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(Note: To learn more information on #The100DayProject which is also known as #ActivistCardsByChava, you can see https://wp.me/pthnB-3cH.)

Tears can be cleansing and necessary and yet all week long I have been stopping myself from letting them flow.

This week I heard the beautiful rabbi I work with telling a child who was acting a little shy, “It’s ok honey, you just do you.” Something about the timing and my raw spirit at that second resonated. I wanted to “do me” too. I was so tired of showing up and being present when all I wanted to do was hide a rock. I was also tired of feeling the need to couch my thoughts and opinions so not to be offensive. And yet, there is so much value in the last comment too. I guess the key is to find balance.

While I love so much of my life, I have grown a little weary in the last period of time. I have been intensely sad as I have seen some of my beloveds facing some earth shattering pain and devastated with my inability to make a difference. I have had to show up at places simply because it was the right thing to do or perhaps just my job. And throughout it all, I have seen myself become a little unglued at moments.

With the politics of our country what they are and so many people hurting, I have needed to cry, but instead of decompressing I just found myself moving forward and doing the next best thing.

And then there is the reality of changing relationships that has at moments left me bereft with the realization that I am simply not enough nor can I give enough. Each realization has left treading water and wishing I could be more grounded or maybe just hide under the rock until I feel like I am.

Have you ever noticed how our expectations are often different from what reality looks like? Perhaps that is the gift from the universe; perhaps it is a curse from the universe. Life is simply a game that I get to re-frame each and every minute if I am going to find what my teacher SARK likes to call the “marvelous messy middle”.  This is what enables me  time to find the sparks of light that are often just below the surface or to re-frame deep sadness into learning opportunities. When I am really observant, I find the angels that emerge from the darkness to spin a cocoon around my heart.

This week challenged me to the core.

Every second of my week felt overwhelmingly full. The blessing is that even when I wanted to get lost in my pain, I found the inner strength to show up for those I love. When I wanted to curl up into a ball and shout about the unfairness of it all, my friends surrounded me and reminded me of how loved I am. And one treasured moment came as I watched a loved one start to heal from the inside out after having experienced horrific pain. Things are rarely all bad or all good. Maybe I should celebrate that I actually had a few balanced moments.

Yet seesawing seemed to be a never-ending story.

The unfolding of the news around Brett Kavanaugh’s potential nomination to the Supreme Court was and still continues to devastate our country and show the ugliness of our divided country.

Doing me meant that hiding under a rock was not an option.  Instead I did political activism. by showing up at a panel discussion last Friday night and then going to McAllen, Texas last Saturday so that I could bear witness and stand in solidarity with the children being detained away from their parents. The good news is that I was surrounded with so many others who wanted to make a difference.  The sad news is that those children are still locked in detentions centers and tent cities too.

Unfortunately the 11+ hour trek triggered my own memories of childhood loneliness and sadness, of foster care and violence. And yet, there is no questioned of how blessed I am as someone who has always thrived in spite of my experiences. I pray the same will  be possible for the thousands of children who are suffering so much more deeply than I can imagine.

And then on Monday afternoon and early evening, I continued to push myself by  canvasing for the Democratic Party and doing my part to register voters. I was doing what I had to do. Our world needed me to push myself even if I felt like I couldn’t. So I did just that!

And then as I was finally decompressing Tuesday night, I received the unexpected call that none of us want to hear. My friend called me to tell me that his beautiful wife had just died. Immediately, I asked if he wanted me to come over and when he said yes, I rushed to be by his side. When I arrived a short time later, I was able I see Ellen who had just a few short hours again been alive and doing her best to survive some very serious illnesses.  As soon as I saw her, I asked her husband if I could sing the Shema to my beloved friend. He said yes which allowed me to sing what I consider to be the holiest prayer of the Jewish tradition to my Episcopal friend reminding her spirit and my soul of our shared love for God. As soon as I finished, the funeral home arrived to take Ellen out of her home for the very last time. Even with the deep sadness, I could also feel holiness reverberating.

While I knew that my new friend was really sick, I had hopes of being part of her life for more time. In the short time that I had known her, Ellen had quickly become both dear to me and my writing mentor – only she didn’t know it yet; she inspired me and reminded me to live – only she died too fast.  I had originally planned to visit her on Monday afternoon, but I was so tired after my very long weekend of activism followed by an incredibly long workday on Sunday which included wrapping up of the cycle of Jewish holidays.

