Today, I Choose

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.”
–Maya Angelou

I tried to hide something from a loved one this weekend. For the second time. And the the hard thing about this is not just the hurt I caused or the trust I broke, but also something they said, afterward. Something I am sorry to admit I have heard before:

“You talk so much about honesty and transparency and here you are, doing the opposite.”

And the thing that hurts so badly about this is that I BELIEVE what I say and write about honesty and transparency, and falling so horrifically short of the practices and I am constantly, constantly trying to encourage others to adopt makes me feel like the worst possible failure. Especially when it causes pain. Especially when it damages trust.

And so today I spent some time looking over what has led to this behavior, and I realize it all comes down to fear. I lie because I am afraid. Afraid people will judge me, afraid people won’t like me, afraid people will be angry.

Brene Brown, a leading researcher on the subjects of shame and bravery, says we develop courage when we choose to be vulnerable. She says that if we are brave with our lives, we are guaranteed to “fall, fail, and get our asses kicked.” And this is SO HARD. We’ve all experienced so much pain and suffering and trauma; we’ve all experienced SO MUCH REJECTION. But I am still convinced, despite my failure to live up to my own convictions, that truth is the most important thing we can offer the world.

So, in the words of Brene Brown:

Today, I will choose courage over comfort. I can’t make any promises for tomorrow, but today I will choose to be brave.

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Is it True?

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What if pain is necessary?

“Instead of constantly working to get comfortable in my relationship and feeling that something is wrong because I can’t ever quite get there, I can relate with instability as a strange invitation to remain awake in love. So if you were ever thinking ‘When am I ever going to get comfortable in this relationship?’ I invite you to consider that the answer might be ‘Never.’
I’ve come to think that the most deeply loving gesture I can make with my relationship is to tolerate my own discomfort; to recognize my feelings and leave the story behind; to cease and desist from threatening my husband with consequences should he fail to be the person I need him to be rather than the person he is.
There is something magical–yes, magical–about this discomfort. You are right there, never quite in your comfort zone. There is no possibility of falling asleep. You are always a tiny bit on the edge, as if you are trying something new for the very first time. When it comes to love, this is not such a bad approach. Brilliance and inspiration and everything fresh are discovered on this edge, including how to open your heart beyond what you ever thought possible. This is the noble experiment of love.”
–Susan Piver

 

If I were to write a mission statement for every relationship I’ve ever been in, it would go something like this:

“Cultivate a relationship in which we both seek to understand the other and work toward never hurting each other.”

Sounds like a damn good goal to me. After all, I certainly don’t want to hurt my person, and I don’t want to be hurt, so why shouldn’t that be the goal? But over the last few weeks, I’ve come to understand something:

My partner is never going to be able to keep from hurting me.

I mean, sure, there are things she can do to avoid hurting my feelings and things she can do to make me feel loved, but I have never yet been in a relationship where pain wasn’t present, and working to avoid pain and trying to make my partner change to keep me from feeling it has only ever led to distance, discord, and, eventually, a breakup. Yesterday, as I thought about this, the realization struck me:

I have accepted work as a necessary part of loving someone. Can I accept pain the same way?

Granted, not all pain ought to be accepted, and some differences are too great to overcome, but when there are things my person needs that put me in that place of pain, can I stop and ask myself whether it’s a pain I’m willing to accept for her sake and for the sake of our relationship? What if there are things my person needs that will hurt me? What if there are things she wants in her life that—rightly or wrongly—cause me pain, and if I were to ask her to give those things up, I would be placing her in a position of losing something important to her? If I make pain avoidance my goal, I am left with only two choices:

A. Force her to give up the things she needs and wants or
B. End the relationship.

But what if there is a third choice?

What if I can accept pain, for the sake of love?

What if that’s part of what Jesus meant when he said:

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13.)

I can’t help but think that Jesus meant something much more than physical death. After all, very few of us are ever placed in life or death situations with our friends, but how often does giving someone what they need involve sacrifice? How often does love mean laying aside our own desires or preferences for the good of someone else?

What if pain is a price we pay for unconditional, sacrificial love? I wrote this years ago, but I don’t think I fully understood it until now:

“I’ve come to believe that pain and love are bound together in our experience of this world. I’ve come to believe that the only way to truly accept love is to accept the pain that necessarily accompanies relationships with fallible human beings. God’s own love for us was made manifest on the cross of Jesus, through unimaginable suffering and the ultimate sacrifice of his own life. I think true love is the act of laying our hearts wide open and giving others not just power, but permission to wound us. To resist the temptation to close ourselves against the very people our soul wants most to open up to. To allow ourselves to experience pain not as a force of destruction but as a refining fire.”

