Monthly Archives: October 2015
We are officially halfway through our Breathing Room Blog Book Club with this post. If you’re just now joining us, no worries, this is the kind of thing you can really jump right in on. Throughout this series, I’m going back through each chapter in Breathing Room, and I’m giving thoughts, questions, editorial comments — present-day reflections, chapter by chapter. It’s an opportunity for you to read and discuss Breathing Room if you haven’t already, and it’s an opportunity to interact with the material in a new way.
Today, we’re looking at chapter 13, “Creating a Room of One’s Own.” The title of the chapter is taken from Virginia Woolf’s essay, which calls women writers who have been buried or muted in the patriarchal industry to find their place — both literally and figuratively — and to let their voices be heard. She says, very pointedly, that a placeless person is a silenced person, and I’ve always loved that. What Woolf is really calling for, more than anything, is women to find their voice. And I think that message applies today as much as it did in 1929.
I spoke at a women’s day retreat on Saturday, and we talked about the fact that we can move in one of two direction in life: we can choose to hide or we can choose to emerge. One of the things I talked about was voice, and how easily our pleasing overrides our authenticity. We can use our strong voice to emerge, or we can suppress it and hide. When we override our own voice over and over again, after awhile, we are walking heads, unsure of what we really want, how we really feel about anything.
This isn’t something that was just going on in the garden of Eden or in the early 1900s. This is something that goes on for humanity. And so I love the concept of finding a room of one’s own — knowing our place — from which we can speak, desire, emerge.
In On Writing (which I am a huge fan of), Stephen King talks about his writing journey, including his publishing journey and rise to fame. The book is mostly about craft, but in one passage he talks about making it big, setting up a huge writing desk in a gorgeous study, everything covered in rich wood tones. He had created a space worthy of his status, worthy of the paychecks that were coming in. And do you know what happened?
It blocked him.
The big desk. The fancy paneling. The floor to ceiling bookcases. It all blocked him. He realized he needed a little more grit to create enough energy and angst for his best writing to emerge. I think there’s something to this. I don’t think any of us need to wait until we have a writing cottage with a chandelier and a wood burning stove in order to do our best work. Not. At. All. In fact, if we had that, it may just make us so nervous about needing to preform that we get blocked.
We don’t need a lot of glitz and glam (though I certainly don’t think either glitz or glam are evil.) What we need is a center, a home base, a place of strength. I think that starts from the inside and then manifests itself on the outside. If we don’t have that center inside us — if we have not nurtured time with God and our soul, over and over again — then it will very difficult for us to find that center in a room or a cottage or an office.
What would help you find your voice? What would help you emerge? What would help you get back in touch with your worth, your strength, your wholeness? What activities, places, practices help reconnect you with the God-image that is inside of you? Your answers to those questions constitute your “room,” and I encourage you to start carving this place out for yourself in the world and returning to it often as a way to come back to yourself, to re-integrate, and a way to sit in the healing and grace-filled presence of God.
One of my favorite lines from this chapter:
It’s OK to elbow out some space in this world for your soul. It’s not just OK, it’s vital. I’m learning that every day, so often the hard way, when I push and push and then find myself empty, fragile, disconnected. God doesn’t want us to move through this world just experiencing contact. He wants us to experience connection — with ourselves, with others, and with him. That starts from living out of a centered place instead of a scattered place. It starts with spending time exploring what we want, how we were designed to come alive, and also just breathing in the presence of God.
We will not let the flotsam and jetsam of this world overtake our souls. We will not let life’s inertia choke out our voice. We will return to The Place, which is home, and then go out into the world knowing we are loved. Wildly.
Love and more love,
Happy Monday, my friends! I hope your weekend was all that you needed it to be — slow or full, quiet or adventurous, restful or playful. Mine was all of the above. Saturday, on the recommendation of my precious friend Kate, I took a field trip to St. Gregory’s the Great, a gorgeous Catholic Church here in San Diego. I took Brazen with me, to do some of the final finessing, and I let the inspiration of the grounds and the architecture seep into my editing decisions.
Sometimes we assume there isn’t time for a field trip, even though our souls are asking for a bit of beauty. I’m learning to listen to that Created Center inside me that is longing for fuel. When I give it the fuel it craves, it shows up for me in miraculous and mysterious ways.
Then, on Saturday evening, Steve and I went to a “Wild Game” dinner hosted by some creative and resourceful friends.
Tina set the most gorgeous table — china, crystal, silver all juxtaposed with the Wild Game — crowned with the most stunning Elk shed she painted gold running through the center. We ate bear, bison, pheasant, wild turkey, elk, antelope. The hunters shared their stories while we ate. This is the kind of meal that makes you so grateful for this wild world. I’m very hopeful that Tina will now make it her life’s mission to write a Wild Game cookbook because every bite was insanely delicious.
