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Lately, I’ve been taking many leaps of faith. I quit my job as the nursery coordinator at my church, and have started teaching again at the local community college. That alone was a leap of faith because I’m worried about being able to pay my bills (as we all are, I’m sure). Community colleges aren’t known for paying well – and this one is no different. It’s a great place to work though, and I really enjoy being around people who care about learning. So, my leap of faith here is that I’ll somehow be able to make enough to pay my bills.

But wait…there’s more! That’s right, folks – more leaps of faith. I’ve been blogging on and off about starting my own private practice for psychotherapy and groups. I’ve set a date and time for my first group – without anyone in the group yet. I’m taking that leap and trusting that the people who need it will be there. Now, I’m not just sitting on my tush and waiting – I strongly believe also that God helps those who help themselves. So, I”m talking to therapists in town including my training program, and will make and drop off flyers with the local behavioral hospital as well. So hopefully, between word of mouth and active marketing, something will happen. It’s still a leap of faith though, and I’ll fully admit to being nervous about falling flat on my face.

Sometimes, the leap of faith can involve letting go. As an undergraduate student I learned in nearly exclusively lecture-style classes until I went to Whitman College. While there I also had lecture classes, but also had classes and experiences that stretched my mind as well as my conception of what a “class” should be. Today, as a teacher, I have trouble letting go of the lecture style, and it’s a leap of faith to me that i can do this, and it will be all right. I can let go of stuffing information and allow the learning process to happen in its own right and natural way. This leap of faith is a process for me, but my faith is in the process and in the fact that others have done this and that it’s turned out all right.

It’s a leap of faith to leave the secure (whether in the classroom or in my life) to follow my dreams…and will continue to be a leap of faith when I move beyond where I’m at now to another dream or goal. Every step, every breath, every interaction is a leap of faith that the safety net will be there, and that even if I do fall on my face, I can stand up, dust myself off, and begin again.

So what is the “net”? In this case, leaps of faith can be literal as well, though…every day, I say a prayer that is a literal leap of faith – faith that God is there, that God listens, and ultimately, that there is a God. This faith guides my life – based on experiences I’ve had where I’ve known God not just as “ultimate cosmic power” but as a Friend. This sense of God as Friend is my litmus test for all things religious and spiritual – if it feels like something my Friend would say or do, then I trust it. It’s a true leap of faith, and requires my attention to my spiritual development on a daily, sometimes minute-to-minute basis. As a result, though, I continue to feel and have this friendship, something I value as strongly as I value life itself.

My dreams, my goals….my voice and my acts – doing these involves taking the leap as much as listening for the guidance as to when and where to do them. The listening is a much if not more of a leap of faith than the doing – I’m trust that what I “hear” is valid and reliable and trustworthy. So far, it hasn’t let me down.

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Wilderness Waterfall - copyright 2009, Laura Burlingame-Lee

Wilderness Waterfall - copyright 2009, Laura Burlingame-Lee

Those of you who have read some of my earlier posts know that trust is not something that comes easy to me; it’s much easier to distrust than it is trust. And yet, I see myself as being a person of faith, which seems contradictory. Many times I find myself asking, “how will I know what’s true? What’s right? What’s real?” In the end, I think the bottom line is I won’t – I have to trust, and trust is the essence of faith. And for me that trust takes the form of “active trust.”

For me, faith is trusting that there is something out there, and that that something is benevolent. Faith is believing in hope, and that bad things, pain, and sorrow can and will eventually get better. Faith is believing that the essence of humanity, if we are made in something’s image, is basically good and that somehow, we can eventually live up to that potential. Faith is believing in the power of each other – that we each count, that we can make a difference, and that we can help each other. Faith is believing in love, of all kinds. It’s believing that the core essence of who we are, although contained in our physical bodies, is beyond and surpasses our physical limits and that somehow we go on. Trust is at the heart of these beliefs, and at the heart of faith.

Faith is believing that the still, small voice we hear is there, adn that if we trust it and listen to it, it will guide us and help us know and live the best lives we can. Trust is at the heart of this. And, in spite of my struggles and past, I do trust this, and realize it might be the only thing I do trust.

And what does my faith tell me? That it’s ok – even good and smart and safer – to use my head and trust my logic in relation to religious and church matters. That it’s ok to be burned out on church politics and cliques, and that these things are NOT spiritual or faith-building; in fact they’re the direct opposite. That I am not my church or my religion and that my spirituality does not have to depend on them – I can be spiritual and disconnected from my church at the same time. That I’m on the right track for me, and that my doubts and questions in these areas are legitimate and real. And that it’s ok to trust myself on these things. And that my Friend is at the heart and core of all these things, adn that having faith and trusting in all of this is actually my Friend. And to be perfectly circular in my illogic, trusting my Friend is trusting what that still, small voice says. I use my head and trust with my heart.
For me, that’s faith.

