Joy and Pain. Side by Side.

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“Choosing to nurture joy does not mean turning a blind eye to pain or difficulty or injustice. It means holding positive possibilities while looking deeply into pain. Deep truth about what is and recognizing joy can exist side by side.” ~Circle Forward

I read those words and I was reminded of the phrase finding joy in the mess. And then I was reminded of the times in my life when there wasn’t much to be joyful for, yet, somehow opportunities to choose a moment of pure joy would sneak in, despite the current state of messiness. A sudden eruption of pee-your pants laughter in the depths of unfathomable grief, a beautiful ray of sun appearing from the clouds when all hope seemed lost, a heartfelt hug from a dear friend in a moment of despair. Life-saving snippets of joy in the midst of struggle. Joy and pain. Side by side. How can we know one without the other? Kind of a mind blow, right? Always the paradox. Always the struggle. How can they co-exist? Yet . . . how can they not?

Choosing to find joy in the midst of difficulty is one of the most courageous acts a person can take–although we rarely give ourselves permission to do so. What if, in the midst of your struggles, no matter how big or small, you gave yourself permission to choose joy for just one day, or for one hour, or for even one minute or one second? It’s SO okay to take a break from your pain. Choosing to nurture joy does not dismiss or diminish our hurts, but instead creates space for hope to seep in. And with hope, all things are possible.

Let yourself choose joy and then nurture it. Let it live side by side with your sorrows. Let hope create the space.

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A rambling good-bye

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My map of what breaks me open, an exercise in turning brokenness into beauty. I am currently navigating my way through a book called “the Geography of Loss” by Patti Digh. She talks about taking those moments that break you open and creating a map using those moments as landmarks by which to move forward–creating beauty from brokenness. This is my beauty of a map. Artist I am not, but luckily that wasn’t what this map required.

Update July 29, 2015: When I originally wrote this, I was sure I was ready to move on and start fresh in a new blog. Well, I guess I lied. I’m really not going anywhere. This place has too much of me poured into these pages to ever let it go. I was and will always be Hanging by a Thread. ~Melissa

This is a rambling, a jumble of words, a see-ya-later-but-not-really.

They say all good things must come to end, and so to must this blog.

When I began Hanging by a Thread in January of 2012 I was a different person, one that had done the work and was ready to take charge of her life.

And took charge I did.

But little did I know what life had in store. . .

Unimaginable loss. Change. Grief. Pain. Heartache.

Comfort and safety snatched away.

Healing. Love. Gratitude. Growth.

Grace. Redemption. Hope.

Learning to trust His way.

Little did I know that the title of my blog would become an aching metaphor for life. . . 

And now I have come to a crossroads. . .

A season of major life changes, a season of loss, a season of finding me–is slowly fading.

I can feel it in my bones.

What is next?

I have no clue. . . only visions in my head of where the path is leading.

Visions placed there by the whispers of my soul.

It feels like a settling in, of heading where I am being called, of finding the courage to share with my whole heart what life’s journey has taught me over the years.

And even though I am ready to take the leap, to dive headfirst into the deep end–it is scary.

Very scary.

But in a good way, I think.

It’s a new season.

A new day dawning.

I have felt it for a while now.

But it takes courage, both to let go and to move forward.

And sometimes courage is hard to muster. Really hard.

It is easier to just stay where we are at because it’s comfortable. It’s safe.

Then I remember that comfort and safety are really just illusions anyways.

I wrote this a while back and just found it the other day. I don’t even really remember writing it. It was one of those thoughts that popped into my head and I recorded it on the spot. I knew it was a perfect snapshot of where I was at, of where I am, and of where I am heading.

Change is coming again. I can feel it. I don’t know exactly what it will be, even though I have an inkling. I have learned to be okay with not knowing. I have learned to trust, even though I wonder. I have learned to be patient, even though I’m not wired that way.  I have learned that even though I know the change will be amazing, it will be hard. It always is. Growth and change and healing are like that. They don’t call them growing pains for nothing. 

I have learned to trust, even though I wonder . . . luckily my middle name is faith.

Faith.

It’s what has gotten me through, given me hope, and brought me home.

Even though this blog is ending, I am not done writing.

In fact, I am just beginning. . .

You can find me here, in my new place, with my new blog, My Middle Name is Faith.    http://melissafaith.com/

I don’t know exactly what it will be. In fact, there isn’t even anything there. And even though I don’t exactly know what it will be yet, the words real and raw come to mind–kind of like a conversation with those that know me best. A space where authenticity, tolerance, grace, and love are welcomed . . .

Thank you all for your encouragement and love over the past few years. I thank God for each and every one of you.

Thank you to all who have shared my tears, watched me come undone, and stayed by my side through the good, the bad, and the ugly.

And lastly, thank you to those that have remained through the brokenness and the beautiful of this journey. 

Let the new chapter begin. . .

