One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

One step forward, two steps back.

It’s not just a fancy little cha-cha-cha – it’s the way I live.

If I’m really honest, I feel more like a plate spinner. And, on particularly cruel days, I get all of my plates in the air and God/Universe/Spirit sends a hurricane my way. I can’t even find my damn plates – much less piece them back together. (And, if you’ve been following along, you know I lost my plates in July.)

So, I’ve been reading, churching, praying, cursing, meditating, walking the beach, cursing, going to yoga, writing, cursing, riding my bike and generally trying to figure out a different way. Because, I feel like I’m losing the same plates over and over and over again. I want to learn the lesson so I can pass the test and keep the plates. (And get my gold star on the awesome chart.)

Does that resonate with any of you? Do you feel like you keep getting the same test . . . and failing? And, Lord HELP, I’m not even a good test taker!

I’m reading Marianne Williamson’s “A Return to Love,” and she shares an idea from “A Course in Miracles” that “it’s not up to us what we learn, but only whether we learn through joy or through pain.”

Well, hot shit and hallelujah . . . I choose joy, because I’ve had a gut-ful of pain. Can I get an Amen?!?!?

Now, as lovely as that sounds – it’s not so easy, right? I mean, HOW do you actually engage the joyful learning experience? (That’s not rhetorical – I REALLY want to know because I’m tired of the cage match smack-down.)

Mastin Kipp talks about reframing life’s experiences in a way that sets the expectation that life is actually rigged in our favor. Now, that’s a delicious nugget!

Perhaps the lost plates weren’t really MY plates – and the hurricane freed my hands. I mean, I didn’t particularly like that color or pattern, anyway. Now, I have the opportunity to paint my own pottery! (Ladies, grab the wine.)

BUT, to make that connection, I have to be able to trust both path and journey.

Or, at least that’s what everyone keeps telling me. “Trust that you’re on the right path,” they say. (Never mind I’ve skinned my shin and have a bump on my head from falling over tree roots on the path. Can one of y’all bring a saw out here?!?!?)

Or, do I have to trust the path?

Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

It sounds to me like I should trust the path maker – not necessarily the path. And, it just so happens that said path maker is also the potter we read about in Jeremiah.

So, if God is FOR me, he is a loving teacher. And, according to James 1:2-3, we are to count it all JOY when you fall into various trials knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.

And, if I am his clay, then He can help me fire and paint and glaze gorgeous new plates . . . IF I can trust and hand over my life to him.

Trust, again . . . my Achilles heel.

So, here I am, limping towards the throne, grasping my mustard seed size faith, wondering how I’m actually going to lay down my problems and pride in order to learn my lessons. Because, I really, truly and with my whole heart want to start spinning spectacular, shiny new plates!

*sigh*

I guess I’ll just do it the same way I’ve done everything else  . . . one step forward, two steps back, cha-cha-cha.

BOOBIES . . . and other bits

“An iced venti bold with room, please.”

I took my place in the pickup line behind four twitching, scratching souls longing for their afternoon fix. It’s hot in Florida . . . and heat makes people do crazy things. As does caffeine withdrawal. Silent prayer – please, Lord, let us hold it together a moment longer.

“Brandy,” YES!!! I enjoyed a silent celebration (and inner victory dance) as I grooved past the 6-pump, double-shot, extra hot, half-whip folks. Their eyes sliced me from the side.

I grabbed a napkin (or five, because I’m a little clumsy) and stirred in my half-and-half (don’t judge, almond milk isn’t friendly in coffee!) and THAT’S when I saw her. The girl to my right – coffee half-lifted, stir stick dangling over the trash between fixed fingers – head tilted, mouth open, eyes horrified, brow confused.

OHHHHHHHH DELIGHT!!! What horrors hide over my left shoulder?!?!?

I put the lid on my coffee and took a sip as I turned. Then, I promptly doubled over and shot coffee out of my nose. The man sitting behind me was slowly – and quite happily – scrolling through an email of various, errrrrrr, ladies . . . and their bits. Midday. In Starbucks. On free wifi.

