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Quilting One’s Way Through Spiritual Development

I wrote this paper as an assignment in my Spirituality & Counselling course in the fall of 2020 as part of my Masters in Counselling & Spirituality at St. Paul University, Ottawa. This paper contains some minor mistakes but I have done my best to reference my ideas correctly using APA format. You will find references listed at the end of the piece.


 

Many have taken on the task of trying to identify, classify and illustrate the spiritual journey of humans in a way that is applicable and relevant to all of humanity. Thus far, these attempts have led mostly to linear approaches that have the individual moving from one stage to the next as they seek love, oneness, God or spirit. Although popular, these stage models face extensive critique as one recognizes the human experience is far from linear, nor is it so easily divided into a neatly staged procession (Jastrzębski, 2020; Ozorak 2003; Ray & McFadden 2001; Reich 2003). Feminist critique argues that the limitations in these models are due in large part to the lack of diversity among their architects. As they see it, the linear perspective is simply a symptom of the larger issue: that these spiritual development models have all been the work of men, and white, educated men at that (Ackermann, 1989; Ray & McFadden, 2001). Carol Gilligan (as cited in Ray & McFadden, 2001) critiqued Kohlberg’s Moral Stages directly as being a white, male, upper class perspective and all stage-based theorists as blind to this narrow viewpoint.

With such a singular cultural perspective, we are sure to lose vital aspects of the human spiritual experience and cannot assume these models fit everyone. Reich (2003) found that culture had a significant impact on the experience of religion, noting that the same religion can be practiced very differently from one community to the next. He concluded that the stage models “characterize the main shared features of the person-God relationship of a ‘similar’ group of people,” (p.232). Thus, knowing that stage models of spiritual development have been the work of such a limited demographic of humanity, one must recognize that these models are missing important and valuable perspectives of the spiritual experience, namely those of women. Furthermore, not only are women’s voices largely absent from the conversation on spiritual development, their experience of spirituality and religion are vastly different from the experience of the men who created these models. From her study looking at gender differences in spiritual development, Bryant (2007) observed the following:

As women have historically struggled with religious inequalities, it is logical to assume that their conceptualization of spirituality has been impacted by perceptions of, or direct encounters with, oppressive circumstances in a way that men’s conceptualization of spirituality has not. (p. 844)

If men and women experience such striking differences in religion, how can we assume that a model designed by men is representative of the spiritual experience of both (all) genders? Ochs (as cited in Bryant, 2007) observes “since traditional spirituality has been male-centered, it has been regarded as an extension of the male maturational process that emphasizes individuation – coming into selfhood. The new spirituality… is an extension of the female maturational process that emphasizes nurturing – coming into relationship” (p.836).

To expand this further, in an exploration of her personal spiritual experience as a white, Christian woman in South Africa, Ackermann (1989) emphasizes how her place in the world directs her spiritual path:

My doing of theology originated in my need to reflect systematically and in an informed manner on my experience of domination and oppression as a woman… I do not see liberation as some sort of personal soul massage but as multi-dimensional, embracing politics, society, culture and our religious life… Being freed is not merely an individual experience – it means, I believe, being freed into a community where love, solidarity and creativity can flourish. (p.76)

In search of a design that would be representative of the female spiritual experience, Ray and McFadden (2001) reviewed Jane Goodall’s spiritual autobiography, an anthology of African American women’s writings about spirituality and two qualitative research studies of older women’s spirituality. From their work, they conclude that the stage model is based on an individualistic, solo, usually male experience and not the relational spirituality more commonly experienced by women (Ray & McFadden). Across religions and cultures, it is common to find women at the heart of the religious community. Rosemary Radford Ruether described the role of Catholic women in North America during early settler times as “the mainstay of the faith, gathering the family for prayer, educating children, observing the rounds of feasts and fasts” (1995, p. 20). Women’s experience of spirituality is pointedly communal. Ozorak (1996) contends that women focus more on personal connection with God and their religious community, whereas men focus more on the power and judgement of God and spiritual discipline. In her later article, Ozorak (2003) suggests that the individualistic culture of the Western world limits our capacity to see ourselves as integral and inseparable from the community and that a more integrated perspective is required when designing spiritual development models.

