Cracked open by a sweat lodge

space for hard secrets

I want to tell you about last weekend’s sweat lodge, but each time I sit down to write something, I delete it. The words just don’t come out right. This was an experience beyond words.

What I’m about to share doesn’t come close to expressing it, but it’s the closest I’ve come…

It was intense. It was emotional. It was hard. It was frightening. It challenged me in ways I didn’t expect to be challenged.

I didn’t last inside the whole time. It was too much for me – the tightness, the steam, the extreme heat, the intensity of the drumming and singing, the bodies too close together, the emotions, the fear, my own tendency toward claustrophobia, the memories of trauma. I came out, sat (shaking and weeping) for awhile, and thought I’d go back in, but I couldn’t. When I climbed back inside the open door, my whole body went into panic mode and I had to remove myself.

All I could do was sit outside and weep. I wept and wept. I couldn’t stop the weeping. There was so much that my body wanted to release. Some of it was my own fear, trauma, and grief, and some of it was as ancient as the stones at the centre of the sweat lodge. I was carrying something bigger than myself.

And then, in between the body-wrenching sobs, there was something else. An invitation. A calling. A longing.

There was a whisper in the steam and the drumming and the tears. “It’s time,” it said. “It’s your turn to step forward and become a warrior. It’s your turn to be brave, to be fierce, and to be strong. The earth that you sit on needs you to be. The people you gather in circle need you to be. Your racism-scarred city needs you to be. Everyone is waiting for you to be a warrior.

“But first you have to face this fear. First you have to hold this grief. First you have to prove to yourself that you are strong enough for what this work will require of you.”

That’s why I spent the next few days in silence. Because the sweat lodge is asking much of me.

This is the first piece of writing that emerged, two days after the experience.

Invitation from a sweat lodge

Can you carry the sadness of the world
in your tattered basket
without being pulled in
and smothered by its hungry hands?

Can you hold the container for others,
tenderly weaving the edges so they hold fast,
while trusting that you are held
by invisible hands?

Can you create the space
where hard secrets and ancient tears
are shed like old snake skin
and left at your feet like an offering?

Can you enter the story
without the story consuming you?
Can you walk through the door
without losing your Self?

Can you crack open your heart
and let the tears flow
when the basket becomes too heavy
and the sadness needs to spill out through you?

Can you hold the inherited ache
of your burning sisters
and silenced mothers
without wounding your growing daughters?

Can you sit on the earth,
feel Her deep pain and betrayal
and let it vibrate through your body
without letting it shatter you?

Can you be the storycatcher,
the fire-eater,
the wound-carrier,
without being consumed by the flames?

Though I spent quite a bit of time in solitary silence after the sweat, I knew enough about this kind of deep journey work to know that I needed support. I sent a message to four people who would hold me from afar – an Indigenous elder, a reiki healer, a soulsister/mentor, and a co-host in conversations about trauma and grief. As soon as I shared it with them, I felt lighter and more able to move forward.

Those four women created a container to hold what I was going through. They prayed, they sent messages to check on me, and they cheered me on from afar.

Once again, I am reminded of how important these circles of support are. We need our communities. We need to serve as each other’s containers when we go through difficult journeys. We need to stand side-by-side as we do hard work. We need to find the people with whom, as the quote at the top of the page says, “we can sit down and weep and still be counted as warriors.”

I can become a warrior because I stand shoulder to shoulder with other warriors.

If you are on a similar journey, going deeper into your own calling, excavating the depths of your most authentic self, I want to help create a container for your growth. That’s why I’ve re-opened Pathfinder Circle. This feels like urgent work. We need more changemakers to stand shoulder to shoulder, holding each other when we are weak and cheering each other when we triumph.

It is my hope that six people who want to do deep work, to tap into their own longings and calling, will come together in a virtual space and support, challenge, and encourage each other. Will you be one of them?

What grows in the dark

We’ve found a rhythm, he and I. On beautiful Fall Saturdays, he says “let’s go fishing”, and I say “sure”. He grabs his fishing rod and tackle box, I grab my book, camera, and journal, we pack a lunch and drive to his favourite lake.

lyons lake

When we get there, he heads toward the dock, and I head into the woods. At some point, we meet for a shore lunch, but most of the day we enjoy our separate solitudes.

lyons lake 2Today after wandering as far as the path would take me, I found myself drawn into the shadows.