What if pain is not just unavoidable? What if it’s necessary?

 

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God’s In-Box

Today a friend wrote me asking when I was going to “let Jon go” to “find his path.” Her question inferred that I was being unfair both in asking Jon to stay and in asking my girlfriend to “settle” in this relationship. A week ago, another friend also questioned our arrangement, and it occurs to me that this is probably something a lot of people wonder. So I thought I’d write publicly on the subject—not because it’s anyone’s business, but because transparency has always been a goal of mine, and there are some things I’ve learned and discovered in this journey that I would like to share.

The answer to my friend’s question is obviously not simple. There aren’t exactly a plethora of people who have taken a journey like ours and can offer advice. Almost three years ago, when all of this began, Jon and I forged our own path, one we felt would be best for those we hold as our highest priority: Our children. We made the decision to continue living, co-parenting, and raising them together, as we felt we had (and still have) a job to do. Simply put: we have chosen not to divorce, for now, for their sake. This does not, however, mean that either of us are not free to “find our path.” We are not holding each other back in any way. We support each other and have each dated other people who have been supportive and respectful of our situation (to be clear, we are not involved in an “open relationship” and live romantically separate lives while maintaining a wonderful friendship with each other.) We know that someday this arrangement will change, and it will be time to go our separate ways. But to answer the question of when? The only response I can give is: I don’t know.

And I’m learning to be comfortable in the unknowing.

Three years ago, when all of this began, I had more to be terrified of than I’d probably ever had, before. The perfect little structured life I’d spent 16 years building was falling apart around me, and I was forced to choose between the path of security and a leap into the unknown. In the deepest, truest, part of me, I knew that I couldn’t go back to the life I’d once had, and so I chose the unknown. Slowly, I began learning to let things go. I began learning how to give up control. And one of the best tools I ever found for this was something I learned from Anne Lamott which she calls “God’s inbox.” She writes:

“Say you have a problem, something that is driving you crazy, something you need and want an answer to… You feel like you really need to go left or right but you have no idea which way to turn.
A small part of you, a crescent moon-shaped part of you, wants to be in alignment with God’s will, because you have reason to believe that you are fucked unto the Lord if you somehow get your own will to prevail. But a louder part of you secretly believes that you alone know what the best possible outcome would be, for all parties concerned, even with a lifetime of evidence to the contrary. And you are prepared to use the sheer force of your personality and character to get it to happen…”

She goes on to expound on what we’ve all experienced: The desperation, the fear, the anxiety, the frantic feeling of needing to DO SOMETHING, but having no idea what that “something” is (or trying to do something, over and over again, and finding that nothing is working.) We’ve all heard the expression: Give it to God, but Lamott takes this one step further in a physical act that I have found powerfully helpful in my own life: She writes a note to God and puts it in a wooden box she calls “God’s in-box.” Then she waits for a response. And each time she finds herself going over it again in her mind, each time she finds herself trying to make it all work out, each time she finds herself trying to come up with a solution, she reminds herself that she left it in God’s in-box, that it’s His to deal with, and that her job is to wait for an answer. She goes on to write:

“I don’t understand why it would hurt so much if just once in His life, He used a megaphone. But He never does. I find this infuriating. But what happens when I put a note in the God-box is that the phone rings, or the mail comes; and I hear from Him that way.”

Since reading about this, I have used God’s in-box in countless ways, and I have always, always gotten an answer. An opportunity opens up just when I need it, a friend meets a need she didn’t know I had, I wake up from a dream knowing the answer. I still forget, sometimes. Just recently, I found myself overwhelmed by fear regarding some things currently going on in my life and lashed out at the woman I love. All day, I felt lost in a cloud of fear and uncertainty and, in my efforts to “fix” it, ended up hurting her. Badly. That night, I couldn’t sleep and the next morning I remembered God’s in-box. I remembered that I didn’t need to solve all the problems or have all the answers. BECAUSE HE DOES. So I put it in His box.

When will it be time? I have no idea. What will it look like? I don’t know. But God does. And that’s all I need to know.

