need community.

This time away has reminded me that there are some relationships that I cannot neglect. I now know that they have been forgotten and need resuscitating. In the insane spaces of my insane “normal” pace I have failed to love people, and more importantly myself, enough to prioritize them. In an effort to appease, there are pieces of myself that I have given up for the sake of being a part of something that I don’t really need.

Has this season changed my view of community? I sure hope so. I’ve been reminded that the deep is where I am fed. My life already has too many things on the calendar. As I try to find new rhythms and normal patterns in this time of “excused” absences from groups of gatherings, I want to look for the types of community that my soul needs. We each deserve to deep dive into connection, AND give ourselves permission to choose only the kind of communities that make us leap for joy inside. Let’s shed the should’s so we can have room for thriving.

What If: You Are Not Enough and That’s OK?

Time and again, I find myself in the darker seasons of life with thoughts of enough-ness. Up to this point in my life I have believed that this question brought me to a two path road. One of the paths was the belief that of course you are not enough. You are a flawed, sinful human and without the work of the saving grace of Jesus, you will never be enough. That is a road that while I’m driving, has many dangerous side roads that I have tried to navigate unsuccessfully. I hate that road. But the other road is equally as scary, mainly because of my well grooved belief paths made by the first road. As I have worked to explore self-help and personal growth, I have heard the phrase ‘you are enough’ at every turn. I think I am growing to hate this phrase equally as much.

I am not always enough. I am whole. I am growing. I am committed to the journey of self. But there are big, messy pieces of me that are not completely enough. I don’t want to be labeled complete because that implies that in that moment I am finished growing. I have so much more to learn. I have so many more experiences and goals and dreams to fulfill. What I long to say is I am not enough, and that is perfectly sufficient.

According to MerriamWebster the word ‘enough’ means “occurring in such quantity, quality, or scope as to fully meet demands, needs, or expectations.” For me to say that I am enough, is to tell a lie to myself. I hate liars. I mean, I really hate liars. I’m not lying to myself today. I don’t have all that I need to meet the needs of myself, my children and all people I love. To try and tell myself ‘I am Enough’ is to continue to perpetuate a false belief that I am allowed to stop working on myself, my growth and my learning.

After staring down these two roads, I have realized a third path is required for me. I need to know that I am not enough – not out of a deficiency, not out of sin, not even because I am not capable of being enough. I am not enough because I am not supposed to be self-sufficient. What I need is a basic belief that I am enough-ish. I need to know that I am enough to keep fighting for. Not because I already have all that I need inside of myself already, but I am enough because I am me. In my very own being, my faulty wiring and all, I have the capacity to love and thrive and live and grow and change and mature and risk and fail and love some more. That also means that in my enough-ness, I have to believe that I am worthy of inhabiting the space that my life has gifted me. My ideas and thoughts are worthy. My brain and hopes and dreams are important and relevant.

Thanks to the brilliance of my wise and beautiful youngest child (who just stumbled in to see what I was writing about today) I was given an image of a roadside billboard pointing to my 3rd way road. “Mom,” she said, “your road should say, ‘I am enough for this moment.'” Damn, Ally. You do get me.

What If: I Cannot Trust My Inner Voice?

There is a voice inside of you
that whispers all day long,
‘I feel that this is right for me,
I know that this is wrong.’
No teacher, preacher, parent, friend
or wise man can decide
what’s right for you – just listen to
the voice that speaks inside.
Shel Silverstein

As a kid, I was not a lover of words. I did not read. I did not enjoy writing. There was one exception to this rule. I had a handful of books that spoke. Their words lept off the pages to give feelings and meaning to my very confused thinking. As a pre-teen, Go Ask Alice was one of my favorites. Dark and twisty should have been a life label for me in 7th grade. As a younger kiddo, Where The Sidewalk Ends was a favorite ‘I’m pouting in my closet’ read. There seemed to be an understanding of mutual head dwelling with these authors. As I have worked to understand my own inner life, I came across this 1996 poem from Shel Silverstein’s children’s book, Falling Up. The line that had me hooked was “a voice inside of you that whispers all day long.” Two things struck me. One, the voice is whispering so I have to quiet my mind to hear it, and the voice speaks all day long.