First it was a ladder of light climbing the moss on the side of a rock that pulled me away from the shore.     IMG_1496      IMG_1453   Then it was the lichen on a decaying branch. Like a tiny white forest perched precariously on a cliff.

IMG_1460The closer I looked, the more I marveled at the intricate beauty growing in the shadows.

My curiosity drew me further into the woods.

IMG_1475Crouching down in the moss, a whole world unfolded under my gaze.

There were mushrooms that must certainly house mythical creatures at dusk when humans have gone home.

IMG_1489There were mosses in a thousand shades of green.

Each a tiny tree, dwarfed in the shadows of the giant trees all around it.

IMG_1525My knees were soon green and moist with reverence.

There was no end to the beauty, no end to the shadows.

IMG_1527And as I marveled, I knew that I had opened an doorway into a universal truth.

I knew that it wasn’t only in the woods that wonder waits in the shadows.

IMG_1515Once again, the woods were teaching me, tapping me on the shoulder and saying “Pay attention. This is important.

“There is beauty in the shadows. Things grow there that you don’t expect.”

IMG_1496In the darkest of days, the unexpected shows up and offers grace.

Like mushrooms and lichens and moss, there is wonder and beauty and wholehearted life that is available to us when we open ourselves to growth in the midst of shadows.

p.s. If you want to learn more about the gifts we receive in the darkness, that will be the theme of one of the lessons in The Spiral Path: A Woman’s Journey to Herself.

The fourteen years since my son changed my life

Last week, our family held our annual celebration of my son’s short life. Every year, on the day that he was born (and died), we visit the common grave where his cremated remains are buried with those of many other stillborn babies. Some of us left mementos on the gravestone, some of us shed tears, and all of us wondered what he’d have been like as a fourteen-year-old.


the shared grave where Matthew is buried

And then we did what we always do – we went for ice cream. Because visits to graves are best followed with ice cream. Because it’s celebration and not just sorrow that marks the place he had in our lives.

Fourteen years ago, his short life ended quietly in the night, after I’d fallen asleep listening to lullabies. “Sleep sound in Jesus” played in my earbuds as I drifted off to sleep, trying to block the noises of the hospital. Some time after that, his heart stopped beating. In the morning, the ultrasound showed a lifeless baby. That afternoon, I gave birth in the usual labouring-through-pain way, knowing all the while that I was birthing death and not life. The next day we went home with empty arms. The next week my full breasts finally realized that there would be no babe suckling on them.

We’d tried so hard to save him. Three weeks earlier, the same doctor who delivered him had guided a young intern in the surgery that failed and resulted in my water breaking. After that, I’d spent most of my time in a hospital bed, trying to keep still to avoid labour, being injected with steroids to increase his development, and hoping against hope that he would beat the odds and survive.

Matthew's tiny clothes

Matthew’s tiny clothes

Now, fourteen years later, I look back on those three weeks and know that my life is different because of them.

When I landed in that hospital bed, something cracked open in my heart. Leading up to that time, I’d been on a trajectory toward “success”. I had a job with an impressive title, employees I enjoyed working with, two beautiful daughters, a good marriage, a house in the suburbs, a camper at the lake, and the kind of financial security most people envy. Suddenly though, when I could do nothing but sit quietly to try to save my baby, I came face to face with the truth about my life.

I felt empty.

My life was full, but my spirit was empty.

I’d followed a path that was not my own. I’d pursued a career that seemed like the right fit because of the way it allowed me to use my skills in writing, leadership, and communication, but I was telling the wrong stories. I was communicating about things that didn’t really matter to me. More importantly, though, I’d ignored my own spiritual well-being for the pursuit of wealth and success.

Those three weeks in the hospital awakened a spiritual longing in me. I began writing in my journal again. I prayed. I meditated. I had deep conversations with people about things that mattered. I sat in silence and listened to the whispers of the Spirit. Most of all, I paid attention.

