I Wonder

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

I’ve been thinking about you.

I have been thinking about your faith.

I’ve been thinking about your pain.

I’ve been thinking about your joy.

I’ve been thinking about your life.

Joy comes and goes. Pain comes and goes. Our breathing comes and goes. Our living comes and goes.

And we have oh so many feelings about this.

Feelings have the potential to overwhelm us. We can easily feel consumed and generalize that to all of life.

In my living, I have come to believe the biggest mistake I can ever make is believing that any singular, isolated moment is the totality of living.

It’s not. Truly it’s not. Yet I keep getting stuck as though it is all there is to this being in life.

No singular moment is the entirety of life.

No singular moment defines our being.

No singular moment will provide what we often desperately want and need: to know the meaning of it all and to know that we matter.

So then… the questions return:

What’s the point of all of this?

What are we doing here?

What is life?

I don’t glean much comfort and edification from the constant string of voices that is our present day reality. I can’t sift through the endless run on sentence of hate that ruins, maims and destroys the gift of living across all space and time of our shared history.

Too much.

Not helpful.

Not God.

Instead of listening to these loud, angry, unkind voices that we amplify all the time, I have something very powerful I can do.

I have what you have: the observation of everyday living and the invitation to wonder.

It moves me.

It nourishes me.

It emboldens me.

It challenges me.

It comforts me.

As the wonder steps up within, I look around and see authentic expressions of life everywhere. Each moment I allow the vulnerability of questions about this world we live in and my place in it, I get a small clue as to what this living may be about.

That journey goes something like this:

What is life?

If the ants are to be believed, life is a hard, constant, vigilant work among your fellows to reach a common goal feeding the need for security.

What is life?

If the trees are to be believed, life is the growth within creating the beauty that is in full view of the world. The health within creates the visible presence we all take refuge in.

What is life?

If rainbows are to be believed, life is the subtle, brilliant shining of light and color. It is the joyous announcement that the storm has passed.

What is life?

If the seasons are to be believed, life is changing in such a way that newness of being is not only possible, it is inevitable; it says if winter feels far too brutal it will be spring again.

What is life?

If the sea is to be believed, life is timing the rhythm of being, retreating and returning, all the while showing off and showing up for the moon.

What is life?

If the flame is to be believed, life is using the source of breath to stretch as far as possible toward the sun. It is the need, the want and the willingness to find the way home.

This living offers us so many moments, so many stories, so many commonalities, so many differences, so many hopes, so many fears, so many sorrows, so many joys.

It’s gotta make you wonder.

The Sacred Path of Transition

by Joe Nutini

Today I want to talk a little bit about the concept of “the sacred path of transition.” This topic came to me after starting classes on Shambhala art. I am not necessarily a visual artist but I am definitely like to write and I do enjoy art a great deal. It’s interesting being in this class because I’m surrounded by people who seem to be very into visual art and that is really not my style. For me, the way that I write is how I express the Images and concepts in my head.

Often, I feel little bit insecure about writing and drawing in this class, even though that is really not the point at all. We are really guided to look to the moment for inspiration. Sometimes, I find that hard to do this when I am feeling insecure. Which brings me back to this concept of the sacred path of transition.

There is a lot of fear there for me when I think about writing on this topic. For starters, I wonder why I even want to write about something that is so personal to me. What is it about writing on this topic that is so important? As a transgender person, I feel like I would have to out myself. I feel like people would also assume that I’m writing about something that is only about being transgender. There are so many more transitions that we go through. There’s birth, death, illness and other things that happen in life that move us from one experience to another. These can all be considered transitions. For now, I want to begin by sharing my feelings and thoughts around the whole concept.

So what do I mean when I say, “the sacred path of transition”? I’ll start by breaking it down a bit. To me, the word sacred means that something is holy and deserving of respect. This could mean that it is attached to something that is religious or not.

The word path, in the context that I’m using it, simply means the road upon which we walk. Of course, I’m speaking about this in a metaphorical sense. What one believes about the concept of “path” could be more complex. It is possible to believe that the path leads to somewhere, perhaps a particular destination. It could be that we are simply on a path that we have labeled “life”. Perhaps as we live we begin to grow end evolve into something more than when we first arrived. Maybe it means that we are slowly making our way back to that which we actually were to begin with? Of course this is all very esoteric and up for discussion and discourse.

So what do I mean when I put the words sacred and path together? The way that I like to think about this is that we’re on a journey that we call life. This journey is holy and worthy of respect. For me, this also means respecting the fact that everyone is on their own sacred path by virtue of simply being alive.Therefore, each person’s life is ordained and worthy of exploration. We may feel as if we have the best idea of what would benefit this person most on their path. Perhaps sometimes we do. However, this concept is one that lends itself to believing that there is value in pain, pleasure, anger, sorrow, and all of the other emotions that we experience. Without these things I wonder if we would be who we actually are supposed to be.