I still roar with laughter thinking about the absurdity. I feel horribly for the families who stopped for a summer respite . . . only to end up in an unfortunate conversation with their children. And what about the ladies, themselves? Do they know about their debut? Do they care?

Walking down the sidewalk I considered, is it be better to be physically naked or emotionally exposed?

A few years ago, I took surfing lessons with some of my best girlfriends. The first couple of rides were surprisingly successful. Then, I bit it . . . in a GLORIOUS way.

Tumbled under surf, scraped by sand, wrapped in seaweed, pummeled by shells . . . tethered to a board by the ankle. (Why did this sound fun?) I slammed into the shallows happy to be alive. Nauseous and confused, I jumped up from the water with arms overhead to see the worried face of my friend Lara.

She yelled to me, but I couldn’t hear or process the words. She swam closer.

“BOOBIES!!!”

“WHAT???”

“BOOBIES!!!”

I looked behind me, completely confused, “WHAT??? WHERE?!?!?”

“YOURS!!!”

In that moment, feeling rushed back into my body. Under the churn, my rash guard and bathing suit fixed themselves around my neck. And, when I popped up . . . I stood naked in the water.

Dip. Dress.

Our stomachs ached from laughter. Tears streamed down our already salty faces. And, here’s what I can tell you – it was far easier for me to be exposed physically.

I think that’s why I put off writing for so long. To hit Publish is to disrobe my soul.

Then, I must ask, beyond writing, am I able to be emotionally exposed? You know, as I ‘do life’ with people.

Am I willing to be vulnerable and open in the relationships that matter?

Am I able to stand “naked” in front of someone and say, “These are my beautiful scars and, in them, I carry the stories of my hurt, my healing and my strengths?”

I have to admit that this is unbelievably hard for me. I don’t like to show my struggle. I want everything to appear perfectly packaged. I don’t want to show that I’m paddling furiously beneath the water’s surface to stay afloat.

I don’t want to. But, somehow, I can’t not.

I feel an incredible call to be real and perfectly imperfect. For me, to be real means to show up – with my scars and scabs – asking to be loved and accepted anyway. Because, who among us has a perfect life? Who hasn’t had bumps and bruises? Who isn’t enjoying the continuous beat of an intricately scarred heart?

So, as you go through your day, look around. Really notice the family, the friends and the strangers in your life.

Who is saying, “Here I am . . . all boogers and bruises . . . won’t you please like me anyway?”

Who stands bravely naked?

Who allows their truest selves to be seen?

Are you one of them?

(To the teacher who had to see my surfing lesson in someone’s “My Summer Vacation” report, I sincerely apologize. *facepalm*)

EgoTripping

As I celebrated the beginning of my 4th decade I found myself in a most unimaginable situation. Single, jobless, alone and adrift. I felt like the universe wrapped a midlife crisis up with a giant bow for my milestone birthday.

Sitting with my ‘gift’ as the day came to an end, I thought back to the beginning of my adventure. I started this journey with certainty, passion and a heightened sense of direction and purpose. Things weren’t firing for me in Charlotte and I “just knew” this opportunity would be just the kick start I needed.

Turns out, it was a kick in the teeth.

As my world unraveled – a sick aunt engaged in her last battle, energetic turmoil at work, and an unsettled environment – my friend and soul sister called to check in. She could “feel” how frazzled I had become. “How did you know?” I asked.  “You are a vortex,” she said.

Unfortunately, at the time, I didn’t realize my vortex was pulling negativity in on me with the energy I expelled.

It was only after the ball of yarn completely unraveled and lay in a gnarled and knotted heap did I take a long, hard, painfully honest look at my situation: no man, no job, no home that I wanted to go home to.

I checked my pride, broke lease and embarked on the life of a wanderer.

“I’m not supposed to be here,” became my theme song – with a refrain that sang, “This isn’t how my life is supposed to be!!!”

And that’s when the larger Voice I call God said, “But this is the way it is.”

This is the way it is.

Sitting on a dock, beer in hand, my utter exhaustion gave way to absolute acceptance.