Trust is the heart of my faith, and faith is believing that even if I question and doubt and have moments of disbelief, I’m still ok. It’s learning to love myself and others as reflections of whatever that something out there is, and it’s working to be the best person I can be. It’s letting go and trusting myself and learning on the way.

It’s been a rainy summer here in Colorado – so much so that our drought has officially been declared over. When I first moved here 10 years ago, we had an afternoon thunder and rain storm nearly every afternoon; that changed the second year we were here and we had sunny day on sunny day on sunny day.

Sounds like paradise, doesn’t it? I found though, that we need the cool, gray rainy days. The grasses got brown and dry, leaves and potted plants became brittle in one afternoon. The temperatures, without any moisture to balance them, skyrocketed – we typically had 2 to 3 weeks of 100-degree plus days, with most of July and August being in low 90’s. The hot air sizzled in my lungs, drying them out as well. Day after day after day of sunshine can be every bit as wearing as days on end of rain – even nature needs balance.

So, we’ve been getting rain here, and I hear people in my area gripe about how rotten it is. I’m thrilled, however – my plants are green, the trees are lush, and the grass grows verdant. I grew up in Ohio, though, so I was used to lots of green forest and grass, and the West felt barren and parched to me. So, I’m very grateful for the rain we’ve gotten.

The rainy days and the relief I’ve been feeling got me thinking about how we need the equivalent of rainy days in our lives. They may not be pleasant – they may be muddy, messy, cold and wet – but they’re needed. Just like I didn’t appreciate the rain until there was nothing but sunny days, I think we don’t appreciate the joy and goodness in life without adversity of some kind. I also think that the days upon days of sunshine and cloudless skies is an apt reminder that too much of a good thing can end up causing as much harm as too little.

As human beings, we need balance. We need love – and we need conflict to grow. We need care and attention, but we need our solitude and independence too. We need light and sunshine, and we need rain and shadow as well. Without any of these we, like the plants that surround us, become withered then brittle and dry. We need our spirituality, and we also need to rebel against it sometimes to find out who we are and what we believe in.

So, I can’t take the kiddos to the park today, or take them swimming…but I can take them out to the porch and teach them that listening to the raindrops fall is very relaxing and peaceful. (And to them, running around and trying to catch the raindrops on their tongues is relaxing, too!) I can teach them that yes, the plants and people need sunshine – and we all need rain, too.

“Sun and Shadow” (copyright 2009, Laura Burlingame-Lee)

You of sun and shadow
Bringer of light, life, and love
or the warmth you bring
the light in which we bask
I am so grateful.

You bring life
for the green, growing things
for our vulnerable bodies
for the day and for the night
and I am grateful.

Yet this light, this life-giving
heat and brightness burns
and fades my spirit,
thinned like a worn shirt
nearly transparent with use.

I need the shadows too –
the cool breezes and
gray cloudy skies…
the heavy drops of rain
that wash away the dust,
cool the heat of day,
and ease the thirst of my heart.

Be also the bringer of the dark –
of clouds, and fog and rain
of moist, cool nights
of shadow, and shade.

Be the bearer of both –
true balance –
that we may be complete.

I consider myself a spiritual person. I belong to a certain faith tradition at the moment, but I consider myself more a person who wants to learn about and find commonalities in as many faith traditions as possible. I wasn’t always this way – for a long time, I was furious with God, and then after that was not even sure that a deity existed. Now, I fully believe that there is deity, and that connection with the divine is not only possible, but is offered freely if we’re open to it.

This journey began with a child’s faith – I was taken to church (sporadically, but taken) and went to Sunday school like most kids in my area. I didn’t even begin questioning differences until I invited a Jewish friend to one of my youth group get-togethers. You have to understand – I didn’t even really know he was Jewish, and had I known I probably still wouldn’t understand the cultural consequences of what I’d done – I invited him to a Yule log hunt and hot dog dinner. (Yeah, I can see the cringing – I still cringe too). He taught me a couple of lessons her – first, that there ARE differences and second, that it’s important to understand them so you can respect them. I still had a ways to go, but I was at least started on my journey.

