Beauty Balm

Enlight487

With Krista Wallace, on the drive back from Big Blue Trail, CO, following our 13 mile hike.

There are 2 significant things I have been learning this year – presence and expectancy. I have my continuing struggles and frustrating patterns, but I have come to expect God to meet me in the middle of them. I expect him to work on me and show me things, and I, in turn, try to be agreeable to the process. The “work” I have been called to when it comes to my own healing and growth can be hard at times, but there is a part of it that consistently brings me immense joy. That is the work of paying attention.

Richard Rohr draws a wise connection to these words from the gifted photographer, Ansel Adams, who said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” Rohr continues the train of thought, “So the waiting, the preparing of the mind for “chance,” the softening of the heart, the deepening of expectation and desire, the “readiness” to really let go, the recognition that I really do not want to let go, the actual willingness to change is the work of weeks, months, and years of “fear and trembling.”” –Breathing Under Water

I was struck to the core by all of this – It wipes away every bit of the shame of struggle. In fact, it is the struggle itself that allows grace to do its best work!

I have taken some lovely photos the past couple of years. Someone asked me recently, “Why do all of the beautiful things find you?” I was a little taken aback, and as I glanced over my photos, I thought for a moment that there was some truth to it. But I quickly reailzed that’s not really the way it works.

I am astonished at times when beauty finds me, but it is easier for beauty to find me when I pay attention to the urging to get up at 4:30 in the morning, climb out of bed at 2 a.m. to see the stars, listen to the birds and educate myself on their migratory patterns, work on a writing or editing project till 10 p.m. instead of watching T.V. so that I can spend the next morning at the state park, or sacrifice a little physical comfort.


“Softest of mornings, hello. And what will you do today, I wonder, to my heart?” ~Mary Oliver, Devotions


None of these “sacrifices” guarantee that I will find beauty, but I sure give myself a better chance. In all of the photos in the slide show below, I gave up something to get them – I got up early, stayed up late, stood still for a long time, turned off the TV, hiked a long way, got hot, got cold… something kind of hard, or really hard. I did nothing to make the scene beautiful, but I was willing to put myself out there.

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Sometimes working with God means I wake up early, read challenging books, step into tough but necessary conversations, place myself among people who are not like me, vulnerably confess my struggles to a friend, or say I’m sorry, frightened or hurt. None of these things is guaranteed to make me beautiful, but all of these things, in cooperation with a caring God, give beauty a fighting chance.

Job 12:7-12 The Message (MSG)

7-12 “But ask the animals what they think—let them teach you; let the birds tell you what’s going on. Put your ear to the earth—learn the basics. Listen—the fish in the ocean will tell you their stories. Isn’t it clear that they all know and agree that God is sovereign, that he holds all things in his hand—Every living soul, yes, every breathing creature?”

Note: It is becoming a trend among some of my favorite authors to use “he or she” every time they reference God. I get it, and, as a “she”, I commend them, but it makes for some very clunky sentences!:) 

Hello, my name is Alyson…

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My son left for college last fall. He’s not coming home – not really. He has become an occasional visitor, no longer a resident. I’m very excited for him as he’s heading straight from school to a fabulous summer job in NM, but the loss of his presence is hitting me all over again, maybe even harder than it did in September.

He is one of my favorite people and one of my closest friends, and he was woven into the fabric of my daily life for 18 years.

I have been super busy with my girls, my saving graces (also my dear ones), so I have not had much time to sit around and contemplate feeling lonely. But as the emptiness hits me anew this week, I realize that it has been lurking under the surface causing chronic, mild (sometimes not so mild) depression. I have struggled with this sadness in my body, because in order to get through my days, it was not convenient for my body to be sad.

My brain and my heart obviously colluded in my subconscious and decided that a numb body was better than a sad body, and that deep desire to be numb took me straight into my addictive struggles. Instead of picking one single addictive vice and ending up in rehab, I take a more “controlled” approach and engage in moderately addictive behavior across a broad spectrum – eating, drinking, Netflix, and shopping for cool sneakers and sharp t-shirts. 

I don’t eat a sleeve of Oreos in one sitting, but I might eat twice the recommended serving size – and maybe I eat them right before my dinner, so the second piece of dark chocolate after dinner is just a normal dessert as the Oreos can technically be categorized as a snack. I might sip on enough wine to keep me a little relaxed between 6 and 10 while never being tipsy. I can spend 2 hours browsing Marshalls and come out with a $7 t-shirt, but those 2 hours are brainless bliss. 4 or 5 Doctor Who episodes in a sitting? Well, I’m just trying to catch up with my daughter.

With my deft addiction management, I appear socially acceptable, an addict undercover. Any one of my given vices is completely understandable to most people. However, the cumulative effect is quite deadly. I don’t type that phrase that lightly – if I maintain my current course, I will end my life earlier via heart disease and diabetes.

This is a very personal confession, so I hope you stopped reading a while back if it’s TMI, but it’s helpful to me to bring it into the light. It makes it real, and I’m tired of the social media showcase where we all appear to have it all together. Now for the good part…

My past response when coming to grips with deep struggle was to feel shame and self-contempt. There is a generally agreed upon list of responsible, grown-up behaviors, and I somehow cannot manage to follow that list.

A year ago, I would have berated myself as a childish hypocrite, but what I’ve discovered is that my shame response is actually pride in disguise. Hating myself means I think I’m too good to fail. Humbly embracing my whole self brings acceptance of my humanity – my shared humanity. It makes me seek community and support instead of withdraw into my shell and deeper into my addictive cycles.

This morning, while working out (yay me!), I listened to a brief podcast – Krista Tippett on Becoming Wise, was interviewing Matthew Sanford. The subject? Compassion for our bodies. Oh, my goodness. Here is the first sentence of the podcast:


“Grief and gladness, sickness and health, are not separate passages. They’re entwined and grow from and through each other, planting us, if we’ll let them, more profoundly in our bodies, in all their flaws and their grace.”

~Krista Tippett


 

Now stop reading and listen to this (it’s less than 10 minutes): https://onbeing.org/blog/compassion-for-our-bodies-matthew-sanford/

There I was huffing away on the stairclimber, and instead of judging my lack of stamina, I chose to notice how well my muscles were still working for me. Yes, my heart rate was higher than it should be and I bench pressed 15 pounds less than I did in September, but my body kept me going through a really hard year! It did not give up on me. And the few extra pounds that have accumulated are the evidence that I have been grieving because I LOVE my kids like crazy. 

I do want to be around for my kids, however. Rejecting shame is how I break free and return to better self care. And taking care of myself is one of the best gifts I can give my family.

As I left the gym this morning, I could feel more keenly how my intake of breath makes the tips of my fingers feel connected to the rest of me, how my ears are more attuned to the joyful birdsongs than they were a year ago, how I really need to get to the eye doctor because I cherish seeing the beauty around me and can’t do that as well as I could a year ago.

 

Yes, my body is declining, but it’s a good body. My heart has been numbing itself, but it’s good, too. It was simply trying to find a safe place. The more compassion I find for myself exactly as I am right now, the more compassion I automatically extend to every other declining human body and vulnerable heart.

My body will eventually fall apart and stop breathing – might be 40 years from now, might be this afternoon. But while it’s still moving me along, I will live in a more connected way than I did yesterday. And as the other bodies and hearts that I love so dearly leave me over time, and I grieve again and again, I will remember the tender, softer grief of this year and the compassion I felt towards myself. In the future, I will be deeper, kinder, and more present in my grief and remember that it is intricately entwined with my joy.

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