I’ve been told Jesus loves me.

Note: Below I’ve written about God, Jesus and Mary because that’s what I experienced. That said, I well know the Divine extends far beyond the Christianity of my Bible Belt beginnings, so please feel free to replace my vernacular with words that resonate with you…the Universe, Nature, Mother Earth, Gaia, the Greater Order, Goddess, your guru, Divine Mother, Buddha, Krishna or any deity that resonates with your heart. After all, we’re all one.

Most days, after I drop off the boys at school, I duck into the nearby church sanctuary for five to 10 minutes. Once inside, I pause to gaze at the statue of Mary as I take a seat beneath cathedral ceilings smudged with stained-glass-filtered light.

Sometimes I admire Mary’s likeness. You’ve got it all locked up, Mother of God. How do you do it?

Sometimes I feel awe. Wow, you are pure grace. Amazing.

Sometimes I want to cry. When you were living in the body, did you ever feel the stuff I’m feeling now? You were a woman in the world before you were divine, right? So how did you handle it? What did you do when you struggled?

Sometimes I feel gratitude. OMG, you are really actually here for me, Mary. I can feel it. Thanks for being so expansive.

Sometimes I ask her for help. I wish I could be more like you. Could you help me do that? Work through me. I am so, so lost right now. Please take over because I am just not nailing life at the present.

For reference only, this is me nailing life. It happens sometimes.

For reference only, this is me actually nailing life (with holes in my socks).

After a minute or so of reflecting on Mary, who I experience as an expression of the Divine Mother, I sit up straighter and close my eyes to meditate. Looking toward the center of my forehead, I repeat a silent “hong” on the in breath, and sau (pronounced “saw”) on the out breath. In repetition, this mantra slows the heart rate and paves the way for greater concentration. (Pow! That’s meditation. ‘All there is to it.)

Sometimes I float into bliss for a while. Sometimes my mind races the entire time. Eventually, I end with a prayer of protection and thanks to Heavenly Father, Divine Mother, Christ and all the great ones. And then I walk out the big double doors and into my day.

Today a woman wearing a long, hooded powder blue coat waited for me at the door. I gave her a friendly smile and she followed me out.

“I see you in here praying a lot,” she said, squaring her body in front of me on the steps. She had a low, melodic voice and was tall—a little taller than me. She looked to be halfway between my mom and my grandma’s age. Her face was smooth and soft, and even the skin around her eye area was youthfully taut. She wore no makeup, and her light brown eyes were twinkly. If I had to read her energy, I’d say it was loving, strong, protector-y and practical, in that order.

“I want to let you know about a special chapel I think you’d like,” she said. “It’s not far from here and if you enjoy praying in this sanctuary, I think you’d really enjoy this other chapel.”

She proceeded to tell me about the tiny 24-hour chapel of a huge Catholic church a couple miles away. I’ve seen the church before, and it’s beautiful from the outside. She told me of the chapel’s beauty, of the special feel it has, of how the laity meticulously maintains it, of the beautiful statue of Mary and of how adorers are welcome at all hours of the day.

“Adorers?” I asked. I’ve not heard this term before. Is that like what I did with Mark Wahlberg this summer?

“Yes, adorers,” she said matter of factly. “Of Mary, of Jesus.”

“Oh, ok,” I said, feeling silly. “That’s beautiful. I’m not Catholic, so ‘adorer’ is not a word I’m familiar with.”

“Oh, it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to be Catholic. I invite Muslim people there, too. You’ll feel Jesus, and it doesn’t matter, he’s for everyone,” she said, pausing for a few beats and looking deep into my eyes with a gaze so steady and warm I felt myself melting into it.

“Jesus wants to love you,” she said. “That is a grace you are blessed to have. You know.”

Instantaneously, I began to cry.

The last time I experienced mystical insta-tears was after a chat with nun at my guru's hermitage in Encinitas. This photo was snapped moments after.

The last time I experienced mystical insta-tears was after a little chit chat with a Self-Realization Fellowship nun at my guru’s hermitage in Encinitas. This photo was snapped moments after.

