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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.

Laura - 1 year old - 1966

Laura - 1 year old - 1966

I know most people in my field say that you don’t really remember things until you’re much older than I was in this picture. But I say they’re wrong.

I remember this picture being taken, not in the way we typically remember things, but in a more tactile, textural way. My memories from this age are all sensory – tactile, specifically. I remember the color and feel of the mesh screen that covered the fireplace (I’ve checked this out with my mom – she doesn’t know how I’d remember that!). On the day in question, I remember the rough, warm feeling of the rock planter that was on the side of the house…the texture was rough, and the rockes were like sandstone. I remember the feel of the breeze, and that the rocks were warm to the touch, and the smell of the daffodil. I remember feeling lifted and then set down into the grass (don’t ask me who did it – I don’t remember that!)…the point of all this reminiscing is that I do remember some things from that time period, all of them sensory.

One other thing I remember is a deep sense of contentment. The adult Laura would say that I trusted the world around me, and myself and felt my place in the world. This sense would become shaken to its core in the next few years, and would continue on throughout much of my life. Living with a depressed mother, an alcoholic father, and then having two sisters added to my life was a lot for this little person to handle, and the next thing I remember is spending a lot of time crying. Interestingly enough, my first clear memory of my mother is of her standing in front of the windows in the living room and crying – because my dad had stayed out drinking all night again and she didn’t know when or if he’d be home. There was a lot of sadness in my family.

Through some pretty dysfunctional family dynamics, I learned that my needs came last, and that I was selfish to even consider myself before everyone else. I had the “selfish” label thrown at me more times than I care to remember, as I’m sure many other little girls have…and I learned quickly that if I trusted my gut feeling on what was right or wrong, I’d end up hurt. Abusive family dynamics work that way –  you learn that what the abusers say is truth IS truth if you want to remain intact. In my family, the abuse was mainly psychological and emotional…but it still left its scars, scars I am still dealing with today. The trust I had in myself was worn away by day after day of denying my own valid needs in favor of catering to others’ – this is what you do to survive.

I’ve struggled with the effects of this pattern for decades now. I really struggle with needing to please people and feeling like I need their approval. I struggle with developing and maintaining healthy boundaries, and I struggle with being myself AND being in healthy relationships. I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression. That’s a lot of baggage – and I’m proud to say I’m making progress. I am not the same person I was even two years ago – and I like myself a lot more now. I’m lucky enough to be able to share this process with others, and to help them on their journeys as well.

These days, I’m trying to get back to the little girl in the picture – back to the days when I felt content in myself, trusted the world around me, and trusted myself. It’s hard work, too. There are things I can trust, though – I can trust that the spring warmth on frozen ground will bring flowers and sweet smelling grass. I can trust that the daffodils will still bloom every year. I can trust that my little girl will have the chance to trust herself, and recognize that her needs and wants are valid (even if she doesn’t get everything she wants!) I can trust myself that, as a mother, my daughter and my sons will be raised differently and in a world where their needs are honored and their selves are valued. I can trust that I won’t always be perfect, but that the love I have for my children is enough, and that if I honor them as unique, amazing little people, my love will shine through and guide them on their ways.

And finally, I can trust that if I learn to trust myself, I can be a good example for them, in their journeys.

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.

Reflections of Reflections…

Other Facets of the Mirror