This. Is. The. Way. It. Is.

Let me not lie, it took two weeks of wandering before my brain started to work again. My first day as a gypsy, I literally sat at a red light and had the conversation with myself as it changed, “Green means go, right? Yes, green. Go.” (BLESS!)

One of the most interesting things happening as I explore rock bottom is a reinterpretation of self. A revised definition of who I am. Because, how easy is it to say, “I’m Brandy, XYZ with ABC company.” How often have I relied on my career, wins and successes to create my identity? How long have I hid behind my job rather than relying on my most authentic self?

So the question became, “Without a label, without a job title, who am I? What do I do? What are my goals? Where am I going?”

When my brain started to function again, ideas came flooding through. I started having lovely conversations about great opportunities. My energy level keyed up and I went on a great walk where I was having the internal dialogue with myself, “Omigosh . . . I could do this and this and this and I talked to so and so and so . . . and just WAIT until I tell LMNOP that DEF wants to work with me . . . he’s going to be so proud and . . . “ [screeeeeech] HOLD THE FUCK UP.

I stopped mid-stride. This is the ego I read about.

Yes, it’s great to have amazing partnerships and projects on the horizon, but these things do not define who I am.

And I damn sure shouldn’t be using them as a worth-bait for catching the interest, respect and admiration of other people. Let that sink in . . . worth-bait.

Stop.

Breathe.

Disengage the ego.

Ask, “Who am I without the labels?”

While I would love to wrap this story up with the tidy ending of a hallelujah choir, I can’t do that. The only answer I have is, quite simply, “I don’t know.”

I don’t know who I am, where I’m going or when. But, I’m learning. I’m observing. I’m growing through confronting the stories I’ve told myself for so long that they’ve become my truth.

I’m reconsidering. I’m re-imagining the story of me . . . and the rewrites are in pencil.

It’s scary as hell.

In religion, there is a period of darkness that precedes an awakening or rebirth . . . a dark night of the soul. So, is this my path to enlightenment? Perhaps.

Is rock bottom a kickass place to rebuild a strong, redefined foundation for a brand new life? Abso-fucking-lutely.

Now, it’s time to get on with it.

Has anyone seen the map for navigating around this ego trip?!?!?

 

 

 

 

What Will You Do?

One day, you’re going to stand at a crossroad. To the left, the life you know: the safe, the comfortable, the familiar. To the right, the life you might live: adventure, possibility, unknown.

Maybe you’re standing there now. Maybe you’ve stood here before and made the choice that ultimately brought you back around to the same crossroad. Nevertheless, here you are.

And it doesn’t matter if you’re a stay-at-home mom thinking about going back to work and presenting a new model of motherhood to your children or if you’re a business person trying to decide if you want to leave the safety of corporate to build a business on your own. The choice is really: Will I choose to continue on with good? Or will I roll the dice and gamble for great?

The problem with this choice is that great isn’t guaranteed . . . or is it?

Yes, you could lose your life savings. But, are you saving for fun or familiar?

Yes, that new relationship could leave you heartbroken.  But, is being single truly satisfying?

Yes, that trip abroad might not be as fun as you imagined it would be. But, wouldn’t you rather be enriched and enlightened than stay home and be bored?

What does that mean for your decision?

Does it mean that it’s better to wrap yourself in the comfortable conformity of life? I think it’s worth considering whether or not your life is really yours . . . one of your own choosing.

Your routine, your day in and day out, the spouse, the house, the job . . . are they all things that you actually want for yourself? Or are these the things that other people told you you should want? Did you buy into their dream or are you living your very own?

If you’re not really living the life that you want and you’re just going through the motions, how great would the loss really be if you rolled the dice and sought a life to love?

Let’s say you take the gamble and fail . . . exquisitely fail. It really wouldn’t be that hard to recreate mediocrity. I mean, look around you and take note of all the people excelling at ho-hum. It seems like you could rebuild a vanilla existence in about 15 minutes, 30 if you’re deliberately minding the details.

