When All Else Fails: a Year of Surrender
It’s been over a year since I published my last blog post. I’m well aware of how such a long lapse violates every best practice in the world of blogging. But I don’t really care…. In our world of constant (digital) connection, sometimes you need to retreat and make space to reflect, feel what you need to feel, and heal. Disengage from the triggers of Facebook. Engage in authentic human connection with those who matter most to you, those who accept and love you no matter what. Write for no other audience than yourself. Prioritize self-care. Give yourself permission to FEEL and, eventually, to HEAL.
And that’s exactly what I needed to do in my own time and space, while trusting that I’d know when I was ready to share my heart and soul online. Over the last year, I’ve been mentally crafting this post about my lessons in surrendering, appropriately titled “When All Else Fails.” I’ve held off from publishing for a couple reasons. Firstly, I don’t feel comfortable sharing all of the details, especially those related to my loved ones, so I’ve been experimenting with ways to share without oversharing. Secondly, I haven’t felt up to the vulnerability hangover I experience with every post, yet I know how much freer I feel when I share and how connected I feel when I discover that I’m not alone.
So bear with me as I delicately dance around certain details from this year of surrender…..
Over a year ago, towards the end of 2015, life dealt us a few unexpected blows in a row. There’s a saying that “bad things happen in three’s,” which is exactly how it all went down. First, my husband’s company decided to end their Alaska ventures, effectively ending my husband’s and all of his co-workers’ assignments in Alaska. We immediately knew this meant we’d be relocating much sooner than we originally anticipated, but we wouldn’t know for a couple months where or when we’d move. Not long after this announcement, a few of our loved ones shared saddening news with us, which weighed heavily on our hearts. And then, as the final sucker punch, we miscarried a perfectly healthy baby. This was our 3rd loss, and last attempt at giving our son a sibling.
To say that I was an emotional mess would be an understatement. Even now- a year later- I’m still grieving and trying to process what happened at the end of 2015. At the time, I distracted myself with the day-to-day activities of caring for my then 3 year old, and preparing for our rather abrupt move to Houston. I couldn’t bear to look at his baby clothes and gear, so, as part of our move prep, I gave most of it away, which was the emotional equivalent of throwing kerosene onto my open wounds and then lighting a match (=white-hot-searing-pain). Our relocation, combined with the overlapping holiday season, forced me to fake my way through daily life and pretend like I was taking it all in stride. Looking back at myself, I honestly don’t know how I managed to keep it together as much as I did. But truth is that I was overwhelmed by intense emotional pain, covering me in a heavy blanket of grief laced with disappointment, anger, and deep–seeded shame.
With 2015 ending so painfully, I realized that my only option was to surrender….to completely let go and trust God’s plan for our lives. As go-getter who has white-knuckled my way through life, I couldn’t imagine a greater challenge than handing the keys to my life over to God, climbing into the back seat and staring out the window at life’s passing scenery. At first, surrendering felt like I was giving up… like I was stepping out of the driver’s seat of my car, waving my pathetic little flag, and then lying down in the middle of the road to allow car after car to drive over me. I felt like a quitter: beaten down, discouraged, and flattened. A total f’ing failure. Being someone who doesn’t give up easily, this isn’t how I imagined my story ending.
Until my coach, Cassi, sent me a short piece written by Liz Gilbert, I struggled to differentiate between quitting and surrendering. I just didn’t get it until I read this piece and then the proverbial light bulb switched on. Here’s an excerpt of what Liz wrote about surrender:
“Surrender is what happens when you come to the end of your power. Surrender is what happens when you have searched to the bottom of your soul and found out this truth — which is that you really can’t do this thing anymore. Surrender is what happens when you don’t have any more ideas for how to fix everything. Surrender is what happens when none of your survival strategies work anymore — and your playbook is out of pages. Surrender is what happens when you turn it all over to God. You release your grip on the thing. You stop white-knuckling it. You stop pretending things are great when things are actually horrible. You stop putting on a fake face, or glossing over the problem, or lying. You face the truth that you are not the most powerful force in the universe. You turn it over to fate. You exhale, and let go.
There is always grace in surrender. There is always truth in surrender. There is always a great deal of human dignity in surrender. And what happens next is often very beautiful. You crack open because you have stopped fighting and pretending, and once you do that…anything whatsoever can now occur. Sometimes your true fate can only find you after you have surrendered. As Richard from Texas taught me about cracking yourself open in surrender…well, that where God can rush in. The universe can sometimes only work through you once you have surrendered.”
