Thursday, April 7, 2011

When Way Closes

This past Thursday my mom was awaiting my weekly phone call when i surprised her by ringing the doorbell. "Surprise mom. I'm home". She burst into tears of joy and "Hallelujahs", causing a scene for our surrounding neighbors. After a month of saying difficult good-byes to everyone I love in Kolkata, I was finally embraced by my loved one's in the states.

So why am I home? (you may wonder)

Because I believe "way will open"; this is a Quaker phrase I stumbled upon recently which means the process of discerning one's vocation. This is where I find myself, alongside most other people I know. I believe the last few months of my life I just experienced the flip side of "way will open" when completely out of my control or desire the way I had willed to happen was closing quickly behind me. And clenching my fist around this dream, I fought hard not to let it go, until.... I saw it for what it really was.

Let me be frank; egocentrism. I was in love with an image I desired to maintain- living and serving amongst the poor of Kolkata. Very little of who I am delighted in my daily very undefined work and living there. Many people legitimately are living and serving amongst the poor there, but for me, I was trying to be someone I was not, convinced that was what God required of me. "Surely God could not love a privileged, white, educated, American like myself" my wounded heart tossed and turned. So to earn that "unconditional love" I set out go to the extremes to prove to God and self that I am serious about this Christian thing.

And it took me hitting rock bottom, suffering from anxiety and burnout for me to begin to wonder... "What if this is not about requirements? What if God is genuinely interested in a relationship with me? Not to "use me".... but to just love me.

The moment I decided I wanted to come home was after listening to a speech by Richard Rohr on contemplative prayer. He spoke on how we learn, through meditation and self-awareness, how to recognize and silence our ego as we go before God. The beauty of this is we can only let go of our egocentrism as we grow into the truth of God's love for us. It is the freedom we find in God's unconditional love that naturally transforms us into our better selves. It's not actually something we set out to do, but rather something we grow to receive. It was there I realized my anxiety was because I was trying to will myself into being someone I was not and because I was giving from a place I did not possess.

I recently received a book called "Letting your Life Speak" about vocation which keeps putting words to my experience.

"One sign that I am violating my own nature in the name of nobility is a condition called burnout. Though usually regarded as the result of trying to give too much, burnout in my experience results from trying to give what I do not possess.... it does not result from giving all I have: it merely reveals the nothingness from which I was trying to give in the first place"

This author is teaching me that there is a place in me that does flow with abundance and it is growing into this knowledge of myself from which I will learn my vocation.

So I am home. And as I finally allow the door of India to close behind me, I turn to see a room of many doors before me. It's a bit overwhelming actually. But this time I am not doing this out of my own will. Instead, I am beginning to believe in a love that arms me with new set of questions that will help me along my way. "What brings you joy Melissa? What are you good at? What do you love doing?"

Questions that, for once, allow me to start with the knowledge that I am loved as I am and can trust my inner workings as they were created with love. And use this self-knowing, and the love that invites it to grow, as my guidepost for how I can authentically give out of a place of abundance. And perhaps this one day will lead me back to Kolkata. And perhaps it will not. All I know for certain is for now I am home and this journey continues here.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Learning and Discerning

In my last blog, I shared my struggle with burn-out and anxiety. For the first time since I came to India, these past 2 months I was plagued with deep questioning of whether I want to serve long-term here anymore. As I look back over the past year I see an incredible journey of both pain and growth. I am glad to say, since I last wrote, that I have recovered from burn-out and am now entering a time of discernment with the Servants team. At the beginning of this month, the rest of the team returned from 2 months out of country renewing their visa's. So now I am officially "the Intern" and using this time with them to discern if I want to live and serve in India for the next 3 years on their team.