“When you are stuck in a spiral, to change the aspects of the spin you only need to change one thing.” – Christina Baldwin

That hospital stay (and the grief that followed) changed the direction of my spiral. Outwardly, my life didn’t change dramatically right away (I stayed in that career for a number of years before I was ready to leap into something new), but inwardly everything changed. I started a quest that lead me to the work of Christina Baldwin, Ann LinneaMargaret Wheatley, and many other wise teachers. I began to explore the Feminine Divine and I fell in love with circles, spirals, labyrinths, and mandalas. I found opportunities to travel the world and to listen to women’s stories. I learned about The Circle Way and The Art of Hosting. I found the kind of friendships that fostered my spiritual quest and had lots and lots of meaningful conversations. I started teaching workshops on creative spirituality and self-discovery and eventually I launched my own business.

In all of that questing, something incredible happened. I found myself.

I discovered who I was when the masks were taken off, when the outward success didn’t matter anymore, and when I was honest about what I wanted in life. I discovered what was at the heart of my longing and I learned to pay attention. I have never looked back since.

Do I wish my son had lived? Of course I do. Do I regret that he lived such a short time and that his death changed my life? Of course I don’t. His death was the catalyst for an incredible journey that helped me find my way back to myself.

Ever since Matthew died, I’ve known that the impact of his short life was going to reach further than just me and my family. I knew that I would eventually write about his story and use it to help other women find their own paths back to themselves. I tried to write a book about it a few years ago, but then my mom died, and I wasn’t quite happy with the way the story was taking shape, so I set it aside and decided to wait until it felt more right.

But now, the story is burning in me and I know it’s time to share some of the wisdom I’ve gained in this 14 year quest.

I’m in the midst of creating a new program called The Spiral Path: A Woman’s Journey to Herself.

the artwork for The Spiral Path journal

the artwork for The Spiral Path journal

Inspired by the labyrinth, this simple online course will invite you to take an inward journey, spiraling closer and closer to your own authentic heart. It will encourage you to sink into the kind of stillness I had in that hospital room, where the longings you’ve been ignoring can finally be heard.

I’ll be launching it next week and the class will start November 1st. There will be 21 lessons that you can choose to receive all at once, once a day, or once a week. You’ll also have options for connecting with other women taking similar journeys. And I’m creating a special journal and some Story Stones that can serve as your companions on the journey.

I hope that you’ll consider stepping onto The Spiral Path. I feel confident that this could change your life. To be the first to hear about registration opening, add your name to my email list below. When you subscribe, you’ll be sent a link to download your free copy of A Path to Connection.

Also, if you love to write and want to learn how to do it in a more openhearted way, there is still space in the Openhearted Writing Circle that’s happening online on Saturday, October 4th.


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Women on a journey, women in lament

IMG_1042Something happens when women come into circle.

Tears flow.

It’s inevitable. When women feel held in a way they haven’t felt for a long, long time, their release valves open and the emotions they’d held tightly under their control begin to seep out through their eyes.

Something else happens after the tears begin to flow.

Women apologize.

Conditioned for most of their lives to distrust the tears and to see them as a sign of weakness, they worry that the tears won’t be welcome, that they’re inappropriate, that they communicate something they dare not communicate, or that the opening of that valve isn’t something they can undo and the tears will never stop. I see it every time I host a soul-opening class or retreat. Our tears trigger our shame and fear.

Women’s tears are a dangerous thing. They’re dangerous to the men (and women) who don’t know how to access their own emotions and who therefore think they’re being manipulated by others’ emotions. They’re dangerous to those who realize that women in touch with their emotions are harder to control. They’re dangerous to workplaces, schools, and churches that are built on structure, control, logic and order. They’re dangerous to those who release them because we don’t know where they will lead us or what they will shift in our lives.

Tears are dangerous because they open us up to emotions uncontrolled, secrets untold, stories unlived, and longings untapped.

But in that circle of women, if it is well hosted, tears are always welcome. Because we know – in our bones we know – that tears release us, they free us, they strengthen us, and they give us power. In last week’s circle (at Gather the Women‘s annual gathering), in fact, when we were invited to share an item that represented power in our lives, one women brought out a kleenex. “Because my tears give me power,” she said. Indeed.

So after we apologize out of our conditioning to do so, we loosen and relax into the tears and whatever else may come with them.

When women gather, some of the stories that bring tears are the stories about how our collective sisterhood, around the world and throughout the generations past, have been silenced, raped, murdered, and burned at the stake. For speaking out, for learning to drive, for challenging the patriarchy, for daring to follow their own spiritual paths, for being in the path of conflict, or simply for being women.