One of the single greatest impediments in my ability to listen and trust my inner voice is a very real fear that my own voice is not trustworthy. I grew up with a foundational understanding of my sinful nature, an understanding that I could not escape from, an understanding that I was not able to overcome it. And while I cannot recall a specific conversation where I was told that my intuition was not trustworthy, I developed that belief and I certainly don’t think that thought pattern was ever discouraged. Even when I began to shift to a creation narrative that was founded in a place of goodness, the presence of Original Sin in our world penetrated the ‘goodness’ of my own voice.

I can honestly say that I cannot name one time, not one single time, that I have trusted my intuition and inborn voice 100%. For four and a half decades I have continually told myself that self-revelation was not of God. Sure, I could wrap it in the correct words like ‘Holy Spirit’ and ‘God’s gentle voice,’ but I have feared that the whisper was my own…forever. As I have worked to try on new models of faith, I have defined some aspects of this thought insanity differently, especially as a parent. I remember the first time that one of my girls said, “I just get this weird feeling, Mom.” I almost cried. They heard from themselves and BELIEVED. I’m sure I dork-factored this simple statement by vomiting words of encouragement at the revelation. Many times since then, I have (in so many non-chill ways) told both my children to TRUST THAT VOICE OF KNOWING.

Even when I have been unable to listen to my own voice, I have worked so hard to develop in them a belief that their intuition and whispers are trustworthy. When I think back on the most devastatingly painful moments of my life, I am able to identify that so, so many of them could have been avoided if I had just – for even a tiny second – trusted my own internal voice. I could have challenged my self-inflicted shame of “good girl” choices. I could have stood my ground and not gone or done or felt obligated. I could have stepped out of relationships and into good risk. Perhaps, in some weird way, I could have lived the life that the Divine intended for me all along, instead of avoiding the preconceived judgement that I knew would come if I ever trusted.

A wise soul said something the other day that flat threw me for a loop in the best way possible:

"There is no process or system that is better to trust than the deep loud internal discernment God gave me." -my friend Kim

With these words, I began to unpack my fear. How do we start trusting? If you want to learn from a middle-age Kindergarten level truth seeker, here is my wisdom. I can’t hear if I don’t stop talking. Listening is not possible if I am constantly making noise. So the very first thing I need to do is shut my hole. While I am quiet, I breathe. My only “words” or “prayer” in breath is to breathe in Goodness (or the Divine, or Knowing – whatever you invite to teach you) and breathe out fear. I have so many fear voices, so I have to give them a swift kick in the ass to be able to hear my own truth. And then I sit. Sometimes in the silence. Sometimes as I drive. Sometimes as a listen to some music. And as the thoughts and words come, I don’t fight them or their origin or their “truth.” I listen. And then I listen some more.

What I know about growing and changing thought patterns is that it’s takes work. I cannot un-learn years and years of conditioning without years and years of new practice. I’m sitting here today, as I type on my porch, smelling the tomatoes and basil of my garden and listening. And what I hear is good. It’s my voice. It’s my truth. Me. Mine. Goodness.

What If: I Can’t Find a Spiritual Path That Seems Genuine For Me?

This week, I sat down with the last 6 ‘What If’ Questions on my Numbers spreadsheet and I stared at this one. I know what I need to say. I know what I want to say. But typing it just seems to be a bit harder than I ever imagined. For those that have held tight with me the last 40+ days, you know that blowing up my boxed-up world is challenging for a single track thinker. In genuine vulnerability, this question asking series started from a place of fear of the ‘what if’. If I began to publicly say some of the things that have been rolling around in the depths of the deep, what happens? What I found is that I am still here. A bit more free. More empowered. Absolutely, more sure of myself than ever before. So, back to our question today.

