Sunday, September 26, 2010

Do It For YOU...It's Okay. Really. No, I Really Mean It.

This morning I woke up with the worst backache.  As a matter of fact, I've had a backache for weeks.  My neck has also been strained for the past week.  Not to mention that I am moving in a little over a month, and I haven't started packing yet.  Oh, and I'm having people over next Friday, so I have to clean.  And I can't very well have boxes all over the place when they come.  Work was terrible this past week.  Actually, it's been pretty bad since the semester started.  I could probably count on one hand the days someone (or I) DIDN'T cry in my office.  In the past month.  We're down two counselors right now, so I am seeing my students as well as other "counselor-less" students.  There have been at least two major crises that I had to spend time getting taken care of.  So yes...I have a lot going on.  And dang.  I'm not even a wife or mother, I wonder what it would be like to add those to the mix.  Although I think I'll be happier, I also know from experience that men and children require tons of time, effort, patience, and sacrifice.  That's time, effort, patience, and sacrifice that I barely give to myself as a single woman now.

I have a list of things to do today.  Shred old bills, clean the living room and bathroom, vacuum, and do laundry.  Yet I didn't wake up until 11 am, after spending the day yesterday exhausted and unable to do much of anything.  So when I woke up (at 11 am), I thought, "Oh my goodness, I just wasted another day, and I have so much to do." But this backache was the only thing I could think of.  Most of the time the ache is in my lower back. This time it extended from my neck throughout my entire back.  It felt as if my back was screaming, "I HURT." 

I thought about driving to the gym, but that would entail putting gas in my car, then driving the 15 minutes it takes to get to the gym, working out for over an hour, then 15 minutes back.  By that time, the day would almost be over for me.  I made the decision to do 20 minutes of yoga.  The best invention ever: Exercise TV on Demand.  I found a yoga workout that includes cardio.  I just finished it.  And guess what?  My back really doesn't hurt anymore, and all of a sudden, my mind was clear to think about what is important.  Not all of that stuff I ranted about in the previous two paragraphs.  It became so clear to me what is essential for my survival, my happiness, and my peace.

Exercise: I hate the idea of preparing to exercise.  I keep thinking about this gym membership I pay for, and it upsets me so much not to be able to go to the gym as often as I want to, but the truth is, I really don't have the time to make the trip every day.  So, on the days I don't go, why can't I just do 20 minutes of something that I find on Exercise TV on Demand?  Because I told myself, "It's not okay to skip the gym.  I pay for it."  So I do nothing?  How does that help?

So, today I'm telling myself, "It's okay to skip the gym, but I have to exercise, because it makes my body feel great, and it clears my mind.  So whatever form that takes, I am exercising.  As often as possible."

Prayer and Worship: I love God. Everyone may not feel the same way, or even believe in God, but I literally have a heart full of love for God, because things have happened in my life that I believe could only have happened because God saw the pinch I was in, and He rescued me.  However, for years I thought that loving God meant I had to get up at 5 am every morning, get on my knees, pray and praise God for at least a half hour, then read the Bible.  When I tried that, I would either fall asleep before I could get out of bed, or I would fall asleep while kneeling next to my bed.  Also, sometimes I'm so tired, I can't put the thoughts together to pray.  Or, I would start praying, then I would be overwhelmed by my prayer requests, and I would feel helpless.  Um, this praying to God was becoming more stressful than peaceful.  What I've noticed is that it's much easier to have a relationship with God when I tell Him I love Him, and then thank Him for the ways He has shown me He loves me.  He already knows my circumstances.  He knows everything that concerns me.  And His Word says in Psalm 138:8: "The Lord will perfect that which concerns me."  That means He's got it under control, and He's going to make sure that all of my concerns are worked out.

So, today I'm telling myself, "It's okay not to get up at 5 am to pray, or to even list all of my concerns to God.  The Lord will perfect that which concerns me.  I will tell Him I love Him, I will sing songs of praise and worship with the gift of singing He has given me, I will check in with Him anytime I need Him, and I will be quiet so that my spirit can be free to hear what He wants to say to me, and so that He can lead me and guide me in the way I should go."

Writing: All day, every day, I have thoughts that need to be written down.  Even if those thoughts don't necessarily lead to whole blog posts or essays or books, they are important thoughts.  These are the thoughts that many times I would write in my journal.  However, I've told myself that I'm being self-indulgent when I do that.  I've told myself that I have real work to do, so I can't spend the time writing in my journal or even turning my computer on to post on this blog.  That's wasting my time, the time I could be cleaning or doing laundry or doing something for someone else.  But I've noticed that when I post something, or even update my facebook or twitter status with these thoughts, they resonate with someone.  I can't recount the comments or emails I've received thanking me for a blog post, note, or facebook status update.  What I write touches people. And HELLO, I've dreamed of writing a book for so long, maybe I should be putting more time and energy into writing, no? 

