Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Middle Places

Last weekend I was at a birthday lunch where I got into a conversation with extended family I had not seen for a while. The couple began asking me about our adoption journey, something they had heard about briefly from another family member. I have not advertised much about our recent walk back into the adoption world, guarding the facts in a very tender place of uncertainty and hope. 
So, a bit unpracticed, I began to share details of where we are currently in the process. I spoke about all the paperwork and finger printing and delays in translation. I told them about our referral, his age and name and what all the paperwork says about how he became an orphan. I showed them pictures of his sweet little face. Then I emphasized how tenuous international adoptions are, how quickly things can change in his country and thus, how loosely we are holding this specific referral. 
The conversation lasted twenty minutes or so, full of logistics and caveats and administrative details. Early the next morning, as I sat in stillness, the conversation played back through my mind and I felt myself watching the whole interaction as if I were a third party. I sensed my own guardedness, all the lack of emotion, and watched the flat routine of words coming from my lips. I was deeply struck with this distinct thought, “What would your words be if you were mindful of spirit?”

I saw in that moment how disconnected my words were from my heart; how often disconnected I am from spirit. I grimaced at the appearance of more facades, more formalities, more living from the surface. Despite all the becoming, all the spirituality, all the writing and creating and talking of depth, I saw how often my life is lived in the wading of shallow waters. How routinely I stick to routine, checking off my lists, thoughtlessly encountering each moment. 
This mantra began to resonate within me, “Mind your spirit.” I sat with it and felt the weight of knowing, the longing to undo so many days, so many words, so much life that continually slips through my fingers as I exist in a half-awake state. Greeting a friend, but forgetting the embrace, forgetting to stop and really see her. Smiling at the cashier, but only out of habit, distracted by kicking legs and yelling lips and long lists and what Jane is doing at cash register five. Looking up from the computer when husband gets home, but only for a moment - not nearly long enough for all his effort, all his support, all his love. 
My mind jumps from one missed opportunity to the next and at first I slip into a downward spiral of self-loathing. I anticipate the regret, the guilt, the burden of not doing more, saying more, being more. I fight the current of thoughts and feelings, willing myself back to steady ground. But, then I remind myself that the guilt alone is not the enemy. That, in fact, girded with self-love, regret and guilt can guide me back to what I value most. That if I listen, calmed by self-acceptance, they will be my flags home, highlighting a part of my soul that needs my attention, my love - not my dismay or disgust
So, this time, instead of running or wallowing, I listen to the message. I write on my arm for the day, “Mind your spirit.” My son, Kyler, notices it first and reprimands me for drawing on myself. I acknowledge the discrepancy, pleading adult know-how as my excuse. Moments later, he comes back with full sleeves drawn up both arms in blue and green and black marker, “notes like mama.” He says, his message reads, “Vacation was nice.” 

Even with my new ink, I struggle to remain aware of my spirit throughout the day, to stay awake to soul in the mundane moments of making lunch and straightening house and wiping bottoms. I try to listen more fully, look more intently. I struggle and most often, I fail. By the end of the day, my penned message has smudged and faded, much like my will.
I tell myself not to despair. I will pen messages on my arms for years to come and end many of those days with faded ink and faded will. I relate to author Anne Lamott’s words from her book, Stitches:
                    "We try to be more present and less petty. Some days go better than others.                 
                     We look for solace in nature and art and maybe, if we are lucky, the quiet 
                     satisfaction of our home.” 
I know it’s not in me to give up, and yet I get so discouraged and so stuck sometimes. I get so lost in the hum-drum of life, the lists, the routines, the empty smiles and shallow greetings. I will for more than failed attempts and missed opportunities.
In the days that follow, I retrace my temporary tattoo multiple times so that it remains legible, an ever-present reminder: Mind your spirit. I oscillate between optimistic effort and frustrated encounters, between hopeful thinking and discouraged being. The past continues to carry regret, so that only in looking ahead can I remain completely positive. I will the ink, the words and their meaning, to sink into my veins and become a part of me. To take on a life of their own and animate my being. I want to be better at all of this now - fully engaged every moment, complete, whole, authentic - now. I want to love better today. 

I am reminded of one of my favorite author’s, Sue Monk Kidd, who penned an entire book about her own journey of rushing spirituality. In, When the Heart Waits, she writes: 
                      "A lot of us have spent our lives in shortcut religion. We haven’t been willing 
                       to face the fact that while the spiritual journey is joyous and full, it’s also long 
                       and hard. It asks much - too much sometimes.” 
Her words continue to resonate inside of me, reminding me both to look to my fellow travelers, to know that I am not alone, and to honor the lifelong process of becoming. 

Later in the same book, Kidd writes:
                     "We seem to have focused so much on exuberant beginnings and victorious 
                      endings that we’ve forgotten about the slow, sometimes tortuous, unraveling 
                      of God’s grace that takes place in the “middle places”.” 
So much of life for me has been a “middle place” - a place of waiting, of groaning, of becoming and growing. Much less glory and exuberance than in my dreams. Perhaps that is, in fact, life for all of us. But, oh, how I have wrestled and writhed and struggled with all that I am to run to the end or dive into another beginning. How I have hated the “middle places”, despised the slow and steady processes of becoming.  
Today, I can look at my day and make another list full of things to regret and imperfections to perfect. Words spoken too harshly, embraces let go too soon, majoring on all the minors and the mundane, checking lists off rather than checking in with spirit. I can see my shortcomings well and feel the longing within for more. But, feebly, failingly, ferociously, I trust in the “middle place”. I remind myself, over and over and over again, that the process is life. That the middle is where I belong, where I most want to be.

Tomorrow, I’ll be minding my spirit, failing, forgetting, trying again the next day, for endless tomorrows. There’s no glory in the messing up, I know. No fireworks or rounds of applause. No fairy tale endings and neatly wrapped boxes. No grand entrances or encore performances. Just a slow and steady unraveling of God’s grace. 

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  1. This is a beautiful and true reminder of how to fully live in the present. So often I find myself going days even weeks sometimes barely remembering anything; where I've been, what I've seen, who I've seen, etc. Thank you for the fantastic reminder!

  2. Thanks for reading and sharing, Julie!!


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