Monday, September 9, 2013

Room to grow

Not a doorbell but a soft tap, tap, tap. It interrupts. Not now. I don’t want to be disturbed. I cinch up my robe over my flannel pjs behind the locked door. Tap, tap, tap. Never had I imagined that my word for the year, Pursue, would show up here unsettling jammie-time in my armchair. My heartbeats bounce off interior walls like an erratic ping-pong ball. I dodge and duck the noise. But Pursue stands at the door and knocks. Go away; just leave me be.

More tap, tap, tapping at the door. Pursue persists…like big brothers pinning me to the ground with spidery fingers in my face taunting, “You gotta do dishes.” Like my dad insisting his school-aged children keep watch and report on my mom’s movements should she try to run away again. Like my mom blaming dad for all the disappointments in her life, “Don’t mention your father’s name to me ever again. You don’t know all the bad things that went on.” Yet mom will often reference the hardships she endured in life with my dad, her first marriage of three, ending more than 40 years ago.

Triggered memories from the past amplify tapping into pounding that bullies. I wonder, too, if my mother hears the hurt pounding hundreds of miles away in her own isolated space far from her children, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren.

When ordeals frightened me long ago, I closed doors and withdrew…unnoticed and without emotion. “I will never be vulnerable again to those who want to use, abandon or devalue me,” a privately terrified twelve-year-old girl declared.

Years piled upon fears while insulating myself from the hurts. From inside my walls, everything outside had become “risk, uncertainty and emotional exposure”…the perfect storm of vulnerability, according to Dr. Brené Brown, social science researcher and author.

Fear gone amuck had seeped in through the cracks and sealed them up from within creating cognitive darkness. “Fear,” explains Parker Palmer, author and educator, “paralyzes cognition.” Trapped inside—condemning voices, bullying voices, dismissing voices—all false voices mingled with my own. They intimidate and obscure, binding mind and movement forward. Though I imagined armchair freedom from the pursuit of bullies, I was neither fearless nor free in my confined space. It was no surprise then that the fictional cowardly lion and I would commiserate together.

I remember words—no motivation, no desire, no insight—escaping my soul only a few years ago in the company of other wounded women. Fueled by fears, we were hell-bent on defending our separate vows against vulnerability. While we were protecting ourselves, we had assumed responsibility for enabling others. While we were judging ourselves, we had criticized others. While we were blaming others, we had justified our resentments. While we were begrudging others, we had shielded our own shame. Defending against vulnerability costs.

Like the careful taps wielded by an archaeological excavator, Pursue chips away at sealed cracks, fortified walls, and closed doors. Dust particles floated across pinhole piercings of new light into my room while tapping excavated more. I catch glimpses of old clutter and how much I have been avoiding. The scene overwhelms me. I do what is most comforting and nestle into the fake fur of cowardly lion.

The tapping softens. Bullies quiet their advance. My guard relaxes. New voices drift in with light slivers. Book open, hot cuppa within reach, voice of words from Dr. Brené Brown gently captivate, “If courage is a value we hold, then vulnerability is the only way in and through.” The cowardly lion pretends a growl.

“Most of us are brave and afraid in the exact same moment all day long,” her voice acknowledges and emboldens me. “We are all on that trajectory of vulnerability whether we want to or not…we have a choice.” You mean vulnerability is not a sign of weakness. Brown declares its strength, “Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.” Lion and I grumble a low roar in unison; I make believe it is audible.

Not-giving-up-on-me taps again at the door surfacing ancient God words: “Perfect love drives out all fear.” God, who loves faithfully and unconditionally, remains outside the door awaiting access in. Love taps into the rhythm of my faint heart. John the apostle adds, “If anyone hears and opens the door, I [the Messenger of Perfect Love] will come in to him and eat with him and he with Me.” Are you sure you have the right address?