Something in her countenance when she said “Jesus wants to love you” reached into my being and ripped down a hard-fought wall, releasing a swell of emotion. She stood solidly before me, gazing at my face with serenity and compassion from Lord knows where. Or how. I swear she glowed. What was this phenomenon? I felt wrapped in love beyond love, unaware of space, people and things around me. Unable to stop the tears from coming, I smiled bashfully and threw my hands in the air as if to apologize for my show of emotion. The corners of her mouth turned up slightly and she nodded her head once like she’d seen this a hundred times. She stood close, simply regarding me.

“Thank you,” I said, smiling and shrugging my shoulders, mystified. “Thanks so much.”

Her mouth turned up further into a sweet smile and she excused herself. I rushed off to the car. Once alone, the tears continued, and in the same moment, they became laced with laughter. Joy in abundance. “What was that?” I heard myself say aloud. “Who was that?”

I don’t know why I was incredulous. This morning before leaving the house, I read that today, Feb. 19, is a good day to ask for guidance from your higher self. So I did. Instead of just asking to receive the guidance, I asked to feel it, to experience it and to have the courage to take action on it. Additionally, as I do every morning, I asked to be a channel for God’s love to all I meet.

I figured I’d receive some sort of mandate from my higher self, like, “Yes, we know you’re having a hard time right now but be spiritual about it and rise above it all, will you? You want superconsciousness? You better straighten up and fly right. Get over all this dumb human stuff already.”

It’s like I was expecting my guidance to come with a healthy serving of shame. But that is just not how God works. I always forget.

When I asked for it this morning, I never suspected I’d receive divine encouragement to let myself be loved. And by Jesus, no less. It’s too simplistic, too nice, too outrageous. But it was unmistakably divine. “Jesus wants to love you,” said the woman in blue. To me, implicit in her words was, “Open your heart and receive the love of all loves. You are worthy. Jesus wants to love you.” Suddenly it was so obvious: I can share God’s love with others only if I allow my own self to revel in that great love first.

I don’t know why this woman chose today of all days to speak to me. I’m sure there’s a good explanation for why she was bundled in a full-length, light blue down coat on the warmest day of the winter, and why she had her hood covering her head. But despite all logic, standing in the morning sun of those church steps, she looked every bit like Mary to me. What’s more, she felt like Mary. As sometimes happens with phenomena, I may see her again and experience her in a completely different way, but what matters to me is that today, on the day I asked for an experience of divine guidance, I was overcome with wonderment on feeling Mary’s love flowing through this very person.

So, my wish for you today is that you open yourself to an experience of divine guidance.  Just ask for it, aloud or in your heart. Then, when you have the experience, I hope that you know it, and that it moves you in some wonderful way. Finally, may you allow yourself to revel in the love of all loves. Just like I was told this morning, Jesus wants to love you.

Get to juking, Chicago. Pride Week is upon you.

This weekend begins the 44th Annual Chicago Pride Week. As such, I would like to come out in support of my queer pals, and offer up a devastatingly vivid visual of this mama letting it all hang out at a big, gay dance party a few weekends ago.

How long has it been since you’ve danced with reckless abandon? Your own hands weaving through your hair like the fingers of a lover lifting the locks off your neck at 1 a.m. when the music is so loud and you’ve been dancing for hours and the new air on the skin of your nape feels like heaven.

A particular sense of freedom rises, uncaged after God knows how long. And you’re picking up the beat or the melody, or sometimes both, and moving without once worrying what everyone in the club thinks of you. You don’t even pause to consider what you look like, who sees you or whether you actually have any business dancing like no one’s watching, because you magically feel unconcerned that your body wasn’t built for music videos, and you can’t wipe the smile off your face. Your hips shake, your head tilts back and a hand laces in yours, pulls you in close, chest to chest and now you’re face to face.

I’m going to take you away. Just escape into the music. DJ let it play…

You haven’t felt this way in public in…maybe not ever. It’s ecstatic without X, drunk without drunkenness, sexy without sex. You laugh. And then you break it the hell down with the warm body pressed up against yours like you’re on Soul Train. No, more like Save the Last Dance, but the imaginary version starring a straight girl and her gay male friends.