Sadly, I lost another a last chance to be with Ellen who I had only met after Hurricane Harvey devastated her beautiful church which was now housed at our Temple. Even now it is wild to think that I would have not met some of my closest friends if Hurricane Harvey had never come a year earlier.

As the sun began to set yesterday, the many triggers of the week finally opened up the floodgates making it impossible to hold back my tears any longer. I cried for the world, the children in detention, the families separated because of our cruel government, my sadness over evolving relationships and devastated friends. I cried for Ellen and for the love that is bubbling up in my heart, but has no where to go. I even cried for my sweet puppy that is not training with ease. The tears came at a breakneck speed and now even in my exhaustion, I am feeling so much better. I simply needed to cry.

After my spiritually exhausting week, the rawness took  over and opened the door so that I could “do me”.  Hineini, Here I am.

Day 55 - Tears Can Cleanse your heart and spirit

Onward with love, light, and blessings,
Chava

PS – Will probably be editing this piece one more time.

 

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Sometimes life hurts. There is no way around this reality. The question is not whether or not we will hurt, the question is how will we walk through the storms?

Turning my wounded heart towards living out loud has been my soul work.  Except for the times that my loved ones needed me to focus, I have always shown up in any way I can. I simply open my arms and do what needs to be done. There are a myriad of tasks that need my love and attention. Our country, my neighbors, my friends, my family, and our world.

In the last month alone I have:

  • taken care of a sick friend recovering from a double mastectomy.
  • called our politicians.
  • visited with friends who needed a pick-me-up.
  • picked up trash.
  • given mezuzot, ritual objects, to those who lost their homes to disasters.
  • mailed chai (life) clothes to people who were suffering.
  • wrote politicians as well as blogs and Facebook posts to make people think about things differently.
  • helped rebuilt a house destroyed by Hurricane Harvey.
  • donated money to several causes.
  • watched two different friends puppies so that they wouldn’t have to board them.
  • helped a friend who professionally needed the guidance.
  • rallied/resisted against Trump’s policies that allowed for children to be torn from their parents’ arms.
  • tried to help a young woman reunite with her son and find a stable home.

Did I miss the mark in different areas? I’m sure. But the point is that I have chosen to live differently as an adult than what I experienced and saw in my youth.

For me, my life challenges seemed to have been ingrained on a cellular level. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the moment of my conception was what started the train wreck that has often overshadowed me and in truth it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that on most days I have navigated life’s journey and embraced the hand that showed up. While I am not sure that I had a choice, from a young age I seem to have decided to wake up each day and take one step and then another.

Although there are moments when I wish that things could have been different, they weren’t.  For the most part, I have reached this time in my life and found a way to absorb the blessings reverberating from my soul.

Living out loudI am alive. I am thriving. And I have emerged to be the woman I am today.

Thriving or simply surviving has not always been a given. At each and every stage of my life, I faced some harsh realities. If it weren’t for my inner strength, I may have found myself devastated or worse destroyed.

I’ve been battered both physically and spiritually; I have seen violence and watched my children navigate ICU on multiple occasions and even sat by their bedsides expecting that no tomorrows would ever come. And yet they did come.

My heart has been shattered and sometimes trampled beyond recognition. And yet somehow I have found my breath. I have learned to inhale the light and exhale the pain and darkness. And nearly every time I needed, an angel showed up to make a difference in both small and large ways.

Much of my life, I have felt like I was rock climbing up extremely treacherous terrain. The only problem with that is that I was born with two left feet; I am a total klutz in every way.  The fabulous news is that even as I have struggled to find a healthy place to stand, I’ve have always found the solid ground I was seeking.

With my past as a guiding force, I find meeting new people challenging. My life is full of skeletons that are harsh for any person to absorb. Yet each and every story has opened doors for me and made me the woman I am. Instead of wearing a mask, I want to touch people as I transcend the darkness with my resiliency. And I want to take what I have learned from all the pain that has hammered my life and bring light into the world; in as many was as possible, I want to make our world a better place.

Today, I allow myself to ‘live out loud’. I share my thoughts, my pain, my politics, my soul.  I share my writing, my art, and my spirit without apology. Today I climb mountains and accept the fact that I may fall. I know that I am surrounded by my sons and other loved ones. I am not alone.

My inner wise soul has turned life’s monsoons into the vibrant beauty that often follows a storm. Instead of hiding behind the shadows, I have actively chosen to ‘live out loud’ in every aspect of my life by loving deeply and engaging in the world is what drives my spirit.