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For Love Covers a Multitude of Sins

Over the past few weeks, I have come to learn a difficult truth about the woman I love. Rather than speak for her, I will share some of her words (edited for berevity’s sake), taken from something she wrote today:

I do not believe you can be both gay and a Christian. If you go by scripture then it’s not a gray area. The bible simply says it’s a sin, and I believe that living a homosexual lifestyle is a sin. So why live it? I’ve been asked that. More times than I can count. Recently, Rina and I spoke of this and she said: “What a tremendous burden you must bare, to believe that if you don’t ask for forgiveness before you die you will go to hell. Do you realize that it’s my job as someone who loves you to help you find your truth and live it?” I instantly responded, “don’t try to save me by breaking up because if it’s not you there will be another.”
That’s the way it has been for me. I cannot count the times I tried to do this on my own. “This” as in: stop being gay. I did everything ministers wanted me to do, suggested, recommended, and I’m still struggling to conquer. I’ve been in prayer lines. I dug the imaginary ditch to put my sins in to bury so they were no more. I’ve been told by several well meaning Christians that they “see” my husband. I can hear them say “you have to clean your house. Throw away everything that attaches itself to the sin. Memories. Possessions. Guard what enters my eyes and ears. So I protected my music, my movies, the TV shows I’d watch, and, well, my “husband” never came. I would get upset with God: “why, when I’m living like you want me to, did you not send him?” To me, I chose Him. I “turned away” from sin just like He asks us to. I even resisted. I broke a girl’s heart trying to resist. But I have not married. I have not found that husband. He hasn’t been sent. So here I am, knowing I can not do it on my own. I have tried it all MULTIPLE times. So now, I wait.
I haven’t changed scripture to fit my sin. I believe homosexuality is a sin, but I believe in God and I want Him in my life. I pray to Him often, if not daily. I love talking about Him. He brings life to my soul. And I would like to think He is using me, and you are seeing the beginning of the journey I am called to take. But don’t get excited as to what that is, because I don’t know, yet. But I feel Him using me. Guiding me. Directing me. Can God use me? Can God truly use someone who is in sin? Is there any scripture to back that up?
I was accused recently, “You are sinning in God’s face!” That broke my heart. Because they accused me of hurting God deliberately, as if I were taunting Him. It brings tears to my eyes, just writing that. At that moment I wanted to know: why did Jesus come here and take the stripes on his back, the humiliation, and, ultimately, His life if I could conquer sin myself? If all I had to do was to break up with a girl and live in resistance everyday in my own strength then please tell me: WHY did God put His only Son to die?
I guess I’m writing all this to say:
I am living a lifestyle that I believe is a sin. And I love God. Those two things exist within me, and I live every day struggling with the seeming contradiction of those two truths.

It is a difficult position to be in: loving someone who believes our relationship is sinful. It is difficult to know she feels that way, and it is difficult to see her struggle, to see her pain. When I told Leann that my job as someone who loves her is to help her find her truth, I wasn’t speaking of a breakup. I know that won’t help her any more than prayer lines and imaginary ditches have helped her in the past. As someone who lived as an extremely conservative, fundamentalist Christian for almost 20 years, I understand her feelings. I have struggled with this myself, even having gone so far as to cut members of my family out of my children’s lives because they were gay. Coming to terms with this in others and, ultimately, in myself has been a process of many years, and although the end result for me is a set of beliefs which are vastly different from Leann’s, I do not seek to change her opinion.

So what did I mean when I said my job is to help her find her truth? I mean that I want to help her, as much as possible, unify her actions with her beliefs. Romans 14:23 states that whatever is not from faith is sin, so regardless of my personal beliefs on whether homosexuality is a sin in God’s eyes, it is a sin in Leann’s eyes. I believe a healthy life is an integrated life, and, as someone who loves her, I want to see her whole.

So what does this mean for me?

It means I currently reside in a place of uncertainty. It means I accept that the woman I love ultimately wants to—and feels she ought to—lay our relationship aside. It means I accept the fact that there are places she does not want me to go with her, because she feels my presence shines a spotlight on her sin. It means that I accept the fact that there are times when she does not want me around her family and friends because, just for a little while, she wants to be seen for herself and not through the lens of what others perceive as sin. It means that I accept the fact that I am, at times, a source of shame in her life. And it means that I accept the fact that, ultimately, I may lose her. She may not be able to—or be meant to—live in this dichotomy forever. I may not be able to—or be meant to—hold this forever. It’s frightening to think that I may be building something with someone that is destined to crumble. Sometimes I think about the future and feel lost in a sea of doubt.

