Fill Somebody’s Cup: An Unconventional Birthday Wish

Home renovation projects: they can wear on you.

Viva la tiny bathroom!

You stumble over construction supplies, and everything is forever out of place. The cat dips her paws in the polyurethane your husband’s using to top-coat your wood floors. (And then she proceeds to lick it off.)

Everything takes so much longer than it’s ‘supposed’ to take.

Need a glass of water? Too bad. You can’t have it right now. Your entire kitchen, including the sink, has been blocked off for a week. The water pitcher doesn’t fit in the bathroom sink, so you take it to the tub.

In the process, you skillfully avoid the other dishes in your tiny bathroom. (You also try to avoid thinking about how you really should clean this bathroom.)

You fill the pitcher, and wait. But naturally, you do something else while it’s filtering. You get immersed in your task, forget you were thirsty, and then wonder why, an hour later, your throat is parched.

***

Photo courtesy of charity:water.

The terrible thing about the whole renovation process is that it’s disruptive. And the silver lining is the same.

Going through an elaborate process to get water isn’t what I would choose. But I don’t take clean water for granted as much as I did before. Now, I appreciate every filled glass.

It’s a (little) bit like going to a developing country, where people draw water from wells, walk long distances, and carry it home.

A place where the process of getting clean water is time-consuming, arduous, and absolutely essential.

***

Make a wish …

Tomorrow is my birthday – I’ll be 28. I always get reflective this time of year. And the thing I’ve been thinking about? Water. (Great for reflectivity.)

It’s really easy to get comfortable when you have conveniences at your fingertips. But what happens when the little things you count on – like being able to have a glass of filtered water whenever you want one– are stripped away?

When I consider this, I’m just blown away by everything I already have, everything I already take for granted.

So, for my birthday, I’d like to ask you to consider giving to charity:water.

I’ll be making a donation, and I’d be honored if you’d join me.

charity:water is a non-profit, committed to bringing clean, safe drinking water to developing countries. Private donors cover all operating costs, so 100% of our donations go directly to water projects.

***

If you’d rather not donate at this time, of course I understand. If so, consider doing an act of service instead. Go above and beyond for someone else, and be sure to share your story with us in the comments.

It’s the story of our lives: We are empty, we are filled, we are overflowing. Sometimes in the span of seconds.

And so often, it doesn’t take much … to fill a cup, to listen close, to hold out a hand.

That’s all. And that’s everything.

***

PS – I was inspired by this post (and many others) from Glennon Melton of Momastery. And I first learned about charity:water from Courtney Carver‘s birthday campaign at Be More With Less.

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What Holds You Up? Or, the Hands that Frame Your Risks

Photo Credit: Ashley Baker

I hopped on my bike and started pedaling, determined to arrive on time. I’d left home a little bit late, but I could still make it on time if I tried. Even though I was moving quickly, I savored the crisp autumn morning around me. It was a perfect day for yoga in the park, a donation-based event hosted by Shoals Yoga.

As I pulled up to Wilson Park, I heard bells chiming the hour. After locking my bike, I pulled out my yoga mat and joined the other yogis on the grass. Glad to have arrived in time, I tried to quiet my racing heart and settle into the breathing exercises.

Every time I turned my head, I couldn’t help but smile; there was so much beauty around me. Gentle sunlight beamed through the leaves, and light reflected off the fountain at the center of the park. It was idyllic, and I felt fortunate to be able to move my body and enjoy it.

Towards the end of the practice, we started working on inversions — poses that involve going upside-down. We were practicing headstand, a pose I’m comfortable with … in the context of a yoga studio, that is. I typically practice headstand close to the wall; it feels safer that way.

But in the park, there were no walls. For the first time, I was challenged to try an ‘unsupported’ headstand. I kicked one leg up — so far, so good. But I couldn’t quite work up the nerve to kick my other leg up to meet it. Though I knew I had the strength to do the pose, the absence of a wall intimidated me. I brought my leg down.

***

Ashley, our instructor, saw my hesitation. She moved through the mats to stand beside me. “Do you want to go up again? I can support you,” she said quietly. I felt a smile spread across my face. It was exactly what I needed: for someone else to be my wall. With her beside me, I knew that I could give the pose another try.

“Yes, let’s do it,” I said. Getting into position, I kicked one leg up, moving the other to meet it in the air. Ashley’s hands framed my feet with the lightest touch, just enough for me to find my balance. Then, once I was still, she moved her hands away, and I held headstand on my own.

What a rush! Time seemed to stop as I focused on maintaining the posture. I held headstand for as long as I could, then slowly brought my legs down. “Good job!” Ashley said softly. I was surprised; I’d been so intent on holding the pose that I didn’t realize she was still there. But I was also relieved; in doing that headstand, I’d been safer than I knew.

Listening at L’Arche

As we moved into the final poses of our practice, I thought: That’s what real friendship is all about. Real friends dare one another into being braver than each one knows how to be. Real friends come close, because they know that their presence can be a powerful catalyst for growth.

And that’s what caregiving at L’Arche* is, too: the act of coming alongside. It’s the practice of empowerment, of giving just enough support. Real caregivers use their hands to support someone else with the gentlest touch possible, so that the other person is doing as much as they can on their own.

Seasoned caregivers know that small supports can make or break a person’s day. They know that their touch may make an impossible day bearable, and a beautiful day transcendent.

***

As I pedaled home from yoga in the park, I thought: Help me to remember this. Allow me to recall that, no matter how small or insignificant I feel my contribution is, it may be significant for someone else. And allow me to accept the help that is given to me. Because with it, I can do and be so much more than I’ve imagined.