I hunger to accept and to be accepted. “If fear keeps our lives small, does a life that receives all of God in this moment grow large too?” the writer of One Thousand Gifts and I ponder together. New voices—those of Brené, John, and Ann—crowd out the old voices that demand, pressure, and accuse…from within. Truth, love and grace invite me to stretch beyond self-limiting fear. There’s a bit more wriggle room…perhaps room to grow. It’s time.

I listen intently for the invitation, the love tap. The power of one word persists, cares, beckons, and…loves. I trace the root word back to God, the giver of His Word—which is love—to me, for this very year, the Year of Pursue. I am pursued; I am loved. He pursues me, I receive Him. He receives me; I accept me. I can genuinely love because He first loved me. Shift happens.

I have donned avoidant behaviors like defensive armor—and sometimes hostile armor—that can constrict the wearer and bruise the outsider. Pursue is shedding the armor. Pursue is vulnerability. Pursue welcomes instead of repels. Pursue reaches out instead of retreating within. Pursue advances through fear instead of hiding out with cowardly lions. Pursue is strength. Pursue is love. Pursue is a grace-gift sent from God.

Tugging at my big girl pjs, I cross the room cutting a wake through fear and vulnerability…toward love and grace.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The other woman

Unlike the anticipated birth of newborn joy, the sailboat’s dreaded delivery date arrived. Gestation was almost two years while the 15-year-old boat was being refit with a new design in the boatyard. Time, however, was not all that was needed to welcome this she-yacht into my life. I sensed an unresolved something churning in the dark, deep waters of my soul.

Everything the boat is, I am not: huge, commanding, fast, intrepid, sleek and striking, and extravagantly decked out for adventure. The boat’s all-that exacerbated all that I am not…but would be required to become. Her imposing presence obligates, demands, and expects much of me…too much. The more she commands sea-worthy superiority, the more I notice my she-worthless inadequacies.

Her massive sails harness the winds and her powerful hull heels. Gravity pulls me down into the curvature of her cushioned cockpit. I don’t resist. My silhouette is absorbed into the shadow of her sails. And I tuck into protective comfort while my captain husband actively engages…with her.

Elusive voices drift past like an occasional gull gliding by overhead. “He prefers her to you…you don’t have what it takes.” I pull my hood up over my head against the freshening wind, and secure its cords under my chin into a proper bowknot.

I don’t like the cold wind. I don’t like the swells heaving the boat. I don’t like being in the cold, sunless shade of her sails. And I don’t like the accusing voices, “You are so dull. The ocean is passing you by while you hunker down in your warm, cozy, protected cushion of comfort.”

The depth meter gauge blinked showing that the waters were so deep they could not be measured. I don’t like the uncertainties of deep waters. And I don’t like my response to this other female.  Uncertainty welled up; I wondered whether the female I resented was the she-yacht…or me.  

Bracing my leg muscles against the pole of the cockpit table, engaging my core, and straightening my posture, I turn my head forward with the wind full into my face. The force of the wind catches one of the accusing voices and whisks it off and into the wake behind us. I stretch upwards, grab a table grip and pull up, driving my body against gravity, against the weight of the boat and onto the high side of the cockpit…the side in the sunlight. It takes all my strength to shift to the other side.

From this vantage point, I take notice of commonalities between the two women encountering one another in deep waters.  The sunlight accentuates the curves of the she-yacht, curves designed to replicate what is pleasingly feminine.  Designer son has his handprints all over this shapely ship. My husband has noticed her boat curves, and mine.

Her reach extends into family ties and beyond. Each of us makes use of knots. Knots that bind ship to shore. Knots that bind past to present. Knots that tighten the tension of lines, and knots that strain the lines of relationships. In my shared spaces with this other female, truth and untruth have gotten knotted together. In a similar way, true humility and false humility got bound up too…all requiring disentangling and needing some ship-shaping. Knots, I now know, need untying when venturing from the safety of a homeport.

