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Who I say I am: Living with Imagination

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I’ve been in the habit of surrounding myself with people who have this drive– this knack for defying systems and norms that have placed restrictions and limitations on their being.  I find these folks both in my personal and professional circles and I can’t think of a better habit to get caught up in.

The lessons I learn and the courage I experience from these revolutionary folks who face odds that are stacked to topple them astound and inspire me.

In my research, I meet domestic violence survivors daily who refuse to settle for the standard of worth that their abusers and society place on them.

In therapy, gender non-binary people who defy the system by being visible despite a world that seeks and attempts to erase them.

In my personal relationships, women who push back on beauty norms that claim that to be lovable you must be this; look like that; attain a heteronormative kind of love.

Brothers and sisters of color digging in and fighting a system that denies them basic human rights of equality and dignity.

This is a bold kind of living.  To boldly live one must have an imagination that reaches beyond the bounds that are placed on one’s existence.  Some of us have others show us the way of boldness and some of us have to carve out a bold space for ourselves and sometimes it’s a combination of both.  This is all grounded in an imagination of possibilities and opportunities– even when met with closed doors.

I’ve been reading Trevor Noah’s book and the following segment resonated with me.  In one of  the most brutal systems in the world, apartheid, Noah describes living beyond the limitations of the system– living beyond the limitations people placed on him… living beyond how people saw him– living beyond what they said he could do and who he could be…

“My mom raised me as if there were no limitations on where I could go or what I could do.  When I look back I realize she raised me like a white kid– not white culturally, but in the sense of believing that the world was my oyster, that I should speak up for myself, that my ideas and thoughts and decisions mattered.  We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited… Perhaps even more amazing is the fact that my mother started her little project, me, at a time when she could not have known that apartheid would end.  There was no reason to think it would end; it had seen generations come and go..  People thought my mom was crazy… So many black people internalized the logic of apartheid and made it their own… Neighbors and relatives used to pester my mom, “Why do all this?  Why show him the world when he’s never going to leave the ghetto?”  “Because, ” she would say, “even if he never leaves the ghetto, he will know that the ghetto is not the world.  If that is all I accomplish, I’ve done enough”.  

Damn.

Bold living is not just having an expansive imagination, but it is the courage to allow oneself to live with an imagination.

And to live boldly with an imagination– an imagination that reaches beyond and defies cultural and systemic limitations and oppression is hard ass work.  It is a deconstructive to reconstructive kind of all encompassing work that can leave us exhausted, disoriented, confused and lonely.

And because this an all encompassing kind of work it usually requires us to remember some things regarding the process and our self-care.

When you are exhausted:

Yup– you’re going to get exhausted, weary, worn-down and tired.  It is not because you are flawed or incapable or weak.  You get exhausted because 1) this is hard work.  It takes a great deal of emotional, mental and physical energy to navigate the world while essentially liberating yourself from stereotypes and norms that are in place to force you to conform.  And 2) you are a human with a finite amount of energy and capacity.  Everyone eventually drains that well… It’s part of our human cycle and as we grow in self-awareness and insight we can do more to preserve that well or reserve before it runs bare.

But we have to be aware… we have to be listening to our bodies and our hearts and respond to our exhaustion with kindness, grace and compassion.

I think we all can do a better job of establishing a foundation of self-care.  What’s your eating look like?  Are you feeling nourished?  How are you sleeping?  Do you have a sleep routine that supports what you’ll need from one day to the next?  What’s play look like for you?  What activities energize you?  Who are your people?  I’m talking about the people where you find mutuality, equality, respect and reciprocity.

When you hit that point where you may be depleted it is okay to unplug.  It’s okay to sleep.  It’s okay to turn the off or pause button on and take a retreat for yourself.

When you are confused/disoriented:

When you defy norms, you essentially are acknowledging your authentic self while also building yourself from scratch outside of the system.  The thing is there are no blueprints to follow and show how one should go about the building process.  There may be some folks, some ancestors that have modeled this kind of work that have gone before us…  I think of people like Rosa Parks or James Baldwin or bell hooks or Ellen DeGeneres or George Takaki.  These folks, among others, provide a picture of resistence and reclamation, which we can draw from.  Even still, a blueprint is not provided and so in the process one may feel confused, lose sight of the big picture and feel lost.