As alternatives, Ray and McFadden (2001) propose two metaphors to illustrate spiritual development: the web and the quilt. For the purposes of this essay, I will explore the quilt as a model for human spiritual development that honours the relational component of spiritual growth. This is not an uncommon metaphor. Again and again, quilting and weaving terms are used when discussing spirituality, by both women and men. Pargament describes spirituality as “interwoven into the fabric of everyday” (2007, p. 3). Whereas Plaskow & Christ (1989) use it in the name of their second anthology: Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality, with a patchwork pattern as the background of the book cover. The quilt metaphor is strikingly used by Ackermann (1989) as she describes her not always positive experience with Christianity as “a rag bag, a red bag, full of remnants of cloth, of different shapes, designs and textures, some a bit tattered and faded but still precious, others quite pristine and others whose colours don’t appeal to me” (p. 74). It seems the careful craft work most often associated with women is a strong symbol for the complexity of the spiritual experience.

Proposing the quilt as a model for relational spiritual development, Ray and McFadden (2001) narrow in on the quilting process. They observe that a quilt is made up of many unique blocks of fabric and often put together by a group of women, sometimes for someone in their family and other times for someone in need. Ray and McFadden recognize these as key components of women’s spirituality: togetherness and care for others. As for the use of the quilt, it shifts and changes over the course of a lifetime, sometimes used daily and other times put away in the top of the closet for a while with only a few squares of fabric showing (Ray and McFadden). The stitches, done by the hands of many women, are considered by Ray and McFadden to be relational patterns that although they may not always be easy to see, are fundamental to the structure of the whole. For Ackermann and her tattered fabrics, the thread that holds her quilt together is her personal spirituality within the larger, patriarchal religion which does not always represent nor fulfill her spiritual needs. For its complexity, originality and community essence, the quilt can be used as an effective model to illustrate the relational and diverse experiences of women, as well as community-oriented spiritual seekers.

But do we simply face another limited perspective when we put on the gendered glasses? Can those who take the solo spiritual journey see their experience in the mix of colours and patterns of a quilt? Perhaps. Ray and McFadden (2001) described how some quilts would be well organized and symmetrical, others unorganized and seemingly chaotic. Maybe there are linear quilts with only a few colours and patterns that more accurately represent an individual, stage-based spiritual journey. Or perhaps that is itself a limited perspective of the complex inner workings of the solo journey. Ultimately, with such variety available in the crafting of a quilt, as a model it could serve to illustrate the spiritual journey of all, should we think to do so is even possible.

Although all models may ultimately be incomplete and limited in perspective, women deserve a model that reflects their own experience. The oppression so often faced by women in the church has not been a deterrent to their spiritual quest and their spiritual experience warrants representation in our understanding of spiritual development. Among college students, Bryant (2007) found women to be more committed to religious practices and spiritual growth than their male counterparts. Kanis (2002) takes that further, maintaining that “Our bodies have everything to do with our interpretations of religion and religious experience, not only because of what we experience in our differently gendered bodies but also because of how we have been taught to understand ourselves as gendered beings” (p.1867). Kanis and many others make the important connection between women’s bodies and spirituality, with their bodies creating and holding sacred space through birth and lactation – the most simple and vital relational aspects of the human spiritual experience.

So, can the quilt be used effectively as a model for spiritual development? Based on the ability to create quilts with different shapes, colours, designs, textures and sizes, it seems that we could assume the quilt model would be able to encompass all spiritual experiences. But those who walk a solo, spiritual path with defined steps may not see their journey within the colours, patterns and stitches of the quilt. Ultimately, our attempts at defining the spiritual experience are always limited by our personal perspective of spirituality and how it plays out in our life, be it functional or ontological, immanent or transcendent, individualistic or collective. Thus, we must conclude knowing “All models are false. Some of them are useful” (Jastrzębski, 2020). There can be no singular model that represents the entirety of the human spiritual journey. With the sacred in all of us and in everything, there are as many unique paths to connection and development as there are humans. However, when attempting to structure a model of spiritual development it is imperative that the voices of women and their relational experience of spirituality are included. The ways of women are deeply sacred, and they must be woven into the fabric of our spiritual understanding.