“Ready to return to the harbor and dock?” the captain’s voice disrupted my momentary boat bonding. From HOT—honest, open and transparent— conversations with husband-captain, he no longer assumes that I instantly recall all the complexities of this sea maiden. Complexities…something else we have in common. We patiently reviewed which of the four dock lines I would first toss up to him once I landed on the dock. Then he calmly identified the second one to toss, and so on. I love the captain for his considerate explanation void of any sarcasm or ridicule of my sailing insecurities.

Though I had leapt from boat to deck many times before from other boats, this was my first solo attempt leaping from this new deck three feet above the dock that is an additional few feet above the water.  Not only was this a longer stretch but a wider once since the oversized fenders were already lowered on the starboard side of the boat where I stood. As the dock drew closer, I eliminated three vertical feet by sitting into my calculated, catapult position.

With pretend courage and wanting to prove my worth as first mate, I launched my whole body forward, fully expecting at least a 7.8 landing score. My leap—from my bottom—was powerful. My next thought…I am underwater! And submerged between a moving 20-ton boat and an immovable dock is not a good place to be. Either I could be squeezed to death, or trapped underneath a foreboding hull like National Geographic divers looking for a hole in the icecap. Amazing how many thoughts can flood through one’s mind in seconds.

I looked up to sunlight above me, sensing a great, dark hull close behind me. Powering to the surface, I grappled for the dock, frantically flailing to hoist myself out of the water and out of danger. Kicking, heaving, panting, pushing…one elbow made it to dock level. Then two unfamiliar arms reached down for me and I awkwardly wet-flopped onto the pavement.

The two, tentative dock hands were not quite sure how to respond to a waterlogged wife of a sailor. I may have caught a glimpse of some exchanged smirks. Relief leaked from my soggy clothes and hair while adrenaline pumped through each new heave of breath. The men firmly knotted she-yacht to dock while I shivered back critical voices gaining volume inside me: “You look so foolish…you are so inept….talk about getting in over your head.....”

My long-legged captain leapt down and enveloped me into a towel, muffling the cacophony within. “Wanna warm shower?” he invited tenderly. I reboarded the boat not daring to look any higher than my toes. Shame dribbled off me and left little puddles after each step to the shower. Warm water washed over me as I peeled saturated garments from my skin. Naked and exposed, I replay the leap, the panic, the voices. More water, more cleansing, more pressing into the discomfort of these strong feelings. And then I think I notice...another voice running off and down the drain.

After my shower and into my hiding time in the cockpit, I overhear the voice of another captain commanding action from his crew as they dock their humongous power boat. “Don’t jump, toss those guys the dock lines.” After big boat is secured to the dock and the engine cut, the captain announces over his loudspeaker, “Nice job crew.”

Mustering levity to the surface, I turned to husband captain, “How come I didn’t hear that when we docked?”

With a playful smirk, he responded, “You must have been underwater when I said it.” 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Girl in the mirror

Her words got under my skin leaching deep into the pit of my stomach…where they churned up what I thought I had resolved decades earlier. Like reoccurring acid reflux, I regurgitated the conversation back with others. “Did I mention that while she vented teeth-clenching bitterness about her first marriage—that ended more than 40 years ago—she failed to mention her own destructive part?”

Yet, retelling the words to friends and husband did not bring relief, only more resentment piled atop hurt. My wise husband—probably wanting his own relief—gently interjected his carefully crafted coaching question, “Follow that contempt you have about your conversation with your mom. What’s really underneath her leaving out some details?”

Planting my feet firmly in place with hands on hips, and chin defiantly tilted up into the air, I protested, “She’s not telling the whole tru….” But the twitch of a noise magnified by the length of hallway interrupted my whinging.

“Back a-gain? What a nuisance,” I muttered.

Scritch-scratchings from unidentifiable places coincided with her appearance. So I wasn’t really surprised by her reflection in the hall mirror. The petulant little girl and I had encountered one another many times before. She was swallowed up in my brother’s hand-me-down shirt, unbrushed hair pulled back into a haphazard ponytail, arms locked across a flat chest, complete with pouty scowl. “Don’t even think I’m stupid or vulnerable or weak,” she mouthed the words through her pursed lips. Though a mere reflection from childhood, her resolve was palpable.