In the course of my wanderings, I’ve been Episcopalian, Latter-day Saint, Wiccan, agnostic, and Lutheran. In my teenage years, I flirted with Catholicism out of the sense of calling to be a nun. The gist here is that I’ve been all over the board when it comes to organized and not-so-organized religions. In my darkest periods, I wondered if there was anything out there at all. As much as I doubted, though, I still had the sense that there was, even if I didn’t want to believe it. That’s where Active trust came in. During this period (the time after I left the LDS church and while I looking at Wicca), I doubted the very existence of deity. My experience in the LDS church was that God had been made in the image of man – and I use “man” deliberately. Women, especially feminists, were marginalized or even ostracized. I found I didn’t fit the mold, and that there wasn’t much tolerance for that. (One bishop told me that it was too bad I’d been born with the mind of man stuck in the body of a woman.) I was burned out on male domination and religion in general.

Gradually, though, my sense of the divine around us came back. My heart didn’t want to see it – I was still smarting from the earlier experiences. In this case, although it may seem illogical to some, I let my head overrule my heart. I let go of my religious prejudices as best as I could and tried to trust in the Divine. This trust led me to experience the Divine as feminine through Wicca, and later as both male and female (indivisible from each other). It also let me experience faith and even religion to some degree as a supportive environment. However, that’s not to say I fit any real mold of what a “religious person” looks like – I say that I’m more spiritual than I am religious.

These days, I say there are as many religions as there are people.
Now before y’all bomb me with fire and brimstone, let me explain. Our organized religions are about community – shared beliefs and the sense of belonging. However, each one of us interprets our faith traditions through the understanding of our own experiences. My experiences are different from yours, and yours are different from every other person. Ideally, we’re able to share our experiences, find meaning in them, and maybe put them in the framework of our religious beliefs.

I find as I’m getting older, though, that I’m wanting to find the common ground in all the different traditions. The more I read, the more commonalities I find. My active trust these days centers on believing and trusting that understanding and peace can come about, in spite of our differences. My heart tells me that it may not be possible, but I let my head overrule that lack of trust and fear. It may not happen – but by using my active trust I can do my part to work for it happening. I may not always succeed, but I do try to live my ideals and by living my ideals bring others joy and hope as well. I don’t push my beliefs on anyone – I believe that my acts and my life are my offerings and that if I live according to my beliefs I won’t need to push them on anyone. Finding commonalities, building trust between each other, creating community and peace – all of these unify us and help us understand and celebrate each other. To me, that’s the essence of love and of relationship – caring for and about each other, and that’s what I work for and try to live.

Idealistic? Maybe…but without ideals and hope, regardless of whether it’s religious or not, where would we be? Hope, in my opinion, is the embodiment of active trust and hope is where I want my heart to be.

This is cross-posted from my professional blog, The Other Side of The Couch”

A lot of these exercises come from my various books on Journaling – if I know the source, I’ll let you know:

From: “How You Do Anything is How You Do Everything” (Cheri Huber)
What book, song, or movie best describes your life?
What would it take for you to be truly happy?
What makes you feel insecure, and what makes you feel secure?
What is the most important thing in your life, and why?

Laura’s Ideas:
-“If you could write a story with yourself as the hero, what would the story be about?” Write that story.
-What mythological stories seem to speak to you? Write a myth incorporating the pieces that speak for you, and make yourself the hero/main character. What happens?
-“If there was one thing in the world that symbolized “you” – who you are, what you want to be, where you’ve come from, etc – what would that symbol be? Draw it.
-Create a mandala using your personal symbol
-Create pictures of the positive and negative sides of yourself. If these were masks, what would they look like? Make the mask, if you feel like it.
-Write a poem about something in nature, or about something in the world that you love
-Write a poem about your pain – loneliness, sadness, trauma – use the poem to transform the pain and yourself.
-Create a collage of things you enjoy doing
-Write yourself (or someone else) a note using only cut out letters from magazines and/or papers.
-Doodle with words, for example, outline your hand with your journal entry
-use stickers, ephemera – all that great stuff scrapbookers use. Try to use it in a different way
-Get a template or draw a blank jigsaw puzzle – make a puzzle of you – what are the pieces that make up who you are?
-Use the puzzle template to create poetry – photocopy several of them and print words in each piece. Put the puzzle together different ways for a found poem.

From “One to One” (Christina Baldwin)
-What don’t you give yourself permission to write about? Why? What would it take for you to be able to write about it? Write about it!
-What kind of privacy do you need to write? Is your journal a public work of art? (Some are, some aren’t). How can you/do you keep your private stuff private?
-Write some of the stories of your family and childhood in the third person – as stories. Do you feel any different about them after writing them this way?
-What are you supposed to be like?
-What would your family or friends think if they knew you _______?
-If your life were a fairy tale, what would happen?
-Describe a recent dream and its meaning for you