But when I lay aside my fears about the future, I arrive at one truth—one certainty that keeps me moving forward: Today, I can hold it. Today, I can love her. Today, I can accept her where she is and support her in becoming whoever she is meant to be. Today, I can help her work toward a better future, whether that future includes me or not. I could respond differently, of course. I’m a fairly intelligent person and I could probably, with enough effort, cause her to doubt her beliefs. Perhaps, over time, I could even change them. But to what purpose? Would she be who she is supposed to be—who God wants her to be—or would she be who I want her to be? In his book Anam Cara, John O’Donohue states:

“When you love someone who is very hurt, one of the worst things you can do is to directly address the hurt and make an issue out of it. A strange dynamic comes alive in the soul if you make something into an issue. It becomes a habit and keeps recurring in a pattern. Frequently, it is better simply to acknowledge there is a wound there, but then stay away from it. Every chance you get, shine the gentle light of the soul in on the wound.”

I don’t know exactly what it means to “shine the light of the soul on a wound,” but I know what it means to leave it alone. And so I try my hardest to stay in the place of love. I do all I can to support and encourage and be there for her. I work to lay aside my pain and my fear and accept her exactly as she is. I believe Leann’s beliefs are wrong. She (and others) believe her actions are wrong. But ultimately, it is love that enables change, and I believe it is love which will change her—in whatever direction she is meant to change. More than all the talking and debating and sermonizing and ditch digging, it is love which is the ultimate healer and revealer of truth. And this is what I want for her, even if it means losing her. Love will always take us where we’re meant to be.

Maybe that’s why God says this is the greatest commandment of all.

And maybe, years ago, instead of cutting my family out of my life for the “sin” of being gay, instead of making them feel bad, or unwelcomed, or ashamed… I should have loved them, too.

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Related Articles:

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“Gay Christian” is not an oxymoron

I wrote parts of this five years ago, when I was struggling with my own opinions on this subject. As an ultra conservative, fundamentalist Christians, Jon and I once cut family members out of our lives for the “sin” of being gay and it took years for God to bring me to a place of acceptance on this issue. It has been said that God has a sense of humor, and He obviously must, considering how drastically my life has changed since then, but I recently had a conversation which prompted me to revisit this subject, and I wanted to share some of those thoughts from so long ago…

 

I had a conversation with a friend recently who expressed her irritation that many people, upon embracing their homosexual orientation, will then turn to the passages of the bible and either reinterpret the things it says or leave the faith altogether.

I understand her frustration, but I have a slightly different take on it. While it’s true that some leave the faith altogether, it seems to me that others don’t seek to reinterpret the bible simply because they want so badly for the popular church teaching on this subject to be wrong, but because they feel, deep within themselves, that it must be.

When faced with the truth that one of the deepest, most fundamental parts of themselves is considered a sin according to the Christian church, homosexual Christians are left with a series of impossible choices: A. Deny who they are and forever cut themselves off from one of the most powerful manifestations of love we have as human beings, B. Re-visit the (very few) passages of the bible which speak on this issue and seek to understand them in a way which makes sense according to their own experience, or C. Live in the heart-wrenching dichotomy of believing their actions to be sinful, but choosing to do it anyway.

Most of the mainstream church would, of course, have us believe that the first option is best. And while I, personally, don’t wish to judge the struggling believer however they choose to handle this, and have no desire to debate whether homosexuality is “really” a sin, I do want to defend the second option as just as valid as the first, because the truth is, we all interpret the bible according to our own understanding. We all filter the words written there according to our  our own beliefs, worldviews, and internal compasses.

For instance, Christians often bring up 1 Corinthians 6:9 in their case against homosexuality, which tells us that homosexuals “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” I find it interesting that adulterers are also among those listed as being unable to enter the kingdom of God, and that the bible defines those who divorce and remarry (except for in cases of sexual infidelity) as adulterers (Luke 16:18, Matthew 5:32, Mark 10:11.) So according to the bible, anyone who divorces and remarries for any reason other than sexual infidelity is considered an adulterer, and according to the same passage that seems to condemn homosexuality, adulterers are listed as among those who cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Yet, inexplicably, most Christian denominations make a place for divorce and remarriage regardless of whether sexual infidelity has taken place.

