When Life Gets Out of Control

After some informal inquiries with many of my friends and acquaintances it would seem the consensus is… August suuuucked. In a time which is supposed to be of leisure and good weather – and in the past has meant birthdays and anniversaries and vacations for me –  for the first time in my life, I was barely hanging on.

I experienced a mass exodus of people from my life; some were tangential, some close friends, some romantic interests. But each week in August, just like the crashing waves against cliff sides came a fresh, powerful and unstoppable blow of loss. And each week, I sank deeper into the darkest of lonelinesses.

I remember sitting in the sunshine on my back deck – where I have sat in so many moments of pain and joy over the years – and being taken over by a shaking terror. This scared me most of all. I was so utterly confused (a state I do not function in well) and I was so utterly alone (another state I do not function in well) and I was asking, no begging, whomever or whatever listens in times like these… what have I done to deserve this pain?  Where did I go wrong? What is this life for anyway when I have no control over anything?!?

I have a tendency to blame myself when my life isn’t looking the way I think it should. And yes, it’s about control and believing that I am the captain of my ship. While this has its benefits in building the life you want and creating opportunity, it offers no solace when, as they say, shit happens.

Because that’s what August was mostly about… shit. just. happening. And I had little or no control over anything.

We can, however, control how we react – at least that is what I’m told –  and I’m a little ashamed to report that I did not react well a lot of the time. I was petulant, demanding, angry and blaming. I rattled off harsh texts, I wailed in agony and anger, I no longer wanted to care about anything or anyone. I shut myself off. Not my finest moments.

But at the end of the day, or the end of August, I slowly began to find my way back to myself. There were some days when I didn’t leave two rooms of my home. I read, I listened to music, I contemplated and meditated and sank so deep into my core just to get a foothold on one hour of my day. Other days, I went to yoga and made concerted efforts to focus on just one breath at a time. Because I have learned that when life feels like nothing but crashing waves over your head – one deep breath is the only thing to make you believe you’re not drowning. I did a lot of that… breathing and focusing.

If August had me hanging on for dear life, September has been me reconciling the losses and my actions. I realized a few important things about myself, others and this life.

Nothing in this world stays the same; not a rock, not a tree a continent or culture. It sounds a bit trite and obvious to say, but we fight against this idea on a daily basis. The comfy, cozy softness of tradition and continuity is like that warm fire waiting for you when it’s dark and cold and wet. We crave to be engulfed by the knowing and dependable glow of sunshine in August, of our lifelong friends, of the bonds of family and the relaxing familiarity and predictability of routines we know all too well. These are lovely and useful tools for setting the foundations of joy in our lives and helping us to understand what’s truly important.

But people can get really bent out of shape when you suggest a change in the status quo. Change is largely seen as an enemy, a forbearance of awful things to come, a harbinger of uncertainty and unknown entities.

And the comfort of well-worn dirt paths helps us forget that the crashing waves aren’t just there to lull us to sleep; they are powerful enough to reshape the solid ground on which we stand. And just under that surface are undertows at work. And just because we bury ourselves in the things which keep us dry and warm doesn’t mean these other parts of life don’t exist and won’t come to wreak havoc on us one day. Because nothing in this world stays the same, not a rock, not a tree a continent or culture. Not you, not me, not friendships and family. Time runs roughshod over all things both dark and lovely.

And when the waves overtake you, like they did me in August, so much of life becomes the simple act of hanging on, of coping and finding space to take one breath at a time as your head slips below the surface. And I know now that how we behave in these moments does not define us, but it can teach us if we take time to learn, if we refuse to bury our heads in the sand and we continue to assert ourselves as the captains of our ships.

We are simple humans attempting to reconcile a reality which is largely hidden from our understanding. Our simple minds have us clinging to the safety of land and simple ideas and illusions of permanence because the chaos of change is beyond our comprehension and largely, beyond our control. And that feeling can bring on a shaking terror.

But change doesn’t have to be bad. New ideas do not have to be rejected. Boundaries and relationships can be redrawn and it doesn’t spell doom. And judging ourselves too harshly for our humanity is an exercise in futility. It’s like judging a tree for losing its leaves.

It takes time and patience and stillness, but the reshaping of rock from the constant crashing of waves is a beautiful thing.

Reshaping of Rocks

Teaching My Child Intuition and Compassion

Yesterday my daughter and I had an exchange that brought me to instant tears. Big, sudden, happy, relieved, awe-inspired tears.

A couple of weeks ago we were in Hawaii. Much of it was a wonderful experience, but there was one particularly poignant and memorable moment with my 4-year-old daughter.

We were standing on a hill just above a short, black, lava rock cliff. The rhythmic crashing and receding of the ocean was soothing and invigorating all at the same time. The sky was filled with cottony clouds and there was a soft breeze lightly swishing my daughters still-wet, short, brown hair in and out of her eyes. She was wearing a hot pink towel dress having just come from the pool. She was skipping along the hillside picking hibiscus flowers and watching the ocean. I reached for my camera, but I forgot it. Instead of snapping pictures, I just stood there, sunglassed, arms folded.

I remember a rush of gratitude washing over me and a sudden, compulsive urge to encapsulate the moment.  I got anxious for my camera because it’s the one thing that helps me remember how to feel. I got anxious, wanting to take a picture. Even though I started out wanting to savor the moment, in my head, I was already regretting something.

Suddenly I noticed there were several Monarch butterflies fluttering about. I’d seen one or two float past our balcony, but now, on this grassy hill next to the shore there were many. They were circling a nearby tree and dancing together on the breeze. Why had I forgot my camera!

“Look Mama! Butterflies. Oh my gosh they are sooo beautiful!” Brooke said pointing up into the air and following their path with her finger.

We watched them. We talked about which ones might be friends, where they lived, and if they were having fun. After the short conversation she began to sing. There were no words, just humming a tune that resembled the flit and flutter of a butterfly’s dance. She was lost in her song and watching the Monarchs. She sang her tune over and over as she danced and followed the paths of the butterflies around the tree.

My eyes filled with tears behind my sunglasses watching her joy. She was so free. So sweet. Filled to the tips of her wet hair with that moment and nothing else. I wanted to be her — little and innocent — lost for minutes at a time in pure joy not caring about memorializing it in digital form.

More than I wanted to be her, I wanted her to STAY that way. I didn’t want to telescope forward in my head and watch her standing there like me, arms crossed, eyes watering, trying to hold on to a moment, already submersed far into regret. I wanted her to always to be dancing and singing an impromptu tune inspired by the beauty of a few butterflies.

My 2-year-old son was running up and down oblivious to the moment. He’s a wild little thing right now; brimming with energy and bursting with love and fury all at the same time. He’s going through a hitting phase. He’s also quite fond of hurling Hotwheels at your head. I have tried all matter of punishment, but he thinks everything I say and do is hilarious. He’s not ready for logic, but my 4-year-old listens to my attempts to curb his violent behavior, and I found myself struggling with the concept of when it’s okay to hit… because sometimes fighting back is necessary.

