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I’m halfway through the spring session of SouLodge, and I’ve already signed up for the summer class. It’s been truly amazing for me, the journaling prompts, the weekly check-in worksheets, all have helped me to unravel things that I hadn’t even thought about, layers of myself that I didn’t know were hidden. The projects have been so much fun as well, but the best part about them is that they have felt therapeutic. I don’t know if it’s simply the act of making something by hand or what, but I spent most of Sunday working on my medicine pouch, and after it was completed, I just felt so much lighter and happier.

As this class wraps up, I’ll be starting the next one, and from what I can tell, this one is more geared to the art itself, to trying new techniques and discovering what your personal style is. I’m excited for that one as well, mainly to try new mediums and discover new techniques (ok, really any techniques). The two seem to be perfectly ordered, from helping me better understand myself and open up my creative channels moving directly into methods of using that creativity.

21 Secrets has officially started, and I have thrown myself head first into…well, trying to decide which class to take first! It runs through the end of the year, and everything is arranged to fit into your schedule, so I’m not in any danger of losing anything immediately, but I still need to just pick somewhere and start something. I have a feeling that once I find a place to start, it will just take off and have a life of its own. I’m spending too much time wrapped up in where to start that, if I’m not careful, I’ll run out of time and still be trying to decide where to begin. Ah, the story of my life.

And now, a product of all my hard journeys:

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So much of our lives is spent trying to fill the voids in others, in turn expecting others to fill the voids within ourselves. At the end of the day, we feel exhausted, empty, lacking from holes that weren’t filled. The sad thing is that we cannot be all things to all people. In fact, we can’t even be all things to one person. No matter how hard we try, we will never be able to fill the voids that others have in their souls. And no one will ever be able to fill the voids in ours. Only we are capable of repairing our hearts, of healing our souls, of filling the voids and making ourselves whole. The problem is, the more time and energy we spend trying to fill others’ voids, the less we have available to fill our own. Eventually, we are empty, standing there will nothing left to give to anyone, let alone ourselves — and yet others still aren’t satisfied. No matter how many voids we fill, there will be new ones that arise, and the more we fill another person’s, the more they expect us to continue to fill those openings. The more other people fill our voids, the more we expect them to fill the new ones that arise. It sets up a vicious cycle of sucking the life out of other people in order to replace the life that has been sucked out of us,

What would happen if everyone filled their own voids first? What would happen if, for one brief period of time, everyone made themselves whole? So much more would be available to give to others without giving anything of ourselves. Think about it — fill the cup up, and anything after that can fill other cups without emptying the one that has just been filled. But if we are continuously emptying our glasses into other people’s, then no glasses will ever be full. I remember watching a rather cheesy teenage movie one day when nothing else was on and studying had lost interest after 6 straight hours — one line that I remembered above all others was this (paraphrased): “you can always make more love.” In other words, you can love a person without taking any love away from another. Yet we never apply this to ourselves. We believe ourselves unworthy of such love, or are made to feel guilty for even thinking about doing anything for ourselves when there are so many “more deserving” people who need us first. We are taught it is the moral, religious, spiritual, ethical thing to put others before ourselves, to consider another’s needs to be more important than our own. This does absolutely no good for anyone, for once we run out of ourselves to give, we realize that we can never meet the need of the world. So we are left broken, beaten, dejected, lonely, depressed, and all around just utterly hopeless as we succumb to the reality that we cannot do it all. And until we begin to put ourselves first, to repair the brokenness that is left at the end, we will never be able to give ourselves to anyone. We cannot give away what we do not possess.

We must learn to take care of ourselves. We must learn to listen to our hearts, to hear what is broken and empty, to fill it up ourselves, rather than trying to decipher what others expect us to fill for them. Once we are made whole, everything after that becomes extra that can be poured out into the world. We give to others without taking away from anyone, including ourselves, and we become able to do so much more than before.

