I’d cobbled together a makeshift raft out of two pool noodles, one beneath my head and one beneath my knees, and lay floating above the warm, mineral-laden water. I could see the treetops swaying in the breeze and could hear nothing except the slow, rhythmic sound of my own breath amplified underwater.
It was perfect. I was at a Zen retreat center in a remote crevice on top of a mountain in the Ventana Wilderness [in central California].
I’d been gripped by a strong desire for a spiritual getaway to digest all the ways God had helped me grow in the past eight months, really in the past eight years.
I’d fasted all day, wishing to physically empty myself in order to be filled spiritually. Christopher, my husband, and I had discovered, in the years since we’d returned from our time living in Costa Rica, that simplification wasn’t an external thing as much as it was a manifestation of what was on the inside. When we were centered and focused spiritually, the important things stood out clearly, decisions came more easily, life felt doable. When we lost that focus, life felt out of control.
Over the past few months, I’d also found a correlation between how centered I felt and what I consumed. When I ate things I knew I didn’t want to — heading to the drive-through or plowing through a bag of potato chips — I’d eventually realize I was running away… from myself, from life, from God. And vice versa; when I consistently ate the way I was striving to — finding joy in a plate filled with peak-of-the-season vegetables — I found myself filled with an inner stillness that helped me remain centered moment after moment, day after day.
But getting to and maintaining that focus took tending. Which is what brought me to the mountaintop.
The next day, I sat in the garden at the base of a sunflower that must have been twenty feet tall and went through a half-dozen old journals, looking for patterns and praying over which ones to cultivate and which ones to let go of.
As I read, I noticed how often I berated myself for changing course. I saw echoes of what I’d been told when I was younger, that I was flighty, noncommittal. But now I saw that I wasn’t so much changing course as correcting course, based on new understandings, or, increasingly, how I was feeling led by the spirit.
So I wrote myself a note of compassion. You are constantly evolving, and new things are revealed every day. Life isn’t linear, so stop trying to live it like it is.
I’d started to let go of things a few months earlier, during an orientation for a hybrid online/onsite MBA program I was accepted to at the University of Florida. By the time, I’d gotten down to Gainesville and met my classmates, I was in a full-blown fibromyalgia flare. When we drove out to a challenge course the first day, I struggled just to stay clearheaded enough to keep up with conversation.
And then they led us to a ropes course.
My body was throbbing with exhaustion as I climbed the first two rungs of the rope ladder, which led to a platform high above where we were supposed to walk across two wobbly ropes to another platform. I looked up. I reached for the next rung and my arm screeched with pain. But I couldn’t stop. Everyone was cheering me on. What would they think? How could I let my classmates think I was a quitter or, worse, weak? But then I felt that irrational calm, and an ancient promise was whispered into my mind.
“My power is made perfect in your weakness.”
I hung there, three rungs up on that rope ladder, people’s cheers echoing in my ears, and I thought of my friend Jann’s wise question: what if this time in my life wasn’t about proving how strong I was, but about growing roots into a deeper strength not of my own?
And then, for the first time in my life, I let go. I admitted that I couldn’t do it all.
I climbed down from the ladder, and even more of a miracle, I didn’t berate myself for doing so. Instead, I was grateful for all I could do, recognizing what a big push it had been just to get there at all. I walked away from that challenge course feeling like I had conquered what I was meant to conquer.
Excerpted from: “Nourished: A Memoir of Food, Faith & Enduring Love (with Recipes),” by Lia Huber, published by Convergent, an imprint of PenguinRandom House LLC. Copyright © 2017 by Lia Huber.