The Little Light in You: Finding the Essence of Who You Are

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Light. The essence of who we are. It is that vulnerable and life-sustaining heartbeat of our identity. Our little lights shape our perspectives, form our systems of meaning about the world, and drive our dearest dreams and passions.

As a child, my light was evident even when I was very young. I had fantastically supportive parents who supported us each to become all that we were capable of becoming. My light was (and still is) a whirling mixture of unbridled altruism, compassion, and fairness. By about six years old, I was saving all of my money to “save the rainforest.” I created posters, decorated informational brochures and spent quite a bit of my time digging through couch cushions for spare change to fuel the cause. I was burned and driven by how unfair it was that trees and animals could be destroyed for selfish interests. And by six years old I thought, We can do better than this.

It didn’t take me long to realize that, although my parents were never short of all-embracingly supportive, not everyone shared or understood my light. I still remember handing people the colorful posters and some adults smiling that how-sweet-and-how-bizarre-she-isn’t-just-playing-with-the-other-kids kind of smile. I remember how that hurt. I guess that’s because I wasn’t handing them a poster, I was handing them my light, that vulnerable little essence of me. I still remember kids laughing at me in kindergarten or snorting, “Who cares about the rainforest and humpback whales anyway?” It hurts all the same, light smothering does.

As I grew, my passions and causes changed to encompass more child and poverty related endeavors but my light (that essence of me that fueled it all) never changed. Even as an adult not everyone notices, understands, or supports your light. People will laugh at me, interrupt me, make incentive jokes, laugh at other people’s insensitive jokes, tell me it won’t matter anyway, encourage me to “lighten up” (oh the irony), and say things the equivalent to a pat on the head and a “shushing” finger to my lips. Hell sometimes just saying your social worker gets me the Oh my gosh she must have bed bugs expression.

Light smothering.

And you probably know as well as I do… it feels terrible. It’s an attack on that very essence of you, that light of your being that has been with you since you first opened your eyes to this world.

The good news is there are opportunities to notice and nurture light in ourselves and others every day. Every time we notice or nurture the light in someone else, we create an environment of acceptance and safety and their little light shines a little brighter. You don’t have to agree with someone to notice or nurture their light either. Sometimes you will have to look past years of hurt and walls created because of all the light smothering someone has experienced.

Like that 13 year old girl that tells you she isn’t coming to therapy today with a middle finger and a seriously salty attitude. The six year old with a trauma history who destroys the classroom on the first day of school. The guy who cuts you off in traffic then throws a McDonald’s bag of trash out the window. There are times when it’s hard to see the light in others.

Light smothering creates a world full of children and adults who don’t feel safe. A world of people who create armor and walls to protect that little light within them that has been hurt so badly, so many times. The armor and walls can be anything from isolation to outward aggression. When we choose to see people this way though, as the hurt and suffering guards of their light, can change the way we approach and respond to them. It can help us to look all the more carefully and mindfully for opportunities to create spaces where people feel safe to expose their light. Spaces and relationships where people can expose their light to have it noticed, nurtured, and celebrated.

Example

A young boy excitedly brings in a beetle he found outside to his mother. He thinks the beetle is hurt and is very concerned (compassion). Mother can respond in a variety of ways, some light smothering and some light nurturing.

Response 1: Mother shrieks (because she hates insects, especially beetles) and exclaims “Ew honey bring that back outside!” Light smothering.

Response 2: She glances too quickly to even notice the insect cradled in her child’s hands and gives a dismissive “Uh huh. That’s nice. Please get out of the kitchen so I can make dinner.” Light smothering.

Response 3: Mother sees the light in her child, knows his compassion, takes a few breaths and mindfully responds, despite her dislike for insects. She bends down on his eye level puts a hand on his shoulder and says, “Wow, this looks so important to you.” Light noticing. “I can see you really care about the beetle. Let me help you get a box and maybe we can see if it starts feeling better later today.” Light nurturing.

Light noticing and nurturing creates a world of people who feel safe. A world of people who know who they are and grow to become all they are capable of becoming. People who make the world better just by letting their light shine.

So to all you light smotherers out there, stop it. Please just stop it. Know your own light and allow it the space to forgive and heal for all the times it’s been hurt too. And once you have, I invite you to take a deep breath, become mindfully present, and respond through a new perspective.

To all of you who notice and nurture the essence of others every day, thank you. Please know that what you do matters. You make the world better, one little light at a time.

So today… May you be filled with light and love. May you experience goodness, and may you extend more goodness back into the world.

Let your little light shine…

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The Parasites that Restored My Perspective

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When you have worms everything starts looking like worms. A string hanging off of your work blouse, a strangely twirly twig on the trail you’re hiking, your half-assed signature, spaghetti. But even weirder than how the thoughts of your parasites can consume you is the fact that at some point you had them and didn’t know it. That at some point you fell into the routine of life with no awareness of what was really happening inside of you. That’s the danger of comfort and routine I guess, that you can become so numb you don’t even know that something is terribly wrong.