So what does this have to do with being chronically ill and transgender? I will tell you that at one point or another in my life I wished that I was not transgender and that I was not chronically ill. I wished that I was not transgender because of society and the things that I had been taught by certain religious organizations. I wished that I was not chronically ill because I found this to be a huge barrier to my desired lifestyle. However, both have taught me that there’s something sacred and profound to be discovered when life presents us with circumstances that may seem difficult.

In regard to being transgender, I feel that this concept of sacred path is also important because many people view the transgender experience as one that is problematic in some way. I will say that I’m only speaking for myself when I say this but for me I’ve come to realize that being transgender is a blessing. Even though it can be a difficult life to live, it has afforded me a very unique experience. I lived my life for about 21 years as a person who was perceived to be female. I have now lived my life is a person who is perceived to be male for about 15 years. This has given me unique insight into the ways in which gender and gender roles affect both men and women. It has made me a much better therapist. It has also brought me more into myself.

I also believe that if there is a creator, they made me this way for a purpose. In experiencing chronic illness, I believe there is a purpose as well…even if it is simply me using my mind to find purpose within it. Thus, this experience is one that is ordained and holy. At the same time, I recognize that there’s a lot of suffering that happens as a result of holding an identity that is often looked down upon in society and to be living with illness on a daily basis.

Right now this is where my thoughts are on this topic. As I said I am sitting down to write a book about this and I will offer some blogs based on my writings as time goes on. I look forward to ongoing dialogue with you all.

I Can Do That With My Eyes Closed

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

I learned a neat trick.

A lifehack… actually, a lovehack.

I learned it in these dark moments.

There is a concept of “total pain” that is fitting. Total pain means being consumed by physical, emotional and spiritual pain to a degree that is unbearable. I experience total pain at times. I experienced it about four hours ago, actually.

My head is in a lot of pain which means I spend a whole heckuva lot of time in dark rooms with my eyes closed.

For some, that’s not a safe place to be considering the role fear can play in those dark places. I experience that at times as well.

In the moments outside of total pain, I do a lot of preparation for the hard moments that will come back.

I do a whole lot of prayer and meditation, affirmations and reminders. I intentionally take in the world around me, noting, close attention to the details of those I love. How they look when they laugh. How they do basic day to day stuff. How they live.

Here’s some things I noticed about some of the people I love:

My mom hums a lot and sings a lot. She often has a bubbling joy and it shines in her eyes.

My wife says “Ok” to herself a lot, right before she is going to move her hurting body over to the next task she is starting. She has the sweetest smile for me when I come in the room.

My son smiles in a very specific way right before he is going to say something funny. And he says I love you in a present, kind, authentic tone. My favorite sound.

Logan laughs, heartedly and fully. It fills the room in a very welcomed manner. It’s contagious and whoever is in the room laughs with him.

My long-time best friend Heather leans in when she is enjoying humor and looks up when she is going to drop some amazing wordplay.

My dear friend Jen does a sideways glance when she is about to drop the funny and she gets tears in her eyes from laughing hard.

Tylar breathes deep as they hear a hard truth. A centering breath and presence. They have the most amazing eye contact.

These are great attributes in and of themselves.

The payoff of being intentional in this way is rather amazing when put to use. It mitigates and eases the internal world I often must exist within. With my eyes closed and in the midst of total pain, the suffering can be shifted into an endless combination of peace, kindness, humor, strength, life.

That’s not the trick I was going to tell you about, though.

I know! Right?

You’re like “What else is he going to say?!?!”

I clearly deal in pins and needles.

My careful study and presence of mind helps me endure during times of total pain, but it does something else as well.

Loving people allows me to experience love when the people I love are not able to be with me.

Let’s take that again: My love for others creates space for me to receive love and live in it.

One more time for the people in the back: loving begets being LOVED!

In this moment right now, are you alert and aware enough to do a favor for the future you?

If so, give this next part a try before you return to the tasks and business of life.

Spend some time picturing the faces you love. Imagine them. Think about what you love about them. Get as detailed as you can. Sit with it. Remember best moments. Make a playlist of nurture and love that can hold you and be there when life gets dark and small.

When we actively love, it fills within us, it permeates our lives. It’s that “runneth over” thing…

Like a five-year old pouring his own red Kool-aid to the very tippity – toppity of his glass, sure to spill everywhere, love acts in the same way.

Love is messy.

Love gets clumsy.

Love splashes out to all aspects of our lives.

And just like that red Kool-aid, love imprints on everything that it reaches.

Imagine that.

Still

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

There’s a quiet that comes over me lately. It’s not something I am used to as, until recently, I likely only experienced it a few times in my 38 years of life.

