Revealing Our True Selves

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It was a 6th grade assembly and I sat in the bleachers with my mouth hanging open as I watched a visiting jump rope squad perform a routine to Michael Jackson’s hit, Billy Jean.

“She is so cute!” Billy said pointing to the confident smiling girl in the center of the floor.  The boys quickly agreed that Jill (God I even remember her name!) was the cutest and I began to feel my skin grow hot and green.  It was another confirmation that what I needed most in life–to be loved–existed outside of my ordinary power.  If wanted to be like the confident girl that everyone adored, some serious changes were in order.

I began to grow out my hair (the whole mullet thing was seriously cramping my style).  I begged my mom for new clothes.  But even as I tried to change the outside, something was still fundamentally wrong with me.  I began making a list of all my physical inadequacies:  bony knees, glasses, no breasts (not much has changed in all these years).  I began to dread that since I couldn’t change these things that I would be doomed to live in the Land of Nerdom for all of eternity.

When my elementary school announced we would be starting our own jump rope team called the Jammin’ Jumpers I shed my usual shyness and ran to the front of the room to sign up.  Every girl was allowed to come to the practices, but if we wanted to travel to other schools and perform we had to make the cut.

I practiced for hours at home every night until I could do the routine in my sleep.  This was no small feat for a girl who didn’t even know how to jump rope and was called klutz by her family because she was often found splayed out on the ground with no explanation for why she just fell on her face.  Try outs were one week away and I was ready.

During our final practice the girls began to gossip about who was going to make the cut and who wasn’t.  Suddenly I realized the intense anxiety that filled the room as all of our eyes fell on Jenny.  If I lived in the Land of Nerdom, she lived in a land somewhere beyond it–in the next solar system.

Jenny was adopted and she looked different.  She was Native American with dark skin, wide chocolate eyes she looked at the world as if she had come from another planet.  I saw her jump rope tangled up in her feet. Tears welling up in her eyes.  I ran over to her and asked her if she wanted to practice with me after school since she lived on my street.  She looked up at me and smiled.

We practiced every day up until tryouts.  She told me how nervous she was.  I told her to watch my feet.  I promised to stand by her during tryouts.  I told her I would whisper the moves so she knew what do to.

Finally the big day arrived.  “Billy Jean is not my lover,” blared through the gym speakers.  “Criss cross,” I whispered to Jenny.  “One, two, three, four, heel toe,” I whispered.

The teachers made two initial cuts.  Jenny and I stood in the center of the gym with a few other girls. The teachers asked us to perform the routine one last time.  I was so relieved that I hadn’t made the cut yet so I could help Jenny.  I continued to watch Jenny’s feet and whisper the moves to her.  I was so proud of her.  She was nailing it.

At the end of the routine the teachers said, “We could tell which of you had learned your routine, and which of you were watching other’s girl’s feet because you had not practiced enough.”  Then they read the last cut.  When they called Jenny’s name we both screamed and jumped up and down.  But I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.

The teachers folded up their papers, stood up and congratulated the new Jammin’ Jumpers.  And I was not one of them.

“But you knew the routine!” Several of my peers gathered around me to console me.  They knew that I knew the routine.  They knew that I had worked with Jenny all week.  But the teacher’s did not.  I remember that pain of being unseen.  Of having no words and no power to change the outcome of the situation.  I remember the dark clouds that rolled in that day.  The way I curled up under my covers and cried when I got home.  I remember that feeling of exclusion, as if my exile from belonging was now publicly official.

The teacher’s were right, though.  I was not looking at them and smiling.  I was looking at Jenny’s feet and whispering her the moves.  I was sacrificing my best so that Jenny would make the cut.  Only I had no idea how much I was sacrificing.

As a woman, I find that sacrificing everything–even my success–is a very easy thing to do. I was raised in a Christian home that valued service and shunned selfishness.  I looked to Jesus who gave even his life away for others.  I learned how to be a spiritual doormat.  The nuance I was missing was seeing clearly who I AM.  Often when I let others define me I feel like I am a nobody.  On the other hand,  Jesus (as ego-inflated as this may sound) knew he was God (at least in some of the gospels)  and it was this radical audacity that really pissed off the religious leaders.  He was claiming his own power.  A power that he knew was divine.  I had yet to find a connection to that kind of power in my life.  For so long that power remained outside of my self.

Psychologists tell us how important mirroring is in forming our early identities as children.  When we have been abused or neglected that work of seeing our true essence is even more difficult.  As I have grown up I have often had women confess that they hated me initially because I was tall and beautiful, which I still don’t get because when I think of “me” I think of the picture posted at the top of this article.  I think of the girl who didn’t make the Jammin’ Jumpers.  How blessed are we when we are surrounded by people who see our value and divine worth.  (Even when we sport mullets.)