Now, all of this isn’t to say that your life is a waste if you’re not living in a mansion along the California coast. Your dream is distinct to you and different from everyone else’s. What it is to say is, “Are you awake in your living or are you sleepwalking through someone else’s dream?”

I ask this of you, because these are the questions I am asking of myself.

You see, I am once again at the crossroads.

Brene Brown writes about Theodore Roosevelt’s “daring greatly” quote and I know one thing for sure . . .  I want to be IN the arena, “face marred with sweat and blood.”

I want to wake up every morning and chase a dream with eyes wide open and heart beating hard. I want to breathe adventure deep into my lungs and run full speed into the unknown.

What I do NOT want is to die knowing that I rode shotgun in my own life, “knowing neither victory nor defeat,” because someone else was driving my car.

And, perhaps, this is how great IS guaranteed.

Yes, I have cried 1,000 tears, been beaten, bruised and pushed around by life. But I have also been fully supported, lifted up and encouraged. I have laughed from deep within my soul and let my light shine on friends and strangers. And, even when it felt bad, it felt good . . . because I’m living out loud and not just going through the motions, keeping a safe and friendly distance.

This is why I dare to stand at my crossroads today and say, “I’m hanging a right.”

It’s frightening to set out on an adventure without a map. To journey towards an idea that’s on the horizon without knowledge of the terrain that stands between. And, while I am certain that I will roll my ankle and meet with snakes . . . I am equally certain that I will keep the company of angels and dance among fireflies along the way.

Will you join me in the search for adventure? Will you dare to lead a bolder, brighter, happier life? I need a good travel companion or two.

So, take a moment to envision your best life.

What do you see?

What’s your dream?

What will you do?

 

Beach Blessings

I went to Girl Scout camp. I hated it.

I love NOT camping. Give me a comfy bed and electricity any day of the week!

So, to go away for a week in the middle of summer heat, sleeping in an XL tent with spiders and a communal shower was my idea of hell. Absolute hell. Even as a kid.

Naturally, the homesickness set in. And, being a resourceful little shit, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I plotted, lied and schemed to make my big break via a single wall phone outside the nurse’s office.

And it was a phenomenal success . . . until I got home. Then, I had chores as my punishment for lying to grown-ups. Oooooopie doooooo.

Homesickness is a funny beast. I visited family for weeks at a time, I had marathon sleepovers with my girlfriends, I went on vacations with and without my parents – without event. But, when I was outside of my “comfort zone,” (aka: Deliverance) my psyche absolutely rejected the experience.

“Danger, danger Will Robinson . . . abort mission . . . abort, abort!!!”

Naturally, when I found myself among apocalyptic storms and the daytime hooker, my psyche gave a similar response. I desperately longed for a yard full of lightning bugs and my ears ached for the sound of katydids, tree frogs and crickets. The difference this time, however, was recognizing the source of discomfort and the consolation of knowing my ability to weather all with a little sidewalk therapy.

I set my morning alarm for 6 and sought to re-embrace my morning walk. I figured getting back into a routine would be the best thing for me. I needed something that felt familiar.

When I got to the beach, I heard the most amazing sound . . . a southern accent. I almost burst into tears.

I started a conversation and we fell into step. As it turns out, he was from Charlotte. Sparkles and stars and happiness!!! He shared the details of his work function and I told him I just moved away from North Carolina.

As we were chatting, a lovely woman with dark chocolate skin, light brown eyes and a head full of beautiful braids came up to us. “Excuse me, this is going to sound strange, but I felt called to come over here and speak a blessing over the two of you. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence we’re all on the beach together this morning.”

I almost burst into tears because I, too, stopped believing in coincidence.

I cupped my hands to receive her words of love, health, happiness, peace and abundance. I poured the words into my heart and thanked her for her generosity of spirit.

On my way back to the little pool cottage, my feet were lighter and my heart beat with a noticeable fullness.

It’s funny that, sometimes, it’s a tiny hit of home that helps ease homesickness – like an accent that wraps around your eardrums like a cashmere blanket.