The first time I experienced it I was in 1991 as a kid at camp. I did not want to go to camp, it was my first year of trying it out. I anticipated two things: I would be rejected constantly and/or murdered in the woods. The fear of rejection came from seemingly endless lived experiences of rejection. The fear of murder came in equal parts having viewed Psycho and Sleep Away Camp.

I was neither murdered or rejected. Yay!

Camp was one of the experiences I cherished the most in my life. It was safe and wonderful. We sang by campfires, for the love of endorphins! The night was chilly so we huddled up and just enjoyed the way our voices sounded with other voices. My voice had never felt more full than when it was joined with the person next to me as we experienced the belief that love does exist and it is ours to have, it is ours to give.

That stillness was a result of action. We were very brave to go to camp when we didn’t know if it was safe enough. The opening of our hearts and willingness to risk was met with wonderful connection and peace.

I have chased that feeling to no end.

Yet, that stillness is with me a lot lately. I was going to tell you that the stillness is not a result of action, but I am rethinking that as I write.

The stillness comes for me on the heels of moments in which I was not attempting to invoke it.

It just arrives in moments that I really need it. What I am recognizing in this moment, though, is it has a lot to do with a decision I make regularly to turn toward life rather than away.

Life. I have a friend who says this to me when I ask how he is: “Oh, you know, livin’ life on life’s terms.” I hear that in some recovery work I do. He says that with a lot of honesty. He is one of the people that taught me about the vigilance needed to remain sober. He truly lives life on life’s terms in a visible way. That’s the turning to life rather than away from life.

I’ve been away from you a bit. I had a pretty steady flow of participating in life through writing and sharing with you for the last couple of years. I recently, though, have a lot less words for life, especially when my life has moments of feeling unrecognizable.

Here are some words to put to it and we’ll see where we go from here.

Headaches
Bone Pain
Exhaustion
Fractures
Fear
Insecurity
Cancer
Laid off
Loss
Brokenness

Anyone feeling the desire to turn to these words? I haven’t been. And yet… need overwhelms wish, so would you mind turning toward these words with me? It’s much easier for me to turn toward life on life’s terms when I see you are with me and when I see I get to be with you. I wonder if that might be the same for you, too.

Since June 2016, I had been having headaches. Headaches were a part of life for me since I was little so that wasn’t new. Migraines were especially bad after a traumatic brain injury I recovered from in 2003.

These were different, though.

I had been adjusting to having a chronic health condition I learned of in February 2016 and, as many readers know, I was also recovering from some pretty awful trauma as well. I chalked these headaches up to that.

Then came the bone pain and that was severe. I noticed it when my wife gently touched my shin and I about came unglued. I felt like she had hit me with a hammer. My body felt brittle and breaking. It actually was breaking with these tiny fractures in cluster areas. I was more exhausted than I had ever been in my life and it felt like it was worsening.

While I denied this being something to worry about, my doctor didn’t. She had an inkling. She followed that inkling and then the news of cancer, specifically Multiple Myeloma.

What?!
Nope!
Ridiculous!

Winter 2016 we added the word cancer to the list of “What the heck is happening?!?!”

My first thought was that I was going to go through yet another name change and call myself Job because, I was clearly living someone else’s story.

Worry.
Self-pity.
Deep sadness.
Isolation.
Incredible fury.
Loss of self.
Loss of function.

Yet, still a call to turn toward life and not away.

Speaking of Job (well, in a homograph sense, anyway), I lost my job in January 2017. Laid off after 16 years of work was astounding and hard. I was too sick to know what to do.

That level of insecurity makes the body and bed at odds so sleep becomes impossible. As the bed invited rest, my body refused and the tossing and turning of unrest took over in nearly every part of me. With some help and support, I was able to secure another position in the company I love. People showed up. We developed a plan to be able to live within significantly decreased means we are still implementing.

What is turning toward life for me?

Answering my phone when I feel isolated and scared.
Answering a text from someone when loves me and who I love.
Answering an offer to heap love onto us.
Answering my wife when she says “What are you thinking?”

That’s what turning to life is, allowing life to continue and my participation in it is necessary.

Dear ones, I am so tired. I have never known this level of exhaustion in any other aspect of my living. It’s beyond measure. We have to create so much room now for rest that it can feel isolating. Rest, though, is a turning to life. I just have to keep standing back up after it.

I think about death a lot more than I ever have. I was very aware of mortality before all of this. I had a belief when I was younger that I would suddenly just die and I expected that to happen when I was young. I would just be dead.

As I healed and grew into who I am today, I just figured I would be alive until I am 92. I never thought I would be sick. It never entered my mind.

Sickness and death has become an intermittent pre-occupation for me this last year. I am afraid of dying. I am afraid of my wife experiencing that loss, of my precious son losing another parent (that alone infuriates me more than anything else). It comes and goes, my pre-occupation with it. When it goes, it leaves behind that stillness I was telling you about.

