The Ripple Effect

Featured Image: “Flowers,” © Anne Helmond (own work), October 2011. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. (license)

Several days ago, a constellation of circumstances coincided that prodded my little mind to begin agitating like the trusty, top-loading washer that I bought on sale from Sears when I moved into my first “grown up” apartment. One event rotated through my thoughts, then another, and glistening bubbles began to break open on the water’s flat, unassuming surface. Each one was effervescent and shiny, reflecting rainbows of light across a delicate, tense, shifting film of shimmering soap. If I tried to hold onto any slight notion too tightly, it vanished with a soft “pop,” leaving me with nothing but an eye of soapy water. With a slow blink, I gazed again at the rising suds as they coalesced…

Something was stirring… as the tiny ripples of many disparate eventualities effervesced, their distinctive rainbows mingling into radiant beams…

Many weeks ago, my friend, Nel, sent me a small arrangement of flowers. There was a bit of hassle involved in the delivery, due to the conflicting schedules of the florist van driver and me, but in the end, it all worked out. The delivery person left the flowers in the leasing office of the apartment complex where I live, and I picked them up the following day. Of the three women who work as property managers, Lisa was the only one there that day. I explained that the flowers were from a friend back home and read the attached card, “Something beautiful for someone beautiful.”

“Aw, that’s so sweet,” Lisa observed, sentimentally. Then, with a hint of wistfulness, she added, “Nobody ever sends me flowers.” There was a twinge at my heartstrings as she spoke and a single, pizzicato note reverberated into the universe. I really should buy her some flowers, I thought.

That good intention succumbed to the busyness of my routine, the other demands of my life, this errand, and that whim. I was always pressed for time; I always produced some other excuse. I always told myself, Tomorrow, or The next time, or Today just isn’t a good day. Deep down, there was also the fear of how such an overture might be received. What would Lisa think? Would she think that I wanted some favor? Would she think that I was crazy?

Often, I tell myself that I am an obnoxious, irritating, and demanding tenant. I tell myself that the management staff consider me a difficult and unreasonable person. On more than one occasion in the past six years, Lisa and her two colleagues, Cindy and Mara, as well as the very kind and responsive maintenance worker, Hal, were exposed to me hovering at a rather heightened pitch of existence as I attempted to manage rather monumental and prolonged life stressors. At times, my abilities to cope and self-soothe were less-than-ideal. Although at other opportunities, I always paused time to smile and chat, to ask about their days and their weekend plans, or to inquire about their families, my self-portrait resembled a shrill, shrewish woman, unhinged and unbalanced. Would they just think I was trying to make up for being so high-strung and neurotic?

Then, on an unremarkable Tuesday afternoon, I was picking up yet another box (after ordering yet another book). Mara looked like she was coming to the end of a very rough day. Her face was tired and lined, and even though her eyeshadow twinkled and she smiled pleasantly, the slump of her shoulders betrayed the truth behind her cheerful, “Hello!” I remarked on the sunshine outside and the fact that in fifteen minutes she could leave the office behind to drink up the beautiful weather. She sighed, the corners of her mouth turning up a bit, but her shoulders collapsed even more. I remembered my intention to buy flowers for Lisa, and it occurred to me that Mara could probably use some flowers to brighten her day, too.

bubbles
bubbles,” © tim (own work), October 2007. CC BY 2.0. (license)

My compassion for Mara and Lisa might very well have died right there. However, the very next day, another happenstance stirred my too-often shallow, self-absorbed heart. I was perusing a story about living with integrity written by the talented Eli Pacheco on his wonderful Coach Daddy blog. I felt the inspiration to recommit myself to the LIVING of my values, and I told Eli as much in a responding comment. Driving to work, I entertained myself with contemplations of love, compassion, empathy, and wholeheartedness… and within an hour of sitting at my desk, the distractions of the day drove out all of those blissful ideals.

On my lunch break, without reason, but possibly because I was feeling even more weary and depressed than usual, I decided to head home rather than adhere to my usual routine of eating at my desk. It was only because I stepped away from the office that I thumbed my cellphone off of “airplane mode,” and skimmed my WordPress alerts. There was a message from Eli. “I want to know how your day goes!” it read. Weird, I thought. Why would Eli care about my day? It took a solid minute or two of scrolling to remember the post from the morning and to recall its impact on me at 6am. Finally, the soapy water was starting to froth.