Sometimes fighting back is the only choice you have to survive. I know that sounds drastic, but I believe anger can be a good thing when channelled properly; particularly when someone is out to hurt you.

Ever since we started watching Disney movies I’ve described the antagonist as “the meanie.” Jafar, Ursula, Gaston, the scary bear in Brave… those are all “the meanies.” We were having a conversation about how we’re never supposed to hit people unless they are “a meanie.”

“But how do we know that someone is a meanie?” Asks the ever inquisitive 4-year-old.

At this point I was stumped because that was a really great question. In real life meanies don’t come with black robes, eight arms and cartoonishly scary eyebrows. Many times, they look like you and me.

Then I remembered something I am trying hard to learn at the age of 35. Something I’d wish I’d known when I was a little girl.

“You listen to your heart, honey.”

“But how do I know what my heart is saying?”

Again, another really great question.

“Well, remember how you felt that day we saw the butterflies? Remember singing and dancing and watching them fly? How did your heart feel?”

“Good! My heart felt good!” She answered immediately.

“Okay, now how does your heart feel when you hear people arguing?”

She turned her head to the side; furrowed her ever inquistive brow. Waited a moment.

“Like something is wrong.” She said.

“Yes. Yes honey. That’s right. To know someone is a meanie, you have to learn to listen to what your heart tells you.”

Fast forward an hour or so and my daughter spies a picture of my husband and I before she was born. Whenever she sees one of these pictures, the ever self-absorbed toddler asks, “Where was I?” My reply is always, “You were with God.”

“Are all babies with God before they are born?”

“Yes.”

“But how can God take care of babies?”

“God can do anything. All things are possible with God.”

“Can God drive a car?”

“Yes, God can probably drive a car.”

“Can I see a picture of a baby with God?”

Okie dokie… Google Search: “Babies in heaven” Viola!

babies in heaven

She studies it closely.

“Can I see a baby in Africa?”

What the…?

Alrighty. Google search: “African babies.”

This one turned up a long stream of pictures of dark-skinned infants. Some looked sick, barely alive. I scrolled quickly clicking on pictures that showed happy babies. Still, I was unable to focus on anything but the images of the malnourished children with swollen bellies and hallow eyes.

“Okay, that’s enough.” I said clicking out of the browser.

“Wait Mama! I want to see more!”

“Well honey, there are some pictures of sick babies I don’t think you should see.”

“But Mama, I want to see them.”

At this point I debated. Should I preserve her idea that all babies are happy little cherubs sitting in the hand of God surrounded by fluffy white clouds? Or should I shatter her innocence?

Just then, something pushed its way to the front of my brain; or perhaps it leaped into my heart. It was a Super Soul Sunday episode with Karen Armstrong, a renowned spiritual teacher and author of the book, “Twelve Steps to Compassion.” She said that compassion is learned not by turning away from another person’s pain while making excuses not to care; but by standing in the pain with them. This lets a person know that you see them, you hear them, they are not forgotten and that they most certainly matter.

“Are you sure you want to see them?”

“Yes.”

“Okay.”

malnourished african baby compassion

She laughed at first. She thought it was a monkey.

I got real quiet and said, “No honey. That’s a baby. He’s sick and he’s probably hurting.”

“But why Mama?”

“Because he doesn’t have enough food. He’s hungry and this makes him very sick.”

She was real quiet for what felt like an eternity. She stared at the picture. Closely scrutinizing.

“Honey, how does that make your heart feel?” I said nervously.

<quiet> Then she lifts her hand to to her chest and says,  “Sad. That makes my heart feel sad.”

Big, fat, uncontrollable tears fell from my eyes. Yes. I thought. She’s got it. She can hear her heart.

“Mommy, can we go get them and bring them back to our house? Because we have a lot of food.”

After I explained the logistics of plane travel and refrigeration I asked if it was okay if we could send them some money so they could buy some food. She said yes.

Meet Catherine M. from Zambia.

Catherine M. of Zambia

Catherine is the 5-year-old girl my daughter and I will be sponsoring all year through SaveTheChildren.org.

Tomorrow, Brooke and I will send Catherine her first email. We will tell her how beautiful she is; hopefully she will know that we see her, that we want to hear from her, and that she certainly, certainly… matters.

The You Suck/ I Suck Hate Spiral: Why I’m a Gigantic A-Hole

I don’t know how to write this post without making myself look like a total asshole. So I won’t. Because I am being a total asshole. At least recently.

I have been having the most horrible, mean-spirited and hateful thoughts about another person and no amount of kumbaya positive-thinking is turning them around. Desperate for answers, I went to yoga for the first time in a long time. I haven’t been going to yoga for awhile and just typing that makes me want punch myself in the face because lamenting about my lack of yoga is so flippin’ pretentious and first-world-spoiled it’s sickening. But whatever. While I’m racking up a list of my horrible personality traits as of late… let’s add pretentious to the list. And now, like some asshole narcissist, I’m writing about it on my blog as if anyone really cares. So me?  Narcisistic?… check.

Here’s the deal, I’m being super judgemental. I am Judgy McJudgerson at the Judging Fair.

There is someone specifically in my life that I cannot stop judging. In my eyes, they are making bad, bad life choices. Choices that are affecting their family (and mine) and I can’t stop fantisizing of telling them how I really feel. Like All. The. Time.

Stop doing that! Can’t you see what’s happening? Can’t you see how your hurting your kids? Don’t you understand anything you complete imbicile?!?! Why are you even IN my life? Gah??

I realize how horrible that sounds. I realize it because I don’t normally grapple with these feelings. I’m a hippy at my core — live and let live, Sister — different strokes for different folks — potato, pitato and all that good stuff.  After I think these nasty things I suddenly feel like a dispicable person who should be stabbed in the eyeball with a flaming hot needle, and yet, I can’t stop thinking them. It’s like I’m riding this speeding train on a You Suck/ I Suck Hate Spiral that leads straight to Self-Loathingville and I can’t find the damn off ramp.

the-you-suck-i-suck-hate-spiral

To make things worse, I’m also struggling with jealousy which adds something special to my heaping pile of self-flaggalation.

As an editor and social media person, each day I read mom blogs and peruse Facebook and Pinterest for work-related items. Everyday I bump up against any number of smart/ wise/ funny/ talented people. These people have all morphed into one conglomerate of the “ideal” mom/wife/friend/human being. An ideal I’ll never embody. This imaginary flawless being looms large over me, tauting me. You should be doing crossfit. You should bake more tarts/ casseroles/ cupcakes in the shape of the Eiffel Tower. Why aren’t YOU writing amazing things like that? What’s your problem? You train wreck of a souless sack of fat rolls! 

So I went to yoga to find some breaks for this roller coaster.

