“There is a sacred quality to words. They are not information but revelation.”
— Eugene Peterson
I believe every person is on a spiritual journey. In as much as we are human, we are spiritual beings. Pierre Teilhard De Chardin put it like this: “We are not human beings on a spiritual journey. We are spiritual beings on a human journey.”
That has completely been my experience. De Chardin wrote that everything is sacred because God is shown throughout creation. My life might seem quite insignificant in the grand scheme of the cosmos, but human endeavors are epiphanies of the reality of God’s presence. Though we may, at different times in our life, walk toward or away from belief or what I call faith in an “other” we each walk a unique path of belief and disbelief. This journey depends on the individual , the people who influence them, and their spiritual openness and experiences with God.
Organized religion, actually, has ruined the journey of many beautifully spiritual people who I have known. It has hurt them. Destroyed their fledgling hope in a power greater than themselves. Fortunately for me, organized religion has been a process that has been good, bad and indifferent but not completely horrible.
As a child
I quite easily and naturally believed in the God of John 3:16, the first Bible verse I memorized. My parents very forthrightly and consistently did things like thanking God for our food. They gave God credit for home, food, and health, and they knelt in supplication to God for their needs. God was their source. They gave God all the credit for anything good and never blamed God for difficulties. Strangely enough, in my childlike perception, they seemed to live well because of knowing God. We never wanted for anything, although we were never well off. God took care of us. Yes, I believed that.
In my teens, I found I couldn’t relate to the God that I heard about at church, a southern United Methodist congregation who gave people the gift of speaking on tongues, but not me. Who was powerful, immediate and super-charged. I was full of longing and unrequited need, but I never found whatever I was hoping for in those years. I was never confident of my “salvation” in my teens. I knew my crooked heart — my huge insecurities. I knew I was a bad person, so how could any kind of smart God love me?
I was pretty confident that God was real, but I couldn’t accept that Jesus had died on the cross just for me. No way! I didn’t fully believe it until my forties. Yeah, wow, that is a long time. Looking back I realize this means that I did not “believe” but then it was ritual that carried me along. I found acceptance in the church, but not faith.
During those years my father was constantly yelling. Arguing with my mom about every little thing; like us kids, or mom’s spending of money, the house being a mess, or our grades. (When I say arguing with I really mean arguing at, because my mom never argued, rarely defended herself or her children and never fought back.) He had a generous heart, but he also had this unresolved anger — his Achilles — and although he had a strong faith, a great influence with his life, he never managed to change that behavior or allow God to change him in that area. This was irreconcilable to me.
(And then I think of the things I have such trouble giving up: my addictions, …. Did I hold him to a higher standard? An impossible one? More on that later.)
Perhaps, but this became a hurdle for me spiritually that probably took thirty or more years for me to resolve within myself. It hurt me. I had trouble with the belief that God was all-powerful and could heal, because he never healed my Father of his anger addiction. And what Dad was doing to us was destructive, and cruel, and just plain mean. Dad would be apologizing for the destructiveness of his anger, but it was clearly not a true repentance. I know what repentance means — it is a spiritual u-turn. A changed behavior. He never changed. Some would say that he began to change in his late fifties and early sixties. I did not see evidence of it, though I was spending less and less time with him.
This spiritual disconnect altered me and impaired my foundational sense of God. God didn’t change Dad’s anger addiction … Admittedly I have always been über sensitive — a harsh look from my father would crumble me into tears when I was little. For years I was afraid to talk, to speak up in groups or pray aloud. I don’t know how I made it through school. Perhaps that was a factor in my parent’s frustrations, and my father’s anger, about why such a bright kid did poorly in school. Early on, I think I was too scared to talk and later simply no longer cared or believed in myself enough. And looking back over records I discovered that I wasn’t a bad student so it is amazing to me that I got the message that I wasn’t good enough, ever, academically or otherwise.
It’s a tangent, my academic success, but it’s also central. Deep, deep down I still fight to believe I have good enough ideas, can express myself adequately, or should be trying to say anything unique. Down there, in the scary place of self-love or in my case -loathing, I have always hated myself. That’s no exaggeration. In part, why I succumbed to alcoholism, to depression, to constant fear & anxiety.