The box we are exploring is one of the very square shaped boxes in my mind’s historical journey. Each “spiritual path” is a neatly packed box. We have the Jewish box, Buddhist box and the Hindu box. Can you see the acceptable “other religions” categories? We have the Christian boxes (each with their worthiness pre-determined) of Catholicism, Evangelicalism, liberal theology, protestant roots and traditional liturgically intense practices. And THEN we have the ones that I was taught are the no-fly boxes of cultish expressions of faith. All of the boxes.

I remember the first time I read a book on contemplative prayer practice that drew parallels to the meditation practices of eastern faiths. I almost closed the book. WE DON’T BELIEVE IN THESE THINGS. And by we, I mean that the brand of religious expression that I was buying at the time. But I began to explore these ideas of stillness and intention and I did’t combust. My next big boulder of struggle was literal biblical understandings, even going so far as to question heaven and hell. What if? What about…? As I began to study, the cardboard walls of my boxes began to soften with the water from my tears. On many days (let’s be honest, late nights) I would take a breath and say in my deepest spaces, ‘I don’t believe that anymore.’ And then I would cry. Sometimes the tears would be a glorious release. Sometimes the tears were from the pain of loneliness. In many seasons, I have felt like I was walking out on a wobbly branch of a forbidden tree, alone and scared.

The number of times that I have admitted that my box was inadequate for my truth is terrifying. If you have not guessed it from the last many days, I’m not sure I even have a box anymore. I have fully embraced that there is not ONE spiritual path that seems genuine for me. However, there is MY spiritual path. And that, dear friends, is very genuine. There is much of this season that is confusing, but there is one thing that is NOT genuine: to stop searching and exploring. Out of fear of doing it wrong or an unclear direction or any other speed bump, the thing that I cannot and will not shake is the journey. I am a spiritual person. I am deeply tied to exploration and question asking. I will never not be able to connect the dots of the Mystery with the revelations of truth in my own existence.

I love the question asking of the Jewish faith. I am obsessed with the deep history of the Orthodox Christian church. I find grace and peace in the openness of the modern Episcopal Church. I am learning and growing from the inner contemplation of the Buddhist faith. I read with great excitement from many spiritual teachers that would quickly tell you they are not religious. And most importantly, I have learned to listen, sit and discern my own truth. This single act of freedom has allowed me to let go of finding the ‘right’ in favor of the ‘best’ or ‘most true.’ If there is one thing that I have embraced in this season it is my full acceptance that the spiritual journey is a deeply personal one. Those that chose to judge or convince or manipulate with fear or threats of pain and judgement are not the ones that I’m here for. There is nothing “genuine” in that kind of spirit quest today.

May we find the holy spaces with genuine searching and learning. We are worth it.

What If: True Vulnerability is the Cost of Love?

How much does that cost? We learn that question very early in life, and if you are anything like me, you understand quickly that it is always about weighing the cost. What will the reward or pleasure be? How much will I have to give up of ____ to have ____? I’m not a tempered shopper. I often impulse buy with little regard for the consequences. The same cannot be said of the 3 other humans that live in my home. When I shop with my oldest for a special occasion, I hide the price tags because she will not even consider a precious dress or a perfect pair of shoes if they require a financial sacrifice. I love this about my family, but sometimes I just want them to shop with their heart!

As I have explored the many things that we have discussed in the past 5 weeks, I have often asked myself, what is it going to “cost” me if I say this out loud? What if someone that I admire disagrees? What if I forever change a relationship because I said something that I can’t (and don’t want to) take back? These things are the risky cost of living as your true self. People will not understand. People will doubt your motives. Especially if your growth is producing a shift and that shift changes the relationships in your life.

For those of us that long for more wholeness in our lives, who are striving to connect with people in ways and spaces that our past tells us are not safe, we have a high price to pay. The more I love, the more I work towards healthy loving relationships, the more I realize that the cost associated with love is vulnerability. This freaking word. It invades my life in ways that make me feel like I am being consumed. Yet, when I engage in the quest for my vulnerable self, when I dig deep into the well of truth telling and honoring feelings, the more I find a new and profound connection with the humans in my life. The guru of vulnerable space is my girl Dr. Brené Brown.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” 

Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”

“People who wade into discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth about their stories are the real badasses.”