Last week those stories kept coming up in the opening circle and then in subsequent smaller circles. “We have generations of wounds,” some women said, “and we are afraid to cry about it in case we won’t know how to stop. We are afraid to cry because our tears have brought on the violence and sometimes even death.”

“We are watching our sisters die,” said others. “We are helpless in the face of those who are mutilating the genitals of our sisters in Ethiopia. We can do so little about the murdered and missing Indigenous women in Canada. We feel lost when we hear about young girls being sold into sexual slavery in India. We can do nothing about the young girls taken from their school by rebels in Nigeria.”

“We feel lost and helpless, but the only thing we know how to do is stuff in our emotions and carry on. We carry on because we are afraid to cry, afraid to care too much, afraid to truly allow ourselves to feel these deep wounds, afraid that we’ll be made fun of by those in control.”

At the end of a long day of hearing these stories, I felt weary and a little lost. I did what I almost always do – I carried my sadness into the woods. I walked up into the hills near the retreat centre, my shoulders weighted down with unresolved stories and unwept tears.

IMG_1084Up in the hills, I noticed an interesting thing. The hills were covered with low shrubs that had turned a brilliant shade of red (that I later learned were sumac) and had grown equally red seed clusters.

I stood on the path at the foot of a hill covered in red, and suddenly I didn’t see leaves anymore. Suddenly I saw a river of blood flowing down the hill.

It was the blood of centuries of women murdered and raped simply because they were women. It was the blood of the murdered and missing Indigenous women in my own country, the blood of the young women I met in Ethiopia who were beautiful and full of life when I met them and dead a few months later because they’d all been subjected to female genital mutilation with the same dirty knife, the blood of the women who’d been burned because their love of ritual and feminine spirituality was too dangerous and they were branded as witches, and the blood of so many other women all over the world who’ve suffered similar fates.

It was also my own blood, shed when a rapist climbed in my bedroom window and took my virginity away.

And it was the blood of Mother Earth, wounded by our corporate greed, destruction and insatiable hunger for her resources.

I stood there, at the foot of that river, and was suddenly overcome with emotion. I sat down at the base of a tree, surrounded by red, and I wept. I wept the unshed tears of my own stories. I wept for the women whose tears had dried up and who could cry no more. I wept for the way we’ve bottled up our tears, for the way we’ve let fear and shame keep us silent, and for the way we’ve been conditioned to accept our powerlessness in the face of so much brutality.

IMG_1077When the weeping subsided, I opened my journal and began to draw the river of blood. As I sketched, the words came to me… “The river of blood will heal this land.”

It didn’t make sense. How could the blood of our own woundedness heal anything? How can the victim be the healer?

I didn’t want to write it down, because I didn’t quite know what it meant and I resisted it. Perhaps I resisted because I was more inclined to look for blame and an external resolution than an internal path to healing.

But write it down I did. And suddenly the river was no longer the blood of pain and woundedness – it was the blood of menstruating women. The blood of birth and renewal. The blood of women’s power to co-create and regenerate. The blood of the new life that comes after the healing tears.

I leaned back on the tree and looked up at the sky. A large white cloud was above me and at the centre of that cloud was the cutout of a perfect blue heart. Love flowing down on me.

Across that heart flew a bird. A mourning dove – the symbol of forgiveness.

IMG_1068Wow. Forgiveness. That’s a tall order. Could I find it in myself and invite it in others?

I stood up and continued walking. Further along the path was a ravine – a dried up riverbed coming from the top of the hill. At the bottom of that ravine were broken sticks and pine cones. Just like the red leaves had become blood, those sticks and pine cones became the bones of generations of women who have been killed – some of whom have been and continue to be dragged from the river in my own home town in recent weeks. (Including Tina Fontaine, a 15 year old girl found in a plastic bag in the Red River, who had been exploited and murdered.)

I climbed down into the river, determined to carry some of those bones with me as reminders. As I began to climb out, dead shrubs reached out like hands pulling at my skirt, determined to keep me there along with the bones of my sisters. I knew it was partly my own story – the rape I suffered at the hands of an Indigenous man – trying to keep me trapped, trying to keep me in a place of deadness. But I also knew that I’d been through a long journey of forgiveness and had no more reason to stay at the bottom of that river.

