Sunday, April 8, 2018

To Wrestle with Angels.

Growing up, my mother talked a lot about angels.
When people mention angels, it’s often to a child, like something out of a Disney movie or a theme park. To the cynical, disbelieving adult, however, the thought of angels often feel cheesy and unimportant, like Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny.

That is me- 
I am that cynical, disbelieving adult.

I remember when I turned 16 and a girl from school gave me a tiny little silver angel clip to pin up in my car, something with a prayer that basically said, “Bless this car and this driver.” If you can imagine the game pieces that come with the World’s Worst Game Ever, the game that gives me a headache to even begin to think about, and the game I somehow always get stuck playing when I babysit for too long... Monopoly…. that’s kind of what this little angel clip looked like. It had a dull silver color, like a nickel that’s lost its shine. It was a sweet gift, really- one that her mom probably ordered in bulk to pass out to new drivers at school through the palm of her daughter's hand. Maybe the girl's mom thought the roads in Tuscaloosa would be a biiiiit safer through this small act of kindness and the adult version of me laughs at this gesture now. But this silver Monopoly Car Angel felt so far removed from my everyday life, and I didn’t really know what to think about it.

An angel?
In my car?

How intrusive, the invitation completely and absolutely assumed. My little 16 year old self probably took the gift with a silent chuckle, but let’s be real: A true Southern belle knows how to receive a strange gift with perfectionI would shove the Monopoly Car Angel somewhere in the glove compartment, and it would be hidden and unexposed to the passengers I was eager to impress. (For some reason as a February birthday girl, I was one of the first in my friend group to get a drivers license).

But in my silent, perfected craft of “Bless her heart” Alabama-gift-receiving, I partly asked then as I fully ask now,

Are angels real or just something that feels good to believe in?
A comfort blanket in Americanized Christianity.

Fast forward 14 years... 
I know, I feel so old typing that.
Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I was literally stopped by the word, “angel”.

It was tucked away at the end of a phrase, like a comma or semi-colon, but far more crucial. I was at my favorite retreat center, my quiet getaway just 40 minutes from home, the kind of place you don’t want to tell anyone from Nashville about because you want it to stay reasonably priced and unpopular so it doesn’t get invaded by the hipsters. (Just me and the senior citizens are in the know on this one, SCORE)... And I was in the prayer center. (Think: a circular house-like structure built for great acoustics and holy expression offered by any faith). I was carelessly looking around, as if my inner conscious was shopping around for something to connect with, like a cat that doesn’t want to be touched but never leaves your side, 

And I saw this phrase:
“Wrestle with angels”

It was tucked away, somewhere unimportant. 
And all I could think about was,
That’s me.
I do this all the time.
I wrestle with angels All.The.Time.

Here's what I mean:
I often fail to see the good, the pure, the lively, the beautiful, the joy, the deep, the mysterious, the holy right in front of my eyes.
I get busy and dehydrated, in body but also in spirit.
Afraid to ask for water, throat quenching, skin burning.

I often let all the bad in my life steal all the thunder while the good, the beautiful, and the sacred get missed, overlooked, and stepped on. I become blinded by the bad, afraid to sit with the angels and stare back at the holy.

I wrestle without even knowing what is happening. And to be honest, I do it in a hurry. It’s a quick fight, an impulse move, a survival mechanism of sorts. Like swatting a fly at a picnic. To treat an angel like a fly is to throw trash on the sidewalk. YES, the girl who cringes hard on the inside at the slightest sight of litter, I do this on the dailyI throw trash on sacred ground.

Just so you know: I am still cynical and suspicious about angels and most religious expressions in general. That is just where I am at in my life right now, and I owe you that honest report.

BUT, for the sake of this reflection,
I am going to really go there for a moment.

I am going to narrow in on this lofty thing we call “angels” and even practice using one angel and to make it even more weird, claim her as my own. I will give her a name and a story. In this season of life, when a lot of things are weighing me down, and some in the most aggravating way possible, I just need my angel to be real and not fiction or Disney-like.

Providing a name and a story offers this:
 I see you.
And I welcome you into this space.

So, if I haven't scared you off yet or confused you or offended you and your symbols of religious faith, here we go…

I imagine my angel to be kind, with eyes from the forest.
When you look into her eyes, you look into heaven, and not one could doubt that, not even me.
Her gaze is so profoundly deep and soul-bearing; there is nothing human about it.
It is so deep, in fact, that it is scary at first, and I often look away after only half a second of seeing her.

