When Our Weakness Becomes A Strength

A few years ago, I joined my daughter’s class for a school field trip to Thomas Edison’s former laboratory here in New Jersey. The word laboratory sounds very clinical and boring, but in reality, it’s a large warehouse of a building, full of rooms fitted with dark wood paneled walls or heavy machinery or musical instruments. It is a delight.

The music room in particular held my attention. Painted strips of wood covered the walls which were lined with black and white photographs. Beneath our feet, worn oak floors bore the scars of a thousand visitors. The room itself held all sorts of instruments and multiple versions of the phonograph. In fact, the number of phonographs sprinkled throughout the entire complex bordered on overkill, until I learned that Edison spent fifty-two years perfecting this particular invention.

He called the phonograph his “baby”.

I thought all of this was amusing, charming even, until the docent made an almost throw-away comment. She said Thomas Edison, inventor of a device that reproduces the sound of music, suffered from extreme hearing loss since his childhood. While not completely deaf, he was severely hearing impaired.

Edison’s biggest weakness became the impetus for birthing his “baby”–his favorite invention plucked from his imagination.

I’ve thought about this off and on for several years, especially during times when I feel ill-equipped for the task at hand, whether it be a challenge in my parenting, creating, working, serving or simply in loving others well. My weakness can be a place where I flourish in spite of myself. This is counter-intuitive, unless I believe, as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians,

“For this thing I sought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest on me.”

Allowing the power of Christ to rest on me results in strength, in courage, in tenacity. Edison showed a single-mindedness for fifty-two years, to create while wrestling against his own shortcomings. This is the kind of gumption I want for myself and for my kids. To stick with it. To dig deep into the well of my weakness, and find Christ there offering me a cup of living water to drink.

I read later that Edison could’ve chosen corrective surgery to improve his hearing, and certainly he could have invented a hearing aide. But, he’d grown comfortable with the quiet his weak hearing afforded him. He allowed books, deep thinking, creation, and invention to fill the silence. And we, the recipients of his long labor, are richer for it.

Making Peace with Our Bodies

In my early twenties, a friend invited me to a performance of the Royal Ballet in London. I’d only been to the ballet once as a child, and it had left me with the impression that I was on the outside looking in on something fragile and untouchable, but so very lovely. I agreed to join her, and wondered how I would experience the ballet this second time. I thought I would find it boring. I was in the thick of raising little ones, breastfeeding, exhausted, in a silent war with my changing body. My friend sat beside me with her leg in a cast, carrying crutches. We were a jacked up pair, as we waited to watch men and women with strong, able, obedient bodies create magic.

During the performance, the prima ballerina descended an entire set of stairs en pointe. It was so stunning, I held my breath. I stole a glance at my friend and saw tears rolling down her cheeks. Afterwards, we talked about that singular moment and how it wrenched the heart right out of us with its precision and difficulty. We left one another a few moments later–she hobbled to her taxi, and I rode the Tube home tired, but transformed by beauty.

I watched the dance movie Step Up while running on the treadmill a while ago. To be fair, I’d just watched two foreign films with subtitles and an art house film so subtle, I’m still not sure anything happened. I justified Step Up by telling myself one piece of fluff entertainment couldn’t hurt, but I forgot what watching dance does to me, how it brings me to tears every time. There is something so beautiful about the connection dancers have to their bodies that moves me in a way I don’t experience with other art forms. It evokes a longing in me for a similar connection to my own body.

I’m no longer in a silent war with my body, but I also don’t feel entirely at home in it either. Over the years, I’ve taken up various practices to help me begin a conversation with myself. I took up running in my thirties, and my body told me it is strong and resilient. But, I’m also prone to age and injuries. I practiced Pilates, and my body told me it can recover from the wild ways three pregnancies affected it. My body also revealed an inherent weakness, an incurable curvature of my spine in the form of scoliosis. We’re still negotiating this discovery. Over the last year, I added occasional yoga classes to the mix. My body tells me things in the quiet, slow movements of this practice. We share secrets, and it has been healing in a new way.

But, dance? This is the one thing I’ve always wished to do, the one challenge I’ve never attempted, having no sense of natural rhythm or grace. While watching Step Up, I recognized everything I’ve ever wanted for my own body. Dancers are at home within themselves, and this is the longing from my childhood identified–to feel that pain and beauty, fragility and strength, restraint and freedom of movement are part of wholeness. This is living at peace with one’s body. This is understanding the incarnation in a new way.

I carry a tiny seed of hope that someday, dance and I will become friends, and I will learn how to express myself without the crutch of words getting in the way. My body will reveal its secrets in a tactile, earthy way, and the untouchable art will no longer be a stage or screen away.

There You Are: A Thanksgiving Welcome

adirondack

She walked onto the stage with a microphone to magnify her slight Southern drawl. She looked into the eyes of the writers gathered in anxious circles below, and said, “There you are!”

She paused to let the words sink in as she opened her arms, embracing the room in welcome. “We’re so glad you’re here!”

