Courage to last into the night

8 02 2011

When I first began Project Rest it was formatted around the assumption, learned via a tapestry of life woven with threads of loneliness and dyed in various shades of anxiety, that peace was fleeting, ephemeral, gone almost before I even realized it was there. It seemed only natural to assume that all of my days when self-confidence and assurance were the dominant themes could be neatly contained within a bulleted list—hell, the memory of an entire day in which I lived free of the shackles of insecurity felt like a very distant thing, somehow wrapped up in the (irretrievably lost?) innocence of youth.

I now have a new reality to share, and share, and share again. In fact, in the last few days I have repeatedly found myself in the very strange position of having to force myself to stop talking and allow the person I’m sitting across from to get any words into the conversation at all. That’s ridiculous! and so foreign to my typical style of relating. What could possibly make me so gabby?

Since the early morn of Thursday last I have been defined, buoyed up by, and reveling in an unremitting wave of the purest form of joy I can ever recall experiencing. I have felt courageous. I have been empowered to step into situations and conversations I have spent my entire life learning to avoid. I have felt my own emotions and those of my friends more deeply than I even know what to do with—without ever feeling lost or overwhelmed. I’ve felt excited by and drawn into uncertainty and confusion. And most incredible and atypical of all, I have experienced no shame in being myself even when it means I’m acting a fool, when I’m opening myself up to rejection and criticism. For those of you keeping track, I am now at five contiguous days of boldness. Five glorious, unbroken days of blessing. That’s more time than I had the entire month of January (and that’s even counting the three-day trip to Oregon as one whole block, which it wasn’t. At least not in the same way—though I felt at peace and comfortable in the presence of those people I did not feel bold. There were still many moments when fear stifled my voice). This influx of assurance can all be attributed to a deeply paradoxical choice I made last week:

I chose to be gut-wrenchingly vulnerable again, and again, and again.

Thursday I did nothing but empty myself in a variety of situations and with a variety of people. The day kicked off with my first visit to my therapist, a stranger and a man (so much harder for me to open up to!) at whose feet I laid my story of deepest shame. I wept and I dissociated in turns. I was held well. A quick bowl of soup and a few words in my journal later and I dove into the first moments of a coffee shop conversation that would end up lasting nearly three hours and cover so very much of what it means for me to live in my own skin, from my overwhelming insecurities around invitation and initiation to my passionate love for all things mountainous. Once again, I was held well—and this time I had the abundant joy of returning the blessing and finding solidarity in shared experience. Jump to the evening and we find me facing my toughest test yet: I was asked straight up by a person whose (often abrasive) forthrightness typically leaves me feeling voiceless and incapable, “what is up with your dis-ease in speaking?!” Here I experienced the first true fork in my road; my previous two conversation partners created such a safe space that opening up seemed only natural. This question did not feel safe. I could flee, I would usually flee, and life could continue on as usual. Or I could stand my ground and give voice to the gaping wound in my soul. Damn it all if I didn’t choose the latter…and I can only say thank you to the two people of my daytime experience whose gentleness gave me a courage to last into the night. My story brought tears to the eyes of my interrogator and a bonding in that moment that could never have happened had I deflected the attention to safer, more familiar territory.

I have made that choice to bare my soul continuously from then to now, and the riskier that choice feels the greater the payoff when it leads to new, holy, ground. I have spoken into silences that would normally be so familiar as to feel like home. I have volunteered myself instead of hiding. I have sat in the spotlight of Practicum—no, more than sat; I have stepped into that spotlight—without fading into the background. And as my ever-present voice of self-condemnation has faded to a whisper I’ve been able to truly hear what those around me are saying. I’ve felt their sorrow as my own without losing hold of my joy. I’ve shared something of that joy, disseminated a tidbit of my excitement into a community that is so often strung-out and weary. I’ve allowed their words to truly matter for my life, and in so doing I’ve seen my own glory reflected in their eyes.

I have drunk from the cup of Heaven, and it is sweet.

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