People often like to say “you can’t pick and choose what to follow in the bible.” And yet, we all do it. Are women staying silent in church (1 Corinthians 14:34)? Refusing to wear jewelry or braid their hair (1 Peter 3:3)? Covering their heads during prayer (1 Corinthians 11)? Are we cutting out our eyes if we lust (Matthew 5:29)?

I know what you’re thinking right now. You’re thinking “well, that’s because….” and that’s my point. The bible very specifically tells us to do these things, and we don’t “because…” We all – every single one of us – choose which commandments to follow and justify the things we do based on our understanding of the word and the world. And while many Christians talk about wanting a “relationship” with God, rather than a “religion,” it’s often religion which causes us to stumble and mistreat or even persecute our homosexual brothers and sisters in Christ. But if we can remain humble, we’ll see that none of us are walking in full truth; none of us are doing exactly what God wants us to do. We’re all in one stage of growth or another, all getting it wrong in one form or another, and that is a good thing. Because if we can recognize this and embrace it, we can keep our hearts soft toward each other and God. We can listen to Him and hear Him when He speaks and truly let Him mold and shape us into who He wants us to be. We can change. We should change. If we’re still doing and still believing the same things about God today as we did when we first met Him, we are not growing.

When we step back and consider the all-encompassing wrongness and wonderfulness of it all, are we really ready to say that those who believe differently regarding homosexuality can’t be Christian? That they can’t know and love Jesus Christ? That they’re going to hell? Can we, just for a moment, lift the veil from our eyes and acknowledge that just because we don’t understand everything about the bible, just because we don’t follow God perfectly, just because we “pick and choose” what to believe regarding the bible (and we all do!) doesn’t mean we don’t know Jesus, or that we’re not Christian, or that we’re “going to hell?”

“To the pure, all things are pure.” (Titus 1:15)

Considering the fact that we’re all getting it wrong in one form or another, maybe this is God’s provision for us. Maybe this is God’s way of keeping us holy, even in the midst of our unrecognized sin. Maybe “all” really does mean all.

 

Posted in Consecration, Love, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Is It True?

Lately, any time I find myself seeking to hide something I’ve said or done or feel for fear that someone will find it out, I ask myself a simple question:

Is it true?

The question reminds me that my fear is always the result of a struggle against one of two things:

  1. I’m worried that people will judge me for things that aren’t true.
  2. I’m worried that people will judge me for things that are true.

Once I realize this, worry fades. Because the reality of the first is that loving someone means we ask questions and do whatever is necessary to learn the truth without jumping to judgment against them. So if people reject me because of their false judgments—great! They aren’t the kind of people I want in my life, anyway. And the reality of the second is that loving someone means we love them despite their faults, and I need people in my life who are capable of loving me through mine as I work to do better. So if people reject me for my faults—great! They aren’t the kinds of people I want in my life, anyway.

As Liz Gilbert once said:

“People judge each other. It’s a favorite hobby of humans. Let people have their hobbies. Go in peace.”

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Staying On the Mat

“Your life is set up so that you will come face to face with your wounds. Parents, spouses, children, and friends are here to help you see your need for healing, and you are performing the same function in their lives.”
—Paul Ferrini, Love Without Conditions

“We normally attempt to solve our inner disturbances by protecting ourselves. Real transformation begins when you embrace your problems as agents for growth.”
—Michael Singer, Untethered Soul

“Other people trigger the karma that we haven’t worked out yet.”
—Pema Chodron, Start Where You Are

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So, I’ve discovered something over the past few years of dating:

I have issues.

Lots of them.

I didn’t really see them during my marriage, perhaps because I married so young and had grown so comfortable in the relationship that I saw the issues which crept up as just the way things were, or perhaps because I’ve only begun reading some of the things that have helped me to see and face them, but in my subsequent relationships I find them everywhere. I’m deeply insecure, mistrustful, afraid, and I have an extreme fear of abandonment. I can be both controlling and manipulative in my attempts to get other people to solve my problems, and I’m constantly seeking reassurance of someone’s love and commitment for me. In short:

I’m a freaking mess.

But I’m also learning. And one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is how to take care of emotions such as fear, anger, anxiety, insecurity, pain, etc. without seeking to avoid them or make anyone else responsible for them. In his book Untethered Soul, Michael Singer speaks of negative emotions as inner thorns we constantly seek to protect ourselves from by avoiding anything that might come into contact with them. Eventually, these thorns, and our attempts to keep anything from touching them, run our entire lives.