Usually when we are confused we try to equilibrize– we try to get balance and typically while trying to gain balance we look outside ourselves to calibrate.  Absolutely nothing wrong with that.  What becomes problematic is when we compare ourselves to others, because typically we are not able to objectively compare and contrast our situation to someone else in this state.

When one is confused it is important to ground oneself.  Grounding can mean incorporating objective voices in our experience.  It can also mean quieting onself and taking a break from all the noise.  For some, this can mean meditation or taking a walk in nature or turning off one’s phone and internet accessibility or listening to music.  It looks different for all of us.  Ultimately, grounding allows us to get back in touch with ourselves– helps us to see ourselves and our path again.

When you experience loneliness: 

This can be lonely work.  There are moments, days and weeks that feel isolating and lonely.  Our stories and situations are unique and diverse from others.  Sometimes we feel misunderstood or alone in our unique process– left to wonder does anyone understand?  I just want to say this experience is legit.  Be incredibly tender with yourself in these moments.  These moments pass.  Sometimes we are completely surprised by how someone does show understanding or compassion to our circumstance.  We also surprise ourselves in these moments because we can see our own personal strength and the incredible ways we are able to show up for ourselves.  This is resiliency and it’s a beautiful and wonderful thing.

Additionally, find the humor in it all.  Wherever you find a space to laugh– take it!  Today I met with my 83 year old mentor who has seen it all and who has carved her own path despite being raised in a time when women were programmed to live in a particularly restrictive way…  She could not emphasize enough how we need to be able to laugh; to laugh at ourselves; to laugh at our humanity– ya know the places where we stumble about and yet, we are trying so hard– these can be kind and endearing moments to chuckle over and it can lighten our load– if only for a moment may we have lightness.

 

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Stay.Right.Here.

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Life seems to be serving up the same lessons that I seem to either forget or think I will eventually master.  In this week’s servings there was nothing over the top out of the ordinary, but none-the-less the challenges of parenting and adulting and relationshiping drudged up old responses that I thought I had out grew.  Just like an old, familiar space my responses were filled with anxiety and worry and a nagging voice that I-am-just-not-doing-enough and that I-will-never-be-enough.

These are the ghosts of my past who somehow fill my present and urge me to problem solve a future that still has yet to become.  

And so I do the old patterns that I’ve learned do not serve me well and this is that I try to control for the circumstances in which I have no control.  Usually how this looks is I try to out do myself– be better– be perfect– be a perfect mom– present a competent, well-put-together adult self for co-workers, be the best listener to my friends, have the patience of a saint for my children, stave off exhaustion or weariness, appear brave, commit to being a giver and resist being a receiver…

I know this is usually a fruitless, soul draining endeavor for me.  I know that the more I live in my head to be perfect and to present perfection the less I live authentically.  Authentic for me is to be in the moment– open to whatever life offers so that I can learn and grow.  Authentic also means that I am where I am… I’m giving what I have… I’m receiving what I can hold and I’m listening in the here and now.

And I’ve learned in the four decades of my life that the efforts to control exhaust me and wear me thin yet, I found myself doing this by default– just easing into this old pattern without giving it a second thought.  In my 20’s and 30’s this likely would go on for a long time, but thanks-be to the development of skills like mindfulness and self-awareness I was able to eventually notice that this pattern had snuck back up.  I was able to evaluate myself and make some different decisions regarding the anxiety and stress I was bearing and the response I wanted to extend to myself.

When I got down to it I realized that the anxiety I was holding was about an uncertain future that I have very little to no control over.  I mean to get really honest with myself I had to realize that I cannot predict or control what is to come and that scares the shit out of me.

I mean…

I can pour every ounce of parenting energy and wisdom into my children, but what they do with that… how they actualize is not in my control.

I can love with every ounce of love my heart and body can muster and I can’t control the outcome and the return of love or of loss or of illness or of death.  (Loving my mother meant taking care of her body and her health toward the fruit of her returning to complete health– I could not control for how her illness was going to compromise her and ultimately take her)

I can make all the ‘smart’, future forward career investment decisions to ensure a future of bright opportunities and financial security, but I can’t guarantee that these opportunities will be extended toward me.

And this lesson presented to me what it always presents to me– that what I have is right now.  I have today.

A few years ago, I did some crazy stuff.  I left everything behind: a marriage, a career, a community, a belief system– on the notion that leaving the toxic aspects of my life would lead to more health and growth.  I had a certain kind of optimism or hope about that decision.