My favorite part of yoga is Savasana. It’s typically at the very end of class. It’s the part where you get to lie there and not move. Savasana literally means corpse pose and, naturally, it’s my favorite part. I heard a yoga teacher say once that your true yoga practice begins the moment you enter Shivasana. That’s when you must wrestle your thoughts (aka demons) and strive to quiet those noisy bastards and just be; no thinking, no judgement.

On the surface it appears that I’m lying there motionless but I’m always fighting an epic battle in my head. I often think of monks when I’m in this corpse pose. I wonder how they spend months in silent, contemplative meditation when I can’t even do it for three minutes straight. I imagine them slaying every last dragon and devil known to man and then floating off into some realm closer to heaven. Usually I’m just struggling to get one toe off the ground.

So naturally, since I have been an epic asshole lately inside my head, this Savasana was no different. My thoughts turned to this person that I’ve been vehamently judging. The key to this pose, and meditation, is to let your thoughts come and go. To let go of the thoughts. To recognize them as you would a benign novelty, say a squirrel in the yard, and then let them pass through without attaching to them and thus giving them steam to fuel the engine.

So I let this person pass right on by. I waved. Metaphorically, of course. Nice to see you harmless, clueless, little squirel. Namaste. 

My next thought was of this ideal person that I’m bumping up against daily. Hello there figment of my imagination. Move along little bright-eyed, bushy-tailed wonder. Namaste. 

Then I thought (without thinking, of course) how interesting it was that I would think these two things back-to-back.

Judgement and jealousy.

Judgement because of jealousy.

I’m judging because I’m jealous.

I’m putting someone else down in a feeble attempt to raise myself up.

At this moment, my heart exploded inside my chest like a grenade and my eyes popped open because I remembered the last time I was called out for being this kind of gigantic asshole.

A long time ago, back when I was really young, and reeeeeaaaaalllly insecure, there was this boy who liked me very much. He liked me more than he should have and I took advantage of that. To my ever-lasting shame I treated him horribly. I don’t remember much about this person or our relationship accept this one thing. He called me out like no one ever has.

On New Years day, while standing in his mother’s kitchen that had just been burned floor to ceiling the night before in a house fire wherein no one was injured (thank god), he said something that I’ll never forget. I had just made a snarky, sarcastic remark trying to make light of a difficult situation. A coping mechanism I employ to this day. I don’t remember what it was specifically, but I’m positive it was insensitive considering the cirumstances.

He picked up a blackened coffee cup that had been sitting on the counter revealing a ghost impression underneath. He looked right at me and said,  “You know what my mother says? She says that hurt people, hurt people.”

Hurt People, Hurt People. 

The stinch of char and the sound of dripping water brings me right back to this particular shame. A moment when my heart exploded inside my chest like a grenade and my soul popped wide open. He was right, and I was an asshole.

And once again,  I’m a hurt person, hurting people. I may have learned enough to keep the sarcastic and insenstivie comments to myself, but I’m still thinking them.

I keep telling myself that this person in my life that I’m judging is here to teach me compassion and I always thought it was compassion for them. But now I think it’s compassion for me that I’m lacking.  I’m so horrible to me. I would never let anyone speak to me the way I speak to me. (See paragraph #2… and #6…. and #8.)

I may not have always known better to use kind words, but I do now. I know better than to judge them, you, me, everyone so harshly. I know better… and yet clearly I don’t. Because that’s the thing with self-loathing and self-love. It’s a spiral track. The progress is slow and winding and often times you feel like you’re getting no where, but inch by inch you are moving one direction or another, you just have to know which one.

sprial stems heart

How the Life of Pi Changed My Life

*Spoiler Alert for those who have not yet seen the movie, The Life of Pi.

Last Saturday was a tough day. It rained. Hard. I fought. Harder. I cried. Hardest.

I replied to a text sent by one of my best friend’s asking me how I was doing. I told her the truth. I wrote that I’d just spent three hours lying on the floor like an infant begging for God’s grace and that now I was going to a movie by myself for sweet mercy.

I haven’t been eating lately. After those emotionally draining hours, I was suddenly starved. I felt like a wet rag; limp, red-eyed, tear-soaked and heavy with pain. All I wanted was something light and soothing to fill my empty stomach. Something soft; and kind and easy in my senses. There’s a popular Chinese restaurant next to the movie theater that serves these amazing dumplings and steamed buns. There’s a window right in front where you can watch a staff of Asian men dressed in white prepare these delicate morsels.The wait is always over an hour, but I thought if I hung out in the bar, I’d snag a lone seat and be out in time for my movie which started in an hour. I waited awhile. I was going to miss my movie if I waited any longer, so I left and found the first place that could serve me warm food, quickly and allow me to be done in time to see my movie.

I was not supposed to see The Life of Pi on this night. I was supposed to see The Life of Pi last weekend, but as I approached the ticket counter two weeks ago I changed my mind at the very last second (for I don’t know what reason) and saw Silver Linings Playbook instead. SLP was a great movie, and just what I needed that night. But last Saturday, I was definitely going to see The Life of Pi.

I read the bestselling book by Yann Martel many years ago. I remembered the premise. I remembered being impressed by the ending, but I wasn’t ecstatic overall. I wasn’t ready for all the layers of meaning and messages about God when I was 25. But now, I was more than ready.

I ended up at an Indian restaurant eating a creamy, soothing  Tikki Masala with a slight hint of curry and a side of warm garlic naan. I sat at the bar staring in a daze. My eye happened upon a lotus flower. I’d been thinking of lotus flowers lately and this reminded me, once again, that I must call my friend, the wise yoga teacher who wears a lotus flower around her neck, so that she could explain to me the meaning.

I ate in a hurry and literally ran to the theater. The only seats left were the seats way up front, or the single seats in between couples. I didn’t want to crane my neck at a 3-D movie so I sat in between strangers. How fitting, I thought. I’d spent the day feeling so lonely I might as well sit in this theater surrounded by couples with nowhere to lean.

Soon after the movie started there was a scene of the writer and the adult version of the protagonist, Pi, beginning to tell the story over a lunch of curry and naan bread. I was still tasting the warmth of my Indian dish on my lips and this made me smile. Not only was the movie adapted to be about a writer trying to capture a story, but they were eating what I still tasted. I settled into the thought; that I was exactly where I needed to be in that moment. I’m sure this was a result of my emotions being raw as white bone because I was ready to receive whatever was coming to me.

The year, God has been trying to teach me to surrender. I know this. Just look over the body of work here and it is clear how I keep coming back to one simple theme… letting go. My trip to Nicaragua was a pinnacle of this message, and while I was there a month ago, I picked up this postcard that now sits wedged on the edge of my bathroom mirror. It’s my daily reminder of what I know I must do.

shakti cards

Even though I am fully aware that this is the message Life/ God/ The Universe is trying to relay to me, I have not fully understood, until last Saturday night. I am finding that even when you understand a thing about life, it’s not the same things as knowing it.

