Tag Archives: anxiety

an open letter to my students

i-also-remember-this

An Open Letter to My Students on the Eve of the Orlando Shooting.

June 12, 2016

Dear Students,

You likely woke up today as I did: late. You may or may not have turned on the news as is my morning wake-up custom, coffee in hand and multiple snoozes later. Within moments it became clear that there was yet another mass shooting while we were sleeping. This morning’s shooting at a gay night club in Orlando. Over 100 dead and injured.

I remember thinking ‘My soon-to-be godson is to be baptized today. My responsibilities seem yet-again larger now.’

I’m late to the service by a few minutes this morning; I know you’re not surprised. I stood too long at the television in my bedroom, clenching the wooden ledge on top of the dresser left in the room by my great, great-aunts who were the unusual of their era; they were highly educated, remarkably fashionable, and unusually independent women from a time where that was not allowed. No doubt they were recipients of both celebration and judgment. The dresser left in the bedroom of this house they used which I now sleep in has new fingernail marks as of this morning, left accidentally as I should have been dressing for a baptismal service but was instead being washed again in the blood of others.

“I also remember this, and wish I did not,” as Didion once said. I remember that I was not surprised.

Yet another killing, this time the largest mass shooting in our states’ history and the largest terrorist attack on US soil since my freshmen year of college when I sat in a lecture hall of Blanchard at Wheaton and watched the towers fall before my eyes.

I remember this morning thinking that I was surprised that morning as an 18-year-old hopeful, but that I am not surprised now as a 32-year-old hopeful. And it is the hopefulness of my better wiring which has been wanting to talk to all of you all day long today, even though you’ve managed to sneak away from me for the summer. I’ve managed to talk to you in one of our random, side conversations all day long in my head regardless. Then I decided that I hope you might hear it.

Many of you value your faith deeply; I do as well. Because of this, those who believe differently from you are owed your love and honor. The faith you claim has told you so; the faith leaders you are bothered by have challenged this. Follow your faith.

Many of you think
public policy,
issues of social policy and social welfare,
wealth and poverty,
emails to your governors and senators and representatives
(unanswered as most of them go…which you will remember),
childhood development and influence,
family structure and complexity,
group norms and roles,
mob mentalities and social capacities,
and research formulas and findings
aren’t connected in any real way
to your deep desire to help those who are in need.

The crimes of today should remind you that these things are all connected.

The language and now law signed in by Governor Bill Haslam in Tennessee that allow therapists to legally hate and discriminate by refusing counseling to those of the LGBTQ community affected by today’s mass shooting is an issue of policy, welfare, wealth and poverty, legislators who listen and those who ignore (and are paid to do so, which you will remember), legislation and its [silent] funders, biological development and its influences, structure, complexity, norms, roles, mob mentalities and social capacities, research and its findings…

This language and this legislation and these legislators and these voices are the authors of the men and women who will come into your offices and onto your caseloads wounded, orphans of those killed by this morning’s violence, orphans of those who had parents who lived lives of silence or submission to a norm, or stood silently in the back of your sanctuaries on mornings like these as you went to church and thought it was a regular Sunday morning.

I felt the need all day long today, now pushing the clock to make it honest, to let you know that I expect the world of you.

I am pretty sure I have told you this. You will be the best.

I expect a whole other kind of world from you. I expect you to wake up on days like today with the news of the moment and the heart of a saint that is both willing to break the rules and willing to break the norms to dig your fingernails into the wooden ledge on top of the dresser and be late for something planned and appropriate because you decided you had to stand up and speak out for something possibly inappropriate because it puts all of our humanity at risk.

So in class, when I hound you and harass you and rap at you and sing at you and yell at you and take points from you and even when I feed you in an effort to buy you, please know this: I do all these things so that some day, some Sunday morning when someone is waking up and committing to go to church and pledge gratefully to be a godfather for a young man or young woman who has not yet learned to distrust the world…

I do all these things so that you will remember that it will never be okay for us to not be surprised at this kind of hateful news that greeted us this morning.

I’m counting on you.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

 

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carry on, warrior

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“People hurt the things they fear,” has become for me one of the most haunting lines of Glennon Doyle Melton’s not-so-new book.

