Author Archives: Lisa Burns

Strong at the Broken Places

Last week, I heard a quote by Ernest Hemingway that deeply resonated with me:

“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”

I’ve been thinking about that quote ever since. Such timely words for me now. As I write this post, I am packing for an amazing and much-anticipated trip to Monaco and Italy with my sister. Yet, I am feeling anxious — very, very anxious. As I breathe and I am present with my anxiety, I consider Hemingway’s quote: How did those places in ourselves become broken in the first place? Why do they leave us feeling at first so vulnerable? How, then, does strength come from this state?

One might think that being anxious before a trip of a lifetime like this doesn’t make sense at all. And yet, for me, it does. While I am grateful, eager and excited for the days ahead — to see and experience the wonders of Monaco, Rome, Florence and Milan — I also know that travel has not always been kind to me.

In October 1989, I was in San Francisco on a business trip when the 6.9 magnitude earthquake struck. It was, as you can imagine, a terrifying experience. Yet, what was even more unnerving were the aftershocks, without a way to escape them. The SFO airport was closed. There was no getting out of this ground-shaking situation.

On September 11, 2001, while the world was coming apart at the seams, I was en-route with a co-worker to Bangkok to lead a week-long training class for the Asia team at Microsoft. Our pilot did not share what had happened while we were in the air. So, when we landed and hailed a taxi, we were confused by our driver’s crazy ramblings  about the World Trade Center buildings falling and the Pentagon being attacked. We were incredulous. “Are you talking about a movie that you saw?” we asked. It was only when we were finally in our hotel room, watching the news, that we understood what had happened –utter tragedy and brokenness. What has happened to our sense of safety? Planes were grounded.  How long would this last? When would I be able to go home?

On more than one business trip, when I called home to talk with my husband, who struggled with depression that seemed to worsen when I was away, the phone went unanswered. I called again and again and again. No responses to emails or texts. Was Randy OK? What was happening? Once again, I found myself in the now-familiar place of complete vulnerability.

The origin of the world, vulnerable, is from the Latin word vulnerabilis, which means “to wound.” Being vulnerable, then, is the ability for one to be wounded. Athletes know that the building of muscle strength comes first through the stresses that are put upon them. As the body repairs or replaces damaged muscle fibers through its cellular process, muscle fibers fuse together to form new protein strands, resulting in an increased muscle thickness and growth. It is in the breaking-down and breaking-open process that a state of strength is ultimately created.

In the choice of living life fully, with our hearts open rather than shut, we risk being wounded … or not. The apostle Paul knew a thing or two about being wounded and broken. And yet, it was from this very perspective that he chronicled God’s reassuring words to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So it is for all of us.

It has been said that nothing that is worth anything comes without risk. And so, on this day before travel; with the juxtaposing feelings of both excitement and anxiety, I choose to share my vulnerability. Whether this trip is easy and delightful; whether hassles or delays will be part of it; whether something very difficult happens — or all of the above — I know by my own experience that in my willingness to enter this vulnerable place called life, strength is created before I even get on the plane.

Bon voyage!  It’s gonna be a great trip!

The Gift of the Morning Moon

Yesterday morning was a bright, sparkly blue-skied gift. As I showered, I was filled with anticipation for my drive to Cannon Beach, Oregon and for a few days at the beach. And, while most of my anticipation held the feeling of excitement, I also knew that this trip was also a time to be in a healing place as I marked the day two years ago when my husband passed. Like so many things in life, there was a mixture of feelings– a blending of happiness and difficulty; the yin and the yang. I have learned that things in life are rarely one thing or another. They are almost always one thing and another, at the same time.

Back to my shower. Rinsing my hair, I looked up through the skylight in my bathroom and saw the moon; still visible even in the bright morning light. In that moment, I became aware of the gift of the morning moon. It reminded me of the night that was, as well as the night that would come again – and of the presence of light, even in darkness.

Two years ago, almost at this very moment, I kissed my husband good-morning. How could I have known that it would have been the last kiss? As I re-visit that day today, I sense the gift of the morning moon. I have come through the night. And while the night of that loss will always be with me, it can be a reminder to me of the light I experienced that day in the shining-moon presence of God as expressed through the family and friends who surrounded me. Healing has come, yet sometimes the wound is as raw and gaping as that first day. Those days are becoming fewer.

When the barista handed me my morning coffee today, there, in the foam was a lovely heart. Randy is here with me. That last kiss — seen at the top of my cup. Here in this heaven-on-earth spot where surf meets rock and sand, I experience the morning-moon gifts of presence, love and light.

A dear friend reminded me today of this Grief blessing, by John O’Donohue:

“Gradually, you will learn acquaintance

With the invisible form of your departed,

And when the grief work is done,

The wound of your loss will heal

And you will have learned

To wean your eyes

From the gap in the air

And to enter the hearth

In your soul where your loved one

Has awaited your return

All the time.”

Morning moon, indeed.

Fear-less and Present-more

As a new writer, I yearn to create my art without fearing what people will think of my creation. Easier said than done, people. After all, isn’t the very purpose of writing for publication is for public to read it? When I press that Publish button, whatever I’ve written is Out There. For all to see. Yikes. Just this morning, I read a blog post entitled Fearless Writing by Bill Kenower from his book, Write Within Yourself: A Writer’s Companion:

“It feels a little selfish not to care what other people think about my writing, narcissistic even. Yet it remains the only way to write something worth sharing with anyone else. After all, what better gift is there to give someone than the knowledge that they are complete as they are? And how might I share this gift unless I receive it first myself? This is how I practice forgetting to be afraid, by returning my attention again and again and again to the gift I wish to share and away from how I dream it will be received.” — Bill Kenower

These wise words embolden me, and I pause to consider: What does it mean to be fearless? In my experience, it is very difficult to simply wish or pray fear away. And even if this were possible, wouldn’t the vacuum that the absence of fear would create simply fill itself with more fear? To be absent of fear, I realize, I must be intentional about filling that space with something different. If I want to fear less, what do I want to be more of? And then, it dawns on me: I can fear less by being more present. After all, isn’t the fear I feel about what will happen (future) when someone reads my writing? By being present as I write, what matters is the birthing of the words that are come to me now. In this moment. We all are artists. We all create be simply being in this world, whether we write, or garden, or care for our families or work hard in our job every day. Do you fear what others think of what you create? In our culture of comparison, it is easy to not feel good enough and to fear what others will think. And so, my gift to you this day: Receive my gift that was created by the filling of present-ness, and in so receiving, know that in this moment, you, too, are enough.