The protagonist in The Life of Pi, is about an Indian boy and his journey in faith. As a child, and in present day as he’s relaying this story, he claims himself to be a Hindu, Muslim and Catholic. His parents each believed differently, his father, the eternal pragmatist, put his faith in science; his mother is a devout Hindu. Pi’s family owns a zoo in India that has fallen on hard times. They are now transporting all the zoo animals to North America on a Japanese shipping boat and Pi and his family are along for the ride toward a new life in Canada.

The writer whom the adult Pi is relaying the story to, does not believe in God. When the writer asks him how it is possible that he believes in so many different religions, Pi says, “Faith is a house with many rooms.”

The writer says, “Then there’s plenty of room for doubt.”

And the adult Pi says, “Yes, on every floor.”

This metaphor reminds me of a Halloween house party I went to in college. It was in one of the large, old, craftsman style houses. The kind that are more tall than wide. When you enter, it feels like a maze of small rooms and corridors. There were so many rooms that it was hard to figure out where you wanted to be. To add to the confusion, everyone was in costume. In the basement there was a loud DJ playing techno music. In the kitchen, a bunch of fraternity boys holding cups around a keg. In another room, dread-locks sticking out of knit caps surrounding a hookah. I found some rooms that seemed empty, but in the darkness I heard moans. There where rooms where the only girls congregated and still others that were merely functional and of course there’s always that one guy in the corner playing acoustic guitar. Even the front porch had its own feel packed with the claustrophobic and smokers. This is how I view faith, as one big party.

In my life, Jesus invited me to this house party for the purpose of introducing me to God. Of course, God and I, we hit it off smashingly. To this day, I can sit for hours talking to God, just him and me. But sometimes, I must admit, when the music is too loud I can’t quite hear what he’s saying. There are often miscommunications.  It’s just like when you’re at a loud party and someone is smiling at you while talking, but you have no clue what they are saying so you just nod your head and smile back.

Sometimes God is saying, “We need to leave, the house is on fire!” And I’d sit there with a big smile on my face nodding like I know exactly what’s happening. Then I smell smoke and all the sudden I’m really interested in knowing what God is saying to me. That’s usually when Jesus steps in to translate over the noise. When I finally understand what God was trying to tell me via Jesus, I look to God for confirmation. He always gives me this knowing nod. I do as he asked and then ask for forgiveness for not listening the first time. Of course, God always forgives. He’s a gracious host.

I often stay in the room where Jesus is the DJ because he plays some sweet beats that I really love. But sometimes, I’m not in the mood for those tunes. Sometimes I want to chill out with some Bob Marley or I need to talk to my best girlfriends and I have found peace and happiness and wisdom in those rooms as well, because God, he loves Rastafarians, too… and frat boys, and claustrophobics and even the dark, empty rooms where no one seems to be. So I call myself a Christian. I certainly believe in God and I believe in Jesus. I do not, however, believe that Jesus is the only way to meet God.

In the movie, little boy Pi comes upon a priest and the priest explains that Christ is God’s only son and God loved the world that he allowed his only son to suffer so that we might understand God’s love for us. Little boy Pi questions this fact. It doesn’t make sense to him. Frankly, for a long time it didn’t make sense to me either. Like little boy Pi, that logic didn’t sound very good to my little girl self.

The Japanese ship wrecks and Pi is the only survivor stranded on a life boat with a zebra, a orangutan, a hyena and a Bengal Tiger. From here, everything is a profound metaphor for life and our relationship to ourselves, adversity, and God.

Soon, it is just Pi and the Tiger on the life boat. All the others suffered and were killed and eaten by one another in fear and hunger. Pi is a vegetarian so he did not eat these animals. The tiger, whose name is Richard Parker, did.

It is clear to me that Richard Parker is a representation of Pi’s ego and/or adversity. He must now face down this force in order to survive. The entire journey is a test of his faith in God.

His situation seems insurmountable at first. The tiger is fierce, relentless, wild, veracious and a strong carnivore that can easily over-power a skinny, vegetarian, Indian boy. Pi works hard and builds a raft outside the life boat to put distance between himself and Richard Parker. He obtains some supplies and a booklet on survival from the life boat’s hull. The booklet is a metaphor for any sacred text, such as the Bible. He uses the information in this booklet not only to survive, but to devise a plan to outsmart the tiger by making him sea sick. When the tiger stumbles and gets weary, Pi tries to over power the tiger with aggressive behavior. The result of this has only angered the tiger more. Pi realizes that this strategy does not work; that adding anger to anger does not produce the desired result. He realizes that the booklet, although it has much practical information that ultimately contributes to his survival, does not contain precise instructions for exactly what to do when you’re trapped on a life boat in the middle of the Pacific with a hungry Bengal Tiger.

Pi then decides to win Richard Parker over by giving him what he craves most, food. Pi reasons that if he gives Richard Parker food, the tiger will see no need to eat him. Pi is unable to keep up with the demands of a tiger’s appetite and soon, the tiger gets greedy. Not only does he want Pi’s portion of the food, but he wants Pi. The tiger jumps into the water to catch his own fish and comes after Pi on his raft. It doesn’t matter that Pi has fed him, he doesn’t discern Pi’s generosity from his need to survive. Pi then climbs onto the boat and the tiger is left clinging to the side unable to get himself over the edge and back into the boat. Pi learns that you cannot stand up to adversity by being 100% passive and submissive.

Now, Pi could be rid of the tiger if he just lets Richard Parker get tired enough and drown. Pi would no longer have to battle this demon. But then Pi must watch this beautiful creature suffer, and in turn, Pi will suffer with the pain of watching him die. Richard Parker does not deserve to die, he is merely doing what tigers do. Pi realizes that if he allows the tiger to die, a part of him will die, too. Pi understands that sitting by and watching another living thing die just so you can survive, is not the answer, either. Pi works hard all day and prepares his raft with more supplies for survival and then helps Richard Parker back into the boat.

Pi finally comes to the conclusion that he must learn to tame Richard Parker. Not with aggression and hostility, but with love and respect. Respect for the tiger, and respect for himself. He uses fish and a stick. He pokes Richard Parker and yells at him when he over-steps his bounds, but still feeds him and allows him space on the boat. He creates boundaries using love and respect. This works.

When you think his problems are solved, at least in terms of the tiger, a whale breeches next to the boat and all his vital supplies are lost. Pi reaches a point of hopelessness. He has no food, no water, no supplies and is still living with a hungry Bengal Tiger on a life boat in the Pacific Ocean. He says, “Okay God, I surrender. I just want to know what’s next.”

Of course, the surrender part is correct, but we can never know God’s plan. We will never know, “what’s next.” It is not a matter of Pi just accepting God as a powerful force and the determiner of his fate. Now he must know the meaning of letting go of fear and expectations.

Just as Pi and Richard Parker are both at a pinnacle of suffering, they wake up on the shores of a magical floating island. It is inhabited by edible roots, Mere Cats and pools of fresh water. Both Pi and Richard Parker have all they need to live. One night, Pi finds a human tooth inside a flower that resembles a lotus flower. As he becomes fully aware of his surroundings, he realizes that the island is carnivorous. Sure, the island would give him and Richard Parker everything they would need to survive, but it would also eat them. This island is a metaphor for the many ways in which we ignore and numb our lives; the panaceas such as drugs, alcohol, sex, food, gambling, you name it. They will let us live comfortable, we can manage our hunger and pain, but they will kill us.

