“In every organizing process of decluttering and improving things, there is chaos. Things feel worse before they get better.” –Barbara Hemphill
My client took a pause in our conversation. After letting out a long, slow breath, she spoke.
“I guess it all just feels so overwhelming. Chaotic. I’m not sure where to start and how to prioritize. It all seems important and pressing, when I look at it.”
“Mmm,” I said after a brief silence. “What is the next right step in this single moment? What can you do right now?”
She chuckled. “Umm, well, I suppose … breathe.”
“Then do that,” I replied simply.
We both sat silently, breathing for a minute.
“What do you notice?” I asked, finally.
“My mind seems to have slowed down a bit,” she replied. “I feel… more present.”
“Good, and what is possible now?”
She sat, briefly, before replying.
“Anything, I guess,” she said.
“Excellent,” I replied, smiling. “So, let’s talk about what that might look like.”
I can remember, as if it were yesterday, the exact moment I found out I was pregnant with my now almost-13-year-old daughter.
It was me, my two dogs and two positive pregnancy strips. I wanted to shout from the rooftop!
The time leading up to that moment had been filled with struggle, hope, confusion, faith and a whole lot of support, persistence and belief.
The almost 10 months following were no different.
Although my physical experience with pregnancy was wonderful … no morning sickness, lots of energy and a body that gave me everything I needed for the job I was doing, the emotional experience was filled with highs and lows.
I learned what it truly meant to “be present with the chaos” and take one day at a time.
It’s almost funny to think that from the perspective of my day to day, I was technically homeless and living between multiple places. My husband and I had sold our home in Maryland and purchased a new house in North Carolina, just before I found out I was pregnant. I had also decided to stay one more year teaching at my current school to allow them ample opportunity to find my replacement. The plan was to live with family and friends during this time, while we set up our new home and made the transition to living in another state.
That was the plan. What had not been the plan was us doing this while I was pregnant.
But pregnant I was, and quite excited and joyful about it. I met the thought of our upcoming year with enthusiasm, gratitude and an adventuresome spirit!
Monday-Friday, I stayed with a friend who lived 7 minutes from my school in one direction and my OB/GYN in the other. On Friday mornings, I would pack up the inflatable mattress that I slept on in her living room with all my other belongings. After school, I would drive 1-1/2 hours to Annapolis, where I’d stay with family or friends for the weekend (never quite sure where that would be from week to week). Sometimes, my husband would be there, sometimes he would be away for work or in NC painting, mowing the lawn and doing the work necessary to take care of our property and get everything ready for our eventual move.
Life was full, and there always seemed to be 100 moving parts to consider at any one time. At one point, we hit the jackpot and were given a friend’s apartment to move into while she was away, only to have to move out the day after we got everything in because the neighboring apartment nearly burned down. We were not there and very lucky to only have smoke damage to all of our stuff.
At my 8-week ultrasound, the doctor thought he saw an issue with my daughter’s brain development. They wanted me to come in for monitoring every two weeks. My life became a blur of constant moving, work and hospital visits. The staff got to know me by name.
At each monitoring, there seemed to be more and more “concerns,” but without any solid answers. The doctors could never tell us for certain or give us anything to “do” or “know” in order to help us process the uncertainty. We were simply asked to “wait and see.”
As time went on, the fears began to mount, and it became clear I had a choice to make. I could succumb to the pressure of my circumstances or I could choose differently.
Honestly, believe it or not, when it comes to this kind of thing, this wasn’t my first rodeo. I had been in this place of having to choose to believe in something greater than my story and circumstances before.
This time, it was on the shuttle ride back to my car after yet another “possible red flag” ultrasound. I decided to ask my baby and my internal instincts what I should do. The external world wasn’t offering anything but fear and uncertainty, so I went in to look for other answers.
“Hey little one,” I whispered from the back of the shuttle. “How are you?” I closed my eyes and focused in. Suddenly, I felt a kick, and then another. I smiled. “You’re going to be just fine, aren’t you?” And I felt, in that glorious moment, without a single doubt that she would be.
That communal place of “in” became the beacon I chose to follow for the next 7 months. It was me, my baby, my instincts and my faith in what I chose to believe that guided me.
Life gets messy in the middle. When things are developing, but not fully formed. When we have the “feeling,” but nothing yet tangible to show that what we believe is real.
What I learned during that messy time in my life is that I could find a state of groundedness by remaining present, trusting the signs and finding a sense of wonder in the process.
We can call this surrender.
For me, it was an integration of making and holding space for positive change to happen.
The action was in decluttering and clearing the blocks that kept me stuck and scared, while also holding the vision of what could be and what I wanted to be during the process.
I share this story because the time we are all in right now is messy. There is a whole lot of uncertainty and change happening, with much more to come.
We no longer have the luxury of putting our heads down and simply “getting through it.” In this time, we are being asked (and in some cases prodded) to learn how to effectively and powerfully work with our circumstances in order to master the lessons and create and manifest the lives and world in which we want to live.
You cannot teach and learn resilience and persistence to and through others. You can only come to them through consistent experience and practice.
In her interview on the podcast, Magic Lessons with Eat, Pray Love author, Elizabeth Gilbert, Cheryl Strayed discusses the “muddled middle” where “everything is true and happening at once, and sometimes these things are in contradiction with one another.” In these moments, says Strayed, we cannot live in dichotomy, but really need to exist in the “major notes” of life and show up, in the moment, as best we can, with a focus on how we want to be and what we would like to see as an outcome. At the end of the day, we are only asked to be true to ourselves and to try.
After all, life can never promise things will be okay. We get to choose to believe they will be or not.
We get to work with the mess or against it, and if what we resist persists, I choose to work with it.