Prayer is An Egg

Art by Jessica Shirley, click image to visit her on Etsy
Art by Jessica Shirley, click image to visit her on Etsy

Hi you guys,

It’s been a while. A long while. I’ve gone from blogging sporadically to hardly blogging at all.

As many of you know, these past six months have been super stressful, what with the house renovations, the surprise move to New York City, and just days before we left Colorado, the untimely death of a certain little black dog…

So I’ve given myself a lot of space, grace, and patience. I figured when my soul finally caught up with me here in Brooklyn, I’d get back to blogging.

Obviously, that hasn’t happened. Instead, I sense this new season is taking my writing in new directions. This is exciting for me, but sad, too. It means I can’t promise if or when I’ll post here again.

It means I already miss you.

I guess I just wanted to tell you that. And let you know, too, that I started writing in Raw again, in case you want to catch up with me there.

Since I don’t have anything of my own to share today, here’s one of my favorite poems from Rumi. I don’t know why I love it so much, except it always reminds me of my powerlessness in the best way possible.

I think it’s the perfect advice for addicts, alcoholics—anyone, really—who is reaching for the gift of desperation:

Pray the prayer that is the essence
of every ritual. God, I have no hope.
I am torn to shreds. You are my first,
my last and only refuge.

Do not do daily prayers like a bird
pecking its head up and down.

Prayer is an egg.

Hatch out
the total helplessness inside.

–Rumi

 P.S. I’m still sort of updating the site—forgive if things are missing or not complete.

Click to Order
Click to Order

Good-bye, Edmund the Great

Edmund on a hike with our daughter Jana. He loved to hike.
Edmund on a hike with our daughter Jana. He loved to hike.

As many of you know, I like to joke about my dog Edmund. I’ve written here about how in early sobriety I hoped for his early demise because I thought it would be a good excuse to drink.

Of course, I didn’t really want that to happen. And these days I no longer think of drinking as something I wish I could do, thank God.

But still, over the years, I’ve had some fun pretending I don’t adore Edmund. Since most dog owners are so over-the-top devoted, it cracked me up to act the opposite way. In a sick attempt at humor, I’d say things like, “Edmund went missing the other day and I really had my hopes up.”

None of that seems funny anymore.

In recent months, Edmund hasn’t seemed himself. I thought he was getting old (he turned ten this summer), or that he might be upset about the chaos caused by this impending move. Last week, I took him to the vet and he got on pain meds for a possible dental issue or pulled muscle.

Then, over the weekend, he took a sharp turn for the worse. He was totally lethargic, wouldn’t eat even human food, and his spark was entirely gone. I rushed him to the vet yesterday morning for more tests, and within a half hour was shocked to learn he had advanced cancer and internal bleeding.

I called Dave, who rushed to join me at the vet. After talking over his prognosis with the doctor, we realized he was suffering—and we had to let him go.

The staff left us alone to say good-bye. Naturally, my tears turned to sobs. The hardest moment was when Dave gently removed Edmund’s leash. What I did next might seem kind of weird. I got on my knees and held Edmund’s face close and begged his forgiveness. For not always loving him well, for making fun of him, for taking him for granted.

I used to tell Edmund to keep his “garbage mouth” away from me. Now, for the first time in ten years, I let him lick my lips as much as he wanted. And when he began to lick all the tears on my face, it felt like forgiveness. It reminded me of the simple truth that when we make amends to people (or animals), we do it as much for ourselves as for them.

Today, it seems surreal that Edmund is gone. No squeals of delight when I emerged from the bedroom this morning. No little black dog at my heels begging for a walk.

Before Dave left for work, he reminded me of those rare occasions in the past when Edmund was gone for some reason and we marveled at how big the house seemed without him in it. How could such a small dog  take up so much space?

“But what felt like spaciousness then,” Dave said, “feels like emptiness now.”

He was right, of course. And yet, as the day has worn on, I’ve realized how often the opposite is also true. When I choose to feel my emptiness instead of run from it, it becomes something closer to spaciousness. A place where grace and hope can flow.

So this is what I’m trying to do today. Let myself feel the sadness. And be grateful I don’t have to drink my painful feelings away.

I’m also remembering all the lessons I learned from Edmund. About living in the present moment. About being content with small gifts and pleasures. About not holding grudges.