Pi realizes he must leave the island, or die. He works hard and prepares his boat, yet again, and then sets off onto the ocean to face down his greatest fears again. This is Life.

Next, they are hit by another storm and all is truly lost. There is no hope. Pi says in the midst of the storm, “God, I surrendered, I have done everything, what do you want from me?” Then, Pi finally accepts his fate. He knows he is going to die, he is seemingly no longer afraid of the tiger because he sits and takes Richard Parker’s large head onto his lap stroking it in an act of compassion, camaraderie and pure love. He has given up the need to know what’s next.

Lastly, they wash up on the Mexican shore, barely alive. Richard Parker disappears into the jungle without looking back and Pi is taken to the hospital. When they ask him what happened to the ship and everyone in it, he tells them the story of him and Richard Parker the hungry Bengal Tiger.

Of course they do not believe him. Who would believe this fantastical story of carnivorous islands and surviving on a boat for so 247 days with a hungry, Bengal Tiger? They say he is lying and crazy so he tells them a different story. He tells them a story of tyranny, cannibalism and murder. This is the story they believe as truth.

So the question to us the audience becomes, do we believe in the God we cannot see that is filled with magic and light and signs and wonder?  A God that is around us always, speaking to us, warning us, loving us, wanting us to trust him without question? The same God that brought me to see this movie about an Indian boy in existential crisis, after spending three hours myself begging for grace and mercy, with serendipitous curry on my breath? Or do you believe in the God of tyranny, cannibalism and murder? I left that theater knowing exactly what I believe and what God had been trying to tell me. I also had an idea of what I was supposed to do next.

The very next day, while sitting in a room where I have placed much of my hopes for my future, my eyes filled with tears again. I stared off into the corner. My gaze landed on the back of a wooden chair. The design was lotus flower. I still didn’t know what that meant. I looked it up, because at this point, I am sure it is vitally important sign from God. This is what I found: Lotus flowers represent rebirth. They represent hope. The represent magic and possibility. They take three days to bloom up through muddy, murky waters and when they do, they are pristine, untouched and beautiful, still.

By the time I left that room something had changed.

Since the moment I was lying on the floor on Saturday in the fetal position while the heavens opened up around me, while I begged for grace and mercy, then was given signs that I must not only surrender to His will, but I must give up the very thing I was hoping to find on Friday afternoon… hope, something profoundly shifted inside me. Come Saturday night, I gave up that wish for hope. I realized that hope comes tethered to the idea that you know what you want. That you are holding out for some kind of solution to your situation that makes you happy and fulfilled. I realized that hope is a panacea.

God sat me in that theater with naan bread in my stomach with no direction to lean because he wanted me to lean on him, without hope, without questions, without expectations. But he clearly told me I must still work. I must still prepare. I must not give up doing the hard things, but I must give up the expectation that they will bring me closer to what I want because there is only one person who knows what I truly want… and it’s not me.

If I can surrender, truly surrender and live without fear or hope for what I want, he will lead to the shores of salvation and they will never be what I imagine them to be… they will be better.

On this night God brought me inside the room of two artists, Yann Martel and Ang Lee, so that they could show me what I could not hear through Jesus’s sweet melodies or the words inside my booklet on survival. This is why I want to be a writer; because I know that stories change the world.

I know that many will be tempted to tell me I’m wrong. Anytime I talk about God I get those emails. People will point to Bible verses that speak of this truth, and I will tell them that I have read those same verses. But MY truth is, those words did not speak to me the way this movie did. I am not naive to think that everyone will enjoy this film and get out of it the same things I did. I was meant to walk into that theater last Saturday night and I was meant to sit alone and see the world this way. It was perfect for me but others may not have the same experience and that is okay because art is a subjective thing… but so is religion.

Faith, however, is a house with many rooms and God is the only host.

Amen.

Now scroll back up and look at what the woman in the postcard is holding… and the miracles continue to abound.

The name of the Indian restaurant I went to was MokSHA. I went to their website to see if I could get a picture of the lotus flower that I saw while there. This is what the name means: MokSHA-A Sanskrit term used to describe the attaining of eternal bliss or “highest happiness” by the soul… it’s a magical world, people. 

Let Go And Trust the Direction of the Wind

There are so many lessons to be learned when traveling to foreign countries, in particular, developing countries. I wrote last week about traveling for the first time as the mother of (and with) young children to Nicaragua. I am still here in Nicaragua as I type this and there is still profound perspective around every unbaby-proofed corner.

Nicaraguan Baby

The second lesson that is hitting me hard is this: Let go and go with the wind.

The wind here blows in all directions, sometimes all at once. We were evicted from the place we planned to stay for the duration of our trip partly because of a veracious wind storm that ripped out a couple of window screens. The main reason we were evicted, was because the owner didn’t understand (nor could he tolerate) children. Although for months he led us to believe otherwise. After my daughter wet the bed (which we’d later discover was because of a UTI) along with other realitively minor infractions considering the environment, like not shutting the windows properly to prevent his curtains from be whipped by the wind, he let us know that we were no longer welcome on the 4th day of our 14-day trip. We were understandably upset by this development as my husband spent months planning our trip and corresponding with the owner to insure the safety and proper environment for our young family. Without notice, at 7am one morning, we were suddenly without lodging in a third world country with two small children and lots of luggage.

We railed against the situation and the owner. We vented and called him names and I wrote a review for his place of business and then edited it a dozen times. We were mad for being blind-sided. We were mad because our much-anticipated vacation wasn’t turning out as we’d hoped.

Luckily, there was space available at an excellent resort community that had great amenities including air-conditioning. We didn’t choose this location from the start because on the top of our checklist of accommodations, we wanted a stunning view, immediate beach access and someone to cook most (if not all) of meals. Although this place has a great view, it did not offer the other two things. This ordeal stole an entire day of our vacation by having to relocate and spend time shopping for food and necessities. Not a fun day with two cranky, sweaty, napless toddlers.  To add to the situation, the Nicaraguan woman we hired to help with our children during days up and quit in the middle of our shopping trip because she had problems at home. At some point later this day, I said to my husband in a moment of frustration: “I’m not having fun anymore!”

It was true. I was exhausted. Things weren’t looking good in the near-term future. All I wanted to do was rest and take a break from all the work and worry. In spite this, I picked up my frustrated, disappointed, tired-ass and took my kids to the pool.

Within 10 minutes of being there, I met the owner of the only yoga studio in the small town of San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua. Within 20 minutes of meeting her, our vacation would turn around significantly. The next morning, I went to my first yoga practice in two weeks at her studio. While there, on my mat, I would hear this lesson with crushing clarity: Let go and trust the wind.

