Okay, okay....dear God...I get it...again...
Embedded in the blogs of my dear friends and respected colleagues, Laura Matthews and Evan Mehlenbacher, I found reminders this week of where my career goals begin...and end...their shared inspirations take me back to an experience which made a critical impact on my view of what determines success.
In Laura's post "Spirit's Success Story" she shares this observation:
"...I'm thinking today that success
is more of an internal quality than I thought.
It's a state of mind, something we consent to, that we insist upon.
We need to see it as part of our identity, part of our makeup.
It is who we are, not what we do.
What we do is the outcome of the mental state of success within."
This really resonates with me. There was a time when I had reached most every professional goal I had set for myself, but my greatest personal goal seemed unattainable....that of becoming a mother. I felt as if I was doomed by a damaged body to live the rest of my life "in want". The path to motherhood for the woman or couple who do not conceive easily is full of steep climbs and rife with almost insurmountable odds. Financially it can be well beyond the reach of most couples. Emotionally it can seem like a dark labyrinth of self-doubt and regret, leaving one feeling like a failure spiritually....confused and abandoned by God.
Anyone who has read past posts on this blog knows that I did become a mother...through the miracle of adoption...and that I have three beautiful daughters. Others may have also discovered a post or article on either this blog or on my website that describes a pivotal time in my life when I "found God" through the collapse of an adoption plan, the returning of a child that we were adopting to his mother, the rapid onset of grave illness, and feelings of hopelessness...all overcome by prayer. But I'd like to share a window on one moment during this experience that has been one of the greatest feelings of "success" in my life...and it looked like supreme failure...spiritually...at the time.
It was a bitterly cold winter day in 1988. The baby we were in the process of adopting had been born earlier that month and we were enjoying sweet moments of bonding with him through cuddling, cooing, lullabies, nursing (I had been preparing for six months prior to his birth so that I could nurse him after his adoption) and just watching him sleep with the same hypnotic fascination that I watch the leaping flames in a fire and am never bored. His birthmother had not been able to follow through on her post-birth plans as expected and ended up coming to live with us until she could be released from her physician's care. Our son stayed with us in our master bedroom and she stayed in the bedroom across the way. We all enjoyed watching him grow and I was thrilled to be able to share with her his happiness with his new family and what I thought was my supreme suitability as a mother to her precious child...hoping this would bring her peace of mind about her choices.
This was what I told myself day in and day out as he grew into a happy, smiling infant. But under the surface I knew that things were not as they seemed. His birthmother was someone who I had grown to know and love dearly during the months leading up to his birth. We had laughed, cooked, talked, shopped, and dreamed of his future, together while we awaited his arrival. But now this funny, affable, caring young woman had become silent and tense. I knew her well enough to see that behind her smile...when she observed us loving him...was a pain so intense that it couldn't be masked. Her eyes revealed what her heart was screaming at the very moment she was complimenting me on my "naturalness" as his mother.
One morning when the cold wind came across the ocean, through the woods and up from the estuary pond our home sat on just beyond the strand separating us from the sea, I felt a chill in my heart that couldn't be denied. I had answered the phone in the downstairs kitchen and it was for her. I called up to her room where she was quietly spending her morning in prayer and reflection. After she answered I hung up, and I knew. I had recognized the voice of the birthparent counselor from the adoption agency we had worked with as she developed and articulated an adoption plan for her child during the pregnancy. I could hear her sobs coming through the receiver as I moved to place it on the cradle of the wall phone in the kitchen. I knew what those sounds meant without her ever needing to say a word. I had read it in her eyes for weeks. She was rethinking her plans and wanted to parent him herself. I was emotionally frantic.
I felt abandoned by God. I thought I had done everything right. Hadn't I prayed, hadn't I quit a job that I loved to be home with her so that she wouldn't feel so isolated and alone during her pregnancy, hadn't I offered her every comfort, support, resource at my disposal to be sure she would see how generous and loving I would be with a child? Hadn't I given her all of my love, attention, compassion? And I had failed.
Success...spiritually...seemed so determined by an outcome. I would have prayed effectively if...if, what...she walked away from the child without feeling sadness or grief....I got a baby...and she didn't? All of a sudden it all seemed so odd and confusing. What did spiritual success look like in this case....what would the "healing" feel like….what were we "demonstrating"? Getting a baby? ...hmmm...