Being strong is so overrated

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Not exactly trees in a storm, but the skies were grey that day. 🙂

“As I started to picture the trees through the storm, the answer began to dawn on me. The trees in the storm don’t try to stand up straight and tall and erect. They allow themselves to bend and be blown with the wind. They understand the power of letting go. Those trees and those branches that stand up strong and straight are the ones that break.” ~J.B. Hill

For all of you reading this that are desperately trying to fight your way through a difficult situation by “being strong,” please, STOP IT NOW.  By saying this I don’t mean that you should give up the battle, I mean that you should give it up to God. Let it go. Let it go to Him. It is only through surrender that we find our true strength. Trust me on this one, I’ve learned the hard way too many times.

There have been some desperate and terrible periods in my life when I mistakenly thought being strong was my only choice. You know the sayings, “You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only option,” or “You were given this life because you were strong enough to live it.” Although there was a time where I would have been all “hell yes!” to those sayings, I now call bullshit. The only place being strong has ever gotten me was down hard, to my knees, crying out in desperation to God to fix my broken life. Being strong is never the only option we have and we are never strong enough alone to make it through all the difficulties that life will throw at us. Being strong is so overrated.

My biggest lesson in surrender came about five years ago. Life had been difficult for a long time, on many levels. I had been the poster-child for what “being strong” was supposed to look like and I just couldn’t do it anymore. It was pretty obvious that my way wasn’t working and life could not continue the way I was trying to make it be. Something had to change. I had to give it up, which I eventually did–in a screaming, crying, desperate fit.

I was driving to work one morning when the tears began to uncontrollably flow. It was through these blinding tears that I looked to the heavens and screamed out loud (yes, literally) for Him to fix the brokenness that had become my life. I swear He was waiting for that moment because as soon as I let it go, a feeling of calm enveloped me. I knew immediately that things would work out–maybe not the way I thought they should–(obviously not working for me anyways) but that things would be okay. I also knew in an instant that I had been foolish in thinking I could just “be strong” and things would work out. Being strong for so long had blinded me to accepting the truth of my situation and kept me from reaching out to others that could help in my times of need. Being strong kept me from realizing that the things we often think are most important in this life, really are not. Being strong had kept me from pursuing an authentic and courageous life. Being strong kept me from taking care of myself and had kept me from turning to God when I needed Him most. Being strong had gotten me absolutely nowhere. Besides, I was SO tired of “being strong.”

I’d like to say that I immediately learned the the lessons that my big surrender brought. It took me a while longer to figure it all it out, but thankfully I did. I can’t imagine living through the last 15 months without leaning on God every single moment, of every single day. I can’t imagine where I would be if I had tried to “be strong.”

True strength comes only when we have the courage to give it up to God continually, not just when we are forced to our knees in broken surrender. And even though I still occasionally try to do it my way, it usually doesn’t last long. Strength comes when I am simply being patient, listening for the whispers, and learning to accept that life is the way it is. My strength comes from learning to bend in the storm.  My strength comes from my surrender. 

A little advice for the one seeking the orange headband. . .

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The orange headband, yes, I had it with me at work. Don’t judge.

To my Aunt Lori who will be earning her very own orange headband this weekend.  .  .

Think of all the amazing athletic accomplishments of the last few years of your life– the dashes, the tri, the half’s, the marathon (and not to mention the fact that you are now a certified instructor) and you will realize before you even cross the starting line that you’ve got this little Mudder thing down no problem. F-E-A-R no longer exists in your vocabulary.

But in case you are still a little anxious after my brief pep-talk above, keep the following in mind when tackling the Mudder:

  • The ice water compares only to jumping into a frozen Minnesota lake in January. It hurts and it will LITERALLY take your breath away. Wait a few seconds for your breath to return, and then go for it. Don’t panic, just breathe.
  • Being shocked also hurts. It can stop you in your tracks, but, the pain lasts for only a second or so. Don’t panic, just breathe. The faster you go through, the better. Electricity be damned. You are a mudder.
  • The walls get slippery and are a bit higher than the dash. Take your time, it’s worth it. If you slip a bit, hang on tight, don’t panic, and just breathe. (I saw a lady biff it off the tall wall from half-way up. She didn’t land too prettily. Can you say ouch?)
  • Wear clothing that won’t hang to your knees when it gets wet and stretched out. See my photo below. Not the best look or very comfortable or conducive to wall climbing and crawling under barbed wire.
  • Lastly, SOAK UP EVERY SECOND OF THE AWESOMENESS! BREATHE IT IN!
Me, in all my muddy glory, May 2012.
Me, in all my muddy glory, May 2012.

To anybody else that may be reading  this and are contemplating the Tough Mudder (or any other big physical challenge) know that YOU CAN DO IT! I was 210+ pounds, 43 years old, and could only run (and I use that term loosely) just over a couple of miles at a time when I completed the Mudder. My best advice? JUST DO IT! You never know what you can accomplish until you choose to try. FEAR is nothing but a four letter word and life is way too short to just stand on the sidelines.