The tomboyish girl in the mirror tracked with me like precisely painted eyes in a master’s portrait. Wherever I moved, whatever I did, her cynical viewpoint and voice followed. “I’m sorry, mom,” the small, insincere voice told my mom, “that your choice to have five children with my dad was so unbearable.” The little girl’s phoniness nauseated me, even more than a bouncy boat on a wavy ocean. Her fearful and whiny manipulations would sneak in through a crack in the back door into conversation with my husband, “I already had my schedule planned; now I have to rearrange everything…okay, I guess I’ll go sailing with you.”

While her appearance signaled the presence of intruders, I prepared to detect and control the sneaky, squeaky, multiply-in-the dark mousies who nibble away at our safe places. They seem to gather in our garage seeking any opportunity to slip inside. So we set traps in the garage and hurl bait into the attic to fend off their droppings and disease. Vigilance is key when it comes to mice.

Alert to any attack of my personal space, I continued my juvenile posturing to my mother’s offense, “And furthermore,” I told my husband, “I don’t want my mom to think that she is fooling me again.”

Managing mice and my mom can be…disturbing. Just the other day I found a four-legged trespasser ensnared and motionless in the middle of the garage floor. I dared to reach down to pinch the protruding tripped wire with a fingertip grasp…when a furry leg wiggled. I lunged for a shop towel and threw it over him and his trap. There he remained—out of sight—for days, maybe weeks. To avoid him, I changed my course from house to my car. Finally, the stench of his decay convinced me that it was safe enough to pinch the trap tripwire and toss him into the garbage bin.

“I would have scooped him up with a shovel,” my wise friend advised. Honestly, the idea of using a long-handled tool had never even entered my mind when I encountered stinking mousies.

Curious about the girl in the mirror, I returned and peered deeper. I observed a puckered brow pressing into her youthful skin. I noticed the depth of brown in her eyes and a whisp of playfulness in her childlike movements. Separated by almost a half-century of mirror, I dared to speak aloud to her, “I, uh…I was wondering if it would be okay for you and I to get together?”

“Me? You want to spend time with me?” she asked, perplexed and wanting to understand.

Already, this young girl had seized my heart with her response…which was a question.

“I’d like to get to know who you really are. Would you mind if I asked you a couple of questions?” I responded, wanting to acknowledge her sweet value...and yet, respect her boundaries.

She lifted her pointer finger to her girlish grin and nodded a slow up and down.

Granting me permission, I delicately approached her tender spirit, “What happens when your mom or big people talk like that to you?”

“My heart gets frozen up, like it can’t do what it’s supposed to. Clouds come in and fill up my head. My words run away and I want to disappear with them. But my feet won’t move. No one notices. I am alone.”

“That must be scary to feel like that; I am sorry that no one noticed.” I imagined placing her hand in between my own two as streams of tears tumble down my big person cheeks.

Her young hand warmed into mine as she continued, “A long time ago, my mom loved me and then disappeared. I didn’t cry though. My dad said bad stuff about my mom. I didn’t want to hear him. I didn’t have words then either. But I had lots of thoughts.”

‘I’m interested in your thoughts; would you want to share your thoughts?” gently inviting her to trust me.

I don’t like feeling scared and helpless,” her voice a little shaky. “So I thought of some promises that would keep away people who would hurt me, kinda like the way you try to keep mice away.” Emboldened by promises made long ago, this underdeveloped vigilante recited those well-worn promises: “No one will ever surprise and fool me again.” and “They can’t make me do something I don’t want to.”

Overwhelmed by maternal compassion for this isolated side of me, I open my heart wide to her, “Next time you are afraid, I will be right there with you, so you won’t feel abandoned or vulnerable having to fend for yourself.”

While young Julie softened into my closeness, I embraced all of her abandonment, fear and vulnerability, assuring her with words that the adult needed to tell the child, “I’m not going to leave because you matter to me. You are valuable.”