Whether you walk a straight path or sew a complicated quilt or even find yourself walking a forest path with a warm quilt around your shoulders, your spiritual experience is beautiful and unique.

 

References:

Ackermann, D. (1989). An unfinished quilt: a woman’s credo. Journal of Theology for Southern Africa, 66, 74–78. Retrieved October 6, 2020 from https://search-ebscohost-com.proxy.bib.uottawa.ca/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0000820071&site=ehost-live

Bryant, A. N. (2007). Gender Differences in Spiritual Development During the College Years. Sex Roles, 56(11-12), 835-846. doi:10.1007/s11199-007-9240-2

Jastrzębski, A. (2020, October 6). Development: Spirituality and Psychology [Lecture notes and PowerPoint slides]. Brightspace. http://uottawa.brightspace.com/d2l/home

Kanis, (2002). Theobiology and Gendered Spirituality. American Behavioural Scientist. 45(12), 1866-1874. doi: 10.1177/000276402128753887

Ozorak, E. W. (1996). The Power, but Not the Glory: How Women Empower Themselves Through Religion. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 35(1), 17-29.   doi:10.2307/1386392

Ozorak, E. W. (2003). COMMENTARY: Culture, Gender, Faith: The Social Construction of the Person-God Relationship. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 13(4), 249-257. doi:10.1207/s15327582ijpr1304_2

Pargament, K. I. (2011). Spiritually integrated psychotherapy: Understanding and addressing the sacred. Guilford.

Plaskow, J., & Christ, C. P. (1995). Weaving the visions: New patterns in feminist spirituality. Harper.

Ray, R. E. & McFadden, S. H. (2001). The Web and the Quilt: Alternatives to the Heroic Journey Toward Spiritual Development. Journal of Adult Development, 8(4), 201-211. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1011334411081

Reich, K. H. (2003). INVITED ESSAY: The Person-God Relationship: A Dynamic Model. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 13(4), 229-247. doi:10.1207/s15327582ijpr1304_1

Ruether, R. R. (1995). Catholic women in North America. In R. R. Reuther & R. S. Keller (Eds.), In our own voices: Four centuries of American women’s religious writing (pp. 17-60). Harper.

 

Just Getting Started: Feminist Writings on Religion

Let’s start here: I am not an expert in the field of thealogy, theology, religion or any such thing. However, spirit has always been a truth I’ve felt in my bones and I have chosen to embark on graduate studies in the field of counseling and spirituality, with a feminist and gender studies focus. Classes start September 2020 and I know I will have many interesting things to share with you as I progress through my program. For now, to get us started, I’m sharing some of the ideas, thoughts and critiques I explored in the past year through some prerequisite religious studies on the topic of women and religion as well as indigenous spirituality.

We’ll see where belief, mythology and love take us…

 

I was raised an atheist, my only experiences in Church those of random moments – a rare holiday spent with the aunt and uncle who live far away, a few times with the step-grandparents who were part of my life for only a few years, one strange day when my father took me to a beautiful church in the countryside where we sang, feasted and I could truly feel the love so many call God.

Then when I was a bit older and free to explore spirit on my own, the beautiful Catholic Churches of Central America, standing tall at their honoured place in each town square, always called me in. But I felt out of place. I felt inappropriate, to be honest. I knew almost nothing of this God and feared it was sacrilegious to sit there if I didn’t really believe, or unkind to sit there in bewilderment maybe. I didn’t get it, didn’t know the stories everybody knew. I didn’t know this God or what he stood for.

My experience with spirit didn’t live within walls. I felt connected in the woods, at a little stream near my home. I felt it on the beaches, not far from those Catholic churches, with the steady beat of waves leading my heart. I saw the magic in the sunsets, the grace in the winds, the truth in the body.