And I’ve tried about ten times now to type out how Carry On Warrior has made me exhale so strongly and peacefully over the last week as I’ve been reading it. Her words have been a kind of subversive undertone to everything else I’m seeing and reading as the news unfolds.

Something in me is pushing hard against the rhetoric of hatefulness and fear, of greed and warmongering I hear predominantly from Christians as each day breaks across the globe. Something in me is pushing hard against this fear of neighbor, fear of other, fear of different. Since when did Jesus say kill for my sake, hate for my sake, marginalize for my sake? Something in me is pushing hard through the psuedo-christian noise for voices that speak to something altogether clear, and noble, and lovely, and gracious, and simple and beautiful. I don’t feel the need to kill the person who threatens to kill me; I feel the need for peace. I don’t feel the need to hurt the person who has hurt me; I feel the need to forgive. And I need to know other people feel that need too. And I need to know how to move into that need.

I don’t know how, though.

And Melton doesn’t claim to know how either, but somehow her words in Carry on Warrior actually begin to do it. Honoring a kind of David-like offense to face the giants of anxiety and fear and terrified christian culture, she manages to walk to the middle dropping one piece of heavy armor after the next knowing that it might be her end.

But also knowing that it might be her only chance in hell at an actual beginning.

I’m envious, really. But hopeful. I’m working to lean in to the call to be honest and hospitable when it means standing with those the church is screaming at and setting targets on. I’m working to lean in to the challenge to show up and do my best to return justice for injustice, generosity for stinginess, and even openness for rigidity and fear. It’s infuriating, and then again completely freeing. Something as if from another world altogether.

People harm the things they fear, she says. I’m doing my damnedest to stop being afraid.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

To follow her blog, visit momastery.com, and click here to find “Carry On, Warrior.”

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almost there. almost enough.

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My fingers have been afraid to push down on these keys. I’m not sure what I have to say or whether it’s worth saying. I’ve been in the world of everyone else, fighting to make sense of the day to day and hoping that every now and then something of meaning squeezes out of it. Paperwork is usually late, dinners are cut short, stories aren’t completely told. And while I feel like I almost have something to write, it seems like it’s a little short of worthwhile.

But in each of those moments, I still know something magical has happened. I’ve met a buddy for a beer or a friend for a coffee. We’ve eaten too many chips in queso or had too many mozzarella sticks. But we’ve been offering rounds of “me too” and “yes, exactly” in the meantime. We share the same anger at the same institutions, the same grieving around the same situations, and the same hopefulness toward the same possibilities.

And it only feels almost there. Almost enough to write home about. Almost enough to remember. Almost enough to be worth reminding others that something worthwhile comes along every now and then. But it always seems just short, so I’ve chosen not to write it down. In the last week, though, those moments of almost have seemed just enough to be worth it. The moments that fall a little short of important seem very important. The conversations that fall a little short of profound seem very profound.

And it leaves me wondering if it’s not worthwhile moments I’m waiting on to write about, but perhaps I have forgotten what moments are worthwhile after all.

So, fingers to the keys and eyes on the horizon. I’m doing my best to pay attention. At least, that’s what I intend to do.

djordan
Pine Tree

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all our problems

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They have been saying it for several weeks just before we are dismissed from the service on Sunday mornings. As we participate through the Kenyan liturgy, the children are invited to the front of the room, bumbling and running and sisterly fighting their ways to the front, up the steps, and to the center of the stage and everyone’s attention. They are guided, as the congregation is guided by them, to take their right arms and respond to the priest as he says:

leader: all our problems
kids/congregation/me: we send to the cross of Christ

As we all say together, led both by the children and the priest and also by this deep and gut-wrenching reality that we are staring problems in the face everyday that we don’t know what to do with, “we send to the cross of Christ,” we hold up our right arms as far out as we can reach and then throw them pointing or open-handed to the cross centered at the very front of the room.

