When All Else Fails: a Year of Surrender

It’s been over a year since I published my last blog post.  I’m well aware of how such a long lapse violates every best practice in the world of blogging.  But I don’t really care…. In our world of constant (digital) connection, sometimes you need to retreat and make space to reflect, feel what you need to feel, and heal.  Disengage from the triggers of Facebook.  Engage in authentic human connection with those who matter most to you, those who accept and love you no matter what.   Write for no other audience than yourself.  Prioritize self-care.  Give yourself permission to FEEL and, eventually, to HEAL.

And that’s exactly what I needed to do in my own time and space, while trusting that I’d know when I was ready to share my heart and soul online.  Over the last year, I’ve been mentally crafting this post about my lessons in surrendering, appropriately titled “When All Else Fails.”  I’ve held off from publishing for a couple reasons.  Firstly, I don’t feel comfortable sharing all of the details, especially those related to my loved ones, so I’ve been experimenting with ways to share without oversharing.   Secondly, I haven’t felt up to the vulnerability hangover I experience with every post, yet I know how much freer I feel when I share and how connected I feel when I discover that I’m not alone.

So bear with me as I delicately dance around certain details from this year of surrender…..

Over a year ago, towards the end of 2015, life dealt us a few unexpected blows in a row.  There’s a saying that “bad things happen in three’s,” which is exactly how it all went down.  First, my husband’s company decided to end their Alaska ventures, effectively ending my husband’s and all of his co-workers’ assignments in Alaska.  We immediately knew this meant we’d be relocating much sooner than we originally anticipated, but we wouldn’t know for a couple months where or when we’d move.  Not long after this announcement, a few of our loved ones shared saddening news with us, which weighed heavily on our hearts.  And then, as the final sucker punch, we miscarried a perfectly healthy baby.  This was our 3rd loss, and last attempt at giving our son a sibling.

To say that I was an emotional mess would be an understatement.  Even now- a year later- I’m still grieving and trying to process what happened at the end of 2015.  At the time, I distracted myself with the day-to-day activities of caring for my then 3 year old, and preparing for our rather abrupt move to Houston.  I couldn’t bear to look at his baby clothes and gear, so, as part of our move prep, I gave most of it away, which was the emotional equivalent of throwing kerosene onto my open wounds and then lighting a match (=white-hot-searing-pain).  Our relocation, combined with the overlapping holiday season, forced me to fake my way through daily life and pretend like I was taking it all in stride.  Looking back at myself, I honestly don’t know how I managed to keep it together as much as I did.  But truth is that I was overwhelmed by intense emotional pain, covering me in a heavy blanket of grief laced with disappointment, anger, and deep–seeded shame.

With 2015 ending so painfully, I realized that my only option was to surrender….to completely let go and trust God’s plan for our lives.  As go-getter who has white-knuckled my way through life, I couldn’t imagine a greater challenge than handing the keys to my life over to God, climbing into the back seat and staring out the window at life’s passing scenery.  At first, surrendering felt like I was giving up… like I was stepping out of the driver’s seat of my car, waving my pathetic little flag, and then lying down in the middle of the road to allow car after car to drive over me.  I felt like a quitter:  beaten down, discouraged, and flattened.  A total f’ing failure.  Being someone who doesn’t give up easily, this isn’t how I imagined my story ending.

Until my coach, Cassi, sent me a short piece written by Liz Gilbert, I struggled to differentiate between quitting and surrendering.  I just didn’t get it until I read this piece and then the proverbial light bulb switched on.  Here’s an excerpt of what Liz wrote about surrender:

“Surrender is what happens when you come to the end of your power. Surrender is what happens when you have searched to the bottom of your soul and found out this truth — which is that you really can’t do this thing anymore. Surrender is what happens when you don’t have any more ideas for how to fix everything. Surrender is what happens when none of your survival strategies work anymore — and your playbook is out of pages. Surrender is what happens when you turn it all over to God. You release your grip on the thing. You stop white-knuckling it. You stop pretending things are great when things are actually horrible. You stop putting on a fake face, or glossing over the problem, or lying. You face the truth that you are not the most powerful force in the universe. You turn it over to fate. You exhale, and let go.