I felt spirit inside me. I felt spirit around me.

I felt it.

I knew it.

In my heart. In my gut. In my soul.

So I dabbled…. I sat in those Catholic pews, the sweat of the tropical heat sticking my bare legs to the wood. I took an Eastern Religion course during my undergrad, hoping Buddhism would call to me. I prayed, but only sometimes. I did yoga. I tried to meditate.

And then there’s the time Jesus saved me… I was surfing on a point break in El Salvador, unfamiliar to me, and got caught in a current. I swear I would have drowned there if another surfer hadn’t paddled in, gave me his leash to hold onto and towed me back out to safety. With deep gratitude, I asked him his name. “Jesus,” he said.

Not really what people mean when they say they were saved by Jesus but I’m alive so I’ll take it.

But unless I’m in just such a drowning situation, I don’t believe Jesus is coming to save me, or anyone else for that matter. I believe Jesus was a real man, a prophet. I believe he saw truths the people of his time were unable to see. I believe most of us are still unwilling to see those truths, still unwilling to value the lives of the less fortunate, to extend love to everyone, regardless of race, gender, culture or beliefs. I believe in THAT Jesus, and the woman who walked alongside him, Mary Magdalene. I believe they both found the truth of love in their hearts, that they both knew the answers were only to be found inside of us, not within church walls or bestowed upon us by a higher power.

Be on your guard so that no one deceives you by saying “Look over here!” or “Look over there!” For the child of true Humanity exists within you. Follow it! Those who search for it will find it. – Mary 4 : 3-7

And so whether you are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Pagan, Anishinaabe, Buddhist or anything else, I believe we are all looking for the same thing. We are looking for the humanity that lives within us. May we call it spirit, love, truth, faith, it doesn’t matter. We are all searching for connection. The connection that lives within us all.

I believe in the goddesses, the witches, the Marys. I believe in the divine feminine and the divine masculine. I believe in love and spirit. I believe in the power of faith.

I’m going to use this space to share with you some of the things I learn about women and their experiences with religion. There will be criticism. There will be ideas you’ve never thought before. If you were raised religious, you might not like everything I have to say. That’s ok. We all need to stretch sometimes. I am just learning. I look forward to your comments and additional resources you might have to share. I will trust that we’re in this together, that we are all here for the same reason.

We all want to feel connected to spirit. We all want to have faith.

 

Next week I’ll be looking at the Eve & Adam story from the Old Testament (isn’t it hard to read it when Eve is written first???). With a critical, feminist perspective I’ll bring this old story into an interesting “new” light and gain a greater understanding of the motivation and impact of this pivotal piece of scripture.

 

 

Sola: To be female and alone

It’s quiet. They’re gone. It’s just me, a glass of pinot grigio and my laptop.

I do love my kids, so very much. And yes, I often miss them when they aren’t here.

But also, I so very much love my time alone.

I love the quiet. No interruptions. Following my own rhythm through the moments, the days. No one to cook for, no argument to resolve. Yes, I very much like my time alone.

But it is more than that. More than a craving for the previous, pre-kid life when my life revolved around, well, me. It’s more than that.

It’s more than being tired after years of sleepless nights with littles.

It’s more than being bored of preparing multiple meals a day.

It’s more than a need for a reprieve.

Yes, this pull to be alone is much more than all that.

It’s me.

Sola.

 

I think I’m different than many, but not all. It is our society that tells us that being alone is wrong, unfulfilling, something only one would want should they be damaged goods.

50 year anniversaries are what we’re taught to aspire to. Forever. Happily ever after. Always.

But I never wanted those things. Forever didn’t sound good to me. I was pretty sure I would change my mind about this, that and the other thing sometime between now and forever. How could I commit to happily ever after? How could I know today, or 10 years ago for that matter, what I would want every day after?

All I knew that I could depend on, all I knew to be true, was that I would be forever with my own damn self. That I would be spending every day, every moment, with me.

And that kind of forever, well it gets me all a-flutter. That kind of always feels juuuuuuust right.

It’s me.