Living in Our Newest Chamber

You may be wondering why I used a chambered nautilus as the banner photo on my blog site. This sea creature, with its spiral shell holds deep meaning for me, and a lesson in living from which we can all benefit. As the nautilus grows, its body moves forward, and in so doing, produces a wall that seals off the older chambers of its shell. This process not only ensures that the nautilus always lives in the newest and largest of its chambers, it also helps to keep the nautilus buoyant.

I came to understand the rich lesson of the chambered nautilus in a daily devotional reading from The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo. Not coincidentally, the date of this reading was September 16 — the day of my husband’s death — read exactly one year after it happened. Mark Nepo’s words helped me to see the point at which, by moving forward, we resolve and honor our past. An excerpt:

“Can we, in this way, build strong chambers for our traumas: not living there, but breaking our past down till it is fluid enough to lose most of its weight? Can we internalize where we’ve been enough to know that we are no longer living there? When we can, life will seem lighter.” — Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

This reading, so timely in my grieving process, brought healing, hope and, quite literally, a sense of lightness. Such a wise lesson in living — whether or not your past holds traumatic events — that only by integrating the whole of our life can we dwell the fresh expanse of its newest chamber.

Could it be that, in the creation of this magnificent sea creature, God encourages us not to ‘stuff’ our past, but to honor and draw from its lessons so fully that its very edges can no longer hold us? In this, we become fully present to what is before us — here and now. With gratitude, I embrace and aspire to the message of the chambered nautilus; to enlarge my capacity to love deeply and to live completely.

The Call From the Bottom of the Drawer

DrawerI write this first blog post, a mere three days away from a monumental life change: I am leaving my 28-year vocation of working for technology companies to begin to live my lifelong Calling as a Writer. Like a baby chick for whom its shell of nutrition and safety has become far too small, I am breaking open to a new way of life. And, like that chick, I am filled with trepidation. What will it be like — this new way of living without back-to-back meetings and an overflowing email inbox; without daily structure and the stimulation of co-workers? Oh, and not to mention, without a regular paycheck? What will it be like to actually fly? Somehow, in the thoes of all of this uncertainty, a strong sense of Certainty has emerged in the depths of myself: It’s time to break free of the egg.

For many years, I felt a Call of something beyond myself, but I couldn’t get a sense of what It was. Then, in a single moment during a very difficult day nearly two years ago, that Call finally became clear. Just three weeks earlier, my beloved husband Randy died — suddenly and tragically — and I was reeling with grief. I awoke that morning, knowing that this was the day I needed to empty the dresser drawers where he kept his clothes. As this Awful Task loomed before me like an unwanted predator, I called my dear friend Joanna for support. She listened carefully as I poured out my heart, and, with compassion, she suggested that, perhaps, I might find an unexpected blessing in this chore that I had been dreading. My initial reaction was incredulous: What possible blessing could come from removing the t-shirts, socks and underclothes of my soulmate — the clothing that still held his scent? Still, something in her words resonated with me as I began to sort through and empty the dresser drawers. Unlikely as it seemed, I desperately wanted something Good to come from something so Awful, and decided open myself to that possibility.

At the very bottom of the last drawer, through my tears, I found a stack of poster-sized papers — about 20 in all. What could this be? I had put away Randy’s clean laundry in those drawers countless times over the years, but had never seen these papers. Hands trembling, I removed what turned out to be 50-year-old drawings created in 1963 by Randy’s 13-year-old mind and hands. Each page was filled with the three-dimensional drawings of gears, brackets, screw heads, bolts and fastenings that were required in his Carmichael Jr. High Mechanical Drawing class. I marveled at the high level of skill that was so evident in the scale, proportion and shading of these many objects — such impressive work from such a young man! Why, I wondered, had Randy not become an engineer? Why had he held on to these drawings all this time, and why had he never shown them to me? His drawings clearly demonstrated a gift for the aptitude and skills that would have made for a successful career. In that moment, I realized that, while Randy used so many of his gifts throughout his life, this gift of drawing was not one that he used to its full potential. And in a split second, this question burst into my heart, as if Randy himself was speaking it to me: “Are you using your gifts?”

People have told me for a long time that I have a gift with words in expressing my heart, and for perceiving spiritual depth from everyday things and experiences. In that Holy Moment, at the bottom of the drawer, I knew that I was not using my gift to its full potential. Immediately, that Call of something ‘beyond’ that had alluded me for so many years was now before me, with great clarity and in the depth of my bones: I AM a Writer.

And so, the unexpected blessing.

Life’s most difficult events can yield its greatest lessons and gifts — beauty from ashes, if you will. With unfathomable gratitude, and with the full sense that Randy is cheering me on with each word I type, I officially begin what has (necessarily) been steeping in my heart for ages. I like to believe that it is no coincidence that Randy kept those mechanical drawings from junior high in his drawer for all of those years. And I thank God for giving Joanna the words that would help prepare my heart to receive the Call from the bottom of the drawer.

Here I go …