Hineini, here I am!

 

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24 hours = 500,000 #MeToo tweets + 12 million #MeToo FB posts, comments & reactions. #MeToo is about women screaming out and saying that they were sexually violated. This has been a profound experience for because it took me decades to find my voice and tell anyone what happened.

As a young child, a neighbor who was also a friend’s father molested me on a regular basis.

And then at 14 years old, my best friend’s step-father molested me multiple times and raped me. There was no one to talk to and no one to listen. I was alone. This came at a time when the foster care system became my stomping ground because my mother couldn’t control her violent rages. Tracy’s family had wanted to take me in and treat me as their own, but Gary believed he had the right to do as he wished with my body and ultimately my soul. And he did.

Years later, I don’t really relate to the acts as being sexual assault; I seem them as violent acts. I was forced to endure what no child or adult should experience. In my mind, I was violated and thrust into the world of #MeToo.

Sunday night, I found myself in a total PTSD (or post traumatic stress disorder) meltdown. As #MeToo unfolded and then became viral, I found myself reliving the agony of those experiences and later the re-surfacing of those experiences. For just a couple of hours, I was temporarily back into the devastation mode. I remembered. I hurt. But I and so many others were being heard. How beautiful is that?!?! I was touched each and every time I saw a Facebook status line that said, “I believe”, “I hear you”, and “I am sorry”.

I’ve done a lot of healing work over the years. I also have done my part to empower young women as a way to break the cycle, and now I am sharing part of my story. And perhaps the best thing is that I have parented two amazing sons that understand that they have a responsibility moving forward. And after this past weekend, there a whole lot of women that know that they are not alone and a large group of witnesses to support them.

May we do this work together. May #MeToo become #NoMOre.

Image result for #MeToo No more

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Feb 2015  Walking from behind

I don’t think I am alone when I say there are so many things I used to fear and that there are many things that I still fear. . .

I used to fear being destitute with all that that would mean. But bankruptcy in the 1990s and a significant job loss in 2014 didn’t destroy my spirit. While both experiences were anxiety inducing, I found ways to change the tide and become grounded again. I learned to live better within my means and to trust the universe a bit more. Things are still not easy, but for the most part life financially work s (except when it doesn’t). My family really has what it needs.

I used to fear losing my husband and being alone to raise my sons.  Divorce after a long separation ended up empowering me to live a more authentic life and provided me with wings to fly.

I used to fear being traumatized by violence, but I not only survived serious childhood abuse, but I survived rape. Some may even say I found a way to not only thrive but to to help others navigate to a safer place whenever possible.

I used to fear loss, but since I live life as fully as I do. I find myself loving intensely and losing those I love sometimes through death, sometimes through abandonment, and sometimes through the realities of time and space. With each loss, I take the good memories and create new ways of living life more fully in the wake of those losses.  And I know that while the deep sadness may always inhabit a part of my heart, the ‘dance of life’ continues.

I have always feared for my children’s lives. After nine miscarriages and devastating illnesses, I still do. AND that doesn’t mean I allow the fear to infiltrate the way I live. Instead I open up my arms and reach for life with the many moving parts that that entails. And I (mostly) trust that my sons will take their own journeys.

As Émile Zola said, If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, I will answer you: I am here to live out loud!”

I know that I am blessed. Regardless of what has transpired in my life, I find the inner strength  to emerge as the woman I am. On more than one occasion my friends have referred to me a warrior. While I love that term, the term spiritual warrior resonates more deeply for me. All that I do, I do because of love.

Now for honesty, I have always emerged from fear. Always. BUT that doesn’t mean that I do not live in fear.

This past week, I have faced being stalked and feeling threatened by three neighbors. I have been forced to explore what I think about guns, how to handle the myriad of views about what is happening to me, and how to move forward.

Over the last week, I have had people tell me that I have asked for the violent energy by living my life as I do and I have had to wonder if maybe there was truth to what was being said. In the end, I am furious with those that think I should silence the way I live. That is not the world I live in; that is not the world I want to live in.

I am a writer, a protester, and an activist; I am a woman, an educator, and a dreamer. There is so much work to be done and I can not do it by walking in silence.

The man who now sits in the White House and surrounds himself with darkness needs to be held accountable for the way he walks in the world and the trauma he is causing humankind. So, while I am afraid of my neighbors, I have work to do.