At the end of the day, how am I going to leave the world a better place than I found it this morning? I asked myself. I sat with this question all afternoon. As I made my way home, the song playing on the strings of my heart sounded like, “Flowers for Lisa, Cindy, and Mara. Buy flowers. They might need cheering up.” All of my reasons against this course of action percolated under the surface, but I chose to follow the path of vulnerability instead. At the market down the street, I found three small pots of blooms, one yellow, one orange, and one a vibrant purple. Tentatively, I parked the car in front of the leasing office, and precipitously balancing the pots in my petite hands, I stepped over the threshold.

As it turned out, Mara wasn’t the only one who was exhausted and overworked. They were all busy and burdened with the many demands of multiple spring move-ins and move-outs. Mara explained that her son was on mid-semester break, and she was planning to take vacation to spend time at home with him, but given the demands in the office, she didn’t think she would be able to get away. I think it meant something to them that someone took the time to notice them, to ask how they were doing, and to care. The bright flowers were a bright spot in their day, which became a bright spot in my day.

Turning to leave, I couldn’t help but marvel at the chain of happenchance that resulted in a single, shared moment. Isn’t it wonderful, I thought, the effects that can manifest from one, seemingly insignificant act of kindness? In my mind, Nel and Eli deserved equal credit for planting the seeds of compassion and connection that peeked forth a tender, green shoot that afternoon.

Today, I am making an extra effort to smile at every person I pass. Maybe that person will smile at the next person, who will smile at the next person, who will change the life of someone in need.

Echinops Bubble
Echinops Bubble,” © Tom Blackwell (own work), September 2010. CC BY-NC 2.0. (license)

Mending Rifts

Featured Image: “Love,” © Lisa Ruokis (own work), May 2005. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. (license)

Last month, I really enjoyed participating in the Three-Day Quote Challenge. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I thought I might continue to write about a quote now or then if one happened to be particularly rattling my soul.

Lately, it is these words from Desmond Tutu that I can’t seem to shake…

“Without forgiveness, there’s no future.” ~ Desmond Tutu

When I contemplate this quote, it stirs many different reactions. I think of the forgiveness that could bring healing to families, the forgiveness that could put an end to divisions between neighbors and communities, the forgiveness that might open conversations and lead to cooperation and peace among nations. Mostly, though, I think about the forgiveness that I battle to find within myself.

I struggle to forgive myself for all my imperfections. Even though I can cite a list of reasons why I am a worthy human being who is good enough just as she is, precious to God, full of love, harboring an inner light and a little spark of the divine, when I peel back all the layers and explore the deepest recesses of my unconscious thoughts, my core beliefs remain, “I’m not good enough. I’ll never be good enough. I must work harder.” I am constantly trying to prove my dignity and value to myself, which is a futile exercise, because no matter how hard I work, it’s never enough. The entire enterprise is overwhelming and exhausting.

There are two other people that I struggle hardest to forgive, and my inability to let go of our painful histories is a torment. Some wounds are deep, and they continue to bleed over years and decades. My heart aches to forgive, but it also won’t let me forget. Slowly, I am beginning to consider the idea that forgiving does not mean approving of wrongs, hurts, and traumas. A person’s unconscionable actions remain unacceptable even once the forgiveness is bestowed, but healing can happen anyway.

When God forgives me, it doesn’t mean that my sins didn’t matter, and it doesn’t mean that what I did wasn’t wrong. My sins always matter, and what is inherently wrong cannot be reclassified. Instead, God pours out his incomprehensible mercy, proving that his perfect love far surpasses my weakness and failings. He doesn’t condone my actions, but he accepts my imperfection, and then he drowns out my wrongs with his love.

If I withhold forgiveness, the future that I am destroying is my own. Dwelling in pain, loss, and bitterness is like slowly sipping on poison. I long to acknowledge that while I am not the person I want to be, I am worthy enough to love myself just as I am. While I don’t approve of some hurtful things that happened in the past (and continue to happen in small ways today), I want to be able to forgive the people who are important to me. Maybe this whole forgiving thing is a continual process. I’m not sure how to begin, but love seems like a good place to start.

