Burning | The Story of Arkitekt

A letter from Trinity

loss and grief 3.jpg

Arkitekt started because I tried to create the thing I longed to find in the world.

I needed a place where I could be seen and heard and held without apology, judgment or agenda, without anyone trying to fix me or make it better or convince me out of my feelings. I needed a place where I could practice being myself, my real self, the me inside of the me I sent out into the world.

The way I see it, it's only a matter of time before our ideas about life and who we are come crashing down.

When this happens, when events align like falling dominoes to bring us to our knees, we have two options:

1. Get up off our knees.  Frantically reassemble the life.  Keep on doing the thing. 

2. Let the falling apart happen.  Choose to sit in the rubble of what was your life. Keep your eyes open. Breathe.  

Historically, I've done a great job choosing Option 1.  

But ten years ago, my idea of my marriage fell apart, along with my ideas about everything else: God, self, community, womanhood, motherhood, purpose.

I was 29 years old. I had a 3 year old, a 2 year old, and I was 6 weeks pregnant with my 3rd child.  

Four years earlier, I had released my dream of becoming an actor/singer and movement-based theatre director so that I could pursue making a life with the man I loved. I went back to school to become a licensed educator, got a teaching job in a local high school, got married, and got pregnant.

It was like waking up one day on the adult side of the bed and wondering how the hell I got there.

I felt like I was supposed to be happy in this new life, but I wasn't. I didn’t know how to be domestic and I’d never seen myself as a homemaker or, for that matter, a mother. I felt lost and scared. And then I felt ungrateful and ashamed and stupid for feeling lost and scared. So I did what I'd always done when the feelings got to be too much to handle- I stuffed all of it and pretended things were fine.

I quit teaching, decided to stay home with my firstborn, and quickly cobbled together five part-time jobs, partly because we needed the money but mostly in an effort to prove to myself that I wasn't just a mom who sat at home eating bonbons and nursing. Five months after I birthed my son, I got pregnant again with my second.

When I look back on that season, what I remember is trying so hard to be good.

I was trying to be a good mom, a good wife, a good Christian, a good businesswoman, a good friend, a good person. Set a good example, be a good leader, do it right, keep a smile on your face and if you start to get scared, distract yourself by adding in another activity.

I decided this must be what life was supposed to look like. This was upward mobility, this was domestic security. This was my own little corner of the American Dream and I should feel nothing but lucky and blessed. The niggling sense that there had to be more, that something at the core was missing, was a mark of my ingratitude and I should be ashamed of myself.

And then my partner started pursuing a relationship with someone at his work. It was short-lasting, did not culminate in what is classically called (and ill-named) a full-blown affair, and once it came out into the open, he was willing to do whatever it took to make repair.

But I was devastated.

I'd given up my dreams for this partnership. I'd let go of everything that used to define me because I believed so much in what we were going to create together. And this is what I get in return?

It wasn’t just the betrayal, although that brought me face to face with all the fear and insecurity I’d been running from. What I really had to stare down was my privilege and my comfort.

I'd lived with an equation that had never before been proven wrong: be good and life will be good to you.

The only reason this equation worked up to this point was that I'd been able to purchase or charm or earn my way into the things I wanted. I'd been able to insulate myself from pain and because of this, I’d maintained the illusion of control and capability.

Without my permission, some cosmic hand had reached down and ripped the veil that stood between the life I’d made and my actual life, the self I’d created and my actual self, and I was faced with the bald truth. I did not know anything about anything.

None of my activity had protected me from pain. My capability had not earned me unconditional love. My striving had not made me safe. My hustle had not proved my worth.

Whatever I was trying to get by being good was bullshit.

The whole thing was a house of cards.

I knew I could never go back to how things used to be but neither could I see the way forward.

i couldn’t mobilize myself into action. I couldn’t pretend things were going to be ok. And because I was pregnant, I also could not self-destruct.

I couldn’t do anything.

i had to let myself feel what I was feeling which was the thing I’d been managing to avoid for twenty-nine years.

It was the most terrible relief of my life.

Everything I'd defined myself by had fallen away and I was stripped bare, sitting in the rubble with nothing but my heartbeat and my breath and somehow, it was enough. I was enough.

And then this miraculous thing happened.

A few good women sat down with me, right in the middle of it.  

One friend found me a therapist, made the appointment, and made sure I showed up.  An older woman in my spiritual community offered me free weekly life coaching.  Another woman invited me into a yearlong once-a-month mentoring program.  Another woman met with my partner and I for a year of inner healing work and counseling.

One of my mom's best friends (who would become a guide for me) gave me the book The Human Condition by Thomas Keating, and another friend sent me a TED talk by Brene Brown on vulnerability.

I was not alone.

And what I was experiencing did not mean I had done something wrong or lost my way.

In fact, it was starting to seem like this falling apart was the way. 