Everything attached to and part of her body is earth-like, in the best way possible.
She isn’t completely bright and beaming like one would imagine, but she is transparent and green, like mist.
Her hair is the color and texture of sunlight with golden, sharp streams of fire.
Her skin appears to be tree bark, yet it is soft, like silk.
If one were to reach out and actually touch her, though, which one hardly ever does, her skin is powder, a dust-like layer, nothing firm or tangible in the slightest.
Her arms are like the feathery tree branches of a Weeping Willow, and her feet are roots straight out of the ground.
She never speaks words, just sounds, like music, yet she is so easily understood, once one finally stops to listen.

Her name?

My angel knows what I need at each moment and she tries, with every effort, to slow me down, to get me to stare back and be still.

Here are a few of my most recent wrestling matches with her,
The ones I care to name, at least.

Write. You know you need to. You are a writer. You always have been.”
"I don’t have the time. Please leave me alone."
I swat back at the Picnic Angel Fly.
My Whisper.

Get away for a while. Take a trip,” she says, her earth eyes panning over my over-crowded schedule, my over-committed promises, my over-ignored inner Artist Child, and my over and over and over-again broken heart.
“I don’t deserve that,” I swat back. 
“I haven’t earned a vacation. 
That’s a privilege.”

Whisper’s favorite place to stand is in my small kitchen, right before I leave the house.
“Get out of my way, I am late.”
The wrestle begins.
Slow down, breathe a little,” she pleads.
"Enjoy the sunlight beaming through your windows.
Let the sun kiss your skin, like you love.”

Every once in a while, Whisper lives in the toddler’s eyes I see on Mondays and Fridays for a short stint of my day, a quick carpool gig, one of my final side-hustles to survive the school year.
And oh, the nerve of this angel!
She stands there, in front of the almost-2 year old, her green-misty presence and sunlight hair holding the full attention of the room, and I peer from a distance with my side-eye, cat-like, “I don’t trust what's happening” expression, afraid to really be present and lose this time to meaningless play.
Always feeling behind, always swimming upstream in this wild River of Life.
And yes, I swat again at the fly.
I wrestle on that one, hard.

And finally, Whisper stands outside my car door the second I get home, the most annoying place of all, when I have a thousand and one things in my hands and I am struggling to keep the right key perfectly positioned between my pointer finger and thumb, ready to unlock the door and unload my pile.
And here, she says this:
Go on a walk for no reason. Leave your phone in your car. Go be in nature before the sun falls. You know you want that.”
And again, I wrestle.

I wrestle.
I wrestle.
I wrestle.

To wrestle with angels is to miss those small moments of 

To wrestle with angels is to say no to that creative inner Artist Child that sits neglected and alone on the kitchen floor.
Head down.
Wanting to play, but afraid to ask, afraid to be told no again.

Whisper, I see you.
And I welcome you into this space, my space.
Cynicism and all.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Like a Warm Sweater.

A slow, steady walk on the sunny, sacred ground of a Costa Rican mountain town called Alajuela.

My movement is nearly silent, like a deer blending into the quiet of the night.
Every step intentional, moving with the earth, alongside her, in tune with her presence resting on my back like a warm sweater.

My arms are heavy and relaxed.
Fluid, like water.
A peaceful walk on this peaceful, quiet day.
Never in a hurry.
Never spending wasted energy on stress or schedule, leaving me depleted, empty.
Never feeling my shoulders creep up out of apprehension or defense, a shield I hold up when I feel unsafe, when I don't know what's coming.

Here I move effortlessly, I glide on ice. 
My feet brush along the walkway like a paintbrush of silk to a blank canvas.

My breath is deep, full.
It  fills me up like a channel of love, warming my chest and then releasing again into my belly.
A full day’s breath.
A full day’s prayer, like a finished thought, uninterrupted by noise and chatter: the usual backdrop of Nashville traffic, racing thoughts, fears of letting people down, letting myself down, fears of failing or forgetting something important.

Heat like summer touches my skin and I smile.
Gazing lovingly to my right, just beneath the wings of the nearby Mother Palm Tree, I see the city of San Jose, a magnetic sea of tiny dots, like a speckled quilt of various colors and stories all blended together.