In terms of my mental and emotional health I can say that I’ve seen the fruits of that decision produce the capacity for me to think and to breathe and to live in peace.  It’s in part, why I can presently be more mindful, but in terms of what the future holds I have no certainties and I think that some days I’m still waiting and watching with bated breath– I’m peering into the future, anxieties rising, lungs full– wanting, longing to control the outcomes.  And then life (sometimes in gentle ways and sometimes in not so gentle ways) brings me right back to where I am and says stay.right.here.  Don’t get ahead of yourself.  You have today.  You have this moment.  Stay right here and listen– don’t lose this moment.  Don’t let it slip away.  Bask in it.  Let the sun shine on your face and breathe, because this is what you have and this is what you can be certain of– this- right- here.

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Authentic community, yes please, but where?

I took down this post a day after posting it.  I thought I’d make some edits and look it over.  And deep down inside I thought, “maybe this is a little much”.  See, even now, I am figuring out what authentic living is for me.  Several days after taking the post down I had several people contact me and say that the post was a breath of fresh air.  Unbeknownst to me others have been struggling with similar things related to suffering and the church.  I decided after hearing that this was a source of hope to others I would go ahead and repost it.  After all, that has always been my hope that my story and sharing would be a source of something for others…  If this post or other stuff I share is a source of helping you know that you are not alone well then I think it’s freaking worth putting my stuff out there.

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I’ve been feeling like an orphan lately. A spiritual orphan of sorts. After 37 (ish) years in church and ministry I left. It was a culmination of things that led to isolation, depletion and burn-out, which eventually made me realize I needed to go for my own heart’s sake and health.

And now I find myself frequently asking myself questions of belonging:

to whom do I belong?

how do I belong?

is belonging possible?

It seems since leaving the church I have been left with all kinds of yearnings to continue some connection with faith, but how?– when most of what I was taught was that faith is connected to church community. And how could I possibly go back to church community when I am still recovering from so many wounds from the previous community I was a part of? And sometimes when I’m at this crisis juncture I resign myself to never finding another spiritual community again.

And then I came across this today by the dearest Anne Lamott:

My brand new sister-in-law died yesterday, as has been expected for weeks. We are heartbroken, relieved, amazed by Grace. My brothers and I are all accidentally devout believers, so we feel that death is a major change of address: that death is the end of dying, but not of life.

Or Life. Whatever you want to call it.

Life or life: This strange situation we find ourselves in, with no clear answers or meaning–well, you know, I mean besides love, or Love; taking care of the poor; and being amazed by beauty.

With Connie, who entered our lives eighteen months ago, with stage 4 cancer, we all just surrendered to the reality that my older brother John had fallen truly, madly, deeply in love.

I would not have picked a wife for him who had aggressive cancer in her liver and lungs, but that’s just me. She was everything he had ever hoped and dreamed of, as he was for her. We fell in love with her, too. This didn’t work for me at all, as Jax’s baby heart–and, who am I kidding, mine–were now guaranteed to break, big time, in the very foreseeable future.

I read this and I began to feel those yearnings hit the surface, again. She always has a way of writing with sheer, raw, heartbreakingly, open, truth-telling that I can’t help but not want to give up on the idea that on this earth– community just might exist where we are accepted just as we are: broken, imperfect, awkward, real, authentic

Maybe, just maybe there is a spiritual community that exists with a bunch of scarred-up and flawed-up people seeking to seek together and love together and suffer with and for one another…

Maybe

As much as all the various things that built up over time (endless budget meetings, being the first one in and the last one out, full-time work for part-time pay) left me feeling depleted and used up– what slowly began to eat away at my heart was the reality that I couldn’t be authentic or real about the suffering that I was experiencing.

I learned this lesson early on when my husband’s bipolar was brought to the attention of the lead pastor, our friend and he responded by stating that in this country we over diagnose and we over medicate. He was clearly uncomfortable and didn’t understand the disorder so he went on to say we needed to get help and then shortly thereafter began distancing himself.

Later I shared with the pastor’s wife my struggles with the bipolar and the depression I was experiencing as a result and she stopped talking to me and soon there-after we were no longer invited to family gatherings or events.

We continued to feel this distancing from community and staff, which led me to internalize that this must be our problem and ours alone.

I learned early on that these were not topics that were supposed to be discussed and I stopped sharing. I kept showing up for all the strategic meetings and all the work parties and to minister to others. Meanwhile, in my own life I continued to melt away.