Childhood promises linger like decaying mice that have been trapped or poisoned. They cause myopia that limit our choices to a finger pinch instead of a shovel. Omissions or distortion of the truth exasperate “You’ll never fool me again.” And “You’re not going to make me do anything I don’t want” resists risky invitations for adventure and fun. Bound by promises and ill-equipped with a direct voice, immaturity will disingenuously agree and then resent the situation or people. Even an inanimate and adventuresome sailboat can become a ‘scapeboat’ for resentment indecision, and defensiveness. 

Let’s face it, mice happen. I mistakenly thought that strength and freedom came with protecting the promises…which were supposed to protect me. But recognizing and challenging those childhood promises is more fruitful and freeing. Not an overnight process but one that requires vulnerability—really?—and a long-reaching tool.

Biblical wisdom is a tool that offers grace and hope with the little girl in the mirror, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, [The Lord] will not forget you!”  This tool has even helped with my mice problem. They are still there but I see mice differently, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you..”

Posted with permission from the girl in the mirror.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


Whoever joined together the word smooth with the word sailing?

My ideal sailing adventure—my smooth sailing—would be on a warm, clear and calm ocean…with land always in sight. Warm water says jump in…all-in. I love to flop around in warm water. As a young girl, I secretly wanted to be one of those underwater mermaids at Florida’s Weeki Wachee tourist attraction. Yet I am as much mermaid material as I am a smooth sailor.

For me, clarity while smooth sailing means vision in all directions...with no unexpected encounters. Similarly, underwater clarity means I can avoid creepy creatures above, below and beyond…no surprises. Calm waters invite peace and steadiness without threat of upheaval. However, with sailing, the more squally, the better the adventure. It would seem that my ideal smooth sail is as unrealistic as my mermaid-like, no surprises, risk-avoidant self.

I am a sailor…by marriage only. Though my heart is captivated by the captain, my soul would rather be on land. Curious how often I find myself in conflicting, unpredictable, tumultuous, unfathomable waters. Stretching beyond my comfort zone is an understatement when I have one foot on a moving boat and the other foot on the dock.

Even ashore, the ocean’s disturbing motion lingers long after a sail. I walk unsteadily along the beach avoiding more waves, spray, rocks and other impediments in my path. The unending, obstacle-strewn beach stretches ahead of me like my word for the year, pursue

My word, pursue, challenges me to consider how to respond in sailing and in life when rough waters are present. Pursue does not avoid, nor minimize, nor unwillingly tolerate, nor precariously straddle the gulf between all-in and all-out. Pursue weighs the options, decides and then moves onward. Powerful waves surge onto shore…all-in. The retreating water washes back out into the ocean…all-out.

All my previous words for the year have contributed to this time and space where pursue now requests something more of me. My words, like waypoints in sailing, mark progress points made as well as setting the course ahead. Pursue beckons me onward, keeping me on course for this year.

I glance back over my shoulder and notice the waypoints I have passed. At embolden, I asked for God’s help. Our grandson’s three-year old voice whispers through the wind. Jack comforted his howling little brother resisting his car seat and sleep, “It’s okay, Lukey, God will take care of you.” Jack’s simple faith contrasts to Granna’s cautious faith…I keep walking.

Release is where I stumbled over an old pattern of avoiding risk. Radical was the illusive waypoint that renounced all or nothing thinking. Willing acknowledged being on the right path. Just past open, I began noticing little treasures along the way…discarded, broken, insignificant bits of sea glass. A friend’s blog title pleasantly brings me back to the moment at hand as I ‘Gather the Fragments’. The sun is high in the sky; I pursue noticing and collecting the little treasures of fragments, words and insights along the way.

Back at home, I add my journey’s bounty to a container with previous discoveries. As my collection grows bit by bit, so does my gratitude, and my perspective…along with extra fragments of faith. My new, bigger, transparent vase is already half-full. This larger container holds all my assorted pieces together in one place, at one time…all-in.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The gift of a word

A calendar screen can simply scroll over into a new year. As for me,  I dawdle, sigh, reflect and mutter when approaching a new year. My transition into a new year is much like the way I approach Christmas morning. I don’t want to be rushed; I want to savor the gift in hand before moving on to the next. I want to fully appreciate the depth and breadth of the gift: the giver, the effort that went into its selection, the connection between giver and receiver, and the gift itself.