Will I take my own advice? Probably not. It’s a hard cycle to break. It takes courage and strength to stand up and say, “I can no longer fill you.” It takes guts to tell someone that you will not put them ahead of yourself, to say that your needs come first, to say that you must heal yourself before you can reach out to heal others. You will be called selfish, lazy, worthless, slovenly, greedy, and many other horrible things as others try to make you feel guilty for wanting to be whole again. You will burn bridges, destroy relationships, lose social positions, and alienate yourself from those who do not understand. It can seriously affect your life, and it will be tempting to run back into the comforting arms of the known, even if it means losing your very soul to the people who will never be satisfied with what you give to them. And you may not be ready now. It may not be your time. He soul must be prepared to take such a leap, and even little steps to build it back up will prepare it for the ultimate test. Restoring the soul isn’t something that must be done all at once, nor is it a one-time fix. It is a constant process, for no matter how important it is to restore ourselves, we will never stop giving to others. At times, we will find ourselves giving more to others than we give to ourselves, and we must start to restore the balance. Still, it requires saying “no” to people who aren’t accustomed to hearing that, turning down things that we want to do for others, stepping back from the rigor of life to simply be still in the moment, to breathe in rejuvenating life back into our hearts. And every step, no matter how small, is important.

We can be healed. We deserve to be whole.

I am now working through my second week of SouLodge, so forgive me for my absence. Posts will likely be a bit more spread out for awhile, for reasons which will be obvious later in this post.

I’m loving the work of SouLodge and can almost guarantee I will be in every class from this point forward. It has already brought a greater sense of self-awareness, but with that also comes the weight of what that awareness brings to light. I have frequently felt as if I have an intense wanderlust, a desire to get out in the world, go explore, do things, experience life to the fullest. At times, I am frustrated that circumstances and obligations have me “tied down,” preventing me from taking off at a moment’s notice. It wasn’t until this week that I realized this is exactly where I am supposed to be. I have felt frustrated, not because my heart is tethered, but because I have been fighting against what I am supposed to be experiencing. In other words, right now, I am being called to simply be still, to be present where I am, to recognize that everything has a time and right now is my time for rest, rejuvenation, healing, and becoming rooted to my soul. This was made even more painfully obvious after I wound up double-booking two days worth of activities and plans, after a whirlwind weekend road trip, after realizing that I haven’t taken time to simply sit back and breathe in the moment.

I am loving this work right now. I have so far done everything in the class, although it took me a bit to get started and caught up. I have been learning so many important things about myself, new things and reinforcements of old lessons. As much as I feel overwhelmed at times, this is something I will not give up. I may have to rework my schedule sometimes, but there is never an excuse to not take care of ourselves and do something that nourishes the soul.

I may be posting less frequently for a month or so, but I will try to keep up with tidbits if nothing else, just so things don’t get too boring over here. 🙂

Whenever I hear that the Bible is the “living Word of God,” it makes me cringe. Not because I don’t believe it, but because people use this as an excuse for using it to spread hate, treating it as if it is stagnant, unchanging, concrete. But living things are not stagnant, unchanging, or concrete. They are constantly changing, evolving, adapting. We are living, and we change every day according to our circumstances. So when I hear “living Word,” I think exactly that; that God uses the Bible to speak to each person individually, according to their circumstances, according to what their heart needs at the time.

Something cannot be living and unchanging.

I’ve had many opportunities in the past few days to become reacquainted with modern church and mainstream Christianity. Yesterday, my boss’s daughter gave a concert to celebrate the release of her new cd, an album dedicated to songs written in worship to God. The songs were powerful and well-written, and the concert was fantastic, but the premise on which many of the songs were written was something I have since become less accustomed to. (Grammar people, feel free to tear that sentence apart.) Mainstream Christianity fixates on the notion that we are unworthy of the love of God. This belief forms one of the main tenants of the religion, for if one is unworthy and loved anyway, that is supposed to somehow make it better. But here is my problem with this belief: when we start believing ourselves unworthy of love, we begin to see others unworthy of love as well. We begin to loathe ourselves and justify hatred toward others by identifying various sins. The focus is on our lifelong never ending debt to God, to somehow justify our worth and find ways to constantly “please” Him because we believe that unless we do so, we will never receive His love. Even those who profess that salvation comes with the simple act of accepting the sacrifice of Christ and loving God, giving Him credit for everything in their lives, do so out of a state of contrition. And then they wonder why people don’t want to go to church.