I have said before that yoga is my church. It is where I check-in with myself. It is where I become the best version of me, and it is where I hear God speak, most clearly. As I sat there on my mat waiting to begin, I started to focus on my breath and become present. It was an open-air studio on the second floor and the breeze blew lightly through.

Yoga NicaraguaI lifted my gaze to watch a butterfly struggling against a sheer, black screen. It struggled, fluttering it’s yellow and black wings over and over again into a barrier it could not see. Suddenly, a gust of wind blew it around the screen into the exact direction it wanted to go. In that instant, I knew what I came to Nicaragua to learn more profoundly.

When life isn’t working out the way you planned; when you get kicked out your accommodations (in part because of a wind storm) and then find yourself on the streets of a third world country with two cranky toddlers, four bags of luggage and nowhere to go; trust, and follow the wind. Stop struggling against the Universe, stop arguing with reality, stop putting energy where there are no solutions or peace or love; stop fighting the obstacles in your path. Go with wind and trust that God will be there waiting to lift you around the screens you cannot see, toward the place where the Yoga teacher is waiting; to a better, brighter space where you can fly where you want to go without struggle.

From that moment on, our vacation got better and better. Since we were not beholden to this snake-oil salesman and his place, we were free to move about, wherever.  Because of this, we are now settled into a beautiful place on the most pristine white sand beach in Nicaragua called Coco which is just 45 minutes outside of San Juan Del Sur . Last night, we watched the most dramatic, stunning, outrageous sunset of our lives. Afterward, my little family of four walked on a the soft sand beach laughing, watching tiny crabs scurry about while the horizon over the ocean blazed on in fiery red-orange. My 3-year-old threw her arms out wide and exclaimed, “Everything is so beautiful!”

She was so right. It was beyond beautiful. I wanted to capture it with my new camera but no digital photograph would contain what we were feeling, seeing and experiencing as a family. We were alone, on a remote corner of the world looking into the dying light of day, gazing up at a crisp sliver of a moon and a sky beginning to dust itself with bright, glittering stars. It is a moment my husband and I will never forget and would never have had, had we held on to our disappointments and let that be our guide instead of being, “…Like a feather on the breath of God.’

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Coco Beach Nicaragua

Playa El Coco, Nicaragua, January 2013

God, Grace, and a Wretch Like Me

MountainPose

Grace.

It was the word the yoga instructor asked us to think about moments before starting our 90 minute practice on Thanksgiving morning. This annual, Thanksgiving class is free, but donations are accepted to benefit a nonprofit organization and this year it was Yoga Behind Bars. Yoga Behind Bars is a charity which teaches yoga and meditation to an incarcerated population. A representative spoke  about the amazing work they do, and how teenage girls in particular are benefiting the most from their efforts.

I sat in the back of a police car twice when I was teenage girl. The first time was for under-aged drinking, and the second was for trespassing. Not my finest moments, but neither was most of my teenage years. The years from 14 to 19 are my “lost years.” Back then I struggled mightily with depression, anxiety and impulsive, reckless behavior. I spent all those years hating myself for no particular reason, and at least that many more hating myself for the things I did while I was hating myself.

How I wish someone taught me yoga as a teenager.

The word Grace unfurled in my mind like my mat under my feet. The first thing I thought was Redemption, followed closely by Forgiveness. But for the Grace of God go I.

I met God for the first time when I was 16.

Early in life, religion was a concept no one told me to seek, and yet, I found it anyway. Perhaps more accurately, it found me. I started going to Wednesday night youth group at a local Presbyterian church when I was nine not because of my parents, but because my best friend was going. For four years the two of us attended weekly classes, sang in the children’s choir once a month, and went to week-long camps in the summer. But a Christian, I was not.

In high school I attended Christian-based Young Life meetings. I even hosted one at my parent’s house. This had less to do with Jesus and more to do with socializing. When I was 16 I raised enough money to attend a week-long, overnight, YL camp in Colorado–also for the socializing. It was at this camp, perched on a roof top high above a blacked out canyon, under a Colorado starry sky, where I met God for the first time.

My modus operandi was to be where the party was—it was always my number one objective. So too, were the fun activities listed on the brochure like repelling, rafting and horseback riding. Because that’s the deal with these things—they attract you with fun and then slip in Jesus-talk at the end for which you must sit quietly and tolerate.

Each night after dinner, the whole camp came together and the main preacher dude stood up to tell us everything we needed to know about being saved. I was skeptical, but also superstitious and naïve, so I listened, restlessly. At 16 I hadn’t made up my mind on all things existential and I had yet to find proof of a God. But if you asked me back then, I would have said OF COURSE Jesus is my personal savior… you know, just in case the rapture was coming soon or I be perceived as a social opportunist with no intention of saving my soul from eternal damnation.

One night the preacher dude said something that penetrated deep into my thick, self-assured, adolescent brain. He said (paraphrased), “The only thing you have to do to have a relationship with God is ask. It’s that simple. Ask and thou shalt receive.” Oh really?!? replied my snarky, skeptical, brooding 16-year-old-self.

That night, I took his bold assertion and made it my personal test of God. I’d ask him, alright. I’d ask as honestly and bravely as I knew how. I’d ask just like the preacher dude said I should ask and God had better bring it or I was taking one step closer toward eternal damnation. That’s what I remember thinking.

Each night after the Jesus-talk was over we were sent out into the darkened camp to find a quiet place to reflect and/or pray on what we heard. I usually headed for the small concrete slab in the middle of camp designated for the under-aged smokers—us sinners on the accelerated path to hell. But on that night, I chose to climb on top of a building that sat on the edge of a cliff side. The cliff dropped off into a large gulch with mountains stretching up either side like sentinels to a cave. The stars dusted the sky like perfectly spilt glitter. I looked down into this deep, black, v-shaped gulch and up into this bright, celestial sky and I asked, quietly.

Then I listened, openly.

My whole body responded in a way that I have never forgotten. An abnormal peace washed over me—abnormal because at that time, I had no awareness of what peace felt like. It felt like a tuning fork struck the deepest part of me and resonated with a pitch-perfect sound of Universal Truth. I understood, without thinking, that this feeling was real, and it was a hint of the Truth I’ve been seeking my whole, young life. I also understood, without thinking, that on a deep, intuitive level I was loved–that I would always be loved and watched over—that even in my darkest hours, I would never be alone.

What I felt in that moment is what I call God.

It is only in hindsight that I can interpret what happened that night. Now, I understand that it was the divine combination of my intention, the stillness of time and my mind along with the openness of my listening heart which allowed me to not only hear God speak–but to understand what God was saying. I sobbed. I knew I was changed forever.  It would take years before I truly understood how, and years before I would feel it again.

I feel it now each time I go to yoga.

In this special Thanksgiving Day class we sang Amazing Grace. Grace. The one thing I have been offered so many times no matter how much I have failed. That thought and the cacophony of our voices together in that yoga studio overwhelmed me. The tears, just two of them, came so quick they did not linger on my lashes, but leapt from each eye and fell straight to my mat. My mat. My church. My holy place. My rooftop perched high on a cliff side below a starry sky.