To my Aunt Lori and anybody else facing some fears this weekend as you set out to accomplish new fitness goals, don’t panic, just breathe. YOU CANT DO IT BECAUSE YOU ARE AWESOME!

The healing journey

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“The journey of healing is often painful. It requires much effort and endurance. . . It is hard work, but along the way we learn that there is a place in the journey where we are able to celebrate. This celebration comes from knowing that all of the effort is worth it.  It is from this place that we can begin to feel hope and we can begin to glimpse joy. We are no longer driven by desperation but by determination.”  ~ adapted from A Healing Celebration

 

HOPE brought us together. . .

(What you see here is my first dabble into the world of poetry. I fully admit I really don’t know anything about poetry other than I like to read it and it would be cool to write it, especially tucked away in a really awesome loft overlooking New York City, or the ocean, or anywhere other than my kitchen table.   P.S.– If you are a “real” poet and you stumble across this, go easy on me. Thanks. My ego appreciates it. And P.S.S. if you are a regular reader, this is a departure from the usual. Harsh language included but completely warranted or maybe you just had to be there?)

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HOPE brought us together

This weekend I had the privilege of spending 12 intense hours with 17 incredible people. Most were strangers to me yet it didn’t matter. We all came together with different stories, backgrounds, and for different reasons. Again,  it didn’t matter. We shared our stories of HOPE without fear of judgement or shame– surrounded only by love and compassion as we released the pain. Survivors, change-makers, and advocates coming together with one voice, one mission, and one HOPE. . .to end childhood sexual abuse. There is no way possible to put into words the courage and compassion that I witnessed. It will be forever held in my heart. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity. Now, without further adieu, here’s my little poem.

F**k Lemonade

Strangers.

Fragmented souls–broken– but not shattered.

Stories of  sorrow, suffering, and pain.

Strangers unite.

No longer bound by silence, secrecy, and shame.

Strangers no more.

We rise together on waves of courage, compassion, and love.

Hearts woven together.

Our light radiates brighter than the sun.

They tell us. . .

“When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”

We say…

“F**K lemonade, we are survivors.”

Our warrior souls lovingly connected.

Together, we forge ahead.

Forever, demanding change.

To the amazing souls I was honored to grow and heal with this weekend, I am forever grateful. Much love to you all.

Lean into it. . .

Lean into it.

When that message came to me twice the other day– I figured I better listen.

The first time I heard those words I was listening to Dr. Brene Brown speak. (If you haven’t heard her message, STOP READING THIS NOW and Google her. Then listen whole-heartedly to what she has to say. It will change your life in ways you can’t imagine. Trust me on this one.) Later on that day, I received the following message in an email series that I am currently subscribed to called 40 Days of Deep Wisdom by Erica Staab. It’s pretty powerful. . .

In life, we think the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem.  The real truth is that things really don’t get solved. The come together for a time, then fall back apart. Then they come together again, and fall apart again. It’s just like that.

Personal discovery and growth come from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy. 

Suffering comes from wishing things were different. Misery is self-inflicted, when we are expecting the “ideal” over the “actual,” or needing things (or people, or places) to be different for us so we can then be happy.

Let the hard things in life break you. Let them effect you. Let them change you. Let these hard moments inform you. Let this pain be your teacher. The experiences of your life are trying to tell you something about yourself. Don’t cop-out on that. Don’t run away and hide under your covers. Lean into it.

What is the lesson in this wind? What is this storm trying to tell you? What will you learn if you face it with courage?  With full honesty and-– lean into it.

~Pima Chodron

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The harsh beauty of this poem stunned me for a moment, then I wept.

Then I read it again.

And I cried some more.

“Let the hard things in life break you.” 

Broken? More like shattered.

“Let this pain be your teacher.”

Lord knows, I’m a straight A student.

“There must be room for all of this to happen.”

My soul has grown exponentially throughout my lifetime,

constantly making room for the pain that has broken me,

and the joy,

and the love,

and the gratitude,

that have restored me.

Coming together and falling apart,

over and over,

sometimes almost rhythmically,

like waves crashing into the shore.

Unfortunately, the storms of life are inevitable.

Sometimes they are a like a soft summer rain,

and other times,

the storms are like a hurricane.

The harsh but beautiful reality is that you have a choice. . .

to run for shelter, or to dance in the rain.

It’s so hard, sometimes, to make that choice.

But today?

I choose to dance. . .

with courage and with love,

sometimes while dangling only from the heartstrings of hope.

All the while praying for the storm to pass.

Today,

I will choose. . .

to let my soul grow,

to let my pain rest,

and to open my heart to the whisper of the wind.

Today. . .

I will lean into it.