Sola.

 

I want my life to be my own. I want my days to be filled with my priorities, my dreams. I want to read when I want to and do the dishes later. I want to feed the kids cereal again and eat yet another bowl of kitchari. I want to be first in line. I want to be my own number one.

I know when I do this, I am filled with more joy.

I know when I do this, I have more energy.

I know when I do this,  I mother a thousand times better than before.

It’s not easy, in a world of couple-privilege, to choose to be alone. To tell the world, no, I do not want a husband. And yes, I do own this house.

No, they don’t need a step-dad. And yes, I’m rocking this on my own. Thank you very much.

Because I got this, this alone thing.

It’s everything I always wanted.

It’s me.

Sola.

 

That doesn’t mean I don’t love, that my time is so preciously mine that there’s no space for friendship and romance and community.

In fact, my life is FULL. Really full.

I’ve got good people. Ones to laugh with. Ones to call in need. Ones to help and ones to care for. I’ve got people, same as I’ve always had people.

And now I can love them the way I’m meant to. Now I can give them my best.

Because my best only shows up when I follow my own rhythm, when I make my own moves.

My best comes from the quiet, the solitude, the rest.

My best comes from the afternoon reading, the lonely kayak down the river, the hour on the deck with wine and my laptop.

I’m meant to be alone. It is not something I wish could be different. It is something I chose.

It’s me.

Sola.
 
 

Thoughts on Rest & Intimidating Women

Yesterday was a hard day. I muddled through the morning well enough, no yelling to get the boys out of the house early for my oldest son’s piano lesson before school. I had hoped to then be able to walk my other boy the 5 blocks to kindergarten but I got pulled back to my bed, needing a few minutes rest and then we weren’t ready in time. So like every day, we drove.

My next hope was to walk downtown to my appointment with my counselor, but for that too, I went too slow, ended up sitting on my bedroom floor wasting ten minutes scrolling Facebook and again, wasn’t ready with enough time to walk.

But I didn’t get angry which is progress. I didn’t beat myself up for not being able to stay focused and get out the door on time. I was, however, disappointed. Disappointed that it feels like it’s too hard to be me these days, so hard I can’t even walk my kid 5 blocks to school the one day it’s an option this week.

Counseling was excellent though. Big, huge, insightful connections made. Yes, I do feel the need to adjust myself to make others happy. And I mean everyone, at all times, always. I can see how hard I tried as a young girl to make my parents happy, to never cause a fuss, to be perfect. Maybe even perfect enough that they would be happy.

I thought I had that much power.

As children do.

But my parents’ happiness doesn’t belong to me.

Nor does yours.

My logical brain understands that. My traumatized brain does not.

When I got back from counseling I decided I would let myself rest. This is always my debate: Do I need to rest to care for myself or am I being lazy?

Usually the answer is the former but for most of my life I’ve beat myself up believing the latter. Almost every time I’ve “rested”, I’ve had a tape on repeat in my head telling me I should be doing more, trying harder. I tell myself I should be active or catch up on cleaning or do some damn work. But the PMDD holds me down. Keeps me cuddled and cocooned on the couch.

But what came together at counseling today, the realization that I’ve spent a lifetime adjusting myself to fit the needs of others, has shown me that I am exhausted and rest is exactly what I need. Along with the PMDD, all signs point to Adrenal fatigue too. So yes, I need to rest. I do not need to use my time to be what I think others want me to be, think I should be.

I need only use my time to rest and heal.

Which sometimes often means an afternoon on the couch, a little stoned, watching reruns of Grey’s Anatomy.

I think I’ve discovered why I love Meredith enough to rewatch the series too many times. She is wonderfully imperfect. She drinks too much, rarely communicate well, makes an endless number of “mistakes”. Yet she is brilliant, talented, respected. She is a horribly imperfect woman who is powerful, smart and strong.

The imperfect woman. Not often allowed. Rarely celebrated.

Intimidating.

Yes, the imperfect but strong woman may often be described as intimidating.

But my favourite internet meme of 2018 says it all:

“You are not intimidating, they are intimidated. There’s a difference.”