There is always grace in surrender. There is always truth in surrender. There is always a great deal of human dignity in surrender. And what happens next is often very beautiful. You crack open because you have stopped fighting and pretending, and once you do that…anything whatsoever can now occur. Sometimes your true fate can only find you after you have surrendered. As Richard from Texas taught me about cracking yourself open in surrender…well, that where God can rush in. The universe can sometimes only work through you once you have surrendered.”

 

Suddenly, after years of believing that surrendering was just a fancy word for quitting, I experienced my AHA! moment.  This mental shift enabled me to practice true surrender at a time when I had come to the end of my power, when I had run out of options, when ALL ELSE HAD FAILED.  I surrendered to this devastatingly dark place… to my broken, grieving heart… to the uncertainties of our future….to my powerlessness.  I chose SURRENDER as my theme for 2016, and decided to practice the art of surrender whenever possible, trusting everything would work out according to God’s plan.

As the saying goes, “life is a roller coaster,” and 2016 has been no exception.  At the end of 2015, I felt like my ‘coaster went off the rails and bottomed out in the pitch black.  My only option was to surrender to this darkness and trust that I’d eventually find my way back to the light.  As I’ve roller-coastered through 2016, I practiced surrendering to all of unknowns in my life, regularly repeating my mantra of “trust and let go, trust and let go, trust and let go.”  Of course, life continuously tested my ability to trust and let go…from moving to a new city without having a place to live or knowing how long we’d stay… to finding a new home/school/gym/church/social circle/etc… to setting boundaries with family members… to an ongoing dental drama (read: no front teeth!)….. to countless doctor’s appointments and multiple surgeries… to anxiously awaiting results from cancer screenings… to the unexpected ending of a friendship I hold dear… to touring over 70 homes before making an offer only to lose out to another buyer….to having this same house fall back into our laps 10 days later when the first buyer walked away without reason… to the disappointing election results… to planning yet another move over the year-end holidays.. my “surrender” list could go on and on!

Despite the abundant opportunities to practice, I’m still haven’t mastered the art of surrender.  I am–and will always be–a humble student in the “School of Surrender.”  But what I will say is this: There are moments– like the one captured in this photo taken on Disneyland Paris’ Space Mountain roller coaster earlier this year– where I am riding in complete darkness and I am fully present, where I am energized and open, where I am free and one with God, where I have complete faith that my ride will bring me safely back to the light. These moments are fleeting–few and far between–but I have experienced them, so I know they are within my reach when I simply let go and enjoy the ride.

Space Mountain, Disneyland Paris, May 2016

PS: I also surrendered to my inner poet, a voice I’ve silenced for many years but desperately wants to express herself.  So here goes…

The Arms of Surrender

She admitted,

without pause,

to be one of THOSE types

who clung to life like a tick to skin

She was known as

a control freak

a white-knuckler

a perfectionista

(and a micro-manager, according to some)

She was both adored and abhorred

for her attention to detail

for her ability to deliver

for her “dedication”

She clung so tightly because

she knew no different

As a girl, this is how she learned to survive

Her persistence even earned her praise

Until one day, she found herself hanging onto the very end of life’s rope

She had tried everything

And nothing had worked

She didn’t know what else to do

But to let go

While she wiped the sweat from her brow, she loosened her grip, just a bit

Lingering here for a moment

Relishing in the tension

Between doing and being

Then she let go

Completely

And as she fell

She released all of the beliefs

which had held her back

which had kept her clinging

to that tangled, knotted rope

She stopped trying so hard to please, to be perfect, to maintain control

She stopped forcing herself to be anything she wasn’t meant to be

She stopped blaming and shaming herself

She stopped feeling like she was damaged goods, broken and irreparable

She stopped believing she was unworthy, undesirable, unlovable

She fell freely,

evenly,

gracefully

through baby blue skies and bruise-colored clouds

through the sun’s strong rays and the moon’s chalky glow

through the Milky Way and the galaxies far far away

And when she landed,

she found herself

lovingly embraced by

the Arms of Surrender

— Christina Zini, June 2016

 


Want to know more about Surrendering?