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Truth

Life is full of dichotomies.

How is that the same person we love with such intensity is also the person that can push us over the edge emotionally and/or spiritually?  While the question is very real, the answer is not.

Opening my eyes this morning, I realized how profoundly affected  I am by  life’s dichotomies.

  • The National Parks celebrated their 100th anniversary this summer. Growing up not far from the Appalachian Trail, or the AT as I refer to it, helped define how I see beauty. While some people dream of luxurious vacations to cosmopolitan cities, I can’t wait to sit quietly in the Redwood Forests next summer.
  • Angels have surrounded me during so many harsh times of my life. When my son was critically sick, old and new friends helped support us in a variety of very tangible ways. When unemployment/underemployment left me penniless, both strangers and friends alike made certain my sons and I would thrive. And yet, poverty surrounds me on every street corner and many children go without the necessary food to survive.
  • The color of someone’s skin is unimportmant to me, but this week, we ordered a Black Lives Matter sign for our front yard.  Living in a world that often subjugates many in the human-race deeply troubles me.
  • Theoretically, we live in a time were the government has checks and balances which allow for all people to be treated equal, yet we have a presidential nominee that incites a population to violence and is not being held accountable for it.
  • Climate change is a huge challenge seen in increasing numbers of intense rainfall events and the rising of  global temperatures. Yet there are many political leaders that are denying the very real reality.
  • My love for Israel runs deep, but I question the integrity of a country that has a poor track record for how she treats Palestinians and others. AND yet, when a natural disaster occurs, Israel is one of the first countries to set up a field hospital and to help a traumatized people.
  • Children are absolutely precious and treasured in the world that I live, yet there are so many children that are violated, abused, and essentially treated horrifically.
  • In Houston a few months ago, a man was shot up while trying to stop a man on a killing spree. In the end, the innocent bystander ended up in critical condition and a suspect.

Reality is full of gifts and challenges. The world’s complexities wreak havoc on those of us that are unable to shut off the troubling stories that impact our world at any given moment.

Moving forward in the world is not easy, this means we need to do so with open eyes and a willingness to do our part to improve the world we live in.

May we all find our voices as we decide how we will impact the world for good.

Onward with love & light,
Chava

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Palestine - Israel Flags
Twenty-eight of my friends posted this awesome & poignant piece written by a young Muslim interfaith activist, Nadya Al-Noor.  In the piece called Palestinian terrorism and Muslim hypocrisy: An open letter, Al-Noor fails to mention a crucial reality in the terrorism that exists in Israel and what I would refer to as the Occupied Territories/Palestine.  http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/palestinian-terrorism-and-muslim-hypocrisy-an-open-letter-from-a-muslim-woman/   
 
If you subjugate a people, you create a pressure cooker that leaves them angry & wounded. The longer it festers, the more they explode. 
 
Yes terrorism is wrong. And yet, I have NO problem understanding the growing violence and hatred.
 
I am happy that this writer clearly articulated a reasonable view point, put I also fear that if we keep negating the other side of the story, terrorism will continue to unleash it’s devastating consequences.
 
We have to be willing to explore why terrorism continues to destroy lives and then look for solutions to change that trajectory.  After many decades of war, violence, subjugation, and pain, it may take decades to alter our future. In this week’s Torah Portion, Shelach Lecha, God decides that the Israelites who were originally freed from slavery will need to die before the Israelites are allowed to enter the promise land. Essentially  God was saying that the old mentality needs to die out before really moving forward.

I do understand that the realities of history and how each of us perceive history is part of the challenge here. Yet, it is also time to realize that until Palestine and Palestinians stop being subjugated by Israel, terrorism will flourish. The devastating cycle will not end. Parents on all sides of this story, will bury their children too young.

Healing takes time and I pray that I will see healing in Israel and Palestine as I remember seeing in South Africa.

May coexistence emerge from the darkness that is now filled with hatred, disdain, and terrorism on all sides.

(Note: My views may infuriate some of you. I am writing to make sure that voices like mine are heard. I am so profoundly saddened by the tragedies that continue to unravel the land that so many would like to call home.)