The children giggle or try to hit each other or actually stare in amazement every now and then at the cross itself, or at their hands and their naive abilities to send things to Jesus and feel like they actually ever got there. I, on the other hand, find usually as my hand flies toward the cross in the front of the room that I get choked a little with the reality that the problems I’m carrying around are a little too big for me and mostly too heavy to actually send to the cross of Christ. As if I couldn’t get a good enough grip on them to throw them that far in the first place.

leader: all our difficulties
kids/congregation/me: we send to the cross of Christ

It’s amusing to me, as I look at those children up there throwing their arms toward the cross as they hurl their difficulties, to consider how simple some of their lives are. I’m not ignorant enough to think their lives are all simple, that some of them aren’t witnessing yelling and screaming and fighting, that some of them aren’t experiencing abuse and illness and secrets they think will kill them rather than be taken with them to their grave at some unreal and future time. Some are, no doubt, living amidst great difficulties. Many of them, however, are living in great comfort and safety and community that is true and rich and deep. But even for them that hurling of difficulties toward the cross feels almost like a prayer for their future selves, or for their sisters thousands of miles away or three miles away who are fighting to survive amidst great difficulties. They don’t know that their silly hurling of difficulties toward the cross of Christ is actually an offering of love and trust for one of their unmet, unknown peers. I move my hand gently toward the cross with them, but I can’t get words out of my mouth because I feel a little taken over by what is happening in the thin spaces these mornings.

leader: all the devil’s works
kids/congregation/me: we send to the cross of Christ

This one, of course, is a little scary because while we’d like to demonize someone else and name their works as those of the devil, we know deep down that some of our own works are marked by something other than the incarnational love of the king. So we know that to send the devil’s works, all of them, to the cross of Christ is actually to send a chunk of ourselves to die in uncertainty. We throw our perceived or desired success. We throw some of our pleasures and comforts that require the pain and heartache of others for us to afford them. We throw our reasons for why what affects us is more important that what affects the “others”. We throw our grudges and our bitterness and our stinginess and our insecurities and our greeds. It’s like we are taking off all of our clothes and throwing them up there to the cross of Christ. Then we find ourselves, if we dare throw all that up there, naked and embarrassed at what we actually look like now. I often can’t even get around to throwing my arm forward to send the devil’s works to the cross of Christ as the children are throwing it even more dramatically. Their innocent leading makes me feel a little more like a fraud if I were to join them.

leader: all our hopes
kids/congregation/me: we set on the risen Christ. 

The leader isn’t hurling anything forward to the cross anymore, and neither are the children. Their hands are up and usually open. Reaching out to the only place we know to reach with our fragile little arms to communicate where the kingdom has come in Christ’s resurrection, we reach up and out to the skies because we know there is more out there than we have ever understood. We know, too, that right here in the moment and in the space and in the wrestling brother and sister who’ve now been center stage too long to remember their mother’s threat of an after church mingling with no snacks if they misbehave, we are reaching out to something that we must have.

That hope we are reaching out for as if our lives and sanity and humanity depended on it.

We’ve been brave enough to speak out loud with our words and our bodies of our problems, our difficulties, and the devil’s works that we have co-opted and coauthored. Because of the courage of the kids and the costume of the priest, and because even our choking-up makes us know we must be telling a little more of the truth than usual, I’m able to lift up my right arm to the unknown skies, or the ceiling of this sad little building, and decide to set my hopes toward the impossible kingdom that I can’t stop thinking about, and the impossible king who has been causing impossible problems in our storylines since the very first story was ever set in motion.

all our problems
we send to the cross of Christ
all our difficulties
we send to the cross of Christ
all the devil’s works
we send to the cross of Christ
all our hopes
we set on the risen Christ. 

djordan
Pine Tree

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responsibility and recovery | an interview

RadioInterview1

A friend of mine who is currently working on his Social Work degree asked to interview me as a clinician and community advocate who work with a population wrestling with substance use and abuse for a course assignment he is working on. After being forced to pause during the business of work and reflect on his questions, I realized how valuable the exercise had been to me. I’ve decided to share it here, and invite your own comments for those of you working or living in the field. And to all my clients and colleagues in the work, this is a small testimony of your importance to my own development as a human being.

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Dear Donald, 
I have to do an interview with a person who works with substance abusers and since I know you work at Jackson’s Drug Treatment Court and with Pathways Youth Recovery services, I thought you may be a good person to get in contact with. So without further ado, here are the questions: 
1. Why did you choose this occupation? 