Surrendering, as I’m learning, is a constant practice…. Like a daily (or even minute-by-minute) practice of letting go of my thoughts, emotions,  desires, anything and everything I’ve got a firm grip on.  It begins with truly experiencing my emotions, not avoiding them or disassociating myself from them, not telling myself that I shouldn’t feel anger/fear/grief/jealousy/etc..  I’ve learned a lot from reading Michael Singer’s books “The Surrender Experiment” and “Untethered Soul.”  I also enjoyed reading John Ortberg’s “If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat.”  I’ve found practices like prayer, meditation, visualizations helpful. My nightly ritual of writing a “Love/Leave” list in my journal has helped me to capture whatever I appreciated or loved about the day and whatever I want to leave behind or let go of.  Thankfully, my “love” list is always longer than my “leave” list.  I’ve also found yoga, spinning and walking/running to help me release whatever is festering.  I’m also a HUGE believer in and consumer of therapy, acupuncture, and energy work.. but I wouldn’t have come this far in my surrender journey without the support and guidance of my fabulous coach, Cassi Christiansen!

 

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Are you there, God? It’s me, Christina

Images found on Pinterest.  Hand of God by Younsung Kim.

Photo Credits: 1) Paige Locke 2) Hand of God” by Yongsung Kim 3) evangelismcoach.org

I feel compelled to begin this post with a disclaimer: this is a meaty, murky subject of which I have limited experience and knowledge. I’m not a theologian, a philosopher, a clergy member, a spiritual leader, or a devout yogi.  I’ve never checked myself into a monastery, a nunnery, or an ashram to sit in silence and experience nirvana for days on end.  The closest I’ve come is spending a (noisy) week at Bible camp in Three Lakes, Wisconsin, as a kid and then a (less noisy) week at a Six Senses spa in Thailand as an adult.   The only nirvana I’ve experienced is the one that smells like teen spirit.  I’ve always subscribed to the Christian faith, but I’m your typical lay person:  highly flawed with a faith that has waxed and waned over the years.  So now you can decide whether or not to continue reading…

Despite my lack of credentials and spiritual shortcomings, I am a truth-seeker, a contemplator, a self-improvement junkie, and, most importantly, a believer.  Stripped of my ego’s domination, I’m a sensitive soul who wants to be a channel of God’s peace and love in this world.  I yearn to know more about God and feel His* presence in my life.  I strive to be more God-conscious even though I’ve struggled to grasp what it actually means and how to achieve greater consciousness.  My desire to be more God-conscious often feels like an unattainable goal, like trying to run like a Kenyan when my body is built like a Swedish farm girl.  And yet, and yet, and yet…. I hear God whispering that it’s within my reach if I can learn to drown out the noise of our Earthy world and tune into His universal vibrations…the whole notion of “being in this world, but not of this world,” if you know what I mean.

Does hearing His whispers mean that I’m already God-conscious?  I think so. From my limited “earthly” understanding, God resides within us and we can access His presence anytime.  Each of us possesses the power to achieve God-consciousness, also known as a higher consciousness or transcendentalism.  This is a core belief of most faiths, including Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Baha’i, etc.   Just like the lesson Dorothy learned in “The Wizard of Oz” when Glinda the Good Witch tells Dorothy that she had the power all along and only needed to learn it for herself.  Close eyes, click heels, return home… Sounds simple, doesn’t it? So, why does it feel so frickin’ difficult???  I can point to experiences where I’ve felted His strong presence, such as the moment my mom entered eternal life, during a few deeply blissful meditations, and while worshiping to music.  I’ve also witnessed His miracles, and how He has answered prayers in the most unbelievable, inexplicable, mind-blowing ways.  These experiences have stirred my soul enough to CRAVE His presence just like I crave Trader Joe’s mini dark chocolate peanut butter cups… MORE PLEASE!!  Whenever I feel that God-consciousness eludes me, I consider all of the “evidence” of His presence, and remind myself of the ways I can satiate my craving through prayer, meditation, writing, and music.  So, I know it’s possible… yes, it’s possible.