You learn a new word, “juking,” and you’re not sure what it means, but you are pretty sure you’re nailing it. You find out later juking* is “A frequently used word by the Chicago urban scene meaning to dance, party, get crunk, get buck, get loose, and just simply have fun,” and you know you that’s what you did.

This is not how you spend most Saturday nights, not anymore. Usually you’re snuggled in the hammock with your husband after putting the kids to bed. Sometimes you’re out to dinner for a girlfriend’s birthday. Sometimes you’re already asleep. But Saturday night is rarely about unleashing your best attempt at Shakira hips, unless in front of your dining room mirror, and, if you do happen to be out dancing with actual people in public, it’s never to a gay bar because you’ve had too many wonderful friends mention they’re not fond of the bachelorettes who storm into the only place some gay people feel comfortable publicly revealing their sexuality with penis necklaces and cameras as though they’re visiting the circus. “I’m not your clown,” comments one of your friends. So, with respect as your intention, you stay away from Boystown and Andersonville’s dancey bars. You let your gay friends and their gay friends have their space, knowing that, as a heterosexual person, comparatively, the whole world is your space.

But these generous men talk you into joining them one night, this night, and you don’t feel like you’re dressed for a night out in white shorts and a top you’ve had for ages, but you throw on some heels and go anyway. You talk, you laugh, you dance together, the world slips away with the spinning DJ, you get told you’re gorgeous approximately 105 times by people who want nothing from you, no one so much as looks at you with disrespect and you smile the entire night. You wonder if, you being you, you could experience this kind of euphoria at a regular dance club, and, if you were out with your girlfriends in a typical hetero club, would you be ducking around, trying not to let loose for fear of a.) looking foolish, b.) not being as good a dancer as the glamorous chick in the sequins, or c.) attracting attention inappropriate for a married woman to entertain?

You brush the thought away because you’re here and not there, and your new favorite song is playing. Don’t you worry, don’t you worry, child. See Heaven’s got a plan for you…

You watch one of your friends, a particularly tender soul, fall into conversation with a handsome stranger. And it makes you smile, like, huge, because he really needed someone to just notice him tonight. Whoa oh oh oh oh oh oh. See Heaven’s got a plan for you…

Despite all the joy, it’s late and you’re losing steam, so two friends wait with you on the curb to see you safely into a cab. You go home and fall asleep wrapped around your husband with your hand on his heart. You wake a few hours later pinned between your man and your five-year-old, who’s saying, “It’s morning, Mommy.” You tell him you’re super tired because you were out very late dancing in one of those places where grown-ups dance all night long. He responds by saying, with a quivering lip, “You’re making me feel a little jealous, Mommy.”

You know that it was a fluke of a night, and that it’ll be a while before you enjoy another dance party like that one, but you feel the sense of freedom lingering. And you pause to consider whether that freedom was accessible to you before this night, and before the two other nights of your adult life in which dear friends invited you to dance with them amid a sea of some of the free-est-seeming people you’ve ever seen.

But whether it happens again doesn’t really matter.

Your hypercritical inner mean girl got a little bit smaller tonight because your appearance-conscious self was juking without a care in the world. What else is there to say?

…A prayer. Yes. You can say a prayer.

Dear God,

May all queer people of the world feel as free to be their true selves as I felt in the safety of their space. You made us all, and we’re all perfect in your image. Thank you, God.

Amen

Happy Pride Week, Chicago!

*Note: “Juking” may also have a slightly more risqué connotation, and I can assure you what I was doing on that dancefloor didn’t remotely resemble the juking you might find on YouTube. How I’d love to be able to make my body do that.

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Sometimes you can’t even believe how blessed you are to count these guys as your dear ones. They have treated you to innumerable joys, but for context of this blog post, they’ve facilitated two of your life’s best dance parties. And by facilitated, I mean they have made a sandwich out of you for the entirety of “Hungry like the Wolf” and not laughed at your serious efforts to pretend you know how to samba. Here, you prepare to break it down to 80s cover tunes at Midsommarfest.

Trying to find the sun amid the storms

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To see the sun on these days of gray, I must make my own light brighter.