From “Life’s Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest” (Christina Baldwin)
-Write out a prayer to whatever Creator/Supreme Being you believe in
-What were the questions you had about faith when you were a child? What are your questions now? Write them out
-If you didn’t already know who you are, who would you ask? What would you ask them, and what would they say? Write out the conversation
-What is sacred to you?
-How do you let go of control and let in faith/grace/your Higher Power?
-List everything love provides in your life

From “Keeping a Journal You Love” (Sheila Bender)
-Write a letter to someone you love and tell them why you love them. (Laura’s note: Write that letter to yourself and say why you’re worthwhile and deserving of love)
-Tell a story about something that happened during your day- describe the buildings, the environment, the people as well as the event. Use detail, adjectives – bring it to life

From “The Creative Journal” (Lucia Cappachione – this is one of my favorites)
-Draw how you feel
-What do your inner and outer selves look like at this time? How are they different?
-Draw a timeline of your life history
-Draw how you see yourself.
-What do you believe about yourself, about the world, about the people around me?
-What are your beliefs about life in general?
-If some of these are negative, what would it take to change them to a positive view?
-Create a mandala for yourself
-How do you nurture, care for, and/or soother yourself? What keeps you from being able to do that? What would help change it, so that you could take better care of yourself?
-Draw one of your dreams – what symbols seem to come out at you? Draw those and journal about what they mean to you.

These are great ideas – if you have others to share or other resources to share, I’d love to see what you’ve got as well. There are also some great websites out there with journaling prompts – you can google “journaling prompts” to get some of them.

Something really cool happened this week – Aidan lost his first tooth. I know I wrote about that earlier, but what’s amazing to me, and where I learn so much from this child comes from what he did later.

Now you all know that the tooth fairy is a pretty cool gal, right? Leave your old, fallen-out tooth under the pillow and she gives you MONEY for it – sounds like a golden exchange in MY book! And inflation has affected the exchange rate since when I was a kid…I used to get a dime. Kids nowadays get more. I’ve heard of as much as five dollars…but in our world, the tooth fairy is an activist that shares a little with each kid so (ideally anyway) every kid gets something. So, in our bleeding-heart liberal, activist house the tooth fairy gives the kids a dollar.

Now some kids would be saying, “ONLY a dollar? C’mon, Mom…you can’t buy anything with just a DOLLAR!” Aidan with his autism really doesn’t have any real idea about what quantity means with money, just that money means you can buy things. And Aidan didn’t want the tooth fairy to leave paper money – no, he wanted COINS.

Aidan likes coins…they’re shiny, you can line them up, you can count them, stack them, roll them…they’re a lot more fun than a piece of paper you can’t even color on. Aidan also knows that you can buy things with coins and “cards” ( or “plastic fantastic” as one tour guide I ran into called them.) Paper money really doesn’t mean much to him – coins are more substantial and have a lot more meaning.

For days after the Tooth Fairy came, Aidan held onto his coins with a vengeance. NOBODY was going to touch his coins. He either carried them in his little fist, or had them neatly lined up on the kitchen counter. Yesterday (Saturday) he wanted to take them to church.

Now I run our church nursery during all the services on Saturday night and Sunday morning. Aidan is friends with one of the pastor’s little boys, and I assumed he wanted to show Gabe his coins. Gabe wasn’t there that night – in fact, there was no one in the nursery so we went to sit and enjoy the service. Becca doesn’t do too well during these, but Aidan loves to go. He’ll listen and try to say the prayers, sing the hymns and generally do what everyone else is doing. It’s not just imitation, though – Aidan seems to genuinely “get” church and spirituality. I learn a LOT from this little guy.

So when offering came, Aidan pulled out his four quarters from the tooth fairy, and put them in the offering plate. The usher looked at me, and I shrugged. I whispered to Aidan, “Honey, if you put these in, you can’t take them out again. Do you know that? He nodded and the usher went on. After the service I checked in with him again: “Aidan, did you want to get your money back? I’m sure they’d let you get it.” He shook his head, and I said, “Are you sure, sweetie?”

This is the moment where, yet again, Aidan blew me away. “No Mommy. I give it to God.”

Wow. How many of us, thinking about everything else we can do with money, think of God last? And here is this little 5 1/2 year old boy, who knows he can buy things with coins, giving literally every bit to God.

I like to think of myself as a giving person, but that day, in that room, I saw how little I actually do give. This little person, who gave everything he had, has given far more than I ever will. Most importantly, he gave to me – the lesson of giving, and of God.

Happy Father’s Day to all of you who love your children…the single mothers taking on both roles, the new fathers, and the fathers with children who are growing up…the fathers of grown children and the grandfathers…the men who are fathers in every way except for biology, the men who realize that “fathering” is a verb that goes WAY beyond conception, and most of all, our Father and Creator.

Reflections of Reflections…

Other Facets of the Mirror