If someone asked you why you loved someone, or something, you can probably come up with a list of reasons, but at the end of the day, you don’t have a concrete answer. You love them simply because you do. You love them because they are, because they exist, because they are a beautiful soul that is recognizable. Or more simply put, you love because God loved you first. (1 John 4:19 for those keeping track.) And I guarantee you that God does not have a list of His reasons for loving you. He loves you because He created you, because you exist, because deep inside you lives a piece of Him. We only believe ourselves unworthy because we fail to see this in ourselves. And even worse, we fail to recognize this truth in others. Jesus commanded us to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” Granted, that’s hard to do when we have such a deep-seated loathing for ourselves, and the sad thing is that most people follow this to the letter — despising their neighbors for the unworthiness they feel in themselves. We feel that we need to somehow earn or justify God’s love for us, all the while professing that this cannot be done, love cannot be earned, but still trying to somehow create reasons for why we are more worthy than another person.

One of my favorite quotes of all times is from Andy Horner, founder of Premier Designs Inc. His number one most repeated statement is, “God did not take time to create a nobody.” Everyone has worth in the eyes of God, everyone is worthy of God’s love simply because they exist, because God took the time to create them. But we don’t treat others this way. We see someone who is different, label them a “sinner,” and proceed to find all the ways that they are worthless. To make ourselves feel better, we then proceed to declare that we are unworthy as well and it is only because we have somehow made ourselves more worthy by (insert favorite Christian redemption recipe here) that we have reached a higher state of piety. But the bottom line is that this belief does more harm than good. Tell someone they are unworthy of love but will get it anyway if they just “accept the gift” and all they hear is that they are unworthy and have to do something to receive love. And isn’t the entire point of unconditional love that it is, well, unconditional? And isn’t requiring someone to do anything, even if it’s just as simple as believing in something, putting a condition on it? Parents don’t love their children because their children love them back — they love them because they are their children. They love them simply because their children exist and belong to them. And no parent in the world will tell you that their child is unworthy of their love. So how can Christianity claim that we are the children of God and that God will love us no matter what when there are so many ways we are “unworthy?”

This doesn’t mean we aren’t perfect, doesn’t mean that we don’t have flaws. We get lost, confused, begin to despair, do things that are wrong or hurtful. But all of this comes out of an inability to love ourselves and therefore makes us unable to love others. And perhaps this is just a side effect of being human. It’s hard to love someone who has hurt you, but what we must understand is that people hurt us because they are hurting first. And they are hurting, whether as a result of being hurt or simply being broken, and as a result they do not recognize the beautiful perfect God-center that resides deep within their soul. When one cannot recognize that within themselves, they cannot see it in others. It sets up a cycle that will likely never be broken, one of an incomplete understanding of who we are, how we are all the same at the center of ourselves. And I don’t expect that everyone will all of a sudden come to realize that, nor do I claim to be perfect. I recognize that I have problems with loving myself and that this, in turn, makes it hard for me to love others. I find faults with others because I cannot stop finding faults within myself. I am trying to recognize this, trying to work on this, but it is a process, one that may never be complete. But the more I recognize this, the more I can stop myself from sending out negative, loveless energy to those around me. The world has enough of that as it is.

I don’t know which came first — the self-loathing or the hatred of others — or if it is simply our human state that makes it impossible for us to understand a love that truly has no conditions or justifications, but what is being taught today is harmful. And it’s hard to try to convince people to lead a “moral” lifestyle if God will love you no matter what. But all of our morals start with the same basic underlying principle — that of love of God, self, and others. In reality, they are all the same, for God created each and every person, and God exists in all of us. We cannot love God and hate our fellow man when God resides in each of us equally. Hatred of others is hatred of the creation of God, and claiming the whole “love the sinner, hate the sin” nonsense is simply an excuse for hating a person without having to admit it, for those people often cannot see the “sinner” past the “sin.” They focus so much on what it is that they dislike about the person, making them one and the same. To truly love God, deeply and wholly, is to see others how He sees them — as a creation, a part of the Divine, a perfect soul just as it is.