I woke up scared last Thursday night to a tremendous storm. Lightning flashed through the skylight and thunder shook my window. Two frightened dogs nuzzled my body, trapping my legs in a cage of down and my husband slept beside me. Rain pelted the roof. Wind howled. Water rushed in our gutters. For the first time in years, I was scared of a storm. If my boys had woken up crying, I’d have told them, “Come here. I got ya. It’s just a storm. Snuggle in beneath our covers and just fall asleep. I got ya. Everything is ok.”

But they didn’t wake up and I didn’t get to say those words. Instead I tossed about in pillows and sheets and dogs feeling a sense of ominousness. Is everything ok? I fell back to sleep. Eventually, around 5 a.m. with the storm still raging, Brian rose for the day and went downstairs, leaving me deeply asleep in bed. Is everything ok?

Bombs explode, Congress ignores me, the cold continues, grayness pervades, the marriage challenges, blogs go unposted, work remains unaddressed, the night seems so angry, the dreams are nightmares, the basement floods.

Is everything ok?

I want to bake brownies with mint chips for comfort. I want to buy myself a massage, or a pedicure, to make myself feel better. I want to flip on the TV and submerge my brain in someone else’s story. I want to eat chips fried fresh and the entire can of Herdez salsa casera. I want to escape from this moment, this sogginess. I want to see the sun.

I call my mom, because she loves the sun, too, and she has tricks for finding it when I don’t. She tells me to go to the store and buy something bright and springy, so that every time I look at it, I’ll be cheered. And so I get two cans of silly string, which the boys spray all over the patio with gusto, and I pour a glass of wine while I make Texas chili.

For a few hours, I feel better. And then night again falls.

Kids are in bed, I brush my teeth, I wash my face and I dawdle in the bathroom trying to avoid the room across the hall, the room where I meditate. The ickiness is back and I swear my hands still feel waterlogged from the morning of bailing debris out of our drain. In this moment, at the end of this damp, water-flooded day when everything seems drenched in hopelessness, I know I have one tool to make everything be ok.

I can meditate. I’ve been avoiding it lately. A few weeks ago I felt something indiscernible that scared me. I started feeling like certain prayers were being answered, and that scared me. And so I pulled the plug. No more asking God to use me. No more asking the Universe to make me more aware of God working in my life and through me. I’m not ready, I said. I’m not ready. I’m afraid. No more. I need a break.

I took a break, if you could call it that. A meditation moratorium, a spiritual time out. “I’m not ready,” I told God. “You understand, don’t you?” During this break I’ve dreamed of whales. Whales bringing me trash from the deep, whales inviting me to sojourn with them in the depths, whales stealing children from the seashore, whales accompanying me through shark-infested waters like bodyguards, whales telling me it’s ok, whales swimming with me, whales surrounding my kayak and escorting me to safety…

Nonetheless, I have avoided my meditation practice like the plague, for fear I’d have to continue on the path I was on, the path toward higher consciousness. I haven’t sat in my usual space for longer than two minutes. I haven’t followed the full extent of my practice in weeks. I haven’t made time for the exercise that makes my body feel vital. I’ve had very little mindfulness of what I’m eating. Everything does not seem ok.

The funny thing about spiritual living is that it’s a lot like falling in love. Once you’ve fallen in love, you cannot un-fall, despite your best efforts to take it slow, or even to stop it from happening. Once you hop on a spiritual path, you’re on it and you become like a surfer on a longboard, riding forever. If you bail, the board follows you, because it’s tied to your ankle. Forever.

And so, recognizing there’s no escaping from my sincere search for God and love and oneness with all things, I sit down to meditate. I do so begrudgingly, but it’s my last resort, so as I sit down, I close my eyes and stare hard at the place between my eyebrows. I’m ravenous for a solution. A few moments in, I know. At least for right now, I know.

Making my own light brighter is my best hope of seeing the sun.

It’s everyone’s best hope.

If I take care of my body, if I fill up my spirit, if I honor my heart, if I do what I know I need to do to make my light brighter, then maybe I’ll have enough light and love not just for myself, but for others as well. What if my sun is bright enough that someone who hasn’t seen the sun in forever suddenly catches a glimpse of it? What might that do for a person? If I genuinely feel that everything is ok, maybe someone else will sense it and believe everything is–or will be–ok, too, no matter how cold and gray it seems.