It has taken years to realize that I have been given, and forgiven, so much in my life not because I asked for it—but because I learned to open up and listen to what God was trying to teach me. I have come to realize that the answers to all my questions, the calming of all my fears, the peace I so long for every day, lay there quietly in the silence of my open heart. It is that voice that I am still learning to follow. Always.

Silence: how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.

A Life in Motion

I spend a lot of my day in motion–cleaning, cooking, carting–basically, careening from one moment to the next. It’s a perpetual cycle of ups and downs, back and forths, over here, to over there, go, go, gone. On the surface, there isn’t much to show for all this movement except mud-tracked floors, upturned shoes in a heap, and crumbs from everything you could possibly imagine–good Lord the crumbs! For all the work I do you’d think things would be cleaner.

I’m finding a lot of contradiction in my life right now and this reality is leaving me frustrated. For instance, I spend a lot of mental energy wishing for more time alone, but if offered, there’s no where else I’d rather be. I spend a fair amount of time covered in food, sweat and children, wanting it all to be a little easier and maybe a little slower, but at the same time, infinitely grateful that my children need me so much; hoping that I’ll always remember their weight resting on my chest or the smell of their sticky breath in my face. I frequently lament the never-ending dirt, but there is something so sweet about washing tiny, impossibly flexible hands that makes my heart sigh.

These busy years of my life with two toddlers, my only choice is to move. I swing from one side of my day to the other, from busyness to boredom; burdens to beauty. I feel like I’m riding a pendulum, never still, in perpetual back and forth. The higher and harder something rotates to one side of my life; my angst, my fear, my doubt–the faster, easier and higher it rotates back to the opposite of it– my faith, my bliss, my calm.

One thing is always certain, I have never been more exhausted.

Laundry, wiping sticky counter tops, preparing pb&j sandwiches for the frillionth time, these things make up the bulk of what I do in this stage of life and yet they have nothing to do with the reasons I became a mother. I have come to realize that this is an unfair, frustrating reality. That these monotonous things are the motions I must go through to find the ultimate purpose at the core–the active toddler in just the right mood to cuddle, the perpetually dirty, easily edible, baby fingers–or my favorite–experiencing a whole new world through their eyes.

This menial, often overwhelming tedium that I must endure is what allows me to swing back to the other side of this life– the glorious, random moments. There simply is no amount of money or fame that could pull me away from this life because the more hands I wash, the less likely I am to forget how they feel inside mine and I know enough about life that one day will pray for that simple, priceless memory.

There is so much work that goes into each day, and yet on the other side of the pendulum, there is so much joy smashed right up along side it. But I also know that it takes a conscious effort to realize that joy.

It’s easy to believe that the tasks, the labor, the work is where we spend most of  our time and energy because it’s the hardest part and easiest to explain. It’s simple to complain about the endless paperwork, the commute, the mess, incessant whining and tantrums that come with more ferocity than ever. These things are universally understood and will illicit loads of sympathies and commiseration.

What’s harder is making a conscious effort to notice and express the other things.

There is no simplistic way to explain how the telepathic connection with your 3-year-old works… or feels. It’s impossible to quantify the invisible bonds that tether you to your children with just one look. Bonds built through familiarity, dependability, proximity and all the many repetitive acts that go into each day. People might think you weird should you stop to wax poetically about the way your one-year-old studied a rolly-polly bug this afternoon. Those are the subtleties. The subtleties that are often forgotten as you swing through your day from one chore to the next. I have a feeling that it’s these subtleties that will come barreling at me when I send them off to college. And although they often allude me, it’s why I must strive harder to take note of them– to attempt to make them equal in strength (if less in quantity) to all the other mundanity of my days.

I think there’s an important lesson in this life that involves learning how to balance these swings, or at least acknowledge them. To make the methodical cleaning of toilets, mildewed swimsuits and fingerprints on every glass surface (or long day at work dealing with the public or a jerk boss) be as equal in strength to the wondrous awe of watching the sunlight hit your baby’s hair revealing the colors of your own for the first time. (Or, let’s face it, what you think the color of your own might be.)

And perhaps it’s not something as precise as an equation to be equaled, or pendulum to be steadied, but instead, something more natural, arcane even; more like a gravitational, orbital path. Because if it’s an orbit, that means there is a core; something with a pull so strong it can both swallow, and save us. It’s gotta be the whole reason for this Life in Motion; the force behind the pull in opposite directions, around and around.

Something I must try less and less to fight and more and more to slip inside of; make peace with.

Yes… a spinning, orbiting, rotating, paradoxical life of happiness and discord in equal strengths, if not measures, but always surrounding the same white-hot center. A burning, beating heart of reason and purpose. The only thing that matters anyway… always.

“A light came and kindled a flame in the depth of my soul. A light so radiant that the sun orbits around it like a butterfly.” ~Rumi

Welcome to the Victimhood

I hate the word victim. To me, it evokes feelings of helplessness, weakness, passivity–of being life’s doormat. All of these things stand in antithesis to how I see myself. I consider myself someone who takes control of their life. Someone who takes responsibility and makes choices to change things that aren’t working instead of blaming someone else because it’s easier or convenient.  That mentality has been one of my greatest strengths and from it, I have been awarded many gifts.

However, any strength taken to the extreme becomes a weakness and thus, this is also mine.

I knew intuitively that I was being set up for firing long before it happened. There was no indication of this based on my performance. I had no history of behavior issues or personality clashes. In fact, I earned promotions and accolades along the way. Even with my history, I could feel something bad was happening although I wouldn’t admit it. I wouldn’t admit it because I was doing everything I was supposed to be doing.

It all came to a head one Friday afternoon in March when my boss and I had a misunderstanding about a customer complaint. Customer complaints were normal from time to time and on a graded curve, I had relatively few. But in the months prior, small infractions (or perceived infractions) had been blown up to epic proportions so I knew this was not going to end well. His boss got involved and suddenly I was scheduled for a conference call with HR on Monday morning. That wine-soaked weekend was one of the longest and most anxiety-fraught of my life. I struggled mightily with the decision I had to make and I sought nearly everyone’s council. I had to make a decision that ran in counter to my character. I had to stand up and tell someone that I was a victim.

Before all this happened, I tried like mad to “fix” everything because that is what I believed was my responsibility. I kissed a little ass (which I hate), I said and wrote things I didn’t mean — things that betrayed who I believed myself to be. I did these things because I was the captain of my ship and only I could right it.

It took many months of soul-searching and self-flagellation before I finally realized the truth. I, Shannon Lell, was a victim of life’s circumstances.  I was a victim of arrogant, ignorant authority figures. I was a victimized woman in a man’s business world. I was (allegedly) a victim of sexual harassment and sexual discrimination. I. Was. A. Victim.

A part of me still shrivels typing that and this is why is also my weakness.