The Daisy Follows Soft the Sun
The Daisy Follows Soft the Sun,” © Cam Miller (own work), July 2014. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. (license)

A Bit About Orthorexia

Featured Image: “Hope,” © Forest Wander (own work), June 2012. CC By-SA 2.0. (license)

In a given week, I read dozens of blog posts, news feeds, and articles (in both popular and scientific press) about eating disorders, mental health, or recovery. Usually, I pass along the particularly good ones to friends who are also in recovery or colleagues I think might find them interesting. However, I do link a couple resources on my “Favorites” and ED-specific pages, and now there is one more to add…

There isn’t an overwhelming amount of stuff out there about orthorexia. It isn’t an eating disorder that is officially recognized as a distinct diagnosis or entity. In truth, few people with eating disorders ever present with “textbook” features. My own blend of disordered eating began as restriction with episodic binging and morphed into what was ultimately diagnosed as binge eating disorder. It was after I finally confessed to my restricting tendencies that my nutritionist began to explore my extreme fears related to food and my orthorexia. Early in the course of my disorder, my behaviors closely mirrored anorexia. When a friend of mine sat me down in April 2014 to broach the topic of an eating disorder with me for the first time in stark seriousness, she hauled out the DSM IV and flipped to the page describing bulimia. Binge eating disorder wouldn’t receive its own unique designation until DSM V.

There is a great deal of overlap when it comes to eating disorders, but that doesn’t make the disease any less real or the stakes any less serious for those suffering from a condition that is “not otherwise specified.”

http://www.denverpost.com/lifestyles/ci_29391440/when-some-people-dont-believe-your-eating-disorder

A link to the article is also added to my “Orthorexia” page. For more eating disorder and mental health resources, visit my “Favorites” page.

Transitioning

Featured Image: “SPRING BUDS ROBIN,” © Mary Shattock (own work), February 2015. CC BY-SA 2.0. (license)

On Tuesday, a week ago, the sun broke through the clouds and illuminated the landscape in color. It chased away the muted tones of winter with a stiff gust, sending a scattering of dead leaves, a few old seed pods, and the detritus of sand and salt into gutters and crevices, making way for something fresh and new. The temperature climbed above 70 F for the first time, hinting impishly at the changes to come. My soul sighed with the gentle whispers of early spring. My breath rose and fell in a placid rhythm with the warm, radiating light as it crossed its zenith and slowly, subtly dipped toward the horizon. At the most western edge of a time zone, before any adjustment for Daylight Saving, that ball of brilliance didn’t complete its setting until a few minutes before the hands of the clock marked 7 pm. For a hesitant instant, the world was cast into a dim twilight, and then… darkness.

In the morning when I woke and pulled back my blinds, the light of day was already broken open, and a cacophony of birdsong greeted me. For the first time in 2016, it was warm enough at the beginning of the day to heave open the heavy, sliding glass door leading to the patio and the little pond beyond. The cool breeze tickled my cheek, and I listened to the low, resonant notes of the wind chimes while I ate my oatmeal and sipped my coffee.

Yes, spring is here. The transition from winter to the season of longer days and warmer weather is invigorating. Winter possesses its own unique, precious beauty, but by March I am invariably weary. My eyes grow too accustomed to the palate of the season, and I begin to see only drabness and dullness where once I appreciated the simplistic nakedness of those spare and stark months. Yet, even as I feel my heart fluttering happily with the wings of the birds that are flitting overhead, I acknowledge this truth… transitions are hard. I am so grateful. I am overwhelmed by the blessing it is to be able to welcome spring with joy and delighted expectation. It is only on account of my painful struggle through this transition last year that I can rally the confidence to be comforted by the melting away of this present March.

A person might wonder what could possibly be so distressing about the arrival of spring and summer. The fact of the matter was that I knew how to “be in recovery” in the cold and dark, when the whole world around me was in a state of hibernation, but I knew nothing of how to be out in the light. As the days lengthened, I grew increasingly scared, overwhelmed, anxious, dissatisfied, disappointed, and edgy. At times, my fear of summer was so intense that I was reduced to hyperventilation and tears. Evenings were particularly difficult, when the sun would hang above the horizon for hour after uncomfortable hour. Why should it matter whether I ate dinner while it was daylight or dark? But it did. The world outside my window was coaxing me to join it, and I was terrified.

My friends and neighbors peeled off their parkas and sweaters and resumed their warm-weather hobbies. All about me, Vanillasville stirred from its deep slumber and took to the streets and sidewalks. As I drove to and from work, the grocery store, church, my therapist’s office, or the coffee shop, I saw people running, walking, biking, pushing strollers, laughing, smiling, playing… living. I enjoyed my safe, protected, indoor life. It was familiar, and suddenly it felt threatened. I didn’t know how to cope out there. Like a bird whose cage door was finally opened after a long captivity, I clung to the perch I knew while crying out mournfully, staring at the freedom that lay just beyond the threshold I was too frightened to cross.