What changed? What dragged my sorry ass out of that morose place? I can say I began listening for God’s voice because I needed to hear it so badly. When I started listening, God spoke and when I responded (i.e. obeyed) my crooked heart was encircled by God. It’s still crooked but God continues to smooth out the roughness and my life is different. This is an almost daily thing.
In those early years
I was guided down my spiritual path by a youth pastor (Julian “Hule” Goddard) that helped by answering each annoying question I had about matters of faith. I had many doubts. I’d sit behind him as he drove the bus on various trips and ask all my questions. He conveyed to me that they were alright to ask and that he loved my questions!
A love, passion, desire, even craving for the scriptures started then and has been with me as long as I can remember. I have always loved looking up original meaning and intent and when I learn those things it is as if something inside me grows. A spiritual person was developing inside me even then. One that got stronger each time I studied. It is difficult even for this wordsmith to find the words to express this but a similar experience happens when I pray. And The the combination of prayer and study of the Bible, for me, are transformational. I am a different person as a result.
And then I grew up and
I never felt farther from God than I did in the thirteen years that I worked at a Christian organization. I would say my faith was conjecture. I saw evidence of others’ faith and believed in that, but not in a God that has personal encounters with me. Even as I floundered I felt dead inside. I was afraid, working for Christians, when I knew there was no evidence in my life that I had a personal relationship with Christ. I was afraid to pray. I even refused to pray with my husband when we were first married, though I never said truthfully why. Knowing my background, of being controlled all those years, he wisely didn’t insist though I know that it created sadness for him.
I knew nothing about addiction until my thirties when I began to see the results of alcohol addiction in my family. I wasn’t cognizant of it before that, though a friend mentioned that he was the third gen in an alcoholic family and chose not to drink. I was curious about, that but didn’t give it a lot of thought because I rarely drank in my twenties or the early years of marriage. It was when we began to socialize with other couples in our neighborhood that I found there was always a bottle of wine (or five) involved, mixed drinks, open bar which proved to be more than I could resist.
My parents regularly had wine at the dinner table and I would have a glass, but in those days I found that wine made me feel “funky” or down. At that time I didn’t want more. I usually regretted drinking at all having a naturally melancholy tendency and didn’t need any help. But it was always available and one’s glass was never empty at my parent’s place in Colorado.
We visited there for my parent’s 40th wedding anniversary. It was a horrible weekend for the entire extended family, with a huge altercation breaking out, on our last night together. My dad announced that he was “giving up the dream of moving to Beijing, China” because the pollution in the city would have been dangerous for my mom. She has a condition called Sarcoidosis of the lungs. Someone made the mistake (I’m willing to say it was me, but honestly I don’t remember) of saying that mom had given up her dreams over and over for him for the forty years of their marriage. Dad went ballistic that we weren’t more empathetic to his feelings, a long argument broke out and then, finally, dad pouted shamelessly for the rest of the visit. He made everyone else miserable which was his mode in this type of situation. When I finally apologized, at Tom’s encouragement and in order to make peace, dad told me I didn’t apologize “correctly” for him (probably because I was saying it with bile in my mouth) and he was still angry.
finding my voice
I guess that story is important because it was fairly typical. We did something that “made” him angry and then we end up apologizing. I had so much I needed to say to my father. I wanted to tell him he had gone too far this time. I wanted this to be the excuse for walking away from him. For saying STOP. I wanted to say that he had gone too far and I couldn’t see him any more. But Tom’s encouragement to apologize, instead of what I wanted to do, was compelling (and right). And I was not very strong, so I did. At some point in my life I knew I would have to stand up to my father. But not that day.
But I never did do that before he died. I guess, no I KNOW my poetry is a small but important stance against what he did, even with him dead. My way of telling my part of the story. And in writing, I am being healed. Slowly I am peeling away the layers of hurt by writing down my experiences. Some day I may come to a place where I find myself well. In a way, I am afraid of that day. My need makes me open. My weakness makes me stronger because I can depend on someone greater than myself.