I called him Edmund the Arrogant once, but from now on I’ll think of him as Edmund the Great.

And he was.

P.S. We’re moving to New York on the 15th. I hope to write more about things in Raw soon. Maybe in January. In the meantime, have a wonderful Christmas!

P.S.S. Here’s more on Edmund. And here.

And the Cherry on Top is the Big Apple

shutterstock_129949166Finally I get to tell you a bit of what’s really been going on in my life.

For many months now I’ve been in a state of limbo. That feeling you get when you sense one season is ending and another is coming—but you have no idea what it means.

Dave has felt the same way. And yet over the years, we’ve learned to trust that inner knowing. So this summer, we began to make long-needed upgrades to our house. New exterior paint. Adding a bathroom upstairs. Shoveling out eight years worth of accumulated junk.

This fall, we learned what we were really up to. We got news that Penguin Random House was moving one of its imprints—Convergent Books—to the New York City offices, and was inviting Dave to move with it. As many of you know, Dave helped to launch Convergent a couple years ago while working as an editor for WaterBrook Multnomah.

On Tuesday, Crown Publishing, a division of Penguin Random House, announced the move, along with some other changes at the company. An article in Christianity Today noted, “Convergent, which focuses on books for ‘progressive and mainline Christians who demand an open, inclusive, and culturally engaged exploration of faith,’ will be led by David Kopp.”

Since I write out of my life so much (a nice way of saying I’m good at spiritualizing my self-absorption), it’s been tough to blog when I couldn’t give you the scoop. Even once I knew what was coming down the pike, it had to stay a secret until it was officially announced. Now that it has been, I’m not quite sure how to explain what I feel.

Honestly, I vacillate wildly between sadness and excitement. I’m devastated about leaving my community here in the Springs—those precious, amazing friends I’ve made both inside and outside of recovery. And moving away from my oldest son will be very hard.

But I’m also anticipating good things. In recent years, I’ve found so much help and encouragement among the tribe of Christians Convergent Books was conceived for. So in many ways, this move represents a kind of spiritual convergence for me personally. I can’t explain it all now, but I think it’s going to free me up to write my next book.

In the meantime, it comforts me to remember that I can carry all of you with me to New York.  And after seven years of learning how to form true connections in recovery, I get to take my friends here in Colorado Springs with me, too. Used to be, when I moved away, I moved away. Out of sight, pretty much out of mind.

Recently Dave and I had one of those long conversations about the trajectory of our life, marriage, and careers. We came to the conclusion that God is a genius for bringing us together, that life has always proved right in the end, and that moving to the Big Apple just might be the cherry on top of our dreams.

This morning, my eyes fell on a book title by Anne Lamott that pretty much sums up my feelings and my new prayer mantra as well: Help. Thanks. Wow! 

P.S. Check out the amazing  Convergent Books blog when you get a chance. Right now there’s a great video by Kathy Escobar on her new book, Faith Shift. 

P.S. S.  I’d love to hear from you today. Please forgive my being so behind in answering emails.  I’ll get there!

bookcoversmaller

Ready. Set. Go.

photo (4)
I was so happy this wasn’t mine, I took a picture.

It’s only eleven a.m. and already so much has happened.

A friend has cried at my doorstep. Beautiful, honest tears I felt grateful to bear witness to.

Men have shown up to work on a remodeling project down the hall from my office (lots of pounding and drilling).

I have gone for a jog and while running, woke several times from the trance of my thoughts to be where I was and remember God.

I grabbed the last doggy bag from a dispenser at the park and noticed someone had left a small empty bottle of alcohol inside, and I thanked God from my heart it wasn’t me.

I got my feelings hurt by someone who was trying to helpful but was clumsy.

But here’s the most important thing that’s happened today so far. After Dave and I exchanged our usual morning greetings, I surprised myself by saying, “It’s going to be a great day today. For both of us.”

Dave agreed it could happen, but I thought I could see doubt in his eyes. Which gave me an idea. “What if we have a contest? We could attach a big prize for whoever manages to have the best day?”

“Sure honey,” he said. And I knew what he was thinking. It wouldn’t be a fair challenge, since he obviously has a lot more stress, a lot more opportunities for things to go wrong at work than I do here at home with Edmund and a construction crew.