P7177076
Fugl i bur (du må vel være sur),” © Erik (own work), July 2011. CC BY 2.0. (license)

It would be wonderful if I could tell a nice, neat story of pushing my boundaries, venturing into the unfamiliar, and discovering an amazing, incredible world. Such a tale would be a lie, though. In some ways, I suppose I did challenge myself, bit by bit. I learned to love the merriment of summer gradually the more I ventured out. However, the transition was incredibly painful in every respect – mentally, emotionally, and, particularly, physically. It was rough. It sucked. And I survived. I grew, I learned, and I came to a better understanding of myself.

One of the many pieces of the intricate puzzle of my transition was my relationship with my body. How active could I be? What could I tolerate? After so many injuries and so much illness, I viewed myself as fundamentally broken, and I continued to suffer a great deal of both physical and psychological pain. It took a tremendous leap of faith for me to stop exercising when I entered partial hospitalization in late November. December, January, and February allowed my body an opportunity to rest and heal. For the first time in my entire life, I experienced bodily stillness. Incrementally, the sedentariness that began as tortuous became reassuring. Breaking free of that static inertia was even more difficult, because I placed the weight of my recovery on the structure of my routine. It would be impossible to provide a detailed description of what forcing my way forward felt like. At one moment, I was filled with hope, anticipating a quick rejoining of the “normal” world. The next afternoon, I would be tearfully hunched on the floor, massaging my feet, lamenting the plantar fasciitis that would never get better and all the activities I would never be able to enjoy, lost in complete despair. Every step was a struggle. Literally. With the dedicated, compassionate help of my therapist, my psychiatrist, and some close friends, I continued to place one foot in front of another. Their patience, diligence, and empathy were astounding, especially when considered in retrospect. I was panicky, needy, and often unreasonable or irrational. The journey was slow and agonizing, but by the end of the summer, I was able to walk without pain. Likewise, the lingering symptoms from my year-long war with a chronic, relentless gastrointestinal illness were finally, miraculously abating, almost exactly a year after my treatments themselves concluded.

After coming through those trials, I find myself with increased confidence and a foundation upon which to build my hope. Whatever disruption, inconvenience, or discomfort may arise, I know that it is but a little swell in the great sea of life. I know that I am adaptable, and that I can change with the season. After weathering one storm, I understand what it feels like to be tossed about, and I know how to tolerate that distress. I know that the storms don’t last. Yes, transitions are hard – even the good ones. For those of you who may be struggling with a transition, big or small, know that the sun is coming out again. It’s a warm, radiant, spring sun. It’s just hidden behind the stormy clouds.

Welcome, spring!

“For I know well the plans I have in mind for you – oracle of the Lord – plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
duckling,” © kittykat2682 (own work), December 2010. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. (license)

Speeding

Featured Image: “SPEED,” © Andreina Schoeberlein (own work), September 2013. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. (license)

Confession. I’m a speeder. Nearly the first lesson of driving that I gleaned, right after 1) “Always fasten your seatbelt,” and 2) “Keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road,” was 3) “The speed limit is just a suggestion.” Even before I was old enough to imagine myself with a learner’s permit, there was lead in my foot. I was the daughter of a world-class speeder. I was imbued with the genes and infused with the habits of a world-class too-much-to-do-er, always-running-late-er, never-good-enough-er perfectionist. It turned out that perfectionism did not extend to obeying the rules of the road, though. In fairness, I was also a daughter of the cinema and the silver screen. An epic car chase sent my heart racing and filled my arteries with fire.