And, other times, it’s a whole lot of God working through a wonderful Haitian woman speaking blessings over strangers on the beach.

The Daytime Hooker & Other Encounters

I moved to Florida sight unseen. Admittedly, not my best choice in the history of ever.

After a 10-hour drive, I got out of the car and burst into tears because I managed to land right in the middle of a “neighborhood in transition.” (Pro Tip: If anyone shares that phrase about an area you’re considering, run. Run like hell. Don’t look back.)

The house itself, gorgeous. I found a lovely compound that consisted of a main house, a pool cottage and the most charming tropical garden hugging the patio and pool area for wonderful privacy. As long as I stayed inside the fence, life was sweet.

However, living inside the safety bubble isn’t realistic. One must get out and about. So, I did what any good southern girl would do . . . I went to church. A 90-minute sermon and an overly-enthusiastic hug from a stranger later, I fought the urge to stop exploring.

Get out and try, get out and try, get out and try rang in my head. I wanted to learn to love the place I was planted.

Along the streets, rehabbers, junkies and dealers danced a dangerous waltz between sobriety and addiction.

At the grocery store, broken souls in shabby clothes shuffled outside, asking for money and help.

For the first time in my life, I looked around and realized that I was the minority.

These encounters served to illuminate my simple abundance – a place to live, a car to drive, a closet full of nice clothes and a wonderful job to fund it all. By comparison, I have nothing to complain about. I am not greeted as “different” or an “outsider” when I walk into most places . . . and most of these people have been labeled nothing but since moving to this country.

I tried out shops and restaurants, my friends and family came to visit and I took walks to soak it all in and figure it all out . . . but I wasn’t ready for the reality I had coming.

One Saturday morning, I woke up early with the distinct need for sidewalk time. I laced up, grabbed a bottle of water and popped in my earbuds. For the first time, I was a bit more at ease. I walked over to the beach and took in the salt air, smiling at faces of every age and heritage.

Then, she happened.

As I approached the drawbridge on my return home, a slip of a woman emerged from underneath and shimmied through hedges onto the sidewalk. She wobbled on weak, pencil-thin legs a few yards ahead of me, yelling over the guard rail to the man below. I slowed my pace and tried to assess what was happening in front of me.

Was she a junkie? Did she fail recovery? Was she yelling to her husband below?

When I got close enough to hear the words, she was definitely not yelling at her husband below. She was working.

Approaching, I tried to make plenty of noise so I wouldn’t startle her and be shoved into oncoming traffic.

Clothes-hanger shoulders balanced a mass of gnarly knotted hair . . . not quite colored, not quite not. It was evident she hadn’t had the luxury of a shower in several days, if not weeks. And, just as a deep-seated sympathy began to dance with fear of the unknown, I announced “Coming by on your left.”

Her head whipped to face me. I met the hollow blue eyes that earlier spilled tears which turned her mascara into water color rivulets, pooled and puddled into the lines of her worn face. Red lipstick smeared from mouth to ear, temporarily distracting from the black and yellow snarl of rotted teeth.

Compassion and terror clashed at my core as a guttural growl escaped her sunken cheeks. On one hand, I wanted to take her for a Clorox shower and to feed her a decent meal. On the other hand, self-preservation urged my feet to take flight.

But not without paying a mental price.

What defined the desperation that drove her decisions and landed her there? How old was she? Who taught her her worth? And how far away are any of us from doing the things we think we would never do?

In my world of non-answers, I know one thing for sure . . . none of these people – the junkies, the dealers, the homeless or the hooker – none of them asked for this. Not a single one of them said they wanted to be these things when they grew up. They had dreams– to be teachers, astronauts, firemen and parents. Then, somewhere along the way, life happened.

Life happens.

And the life that happens outside the bubble is starling in contrast to the life of friendly neighbors, new cars and unlocked doors that I left behind in North Carolina.

Since my initial arrival I made another move to a town that gives me a greater sense of security and safety. But, those initial encounters will linger forever.

Where are you today? Have you offered thanks and shown your appreciation for the people and circumstances that brought you this far?