You can likely see why I am rethinking my original thought that the stillness that rises in me and washes over me happening without action on my part. It does take action. It just isn’t immediate.

The stillness comes from choosing to turn toward life when life is really not palatable. The frequent, often difficult, turning to means we get to experience a stillness that cannot be crafted. That stillness comes from the absolute refusal to believe the pain of life is more true and more available than the absolute love and nurture of life.

The stillness.

I want to take your hands and show you, pass it to you.
It’s like your hands and feet thawing in front of a fire when you come in from the chill to the bone cold.
It’s the covering up with your coziest blanket knowing the moment you are in is for rest with nothing else you have to do.
It’s like feeling utter exhaustion and realizing how amazing it is to truly rest.
It’s warmth when all your body can do is respond to cold.
It’s comfort when you forgot how good it feels to truly just be.
It’s your best nap. It’s the best book you read. It’s the song that expresses that thing you just didn’t have the words for.
It’s living life on life’s terms and realizing that was the best thing you could have ever done with your sacred life and heart.
In the stillness, clarity comes.

If I can share anything that would be true for me since all of this pain flooded into my life, it would be this:

We do not have to do anything to die. Dying needs no assistance at all; it will come when it comes. Death has a 100% success rate. It’s got this — it really knows what to do with zero coaching.

Life, though, must be nurtured, loved, grown, tended, guarded, celebrated, wanted, welcomed, received, given.

Death comes unbidden. Life comes only by invitation.

And I really love life. Still.

Grief and Hope

by Karen MacDonald

When I wrote my last blog entry a few months ago, I was “speechless.”  So many of us were reeling from the national election results.  We were heartbroken, appalled, angry.  We were/are grieving.

I have also known deep, gut-wrenching personal grief in my life with the disruption of a cherished relationship.  Much of my speech then was moaning and sobbing.  Thank Goodness, that dark period turned out to be a womb and not only a tomb.  While I looked over the brink into utter despair and lifelessness, I emerged with a spiritual awakening into the indescribable gift of Life.  

Valerie Kaur has prompted us to consider “…what if this darkness isn’t the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?  What if America is not dead but a country waiting to be born?”   To paraphrase her image, this chaotic, life-threatening period in our communal life could be a tomb and a womb—grief and hope.

The grief may include the death of optimism that missed the depth of fear and pain that always lurks below the surface of what appears to be social progress, that always paints the lives of those suppressed/oppressed, that always tinges the views of those afraid of losing position.

The hope is that we have today—Life has graced us with sun, Earth, breath once again.  We get to live, we are indeed from and of Life itself.  Regardless of how things turn out, the hope is in this question, “How do I want to express Life today?” —and in how we try to show our answer.

Searching for a life where all is well?

by Amanda Petersen

The foundation of Pathways of Grace is “All is Well”. Every workshop, decision, and person who walks through our doors are imagined from a place of All is Well. Why is this important? Because as I have traveled this entrepreneur path, there are many out there that preach that all is not well. People need to be fixed, my business isn’t making enough or attracting enough, I need more and they are going to show me how to get more. There are some who encourage looking for problems so one can be the master of solving it.

Friends, I have to tell you this was really tempting at first. Yet as I traveled a bit down this road, I began to feel this method was all fueled by lack. As a contemplative this is a big red flag. How does a contemplative do business? Well, that is a long story, so I will condense it down: one begins with the phrase “All is Well”.

This gets quoted from Julian of Norwich often. Yet many people don’t know the full story. This was her 13th showing (or vision) while she was very ill. Before the quote, she is pondering, why does there have to be sin in the world? Why doesn’t God just fix the world and make it nice? How often has that question been raised?? Here is the quote, first with Julian’s thoughts.

“In my folly, before this time I often wondered why, by the great foreseeing wisdom of God, the onset of sin was not prevented: for then, I thought, all should have been well. This impulse [of thought] was much to be avoided, but nevertheless I mourned and sorrowed because of it, without reason and discretion.

Then Jesus’ reply.

“But Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that is needed by me, answered with these words and said: ‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.'”

Life is imperfect AND all is well. The great mystery of life. All is well because life is more than circumstances. The world is Loved even in the messy, horrible and scary circumstances. Each person is Loved also.  This doesn’t negate the pain and suffering of circumstances, yet it does negate the mental sorrowing caused by thinking that if only  life were different and there were no suffering. It also invites the question, “If all is well, then God show me how?”

I say all this because as Pathways of Grace offers more workshops and encourages you to seek spiritual direction or coaching, I want you to know this was all planned from a place of All is Well, not a place of “you are not enough”.  All is Well even as you are searching for meaning or going through trauma or looking for a healthier lifestyle. When you walk into our workshops or see one of our amazing spiritual directors or coaches, you are greeted by someone who sees you are enough and you are Loved.