We are shifting, this world of ours, from seeing women as intimidating to realizing rather, that we, the societal “we”, are intimidated. We’ve lived a hundred lifetimes in a world that fears women, that fears them so deeply that they have been pushed out of every leadership position. Out of religion. Out of politics. Out of medicine. Into the home. Into motherhood.

But then still, the power of women as mothers is too scary so we medicalize birth, pull it away from the midwives, promote formula and send women back to work. We push them away from the feminine that is connected and powerful, intimidating.

I believe I am someone who intimidates others and I’ve spent my life thinking it’s my responsibility, my duty as a woman, to not do so. To always acquiesce, to always bend myself for another’s comfort. No wonder I’m tired. No wonder I’m sick of it.

No wonder I like watching an imperfect woman learn to own her fierceness and become someone who most definitely leaves many intimidated, and better for it.

So when I get off my couch, when my rest is done and my hormones are finally balanced again, I plan to love my own imperfect fierceness and leave in my wake a wave of intimidated men.

(Mis)Stepping Into Vulnerability

Too many days on the couch. Too many Netflix episodes watched (thank you, Jane The Virgin). Too many moments spent feeling sorry for myself. Too many hours thinking I should be more productive.

Week after week.

It’s been just over five weeks since I fell, missing a step and landing on my toes, rolling forward with my foot taking all my weight in a way it is simply not designed to without on pointe ballet shoes and years of training.

And we were in the middle of a month long trip to Costa Rica.

I’ve tried to write about other things, really, I have. But this is all I can think about – how fucking pissed I am that I lost two weeks of our trip. How fucking tired I am of lying on my couch with my foot up. How much I want to feel strong and capable again instead of scared and helpless.

Yesterday, a mid-February day in Ontario, it was unseasonably warm outside and I was committed to walking around the block, the farthest, by far, that I have walked in the past 5 weeks. So there I was, getting myself ready to go and casually asked my sweetie to join me but he said no. He said he had work to do. I flipped out, as one does when their first steps in the sunshine are not seen as momentous to others as they are to the one who has been on the couch for weeks. I ranted and raved about him missing out on the sunny day, about how we have this time we could be spending together and all he ever does is work. I threw my fit. He threw his.

Alone in the bathroom, post-argument and just minutes before putting on my winter clothes to leave the house, I realized that I was scared to go without him. I realized that in fact, if he didn’t come, I wouldn’t feel safe going on my own. What would I do if I came across a big patch of ice? What if I slipped and fell and got hurt again?

And yet I didn’t tell him this when I emerged from the bathroom. I stuck with stubborn and told him I expected him to come with me no matter what, staying quiet about the fact that in that moment I felt like I needed him.

Because I’m pretty sick and tired of needing him, truth be told.

Needing him to make me a cup of tea, to get me down the back stairs to the car, and in those early days before we had found crutches (not the easiest items to find in a tropical paradise) I even needed him to get me to the bathroom, to get the clothes I wanted to wear from my suitcase. I’m not keen on being needy. I’m not keen on losing control.

I’m not keen on messy, imperfect, difficult life realities. I prefer life to do as I expect it to so that I can find my way through the days without having to come close to anything that might taste like vulnerability.

Only in my writing do I find my vulnerability interesting, soothing even. Only when the fears shape themselves into words do I feel safe exploring them. This has done me well so far in life, using journals and blog posts to examine my inner workings, the harder feelings, the scarier truths but I know another possibility is calling me, one that gives space to real life, face to face vulnerability. To the deeper connections that are only available in messy relationships that hold space for vulnerability, that honour its power.

Vulnerability has power. Don’t doubt it. It takes what may appear simple and dull, and illuminates its truth, its sparkle, its depth. It cracks open windows and lets in the fresh, sunny air. It weaves together incredible, committed love. In fact, its power might be what scares you must about it.