Wracked with the dis-ease of our nation, I’ve been praying for an answer to the question, “What can I do to help?” Apart from making donations, how can I help?

At least for today, it’s clear that I am to do the simplest yet hardest of things:  Make my own light brighter.

If we all commit to giving ourselves the very best in self care, thus making our own lights brighter, maybe everything really will be ok. You never know who you may touch, how God may use you today, tomorrow, every day. You can help. Each of us is the world’s greatest hope.

A prayer

Dear God,

We pray for Your revitalizing light to shine upon all people of the world, particularly on those wounded in any way in Boston and in Texas, and on those caring for them in any capacity.

Place in our hearts the knowing of exactly what it is we can do as individuals to create peace. Inspire us that we may be courageous enough to ask the question, “What can I do?” and to act on Your answer.

Reveal to us the part that’s ours to play in bringing heaven to Earth, no matter how small or grand the scale. And show us where and how we can heal ourselves, our neighbors, our nation, our world.

Bless all humankind in Your transformative love.

Amen

Miraculous healing follows my shoulder-shaking maiden snowboarding shred

I hurt myself superbadly about a week and a half ago. I went snowboarding with Brian and, admittedly, I fell down my fair share—onto my hands despite a seasoned rider’s advice to fall differently—and my joints in both arms ached, but it didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. In fact, riding that board down the bunny hill was the most challenging, gleeful thing I’d done in a while. I loved it. Next morning, I woke up with debilitating pain in my rotator cuff, the likes of which I’d never known in 15 years of swimming, and I struggled to lift my right arm as pain coursed through the muscles of my collarbone over my shoulder bone, around my back and into my armpit.

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This I was just after I unknowingly injured myself doing a McTwist* in Shaun White’s half pipe* over the weekend. I hurt my shoulder fist pumping too hard.(*By “Shaun White’s half pipe,” I’m of course referring to what was probably a snow-covered landfill in Algonquin, Ill. And by McTwist*, I mean “snowboarding lesson.” Brian, a former professional ski bum, and I were seeking a level playing field so we could finally enjoy a snowy hill together without testing our marriage.)

I’d never been injured like this, physically, before. Snowboarding was my first attempt at overt athletic adventure since I became a mom four years ago, and I was a little bit furious and embarrassed I hurt myself doing it. The pain was terrific. It woke me at night and kept me up. I couldn’t move without grimacing. I couldn’t spread peanut butter on bread, slice a pear, lift my boys, play with them in the fresh snow, pet the dogs or do anything but throw all my focus into containing the pain. It reminded me of childbirth, that continuous, all-consuming pain that doesn’t go away until you hold your baby.

When the pain didn’t go away after two days, I knew I needed help. On the third day, an occupational therapist friend, who specializes in shoulders and arms, told me that, based on my impaired range of motion, I needed therapy probably for four to six weeks.

That same day, I booked it to the office of Dr. Dan Mossell at Mossell Holistic and cried on his table as he dug into the tenderest parts of my distressed rotator cuff—and my memory. Indeed, it appeared I’d been holding onto some issues in my tissues and, while the physical trauma was real, the injury of repetitive falls brought psychological issues to the forefront as well. As is a common experience for anyone attempting to lead a spiritual life, the physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual often end up being connected. (Natch, everything is connected.) Specifically, an old belief surfaced: that my worth in the world hinged on whether I was successful. When I was a swimmer, especially in my teens, I defined myself almost entirely by how I performed in the pool, or by how I failed to perform, and that definition carried me into adulthood. How hard could I work to win enough recognition to prove I was as good as everyone else, maybe even better?

