Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Beauty Remains

I took a quick road trip over the weekend and what I saw was stunning. As I rounded corners and came over hills, incredible ocean and mountain views seemed to rise from nowhere. Before I even reached my destination, my trip was worth it.

I took the same route on my way back home, yet what I saw was drastically different. Rather than green hills, the rolling blue ocean and dancing sun rays, there was vast darkness. The beauty hadn't disappeared. The grand mountains and the majestic ocean remained, but under the night sky, all I could see was massive emptiness.

Beauty surrounds us, but it is not always obvious. Circumstances can alter our perspective, distorting sources of beauty and blocking others. Major life changes—illness, divorce, the death of a loved one, etc.—can shake our core, making beauty difficult to recognize under the darkness of our emotion. Even when we can't see it, beauty remains. We may need to simply continue on our journey, round the next corner, go over the next hill, or wait until the rise of the sun to see it, but beauty remains. It never leaves. There is beauty in every season. There is beauty is in every breath. There is beauty in hope. There is beauty in love. There is beauty in life. We are surrounded by beauty, created in beauty, and made up of beauty. Despite our placement, circumstances, and life changes, beauty remains.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Beliefs

Ask about someone's beliefs and you are asking about the core of who she is. It's no wonder that religion is one of the most emotionally charged and personal conversations in which you can engage. For that reason, I typically refrain from posting or even commenting on posts via social media about political issues with religious implications or religious debates stemming from politics. Though I don't publically have those discussions, I am often grieved by how this country is becoming increasingly divided on public issues because of private beliefs. The visceral reactions that radiate from the monitor of my computer screen send me through a range of emotions and lead me to ask, "Yes, but what if you're wrong?"

Like most of my friends, I grew up attending religious services. Over the years, I came to understand every moment like a well-rehearsed play. I knew that depending on how the keyboardist played certain notes to a certain tempo whether we were going to sing for two more minutes or twenty. I knew exactly which scriptures would accompany specific messages. I knew what responses the pastor was seeking as s/he ended the sermon and whether that sermon had two closings or four. Part of that ritual and knowing it so well led me to challenge what I was taught and that was terrifying because what I was taught is what I believed.

While it was jarring for me to challenge my beliefs, I am now stronger, freer, and living a fuller life than I imagined. Asking hard questions brought clarity and peace. I considered those living the lifestyle I strived for. I learned lessons from spiritual leaders outside of the sources I was presented. I listened to what was within and realized that spirituality is much larger than the boundaries of religion.

Challenge yourself. If you are willing to base your entire life, and in some cases, demand that others do the same, on a system of beliefs why not ask some hard questions? How do you feel about the way your life expresses your beliefs? Even more important, does your life express your beliefs? Do you fully comprehend your beliefs? Are they truly yours or those of your parents, grandparents, pastor, preacher, bishop, or priest? Finally, here's the toughest question: what if you are wrong? How would you feel about the love and compassion (or lack thereof) you demonstrated? How would you feel about the way you responded to others who don't believe as you do? Would you need to reconcile with anyone? Would your life still be filled with everything you value? Would your life still have meaning? What do you truly believe?

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Strength

Strength is a trait that I admire and have made a conscious effort to not just display but exude. My past was unnecessarily painful and that pain was complicated by a decision to keep it secret. As I got older, what I felt became harder to ignore. Instead of sitting dormant, that pain gathered power and threatened to direct me toward an unhealthy lifestyle. Though I didn't gravitate toward abusing substances or relationships, my numbing agent of choice was just as detrimental. I turned all of that hurt, confusion, shame, and anger on myself. It felt safer to unleash that negativity internally rather than set it free. Yet that false safety existed only because it was what I was accustomed to doing—I'd learned it from others and became quite skilled at it.

I told my story, but not honestly. I told the narrative, but not how I was impacted. I didn't want others to know the truth—that my pain was not past, but very present. I remained dumbfounded at the mere thought of what I experienced. I was debilitated at times by the weight of it. The memories had such a hold on my heart that at times I couldn't breathe. It was so incredible that my goal became to prevent myself from feeling. As soon as that darkness threatened to hold me, I ran. I ran to a book. I ran to another city. I ran to the nearest distraction that I could because I was terrified that sitting with it would drown me. I feared that if I fully felt it I would never ever recover.

Hearing others tell me that I was strong went from encouraging to disheartening. I felt like a fraud. Those calling me strong never saw me running from a memory, stuck in a flashback, or in tears because of a news story or television show that was too familiar. In my corrupted mind, strength was found in not feeling so my goal, though unrealistic and undesirable, became not to feel.

Strength is found in fighting and feeling, not in fighting feeling. Strength is what you develop when you are honest about what makes you feel less than strong and do the work needed to make progress. Turning unexpressed feelings on yourself, feelings of guilt, shame, weakness, despair, and hopelessness is detrimental and can make wholeness seem impossible. Fortunately, wholeness is not impossible and strength is not elusive. Quite simply, the way to develop strength is to be strong.

Stand up today and agree to keep standing. Strength is not determined by the number of days you feel less than strong, it is determined by what you do when you have those feelings and the decision you make to continue to stand. Body builders develop strength by lifting weights. Similarly, you develop emotional strength by working through, not ignoring, the weight of your past and using it to build you up instead of allowing the fear of feeling to build up inside of you. Everything you need to be strong already exists and it all exists within you.