On Sunday, after church, I watched my beloved Chargers lose at the very last minute (which I can’t even talk about) and Ken and Elaine came over with marinated chicken thighs and squash in hand ready to lavish love on us through the ministry of meat. Isn’t it extraordinary that we get to take care of each other in this life.
I am now staring down a literal mountain of laundry, not to mention complete mayhem on pretty much every horizontal surface in my home. (Always we begin again.)
Today, we are all set to talk about Chapter 12 from Breathing Room, “Getting Life Under Your Nails.” I’m struck this morning, as I reread the chapter, with the opening quote by the American poet, William Stafford:
I’m sort of gutted by these words today. They tell our story of rescue, recovery, and — even — risk. They are the words of hope. Even the Hard and the broken can become what saves us, if we will do the hard work of weaving, if we let God help us do the weaving. It’s easy to look back and see all the wrong turns, all the regrets, all the ways we wish we would have done things differently, and I love the idea of taking all of that energy and using it to weave together a parachute.
This is really the essence of Breathing Room, to me. God is always throwing us lifelines, possibilities. One of those lifelines has been getting my hands in my life.
I put my hands in life — quite literally — with art. I’m no expert, let’s be very clear. But I love to dabble. I love to get paint on my hands. I love to layer and mix. This is my favorite thing about writing, too: layering and mixing. It brings me endless joy to play with words, with paint, with textures, with the composition of a room in my home. All of this gets me back to breathing.
The point of this chapter is very simple, really. Find one small way to get your life under your nails. Cooking, painting, gardening, sewing, journaling, sculpting. Invest yourself in the texture of your life. What will happen will be nothing short of a parachute, nothing short of a healthy dose of soul fuel.
With love upon love,
It’s Friday (!), and I’m just now getting our next book club blog post up. My apologies! I’m currently putting all the final touches on Brazen, which sort of took over everything else this week. But here I am, excited to be talking about chapter 11 together. The themes of this chapter are particularly relevant to me right now as I nail down another book and continue to “Decide what I want and go for it.” So let’s talk it through . . .
Recently I stole some time with a couple of girlfriends to chase after our inner artists and honor that voice within that was asking for some expression. We compiled snacks and beverages. One of my friends made a moody mix and brought a table full of supplies — canvases, brushes, paints, pallets.
We put a sheet down to serve as our drop cloth and we started. We grabbed colors that spoke to us and munched on chips and spicy shrimp ceviche. We drank ice cold Coronas with lime and we swayed to the music. It was like Moms Gone Wild for a couple hours there! We were absolutely in this world of our own making, a million miles away from tasks and responsibilities, and we put our heads down and created. You ever notice how the best stuff emerges in conversation when everyone’s focused on something else? We had our eyes on our canvases and hands moving, and the most tender, hilarious, bonding moments arrived!
That evening reminded me of how the things we love bring us back to ourselves, how getting our hands moving heals us, and how stealing time to chase down some beauty is always such a win.
If you’re considering a move in a certain direction, striking out into a new project or endeavor or possibility, I just want you to know that I think these pursuits matter. We will face resistance (read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield), we will face setbacks, even failure (read Rising Strong by Brene Brown), we will face fear (read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert). All of this is totally normal . . . and maybe even necessary . . . in the creative journey. The resistance, failure, and fear create a tension that produces new and interesting things if we’ll decide what we want and go for it.
This is all particularly relevant to me today. Some years of my life, I have wrestled with, “Decide what you want.” Other seasons in my life, I’ve wrestled with “And go for it.” Right now, I know what I want. I have done the work of discerning and deciding. Now, I have to do the courageous work of GOING FOR IT, which is vulnerable in its own ways, too. Whether you’re trying to decide what you want OR you’re trying to decide how big you’re going to go for it, I get it.
So today, I’m making a pact with my work — the work that is waiting for me once I push “publish” on this post — and I believe that as I commit to the work God’s given me to do, he will be my co-conspirator, my midwife, my fairy godmother, helping me get it all done and out into the world. But I have to show up first. Always. Like a marathon runner shows up for training. Disciplined. Consistent. Committed.
Here’s to stealing time, showing up, and fighting for those sacred places and spaces inside us and the work that wants to come forth from our truest selves.
I’m with you,
Chapter 10 is about making amends with ourselves so that we can experience more freedom, less shame. The majority of the chapter is a letter I wrote to myself, a letter of amends, that focuses on letting go of self-doubt, self-contempt, self-pity and holding on to — and even celebrating — my unique soul. It’s about sitting down with the 85 year old version of ourselves and letting her take our hand.