My need to not be life’s victim has led to my need to be in control of life. I get edgy when I don’t know the variables. I feel anxious when I am the mercy of life’s many switchbacks. When bad things happen, I blame myself. I arrogantly believe I can change every situation if I can just change me. This need for control, this ferocity of constant self-improvement has blinded me to one of life’s greatest realities and that is, we are never in control.

Sometimes things just happen and there is nothing we can do to change that. Sometimes, people treat us badly and it’s not up to us to change them, ignore them, OR kiss their ass. Sometimes, you will be a victim of life’s circumstances and it doesn’t mean you didn’t try hard enough, failed to do something, or wasn’t good enough.

And even though I went through all that, this position is where I find myself today, feeling like only I can right my life’s ship. My tendencies for control run deep. My anxieties about becoming the perfect master of my destiny are still causing me sleeplessness. If only I can find the missing variable, I can sail off on easy waters.

Although I am still learning this lesson, I will say that I am leagues ahead of where I was two years ago. My knee-jerk reaction is still to absorb the blame, change myself again and/or kiss a little butt to make it all better. But now I’m doing something else with my knees, and it involves less jerking and more standing.

With all that I have been through in this 34 year crucible of life, marriage and motherhood, I am more certain than ever that something else is in control. That control is the illusion of an insane mind and try as I might, there are some things I simply cannot fix on my own, nor was I meant to. That my only job is only to listen with an open heart and mind to what is happening in this moment, not yesterday, not tomorrow, just right now. It is a difficult one for me which is why I’m still learning it.

Of course I still strive to change what I can change, learn from my mistakes, work harder and be a better–no– the best person I can be. I still try not to let my life’s circumstances affect my ability to be happy or successful. I still run from the label of victim. But now I also know that bad things will always happen to good people for seemingly no reason and it doesn’t mean they deserve it or didn’t try hard enough or weren’t good enough. Now, I am more certain of who I am and what I want and no matter what happens, I will be okay– that it will always be okay. I suppose that’s called Faith.

I bought this the other day. I think it’s supposed to be a Christmas ornament but it hangs on a knob on my kitchen. It reminds me of the lightness of life–of the fragility in form and strength in function that is a simple feather. It reminds me of what I aspire to be which is, “…like a feather on the breath of God.” ~Saint Hildegard of Bingen

I Am the Fattest Bridesmaid

Yes, it’s true. I am.

While in the company of my besties (whom I’ve been friends with half my life) nothing sends shivers of anxiety up my spine faster than hearing the two words… “group picture!” Oh and they LOVE taking pictures of themselves. Who can blame them really? If I were that good-looking all the time, I’d probably upload every lovin’ minute of my day too. Here’s me blowing my nose…here’s me doing laundry… oh, and here’s me typing, “here’s me!”

I give you, Exhibit A: This is one of 3243256426 pictures taken on my friend’s wedding day last year wherein each of my best friends was either the bride, or a bridesmaid.

If you think I’m standing in the back row by sheer coincidence, you are sadly mistaken my friend. If you saw all 3243256426 pictures, you would see that unless explicitly instructed by a photographer, I am trying HARD to hide every square-inch of my body that isn’t my head. Pretty much the only thing I was thinking all day was that dressed like twinsies next to these girls, I might as well be holding a sign above my head that says, “hey look at me, I’m the obligatory fat friend!” Us big girls are hyper-sensitive of shit like that. Just like alcoholics know exactly where the booze is at a party, we know where all the cameras are located and at which moment one is about to be used on us. It’s an extra-sensory skill developed after one too many pictures sent you into the depths of a dark depression. Other skills are impromptu camouflage and running to the back row faster than a fat kid to an ice cream truck. I do those pretty well. Exhibit B:

That is because I have spent the better part of my life feeling shame over my shape. I am 33 years old and it has taken me this long to be able to talk about it without feeling embarrassed. In fact, just a year ago I couldn’t have even written this. So why the sudden change of heart and mind?

My change of heart is because of these two:

Over the last 10 years my husband has never ONCE said a disparaging word about my body even at its postpartum worst. Although I may never understand his enthusiasm, he loves my body and takes every opportunity to tell me so. Sadly, it has only taken me 10 years to believe him.

And my daughter. Oh my daughter. Every night when she’s done with her bath she runs around the house in oblivious, naked freedom. She’s downright giddy at her nudity and even dances in front of open windows smashing her cute, toddler tushy up against the glass. How I envy her… more importantly, how I love her. If I can spare her the meaningless years of self-loathing I have put myself through over the bulge in my butt, the curve of my hips and the girth of my thighs, it would bring me endless amounts of joy. I want her to grow up not just believing, but KNOWING that her inner beauty is far more valuable than a single digit number on the tag of her jeans. She deserves that and I know that I can’t give it to her unless I have it myself.

In my formative years I didn’t have the physique to garner much attention from the boys; especially when my core group of friends are as beautiful as they are AND could shop in the pre-teen section. I’ve been wearing double digits since the day after I started my period in the eighth grade. I have fluctuated in my life due to pregnancies, obsessive dieting and/or working out, but basically, my body sits comfortably and reliably into a size 12. Some of my friends are wearing a size zero… did you hear me? I said ZERO… at 33 years old… ZER-O. The biggest of them MIGHT (on a bloated day) wear a size 10.

My calling card, the thing that set me apart, was being “the smart one.” As you can imagine I had to wait several, painful, formative years before that characteristic moved its way up the desirability scale. Back then, I would have traded 30 college credits for one night as the prettiest, thinnest girl in the room. I spent years feeling like that and I don’t want my daughter to spend one second feeling that her worth is tied to something as superficial and fleeting, which ultimately, has nothing to do with who she really is. THAT is why I’ve had a change of heart, because she IS my heart.

As for my change of mind? Well, it is just that. I. Changed. My. Mind. I’ve made a conscious and concerted effort (because it takes a lot of BOTH) to stop looking in the mirror and subconsciously rattling off 15 different insults. I’ve stopped mentally holding myself up to an impossible standard and beating myself up every time I fell short of meeting it (which was always). I have stopped denying, degrading, disrespecting and devaluing my worth in my own fool head based off a meaningless number that has ZERO, ZER-O relation to my true value as a human being. So as for my change of mind, it was just that, a change of mind.

Recently, I have come across encouraging articles and images promoting a healthy body image for women. Major companies have launched extensive and well-funded campaigns to help change the public discourse and I want to be a part of that effort. I want to use my discourse to help change the world my daughter grows up in. I sense that the tides are turning for us women and I’m thrilled at that prospect. I feel that society is starting to understand that fat doesn’t equal worthless which is an equation I have believed my whole life. It’s a faulty math problem that ends with me.

Yes, I am the Melissa McCarthy of my friends and I am FINALLY learning to be okay with that. Because she is one funny-ass woman and I would TOTALLY be her best friend if she’d let me.

Come, help me change hearts and minds too.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” ~Gandhi