I know Servant's vision is right where my heart is at; it's all about transformation of poor communities through building relationships with neighbors and utilizing the skill, knowledge, and efforts of local people's to create change. It's about empowering local communities to see the issues and unite over them. It's about daily living out the love of God in their context, by becoming a good neighbor before anything else. It's about solidarity before discovering solutions. It's about respecting the culture and language by taking the time to learn both of them from neighbors, affirming they are the one's with the important knowledge and skills to offer. It's about moving slow together and not fast alone. It's about not overwhelming the community with western skills, knowledge, or money lest they loose sight of their ability to enact the change for themselves. It's about being prayerful and living prophetically in a time consumed with "me". It's about humility and respect. Creativity and celebration. Rest and grace.

All of these things resonate with my heart. It's what I hope for in an organization. But even though our ideals and values match, I don't want to assume that I want to live these out in an Indian context. This past year has allowed me to learn so many things about myself- particularly that I have made many of the choices in my last 5 years subconsciously out of what I think I "should do" so that God will love me. But perhaps the most important thing I am learning in India is that God already does love me. And for the first time in my life I am learning that the question to ask when I enter into a new commitment is not "what should I do? " or "what would a radical follower of Christ do?" but actually "What is Melissa Dorman good at, and enjoy, and find life-giving for her and the world around her?" Because ultimately there is a loving God who created me uniquely to do those things, even if they do not mirror the life of Mother Theresa. Which is fine because I'm also learning that the best person I can aspire to become is actually me.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Art of Not Doing Anything

For most folks, chillin out all day on the couch, watching a movie, and eating junk food sounds like paradise! But for someone like me, who finds so much of my self-worth in what I check of my "to do" list by the end of the day, it is downright devastating to find out that these are the doctors orders for me.

Right now I am learning the art of "not doing anything". Through all the accumulated stress and transitions in the past 9 months; ie. culture shock of India, Nepal, and Bangladesh, transition in relationships from living with Auntie and Uncle, moving in with Shikha in the a 1 room place in the red-light district, my time ending at Freeset, moving into a new home this month, and beginning my internship with Servants... I have officially been diagnosed with burn-out. Unlike being stressed out where you feel you have too much on your plate to balance, experiencing burn out feels like you don't even have a plate to put things on. Things that use to bring me so much energy and joy- like spending time with my bengali neighbors- now makes me feel really anxious and tired. And with all my down time I have had too much time to think; I am often faced with daunting questions about my purpose here, whether this is really my dream, will I be able to survive for a 3 year commitment with Servants? Questions I can't answer but also can't stop asking myself. It's something I have never experienced before and for a "doer" like me, it's hard to face the facts that right now...I just can't do very much.

(taking a lesson from Homer)

In the states, if I had burn out, I could just take a vacation, change my work hours, spend more time with friends. In a foreign country where my work IS where I live- building relationships amongst the poor.... it's a little more challenging to recover and then set up healthy boundaries in the future.

I have seriously wrestled with returning back to the states for a while, but I think one more transition at this time will likely not ease my stress. So for now, I am here, taking it real easy... or trying to learn how to at least. This month I have suffered a bladder infection and giardia (one of the side-effects of burn-out is lower immunity) so it's forced me to rest a lot. I feel really well supported by my new team members (even though most of them are on Visa leave) and folks from home. They have all offered a listening ear and their love and care through all this. It's ironic that I have waited so long to find and join an org like Servants, and my first month as their intern I am at my worst. Perhaps this is exactly where I need to be to learn I am loved by God and others despite what I can do. So far my new team has encouraged me to take as much time as I need to recover and to give myself lots of grace in all this. I feel very blessed and love by them all.