 

So perhaps, if one was to look for meaning in my busted foot, one would see the opportunity to be needy, helpless and vulnerable as a good thing. As a learning opportunity. As growth. But, lest you think I’m starting to like this, I will admit that right now the idea of being more vulnerable in real life makes me nauseated, makes me squirm with discomfort, in fact as I write this, a look of disgust is coming over my face. I don’t do real life vulnerable. But unfortunately, I know a commitment to it is on my path.

In the weeks leading up to my injury, as I contemplated a theme for 2017, words like “messy”, “naked” and “trust” came up again and again. Ultimately I landed on “Sacred Connection”, knowing that would only be realized with a very deep commitment to vulnerability, truth and faith. Despite the angst this theme caused me, I knew it was the one that most deserved my dedication. So considering that, if you really want to take the woo-woo to the next level, one might even see this injury as the universe delivering me exactly what I asked for. But fuck, I would have appreciated a simpler lesson. (Though it could also be argued that the universe has been trying to teach me this lesson for awhile now…)

Or maybe, shit just happens sometimes. Sometimes you just miss a step.

Either way, being the introspective, find-meaning-in-everything kind of person that I am, I will try out vulnerability in real life, daring it stay longer than the walking cast or cane. I will choose to see its power rather than fear its process. I will allow it to crack open a window, letting in the fresh air and sunlight in little ways that keep the discomfort at a minimum, and in big ways too, nausea, squirmy-ness, disgust and all.

 

And so, as I write these last words, I will muster up the courage to once again ask for a little help, this time in the form of strong shot of espresso delivered to me here, on the couch.

I Need Not Be Perfect To Be Loved (Nor Do You)

It’s another stunning sunset on Playa Jaco. The sky transforms from crystal clear blue to vibrant red, orange and pink…

My sweetie and our youngest play in the sand, digging holes and filling the plastic dump truck until it overflows…

I’m sitting a few feet away on a folding chair brought from our rental house, my foot, in a removable brace that goes halfway up my calf, resting on an upside down sand bucket. I wish I was on the ground playing or bobbing between the salty waves. I wish I could run and splash and be silly.

But I can’t, so I sit and watch.

And in a moment when self-pity and disappointment are threatening to wash over me, I am suddenly overwhelmed by a knowing that this is OK. This moment, this incredibly imperfect moment is OK. No, it’s not how I imagined it would be. Yes, I would love for it to be different. But it is what it is, and it’s OK.

Imperfectly, I am still sitting on this beach, watching this sunset. My youngest is covered in sand, building memories with his father (well, he probably won’t remember them because he’s three, but we will). My oldest is back at the house, beating his grandfather at Rummy.

Not every memory needs to be perfect to matter. Life doesn’t need to follow a pre-planned path, each day organized for optimal experience, to be right, worthy and wonderful.

 

Life can be messy. Everything can fall apart – you can break your big toe and strain all the muscles in your foot halfway through your month in Costa Rica – and it’s alright.

A good life is not made up of perfectly executed moments but rather a good life is one full of love, no matter the mess.

Love.

And my sudden realization goes a bit deeper… not only need our life not be perfect to be grand, but we need not be perfect to be loved.

I, in fact, don’t have to be perfect to be loved.

Unable to cook for the kids, or wipe poopy bums, or take a shower without help, my sweetheart has loved and cared for me every moment of the last 10 incredibly difficult days. He has not lost his patience once. He has reassured me every time I’ve cried.

And right here I am brave enough to say I would not have been so patient were the roles reversed. You see, I expect perfection. From life. From myself. From those around me.

Oh, the joys I am missing because of that foolish expectation!

And so I go even deeper in this new found respect for imperfection…

I don’t have to be perfect to love myself.

I can love the imperfection in me. I can love the mistakes. I can love the parts of me that are not ideal. I do not need to withhold love to any degree, awaiting some unattainable achievement of an ideal self.

 

How did I not know all this before??

In this moment it seems so simple.

Of course life is not perfect. Of course we are not perfect. And yet there is still love. Deep, true, authentic love.

Imperfections and all.

Sitting here, as the sun made it’s final dip below the horizon, with my busted foot on an upside down sand bucket, there’s love.