After I left the hills and went back down to rejoin my sisters, I wondered what to do with my story. Should I share it with the other women or should I keep it to myself for my own meaning-making? I shared it with a few women over dinner, and they encouraged me to share it more broadly, but I still wasn’t convinced.

Part of me believed that I was meant to invite other women into the hills for their own weeping and path to healing, but I just wasn’t sure. That night I had a dream that I did just that, and it was a disaster. People kept interrupting us on their way to a cafeteria that had appeared on the hill. And none of the women felt free to release their emotions in such a busy place. There was no freedom, no healing, just busy people leading busy lives.

The next morning before breakfast, I went back up into hills to pray and ask for guidance about what I should do next.

When I got to the base of the river of blood, I felt compelled to walk up through the river to find the source. I climbed to what I thought was the top, and there was a large pile of trees that had been cut down. “That makes sense,” I thought. “The blood is flowing from what we have cut from the earth and cut from ourselves.”

But there was more hill ahead of me. I hadn’t reached the source. I kept climbing. This time, at the real summit, there was something much different. A circle of benches. A place where people come to heal. A place where people come to be in community and to speak from their most authentic stories. A place where people learn to forgive.

Ahhh… this is the healing circle that is pouring healing blood down on the hills. The womb of the mother out of which new life is birthed.

As I stood looking at the circle and taking in this new message, something happened that shook me to my bones and made me weep again. Very close and very loud – a single gunshot.

Suddenly I was terrified. Was I safe? Was there a hunter in these woods who would mistake me for a deer? Would my own blood be shed on this hill? Or was the hunter after a cougar I’d been told could be in these hills and I was at risk of both cougar attack and misplaced gunfire?

teepee Black HillsNear the circle was a teepee someone had built out of fallen logs. Full of emotion and fear, I crawled into the centre of the teepee. There I suddenly felt safe, held in the womb of the Great Mother. Surrounded by love and not fear.

Later that day, I knew what I needed to do. I needed to invite other women to the hill.

So I shared my story and said “for any of you who feel the need to weep with me, for all of women’s pain and for your own, join me at 4:00 and we will walk up the hill.”

Several said they’d join me. Others said they wouldn’t or couldn’t but that they would hold us in their prayers while we made the journey.

I had no idea what we’d do when we got up the hill, but I had a sense that we needed some kind of lament ritual, and that the journey up the hill needed to be treated like a pilgrimage or labyrinth walk – releasing, receiving, and returning. Some of the wise women who couldn’t make the hike up the hill gave me little words of wisdom. “Be sure to give them a way of weeping unhindered and safe – a shawl to place over their heads that shields them from everyone else.” “Take something with you to cleanse the space and to bring people back to a place of groundedness afterward, like sage perhaps.”

Gradually, trusting that I was given the wisdom I needed to host this pilgrimage, I leaned into it. When the women gathered, I invited Tubears, a wise elder from Reno, to offer a prayer for all of us. We stood holding hands as she prayed, and then I invited each woman to express which stories were on their hearts – their own or other women’s. “Start a sentence with ‘I carry with me the stories of…’ and share one little piece of what you’re carrying up the hill.”

And then, in silence, we walked up the hill. At the foot of the river of blood, I invited them to wander in silence for awhile and to simply be open to what the hill wanted to say to them. After 10 minutes, I called them back together and said, “Now we are going to move into a lament. We are going to release some of the pent up emotions we’ve denied ourselves, some of the tears we’ve been afraid to shed, some of the pain of witnessing our sisters’ deaths and rapes. It may feel funny at first and you may need to fake it for awhile, but simply allow it to feel weird and carry on. This is counter-cultural. It’s not going to feel normal. Simply allow whatever comes up for you to be okay and safe in this place with your sisters. Sit where you feel safe and held, close enough to us to know that you are in community, but far enough away that you have some solitude. Cover your head with your shawl if you wish, and weep. Once the time is up, I will come to each of you and place my hand on your head. That will be your invitation to emerge out of your weeping and return to the circle.”

Women spread out over the hill and found their places. We began to weep and wail, some loudly, some more at the level at a hum. In some moments it felt fake and put-on, but in other moments deep convulsions of remembered pain welled up and we were weeping for real. I wept for some of my clients who are healing from deep wounds and historic pain. I wept for a beloved sister-in-law who’s been on a long healing journey.  I wept for my daughters and nieces who still have so much to navigate as they come into adulthood. And I wept for the women I’d met in Ethiopia and India and the women from my country being found in the river.