But let’s face it… I don’t live in a constant state of serene meditation and prayer. In fact, my daily life is quite the opposite of serene: it’s chaotic, often unpredictable, and quite MESSY.  I usually wake up at the crack of dawn, after a night of tossing and turning, with a tiny human attached to my back or belly.  My sweet little Toots wakes up between 6-7 a.m. with a list of three year old demands: “Mommy, I need to go potty! Mommy, I want juicey please.  Mommy, watch Dora.  Mommy, I want clothes NOW.  Mommy, I want (fill in the blank).” I stumble out of bed, completely sleep-deprived, with God-consciousness as the FURTHEST thing from my mind.  I move around on auto-pilot, with my talkative ego dominating my mental chatter.  I’m aware that my thoughts are often small—I mean, embarrassingly petty and trivial—and my early morning emotional state is best described as “fragile.”  My day continues at warp speed while I juggle my son’s needs with household chores, meal preparation, errands, exercise, and my part-time coaching business.  Listening to contemporary worship music while driving 65 mph down the highway and sipping herbal tea is about as close to enlightenment as I get. In a blink of the eye, it’s time to give Toots a bath, read him a few stories, and put him to bed.  At the moment, bedtime involves lots of crying and protesting, followed by lying on the floor next to his bed until he falls asleep, and then eventually letting him sleep in our bed when he wakes up screaming.  My time to meditate and pray is reduced to a few minutes as I’m falling asleep and groggily giving thanks for our day, the miracle of Toots’ life, and His many blessings.  Then wake up, and repeat!

No surprise that I don’t feel particularly God-conscious…

So, how do I become more God-conscious while still going about with daily life?  I wouldn’t be much of a wife, mother, friend, or professional if I spend my days sitting in a meditative silence.  God certainly hasn’t called me to monkhood!  The only answer is this:  to slow down enough to listen to those whispers I hear and honor them… to slow down enough to notice all of the ways He speaks to us through nature, the people around us, and experiences…to slow down enough to savor the present moment without agonizing over the past or worrying about the future.  In my last post, LEAP! with your Heart, I referred to this inner voice as my heart, but others may call it their instinct, intuition, or gut feeling.  Regardless of the label we choose to describe this inner wisdom, this is God’s voice speaking to us.  He’s not the voice of shame, fear, anger, disappointment, or worry—gals, that’s your ego talking.  He’s (or She’s) the gentle voice inside us that encourages and empowers us, that loves us just as we are today, fabulously flawed.  When we let His voice flow freely, we experience His divine grace: a love like no other, a peace everlasting.

What I’ve come to understand as I’ve crafted this piece is that tuning into your inner wisdom IS God-consciousness.  We needn’t look outside ourselves to find it—it’s a gift, always accessible without any strings attached.  God wants us to be the uniquely beautiful, talented women that He created us to be.  He doesn’t expect us to be perfect and is quick to forgive our shortcomings.  He calls us to slow down enough to listen to our hearts and trust this voice to guide us in every aspect of our lives.  He challenges us to stand in faith…to trust and be patient… to believe…to be grateful…and to dream big.

*Note: I’ve used a male pronoun for God, but I actually don’t believe God is a “she” or “he.”  Some writers use “it,” but that didn’t feel right either.  God is God!

(Keep scrolling down for Discussion Questions/Writing Prompts)

Found on Pinterest

Found on Pinterest


Discussion Questions/Writing Prompts:

What does God-consciousness or Higher Consciousness mean to you? How do you connect with God or your Higher Power?  Think about some examples of when you’ve experienced God-consciousness, enlightenment, or however you wish to describe that awesomely peaceful feeling.

What daily challenges do you face in connecting with God or your Higher Power? What tips can you share with me and other women for listening to God’s voice (aka your heart, your inner wisdom, your intuition)?

As you become more God-conscious, tuning into that voice, what are you being called to do? What’s one action you’d like to take towards that calling?

For my fellow Christians, when I’m in need of shot of God-consciousness, this is one of my favorite You Tube videos to watch of Kim Walker-Smith singing “Holy Spirit You are Welcome Here.”  And when I’m feeling like I’ve totally lost the connection, well then it’s time to watch Worship Mob’s cover of “Say Something I’m Giving Up on You.”