Here’s my challenge to you: Spend some time with that much older, storied, centered version of yourself. The one who knows things. Ask her what she wants to say to the current you. What does she know? What are the things you need to hold on to for dear life? What are the things you need to let go of? What matters? What doesn’t? Let God speak to you through her. Let her show you how you can learn to get out of your own way.
I get in my own way so much. More than I want to admit. I grab on to that destructive either/or thinking. I press for solutions instead of embracing the unfolding mystery. I fear my own strength and potential (which is something I’m really leaning into right now). I get rage-y when I have to revisit things I already know. I realize today, as I reread Chapter 10, that amends is not once-and-for-all. We live amends. Daily. Hourly. Moment-by-moment. We learn to honor our God-ness and our dirt every single day.
Today, this is what the older, more centered version of me is telling me: I don’t have to have everything figured out in order to take the next step. I don’t have to face life as a victim or a martyr. I can let joy and energy and possibility be my guides. I don’t have to foster a slick surface. I can be porous and open and curious. I can let love and life sink in. I can take risks. I can be brave. It’s not a trick. It’s not a trick. It’s not a trick.
I’d love to hear what that 85 year old YOU tells you. What wisdom does she impart to the current you? What jewel has she whispered in your ear?
Love upon love,
I was talking to someone the other day about how easy it is for me to launch into my striving, gotta-figure-it-out, must-solve mode in life. I was bemoaning the messy middles of life that we always seem to be in – we can’t quite see the end from the beginning from where we’re standing. She said this incredibly aggressive thing back to me (in her kindest, most compassionate voice): “Well, as a person of faith, you kinda signed on for mystery.”
But, she’s right, you know. I find myself still trying to do the thing every human has ever done since the beginning of humanity: Reach for control. Reach for knowing.
And it just doesn’t work out. This will be a truth I have to sit in every day for the rest of my life. I am not God. I am human. My humanity comes with some extraordinary things, some God-image things. My humanity contains serious badassery. But, I am not God.
I am not the God of my own life. I am not the God of other people’s lives. This is horrible news, at first. As I wrote in this chapter, I want to be the wind. I want to be the mover. But I’m not the wind. I’m the wind-catcher. And that posture requires relinquishment, acceptance, surrender, trust.
Perfect. Because I’m sooooooooo good at all those things.
Accepting my humanity and trusting God’s Godness is walking in that messy middle, that mystery, and asking God to help me tolerate it all somehow.
I reread all of Chapter 9 this morning and I was actually struck the most, again, by the image of that daddy carrying his sleeping daughter back to the car after their caper on the beach. Her body was like liquid, poured over his shoulder. I can conjure the picture in my mind’s eye, still.
When we tend to launch into needing-answers and gotta-know, we are thrown into a kind of anxious thinking that takes us into the black and white territory where we are not present and we refuse the mystery of God. Moments like this daddy and daughter scene center us, bring us back to ourselves, to the presence of the Holy Spirit. These scenes calm us — chemically, hormonally — and they create a sliver of space inside us where we can rest a tiny bit, breathe, let God back in, let a molecule of mystery reside. Our shoulders drop. All of a sudden we aren’t as invested in our striving. And we experience a moment of letting go.
God is the God.
I am the human.
God is the God.
I am the human.
So, today, when I’m tempted to launch into my anxious solving and my mystery-refusals and my tired attempts at playing God, I will look for the centering scene to bring me back, to help me let go, to help me receive the breath again. Like this one . . .
And I’ll say a small, simple prayer right now – sitting in my favorite spot in my house by the fireplace with the softest pitter patter on the bricks outside – for you to run smack dab into a daddy/daughter moment that helps you believe, yet again, in mystery.
This is what we do for each other: we reach out and grab a friend’s hand, tethering each other back to our beautiful and convoluted and unfolding life, so that we can spend another day, another hour, another minute . . . in the mystery. We spend a second or two with God, just sitting and listening, not transmitting. And we return to him and to ourselves.
I think you’re rad,
Happy Friday, dear friends. And welcome to October! Today is the first day in recent memory that I have not been sweating by 9am, so I’m calling that “Fall.” My dear friend Jamie just sent an email update from Montana saying, “Fall is here . . . the nail color is getting darker and the coffee stronger.” If that isn’t pure poetry, I literally don’t know what is.
Been thinking about my last post. One of the things I want to add, and will serve as a dovetail into today’s discussion on chapter 8, is something I’m really considering in my own life right now.