“It affects all your decisions, including where you go, whom you’re comfortable with, and who’s comfortable with you. It determines where you’re allowed to work, what house you can live in, and what kind of bed you can sleep on at night. You feel that because you’ve minimized the pain of the problem, you’ve solved the problem. But it’s not solved. All you did was devote your entire life to avoiding it. It is now the center of your universe.”

This is so true, right? We’re constantly seeking to avoid the things which cause emotional pain and discomfort. But if we really want to be free from these emotions, rather than avoid the things which touch our “thorns,” we must remove them altogether. He says the we we do this is by allowing ourselves to fully feel them. This seems like such a contradiction, but Thich Nhat Hanh says that by paying attention to our emotions we invite the “energy of mindfulness” to care for them “like a mother taking a baby in her arms”:

“The next time you are angry, breathe and concentrate solely on breathing: ‘breathing in—I know that I am breathing in; breathing out—I know that I am breathing out.’ After a minute or two, you practice this way: ‘Breathing in—I know that I am angry; breathing out—I know that anger is still in me.’ Ten minutes later, you will feel better. It is a sure thing, on condition that the energy of mindfulness is really there; and if you keep it up, concentration—and not only concentration but also deep looking- will also be there. You will be able to look deeply at the true nature of your anger. This discovery, this understanding, this wisdom, will liberate you from your pain.”

In her book, Love Warrior, Glennon Doyle describes this process beautifully, in a scene which takes place just after she discovers her husband of over a decade has been cheating on her during their entire marriage (this is long, but well worth the read):

“Hello. I’m Amy. Thank you for coming to hot yoga.”
Hot yoga? What fresh hell is this? Too embarrassed to leave, I sit back down, wipe sweat from my face, and stare at the door longingly as the room starts closing in on me. While I scramble to plot my escape, Amy says, “Let’s decide on our intentions for class.” She nods to a woman up front who smiles and says, “My intention is to embrace loving-kindness today.” The second person says, “I want to radiate sunlight to all creation.” I sit, incredulous, as the next few ask for peace, strength, and clarity. What the hell are these people talking about? What am I doing wasting my time in here when my entire life is falling apart out there? Loving-kindness? I have real problems, people! Then it’s my turn and Amy is looking right at me. When I open my mouth, this is what comes out: “My intention is just to stay on this mat and make it through whatever is about to happen without running out of here.” My voice trembles, and the room gets very quiet. Something about Amy’s eyes makes it clear to me that I’ve just said something important.
Amy breaks the silence by replying, “Yes. You just be still on your mat. Yes.”
She starts the class, and for ninety minutes I sit still on my mat with no escape from my self. It is torturous. All the images I’ve been trying to outrun appear in front of me. Ghosts from the past: There I am on the laundry room floor; there is my baby crying into her cereal; there is Craig taking another woman to bed; and there they are afterward, hugging, kissing, laughing. Ghosts from the future: There is Craig walking down the aisle with another woman; there is Tish as a flower girl—wait, is that bride stopping to tuck my little girl’s hair behind her ear? Is she holding my girl’s hand? No, No, NO! It’s like a sadistic game of Whac-A-Mole in which the moles are my worst fears popping up in front of me and I have no mallet. I have nothing to swat at these ghosts with, no way to distract myself from them, nowhere to run from them, nothing to do at all but be still and face them. I wipe away tears that keep forming in response to my misery and the restlessness that feels like it might actually kill me. Sitting there, unmoving, my body hurts as much as my heart does. I feel so alone with my love and pain.
As I watch the others—people who are not just sitting, but stretching, and posing, and contorting—I consider feeling embarrassed. I try to remember that their intentions are not my intentions, their straws are not my straws, their paths are not my path. My directions were specific and personal: Be still and do not run out of here. A few times I choke back loud tears and I feel embarrassed again. All I can do is let myself feel embarrassed. Let them hear you. We are all here for different things. You are here to learn how to stay on your mat and feel the pain without running out of here. Be still. So the images keep coming and I just let my tears fall and mix into my sweat. I let it all be terrifying and horrible and unfair. I sit there and accept how unacceptable it all is. I just let it be.
Somehow, Amy understands. She comes by my mat to check on me throughout the class, and on her face I see respect. She knows I’m learning something important. I can tell she’s already learned it. Many times, maybe. Every few minutes she looks at me and gives a little nod that means, Yes, you’re doing this right. Don’t give up. Don’t run out. And finally, after ninety minutes, we are done. Amy asks us to lie down, and I lower myself to the floor and open my eyes to the ceiling. I realize that I have allowed myself to see it all and feel it all and I have survived. All the ghosts are still there, but they’re less threatening now. They can scare me, but they cannot kill me. They tried, but I won. Everything is still a bloody mess, yet here I am. Alive. I’d been fully human for an hour and a half and it had hurt like hell. It had almost killed me, but not quite. That not quite part seems incredibly important.
I close my eyes and when the tears flow downward toward my mat, I feel surprised that there’s any liquid left inside of me. Then I feel a hand on my arm, and along with it, an immediate twinge of shame: I am sweaty and crying and snotty and gross and someone is close to me. Up close, touching me. But I do not pull away. I do not wipe my eyes or my nose. I just let us be. I open my eyes and Amy is right there next to me and she says, “That—what you just did? That is the Journey of the Warrior. Now, don’t forget to breathe. You need to remember to breathe.” I do not understand why everyone keeps telling me to breathe. I’m alive, aren’t I? Isn’t it clear that I’m breathing? And what is the Journey of the Warrior?
Finally Amy bows to us and tells us that the God in her honors the God in us. She opens the door and the cool air rushes in. I walk out through the lobby and into the sun and experience an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. The Journey of the Warrior. This phrase rings a bell in my soul, but why? I climb into my van, rush home, and pull Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart off my nightstand. I flip to a page I’ve dog-eared and I run my finger down the lines to a sentence I’d underlined and highlighted but hadn’t really understood until now:

