Beauty in Broken Places

I watched Kamila Varieva skate last night.  There is something different about her.  The announcers see it and struggle to describe it.  It isn’t that she’s an excellent athlete, artist, and performer.  It is all those things, but there is a secret ingredient that is impossible to define.  I have watched hundreds of skaters perform, but Varieva is different.  I’ve turned it over and over in my mind.  Why?

Kamila Varieva performs her short program in which she broke the record with her score. She is currently competing in the 2022 olympic winter games.

I can only think she has tapped into something inside herself; a divine spark or a secret knowledge about who she is and what her purpose is.  She is able to express on the ice something that every person on the planet longs for whether they know it or not.  She is her authentic self. Without excuse, without deception, without holding anything back; she bares her soul for the world to see.  

Everyone knows she has dedicated her life to skating.  She lives and breathes it.  It is almost as though she is some kind of ice creature who was born with skates on her feet and sleeps on a bed of snow. She reveals herself without shame to be judged.  She is the product of Russian discipline, intellect, and skill.  I try to imagine what her life as been.  

I had a childhood friend who was a German exchange student.  She was a beautiful dancer with long blonde hair.  Once we talked about ballet.  She told me her grandmother was a professional ballerina in Hitler’s Germany and she even danced for Hitler once.  She explained how difficult the life of a dancer is in Germany because of the pressure.  She said her grandmother’s feet were badly deformed and she had a lot of problems with them as she aged.  My friend had no desire to become a professional dancer.  She told me stories about Russian dancers.  I remember her look of fear as her gentle accented voice said, “Very few dancers can survive in a Russian school.”  

I assume Kamila Varieva is not a ballet dancer, but she dances like one.  What has she survived in her young life?  Is she like the widows in the Marvel Universe; a slave to forces beyond her control?  Life is complicated and I can only imagine what her life has been and what it will be ten or twenty years from now.  I do know that her skating has inspired me.  I know that somehow, she has taken the life she was given and made something incredibly beautiful that communicates with me across the miles and miles between us; across language and national barriers; beyond culture or race.  She showed me what is possible when you dare to find yourself.  She has done this because of, or perhaps in spite of, the life she was given and the choices she has made.

Sometimes my life feels meaningless.  Living in the city has a soul sucking effect on me.  I am just another person in the line, another face in the crowd, another car on the endless conveyor belt of the metroplex machine.  And yet, I exist.  In this broken world, I can gather up the pieces of my broken self and make something beautiful, something inspiring, something authentic and vulnerable and original.  I can follow the example of that Russian child of fifteen and dare to express the hope that beauty and love and joy are possible.  

In the past two years of this endless pandemic, we have all suffered mentally.  I have been so fortunate to have a counselor to talk to every week even though I can’t see her in person.  In the past six years she has been more than a counselor, she has been a friend.  In spite of the incredible difficulties I have faced, I have thrived.  I feel strong as I find solutions to problems and build a better life for myself.  

I got a set of mandala stencils that I’ve been playing with. I did this in Prisma colored pencils.

Last week I was hit by various triggers.  Like Jack-in-the-Box toys, they all seemed to pop the weasel at the same time.  I did my art.  I allowed myself to feel those feelings I had tucked away because I wasn’t able to process them at the time.  I felt the sadness, the fear, and the anger, and then I spilled them onto the pages of my journal.  Funny thing about Jack-in-the-Box, he can only be triggered if you shut him in the box.  If you open the lid, and let him out on your terms, he loses his power.  It takes so much courage to face your triggers.  It’s worth it.  The feelings aren’t as scary as you think they are.  Just like Jack.    

This mandala is also from a stencil. I am coloring it with Prisma colored pencils, gel pens, and Tombow brush markers.

Today as I did my SuperNatural Oculus Quest workout, sweat was pouring down my face and into my mouth.  I could feel aching muscles as I hit each target.  I remembered Varieva’s grace under enormous pressure, I remembered her falling on the ice after an impossible quad.  She pushed herself past the limit of any woman ever to skate in the olympics.  And she fell.  She got back up and finished her performance.  She wasn’t perfect.  She was still world class; she broke the world record; she was inspiring.  I hope she knows somehow that her fall doesn’t define her.  I hope she will learn the lesson it has taken me a lifetime to learn; that perfection is an illusion.  It limits you.  No one and nothing in the world is perfect.  We can only dare to dance beneath the bar of perfection, and maybe touch it.  Briefly.  Perfection isn’t the goal.  It isn’t the destination.  It can be part of the journey, but God requires us to dance by faith; the faith that grace and beauty can live in broken places and in broken people.

Drawn from stencil with gel pens and brush markers.