That is the gift we wish to share this year. All is Well in a world or a life that is also a mess. Practice saying “All is well” this week as you look at your calendar, world events or your own life. Let me know how it goes!

You Don’t Need Fixing!

by Amanda Petersen

A joyous New Year to all of you!!

I have had the pleasure of having a couple of groups with the purpose of looking how to be intentional with the New Year. Both were different and yet the same elements appeared.

  • Looking at what is important in one’s life.   
  • Looking at topics like core values, gratitude, lessons learned etc.
  • Doing something that gets one to notice those elements in their life.

Life evaluations can be seen as finding what is wrong and fixing it. Yet with the majority of people I journey with it is more a time of affirming and deepening the elements that enhance their lives. The gift of doing something intentional around noticing the elements of one’s life is that it affirms one is living a life.

Now that may sound obvious, but is it? Sometimes the externals of life seem to take over and one day just blends into the next. Taking time to remember what is important and then stepping back and seeing how one is folding that into the dailyness of life does something to reassure the soul all is well. Occasionally one may find there are important elements that are being left out and times of evaluation allow the person to fold them back in again. That is not fixing what is wrong as much as giving a life affirming yes to what is right.

Isn’t this the contemplative life? Taking the time to lovingly looking at life with truth and grace? Choosing to participate in the abundance of Love?  Being conscious of the choices one makes?

If you haven’t yet stopped and contemplated your life as you get out the new calendar, I highly encourage you to do so. Gina’s Personal Mission Workshop or Quiet Spaces on the 8th are a great opportunities to do just that.

Share your favorite way to notice your life as you begin the New Year.

Whatever the future holds, may you always know you are held in Love.

Okay, but why?

by Davin Franklin-Hicks 

I remember my 13-year-old self sitting on the altar of a small Southern Baptist church. The altar was brown, carpeted steps. A woman who had shown me incredible kindness sat with me. She was holding my hand. I was wracked with sadness and sobs. She listened to me as I told her about the divorces, the turmoil in my family, the fear that I was not normal (that meant queer, but I didn’t yet have the words for that). She listened. She leaned in. She cared.

After I shared, she opened her Bible and I remember her taking me through “The Roman Road”. I spent most of the time listening for Roman to show up in the story line. The Roman character never made an appearance.

The Roman Road is a fundamentalist evangelical tool often used in explaining the “Plan of Salvation”. I would come to know that well later, but for that moment, I didn’t understand any of it.

This is pretty much how the many conversations would go:

Nice lady (NL): When Eve took that apple and decided to eat from the tree, sin entered the world. We needed a path back to God and we get that through Jesus.

Perplexed 13 y/o Davin (PD): Well, why did God make that tree then?

NL: God wanted us to choose Him. When we don’t we invite sin into our lives and we need salvation.

PD: I don’t get it. If I poisoned candy and put it in a kid’s room, wouldn’t that mean I poisoned the kid if the kid ate it?

NL: blinking with a minorly irritated look.

Our session ended for that day. Two weeks later the nice lady tried again. Same place, ready to dig in, Bible between us.

NL: Okay so please remember that we chose sin.

PD: Yeah, but God kinda made that happen, right? Why did he put that tree there?

NL: Because God wanted us to choose Him.

PD: What? Why?

NL: Because he loves us and wants us to love him.

PD: Then why didn’t he leave out the tree that would ruin everything?

Our session ended again.

We met more and I had many questions:
Why did God make Lucifer if He knew that he would turn into Satan?
Who was Cain afraid of? Wasn’t it just him, Abel, Eve and Adam in the world? Who was Cain afraid would harm him when he was cast out of the garden?
If God made us and the tree of good and evil, isn’t that kinda passive aggressive?
She sighed a lot in those visits.

I was a teenager who just discovered faith community.
I liked the church a lot.
I liked the people.
I liked the adults who worked in the youth group.
I kept coming back and the nice lady kept trying to help me understand why I needed salvation in the form of repentance.

After many sessions with her, I was willing to admit I was a sinner, admit Jesus died for my sins, profess my belief in Christ, invite Jesus into my heart and promise to walk a path of faith, sharing the Good News. This is called a few things in literal, evangelical Christianity: being born again, getting saved, turning my life over to Jesus. Once I was in, I was in. The questions went away and I was determined to be the next Billy Graham.

Much of my theology in those days was slathered with fear and shame. I passed that on to those who took time to listen to my conversion messages. I was going to make sure Heaven was full and Hell was empty.

I was zealous and I was persistent. I was also very scared, brokenhearted, shame-filled and sad. The church kept me busy so my heart didn’t feel so very alone.

I was always angry back then. If you had to find me in a crowd, you could simply look for the kid with arms crossed over their chest, glowering, glaring, guarded and grrrrrr…

All the while I pushed people away, I was super offended when they did not talk to me. Hurt people often long for what they desperately try to convince others they don’t need.

I was creating an emotional wall; I was a teenage emotional construction worker with endless mortar and bricks: Sob the Builder.

There’s reasons for that wall. There’s reasons for everything we think, feel and do. Behavior is to meet a need, or at least a perception of a need. We spend so much time judging actions we rarely think about what is behind those actions. We rarely are compassionate with ourselves.

Everyone’s behavior makes sense to them at the time or else they wouldn’t do it. My fortress was built for a reason. It kept the bad out, but then it started keeping EVERYTHING out.

If I ever write a memoir I will call it “Well, that didn’t work.” And we still try again.

It’s comfortable to think in black and white because there is certainty there. It’s super hard when you let in the colorful world of all sorts of living and needing. It changes everything.

The option of truly being present with someone and learning who they are without an agenda to change them is the only way we get to have honest relationship. I didn’t get that concept for much of my life. I wanted the world to bend, not for me to bend. That’s how brokenness happens, in the not bending and the demanding it be different.

2016 has been awful for me and many I love. It has been the worst year of my life for sure. It also has been a very rich year. I have felt loved more often than not. I have given love more freely than I have in any other year. And 2016 was still the worst ever for me.

I am not someone who believes life’s trials are there to make you a better person. I don’t believe it is orchestrated in that way. I do believe, though, in every situation that sorrow exists, we can see aspects of living we never would have noticed without the sorrow. I don’t believe sorrow exists as a life lesson. I think it’s just part of life and what we choose to do with it determines a lot.

It’s been almost a year since I was harmed through sexual assault and there have been oh so many layers of pain my family and I have walked through. It has been horrendous and it has been illuminating. It has been heartbreaking and it has been healing. For me, what makes it or breaks it is my willingness to engage life in hard times vs run, run, run!

Engaging in life requires some courage when everything within wants to retreat. When that’s my reality I take the absolute smallest inching forward I can muster to just stay in the world, stay in my life. I have to get open, drop the mortar and brick, and choose to live in the elements, responding to life and love as it comes and as I co-create it. Dear ones, we are creating our inner world as we participate in life. I want my inner world to be a sanctuary and refuge.

The idea of refuge reminds me of my younger brother who tells a story that when he was about 19 years old or so, his AC busted and he had to have more windows and doors open at night to keep cool. He did this regularly in the apartment he lived in so he had adjusted and slept well most of the time.

One morning he gradually woke from sleep with the cat on his belly. He petted her, she purred and nuzzles. Then the slow dawning: “I don’t have a cat.” Yup. A random cat decided to sleep on my brother’s belly.

I love picturing this story playing out. It’s awesome, funny, and it highlights my gentle brother who awakes with welcome.

What I really love most, though, is the cat. The cat went all rogue and decided this house was as good as any and my brother’s warm belly was just the stuff this felonious cat needed to get a good rest.

What’s hurting within you? What’s preventing you from welcoming warmth and companionship into the core of who you are? What is this fortress you are building? What is keeping you from the wander and the wonder that may lead to new relationship?  What is the smallest inching forward you can muster today to answer the pain with hopeful forward momentum?

Whatever it is, I promise you this: the pain you feel in that place is made worse with isolation and vigilance. Peace to your precious, scared heart and peace to your amazing, enduring spirit.

We all have the “why” questions. Keep that up! The questions are beautiful and welcomed. The altar is within you as you seek your heart out.

Knowing this and living this is my road to salvation.

Is it Okay to Laugh?

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

How is your heart?
How is your sense of safety?
How are your relationships since last week?
How are your thoughts as you attempt to navigate?
Do something for me: take a deep breath.
Do it again.
One more time.
Ah, for the heck of it let’s just do it again.

I am listening to some music while I write today. I often need to be in quiet to write, but quiet does not seem to be going outside right now, can’t seem to find that quiet anywhere. Quiet is likely in a cabin somewhere doing some solid self-care so it can return and help us once again. Even quiet needs a rest.

I am listening to music in lieu of that quiet, leaning into the sounds of a person singing, making me feel less alone. There is an awesome song that I have turned to on the regular this year. It’s playing right now as I write.

It’s by Passenger and the song is “Whispers”. The part that gets me every time are these amazing lyrics:

“Well I spent my money
I lost my friends
I broke my mobile phone
3 am and I am drunk and I am dancing on my own
Taxi-cabs ain’t stopping, and I don’t know my way home,
Well it’s hard to find a reason, when all you have is doubts,
Hard to see inside yourself when you can’t see your way out,
Hard to find an answer when the question won’t come out,
Everyone’s filling me up with noise and I don’t know what they are talking about
You see all I need’s a whisper in a world that only shouts.”

So good. So very good.

I am not going to shout at you. You are safe from attacks if you read on. I am with you.

I want to encourage your heart and the most wonderful way I know to do this is in laughter. Here is a story that I hope makes you laugh. Your laughter is a prayer, an affirmation and a commitment to still live despite the pain. Way to go!

I am a pretty diligent, helpful worker in general. Always have had a strong sense of affirmation through doing a good job. When I was 18 years old and free from the albatross that was high school, I got a job at the old Park Mall theater. When I say old, I mean old! I swear I once sat in a seat that Socrates sat in before. It was run down and breaking and I so much loved it!

There was an incentive program called “Knock Your Socks Off Service” or KYSOS for those of us in the know. Yeah, acronyms. Alienating others since 10000 BC (see what I did there)? The incentive was simple. If you were caught going above and beyond you got a star pin. Three of those and you got a 25 cent raise. I wanted those star pins more than the raise. I am easy to motivate through trinkets and such.

I did all I could to get those star pins. I chased down a couple in the mall because they forgot a purse. I helped elderly men and women to their cars when they struggled. I carried things for people. I came in early and stayed late. Star, Star, Star, Star.

And here is where I may have gone too far.

There was a Toyota truck with a canopy that had left their lights on. My co-worker and I decided that we would KYSOS this situation. We went to the truck and checked to see if the doors were locked. They were locked to keep intruders out. It didn’t occur to me that I was the intruder in this moment. We walked around the back and the trailer was unlocked. I looked through and saw that window between the canopy and cab was open.

You know what’s about to happen, don’t you?

Yep. I got in the trailer.
Yep. I crawled to the open window.
Yep. I reached through said window.
Then… my coworker says “I think they’re coming”
Yep. I froze in panic.
Yep. I now saw this as breaking and entering.

I quickly laid down in the back of the truck and tried to figure out how to get out. The driver got in, turned it on, and started to drive. I was clearly going home with this guy. Hope he liked surprises. I heard my boss’s voice yelling my name. My co-worker was a tattle-tale. The truck stopped at a stop sign, still in the parking lot. I broke free and made a run for it. I ran right into the open door of the theater. I caught my breath and then looked around at my co-workers, four of them staring at me like I lost my mind. And then we laughed. We laughed hard and long. We cried from it. Through tears and fits of laughter, my boss says “You are so not getting a star.” I laugh hard still when I think of it.

Laughter is a prayer of joy for me. I seek it and it creates a better version of me every single time. The first Saturday Night Live (SNL for you people who are in the know) had an amazing opening the first time they had a show after 9/11. It was powerful. The cast stood with then Mayor Giuliani as he expressed the pain and a strong affirmation to those watching. The best part, though, was when Lorne Michaels asked, “Is it okay to be funny?” Giuliani responded “Why start now?”

Do you see what that was? We asked permission to live again. That’s important. That’s crucial. That’s vital. That’s healing.

Take a deep breath again.
One more.
Again.

You can’t stop yourself from breathing without some kind of force. It’s automatic. You can’t control it to make it quit. You can’t kill it with your will to simply make it stop. It would require action. Yet the thing that makes me believe in God, in Spirit, in the Great Mystery that is our beginning and endings is this: while you can’t just decide you don’t want to breathe anymore, you can decide to breathe deep. What a thing of beauty that is – – – you can opt in to more life with a simple act but you cannot opt out.

To put it in a different way, you can’t quit, but you can start over.
And to put it in yet another way, life and love wins. Every. Single. Time.
Life is undefeated. It keeps on coming. Look at you, breathing. Look at you loving. Look at you living. You are amazing.

I’m just a guy.

I am not an expert.  I am not a person in power.  I don’t have letters behind my name.
I don’t have any letters in front of my name. That being said, just in case you were waiting for someone to give you permission to live, accept my offering:

I think we should laugh.
I think we should laugh together.
I think we should laugh together until we cry.
I think we should cry.
I think we should cry out.
I think we should go out.
I think we should go outside.
I think we should side with love over hate.
I think we should love.

I think in terms of we… because you make me feel that I am not alone.

I hope I can do that for you, too.

In the meantime, keep breathing.

Rising from Ash

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

I met my nephew AJ when he was two years old. His mom was dating my younger brother and I was very excited to have a potential nephew in my life. I couldn’t have been more happy when that wish became a reality and they both joined our family.

AJ was seriously adorable. He had more energy than all my family combined. The kid was the sweetest to his mom. This ended up extending to all parts of his life and relationships. AJ was and is full of light and life.

When he was six I picked him up from an after school program to take him to karate. We were getting in the car when I heard a woman saying his name. I looked up and a woman was walking toward us with a little boy in tow, likely the same age as AJ. The little boy was wearing a helmet and had some facial disfiguration. I don’t remember this child’s name so we’ll call him Josh.