When it felt like the right time, I rose and walked from woman to woman, gently placing my hand on their heads and holding it there like a blessing and invitation, reminding them that they were safe and held in love as they came out of their lament.

We gathered in circle once again, did some deep breathing exercises to release some of the heaviness, and then I invited my friend and co-guardian Hali to offer a cleansing smudge for each woman. Then we passed a talking piece – a stone I’d found on the hill that at first felt like a blade in my hand but then transformed into the shape of a woman as I held it. I invited them to each speak of one thing they were taking with them from this experience.

“When you exit a labyrinth, after you have received what was in the centre for you, you walk slowly in your return to the world, integrating this new wisdom or calling into your hearts and your bodies. I invite you to walk slowly in silence down the hill. Take the time you need. Do the self care that will help you be gentle with yourself. Don’t rush into telling other people about this experience until you are ready for it.”

Slowly and individually, we made our way down the hill. When we got there, I tried to enter into dinnertime conversation, but it just didn’t feel right. Instead, I disappeared from the table and went first to the quiet room where our circle of chairs were and then went to my room to have a hot bath.

I’m not sure what this will mean for the women who were with me. Many of them shared how meaningful it was and how it cracked their hearts open, but mostly I am expecting that they will process it in their own way in their own time. They are each on their own journeys, and if this at least helped them honour their wounds in a new way and seek healing for something unspoken, then they are on the right path. Some might be frightened of the wound and need therapists or other healing practices that help them process what’s been opened up.

I know, though, that this will change my work. I’ve received a new calling – or perhaps a deepening of a calling I knew I already had. A few years ago, I heard a woman from the stage say the words “The world needs people who know how to navigate in the dark” and I knew then that her words were meant for me. I’ve known for quite awhile that part of my work was to help people walk through the shadow, through the grief, and through the wound.

This isn’t easy work – because few people want to be invited into darkness – but it is essential work and I know I need to do it.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, then, when, in the very first coaching session I had after my return to work, a woman who ostensibly wanted to talk about how much she wanted to change her career, revealed only a short time into our conversation that her restlessness was more about unhealed wounds and a darkness she was afraid to enter into than it was about her career.

And then yesterday, as I was washing the dishes, a hit of inspiration arrived. I will be creating a new course that will be somewhat like Mandala Discovery (where you receive a prompt every day) but will invite women to journal and/or do art-making prompts as they take a figurative journey that resembles a labyrinth walk. It is tentatively called “A Spiral Path: A Woman’s Journey to Herself“.

I also expect that there will be upcoming retreats based on this theme.  AND there has already been an invitation to help create a lament for women on a fairly large scale at an event next year. If you want to learn more about any of this as it unfolds, add your name to my email list (at the bottom of the page) and I’ll keep you informed.

Also, if you are interested in how an openhearted writing practice can help you through this journey, join me for a one day online Openhearted Writing Circle on Saturday, October 4th.

Blessings to you wherever you are in this journey.

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On cancer, marriage, death, and Easter

“Because we realised that the person who left us did not take the sun with them or leave darkness in their place. They simply left, and with every farewell comes a hidden hope. –  Paul Coelho

Three years ago, on Easter weekend, we found out my mom had cancer. It was a sombre Easter meal we shared at my brother’s house that Sunday. Mom did her best to be upbeat, playing with the grandchildren, making sure everyone was well fed and giving us all as much love as she could. We all tried to do the same, to pretend that everything was going to be okay and that we didn’t risk losing the only parent we had left.

We didn’t do a very good job of lying to ourselves, though. Beneath all of the smiles and the laughter was a river of worry that none of us could deny.

Once you’ve met death and watched it take away a member of your family, you no longer have the luxury of hanging onto the lie that “everything is going to be alright”.