I feel like it chose me. Apparently, as a child when I was told I couldn’t help mom or dad do something, I would tell them “If helpers can’t help, they die.” While a little melodramatic even at that age, my heart is with being there when people discover something is possible they thought had already been ruled out or even something they had never thought of before. People dealing with substance abuse and addiction who are seeking recovery are the most honest, holy people I’ve ever met. I learn from them, and they learn (some of them) that there is more available for their lives than they could ever have imagined.

2. What are the unique strengths and challenges of this population?

I often feel, whether in small group IOP (Intensive Outpatient) therapy groups, one on one in outpatient counseling, or in AA / NA group-led self-help meetings, that people coming together, admitting their crap and the crap it has caused, refusing to respond to others in judgment because they are aware of their own need for support and peace, and honestly believing that every day is the beginning of another possibility. These are all strengths. That’s what makes A&D work a holy exercise; it puts the pretense that actual church services can often be to shame. Some of the challenges include, obviously, the incredible chemical, relational, emotional and neurological effects and consequences of addition, and the ways these affect people’s relationships with all the systems they will need to move into recovery. 

3. What do you think are the most effective interventions in working with this group?
Such a tricky question, here. There are TONS of interventions that are evidence-based and therefore effective. Some are indicated more so for certain groups. We used a highly cognitive-behavioral model at Pathways with you, and we use a different motivational interviewing and behavioral model at drug treatment court. I’ve used narrative practices against addiction in one on one therapy before in individual outpatient. A strong therapeutic rapport, good evidenced-based practice, and a judgment-free, dignity-filled therapeutic perception of the client are all major players. And of course, the choice always lies in the client’s hands as to whether any intervention is ultimately effective. Not to shrug my clinical shoulders and wash my clinical hands so much as to honor the reality of the client’s own ability and acknowledge that her success in recovery belongs to her and the system of support that she has created.
4. Do you have any thoughts about what the future will bring for the group? 
Not sure what this question means. My work on the federal and state levels with SAMHSA and TDMHSAS reveals that there is a strong push that continues to be difficult to highlight co-occuring disorders, and to merge the substance abuse and mental health worlds into an effective, connective system of care. This leads to questions of collaboration between multiple agencies, staying with tension and conflict regarding competing agency and group agendas, and how to make decisions about models and interventions and policies in ways that best serve both client and organization. And “best serve organization” always reflects in part how services can be funded and how services that are initially funded by grants can ultimately be sustainable and interwoven into the fabric of the pre-existing system of care. 
5. What has been your most rewarding experience working with this population?​
I learn about myself, my own growth, my own shortcomings and desires to hide them, my own responses to rejection, isolation, stigma, piety, and despair as well as the others’ responses affect me in turn. I always tell group members during one of their initial group sessions, “There’s no difference between this group and ‘those people out there.’ Some have become brave enough to tell the truth about their shortcomings and hopes, and others have yet to find a way to tell the truth. Welcome to the table.” In turn, I am at risk of not being welcomed to the table by the group. They are generous enough to let me in and share incredibly personal things with the table. That’s courage. That’s honesty. That’s holding onto and being honest about, as Parker Palmer would say, the tragic gap between the way things are and the way things can be…and the willingness to stay there long enough for our hearts to break open and new solutions to pour out from it. I am in church every time I’m in group; the good, the bad and the ugly of church. 
6. What has been the hardest part of working with this populace?
Taking responsibility for someone else’s recovery, holding out false hope by getting ahead or withholding needed hope because I don’t yet believe I have no idea what the participants are capable of. There’s always the risk of heartbreak, or heart-crushing perhaps. But it’s the risk that makes people finding their whole lives again possible…and always worth the risk of a crushed heart. It has to be. 
7. Do you think that you will continue to serve this population in the future?
Definitely. 
8. What is some advice you would give to people who are going to work with this population? 
You aren’t saving anybody. People don’t need saving, they need finding. We can help ask the questions that allow individuals to be found. It’s not an “us” and “them,” and stay clear of any professional or individual who ever communicates in a way that sets them on a higher plane than those they serve. The biggest risk is entering the work thinking we are above or over or ahead of those we serve. All are changed in the work, so if you aren’t willing to take the same risks you are asking your clients to take, don’t start to begin with. And, ultimately, the success of those you work with is out of your hands; your excellence and hard work and perseverance and ultimate respect for others is completely in your hands. Don’t blur the lines…for your own sake and for the sake of your clients. 
9. Would you say that this population is a population that is heavily discriminated against?
Yes, but so is every population in one way or another. They don’t need pity or sadness, they need the same kind of encouragement that there is hope for something else just like all of us need. They are on an uphill climb, though, as people associate addition with choice alone, so it becomes a moral issue the way other diseases or not. So not only does this population have to work to regain trust in order to secure work, housing, and relationship, but they have to constantly battle the stigma of being ‘bad people.’ The church should lead in chaining this tone, but AA and NA are doing a much better job at it presently. Luckily, or divinely, the church is all in AA as well. 
10. How has what you learned from your clients affected your practice?
I feel like questions 1-9 address this question. Hope this helps. It is always good for me to stop and reflect; thanks for asking.
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djordan
Madison Ave
Memphis, TN
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drowning in forgetfulness