Brene Brown, Rising Strong

There is nothing I long for more in life than to be labeled a badass. It is truly #mylifegoal. The word itself is rich, but the strength behind it is not found in the ability to tell someone off or manipulate a situation. A real badass is someone who can stare the scariest of the scary in the face, and with all of the trust and humility they can muster, long to grow and be shaped by pain. There is nothing in the world that can do this better or more completely than vulnerability.

When we get vulnerable, we have to release the outcomes. When we allow others to see the truth of our lives, we have to believe them when they say they love us. When we walk through pain and the shredding of ego that is at the heart of vulnerable living, we can receive the great reward of love. But then, and only then, do we have the ability to love in return. Here is my theory: without a genuine vulnerable exposure of self, we will always know that we have a way out. When we keep pieces of ourself off the table of exposure, we will never trust love. If you have ever thought, “they will walk away if they know…” you understand this truth. A vulnerable posture, a truly vulnerably navigated relationship, has no room for ‘I just can’t go there’ thinking. To love is to give yourself away, even the messy, fragile, intimate, scary pieces that are sure to make you think, “Why did I say that out loud?”

If you have ever had a friend or a partner or a family member that has been the recipient of your vulnerable spaces, you know this feeling. I have been known to fear the next conversation or even dread the time and space that my vulnerable moments will be used against me. And, in the spirit of honesty, that has happened. There is nothing that stings like that knife wound. But, if you have experienced the gift of ‘I’m still here’ or ‘you can’t scare me away’ you know the treasure of vulnerability. Hold it close, because that is love.

What If: Pain is the Great Teacher

I hate pain. H-A-T-E pain. Pain is a feeling. It hurts in its own way, but it has tentacles of sadness and betrayal and worry and fear. It brings with it the discomfort of the unknown. It reveals internal struggles that we want to avoid. Pain stings with truth and awareness that is raw and real and exposing. Damn pain. And yet as I fight the pain, I hear the stories of brave pain facers that have walked into the fire for the sake of the growth.

“Pain is not tragic. Pain is magic. Suffering is tragic. Suffering is what happens when we avoid pain and consequently miss our becoming. This is what I can and must avoid: missing my own evolution because I am too afraid to surrender to the process…Because what scares me a hell of a lot more than pain is living my entire life and missing my becoming. What scares me more than feeling it all is missing it all.”

Glennon Doyle, Untamed

There are three things that I know about pain. Please recognize with me that this is head knowledge. Only on the very best days, the days when all the stars and positivity and good thoughts march in an ordered system of understanding, can I find peace within my soul to embrace these things. So, I share them not as brilliant insights, but as marching orders for myself.

  1. Pain requires me to let go of control. At the very core of my being (just read the description of my Enneagram type) is the need to have knowledge of the next step. I have to know. I need to have the plan. When pain comes, I am completely ripped of my safety net. There is absolutely nothing like pain to remove all of the anchors of security. When pain begins to creep up, or slams its ugly head into me in a way that is jarring, I have no choice but to let go.
  2. It’s my choice to change the storyline. To be clear, this is not diminishing or denying pain. This is not even avoiding. Changing the storyline is an intentional decision in my mind to accept the things that I cannot change and tell myself (as many times as necessary) that past experiences show me that pain can transform and beautify so I will not fight the pain…today.
  3. Breathe When I feel pain, I tense my muscles. When my body is distressed, I panic at my core. In seasons of prolonged pain – both physical and emotional – my body bears the scars. My shoulders have knots. My breathing is irregular and shallow. Although it is not a natural response, my best pain remedy is a good deep breath. I breath from my toes. I allow the oxygen to go all the way to the roots of my pain. No, it doesn’t fix it, but it forces my body to slow and think and not react. That’s the single most important thing I can do in moments of pain.

I don’t want to admit it, but pain is a teacher. It teaches me to be myself. It teaches me to listen. It teaches me to slow down. Reacting and in the midst of pain is the warning flag, so for today, I feel you pain. I see you. I acknowledge your presence. I invite you to teach me. I give you permission to shape me for good. And I choose in that process to let go, change the storyline and breathe.