In the days before I started down the path of my gradual, eye-opening introduction to my emotions and the painful, repeated practice of identifying them and permitting myself to fully experience them, those adrenaline rushes were about as good as it got. However, when I returned from partial hospitalization, waking up each day and waging the ferocious battle of recovery was a sufficient amount of high-drama for me. To the best of my ability, I made a conscious decision to eliminate negative and destructive influences in my life. It began with violent and graphic television. The daily tumult of emotions that flooded me from the moment I first stirred until I sank into the blissful reprieve of sleep were difficult enough to sort through, name, and tolerate. I didn’t need to go hunting for thrills. I imagined my mind as a fragile and impressionable place. Like a freshly planted garden, it needed both careful cultivation and grooming as well as protection from the elements of the exterior world. I meticulously guarded it from raging storms and hungry critters that might trample, wash out, or nibble away the first buds of new growth.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)

Whittling away distractions and unnecessariness, dropping back to part-time work hours, I strove to ground myself in simplicity. One of the issues that I grappled with was my chronic lateness and resultant speeding. At the same time, I was attempting to train myself to distinguish between actual needs and what I told myself that I needed. For example, if I didn’t finish all the laundry on Saturday, the world would not end. I would not be able to look at the empty laundry basket at the end of the day with the satisfaction of being the perfect laundress, but I would stand a better chance of being on time for my morning yoga class, because I wasn’t trying to squeeze in another load as I raced out the door. I was trying to incorporate imperfectionism into the fiber of my existence. For a while, it worked with some struggle. I consciously did less, and I left myself more time for what I valued as truly important. However, whenever I walked past the still-full laundry basket with my yoga mat in hand, I felt pangs of agitation. I didn’t give up my anxiety-fueled, perfectionistic, must-always-be-in-control-of-everything, must-finish-everything-I-start, no-minute-can-go-unwasted, rest-and-unfinished-laundry-are-for-lesser-people patterns passively. No. I waged a bloody, excruciating war against my dysfunctional, maladaptive natures.

Slow Down
Slow Club,” © Thomas Hawk (own work), April 2010. CC BY-NC 2.0. (license)

 “Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset.”

~ St. Francis de Sales

As the roots of recovery twisted more deeply into the fresh earth, I gradually allowed myself to confront some of the influences that I was rigidly excluding from my life. I never returned to watching intense film or TV. I tried it, but the appeal was gone. Though, for better or worse, I slackened in my battle against my “doing” self. Some previous behaviors slowly, almost imperceptibly, began to re-emerge. In certain ways, these few weeds brought with them a bit of balance. I hurtled back into the world from which I removed myself. There was a very fine line between the isolation I inflicted on myself when I was neurotically enslaved by my eating disorder and depression and the segregation from a more challenging, active, engaged (i.e., busy) lifestyle that I imposed on myself while finding my footing in recovery. During those early months of recovery, I danced rather gracelessly along that boundary. Through a combination of conscious decision-making and a whole lot of tripping, I partly pushed and partly stumbled my way into a more participatory way of living. As I became acclimated and my confidence in my abilities grew, I found myself setting laundry-washing records… and running later and later to yoga and other appointments.

Light Speed
Light Speed,” © RoryCB (own work), January 2014. CC BY 2.0. (license)

Then, this morning, I caught myself driving 75 mph in a 55 mph zone on my way to mass. Ironically, compared to the space I created for myself to make that same trek each Sunday morning over the past few months, there was time to spare. Speeding was not required to ensure my punctuality. Yet, I found myself racing along, jostling to maneuver around slower traffic. At that realization, it was hard to deny that speeding was become habit, once again. At least part of my old self was revealed. I was drinking in anxiety and adrenaline and choking myself on its bitter poison.

I want to hold space for myself. I long to be still and silent. I ache to allow myself my imperfections and accept my incompleteness. At the same time, I understand the strengths that my driven, striving, grasping self brings to my whole. She is the one who gets stuff done – both in the laundry room and in my recovery. She is the boundary-pusher and the limit-stretcher. If only there wasn’t such a constant war! If only I didn’t feel stretched as taught as a piano wire by the tension between these retcher. elf brings to my whole self. She is the one whotwo disparate halves. Maybe, the balance hangs somewhere in the middle. I am praying for the grace to find it!

“When you encounter difficulties and contradictions, do not try to break them, but bend them with gentleness and time.”

~ St. Francis de Sales

man on wire
man on wire,” © Alan (own work), March 2010. CC BY-NC 2.0. (license)

Joy in a Broken Window

Featured Image: “Snowy Highway,” © Taber Andrew Bain (own work), December 2007. CC BY 2.0. (license)

As I type away, I am gazing out the big picture window of a downtown coffee shop. The street beyond is drowning in sunlight. The temperatures outside are expected to reach 60⁰F (15.5 C) this afternoon, and the sidewalk is full of people drinking up the first sips of spring. Yet, the forecast for the week ahead includes, of all things, more snow.