When I start feeling plagued and those brain vultures are on the prowl, sometimes I am resolute in my fight against them. And then there are other times — more recently — when I just start to get rage-y. I want to know when this will all go away. I want to yell at someone. I am DONE. I’m tired of being picked at. I’m tired of being buzzy and nervy. I’m tired of being cloudy and worried and, most of all, I’m tired of being tired. These are my low moments. And they can very easily send me into “solution-mode” where I am immediately trying to find that elusive solution that will fix me.
I think I’m being invited to think about all this a little differently, though I’d like to report that I’m not sure I like this new perspective. What if there were gifts in the buzzy and the nervy? What if that tension and friction created a productive energy that manifests itself in creativity, ideas, dabbling, inspiration? What if my anxious thoughts actually catapult me into deeper thinking, deeper feeling, deeper living? What then? Perhaps this “thorn in the flesh” has a purpose.
Let’s assume this is true for a second — that anxiety can be helpful sometimes. So then, how can I learn to channel that flow of energy so that it doesn’t overwhelm me, doesn’t send me flying off into either/or thinking, doesn’t lure me into solution-mode, but instead actually helps me be more creatively productive?
And if “anxiety” feels like too strong a word for you, then think of it as being entirely, systemically overwhelmed. See, if I’m completely overwhelmed, then I disintegrate into all the unhelpful places I just mentioned above. I literally come apart. I’m not an integrated version of myself. But if I can use some of that buzz, learn to work with it in safe environments, then I wonder if it could become what I see as a gift instead of a curse. I don’t know.
How might we reframe the things in us and around us and about us that are frustrating us? Well, in my opinion, we usually need help to see things differently.
This leads me to chapter 8, Googling for Help. This was one of the more personal chapters for me to write, simply because it gives you a peek into some of my own personal desperation and because it is the story of me doing something that some people might think is weird: seeking out a 12-step group called Emotions Anonymous. I took the risk, decided to let you think I’m weird, and wrote the chapter anyway, because it needed to be put out into the world. This story needed to be told.
It is the story of me beginning to think differently about a few things:
- Sometimes we are powerless over something and we need help in order to gain a hold. It is not defeatist to believe we are powerless; in fact, the opposite. It is the brave first step toward getting well. When there’s something we are powerless against in life, admitting our losing battle can be one of the most essential things we do.
- Fixing is a solution; healing is a process. I am actually putting those words on a 3×5 card and taping them to the wall by my desk today because I spent a good amount of time last week buying into the fact that if I could just press hard enough, I could find a solution to all the things that were eating at me. Solution-mode is rarely helpful. Process-mode, journey-mode, long-way-home-mode, through-not-around mode . . . these tend to be the paths to freedom. (Ugghhhhhh.)
- I don’t have to figure it all out (see #2). I can invite God in to help me. I can let go and let God figure it out.
- We cannot fix ourselves (see #1-3).
- “We need help. It feels needy to need help. Oh well. Let’s get it anyway. Google is a great place to start. So is Step 1: “We admitted we were powerless — that our lives had become unmanageable. (I believe in you.)” page 77
I know these are no-joke, heavy topics. I know these concepts reach into the core of us and tug at the deepest depths of who we are and who we want to be. So thank you for tolerating the depth and weight of these concepts. The words and ideas from this chapter are making their way back to me today as I need to be reminded of these truths so very often. I hope they are doing the same for you.
I say I wrote this book (and the next one coming out in the Spring) because they are the subjects I needed to explore, consider, write about and process for myself. I wrote Breathing Room because I needed some. I wrote Brazen because I need to find the courage to emerge and not just be the safest, smoothest version of myself.
Hopefully, through these posts and through your own reflection, you are finding ideas that are companioning you as you walk through the squeeze. And, most of all, that these ideas become pockets of air for you even if you haven’t found your way entirely to the spacious place yet.
And one more thing . . . You are not irrevocably flawed. Even if you are overwhelmed and angsty, you have not been forgotten. It is not over for you. The brain vultures may be picking at you, but you have not been left for dead. Maybe you’re just coming to the point where you’re realizing you’re powerless. But, as I’m learning, that may not be so bad.
And, above all, maybe there are even some gifts in the mist, if we can possibly imagine. Some days I’m not so convinced. And then other days, I see how my ideating brain is one of the things I like best about myself, and I begin to believe that perhaps the “third way” isn’t either solving my anxious mind or be swallowed whole by my anxious mind. Maybe the third way is learning to see it as a strange kind of gift and to ask God how I might celebrate and maximize this gift instead of shut it down.
Anything you’d like to add? Anything that really resonated with you from chapter 8 or this post?
Here’s to darker nails and stronger coffee and the third way and googling for help.
Love and more love,
P. S. If you’ve missed any of the previous chapter discussions, here are the links: