Holding On To Another’s Fear

fear written on a stone

This heart shaped stone has the word “unacceptance” written on it.  I picked it up at the close of a morning prayer session at a retreat last week.

During that prayer time we were invited to write one of our fears on a stone and place it on a table.  I know that there were readings and prayers offered, but I can’t recall anything that was said.  The real lesson for me that day was in looking at the written fears placed on that table by all the others in the room.

And the lesson has just kept on giving, moving in me and changing me.

What struck me first was that so many of the stones had similar fears written on them, at least they were similar to my own.  “Not good enough” was a common theme.  (Why, oh why do we beat ourselves up with that notion?)

I chose to place this heart shaped stone in my jeans pocket.  I thought of whoever might have written that fear, and sent loving thoughts her way, even though I have no idea who wrote it.  How sad, I thought, that someone among us last week was afraid of not being accepted.   I went back to my room and wrote a sappy, rhyming, silly poem about this…and I won’t even share it here.

The longer I carried this stone that day, the more aware I became of just how much I shared that same fear.  I returned to my notebook and wrote differently:

“Can I tell you that I am holding your fear, that I picked it up from where you left it, that is is carried gently in my pocket, the stone warmed by my body…can I tell you that?

And can I just let you know that your fear is also mine, the word you placed on the stone summarizing what paralyzes me, the fear that stops me in my tracks, is it okay for me to let you know this?

One more question, long and winding, did you know that I feel blessed as I hold your fear in my pocket, the weight of it diminished, but did you see that the stone is shaped like a heart of love?”

Later that day, my head was hurting, so I went to my room to rest.

Rest did not come easy, however, because this stone, this fear that had been expressed was working on me. There came the awful realization that I may have been the cause for someone to feel unaccepted…and I felt convicted.

All I could think was “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”  I sobbed.

Then there was a clear, distinct message that this fear has more to do with not accepting my self.  How, after all, can I accept another if I don’t accept myself just as I am?

At these retreats I always learn more from surprising little things. There are cracks that allow the light to come in.

* * * * *
This morning I decided to take a photo of this stone so I could share it with you here.  It’s been raining here this morning, and I wanted to take advantage of the puddles and get the stone wet.
Here is what happened:
blank stone
Rainwater changed the look of this stone.  “Unacceptance” was gone.
I can’t tell you that the writing, the fear, was permanently gone because that would not be true.  When the water dried I could still read what was written there.
But I can tell you that this simple exercise in addressing fears found a crack in my heart and the light was allowed in.  I have that stone in my jeans pocket again today, and it continues to teach me.
“All who are thirsty, come to the water!
You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat.
Come, without paying and without cost, 
drink wine and milk!
Why spend your money for what is not bread,
your wages for what fails to satisfy?
Heed me, and you shall eat well,
you shall delight in rich fare.
Come to me heedfully,
listen, that you may have life.”
Isaiah 55:1-3

Leaning Into The Questions

My husband brought home a wooden key holder from his parent’s house that was loaded with all kinds of old keys. He tells me that he may very well have been the one who made this, possibly as a Cub Scout project.  As I look at it I can imagine the concentration on his face as he painted it red and put the letters on it.  

The number of keys and the history of them make for some good stories. There is a collection of car keys, another that looks like keys to lock a cabinet or two… hanging on a peg that reads “garage”.  And there is this ring with all these old skeleton keys.  Those are the ones that set me to thinking of old doors and mysterious rooms and key holes that you could see through.  Squeaky hinges.  Old varnish or paint that might be peeling.  And a nail on the door frame, up high out of reach of small hands, a place to hang that key in case the door gets locked from inside.

skeleton keys

We learn at an early age that keys give you access to something, or they keep you out.  Keys to the car when you are old enough to drive.  Keys to your own house or apartment.  Keys to the office.  Access to a place, or a privilege, or information. Keys that we have to return when our job is done.

When I saw this bunch of keys the first time, I knew that there was something for me to learn here.

On my spiritual journey I have come to understand that I try too hard to find the illusive key.  In this culture of fast fixes, rapid responses, and constant information coming at us from all directions, it’s really easy to fall into the trap of having to be certain.  We think we need to have the answers.  I kept searching for the proverbial key that would unlock those answers for me.  

The questions I want to answer:  Who am I really?  And who is this Holy One?

I have been doing a lot of reading, mostly because I enjoy it, and partly because my participation in Souljourners requires it.  No, I have not found that illusive key, but I have learned something important.

Many of us are in the same awkward place, wondering who we really are as opposed to who we think we are supposed to be.  Thanks to some very brave people who have shared their stories over the centuries, I know that I am not alone.  Others have been down this path.

As much as I love reading those stories, I know now that those are not the answers to my own questions.  The stories are helping me see where to go next, pointing the way.  And I will continue to seek the wisdom of those who have gone before.  Which means I will still read books…

But the key. Ah, yes, the key that I want to find.  It does not exist.

What does exist is this Holy One who dwells within me (and you). What I am learning to do is to lean into the questions, wait in silence, and listen for the quiet voice from within.

That Attentive, Loving Gaze

This precious puppy greeted me Saturday morning as I was walking in the early morning, taking photos at a retreat I attended.  It’s almost a miracle that he was still for this one second and looked right at my camera, because otherwise he was one adorable bundle of puppy love, tail wagging, wiggling his entire little body.  Though he never barked or made one sound, he was all over me, putting his damp paws on my legs, licking my hand, running in circles around me.   And this is his ready to pounce come and play with me pose.

If I had been at home, I think I would have tried to adopt him.  Maybe.  The cats would have had their own committee meeting and voted him out very quickly.

*   *   *

Sometimes we receive lessons in the most surprising places, totally unexpected, little moments that pass quickly by, but often have an impact.  This puppy moment was one of those.

Puppy represented all the goodness I had been experiencing at that retreat:

  • Welcoming love and unconditional acceptance.  He greeted me as though I was his best friend. He had no care in the world about where I came from or what I may have done or what I believe.
  • Sacred silence.  Okay, there was the sound of his little paws on the sidewalk, but not one peep otherwise.  I had spent a lot of time in contemplative silence at this place, which made it a true ‘retreat’ for me.
  • Trust. Puppy rolled over and showed me his soft underbelly for some scratching and petting.  But at this retreat, there were brave souls who trusted us to hear their story, who allowed us to listen. 
  • The attentive, loving gaze. Yes, those brown eyes had me wrapped around his little paws.  I learned a lot at this retreat about how we long for that attentive, loving gaze from The Holy, and how one can grow in the light of that gaze. 
I believe that The Holy comes to us in various ways. In the sacred silence. In the deep conversations with others. In the words of a book, or the lyrics of a song, or a scene in a movie. The Holy uses these times to help us understand something, maybe clarify an issue we have struggled with, or open our eyes and hearts to what we need to know.
How does this happen for you?  Have you had a surprise moment that just made it all click into place?  
*   *   *

The retreat was the first in a series of events I will be attending over the next three years, as a student in the Souljourners Program.   My plan is to share this journey with you here, in photos and words.   

Because, you know, I’m still learning as I go.   And there is so much to learn.

Walking the Garden


Preparing the soil. Tilling it over and over until it’s the right consistency. Fertilizing. Putting up the fence to keep the deer out. Deciding where to plant each seed.  And then…waiting for the magic to happen.

Each day, several times each day, rain or shine, I step outside and ‘walk the garden’…which is my own term for keeping a watchful eye on all the plants and seedlings.  Ever since I placed the seeds and plants in the dirt I have been so excited and positively obsessed with watching it all grow. 

Everything has sprouted now.  From the beginning to the end of one day I can see the growth.  The rain has been more than plentiful, especially today, making the ground both in and around the garden squishy.  

There is always something for me to learn in each day, each experience.  This garden is no exception.

There is much tending and nurturing of the self that needs to take place, and we aren’t always very good about that.  We may be really good caretakers of others, but our own needs quite often just get put aside.  Or maybe we go too far the other way and only serve our own needs and neglect those around us.  Finding the right balance is the challenge.

Ah, but when we do have that balance, when we know just how to meet our own needs as well as those of others something beautiful comes to life.  When we shed those old layers, that outer crust that no longer fits, and go through the painful process of being re-created, yes, then we see the world through different eyes.

Like the seeds that have come up through that dirt and clay, we finally get to sense that warmth and light, that fresh air, and we stretch…and grow.  

Growing.  Becoming who we really are. Shedding the outer layers that may have protected or shielded us at one time.  Allowing the heart to come into the sun and simply be.