I turned with my whole heart toward the big picture window that faced towards the lake shore and beyond to the sea. I felt as raging and roiling as the waves that were crashing, gray and icy, on that cold winter shoreline. Like the salty spray covering every rock, mollusk and piece of driftwood with a briny dampness, stinging tears chilled the landscape of our home and my heart.
A low fog hung over the lake and shifted with the winds. Even this modest movement in my viewfinder was a distraction as I grasped for straws of comfort and peace. So I turned to the large blackboard in the kitchen and focused my gaze on a point high and empty on the steely slate. "Dear God, " my heart reached out, "if you are Love and you love me, this would be a good time for me to feel it." I felt a little shiver as a soft, patient chuckle echoed through my heart. "Oh dear daughter," the voice spoke with such calm assurance, "the only way that you will know it is My love that you are feeling, is as you feel it moving through the conditions in your own heart and dissolving them...as your loving becomes like Mine."
I got it. As long as I could feel this love only when it met with my conditions, when I got what I wanted, as in... I will love this birthmother only if she surrenders the baby…. I will love the baby only if he becomes my son….I will love myself only if I am deemed good enough to be his parent...and on and on, I had learned nothing about love...not the love that matters...the love being expressed from within my own heart...the Love who only ever calls Him/Herself "I AM." I realized that I would really know it was divine Love, God's love only when I knew it was divine...unconditional...without conditions. I had the opportunity through this experience--and especially that moment--to REALLY feel God as Love....and the love that was my "I AM".
I turned away from the blackboard, not at that point comforted, but with a glimpse of what it meant to know God as Love. And I really wanted that more than I wanted a baby...even though I knew that the exercises I would have to go through to really apply this truth and find it to be an applied, reliable science...would be very, very difficult.
As I write this I can almost "see" the tape player on the kitchen counter. I remember that there was a tape of inspirational hymns in it I had been listening to that morning as I had fed and rocked our son. I slowly walked across the kitchen and pressed the button which would resume its playing. The words from a loved hymn floated out over my heart's stirred waters like the soft fog gently covering the lake at the foot of our property. These words became the lullaby I sang to our son and to myself as we moved through the weeks in which his mother finally came to her decision to rescind her surrender and parent him herself:
"Come to the land of peace;
From shadows come away;
Where all the sounds of weeping cease,
And storms no more have sway.
Fear hath no dwelling here;
But pure repose and love
Breathe through the bright, celestial air
The spirit of the dove.
In this divine abode,
Change leaves no saddening trace;
Come, trusting heart, come to thy God,
Thy holy resting place."
- Felicia D. Hemans
There were many dark hours when I held on with all my heart to the spirit of these words. The anguish of seeing one's dreams literally drive away in the arms of another woman...another mother... were nothing when weighed against missing out on the opportunity each moment to really feel the love that is God...as my identity...my "I AM".
I remember moments of near insanity that night as I felt the emptiness of not having him in my arms through the throbbing in my breast and my heart. I will write more on what happened the night she left in a future post, but suffice it to say that moment by moment and day by day I reclaimed and redefined that "throbbing" as my heart's pulse...the beating currents of love pouring through my life and out to those whom my thoughts rested upon...including her...and him.
There are so many moments I could continue to share right now about the days that followed and the deep and unshakable peace I discovered...and I will later...but what I learned along the way was that just when I felt most bereft of love's touch, all I had to do was BE that love and I was one with God...who is Love....
My success was never about getting a baby...or getting my way. It was, as Evan's blog for January 2nd, "True Victory", shares of a poem by one of my favorite authors, the success of gaining mastery over self:
"I do not ask for any crown
But that which all may win;
Nor try to conquer any world
Except the one within."
~ Louisa May Alcott
Mary Baker Eddy says it in her own way and it is her words that keeps me in my "office" late into the night... well after each patient has been seen, spoken with, visited, emailed, and each treatment has been given:
"Be of good cheer; the warfare with one's self is grand;
it gives one plenty of employment,
and the divine Principle worketh with you --
and obedience crowns persistent effort with everlasting victory."
I am still learning to apply this law of unconditional love in my life...to succeed within...which is what my entire spiritual journey and this travelogue/blog is all about. Thank you Evan, Laura, birthmother/friend and your now 19 year old son....
More to come. But for now, Happy Birthday dear Austin....