Suddenly, after years of believing that surrendering was just a fancy word for quitting, I experienced my AHA! moment. This mental shift enabled me to practice true surrender at a time when I had come to the end of my power, when I had run out of options, when ALL ELSE HAD FAILED. I surrendered to this devastatingly dark place… to my broken, grieving heart… to the uncertainties of our future….to my powerlessness. I chose SURRENDER as my theme for 2016, and decided to practice the art of surrender whenever possible, trusting everything would work out according to God’s plan.
As the saying goes, “life is a roller coaster,” and 2016 has been no exception. At the end of 2015, I felt like my ‘coaster went off the rails and bottomed out in the pitch black. My only option was to surrender to this darkness and trust that I’d eventually find my way back to the light. As I’ve roller-coastered through 2016, I practiced surrendering to all of unknowns in my life, regularly repeating my mantra of “trust and let go, trust and let go, trust and let go.” Of course, life continuously tested my ability to trust and let go…from moving to a new city without having a place to live or knowing how long we’d stay… to finding a new home/school/gym/church/social circle/etc… to setting boundaries with family members… to an ongoing dental drama (read: no front teeth!)….. to countless doctor’s appointments and multiple surgeries… to anxiously awaiting results from cancer screenings… to the unexpected ending of a friendship I hold dear… to touring over 70 homes before making an offer only to lose out to another buyer….to having this same house fall back into our laps 10 days later when the first buyer walked away without reason… to the disappointing election results… to planning yet another move over the year-end holidays.. my “surrender” list could go on and on!
Despite the abundant opportunities to practice, I’m still haven’t mastered the art of surrender. I am–and will always be–a humble student in the “School of Surrender.” But what I will say is this: There are moments– like the one captured in this photo taken on Disneyland Paris’ Space Mountain roller coaster earlier this year– where I am riding in complete darkness and I am fully present, where I am energized and open, where I am free and one with God, where I have complete faith that my ride will bring me safely back to the light. These moments are fleeting–few and far between–but I have experienced them, so I know they are within my reach when I simply let go and enjoy the ride.
PS: I also surrendered to my inner poet, a voice I’ve silenced for many years but desperately wants to express herself. So here goes…
The Arms of Surrender
to be one of THOSE types
who clung to life like a tick to skin
She was known as
a control freak
(and a micro-manager, according to some)
She was both adored and abhorred
for her attention to detail
for her ability to deliver
for her “dedication”
She clung so tightly because
she knew no different
As a girl, this is how she learned to survive
Her persistence even earned her praise
Until one day, she found herself hanging onto the very end of life’s rope
She had tried everything
And nothing had worked
She didn’t know what else to do
But to let go
While she wiped the sweat from her brow, she loosened her grip, just a bit
Lingering here for a moment
Relishing in the tension
Between doing and being
Then she let go
And as she fell
She released all of the beliefs
which had held her back
which had kept her clinging
to that tangled, knotted rope
She stopped trying so hard to please, to be perfect, to maintain control
She stopped forcing herself to be anything she wasn’t meant to be
She stopped blaming and shaming herself
She stopped feeling like she was damaged goods, broken and irreparable
She stopped believing she was unworthy, undesirable, unlovable
She fell freely,
through baby blue skies and bruise-colored clouds
through the sun’s strong rays and the moon’s chalky glow
through the Milky Way and the galaxies far far away
And when she landed,
she found herself
lovingly embraced by
the Arms of Surrender
— Christina Zini, June 2016
Want to know more about Surrendering?
Surrendering, as I’m learning, is a constant practice…. Like a daily (or even minute-by-minute) practice of letting go of my thoughts, emotions, desires, anything and everything I’ve got a firm grip on. It begins with truly experiencing my emotions, not avoiding them or disassociating myself from them, not telling myself that I shouldn’t feel anger/fear/grief/jealousy/etc.. I’ve learned a lot from reading Michael Singer’s books “The Surrender Experiment” and “Untethered Soul.” I also enjoyed reading John Ortberg’s “If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat.” I’ve found practices like prayer, meditation, visualizations helpful. My nightly ritual of writing a “Love/Leave” list in my journal has helped me to capture whatever I appreciated or loved about the day and whatever I want to leave behind or let go of. Thankfully, my “love” list is always longer than my “leave” list. I’ve also found yoga, spinning and walking/running to help me release whatever is festering. I’m also a HUGE believer in and consumer of therapy, acupuncture, and energy work.. but I wouldn’t have come this far in my surrender journey without the support and guidance of my fabulous coach, Cassi Christiansen!