It was a few days after returning from our volunteer/adventuring trip to Uganda Africa when I first noticed something was wrong. Ironically enough, we were sitting in my parent’s living room, visiting and watching go-pro footage of our Nile River rafting trip. My mom was sitting on the edge of her seat as if she were watching live footage and any moment would be the moment she finally loses her eldest and always uncomfortably incautious daughter to chasing another thrill.

“Oh my gosh! Jimmy did you see that?” My mother exclaimed. My father gave an affirming nod, obviously not quite as entrenched in the emotions of the video as my mother.
A stabbing pain in my side caused me inadvertently to hunch over and press both hands into the pain.
My wonderfully over-attuned and always worrying mother noticed before I did.
“Kristina are you okay? What’s wrong?”
I looked down at my hands curiously, as if just noticing I was in some kind of pain.
“I umm, I have no idea…”

After some discussion and the ruling out of an appendicitis, I did what I do best, get the attention off of me. Popcorn was made and video watching resumed. Some things in life are like that I guess. A sharp stab then you learn to ignore it. You go through the motions. You forget.

Forgetting can be dangerous though. The sharp stab wasn’t all I forgot. Once the video watching was complete and trip stories had been told to all interested, life went back to normal. I started back to work. I could shower and forget how awesome it is to have hot water, or even to have water, period. I could throw away leftovers without becoming sick at the thought of all those in the world who would give anything to have them. I complained when my air conditioner broke. I cursed at people in traffic. First world problems slowly started to seem like actual problems again. I could go days without thinking of the smiling faces of the children who have touched my heart in Uganda. Children who had every right to complain, but never did. Children who’s happiness was internal, intrinsically intertwined with their very being.

But weeks later, the ache had found new areas of my abdomen to settle in. The pain came and went and I noticed and forgot, an endless cycling dance. It wasn’t until the pain woke me in the night and I laid awake for hours imagining the Hungry Hungry Caterpillar children’s story playing out in my insides, that I finally broke down and called a doctor.

Moments after I shared my symptoms and recent travel history with the nurse, a bright eyed and bushy tailed physician entered the room. You would’ve thought I had come in with the cure for all diseases or something with how excited everyone was over my parasite-possible case. Northern Kentucky family doctors must not have many interesting patients to meet with. It wasn’t long before residents and students joined the team, and within minutes, I became everyone’s favorite specimen and next research topic.

My physician was bubbling over with excitement as he explained my pain was more than likely egg sacks of thousands of some unpronounceable parasite bursting in my organs. How can you smile and tell someone that? I remember thinking. But, before I knew it, we were both sitting there, awkwardly smiling. Smiling and talking about bursting egg sacks. I am sure I ended up in at least one med student’s dissertation. The Egg Sack Bursting, Nile River Rafting Patient, hell I’d even read it.

After a couple of months, two ER visits, several infectious disease appointments, numerous labs and many awkward photos shared with overly enthralled doctors later, it was determined I “had a few different parasites” and an intestinal infection likely caused from my parasite-filled-and-suppressed immune system.

Through the process I even learned first hand that there are reasons other than pregnancy to go to the hospital with your husband to get an ultrasound. That instead of crying with joy at the sight of a tiny human, there could be silent horror as all parties stare at the glowing screen in the dark imaging room, looking for aliens.

The funny thing was after all of that you would have thought the final prescription would have felt like the holy grail.
The fountain of youth.
The. Cure. Finally.

But it didn’t.

After eagerly picking up the supposed final prescription, racing home to get some fluid to take it with, I instead found myself pouring a glass of water, sitting at the kitchen table, and spinning the unopened prescription bottle around. Around and around. I watched as the text on the labeled side of the bottle became a blur. The past two months had been a blur. A blur of doctors, specialists, pharmacists and awkward conversations (where after having one too many drinks) I admit to near strangers my being pregnant with worms.

But as I sat there spinning, I thought of Uganda. I thought of the red dusty earth the beautiful soul-filled smiles. The simple living. The gratefulness despite any amount suffering. It’s funny how we can be inspired and changed for the better then allow ourselves to fall back into the comfort of first-world-living and that mindless routine that makes you think you somehow have the right to complain.

There would be hundreds, thousands of people in the world with the same parasites and infections as me but no options. No bushy tailed doctors, no ultrasounds, no “final” prescriptions. If my parasites had given me anything, it was perspective. They had reminded me of the true danger of forgetting.

Before I took that first pill though, I did something. I found a photo of smiling faces of some of the Ugandan children I volunteer with. I studied the photo. The early afternoon light splayed out over gleaming smiles, bright eyes, and the almost unnoticeable scars and over-delineated jawlines and cheekbones that marked a life that had been and always would be, harder than mine.

In that moment I thanked the parasites. I vowed to be sure to never lose perspective. I vowed to always remember the gratefulness in those smiles. And I prayed for the ongoing drive and perseverance to serve all people everywhere while allowing myself to be forever changed, for the better, along the way.

And as I sat there,  I vowed to never forget.

Thank you for reading! If you feel so compelled to help people with preventable and treatable health conditions across the globe, consider a donation to UNICEF.
https://www.unicefusa.org