drowinging-in-forgetfulness

I met with two teenage guys this afternoon for therapy. I spent my time reminding them of all the progress they’ve seen against all the odds that were stacked against them, the odds they had recounted in previous sessions, the bad odds I had not tried to talk them out of because I wasn’t sure enough that they were going to come true.

And yet these two young men actually enacted these bad odds not coming true. They made choices and held out hope long enough that a different kind of future happened against all the odds, really. Over and over again.

But they’ve already forgotten. They are now in the middle of the next layer of stacked-against-them-odds and they don’t remember that they felt as impossibly positioned not so long ago. And they don’t remember that not so long ago they courageously chose to push into something they didn’t know and found themselves on the other side of something that seemed one-sided.

And so I find myself working to ask questions that remind them. And as always when any of us ask good questions of others, we hear ourselves asking good questions that we ourselves must answer.

More time passes in a day and we realize that sometimes we wake up in the middle of the night with worry and fear, drowning in forgetfulness, and we are overcome with anxiety and sorrow. And we find ourselves praying because someone once said we should pray when we wake up and can’t sleep in those dark hours of the night/morning.

So we pray that God will show us how to listen, and that we can learn what it actually means to love our awkwardness juxtapositioned to the honesty of others. And we ask for sleep knowing, owning for one damn time, that we aren’t orchestrating all of this and we need some help to be able to find any peace at all, waking or sleeping.

And we might finally catch some rest before the sun rises, or we might not.

But it doesn’t matter either way, because we realize that we are all learning from each other, and we need the people around us to remind us that we are capable of and intentioned for more than we could ever think to ask or imagine.  And though we often drown in our own forgetfulness, a sleepless night that reminds us to ask for eyes to see and ears to hear might just be what we need to remember that he is making all things new and he is the God of doing things against all the odds.

Even in the middle of a sleepless night.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

 

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in your corner

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Thinking of you again this morning.
Praying for you.
For a tiny bit of peace in the anxiety,
for a tiny bit of clarity in the confusion.
Know that we all pray for you
and your family regularly…
we individually and together.
We don’t know what the right thing for you to do is,
and wouldn’t even claim to.
We pray for clarity,
wisdom,
peace,
faith,
understanding
and patience while waiting on clarity,
wisdom,
peace,
faith and
understanding.
With so much to consider,
and so much pressure,
know that we are all in your family’s corner…
whatever happens.We wait and hold on with you.
We pray together for God to make you,
them,
and all of us whole.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.
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intolerance of uncertainty | thoughts on a new year

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It’s no doubt that the things which are the most important for us to know are the things which, once heard, feel the most obvious. The things which, once said, feel the most simple. And yet, it is these things which are often, once heard and said, the things which change us the most. The things which make the biggest impact in our worlds because even though they are obvious and even though they are simple, they are still the things which are most important and have the most impact.

A New Year’s resolution has been to read an article a workday. Workday means ultimately five articles a week, and article means a research or peer-reviewed journal article, so what to do when throwing a party or how to build biceps fastest doesn’t count as articles.

I was reading, a few days ago (because I’ve also learned that New Year’s resolutions I wait to start until New Year’s are 100% less likely to happen than New Year’s resolutions I start a few days before) an article* about depression, anxiety and rumination. I was reading for a client that I’ve been making little progress with, and also reading for myself as is almost always the case whether any of us in the field choose to admit it or not.