What I am finally learning as I near 40, is that belonging is not about fitting in at all. Brene Brown reminds us that actually fitting in is the ultimate barrier to belonging.  Her research has shown the tolls of trying to twist ourselves into something else for others.  Belonging begins with self acceptance.  For me it begins by loving the nerd that I am.

I still don’t know my limits, I don’t know exactly who I am and what I am capable of.  But I am testing those limits and gathering the courage to face whatever learning opportunities present themselves.  I am becoming mindful of the twisting that I can do for others (this has nothing to do with yoga)  in order to belong.  I am learning to distance my true self from the voice that is constantly hounding me:  “You’re going to get run through the ringer for that one.”  “You’ll never make a living doing what you love.”  “You have nothing to give.”  I am learning that this voice wants to protect me from future harm.  But it goes too far when it protects me from truly living.

So I am learning to live with less judgement.  To accept each day as having an abundance of grace and all that I need on my path.  I am meditating on the great I AM.  When I meditate on I AM I cannot see myself separated from the mystery of creation.  Instead I become keenly aware that the life force of the universe dwells also inside of me.  Jesus called this God.  It has also been called Love.  A love that is stronger than death.  And it’s this realization of incarnate love that allows us to make the great sacrifices in life.

I remember watching Jenny run down the hallway with all the Jammin’ Jumpers.  I had never seen her body radiate so much joy.  And in the midst of my own feelings of rejection, her joy touched my heart and I was able to share in her bliss.  The illusion was that I had been cut off and separated from that joy–but the truth was that I had been a part of it all along.

Today, I know that I am not the outcast I thought I was.  I am the fruit of creation’s ancient journey.  I am made of star dust.  I am a miracle.  I am enough just the way I am.    And so are you.

Michael Jackson was right, Billy Jean is not my lover.  I am the lover I have been looking for all along.  And you are yours.   May you have compassion on yourself this day, and receive who you are.

Happy Valentines Day!

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if my body is church

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if my body is church,

then my arms are doors

swung wide

and waiting

to pull you close to my heart.

come, sit here and wait

for the music to start

for the quiet to come

so you can hear what i have to say to you.

watch the cynical parade

recess from the sanctuary

and hold tight to my promise of bliss

until the veil is torn in two

and my taste is on your tongue.

for once the water drops into the wine,

there is no separating

you from God.

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On the Incarnation of Joy

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The birth of Christ is a miracle that happens everyday.  Likely, you have experienced it too.  After some stretch of darkness.  In the winter of the heart.  In the daunting face of a reality that we can finally open our eyes and behold.  Maybe with someone holding our hand.  Usually in some cold manger night, in some strange place, in a challenge that seems insurmountable.  Beholding begets humility.  It moves us from a place of denial, from a place of anger into the tenuous realm of acceptance.  Here looms the ominous threat of annihilation.   Can we survive the void?  The deep caverns of the unknown?  Are we strong enough to make the journey into new life?  

I stepped into that chasm about six months ago, when I resigned from my full time job as a youth minister in the Episcopal Church where I had worked for the past ten years and moved to Moorhead, Minnesota as my husband accepted a new teaching position here.  When I telephoned the Episcopal Diocese of North Dakota (which includes the Fargo-Moorhead area) they sighed when I inquired about continuing my youth ministry work in the area.  I learned that this area (which is Lutheran country) is sort of an Episcopalian mission field.  Of the few Episcopal churches in the area (that makes three) most are made up of part time clergy and lay ministers who volunteer their time and talents.  And though I have talents and time to share (and will) I also need to help pay the bills.  And so my new career search began.

I had this dream, for years I have had this dream, of creating alternative liturgies to help heal the body.  Naturally I was drawn to the church.  I have considered ordination.  (I may still be considering it.)  But first, I needed to do something else.  I needed to work on my own healing if I wanted to help others heal.  So I wrote a memoir to work through the issues in my past.  And I began practicing yoga to work on healing my body.  When we moved to the great white north, I serendipitously began yoga teacher training.

The practice of yoga is more than postures (or asana).  Yoga means to “yoke” or “unite.”  Yoga is about wholeness.  It is not a religion in itself.  Practicing yoga is simply adding to your spiritual toolbox.  In asana, we practice uniting the breath (prana) with the movements of the body.  The Hebrew word for breath is ruach, and in the story of Genesis 1, it is the breath of God that creates the universe.  To be alive–to be filled with spirit–is to be filled with the breath.   When we are breathing deeply and fully we are bringing life healing energy into our bodies.  We are incarnating the Spirit as we open ourselves to receive the nourishment of our breath.  Just this very simple attention and practice of breathing and mindfulness can dramatically change our lives and our health.