So, today I'm telling myself, "It's okay to write, even when I have other things to do.  I will make the time to write.  Writing is like breathing to me, and when I do it, I reach a new level of awareness, and my heart and soul connect to the hearts and souls of those who enjoy reading my writing." 

If you don't do what you love to do, you won't love doing what you're doing.  I'm exercising, praying and worshiping God, and writing so that I can let LOVE flow through my mind, heart, soul and body, not pain.

Do it for YOU.  Tell yourself it's okay.  And others will surely benefit from it.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Coming Out of Hiding

Last month, I took a trip to Miami, and met up with an old friend and colleague.  We had not seen each other in about ten years.  We were teaching at the same school in New York City, and I had decided to move upstate to begin graduate school.  At the same time, I was separated from my husband, and going through a tough time.  Once I moved upstate, I tried to keep in touch with my friends through email, but I was terrible at phoning, and never really visited anyone but my family members whenever I went back to the City.  Eventually, all of the relationships I had built over the years while I was in New York City began to fade.

My friend and I actually had the kind of relationship that I've learned over the past ten years is the only kind of relationship I want.  I call her my soul sister because, although I hesitate to believe in soul mates, she was one of those rare people who knew me (the real me), and still accepted me.  Not only did she accept me, she loved me.  It wasn't the kind of friendship where we had to talk everyday, but when we were together, it felt like I could be (figuratively) naked and know that I would not be judged. 

After ten years, we spent a day together in Miami at the beach.  We ate and talked and walked and laughed and almost cried.  In one of those moments, I wondered aloud what happened in the ten years that had passed, and why we hadn't talked in so long.  She said (and I paraphrase), "I figured you were hiding, and I knew eventually, you wouldn't hide forever.  I knew we would be back in touch again."

Ten years ago, I left my family and friends to pursue my Master's degree. I immersed myself in my job, my grad program, and my new-found relationship with God. Over the past ten years, I have spent most of my time either at work or at church.  Yes, I do have friends.  Some friendships are more authentic than others, but very few of my friends, if any, could be considered "soul sisters".  As I was going through my separation and divorce, I refused to open up to men at all.  I gave women a time-frame before I would consider them friends.  I wore a smile, I talked a lot, and I shared what I was experiencing; but truly, I never really opened my heart to anyone.  I used work and church to cover me.  My spirituality was worn as a cloak to protect me from anyone who would break my heart or cause me to lose trust.  I told myself over and over again that, "I cannot trust anyone but God."  I even used Scripture to back me up: "It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man." (Psalm 118:8).  As a result, a cocoon of protection wound tightly around my heart.

One of my grad school professors, whom I often quote (and probably have several times here), told me in my first year of grad school that, "You have such a beautiful heart.  It's such a shame you won't allow anyone to see it."  I really had no idea what the man was talking about at the time.  For many years, those words haunted me.  I thought I was "letting my light shine" - and I was, at the very least, letting people see glimpses of it.  At work, with my students.  At church, with the other congregants.  But in my personal life, the isolation I insisted upon kept me hidden from anyone who could potentially hurt me.  The truth was that I had allowed myself to live without breathing.  (Huh?)

Cocoons, according to, are a protective casing around an insect, spun during the pupal stage - the life stage in which an insect undergoes transformation.  The cocoon is built to protect the insect from a "harsh or unfriendly environment".  In a cocoon, an insect can live up to an entire winter season without food or water, the essentials necessary for our survival.

According to my favorite source of information (Wikipedia, of course) the English word "Spirit" comes from the Latin word Spiritus, meaning "breath".  The spirit is known as the energy present in all living things.  It is active; the vital principle that gives life to a being.

So, how did I allow myself to live without breathing?  The protection around my heart allowed me to live, even without the essentials of love, connection, and authenticity.  But my spirit (my breath), although fed by God, was closed to others.  I inhaled God, but I never exhaled.  I kept it in, just for myself - for my own survival, never to be shared with others.

The cocoon is breaking now.  It is being split open, because the "winter season" of my life is over; God and people are demanding that it be over.  The splitting is a bit painful, but it brings to mind a conversation I had with another friend who came to visit me over the summer.

This friend is someone I have known for almost thirty years, but we hadn't seen each other in twenty years.  When we first reconnected, he told me that he believed God brought us back together.  We have had some ups and downs since we've reconnected, and I thought it was time for us to separate because I felt hurt a lot during the process of building a relationship with this person. During this last visit, I refused to leave the protection of my cocoon, but before he left, I asked him why he thought God had brought us back into each other's lives.  He said (and again, I paraphrase), "I have always known that you have something so special within you - a light - that you hide.  You live in an unhappy state, almost a state of depression, and I believe God wanted me to help you, so that what is inside of you can show."

And so, the light that fights to shine brightly - that light that is seen by others even when I desperately fight to keep it hidden sometimes - has won.  I am not going to fight myself anymore.  I am coming out of hiding.