With her words, shoulders around the room relaxed. Lips curled into smiles. We nodded at one another and to the speaker on the stage.  “There you are!” she said. And we knew we’d left our homes only to arrive at a new one.

….

When I enter into a new place, my thoughts often turn inward. My first thought is, “I’m here”, as I assess the emotional tenor of the room based on this internal declaration. I scan the center of the room, and inevitably end up feeling my way around the outer edges, dragging my arrival and its emotional baggage behind me.

Because I instinctively turn inward, I’ve thought a lot about the welcome I received at the writing workshop and how it changed my perspective. “There you are,” I found myself repeating, and my gaze shifted outward, while my body settled into its center. I stopped wondering what others thought of me as I sat clutching my half-used pen and scraggly sheets of paper torn from a friend’s notebook. I looked around the room thinking, “There you are, friend. There you are, fellow artist. There you are, soul sister.”

As we celebrate Thanksgiving, I want to extend my thanks and a “There you are!” welcome to you too, dear friend. Regardless of what this holiday season holds for you, whether it is a less than eager reception, loneliness, over-commitment, grief, contentious disagreements, or a warm family welcome, I hope you consider this a place where you feel a spirit of kinship. I hope you find a sense of belonging as we face this crazy, broken world together. I’m just as mixed-up, sad, and defiantly hopeful as you are this November. I’m just as eager to give thanks and receive grace.

There you are, friend. I see you. Consider this your invitation to a seat at the table–you belong here. Let’s feast on hope and offer it to those we’ll be rubbing elbows with this Thanksgiving.

When the Weight of the World Weighs Heavy

The world weighs heavy on you. You turn from page to page, you scroll past outrage, you watch images that flicker like a film strip behind your eyes when you close them at night. You want to turn away, hide your face from the latest stories because they make a fool of your tears. Tears solve nothing, but they water the seeds of compassion in your spirit. You must let the tears do their inner work because it is a holy one.

You want to wring your hands, as your heart twists into pretzel shapes inside your chest. You want to heave the weight of the world off your shoulders because you realize this yoke is too heavy to bear. This is not the light burden, the easy yoke we were promised. It is the full weight of evil unleashed on an unsuspecting world, and you, you are caught between tears and hand-wringing. Fear and apathy.

Here is how you carry the weight of the world. You lay it down. You water it with your tears. You pray for Shalom. You offer what little you have to give–whether it is time on your knees, money for a cause, beauty for brokenness, words for the weary, or unity in sorrow. You offer Jesus, the one who picks up the burden as you lay it down. You pick up these words instead.

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26

…….

Repost from the archives: I wrote these words exactly one year ago, but they feel fitting for today. What burdens are you laying down?

Embracing Possibility

kimberlyanncoyle.com

This time of year, when everything turns to gold and purple and grey, my mind turns to Harry Potter. The books were made for the frosted crunch of Autumn, for cold nights and roaring fires, for pumpkins and odd creatures, magic and mystery. I re-read the books every so often, and each time I enter into the world of Hogwarts, I remember what drew me in the first time.

The story captures imagination and possibility.

As a child, I spent most of my time in church or at my conservative Christian school, where much of what we consider childhood classics were dismissed. I missed out on many of the essential stories that explore myth and mystery. I never read fairytales or watched Disney movies or learned about the Greek or Roman gods. Both Cinderella and Antigone were a complete mystery to me. Add Halloween and Santa Claus and card tricks to the list of forbidden delights.

My childhood was rooted in reality. Pure and simple. My imagination was fueled by the everyday stories of family life, of school troubles, and babysitting woes. Secrets were something you wrote in a locked diary and kept from your brother. They didn’t possess gardens or hide behind an enchanted door. Mystery was not the magnetic pull of a single, precious ring, but rather  finding your favorite socks living in someone else’s dresser drawer.

And magic, well, magic was inconceivable. Unimaginable. Impossible.

I felt at home in the physical world–the thump of feet against hardwood floors, the smooth, cool surface of marble, the salt-tinged taste of tears on cheeks–but I knew there was more. I knew it because I heard rumors in the school yard. Unexplored books beckoned from the local library shelves, and when I spent time in the natural world, I felt the mystery pulsing beneath.

I knew there was more, but I didn’t know how to find the hidden door and enter. I have a friend who likes to say she lives in possibility, and I envy her for it. Her imagination and creativity for confronting every perceived barrier in the real world, reminds me that the magic of possibility we discover in stories as a child also exists in our own hearts. The secret chambers of our inner selves, the hidden spaces, echo with opportunity.

Anything can happen.

I can feel at home in both the physical world and in possibility.

This time of year when everything turns to gold and purple and grey, my mind turns to magic. To stories of the impossible, to creative minds spinning opportunity, to the hero’s journey, to a window into the world beyond my everyday.

Healing exists on this side of possibility. Good triumphs over evil. Mystery exists. Redemption is a song we sing. Time bends and stories come true. Hope is birthed.