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Ah, highlights from my swimming grab bag. My parents recently returned to me a duffle containing all my old swimming photos, trophies, ribbons and medals, which date back roughly to when the KC Royals won the World Series (middle pic, circa age 8) and tell the story of a kid’s swimming life. It’s fun to revisit those times, memorabilia of which I hadn’t seen in a decade, but there’s more to the story. If I win this race, if I get this time, if I advance to the finals, if I help my team win, if all this hard work pays off and I happen to succeed, that makes me enough, right? That makes me good, right? That makes me better, right? And if I don’t win or advance, then…what does that make me? (Cue the catastrophe of self worth based on ego-bred ideals.) These beliefs are hard to unseat, but miracles are happening all the time.

That night after downing some arnica and icing my shoulder, as I sat in a near-scalding bath, skin glistening with Epsom salts packed around my rotator cuff, I discovered I was still hanging onto the tired old idea that an Emily who did great things was the best, most-enough Emily. And so, with some trepidation, I went into that feeling. I looked around in there, asked for help, thanked my muscles for everything they do, told my tissues it was safe to release the pain and confirmed with my highest self that I was ready to receive the opportunity to live bigger.

I prayed for the pain to be released, and I went to bed.

I woke the next morning to find my shoulder still hurt, so I went to see our family doctor, a former pro athlete who’d once suffered this same injury. He empathetically prescribed lots of ice, rest and Vicotin for nighttime. “It’s going to be at least two weeks before the pain subsides, before you can get comfortable enough to even sleep at night,” he warned. “And then you’re probably going to need four to six weeks of physical therapy. So just don’t expect to be your usual self and take it really easy.”

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It had been a while (15 years?) since the last time I packed a bag of ice directly onto my shoulder for 30 minutes. My rotator cuff was killing me, but the dog-and-kid snuggles were magically healing.

I slogged through the rest of the day with my arm plastered to my side, iced my shoulder in front of the TV with the boys, took the Vicotin gratefully that night, meditated and took another bath. There in the tub, by the light of one candle, I envisioned myself as radiantly healthy. I directed my consciousness toward appreciation of everything that I am. I tried to picture myself swinging Kip through the air, doing downward dog, feeling powerful in my body, being glowingly grateful for everything, but especially for the four amazing muscles that comprise my rotator cuff and enable some of life’s most wonderful movements—stretching, hugging, dancing, twirling children, reaching for the sky…

It wasn’t easy, and it took some deep breathing, some deep prayer and some deep faith, but I released the old beliefs about my worth in the world, replacing them with the truth that I am a child of God, therefore I am wondrous despite anything I do. There’s no decision to be made about me; I just am.

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Trophies, real or imagined, no longer define me, not even when an old one surfaces from my parents’ basement and makes its way into the hands of my boys, who think it’s the coolest sword with which they’ve ever played.

I woke the next morning tired, but no longer in pain. For good measure, I returned to Dan Mossell’s table for a second treatment one week after the snowboarding adventure. This time, there were no tears or cold sweats as he went to work on my shoulder. My range of motion was almost back, and he sent me away with the advice to take it easy, but gave me permission to stretch. “If it feels good, do it,” he said. “If it doesn’t, don’t.”

Ten days after our snowboarding adventure, which I will totally try again, despite Dan’s advice to try skis next time (“You know how you take down a steer, don’t you, Emily?” he quipped. “You tie its legs together.” ), I have no pain and my range of motion is almost completely back to normal. I’d be fibbing if I said I wasn’t surprised, considering how excruciating the pain was a week ago but, then again, I believe in miracles.

This is no accident. This is no misdiagnosis. This is no freak recovery. This is no coincidence. This feels like a miracle to me. And the amazing thing is that we’re all capable of receiving our own miracles, if we ask for them. This experience hurting and healing my shoulder is a timely reminder of the power of heart-centered prayer, meditation and good old-fashioned openness.

What is holding you back right now? Is it physical pain, emotional pain, beliefs you hold about yourself or the world in general? Whatever it is, take a moment to visit your own dark, quiet, healing space, be it your bathtub, your meditation room or your bedroom just before you fall asleep, and ask for help. Look right at whatever it is and give it permission to leave, if that’s what you want. See yourself living in the way you want to live. Believe that the vision is really you. Hold that vision and trust it will be so. And, if you’re so inspired, message me about your vision and I’ll hold it, charging it with prayer, for you as well. May a miracle so unimaginably wonderful take place in your life and bring you joy upon joy.