"Well," he answered cheerily, "the only way to develop hinds' feet is to go by the paths which the hinds' use---like this one." Much-Afraid trembled and looked at him shamefacedly. "I don't think I want hinds' feet if it means I have to go on a path like that, " she said slowly and painfully. Instead of looking either disappointed or disapproving, the Shepherd actually laughed again. "Oh, yes you do," he said cheerfully. "I know you much better than you know yourself, Much-Afraid. You want it very much, indeed and I promise you these hinds' feet.          --excerpt from Hinds Feet on High Places, by Hannah Hurnard

I had not been wearing my wedding ring for some time before I took it off for the last time. 

The starkness of my unadorned ring finger struck me with loneliness and freedom and happiness and fear.

But there was a certain feeling that surprised me: shame. 

Shame because I was no longer someone's wife. I attuned to my loss of status in a society that at best, is suspicious of single women, and at worst maligns them as cougars, spinsters, witches and whores. Single women embody the shadow of our collective unconscious.

My shame was not entirely unimagined. I was asked to leave a birthday party that my ex-husband was also attending. Not him, me. 

The sobs that overtook me as I sat in my car that day connected me to my sisters from this time and all times across time that have been cast out.

We all have crutches. Things, ideas, identities, anything really, that we use to cover up painful feelings or realities. I confess I was using the "wifely identity" to cope with insecurity--and a fear of taking care of myself. In the female world, marriage is the ultimate "somebody wants me" validation. (In gentleness with myself, I also recognize that a woman's marital status has, for thousands of years been directly tied to her actual survival--that emotional legacy is tough to un-do).  

But there's been an amazing process that has happened as I have sloughed off the false self--the self I was for everyone else--the self that could have stayed at the party: I have become more beautiful. I don't mean beautiful like the commercials. I mean the kind of beautiful that makes you feel alive. I have become more beautiful as I embrace the imperfections and the darkness and all the mess. 

Soon after my divorce, at the height of my shame and self pity I felt ugly--rejected--and unwanted. A beautiful sister of mine said to me, "Brookie, I know you feel ugly, but there is something really beautiful developing right now and one day you will see it, too." It was hard to believe her.

The beauty she saw in me was truth.

I became more beautiful as I began to honor the truth of who I was. As I settled into the tenderness of my grief, the fierceness of my rage, the excitement of my hope, the audacity of my courage, and the preciousness of my love, my heart could more clearly be seen by those around me--and hearts--both yours and mine--are INHERENTLY beautiful and magnetic.

All we have to do to be beautiful is to clear away the shit. And sometimes that shit is sparkly. 

But here is the painful truth: some people want your sparkly shit. They prefer the false version of you. The one that will make them feel more comfortable. When you become beautiful, not everyone will acknowledge it--they might even malign it because it challenges them to leave the valley of fear, too. Not only is that okay, you should expect it and accept it as a part of the spiritual journey.

When I read Hinds Feet on High Places years ago, I connected to Much-Afraid--it was as though Hannah had read my mind and created a character that said my thoughts and fears right there on the pages. I have been "much-afraid" to follow the great Shepard. The way of Love and Beauty always confounds us. It is rarely what we expect. It is generally uncomfortable and difficult. For peet's sake--the "companions" she is given for the spiritual journey are the cloaked figures named "Sorrow" and "Suffering." Great. Sign me up. 

But what she learns, and what we all learn, is that joy is only found by also knowing sorrow. By connecting to your own sorrow and others', you synchronously experience the profound joy of deep connection and intimacy.

I limped when I first let go of my crutches--but with each passing day, as I traverse the rocky path that the graceful hinds tread, I feel my legs lengthen and stretch and metamorphose into the truest beauty I have ever felt.