You’re not being tested. You’re being rooted. When these wise words popped up recently on a social media feed, they resonated like a big ol' djembe drum.
However, 20 years ago the most this pearl likely would have elicited would have been a clack of the teeth. Between juggling a divorce, two children, home loss and the pressures of starting a new job – I knew I was surely being tested. And when I thought I could not stretch any further, my youngest daughter, four years old at the time, was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes.
A life-threatening and chronic illness, diabetes was unfamiliar territory in our family. No one to our knowledge or in our experience had the disease.
A mix of motherly instinct and a sense of survival cured my phobia of needles almost overnight. My family’s world was turned upside down – again. Daily priorities revolved around insulin injections, meal and snack schedules, and blood glucose readings. The evening shot and bedtime snack were critical.
My main objective was to make sure my daughter, too young to understand her disease, had the right portions of carbohydrate and protein at bedtime so that her blood glucose levels remained stable through the night. If they plummeted too low, which they often did, she risked falling into a coma. If they became too elevated, that was problematic as well. I felt vulnerable and frightened. But every morning, I donned my best Gloria-Gaynor “I Will Survive” game-face and showed up for the daily test. It seemed as though everything I believed about God and myself was called into question.
But I see now, in the glorious clarity and wisdom of 20-20 hindsight, that I was being rooted. Rooting not only strengthens us but also ground us. It promotes and supports new growth, and clears the spaces for us to expand in new directions. When you come through a test, hopefully your performance will earn you the reward or outcome you were seeking. But with rooting, the process is the reward. You discover not only have you learned invaluable insights, but that you’ve changed for the better in the proccess.
"Rooting like all changes that matter most in nature, happens in the shadows, beneath the surface of things."
Rooting like all changes that matter most in nature, happens in the shadows, beneath the surface of things. We are often unaware that it is happening. Still, I learned there are choices we can make during darkly chaotic times of testing that help promote healthy rooting. Here are five choices that made a world of difference in my life.
Leave Your Comfort Zones
Given my personal calamity, I was already well outside the perimeter of my comfort zone when the opportunity to pursue a new job position opened. While scaling the newsroom hurdles of gender and race in the1980s and ‘90s had been daunting, I was relatively established, and “comfortable,” in my hard-earned position as an editorial page editor at my hometown newspaper. Nevertheless, when the job offer from Connecticut’s paper of record came, I decided to leap. Naturally, there were challenges, including navigating the same old boy’s network and having to prove myself all over again even though I had made my living as a journalist for over a decade. But I also found new opportunities to improve my craft, originate innovative projects and assume new leadership roles. More importantly, I got to work with many fine, talented and dedicated people, some of whom are good friends and colleagues to this day. Had I waited until I felt fearless or my life was in perfect order before leaping, I would still be waiting. Courage isn't the absence of fear. It is fear that has said its prayers --- and keeps it moving, wobbling knees and all.
Beware of Boxes
Speaking of comfort zones, I decided early on not to allow other people’s comfort zones define me or my experience, including as a female head of household. The term “single-mother” has been so politically exploited that it’s become code for every social failing in the book. Even in an era when the American family is evolving away from the traditional, two-parent nuclear family -- like the one I was raised in -- no version of family seems to invoke scorn and condemnation quite like the “single-mother.” It's legitimacy is constantly called into question. This plays out in the media in obvious ways. But this box’s snares in the scheme of daily living are more subtle. They show up in the attitudes of low expectations, condescension and pity. Such attitudes, even when they appear under the guise of being helpful, are poor substitute for respect. Eleanor Roosevelt got it right in her often quoted remark to the effect: People cannot make you feel inferior without your consent. Beware of people confined to narratives that do not align with your empowerment, well-being and success.
Get the Facts
Knowledge truly is empowering. As a journalist, naturally, I had a strong inclination toward facts and accuracy. Fortunately, when my daughter was diagnosed with Diabetes I worked in an environment with a curious, supportive people who valued reliable information. This came in handy as I navigated my four-year-old daughter’s chronic illness. The more you know about a condition or problem, whether it’s related to your health or some other obstacle, the better. Learn as much as possible from trustworthy sources. Taking a proactive and sober approach to learning about the issues that impact your life, your health and your family has become more critical than ever in the age of social media. Separating fact from erroneous information and other people’s fears and worries went a long way toward helping avert panic, confusion and anxiety during an already stressful time. Knowledge helps focus you. It roots you in confidence and good decision making.
The details of my marital demise have grown increasingly less significant compared to the decision I made early on to forgive my former husband. It wasn’t an easy choice. We did not part as friends. When people hurt, disappoint and betray us, the natural response is to seek revenge. Frankly, many of the people in my life thought my path of forgiveness was nutty. But my decision was not based on my ex's deserving forgiveness. Rather, it was inspired by a vision for my life divinely planted in my spirit. There would be no room for any residue of anger, bitterness or complications from the disease of hatred in my future. This turned out to be a gift to myself. I had no idea just how precious it would prove to be. A single act of genuine forgiveness opens doors to many unexpected opportunities for healing and reconciliation of past hurts. Forgiveness truly is a journey on the road less traveled. As one unknown author eloquently wrote, “Forgiving is discovering the shining path of peace that you first thought others took away when they betrayed you.”
Feed Your Soul
Even though my days became packed with more responsibilities, including a 90- minute-two-way commute from Massachusetts to Connecticut, I decided to rise extra early and create a sacred space for myself. Sometimes I read scripture and other inspirational text. I prayed, meditated, listened to music and journaled. If time and weather permitted, I took walks, which became like moving meditations. This space was different than my gym and workout time. My sacred rituals evolved into enduring and sustaining spiritual practices and resources. Learning to nurture your own soul and allowing time for self-reflection may feel like navel gazing at first. But it is an essential component of good self-care. A well –nourished soul is more alert and better prepared to deal with stress. Staying connected with what inspires you and refreshes you also awakens you. It helps clear your mind and guide you in seeking your life's meaning and purpose. As the late, great philosopher and theologian Howard Thurman eloquently stated: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”