I did tell my father, finally, the day before his brain surgery how much he had hurt me over my life. (I write about that here.) I feel I got the one genuine moment of grief, expressed by him, when I did that. I know from reading his notebook, that he felt a great deal of pain from what I shared. But doing that made it possible for me to serve him and my mom, as he was dieing, to care for him and to speak genuinely and yet respectfully at his funeral.
and then I was a falling down drunk
During those years I found myself drinking too much but it just resulted in stumbling to bed and dealing with a hangover the next morning. How may Sundays did I sit in church totally hungover, in pain spiritually, emotionally and physically, and full of remorse. Too many to count.
Over the years, as I was dealing with a major depression, I began to drink more and more. I didn’t like being a stay-at-home mom, I missed the purposefulness of work, and I got depressed in a serious way. Ironically, in the recovery period from depression I started drinking more. With alcohol being a depressant, this was seriously unwise. But when are drunks wise?
Five o’clock couldn’t come soon enough! And over time, the occasional glass became a shared bottle three or four times a week. That led to drinking every day, sometimes harder stuff, like Gin or Vodka which can be so easily disguised with something innocuous. And we began hosting parties, a lot of parties, in those years.
About the time my father got sick, and then died, I started smoking. I got my nose pierced. I wasn’t reliving adolescence but rather starting to express myself for the first time. I don’t know how it is all connected but it is. And smoking and drinking became a daily pattern. Neither are wrong in and of themselves, in my opinion, just ways of coping that were unhealthy. I became more attracted to my habits than is easy to admit.
A slow recovery, a melting of my heart occurred as we began to attend a different church. At this new church I would hear talks from the pulpit that I made sense, were real in an intellectual and mystical way. I felt like this kind of faith I might be able to get my heart around. I was in Bible studies with women that kept me searching, seeking and through that I didn’t completely lose my meager faith. Over time, in a process that I can’t completely explain except to say that it was beautiful and profound I became open. I was hurt, and lost, and self-medicating. From that broken, openness God began to reveal himself to me.
I carried tons of pain through out my life — hard childhood, deep, deep insecurities, being a really lousy step-mother, being a perceived failure academically and not doing anything significant with my life, being a broken lover, a sarcastic and mean sister, I essentially hated my parents and yet was profoundly dependent on them even working for my dad for a number of years, my first experience of falling in love had ended in rejection. I had concluded I was unlovable. Bottom line, I had no idea how badly I hated myself. And I thought God somehow hated me.
But I can see God’s big and loving hands on my life: the healer, the potter, the painter, the creator was at work on me. I know that I would not have learned the things that I have about myself and about God if I had stayed at work. Work filled the hole most of the time. And I replaced work with shopping (another story for another day), and other things along the way and then finally alcohol.
For forty years,
I equated all the pain I had experienced with God’s care for me and it didn’t feel very good. I was hurt and angry. And ready to tell God to f-off! Well, being a drunk is pretty much the last place you’d expect to meet God, but turns out Jesus hung out with people like me. He kind of preferred the messed up. My story changed at that point to one of personal redemption.
I was experiencing postpartum depression, I was coming off being a workaholic to being a full-time nursing mom of three in diapers. My identity issues which had trailed after me all my life flared their ugly head and all of a sudden I felt irrelevant. When dad got sick with brain tumors I was trying to figure out if I should go on an antidepressant which was a heart wrenching decision and at the same time I discovered I was pregnant. I flew off to Colorado to be with my parents, knowing I was pregnant and clinically depressed. I did finally go on the medication. And for four days I considered an abortion. Other than feeling I was an unfit mother, I don’t know where the thoughts of aborting the baby came from but six weeks later the baby self-aborted. A miscarriage. In the end dad passed away and my mother got help at Hazelton.
things got ugly-er
And I was back with the problems I had before it all started. Still depressed, confused, lonely, insecure and angry. Still drinking daily and waking up hung over. I began to have blackouts after being in settings where the alcohol was flowing. Having a family history of alcoholism, I have learned, means 1 in 4 are likely to become an alcoholic. So, I got it and it meant that I did NOT have that internal meter most people have that says you should slow down, or stop now… After two drinks, … I go blank. No conscience. No internal meter. No memory of past bad experiences. No care. Not one. Nada. Just the next drink.