When things would escalate to the point of violence– like the time my husband went into a rage and I needed to grab my daughter and physically run without shoes to a friend’s house– I knew that I would need to keep this to myself. A few days later I showed up to work… engaged in ministry… put on a smile… didn’t let on that anything was wrong at home…

For ten years I kept all these secrets.

I fulfilled my duties as pastor, but could not disclose my sufferings even within the circle of staff and leadership.

Yet, this church preached boldly and passionately about the need to be authentic in community. And it took some time to learn that authentic in this community meant: real minus the icky, awful, uncomfortable stuff like mental illness.

As all communities, this community had exceptions to what would be accepted as authentic.  There were all these rules and guidelines and norms about what could be shared, who could share and what was socially acceptable to publicly grieve. This was a culture that cultivated an environment of silence.

After my grandfather collapsed at his home he was rushed to a hospital ER and later that day he was diagnosed with leukemia. The shock of these events rattled me and when I shared this with my pastor he expressed no condolences or words– he just simply walked away toward his office. My grandfather died two days later and no one said a word to me about it. At my place of worship, my place of spiritual community I silently grieved alone.

You can imagine my confusion.

For a long time I thought it was me.

The past three years I’ve been in recovery. In terms of spiritual community, I often feel confused more than ever.

But I know now that this wasn’t right. I know that it wasn’t all me. I’m not perfect– I don’t claim to have my shit together, but authentic community doesn’t require polished, perfected, shit-don’t- stink, kinds of people.

I learned this, too.

I learned this when on several occasions when I was especially down and out, feeling a specialized kind of crazy in this recovery process I called out to a bunch of ladies– this ragamuffin, hard core group of women friends and they got it. I was a blubbering, sobbing, mascara-stained mess and the leader of our army said, “You’re not alone, DeAnza– we got you”.

“No requirements– we got you”.
“You don’t have to be perfect– we got you”.
“You are lovely as you are– we got you”.

I’m still confused about formal church and community.  At some point, I imagine I’ll find a spiritual community or at least hope to…

Silence is no way to live. Silence breeds shame and it is a disservice to people– it compounds suffering.

This is also what I know: this example is what community should be like– however you define it– whoever is in your community– wherever your community resides– it should be like this: a refuge place where you can bare your soul and know that you won’t be respected any less for doing so.

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Masking it

ImageI just updated the ‘About’ section of this blog and I thought it might be good to share those thoughts in a post.

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I think over the years I’ve had grandiose hopes and ideas about what this little blog could mean to myself and the world.  The idea of ‘Created for More’ was really connected to a hope that we could create real, authentic space to be forthcoming about life in its painful realities and glory.  If I think of what Created for More means now I guess it’s probably more accurate to say that it’s full of meandering thoughts and writings about the stuff I think & care about.  I hope that something sticks or is helpful to others, but at the end of the day have to adjust to the notion that this stuff just might mean only something to myself.  

The other day someone said something to me about ‘compensatory masks’.  You know those things we place in front of ourselves to present an idea of ourselves to the world that we hope other people will like and relate to.  I think sometimes we do that for survival or just out of sheer insecurity and fear, but none-the-less it is a mask that keeps us from being seen or really known.  These safety masks means we experience the world with barriers in front of us.  What might we be missing out on by staying behind our masks?  How is our sight and other senses impaired as a result of the barrier of our masks?  It’s something to think about.

We all have a choice we can come out as much as we want to from our compensatory masks…  We can show people what we want them to see of us and keep for ourselves the stuff we prefer them not to see.  It’s a choice for all of us.  I said safety masks earlier, because that’s what these barriers provide us with familiarity, safety…  a sense of control.  Yet, for some strange reason, I think that the more authentic that we become the more freedom we have to experience each other and the things that matter most to us.  I say for ‘some strange reason’ because I’m still trying to figure this out myself and I guess Created for More is one small space floating in the web universe where I experiment with that idea.   

I’m going to keep experimenting with this idea.  Maybe people will read it and maybe they won’t– who cares.  I just know that after many years receiving encouragement, rewards and accolades to stay masked up… I’ve decided I want to push back on that more.  I have a feeling that people may not like what they experience of me in this way… they may not like my stories or my experiences or simply just me… I’m realistic that there are certain risks that come with being more honest.  I’ll deal with those anxieties as they come up.  But I don’t want to live in bullshit pretense anymore and I won’t perfectly capture the authentic ways of being but I think it’s worth a try.  It is definitely worth a try.