And so it is with a new year…a wrestling against the speed of time for space to savor what has been received this year before opening up the next one. A friend communicates similar angst at this time of year in her text message, “Just taped up the last box of Christmas. Some pieces went kicking and in protest of yet another closure.”

Before I can tidy up this past year without regret and look forward to the next, I want to take time to savor the year past and its many gifts. Were I just to recall those gifts packaged in festive paper and celebration, my gratitude and my growth would be lacking. Much like the gift of sea glass fragments found, collected and saved in a large, see-through, wide-open vase, I finger through gifts from last year marveling over the accumulated growth that time has produced bit-by-bit. 

Retrieving those gifts from the past year spotlights a new path for the new year. My recollection of the year is most visible from the vantage point of my word for the year. And it is by the light of my word for the year—last year—that I can best view the gifts I have gleaned. With my 2012 word in hand, I sift through the gifts I received in connection to my previous word, open. I recall, absorb and own each and every gift listed below…

Choice: Taking responsibility for my life opens up many different options. From the book, Boundaries, by Cloud and Townsend

Support: Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any one hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. Rev. 3:20

Spaciousness: I can't tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life. We didn't fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren't small, but you're living them in a small way. I'm speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively!  2 Corinthians 6:11-13, The Message

Freedom: Beckoned from the shadows, from behind walls, I have been released into the open. Into the open, Julie Voorhees, Feb 2012

Love: Breathe in love, exhale captivity. Breathing lessons, Julie Voorhees, March 2012
Acceptance: I want to be Julie. Growing into my clothes, Julie Voorhees, April 2012

Redemption: Life’s traumas are not wasted; they are redeemed by forcing out seeds for new growth…by forcing new steps leading to new growth. The other side, Julie Voorhees, July 2012

Recovery: Buoyancy - the power to recover emotionally...I was okay. Under the surface, Julie Voorhees, August 2012

Value: That day I discovered a personal treasure….unique, fearfully and wonderfully made, and intrinsically valued. The pink one, Julie Voorhees, October 2012

Significance: My dad’s five words were his final gift to me. He heard me…therefore he cared. Loss and found, Julie Voorhees, November 2012

In a December 2012 sermon, pastor Jon Ireland challenged all to “live in a posture of generosity with open hands”. This past year has pried open my hands and my soul…to receive so that I might give.

Anonymously quoted words beckon me into 2013: “Dear Past, thanks for all the lessons. Dear Future, I’m ready!”

And I look ahead with the expanded view that my friend, Lorene, describes, “A windshield is much larger than the rearview mirror.”

I so want for you to look ahead through your own clean, large windshield with hope and promise. I encourage you to select your focus word for this current year. If you would like help in choosing your word, go to my blog post, One Word Challenge, or listen to my interview with Geri Swingle, radio show host and fellow life coach.

Your focus word has potential to enhance the year ahead of you, provided you don’t shelve it within a couple of weeks like a forgotten gift. On the contrary, a good gift is relevant and sustainable. A focus word can be a relevant and sustainable gift over the course of the year provided you ask the pertinent questions along the way. Click here for cool coaching questions that will help you stay focused with your word for an entire year.

My word…you want to know my word for 2013? Hey, thanks for asking. Having tried out several words, I narrowed it down to three. Like Goldilocks looking for the right bed in which to rest, I tested out two other words before settling into the best one for me this new year. I tried NOTICE…uh-uh, too passive. I switched to SEEK…um, not quite active enough. Then I stretched to PURSUE: to seek persistently, strive for something, carry something out…which encompasses noticing, seeking and activity. Yes, PURSUE is the next journey on which I am embarking for 2013.