In graduate school I had the space to write, read, and to fall in love. Love came fast and furiously with Junot Diaz's Drown, his debut offering of short stories that gave me permission to write the rhythms of my neighborhoods in Los Angeles that were not all lush, honey-colored beaches and swaying in the breeze palm trees. I rekindled an affair with Toni Morrison, J.D. Salinger, and AndreDubus, Jr. It was a time of quiet reflection and a shifting into something unknown until I met John Edgar Wideman's ducking and jabbing Mama from his collection of short stories, God's Gym. In Wideman's story titled Weight, this Mama rocked my quiet world of contemplation and continues to do so. The family Wideman's Mama inherited needs prayer, love, and understanding, but most of all, they need the woman at the helm to be in fighting-ready condition to deal with the life she has been given. Wideman writes:
"My mother is a weightlifter.... Not barbells or dumbbells ... The weights she lifts are burdens−her children's, her neighbors, yours."
Before I found Wideman's fierce and ready to deal mother, I tended to only don my spiritual armor in times of trouble but mostly came up short because my spiritual body was weak and out of shape. No matter how much thoughtful contemplation I give my trials, no matter how many pleas I made to the Universe, I still felt defeated and unsure.
The practice of love, forgiveness, faith, and patience is just that− a practice. The day-to-day stretching and pumping of spiritual iron makes it easier to step into the ring with our wounds, doubts, feelings of unworthiness, victimhood, and fear. The practice of hitting God's gym daily, hourly, and especially when times are good and the going is easy, builds the muscles needed to look uncertainty square in the face.
On my bathroom mirror is a bright, yellow post-it with the words "Choose Love" written with a thick, black Sharpie. I wanted it to stand out because I need to be reminded that love is a practice. Each in-the-moment decision to choose love strengthens my love muscles. Prayer and time spent on my meditation pillow is time well spent in my spiritual gym, but it is not enough. I then have to build on that practice by offering up a parking space in the Wawa parking lot when I see a hurried somebody eager to cut me off, and practice patience when my beautiful eleven year old boy rolls his eyes because I tell him to brush his teeth.
The minute-by-minute practice of consciously choosing within the thousands of choices presented to me each day strengthens my ability to choose love, faith, forgiveness, and patience in both times of trouble and when the going is as easy as the palm trees of my childhood swaying softly in the warmth of a California breeze.