I got out of the car, uncertain of this woman’s intentions in calling out for him and approaching him.

She asked “Are you AJ?”
He nodded.
She said, “Josh has been talking about you all the time. He says when kids tease and hurt him that you tell them to stop and you are very kind to him. I want you to know how special you are. Thank you for being so sweet and kind.”

Each word filled my heart.

I asked him on the drive how he felt about what she said to him. He said “I just like Josh.” This little guy sure was amazing. Such a beacon by just being fully himself and choosing love.

AJ’s mom and my brother ended up separating and later divorced. I know divorce. I have experienced it quite a few times in my childhood. I knew how hard it would be. As everyone tried to figure how this next season of our lives would work, we lost regular time with AJ. It became the occasional holiday and outing.

When AJ was 12 we stepped up the relationship to being in his life regularly. I remember being nervous picking him up the first time after having seen very little of him in the few years prior. Quite simply, I wondered if he would still like me.

AJ initiated conversation right away, telling me a story from his life. So easy and light. It felt like we had never lost contact. And I really liked him. A lot. He was funny and thoughtful. He was and is a huge guy, but such a gentleness and openness. He’s unmatched in that area.

As the years continued we spent time as often as we could. Sometimes it was frequent, sometimes a dry spell. Regardless of the amount of time that had gone between our visits, we picked right up where we left off and there was always laughter.

The events of the past year made some conversations in my family and friend group very intense and hard. I had endured a sexual assault that massively leveled me. We had talked to all the adults close to us. I had no idea, though, how to tell AJ. I felt protective of him and did not want to hurt his heart. I did not want to burden him.

As is characteristic of this dude, he sensed something was wrong and asked me direct questions about it. I answered honestly. He took it in. He sat with it and we talked about all the other things going on as there was A LOT going on for him.

AJ was turning 18 and he was readying himself to join the Marine Corp that July 2016. We held space for honest talks and then maneuvered to humor. Good stuff. Honest stuff. Life giving stuff. And what an incredible emotional intelligence he showed throughout all of it.

The time I had with AJ between January and July was precious and sacred to me. As my focus began to turn outward to support AJ, I felt relief from the intensity of my internal world that was reeling and begging for healing. By loving AJ and showing up for him, I was healing. Love is funny that way. Loving action changes a heart and circumstance better than any New Years Resolutions ever could.

As the day approached that he was heading out to Boot Camp for the Marines, I was feeling the reality that AJ would be leaving. It never feels like the right time for those you adore to leave you. I knew releasing him was important and love lived out.

AJ sent me tons of things to prep me about what he was going to endure. He was signing up for such a hard time and yet he was facing forward. He was meeting life and saying yes. Unswerving and resolute. He was prepared and ready for what was next.

The three months he was away were actually the hardest for me since the assault. I didn’t necessarily link this to his leaving, though that worry and pain was fully there, too. The hard time just was what it was. Trauma recovery does not ebb and flow in a way that makes sense. It’s painful and overwhelming. It is also necessary to walk through that pain.

AJ endured an exhausting, all encompassing season and landed on the other side. He was officially declared a Marine on 10/14/2016. I couldn’t wait to see him!

I picked him up the very next day and noticed that nervousness rising again. Is it going to be weird at all? Is he going to still like me? He got in the car and said, “I have so much to tell you!” And he did.

Stories of how AJ had overcome, what felt triumphant, what the funny moments were, what comrades he now had filled our conversation. He held his head differently. He walked with the confidence that comes from living the life you challenged yourself to live. I got that familiar surge of pride that I had when he was six years old, reaching out and being loving.

Some other emotions rose up within me, too. Admiration.
Inspiration.
Awe.

I had been feeling shame about how hard the last three months had been, chastising myself to heal faster. I imagined AJ in the Boot Camp circumstances, pushing through, embracing the season of difficulty as a necessary one, and just meeting life with agreement and willingness. As I saw him this way, I saw myself in a new light. He was still standing and so was I.

The constant overwhelming circumstances hurts. The exhaustion hurts. The self doubt hurts. The loss of all things familiar hurts. And yet the human spirit is remarkably resilient and full of life.

This year has been a season of leveling for me, a burning down of life and a wonder if I will survive that heat and pain.

Am I forever broken?
Am I ever going to enjoy life again?
Will I ever be able to live again?
Will I ever rise again?

My nephew held up a mirror of sorts as he shared his lived experience. I started to believe the reflection of healing, living and thriving that was emanating from him and reflecting back to me. I found room in my heart to believe that it could be mine as well.

My nephew is pretty special in that he lives his life as a determined and steadfast participant, co-creating his world with the best next step being his main focus.

My nephew no longer goes by AJ. He gave that up around age 11.
My nephew’s name is Ashton.
I call him Ash.
He helps me rise.