I applied for jobs as a baby photographer, as a web designer, I even went looking for bar tending jobs.  I started to panic.  I began to reassess my dreams and goals.  I wasn’t interested in making money just to pay the bills.  I wanted to move on the dream in my heart.  And so I stepped out it faith.  And things started to happen.

Monday night I will begin teaching my first yoga class at The Spirit Room in downtown Fargo.  I am developing a class called Healing Yoga.  We will fill our bodies with restorative and energizing breath.  We will bring the breath into our fears and aches.  We will listen to our dreams, sing, chant, and move our bodies like liturgical movements that build to that most holy union of spirit and flesh.

I will also begin teaching at the Fargo YMCA (schedule to follow) which comes with the perks of free child care while I work.  I feel like I am beginning another journey into the unknown, carrying these seeds of hope.  I also feel carried by invisible hands and so supported by friends and family.  I am so grateful to be doing what I love and to witness the universe tending to our basic needs as I pursue the incarnation of my joy in the world.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!   I am praying that all of your joy may manifest in the world too.

 

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The Woman of the Light

EarthCreecher’ features another guest blogger, Mary Ann McDowell,  for our series in Advent reflecting on the incarnation.  If you would like to take some time in this busy season to stop and mediate on the energy and meaning of this season for you, we would love to hear from you too!  Submission guidelines can be found here
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Incarnation. I looked at the word on the page.

“Incarnation: a person who embodies in the flesh a deity, spirit or abstract quality.”

Nope. Not me. No chance. This has been a year of change for me. I left an abusive relationship just over a year ago. At this time last year, I would not have named it that, but that’s what it was. A year ago, I was not the woman I really am. I cowered in corners, didn’t speak much, kept opinions to myself. I was stupid, I was weak, I was incapable. These were the voices in my head, and they mirrored the voices of someone in my life. I was terrified. I was convinced that those voices were right. I was going to fall on my face, and fail, yet again. My world was dark, and I was in so much pain, an almost constant dull ache that grew and swelled and subsided, but never really went away. Then something happened.

Through those pains and through the darkness, I could see a glimmer of light, a small pin prick in the distance. I turned towards it. It was far away. I felt the darkness closing in around me as I pushed my way towards that faint glow. It was a difficult road. So often I thought that I would not be strong enough to make the journey. The light seemed beyond my reach. But then, I could see someone in the light.

A woman beckoned me towards her. She was bathed in the light. I was immediately drawn to her warmth, her strength, her compassion, and her beauty. She gave me strength to escape the darkness, and as I did, she folded me into her being. I had given birth, and I had been born.

“Incarnation: a person who embodies a deity.”

No, that word didn’t fit….. My soul emerged from that darkness, into the light of a new day. I was reborn. Although I was still in the same old body, the rebirth of my soul certainly felt like a reincarnation. The world around me had begun to take on a new light, new colours emerged, new beauty. I was very much like an infant trying to make sense of her world. People began to see me in a new and different way; I really was a new person.  And as such, I began to live in new ways.

I began to be intentional in my life and in my living. I reconnected with many from my past who had been important to me, and I connected with others who quickly became important to me. They all saw something in me that I did not yet see, I was still struggling with the old voices; I was still living just on the edge of that darkness. These wonderful people in my life supported me when the darkness called again. They drew me out.  They helped raise this child.

There were times when I could see the beautiful woman from the light, beckoning me once again. She was there only fleetingly, and I began to feel the need to find her. She had rescued me, and I wanted to thank her. Then there came a time when I couldn’t find her anymore. She had shown me the way, and I was grateful to her, but she had disappeared when I emerged. I started to sense her, more than see her. She was with me, still elusive, but with me. The negative voices started to subside – all but one.

This voice was the voice in my head that said that I was unattractive, that I was ugly, that I was unworthy of love. When this voice spoke, all others were drowned out. So many people confronted that voice, and told it to go. It diminished, but it was still there. At times the woman from the light seemed completely absent. I would see her when the voice wasn’t there, but when the voice was strong, it seemed to drive her away. Then one day, quite by chance I saw her out of the corner of my eye, and she was close.

I looked again, and was in disbelief. She was here; she was in my reflection. “That couldn’t possibly be!” I thought to myself. “She is so strong, so compassionate, so warm, so beautiful. She is not me….” And then I stopped. I thought about all of the things my friends and loved ones had been saying. They were not describing the me that I had been seeing; they had been describing this woman who I felt had been eluding me all along. This woman, this divine woman who had saved me – this woman was me. I am the warm, strong, compassionate and even beautiful woman that had been here all along. Incarnation: the embodiment of the divine. Yes, I had given birth, and I had been born. The divine, which dwells in me had been born in me, and I in Her.