I don’t remember the last time I was this relaxed.
I don’t remember the last time I slowed down, like this.
Completely unattached to plans.
Completely unattached to people.

Temporarily released from that dazed look I give when I don’t know quite what to say because I don’t know quite what I want.
Out of tune with my Center, my inner Truth.

I am unattached and present.

Unattached and alive and free: walking, moving, breathing with the earth as she warms my back and carries my weight on her lap.

That Ugly Word

Like a nasty, sneaky tick found in the Alabama forest in the middle of July.
The kind you never quite notice until the end of a busy day, the kind that takes a team of committed friends to pick off, all with wide eyes, a collective stubborn will, refusing to let nature win this one.

The name that is more often given to women than men when perhaps, there is another side of the story called “Fear of Real Love” or, “Resistance to Authentic Intimacy”, a block that starts in your chest and grows bigger every time your heart gets stepped on.

Like a contagious disease you didn’t know you had, the kind that keeps kids away from you at the playground.
The kind that gives you the side eye in a crowded room. 
Two steps toward the door, a quick escape.

Now I have only been called this word once or twice in my life, once probably given from myself, but, what is it with that word?

For the month of March, I have tried to create a sense of space in my life.
A space for healing.
For questions.
A space to come back to my creative center.
A space for silence.

And as I sit myself down for an interview and I ask that one uncomfortable question that Emily Siner from the local NPR station encourages every interviewer to do, I feel my eyes wander or my phone calling my name or anything to distract myself from releasing these terrifying, heart-probing words out of my zip-tight lips.

The question is this: 
What are you clinging to in your life in order to distract yourself from reality?

Two things: 
1- We are all clingy. Own it.
2- I am the expert at distracting myself and I cling to an overcrowded schedule.

Also, there's this: I love hard.
I bend over backward for people at the cost of my own personal growth.
I do more than I need to for my students, and because of this, I get taken advantage of by 15 year olds all across this city.

And I cling, hard.
I cling to what’s comfortable, what’s familiar, predictable, safe.
And I don’t know what that means for Future Me.
But we all start somewhere, right?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Camp Life.

These long strips of wooden benches remind me of summer camp in Alabama.

Riverview Camp for Girls.
Camp McDowell.
I was quite the camper.

The Troopers at Skyline met on the basketball court just beside the Dining Hall.
Our club color was green.

Green like the shady, soft grass near the gym, where the boys were dropped off in a yellow school bus for our camp dance.
So much cologne.
Spiky gelled hair.
Pre-teen sweat.
I just tried not to get stuck in the middle of the gym: Every smart girl knew to hang the perimeter.

Our club color was green, like the sun-kissed patch of grass just below the zipline.
The zipline that I almost didn’t go off of at age 7.
My legs dangled off the sturdy wooden platform like wet ropes in the water. 
My belly was bottomless.
My head spun wildly.
I was so scared I couldn’t think. 
But after some very kind and patient coaching from someone up there in that tall tree, I finally inched my way off the ledge, like a baby bird leaving her safe, warm nest for the first time.
And when I climbed down the ladder after the zipline ran its course, my heart still racing, I remember feeling proud of myself, that I could do something hard like that.

I liked to watch the older girls at camp, wanting to be just like them when I grew up.
They wore overalls, no makeup, and high ponytails.
Their voices were hoarse by the end of the week from all the camp cheers.
Veins bulging out of their necks with every word they yelled.
Hands clapping fiercely like there’s no tomorrow.
I learned the first day of camp that the louder you yelled, the more respectable you were.
Cheers were to be taken very seriously at camp, and to shout in reckless abandon meant you were a warrior for your club, your tribe, your people.

Somehow I still feel like that little girl.
Just watching the big girls yell with passion and courage.
They do it so well, so effortlessly, like warriors.
And I still want to be just like them when I grow up.

The camp life has its sneaky little way of revealing hidden truths.
Like, You don’t have to wear makeup to be seen.
Or, You don’t have to be quiet and timid as a female- You can actually be a warrior for your tribe, proud and fearless.
The camp life tells you that you can inch your way off ziplines and say no to sweaty boys who don’t know what they want.

At camp, I felt strong.
I felt free, alive and worthy.
And that little girl is always in me, telling me to go for it- that maybe I will climb down the ladder after all this is over and say,

I’m proud of myself, that I can do something hard like that.