The article speaks to depression, anxiety and rumination, or ongoing perseverative thoughts about situations or details, as moderated by the intolerance of uncertainty. And while the phrase “intolerance of uncertainty” feels as common and as known and as obvious as any other phrase that’s said over coffee or in elevators or across lunch tables, I felt myself freeze in the phase of the written words, as if the obvious and known was suddenly becoming an answer to a mystery.

The more we are intolerant of what we can’t control and what we don’t know, the greater our anxiety, depression and stalling.

With multitudes of caveats and uncontrollable variables, the notion has stuck with me since. The ability that I, or others, have to tolerate uncertainty influences the way we see the future and handle its impending realities in the present. Since all of the future is uncertain, no matter the degree at which we enjoy misleading ourselves, my ability to tolerate that uncertainty is a predictor of my emotions, attitudes, and decisions.

Since reading this article, no doubt an encouragement to keep up my New Year’s resolution, I’ve been challenged to face each day with a reminder to myself that what is to come is unknown, and my trust in the fact that all things are done well and that all things work together is and will be a major factor in my ability to move forward well into the grief and joy that lies ahead in 2013.

Here’s to an uncertain new year.

djordan
Pine Tree

* Liao, K. Y. & Wei, M. (2011). Intolerance of uncertainty, depression, and anxiety: The moderating and mediating roles of rumination. Journal of clinical psychology, 67(12), 1220-1239.

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before the end of this day

You are God of all our possibilities. You preside over all our comings and goings, all our wealth and all our poverty, all our sickness and all our health, all our despair and all our hope, all our living and all our dying.

And we are grateful.

You are God of all of our impossibilities. You have presided over the emancipations and hearings of our mothers and fathers; you have presided over the wondrous transformations in our own lives. You have and will preside over those parts of our lives that we imagine to be closed.

And we are grateful.

So be your true self, enacting the things impossible for us, that we might yet be whole among the blind who see and the dead who are raised; that we may yet witness your will for peace, your vision for justice, your vetoing all our killing fields.

At the outset of this day, we place our lives in your strong hands. Before the end of this day, do newness among us in the very places where we are tired in fear, we are exhausted in guilt, we are spent in anxiety.

Make all things new, we pray in the new-making name of Jesus.

 

+ W. Brueggeman, from “You beyond our weary selves” in Prayers for a Privileged People

 

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again at the labyrinth

It’s been almost one year exactly since I last walked the path of the labyrinth outside my therapy office window. I took about fifteen minutes this afternoon to make the trek in, knowing I wouldn’t have time before my next client to make the walk back out.

My intentions, stepping foot into the concrete-puzzled path, was to pray through an anxiety that has been pressing in on me over the last few weeks. I intended to let the sharp red leaves falling and floating across the path offer a kind of poetic aesthetic that would remind me all is well and all will be well.

As one foot made its way in front of the other, my prayers were quickly replaced by the memories of what was pressing in on me the last time I walked through these same stones.  Fear and worry for friends losing jobs, relationships falling apart, futures unknown, and trying to function in the middle of the chaos in ways that were filled with grace and mercy at least in part while I was simultaneously bleeding anger and resentment.

A few loops in now, I remembered that the last time I walked this labyrinth, whatever my intentions were faded quickly and I started to become fully present in spirit learning the bodily art of putting one step in front of the other: something the homicide-loss group teaches me often. 

The sharp red leaves did begin to fall and swirl around the gray and burnt red stone as I made my way through a few more loops.

After a round of quiet breathing, I began to see a kind of baggage trailing behind me. In my prayer-walking, I was being given the gift of visualizing all that I am pretending to carry fall from my hands and back and gut and stay behind in my tracks, only where I have been. In the faithful art of putting one foot in front of the other, there continued to be a clear way, and more room to let go of all that is and has been pressing in and pressing down.

Moving closer to the center, I was passing the paths where I had already shed weight, so while I saw them and was right next to them, they were no longer in my way.

I made it to the center, read the etched in Psalm 46:10, and moved back to the entrance, back into the office, and back into a conversation at the heart of a family wrestling to make relationships work.

In spirit and body, and a commitment to putting one foot in front of the other, the weight lightens.

Sometimes.

djordan
Pine Tree

Related Posts | A Concrete Maze | What They Are Teaching Me

 

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