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I  AM LOVED

Two Naked Trees - Santa Monica California Beach - Jill Berkson Zimmerman

Photo Courtesy of Rabbi Jill Zimmerman

You are seen, You are heard
You are loved for who you are
You are enough, You are complete
You are loved

I am seen, I am heard
I am loved for who I am
There is nothing I need to change
I am loved, I am loved

I am seen, I am heard
I am loved for who I am
I am enough, I am complete
I am loved, I am loved
I am seen, I am heard, I am safe,
I am enough, I am worthy, I am loved
Words & Music by Karen Drucker

Life has given me incredible moments to stretch, grow, and thrive. Sometimes I  see these opportunities with awe, but other times, not so much.

I’ve always said that ‘the gift is the challenge’ which means that I strive to find light in even the darkest hours. Mostly I am able to reach that goal and at other times that goal feels like an impossibility.

Over and over again, I have faced some daunting struggles. Mental illness and violence destroyed some of the people closest to me and sometimes left me battered not only emotionally, but physically. Loss of too many pregnancies and adoptions forced me to question my belief in God. And watching my son Aryeh face life and death challenges again and again within his life as both an infant and later a teenager could have destroyed me. Dovi, my younger son, also had a very serious health challenge as a toddler.

When life is at it’s most painful, you don’t have time to cry or lash out at the world. You are forced to go through whatever it is you need to do. Survival has never been an option for me. Breathing deeply and pushing forward is truly the only viable option. At least this is so for me.

In 2007, I legally changed my name to Chava Gal-Or. I wanted my name to be a testimony to who I was and what I wanted to continually be. I chose the name Chava as a celebration to my surviving a sometimes traumatic existence. In my heart of hearts, I have always seen myself as a thriver; regardless of what experiences have come my way, I find a way to soar. And my last name is reminder that I want to find light in those I meet and to find the beauty or light in that which I endure regardless of how it appears on the outside. For the most part, I have done what I set out to do.

And over the years, I have also created the most amazing village that has supported me emotionally, spiritually, and even financially. My world has been full of gifts at every turn. Without a doubt, I know that blessings abound.

Today I shared with my chanting siblings how a recent car wreck challenged me physically and emotionally; in fact what I didn’t say is how broken I was actually feeling since the accident.  Just before the car crash happened, I was finally landing on my feet after a roller coaster ride that has been going on longer than I care to admit. The grand finale, in particular, caused me enormous self-doubt. How could I end up in a community capable of causing such spiritual chaos? As my position in Tucson came to a crashing halt, my spirit tumbled. The good news is that I chose not to openly stay in the rubble; I chose to do what I had to do so that I could ultimately emerge. But the being rear-ended suddenly reinforced that I was not doing nearly  as well as I thought.

The last few years have been hard, really hard. And there have been so many times that I felt alone and afraid how I could support my family; I honestly did not know how I would feed my family or handle another serious illness. Going to the dentist was and maybe still is a luxury. And I wasn’t sure how my closest friends could continue to hold me metaphorically or otherwise. And in truth, I was blessed with friends that were there in most ways. Some couldn’t be, but most chose to be.  When I felt most alone, it was because I couldn’t recognize what was in front of me.

When I was completely honest with myself, I knew that my name should have never been changed. I was so far from life or light; I was not thriving and I certainly had no idea how I would emerge. And yet, I persevered. With some incredible fortitude and a village to guide me, I was able to do what I had to do.

When I initially reached out to my chanting siblings today, I was bordering on lost.  Yet within moments, three of my chanting siblings reminded me that I have work to do.  There is a world that I have touched with my light and I have more work to do. Wow. . . I needed to be reminded just that. I am full of light, but I needed the reminder.

The moment of impact reinforced me to face the vulnerabilities that lie just below the surface. I live in fear that at any moment my life could end. Who would take care of my sons? Who would birth my dreams? I have so much left to do. Would anyone besides my sons miss me? Do I really make a difference in the world?

We all have our own skeletons, our hidden secrets, our intimate fears. I am no different.

My teacher, Rabbi Shefa Gold reminded me that I am “surviving and thriving and reaping the hidden blessings.” And my friends reinforced it again and again.  The evidence is and was clear, I need to turn off the inner voice that sometimes tells me that I am a farce; I am a strong and vibrant woman.

I love that  I am healing, moving forward, navigating vulnerability, and feeling blessed. I am doing exactly what I needed to do.

(Note: in the early morning hours, I found a gift from my friend Rabbi Jill Zimmerman, she emailed me a link to I AM LOVED. Words & Music by Karen Drucker. I am still trying to wrap my head around Jill’s timing. This was the song I needed to hear as a reminder that I am loved and that I also really do love myself.)

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