I feel I am learning lots of lessons about self-care and my limitations and God's love for me. My hope is in joining this team, I will learn to live a more sustainable way of life that not only focuses on bringing life to my neighbors but also bringing life to me and my team. For now, keep me in prayer as to find courage to give my heart once again to a new team of people, as I learn the art of not doing anything, and more importantly finding God loves me just the same.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Discovering my Need to Succeed

My first and... and then second attempt at making Rooti

Arriving back in K-town it felt like home- yellow taxis, streets alive with people, the smells of Indian food and rotting garbage. Hmmm hmmm...Home sweet home. On my mind was the future; doing a masters program, potential research, applying for my new organization, working part-time at Freeset with my 2 best friends. All these ideas of “who I might be in 2011” swimming about in my head. But not for too long…

To my surprise, when I went to discuss my part time role at Freeset with my boss, I was faced with a hard choice; either work full-time at Freeset and move into a middle-class apartment or continue living with Shikha to focus on learning Bengali in which case they could not offer me a part-time role. From his perspective, my living with Shikha was getting in the way of doing my best work and causing problems for others. I was devastated (beyond what I would like to openly admit on my blog)

I was at a cross roads between the community I have grown to love this last year and still wished to partner with and … and the Servants community that I am applying for and I feel called to join…(but cannot officially until training this September)

In the end, I felt I needed to begin my journey with Servants… even if it was un-official. But now what do until September 2011… just live here?

The next day, I accompanied a Servants member still looking for a home in the slums in the north part of the city when we stumbled across a little place perfect for 2. She looked at me…the thought crossed my mind… “I wonder what it would be like to live here?”

Unlike the crowded and polluted alleys of Sonagacchi, this community felt safe, spread out, and restful. I had a sense of peace that this is exactly what God was doing all along. I need a safe place to slow down and grow into my new community as I focus on language and culture. So within 2 weeks, and after lots of hard conversations, I found myself hugging Shikha good-bye and climbing into a taxi (although I will still visit once a week).

Me and my new room mate Meghan as we head off to our new home

This situation was has been an incredibly stressful turn of events... I even considered flying home until September training. But in the midst of all the anxiety, I have been given a glimpse into seeing myself more truthfully and that is a true gift. Probably not a surprise to many of you but this month I was shocked to find out I am actually an over-achiever. (I know, laugh it up). But on a serious note, whether I would like to see it or not, this means my self-worth is dangerously caught up in how others view me and the success of my work. I know you are wondering… how in the world did you manage to discover this about yourself Melissa?

Glad to answer, I have been exploring this part of me using a spiritual tool called the Enneagram. This tool has Christian roots starting as far back as 350AD with a desert monk Evagrius Ponticus but today you can find tests and readings easily online. Basically the Enneagram describes 9 basic personality types and how these interact together and with God. Each type has a basic gift and a basic need. As we attempt to meet our own needs outside of God, we head down a destructive path. But as we grow aware of our needs and how God is the One who fulfills it, then we grow liberated from our own destructive ways and into the gift of who God is making us to be.

Check out the link to learn more:

Using this tool does not give us the answers, it actually just helps us ask the right questions. For instance, why did I rush into living with Shikha? Looking back, I think part of me unknowingly really wanted to push myself to gain the respect of my western peers. But that backfired, being the oddball living with a local did not impress them and in fact it may have made some feel guilty for not living this way (shoot!). Plus the stressful home environment exhausted me so that I could barely keep up with 4 hours of work- so no one really benefited. <----Our new bedroom

I like to think of it like this; there is this little Melissa inside of me scheming to get people's attention by doing good stuff, but I never see her false motives until her plans go array and hurt the folks around her. It's connecting this little person inside me with the Love of God she so desires that will liberate her from all this scheming so she is free to just love regardless of being affirmed by others. As I learn this about myself, it’s humbling or rather humiliating… how ever you want to phrase it. And I am discovering there is lots to learn about just "being" with God. Now that I see this, I can begin to explore a love not dependent on what I can or cannot achieve for God. A love that delights in me regardless.

our new kitchen--->

These next few months I will have lots of time on my hands; I hope this experience helps me grow into that unconditional love I so desperately long for and have been looking for in the wrong places. 2011 is not exactly as "productive" as I imagined, but like my train ride here, it's been full of surprises and the unexpected way God always gives me exactly what I need.