After all, you never know when the tide might change, running you into the rocky shore that bursts your safety bubble. And maybe having your bubble burst isn’t such a bad thing. Because seeing life, people and circumstances from a vulnerable perspective has a sneaky way of opening the heart and softening the mind.

So, to my family and friends – all of you who cheerlead me, listen to me and love me in spite of my truest self – I appreciate you. To those of you who let me swim in the bottomless pool of your sweet fellowship – thank you. I love you, I need you and I want you in my life. I know without doubt that I can’t do it solo.

Everyday an Adventure

I am a planner.

I wasn’t always this way, but life in Charlotte taught me that if you don’t fill out your social schedule, you’ll sit home alone on any day that ends in -y. So, I learned to make plans. At my most frantic, there was a two month waiting period.

(I was informed by two different men that my social schedule was far too daunting and there was no way they could keep up. I explained that they needed to stop being pussies. But that’s a different story for a different time.)

Point is, everything was hyper-planned. Until now.

When you don’t have a full network of people, the only thing you’re able to plan is a trip to the grocery store. And that’s about as fun as rolling naked in a briar patch.

So, I attempt to open myself to the possibilities – and embrace the unexpected.

Like, for example, coconuts in the road.

Yes. Coconuts. Rolling in the street. If one thought on it long enough, there could be an a-ha moment of sorts that, of course, palm trees are everywhere – so, a dropped coconut might, in fact, roll on down the road. (As do fallen palm fronds, which cause all manner of havoc because they’re truly not as light and airy as they look from the comfort of your chaise.)

There are also turtles and armadillos. Shelled and ready for shenanigans, these crazy creatures engage in a real-life Frogger that’s not for the faint of heart; leaving pacifists like me weighing the pros and cons of following suit to help them avoid a Game Over.

And, of course, there are the surprise people.

Bad surprise: catching the unloading of a dead body as I returned from a walk. (My real friends are rolling right now, because they know I don’t do dead.)  I blanched, broke out in a cold sweat and sprinted home.

Good surprise: My new friends from the Dominican Republic who speak much better English than I do Spanish – as you might expect from someone who studied French.

But my favorite surprise person popped up on one of my least favorite days.

My parents came to visit and we went to look for a new apartment in a different part of town. (Apartment hunting is my version of hell and I dreaded it from the moment I knew it was time to go.)

The week prior to their arrival, my phone bit the dust and sent me into a spinout of epic proportions. (Just so you know, everything seems far more unmanageable when you’re homesick, confused and in a brand new state. Because, yes, it was JUST a cell phone. Shut up.)

Fast forward to Saturday, new phone in hand. We saw a cute apartment and walked the neighborhood where we found another For Rent sign with a number. After breakfast at a local diner, I stepped outside with said brand new phone to call the realtor when I looked down with shock and horror as my new phone dialed my ex.

Time stopped.

Fuck.

Fuck.

FUCK!!!

I couldn’t process what was happening. How the hell??? Out of all the names in my contact list, how did that fucking thing dial him?!?!?

And, just in time, my brain managed make my finger hit END.

Heart pounding, I text my Best. I’m going to call you and hang up, don’t answer. Then you tell me if my number shows on your missed calls list.

At the same moment we’re lamenting my mistake, a car pulls over. A man jumps out, hands me a rose, gets down on his knee and sings, “You are so beautiful to me . . . “

Wait, what? Is this happening?

First reaction – how fun and sweet!

Second reaction – where is the hidden camera???

Third reaction – this has gone on way too long and it’s getting creepy.

Which he might’ve heard, because he hopped up, hugged me, thanked me for being amazing, got in his car and drove away.

How strange . . .

and lovely . . .

and absolutely unexpected . . .

and completely memorable!!!

Wonderful things can happen when we put ourselves out into the world and release the focus on our screens . . . when we let go of schedules and open to the possibilities.

Some might say when we learn to expect the unexpected. But, I’m not there yet. I mean, I’m still trying to be okay with not having definitive plans for the next two months.

However, I am happy to loosen my grip just a little and let every single day be its own adventure.