I hope that sharing my own real-life experiences and ponderings while navigating life on a spiritual path will inspire, challenge, encourage and comfort you. And sometimes make you laugh out loud, weep in recognition, or bristle gently with newfound awareness.
I also hope you’ll glimpse a fresh perspective on faith that is real, eminently practical and doesn't make you run for the hills.
If nothing else, maybe my meandering contemplation and shameless sharing will spare you some personal pile-ups. You’re on your own journey, but I can warn you about some of the (occasionally sink-hole-sized) potholes I've encountered and the roadside assistance that bails me out so I can get on with the adventure.
Life this side of heaven is just too hard to go it alone.
Remember: God loves you no matter what.
Born Isabella Campolattaro in Southern California, on the surface, my life seemed really charmed at the onset. My parents, recent transplants from Italy, were both warm, interesting, highly educated people who appeared to be starting an amazing life in the United States, with all the promise of the American Dream.
Yet despite appearances, our family was totally dysfunctional, fraught with substance abuse, secrets, troubled histories, misdirected wealth and ambition, mental illness, isolation and other seeds that foretold disaster. We were an overloaded steam-train barreling fast for the kind of derailment that plows down everything in its path. Unfortunately, this train wreck played out in
slow motion over a period of years with financial ruin, my mom’s mental collapse and homelessness, and my precious older brother dying of a drug overdose among many other things.
An awkward, fear-fueled outlier, I was a consummate, overly responsible good girl who tried hard to fix my family, myself and others—a futile and exhausting job. As a result, I lived a angst-filled double life, seeking comfort in an uneasy ambition to succeed, obsessive control, dysfunctional relationships and booze, all of which left me empty and longing, even while creating their own wreckage.
Through an unlikely series of events and people who showed up in my life, that longing eventually led me to deeply personal spiritual encounter. It's been an extraordinary, event-filled and ongoing journey that has included loads of therapy, many helpful teachers (some stayed, some didn't), a hard-won PhD in self-help, and the essential support of assorted recovery resources.
The trip has involved big detours--a few of which I so wish I could have avoided--but now realize got me where I am today. My sometimes scenic shortcuts still left me wondering what I missed by going my own way. I can't change that.
Life continues to happen, as life is known to do. Yet my own path is one that affirms God’s immense love, creativity and power to transform. Importantly, not so much with my help or outstanding performance, but with my humble surrender, sometimes beaten into it by the mess I make when I think I know best and can make it happen or keep it from happening. Whatever it is.
Well into my journey, I still sometimes struggle with driving my own agenda, pathological self-protection, busyness, relentless self-criticism, and an inclination to fix everything and everyone, including me. Done wore myself out.
Fact is, I have no idea what's best for me, much less you, but I know who does.
This force that steps in when I finally run out of steam is no fluffy abstract, but an undeniably personal and practical resource. A kind and incredibly creative hand, so much gentler than the nasty committee of taskmasters in my busy brain.
Thankfully, I don't hang out in those dark places nearly as long; my pain threshold is much lower than it used to be. I'm enjoying every minute of life more than I could have ever imagined and I have tools to use when the old demons stir. Because they still do.
For me, the answer lies in simple faith in an unconditionally loving supreme power as the answer to every problem, the key to personal growth and purpose, and the only way to attain lasting peace, joy and above all, real freedom. To be. To be fully me.
Try your own higher power, or feel free to share mine. (He loves everyone and offers some pretty awesome sign-up incentives.)
Mind you, we don't earn anything through rules, religion or exhausting, self-saving effort--and all the collateral damage that inflicts on us and others. Who needs that? No, we get it through empty-handed acceptance of someone who knows us, wants the best for us, and loves us no matter what.
In fact, it's really all about love, but it's both easier and way harder than it seems. Deep.
I have found that the price of admission to this amazingly abundant life is pain. Sometimes agonizing pain. I really, really wish I could skip that part, but I personally could not. It's not cruel or punitive pain, just the pain that comes with honestly facing our hurts, our part and our true selves, so that even the best of us can recognize how very, very badly we need saving. Every day.
I've also found there's much more pain, time and needless effort in resisting.
However, on the other side of the pain is unfettered lightness of being, full of fearless wonder, hope, peace and joy. Freedom!
When Jesus died on the cross he said, "It's finished."
It really is. Because we simply cannot pull it off ourselves.
That's really Good News.
I remain a work in progress. So are you. That's OK.