It’s the secret we keep from one another, the depth of our need for support. The extent to which it matters whether or not we have trusted hands framing the risks we take. The choice to listen rather than tune out; to call rather than stay silent; to show up rather than stay home.

Thank the people who have offered you their hands, and be sure to offer your own. It may feel futile; you may not see results as immediate as, say, a headstand in the park. But even so, keep reaching. Keep offering. Keep trying. Because really, you never know. 

Today may be the day when your touch makes all the difference.

***

Who holds you up & supports you in the risks you take? Join the conversation in the comments section below!

Also, I’m proud to be featured on Your Lovely Life this week. Tammy Strobel and Courtney Carver’s site focuses on, “… cultivating beauty and joy every day. Through helpful articles, recipes, inspiring books and quotes you can begin to recognize what’s lovely in your life.” Be sure to check it out!

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*L’Arche is a faith-based, worldwide non-profit organization that creates homes where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together. I spent 5 years serving the DC community in various caregiving roles.

**Names have been changed to protect privacy.

The One Where I Smashed The Guitar: Owning Your Anger, Part 1

Today marks the first post in a 3-part series on ‘Owning Your Anger.’ Why am I writing about anger? Because I don’t want to…and because I must.

Allow me to explain.

My husband, Jonathan, became temporarily disabled this week. He has tendonitis in his right foot, and he’s been couch-bound for two days.

Yesterday, after I’d searched through (several!) L’Arche closets for crutches (and gone to CVS for an air-cast and to Safeway for groceries and…), the truth of what I was feeling came rushing over me. I had a knot in my stomach…a knot of fear and worry.

And I had a clenching feeling in my chest…anger.

I’ve only recently learned to identify how anger feels in my body. I know sadness, I know delight…but anger sneaks up on me sometimes. I think it’s because I’ve not allowed myself to get familiar with it. My ‘typical’ response to anger is to rationalize it away. Or to deny it altogether…and then explode, into tears or shouts, when that anger finally becomes too big to bear.

Here’s a quote that has stayed with me, from Sue Monk Kidd’s The Dance Of The Dissident Daughter:  “Perhaps the thing most denied to women is anger.”

To that I would add:  Perhaps the thing most denied to care-givers is anger.

Do you feel denied permission to feel anger? What does anger feel like in your body?

We don’t want to be angry. We want to be present and helpful and kind. But what if not expressing our more challenging feelings (anger, grief, fear) only gives them more power over us?

To take it further – what if expressing our anger has the potential to actually bring us closer to the people we’re trying to love and support? (And what if not expressing it builds a barrier between us?)

Here’s a case in which expressing my anger made a significant change in my life. I admit – the example is somewhat extreme. I’m not advocating destruction of other people’s property. I’m simply saying that, in order for me to connect with my brother, I had to express my anger rather than deny it.

Without further ado, here’s an excerpt from my forthcoming (free!) ebook, “Your Creed Of Care:  How To Dig For Treasure In People (Without Getting Buried Alive)”:

“…Once upon a time, when I was a teenager, I got so angry with my brother Willie (and his erratic, sometimes-violent behavior) that I smashed an antique guitar to smithereens. (If it helps, it was an old, ratty guitar, not a collector’s item.) This guitar had been given to my brother by my grandparents. After a particularly difficult evening at home, I walked upstairs, saw the guitar and simply…started smashing it against Willie’s wooden bed-frame. I was so, so angry. I so, so badly wanted him to stop acting crazy. I wanted him to change back into the brother I knew.

After, I felt bewildered, astonished…and relieved. While the wood was splintering and the strings were snapping, I’d realized…I could not change him. I could not change my parent’s decisions. I was powerless to change any of those things…but I’d done something I needed to do. I’d released some anger I needed to release. I’d stopped fixating on what I wanted to change about him and started letting myself feel what I felt.

Ironically, this was the first moment in ages at which I could feel empathy for my brother, who had so much rage inside of him. It was small, but it was a beginning.

Sitting amidst the shards of a broken guitar, I took my first step on the road to loving my brother as he was, not as I wished he would be.”

During that time, I knew why I was angry:  my brother’s behavior had me thinking that my family’s needs (for safety, love and connection) weren’t being met. Last weekend, though, I wasn’t sure. So I asked the same question:  what needs aren’t getting met?

Again, the truth washed over me. My need for control. My need to be taken care of and to feel safe. I’d made the mistake of not saying how I felt about Jonathan’s injury. I hadn’t confessed that it shook me up. That it connected me to my feelings about Vincent*, a beloved friend who is dying of cancer. I felt the presence of a hovering grief, one I hadn’t allowed myself to feel.

Fortunately, my husband won’t let me lie to myself for long. “How are you doing, mi Carolina?” he asked. And it came spilling out. Yet this wasn’t a dramatic rant. I didn’t blame or yell. I simply told the truth about what I was struggling with and how it felt. Turns out that the way to get past it was to go through it…not to deny it or avoid it. As I spoke, a weight lifted from my chest.

Then I spent the rest of the day taking care of myself — cooking good food, watching Psych, and cuddling up. I took time to write and pray this morning. A friend has offered us crutches (thank you, Megan!)

Right now, Jonathan is sleeping peacefully. And I’m at peace with who I am, with this imperfect, unique, ever-growing heart of mine.

Have you ever gained a greater understanding of yourself (and others) after owning your anger?

If so, tell me in the comments!

*Names have been changed.