Something else happened that weekend. On the two hour drive home from my brother’s house, my marriage unraveled. We had a big fight (as quietly as possible so as not to alarm the children in the back seat) and I had to speak out loud the unhappiness that was growing in me like my mom’s cancer was growing in her. It was time for drastic measures. We had to either slice out the cancer in our marriage and subject it to months of chemo (in the form of therapy) or it would die.

me and momBy now you probably know what happened to my Mom. She had surgery and months of chemo and the doctors thought they had been successful in arresting the cancer. But only three months after she’d gotten the “all-clear” (which happened a year after her diagnosis), they discovered that the cancer was still growing and was now beyond treatment. Three months later, with all of her children gathered around her, she left us to join Dad in eternity.

As for my marriage, a rather similar pattern took place. We went for months of counseling, worked on the baggage we were both carrying, learned to talk to each other  with more honesty and less anger, and thought we had the cancer licked. We were happy again.

But then the cancer came back. I realized that the anger that had infected me was growing in deeper places than I’d at first admitted to myself. A deeper excavation was necessary. And so we went under the knife again, followed by more chemo.

Our marriage is still alive. Like doctors, we are using every procedure and medicine we can think of to keep it alive. We are trying – like the Japanese artists who mend broken pots with gold so that the break becomes part of the art and history of the piece and adds to its beauty – to mend our marriage with even stronger and more beautiful material than was there when the break happened.

hand in hand b&wIt seems fitting (and perhaps somewhat ironic) that this year, at Easter, I am feeling hopeful again. There is resurrection, there is transformation, there is hope. The gold is beginning to set deep into the cracks and there is beauty emerging out of our brokenness.

In Pathfinder, I wrote about the value of getting lost, of tearing up the map, and trusting that the path will unfold in front of us as it should. That’s a lesson that I have to learn again and again. I want so badly to control the outcome, to fix the cancer in my mom (and now my brother), to find a simple solution for our marriage, or to, at the very least, feel like I’m holding a map in my hand that will show me the topography that’s up ahead. But I don’t get that. I never get that.

I have to let it go and lean further into trust.

In order for real transformation to happen (as we learn in Theory U, which is also shared in Pathfinder), we have to let go of the outcome and our desire to control it, let go of our preconceived notions, let go of the lens through which we view the world, and learn to sense into that which wants to emerge. Along the journey of letting go, we open our minds, open our hearts, and open our wills. Only once we’ve reached the bottom of the U, when what needed to die has been released, can the new thing emerge and begin to blossom.

My friend Laurie Foley was recently told that her cancer is in remission. As she explores what this means and what she is meant to learn from her long months of struggle, she is re-framing remission as re-mission. She’s wondering how this period of her life – the journey through the valley of the shadow of cancer – has changed her life’s mission and what God is asking of her now.

I wonder the same thing. If the cancer in my marriage is in remission (as I hope it is), then what is our re-mission as a couple? What is emerging for us that we couldn’t see before when we were blinded by the struggle? It is our hope that the three year dive into the bottom of the U has allowed something new and beautiful to grow out of the brokenness.

I share this story with you not for any sympathy or advice. I share it simply that you will know that you are not alone. If your marriage feels broken, if your community is falling apart, if your business is failing, take heart.

There is beauty that grows out of the brokenness. There is hope even in loss.

Yes it’s true that sometimes there is no stopping the cancer and someone or something dies. Your marriage may end, your best friend may die, you may lose your job or your home. We can’t change that, no matter how hard we try.

But that doesn’t mean it’s the end. It doesn’t mean you’re finished. It means that you’re finding yourself at the bottom of the U and someday, when you have let go and opened yourself up to some new possibility, the light will appear again and a new seed, planted into the compost of what has died, will begin to sprout.

In the Easter story, Christ had to give up his life on the cross before he was ready for his own re-mission. Only when his surrender was complete and death had taken him could he rise again and live out his calling to be fully God.

That story always makes me think of butterfly metamorphosis. A caterpillar must give up its caterpillar-self in the gooey mess of the chrysalis before it can emerge as a butterfly. In the same way, we have to release that which no longer serves us – let it fall broken in a heap at our feet – before we can emerge into the beauty that calls us forward.

It is my hope this Easter (whether or not the Easter story is part of your faith tradition) that you will find beauty in the brokenness, that you will recognize the value of getting lost, and that you will learn to see the light that peeks into your shadows.

And if you find yourself lost, somewhere on the journey through the U, consider joining us in the Pathfinder Circle. Your brokenness, your questions, your growth, your curiosity, and your grief will be held in a circle of grace.

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