“So even if the hot loneliness is there, and for 1.6 seconds we sit with that restlessness when yesterday we couldn’t sit for even one, that’s the journey of the warrior.”

I sit down on the floor and as I read that sentence over and over, I understand that my entire life has been a race from the hot loneliness. I picture ten-year-old me, feeling my anger, fear, jealousy, otherness, unbelonging for the first time and understanding these uncomfortable but normal human feelings to be wrong, shameful. I thought I needed to hide these feelings, escape them, fix them, deliver myself from them. I didn’t know that everyone feels the hot loneliness. I didn’t know that it would pass. So for the next twenty years, every time anger or fear or loneliness started bubbling up, I reached for an easy button—a book, a binge, a beer, a body, a shopping spree, a Facebook feed—to shove it back down. I’d press that button and find myself magically transported to a pain-free place. Distracted, numbed, underwater, gone. Off my mat again and again. Running out of here.
Oh my God—what if the transporting is keeping me from transformation? What if my anger, my fear, my loneliness were never mistakes, but invitations? What if in skipping the pain, I was missing my lessons? Instead of running away from my pain, was I supposed to run toward it? Perhaps pain was not a hot potato after all, but a traveling professor. Maybe instead of slamming the door on pain, I need to throw open the door wide and say, Come in. Sit down with me. And don’t leave until you’ve taught me what I need to know.
I’ve never let myself trust love because I’ve never let myself trust pain. What if pain—like love—is just a place brave people visit? What if both require presence, staying on your mat, and being still? If this is true, then maybe instead of resisting the pain, I need to resist the easy buttons. Maybe my reliance on numbing is keeping me from the two things I was born for: learning and loving. I could go on hitting easy buttons until I die and feel no pain, but the cost of that decision could be that I’ll never learn, love, or be truly alive.”

I love Pema Chodron’s words about sitting with our restlessness for just a few seconds longer than we were able to the day before. Each time my “thorns” are hit, I challenge myself to sit with them for as long as possible, but also give myself permission to distract myself when I can no longer hold it. And the amazing thing is: it’s working. It’s hard to believe that negative energy can be transformed simply through the act of paying attention, but it’s true. I have noticed that the length of time I’m capable of sitting with pain/anger/fear/etc. has gotten much longer over time, and the more often I do this, the less things trigger me (for a more in-depth discussion of why this may be, click HERE.) I’m still insecure, but less so. I still become anxious, but the effects aren’t as intense. I still experience fear, but not nearly as often. And when I do experience these emotions, I now know how to take care of them.

I am learning to stay on my mat.

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