Life is a series of choice points where we get to learn what and who to listen to along the way. Our “big experiences” are the ones that ultimately are there to support our own transformation, but only if we know how to maximize the learning that accompanies whatever it is we’re facing.
In hindsight, I see that the challenges in my life were the perfect circumstances to assist me in growing. Each time I encountered something painful, there was a portal to pass through into the “next version” of myself. I’ve selected a few of these so you gain a more in-depth look into who I am and how I approach life.
Choice Point #1 – Divorce
I had a brief marriage from the age of 22 to 24. Like all young people in love, I did not get married with the expectation that it would end. I was shattered and broken open when it became clear that my husband and I did not want the same things in life. One experience in particular stands out after we separated. I was living alone (for the first time ever) in my little house in Topeka, Kansas. I was literally on my living room floor, having had a particularly painful wave of grief move through me, when I heard a voice inside say, “You have a choice. You can either grow bitter and walled off from all men, or you can grow. You choose.” I was stunned by the clarity in the message and my response was, “Fine. I choose growth.”
Take-away: My inner voice shows up and a relationship with God is set in motion.
Choice Point #2 – Depression
In the winter of 1986 I fell into a depression – the kind where I’d come home from work, crawl into bed, and pull the covers over my head. It was like being at the bottom of a deep hole and not seeing any sunlight. I was facing into the possibility that I might never get married again and have a family…and the thought was beyond sad. I always thought I would grow up, find a partner, and raise children. So the idea of that not happening pulled the rug out from under me. And I was finding I wasn’t able to “make it happen.” I’d tried putting myself out there – dating, being social and active with various groups….and I just wasn’t finding someone.
It’s amazing what insights come from the bottom of a hole. At some point during this period of time, a shift occurred. I started to entertain the idea that “life could be worth living even if I never met someone.”
I was clear that I still very much wanted this, but the shift was in recognizing:
- I was valuable.
- There were some things I just couldn’t make happen by my own efforts.
As I leaned into this, a level of calm acceptance began to replace the sadness.
P.S. Three months later, I met Peter. 🙂
Take-away: The path to creating a life you love is an act of co-creation. There is a loving universe that will work on your behalf when you are available for collaboration.
Choice Point #3 – Quitting a job without having another one lined up
In 1988, Peter and I moved to Virginia for him to attend seminary. Our agreement was that I would work full-time while he went to school. I landed what was considered a “good job” as a supervisor in a mental health center. The salary and the benefits were more than enough to support us. I enjoyed my colleagues and made some life-long friends through this agency.
But about half way through his 3-year program, I realized how unhappy I was at this job. I still enjoyed being a therapist and supervisor, but I found the agency itself had what I considered to be a toxic work culture. The director was even asking her staff to compromise our integrity and commit insurance fraud. My body felt the lack of integrity and eventually was begging me to not return to this place of work. It spoke to me through a sense of heaviness and tension. I decided to trust my inner guidance and I quit, with no other job waiting in the wings. After a grueling month of feeling absolutely terrified, the fear subsided; as I calmed down, private clients began showing up. Fast forward to the end of the three years: Peter finished his education, and we completed this period with no debt and a new baby!
Take-away: Your body is wise and deserve to be a voting partner in your decision making. It is reliable and will open doors you could never find when you rely on “security” or fear-based thinking.
Choice Point #4 – Cancer
In 2008, my first colonoscopy (ever!) led to a diagnosis of colon cancer. I was one of the fortunate ones in that the cancer was caught early enough, and the only intervention recommended was surgery. But like most people who receive news like this, it shook me to the core. Something about facing our mortality can be a huge wake-up call! My own examination during this time led to my taking a leap to join a training program that not only changed how I work, but also how I live. The two-year Leadership and Transformation program taught by Katie Hendricks (one the best transformational teachers on the planet) was a leap because we had just lost thousands of dollars in the stock market (as did many others at that time) and our first child was heading to college in less than a year. But the desire to pursue this training was what lit me up, and as my husband said at the time, “We don’t make decisions just based on money.” We couldn’t afford it, but he also “got it” that I couldn’t afford not to. I joined the program in December 2008 and graduated at the end of 2010, and Zach still went to college. The money showed up.
Take-away: Don’t waste your suffering. Use your experience to get crystal clear on what you really want.
Choice Point #5 – Leaving the church
I am a preacher’s kid. I married an Episcopal priest. While I was never all that regular about attending church, the institution and rhythm of a church year were very much in my blood. Part of me really wanted to fit this image of the “perfect clergy spouse” and to belong to a community. But increasingly over time, there were too many parts of the church culture that just didn’t work for me. I was frustrated by what I saw as a lack of authenticity and true intimacy. I finally figured out that Peter could not be my husband and my pastor. I hate small talk. I often left a church service feeling agitated, rather than uplifted or peaceful. I hate committees and meetings. You get the point. It just didn’t work for me and I was scared to let it go. I worried I would let others down, especially my husband. Some people told me I’d be hurting his job by leaving, and asked why I couldn’t just suck it up and go at least once a month. I worried I was just too judgmental. I worried no one would bring me a casserole if I got sick again.
Take-away: Your spiritual path is between you and God, and can take many forms. A strong, loving partnership honors each person’s individuality.
Choice Point #6 – Empty Nesting
I was shocked at the level of intense grief I experienced when my children grew up and left home. This has been such a rich time of learning and expansion, and I have felt led to create services geared to other empty-nesters. You can learn more about this particular piece of my journey, here.
Take-away: The gift of empty nesting is reconnecting with parts of your essence that have always been there. Your children aren’t the only ones who get to fly!!