Just a mere three days ago, the fluffy white stuff was falling gracefully from a cloud-obscured sky while I drove along my morning commute. I rolled down the automatic window to greet the gate attendant as I entered the complex enclosing my office building, and as I pulled up on the little, black button to raise the glass again, I heard a tremendous crashing sound from the door. “Please tell me that was a rock kicked up by another car,” I thought to myself. There were no passing cars, though, and I knew that something was broken. I pushed the button down again, apprehensively. The electric motor made a strained, whirring sound, but the pane lowered all the way. When I pulled up once more, the whirring gave way to a choked clank, and the window stuck halfway. The gentle, wet snow continued to swirl toward the earth as I drove slowly onward. A few stray flakes fluttered onto my lap as an icy wind stung my eyes.

My first reaction was to think, “It happens. The car is eight years old, after all. Stuff breaks.” I pulled into a parking space, the wind whipping across the crest of the hill and through the open gap. “Good thing I know where we keep the heavy-duty garbage bags. Really good thing I borrowed that packaging tape from J the other day! I bet neither of us would’ve guessed I’d be using it to tape a trash bag over my window!” I mused. Locking the door, the irony of the action bemusing me, I continued my inner contemplations. “It’s still really early. Maybe the dealership will have service appointments available today if I call right away. Good thing work is slow this week, and my schedule is so flexible. Maybe the repair guys can pop that huge ding out of the passenger side while they’re fixing the window!” Someone with a white door inflicted quite the dent into the dark blue mental of my front right a few weeks ago, and I was meaning to call for an estimate on that repair, anyway. My imagination chugged on. “If it won’t take long, I could just wait while they work. I could sit at the dealership and read my book! That would be way better than work. They have free coffee there!” It surprised me that I was in such a good mood given the moisture that was collecting on my leather seats and the money that I was about to shell out. Even the negative “Oh no!” reactions of my coworkers when I told them what happened couldn’t dampen the glow of joy and gratitude in my heart.

It turned out that there were indeed service appointments available at the dealership that very morning. Driving along the highway in the far right lane, trying to limit merging as best I could, intermittently craning my head to look over my left shoulder and ducking low to peer out the half-glass at the bottom of the window, I tried to tune out the deafening noise of the double-layered black trash bag buffeting against the air currents. “This really isn’t too bad, I permitted. “I’m remarkably warm and dry for being protected by just these two, thin sheets of plastic.” There weren’t many people on the road, thankfully. The wintry landscape to either side of the highway was picturesque, and I reveled in its stunning beauty. Peace, joy, and gratitude washed over me.

It occurred to me that a busted car window was more of an inconvenience than an actual suffering. Nothing truly bad happened, and I wasn’t afflicted with any pain or loss. Yet, it also dawned on me that in the not-too-distant past, even such relatively simple inconveniences threw me into fits of anxiety and distress. Instead, on that day, I viewed my broken window as an odd but marvelous gift. I wondered if my sense of calm and my ability to find delight in my circumstances was similar in some small, barely-related manner, to what so many holy people described when reflecting on the joy they found in the hardships they experienced when they were living a life dedicated to love, service, and Christ. I certainly would never begin to draw any parallels between my broken car window and their lives, by any means. The situations couldn’t be more disparate. There was no sacrifice involved on my part in leaving work for a morning to drive to the auto dealer. I definitely wasn’t serving some higher purpose or worthy cause. Yet, there was something loving and accepting in my heart that morning, and it made all the difference. I found myself wondering… It must start somewhere, right? Even if it is such a little thing?

 “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Day 126 - For Rob
Day 126 – For Rob…” © Kate Sumbler (own work), February 2007. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. (license)

Leaping

Featured Image: “Der Nebel am Morgen 2,” David Schiersner (own work), September 2015. CC BY 2.0. (license)

It seems as if, in some ways, Leap day possess an eerie, mystical, time-warping quality. It holds a place on our calendars because of decisions made by Roman emperors wielding absolute authority thousands of years ago. We still measure time and space by their ancient governance. Their influence remains ever-present and barely noticed, but on one day every four years, this decree by Julius Caesar almost bends the universe.

There was something strange and secretive in the air when I sucked in my first breath of the morning on February 29th. It felt as though the uniquely extra day hung suspended in its own plane of existence. To step out of bed was to cross into another dimension, one that could only be entered every four years and could only be dwelt in for a brief twenty-four hours. At the stroke of midnight, the portal would close, and all would be just as it was before. While in this dimension, though, February 29th, 2012 happened only yesterday, and tomorrow would give rise to the year 2020.