After a year of painstakingly picking through the rubble of what was my life, it became clear there was a deep disconnection between who I was becoming and how I was living. If my partner and I wanted to make a new kind of life together that reflected our insides, everything on the outside had to change.

We moved out of our suburban townhouse in June 2010 and became nomads for the next year and a half, making home in such varied places as a double wide trailer on a tiny island off the coast of North Carolina; housesitting and living out of boxes in a British friend’s split-level in the woods of Virginia; 450 square feet on the 2nd floor of my Dad’s office building with air mattresses stuffed under desks and a pack n play in a closet; and our vanagon and tent while on the road between destinations. My partner applied for jobs in all kinds of places, convinced a door would eventually open.

But nothing happened.

January 2011 rolled around, a new year, a new beginning, and I needed reassurance that I wasn’t crazy for leaving behind everything I’d known and going down this little traveled path, dragging my kids along with me.

I needed people who would help me keep feeling my feelings and I needed a place to tell the truth.

So my mother and my mentor and I decided to invite twelve women to join us for a day where we would pick a WORD over our year and share the significance of that WORD in a small communal circle.

We gathered on a Saturday morning in early January and stayed till late in the afternoon, speaking our hopes and fears out loud while we ate soup and listened to each other.  Woman after woman cried as deep soul truths rose to the surface and found voice.

This holy, beautiful thing took shape right in front of us- this remembering, this ancient way of being.

We called it V-Day, for vulnerability, vision, and vagina; it was the precursor to Arkitekt.  

We met two more times during 2011 and we were all changed by bearing witness to each other's honesty and courage.  

I picked Harvest for my WORD of the year, believing for beauty out of ashes, a season of joy after so much difficulty.

But on November 6th of that same year, while my family was at church listening to a sermon on how to live a good story instead of a safe and successful story, our house caught on fire.

I was 39 weeks pregnant with my 4th child.

We lost many of our belongings- nursery up in flames, clothes ruined by smoke and water, pantry gone, furniture gone, books burned, art burned, plants burned.

Buddy, our twelve year old red lab, died trying to suck in air from under the front door. 

I went into labor a week and a half later, having an unplanned home birth on the bedroom floor of our temporary housing situation because we couldn't get to the hospital in time.

My partner delivered our baby with the same hands he'd used to bury our dog and dig through the rubble of what had been our life.

We named our son Phoenix.  

house+after+fire.jpg

The outpouring of support we received in the aftermath of our fire was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. We were surrounded by community, many of them strangers who gave of themselves with wasteful, wild generosity. Nobody asked us to prove whether we were worthy of receiving support or what our game plan was for rebuilding. Nobody vetted us to make sure we would be good stewards of their donations.

They just gave.

We moved four more times within the next eight months, making a total of nine moves from June 2010 (when we’d first moved out of our home) to July 2012 when we moved across the country to Fort Collins, Colorado. The door had finally opened but we knew no one on the other side of it.

Not surprisingly, I got deeply depressed.

There I was in the rubble again, only this time I didn't have any women to help me and no community to hold me together. Nobody knew me. Nobody cared.

There was no safety net woven by years of living somewhere to keep me from falling down a deep, dark hole.

So this time it was my partner who got me out of bed and found a spiritual community for us to join even though meeting people was the very last thing I wanted to do.

I met a woman in that community who introduced me to a few other women, and when January 2013 came around, six months after I moved to Fort Collins, I decided to invite those four women (since they were the only women I knew) to a Colorado V-Day. 

It was what I knew to do: show up, even if it was the last thing I felt like doing. Try to tell the truth even though I didn’t have the energy to put words into sentences. Try to feel my feelings, even though my feelings felt like torture.

It was the turning point.  

We laughed and ugly cried and saw and held each other, and once again, I knew I was not alone.

V-Day continued every month through the rest of 2013.

It became a place where I experienced the truth that I was loved without having to do anything to earn it. It became my life line, my safety net, the touchstone reminder of what matters and who I am and how I don’t have to do this life alone. It became a practice of radical presence, compassionate listening, and spiritual awakening.

Web Sidebars-05.jpg

In September 2014, Carly and I combined V-Day with a thing she'd created for empowering women called M.I.T., and we called our thing Arkitekt. We met every month with twenty women for one year and at the end of that year seven new gatherings started in our city, including our first gathering for a more diverse spiritual population.

Arkitekt started because we all need places where we can practice becoming more human.  

The foundation was laid in the soil of disillusionment and surrender. It rose out of the ground of loss and isolation, provision and presence. It continues to be built by women with the conviction to create a framework for spiritual and communal consciousness.

Arkitekt is more than a self-help program or a woman’s empowerment circle.  It is a way back home.  

It is a declaration that when we press in to the painful places instead of trying to deny them or avoid them or hide from them, we find ourselves, we find LOVE, and we find each other.