So maybe such a contest would have to take into account the size of the gap between what the person faces—in terms of difficulty—and how they respond, in terms of finding joy.

Which means, I’d have to work really hard at turning a potentially mediocre, ordinary day into a great day. What would that look like? Some ideas that come to mind right off:

  • I’d have to keep close tabs on my thoughts and my ego.
  • I’d try to wake up a lot, and stay in touch with my soul.
  • I’d want to take time to make some other people feel good—even if it’s just a short to text to let them know how much they matter to me.
  • I’d need to practice radical acceptance of every circumstance I encounter, not judging it good or bad.
  • I’d try to stay in a place of deep surrender, letting go of any sense of entitlement or expectation.
  • I would try to hold a posture of gratitude in my heart all day.
  • I would smile a lot for no reason, which is a good way to trick yourself into happiness.
  • I would forgive myself over and over again for failing to doing these things perfectly or even well. Oceans of compassion.
  • I’d spend a lot of time looking at Frye boots online, trying to decide which ones I want Dave to buy me this fall for my sobriety birthday.

I think I’d win, don’t you?  Feel free to join the contest—or let me know what you’d do to win, so I can steal your ideas.

Ready. Set. Go.

Good Enough for Grateful

Art by Kate Ladd, click image to visit her on Etsy
Art by Kate Ladd, click image to visit her on Etsy

Hi friends, I hope you’ve all been having a great summer. This morning I felt the urge to check in with you. I have been in a very quiet season where it would appear nothing much is happening. But as you know, sometimes that’s when the most is really going on–in the spaces in between the big events.

I have felt like my main assignment during this season is to just let go. To continue to quit deeper, to let myself be stripped of all ambition or striving or effort. For someone like me, this is a hard thing to do. To let myself be poor in the sense that I am not producing anything I can point to or hold out to the world.

In the meantime, life continues to amaze me and good things happen. I have kept up the jogging, for one thing. No one is more surprised by this than I am. I always swore I’d never be a runner, I hate running, and it’s bad for the knees. But God tricked me into it via a dog I babysat back in March who pulled so hard on her leash during walks that I started jogging by default.

After the dog went home, I kept on going. And gradually, I realized that jogging wasn’t just an easy  (no cost, no classes, no special equipment) way to stay active or get fit—God was inviting me to make a spiritual practice of it. To let the physical nowness of it wake me up, over and over. To let my breathing (or gasping) become a prayer. To let my resistance to the hard work of it become a reason for self-compassion.

It has changed my life not at all and in every possible way. I am continually reminded to be gentle on myself, to take it easy, to do only what I can, and to do it all with great kindness. Which means my hardest days jogging—the ones where I feel slow and clunky and tired—are the days when I get to experience the most compassion. Not just for myself, but for everyone.

Other happenings. Dull, but true. We are finally adding a much-needed bathroom upstairs. Seven years ago, we bought the tile, hired a contractor, and determined to “fix” this house’s obvious problem. Then we forgot to follow through. 🙂  All these years later, we’re finally on it. Which feels like such a miracle that after we signed the contract with the contractor, we went to dinner to celebrate.

In the meantime, Dave and I both sense that change is coming. You know that feeling when a long, good season of your life feels like it’s coming to a close, but you have no idea what’s next? What’s around the corner? Why does it feel like the plates of the earth are shifting?

But unlike in the past, we don’t spend too much time trying to figure it out. We also no longer imagine that our next season will be radically different from life as we’ve known it for all these years. As we get older, we no longer dream that a different house, car, job, or financial situation will make everything finally come together in a way that feels like an arrival.

One of our favorite things to say to each other these days is this: “It’s not going to happen, is it?”

And the other will smile and say, “No, honey. I don’t think it is.”

We both know what we mean by this. We mean that, no, life isn’t going to at last deliver that elusive something we’ve been waiting for all of our lives. The completing, big event that would finally make life make perfect sense is never going to happen.

Until we die, perhaps. And maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s even good. Maybe joy is found in accepting that life as it is right now is as good as life’s going to get.

Today, that’s good enough to make me grateful.