I recall one party where we had colored rubber bands to mark our glass. I thought it would be funny to add a rubber band for each glass of wine we drank, so I did. At nine bands, Tom told me it was time to go home. I remember wondering why? We just got here. Was I behaving strangely? When we got home I passed out in our bedroom, which my kids saw, and vomited all over the bed.
Believe it or not, but even then I was denying my problem. The next day, I would feel bad and have remorse, have those “I never do that again” thoughts or internal conversations. But, I couldn’t stop myself. It was just a matter of time.
I don’t think my drinking problem would have gotten so far if I had a full-time job. I hardly drank when I was working. And I do believe looking back that the opportunity for ‘abuse’ came with too much time on my hands, boredom, the stress of little ones under foot, the genetic propensity, the almost manic depression that I was getting help for at the same time. But also the pit in my soul, that hurt so badly, which I was trying to ignore. To cover up. To make go away.
I thank Tom and
I am grateful that I had the last ten years to slow down enough to actually know and feel my feelings ; to stop achieving long enough to realize how badly I felt about myself. When I was working I was a maniacal over-worker. If I had a slow day I would get this crazy black cloud over me that I had to run from and so I just kept running. Doing. Achieving. I stopped feeling. I stopped believing in the purpose of my job. I stopped experiencing God. My faith was so disintegrated at that point that I remember feeling I had better leave, before someone finds out what a hypocrite I am. I was constantly fearing that someone would pull the wool off and I’d be revealed for the fake I knew I was.
A part of that while I was working at InterVarsity was allowing pettiness and bitterness to dominate me. I overworked people. I knew there were people on my team who were hurting and I didn’t know how to help them, so I didn’t. I just took on new things, projects, areas of influence and control, because like my father that is where I felt competence. I was too proud to ask for help. And the few times I did ask for help, I was so filled with bitterness and anger that it is no wonder no one could hear me, understand the issues and resolve anything. I disparaged those that I felt were my competitors. I grew bitter. I allowed anger to dominate me. What a hypocrite.
I stopped listening for God and wasted so much time with my dark heart issues. Strangely I am glad I fell on my face cause when I looked up God was there . I have sought forgiveness. And I am slowly coming alive spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and in a mystical way I am finding my voice. For the first time in my life, as I write I see myself for who I really am and I am being healed from the pain I have carried all my life. I have a voice. I create things. I create beauty in my garden, in my photography, in my words.
For each of us, every day is an opportunity to step toward God, and the life of the spirit, or away.
Even with my belief , I have days when I turn away. And a shadow creeps over me, a shiver of loneliness and a wisp of memory darkens my heart. Then, swiftly I turn back and I am comforted. Then I am able to express my creativity, to grow things, to ponder, to write.
And I know God is with me. And I write this, and other things, to be free. And to help others become free.
Be not judges of others, and you will not be judged: do not give punishment to others, and you will not get punishment yourselves: [make others free, and you will be made free. ]
Is my story one of faith and disbelief, alcoholism, dysfunctional families, or self-loathing or – love? I would have to say it is all of those things. I set out wanting to write about how my faith made it possible for me to give up my addictions. Ironically I had to have that addiction in order to restore my faith. But this story is about so much more. How I became a person of faith and just a little about why I believe. It doesn’t feel like I have been clear, because it’s a story that is difficult to write linearly since it wasn’t lived that way. And is much easier to talk about so if that interests you, let me know. And most of all, I have to say that this God I found, or who found me, this God is so good, so full of love for us, that all the crooked spaces are can be filled. God will fill you too if you ask.
I write poetry and they are found here. Read them for my full story – there are about fifty poems there which I have written off and onsince 2005. Someday perhaps I’ll get around to organizing them and getting them printed. Anyone interested in publishing?
3 thoughts on “My Crooked Heart”
Thank you for your beautiful story; your soft heart. Thank you for helping us all see that we are not alone.
Loretta, Thank you for taking the time to let me know that you read and appreciated what I wrote. Melody