Mary Ann is a mom, food banker, part-time student, blogger, and seeker of the divine feminine.  Her blog can be found at mamcdowell416.wordpress.com and you can follow her on twitter @mamcdowell1.

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Advent Reflections: Pain is Determined to Be Heard, by guest blogger Kate Green

This is the first reflection offered in our advent series on our experiences of incarnation.  To submit a piece for consideration please email Jessica at jessicajcreech@gmail.com and see the guidelines here.

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Back in May, when my job involved being surrounded by little ones who were not my own, I hurt my neck. I assumed I slept on it wrong and pinched a nerve, but the sports med doctor I saw two months later assured me that, no, pain like I had doesn’t come about by sleeping, but by moving. It’s in the resting for hours later that my body had time and space to register the pain. And with that comment, a journey began in which God spoke clearly and distinctly to me, through me. Or rather through my body.

I started physical therapy a little nervous. I am in no way, and have never been (even when I played softball that one year in high school just because my sister did) athletic. I was feeling guilty and ashamed and sure the therapist would blame me for the pain I was in, due to my lack of caring for myself. I waited with trepidation until she called me back and we began. And she, well, she was amazing. She spoke words of life and encouragement and I knew, I just knew, that this was something way beyond becoming pain-free. This was something sacred.

“Don’t invalidate your pain. Don’t brush it off or think it isn’t a big deal. Don’t dismiss it by comparing it to others whose pain is worse.”

Yep. First session and she had me pegged as she spoke those words to me. A month later when the pain flared up again as I did some work in my son’s classroom, she reminded me that

“With movement, comes pain, and life involves movement.”

Life. Movement. Pain. There was something there and I needed to listen. I needed to start listening to my pain. It was telling me something, telling me that I was alive and that as one alive, there was pain. Pain that I was trying hard to brush away, to fix, to get rid off as fast as I possibly could. Deep emotional pain that was forcing itself on my body, determined to be heard.

I was thinking this morning of how I feel things so intensely in my body. How emotions move through me with power and force. When I am afraid, I am gut-wrenchingly sick-to-my-stomach afraid. When I am sad, each ragged breath is almost too much to bear. When someone I love is hurting, my heart literally aches for them. When my children valiantly walk their way through hurtful situations, I feel it deep in me. Pain is a felt thing for me.

I am learning that healing needs to be a felt thing for me. Many a day I’ve sat at my piano crying out to God with every movement of my fingers, feeling the release as they move along the keys. Too few mornings, I follow my PT regiment with purpose, feeling the release as each muscle pulls and relaxes. In quiet moments before the after-school rush, I breath deep, full breaths, feeling the release as my heartbeat slows and space for God to move opens up.

Having this body that moves and feels pain and breathes life, I am speechless when I remember

“And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:44)

I close my eyes and try to fathom this Man feeling pain in His flesh. This Man walking, touching, laughing, crying, sleeping. This Man breathing life, one ragged breath after another. I think of how His Spirit moved through His body with passion, and at times with anguish, as the NIV says. I think of Him taking into Himself the pain of the world and really living that pain. Feeling that pain.

To live advent, to know Christmas, for me this year, is to let the Spirit have free reign in my body. I don’t know what God is birthing in me but I know that the same Spirit who hovered over Mary is doing something. When each step forward feels wrought with anxiety… when my soul burns within me… when my heart is stretched and pulled, I think of my therapist gently cradling my head in her arms, enfolding me with care, twisting and turning, not to inflict more pain, but to bring release, and I remember to surrender to the movement. I walked out of physical therapy pain-free but with the knowledge that staying pain-free was a precarious thing dependent in great part on listening to my body, leaning into what it is saying, and letting myself be fully alive in it.

Kate Green is a Jesus follower, mom, friend and neighbor who enjoys contemplative prayer, Coldplay, and the Detroit Tigers. She cares deeply about lgbtq inclusion and autism acceptance, and really can’t live without a constant supply of grace and coffee.  You can follow her on Twitter @cgmama.  

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Now receiving submitions for my advent blog!

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Calling all bloggers to submit a reflection on the incarnation for my blog this advent. Specifically share how you have experienced God in your body or conversely tell of your experience of the absence of God in your flesh. I love the theology of advent, particularly this idea that we are all created to be God-bearers. But I am curious about how one makes their body a sacred dwelling place in a culture that often devalues and objectifies the body. How do you handle this tension?  I also love the feminine implications of this reflection: let us all imagine ourselves pregnant with holiness. Write about how you carry and nourish what is sacred within.

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Download some sacred music for your Advent & Christmas season.

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December 1, 2013 · 7:50 pm