P.S. This coming Tuesday, while we’re on a brief vacation in Sedona, I’ll be running an excerpt from my friend’s upcoming memoir about the tragic death of her 12 year old son—and the miracles of grace that followed. I got to work as the developmental editor (a doula of sorts) on this project. Which means, I got to cheer and cry and encourage the author as she gave birth to her beautiful book. Needless to say, I’m awed by her talent and proud of her baby. I hope you enjoy the sneak peek and buy a dozen copies.

bookcoversmaller

 

On the Verge of Glory

Photo by Karina Hall
Photo by Karina Hall Goldman

Next week I’m going on a short vacation with Dave. But I think I’ll be taking a break from my blog for longer than that. Right now “quit deeper” sounds a lot like “do summer.” Which to me means unhooking from the online world and propping my bare feet on the dash of our pop top camper.

I thought I’d leave you with this beautiful photo taken by a friend of mine last Saturday. When I first saw it on my FB feed, I admired it for a few seconds before I realized I was in it. That’s me in the red polka dot dress. And believe it or not, the exotic looking landscape is Colorado Springs.

That evening, I attended a friend’s wedding reception at a home near this canyon. It was one of those events that could have been ordinary but ended up being magical. I felt relaxed and comfortable in my skin.  A few of my friends and I ate outside and talked and laughed while the sky threatened to rain on us but never did.

After dinner, one of the woman suggested we take a walk down the street a couple blocks. “I want to show you something,” she said.

And did she ever show us. Of course, we were all stunned by the gorgeous view.

But via this photograph, she showed me something more, too. Something so important and precious that I might cry if I try to explain.

So I’ll just say this. Sometimes, you don’t see your life clearly until you step away from it. Sometimes, you don’t see how much you’ve changed until you get some distance from yourself. Sometimes, you don’t understand how profound your humdrum existence really is until you see yourself in a photo standing on the verge of glory.

I hope all of you have a wonderful rest of summer. May you see yourself as God does. Hugs and love, Heather

P.S.  Here’s a post I wrote about camping with Dave in our pop top. It’s one of my favorites.

camper

Except for the Blow up Bed

noahbdayA few mornings ago, I was jogging with my dog Edmund on a nearby path that runs just above and alongside a creek. I happened to notice a young man sitting on a big rock by the water, reading a book.

As I got closer, I saw that it was my son, Noah. My heart instantly lit. Spontaneous joy, you know? Recently Noah got a dog, Lucy, so I figured their morning walk had brought them here.

What a perfect thing to happen. In a flash I already saw us smiling with surprise, hugging each other, and remarking at the weather, all in a way of trying to say to each other, Isn’t life good? Aren’t we glad to be us, right here, right now, this morning?

I was about to call out his name, since his back was to me, the pages of his book lit from the sun behind us—when I suddenly realized it wasn’t him. It wasn’t my Noah. It was some other young man with remarkably similar build and coloring.

I jogged on past, disappointed but grateful I hadn’t called out too soon to the wrong son. Because he was someone else’s son, right? I thought about that for a while, how likely it is that some other woman would have been so delighted to come upon her boy like that.

It took me another half mile to realize that if I wanted, I could be just as happy to have spotted this young man as I would have had it really been Noah. And in some strange way, maybe I even owed it to his mother to rejoice at her son’s existence.

It hit me then that in a very true sense, my son and her son are the same son to God. Uniquely special, but equally precious expressions of God’s grace in the world, born of the same God-breathed desire.

So I chose to let a wave of joy wash over me. And I thanked God for the young man reading his book, because think about what that means. It means he’s not in jail. It means he’s not horribly hung over. It means he’s not using an assault rifle to shoot up a school.

It means he’s giving a random jogger a reason to celebrate sons who bless the world.

Speaking of celebrating, today is Noah’s 32nd birthday. Dave and I already had a small party with him on Saturday. But last night, Noah’s dad,Tom, flew in from California to spend Noah’s birthday with him, just the two of them. Which I’m pretty sure has never happened before.

Which means Noah woke up this morning and remembered with a happy start that his dad was sleeping somewhere nearby on a blow up bed.

So this is what I’m thinking about and feeling sort of dizzily grateful for today. That some mom’s son turned out to be the kind of young man who’d sit by a creek and read a book. And that my son’s dad gets to spend the entire day with the baby we made at 18—now grown into an amazing young man.

Given how happy this makes me for Tom, it might as well be me.

Except I’ll pass on the blow up bed.