Day 60
Day 60,” © Matt Preston (own work), February 2012. CC BY-SA 2.0. (license)

On Monday morning, I turned myself out of bed and placed my feet on the carpeted floor. It was the same beige-colored, worn pile that I tread the previous day. It was also the place where I knelt four years ago and tearfully begged God to bring an end to my suffering. One way or another. That winter was a brutal one. It was particularly snowy, and the burden of flu and respiratory illness was heavy on everyone. The bitter sting of the cold and the darkness of the shortened days were nothing compared to the hatred, pain, anger, and fear that I was carrying in my heart. For reasons that would be too complex to delve into, work was unforgiving during that month of February 2012. I was logging 100-hour weeks, and I held the life and death of people who trusted me in my hands every day. My own life teetered precariously on a ledge. Self-care was an unknown concept for me for most of my life. At that time, pain, suffering, and anxiety were measures of effort. And, oh, was I exceeding maximum effort. Yet, it was unfathomable to imagine relinquishing even a modicum of control or resting for even the briefest moment. Death was preferable to showing any weakness. Keenly aware of all my inadequacies and failures, I would rather dig my own grave and cover myself over than ever allow another soul to perceive me as less than perfect. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, I berated myself incessantly. Nothing that I did was ever good enough, and I hated myself with a venomous passion. Nothing that anyone else did ever satisfied my standards, either, and I hated the world.

Disappointment and failure were my constant companions. Suicidal? Yes. To yield to those thoughts would be to accept my defeat, though. It was the only time that I ever actually retreated to the bathroom, locked the door behind me, and slid to the floor, collapsing into a heaving pile of tears (while at work, at least). Then, I washed my face, and I carried on. Though I screamed inside, “Why won’t anyone do anything? Why won’t anyone help me?” I never asked. I never reached out, and I never let anyone past my barricades. The cracks were clearly visible. A mentor pulled me aside one day, as the pace was lessening, and advised me that I needed to pull it together in the future. Raging and seething and destroying myself internally, I carried on. Amazingly, astoundingly, that month was not my “rock bottom.” I binged occasionally, but my disordered eating never reached the severity that it would two years later when I did finally hit my “rock bottom.” In the interceding interval, my situation dramatically improved, and my life became much more manageable for a time. It would take a great deal more than the suffering of February 2012 to bring about my near-destruction.

Reflecting on that month, I was astounded by my strength. My main coping skills were avoidance, denial, anger, hatred, psychological self-abuse, and my disordered eating. They were all I knew. Yet, I not only survived, I excelled at my job. The weight of the obstacles I faced was crushing, and I overcame them by sheer determination and the force of my spite. In the bizarre universe of leap days, I found a backwards gratitude for my poisonous emotions and my self-destructive thoughts and behaviors. They kept me alive, and they made me more than successful. The course I was on led me down the path that put me in a place where, when my “rock bottom” happened, I was able to obtain the help that I needed to begin to recover. Reaching across the curvilinear span of years, I saw the hand of God artistically weaving all the pieces together. Artistic like Picasso’s cubist works – a jumble of fractured shapes coming together to form something more. Getting help required recognizing my toxic emotions for what they were, methods of self-protection and avoidance. More devastatingly, it meant showing my imperfections to others and embracing my complete lack of control and my utter terror in the face of profound uncertainty. To make a trite analogy, it took a desperate leap of faith. It didn’t feel quite as graceful as an orchestrated leap, however. It was more akin to a pathetic and despairing flinging of my weakened, broken body into the abyss. The journey from that point was painful in a different way, but in the last two years, I finally started to let go of all of the bile I was clinging to. Finally, I began to love. On February 29th, 2016, I found myself with an open, mindful, grateful heart, awed and inspired by my relentless, merciless, fractured, persevering, gunner self of yesterday.

When I awake on February 29th, 2020, will I gaze upon the same white, textured ceiling? Will my toes curl into a slightly more worn, beige carpet? Will I know myself any better than I do today? Will I be the same person that I am right now? Where will I find myself on this confusing, circuitous, confounding journey? The vortex is closed now, and I am placing one foot at a time, trying to find the next best thing. Until tomorrow, then…

Tomorrow ripe
tomorrow ripe / Morgenreif,” © David Schiersner (own work), February 2014. CC BY 2.0.