When I took off the headset at the end of my workout, I had to blink.  It wasn’t real.  It felt so real!  I thought of the miracle of VR.  I hit targets in China, Scotland, and a dozen other places I didn’t recognize.  Some I couldn’t even pronounce, but I felt like I was there.  I interacted with a coach I’ve never met.   I thought of the science and technology that made such an experience possible.  People can do such incredible things!  God has made us a little below the angels.  He waits for us to find ourselves.  We are the greatest gift he has given us and if we unlock the potential within, we will amaze ourselves with the majesty of his creation.  

Because there are so many people on this planet, it is easy to forget the worth of a soul.  Infinite.  The value of infinite things is a constant.  It doesn’t matter if there are billions of people on this planet, each person is still of infinite value.  Each person, no matter their circumstances or their choices, is touched by the finger of God.  If we want to know God, we can find him by understanding his creation.  The self.  

Thanks for taking this journey with me as I find myself.  Let us join our faith together, take on discouragement and fear, lift ourselves up to dance on this mortal stage, and if we fail, we can pick ourselves up and try again.  The rewards are worth the effort.  

Triggers of Awful

Sometimes the pain is so deep it takes the breath from my body.  It seems that whatever small event has happened has set off a chain reaction inside me, like the small squeeze of a hand, a single finger moving less than an inch, the small piece of metal on a gun giving way.  And then my whole world changes. Everything that was light is darkness. Everything that was happy is misery. I assume this is what they mean when they say a person has been “triggered.” 

I lay in bed this morning sincerely panicked.  My three year old said, “Momma, you get me some breakfast.”  How could I manage to get him cereal? I couldn’t even pull back the blankets on my bed!  Worse, I didn’t know what to do to make myself feel better. Then the feelings of shame and despair compounded my problem sinking me ever deeper into my mattress.  

I was able to convince myself to come and write.  That gave me the glimmer of hope I needed to fuel my marathon journey out of the bed, to the kitchen to take my medicine, and then up the stairs.  My thirteen year old was on his phone. When he saw me he expected a lecture, but he knew right away that I was not in a state to be that kind of parent.  With a pleading in my voice I asked him to get some cereal for his baby brother. To my pleasant surprise, he jumped out of his chair and went downstairs immediately.  God’s tender mercies!  

So here I am at the computer desk, hoping to sort through why I have been triggered.  Whenever this happens, my initial reaction is to denigrate myself and invalidate my feelings.  My inner critic says, “This is no big deal. Stop being so sensitive! Stuff like this happens all the time.  Let it roll off.” Behind these words is the primal fear of the loss of control that comes with the depth of emotion I am being subjected to.  That terrified, bossy, controlling voice in my head cannot bare the fact that at my core, I am not in control of these emotions. They simply exist and I can no more control them than I can the weather or the shape of my nose.

So this is me giving a speech to my inner critic:

“Leave her alone.  Let her feel her feelings.  You have no right to decide whether she has a right to feel them.  Calm your fear. The feelings will pass, as they always do. Surrender your need to control what doesn’t belong to you; the instrument that God has given you, the divine ability to feel emotion.  This instrument does not belong to this world and cannot be suppressed by mortal will. Your fear clouds your understanding. She is in travail and will soon give birth to new insights and ideas. The process cannot be rushed or arrested.”

My trigger for today’s feelings of despair is betrayal.  Betrayal triggers a complex set of memories that I have walled off from my consciousness.  If my brain circuitry approaches those memories, it recoils in horror and veers away like a frightened animal.  It is what might be called a “complex”; the memories and experiences I am unable to process because they are too painful.  To cope, I avoid and deny their existence. Unfortunately, these memories are part of me and because they fester like a buried sliver causing pain and inflammation, they impact my emotional health even if I don’t know they are there.

I wish I knew how to heal myself– A pill, a bottle of oil, an internet article about the phases of the moon, or a hundred other coping strategies that seem to help others.  The first step is understanding and I think that will be enough today. I have been triggered. Betrayal. That is enough. I have calmed my fearful inner critic and now I have freed enough emotional energy to get out of what I like to call “the vortex.”  The vortex is the feedback loop that my brain gets caught in. Fear, shame, desperation, and paralysis swirl like water down a drain of misery.  

So now I will ask for help, give myself compassion, eat, and continue to claw my way out of the pit.  For those of you who read these words and see yourself in them, bless you! Keep fighting. You aren’t alone in struggling through the labyrinth of your mind and heart.  Take my torch and use it to refresh yours. Together we can find our way through the darkness. Eventually, when I get out of crisis mode, I will work on processing the painful memories of betrayal that I stumbled upon this morning.  Not now. The dog is scratching at the door. My boys need their mom. There are flowers in the garden, boo-boos to kiss, books to read, and life to be lived. There is joy as well as pain and I can and will go out and find it.