Aging

Aging is so fucked. No one tells you how to age well. Especially not your physician. Take these pills, a band aid. What if I lose the weight? What if you don’t? Seriously, life skills for aging, is that too much?

The way we white Americans devalue the elderly, it’s no wonder. Where do you gain the wisdom they surely have when they are shut away in a nursing home gradually losing their mobility, their memories, their knowledge, their wisdom?

There are so many lessons. At 54 I’m just at the beginning of this decline. But here’s a few thoughts.

1. Even if you’re tired from a day of work, or kids, walk some every day. The body loses strength if you dont move, even in your 30s, 40s and 50s.

2. Wear sunscreen on your hands and face every day. The sun though beautiful ages you! Less wrinkles on your face at my age is the positive result for that choice.

3. Don’t let your weight creep. You gain 5 lbs for every sedentary year just eating the same and the older you get the harder it fights to stay. After or in menopause ladies, you’re done for, because you cannot work out as hard if you’ve gained the weight. It just hurts. I’ve got tendonitis in my foot and I’m trying to start exercising again. Right now it hurts so badly I’m suffering. It’s the combination of sedentary years, weight gain, and an injury.

Aging doesn’t have to be so terrible. But you must be proactive friends. I wish you well

Grief

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Grief has no kind of timeline.

It follows strange pathways through my body. I’m tired of feeling it.

I had the thought two days ago, I want to forget her. I will gather all the things in my home that remind me of her. I will box them up and make them disappear from sight. Memories only lead to grief when your someone is murdered.

My phone rings from a good friend of thirty years.

We never talk talk. Just catch up via social media.

It triggered the same panic that I get every time the phone rings, someone is dead. I answered it. Of course no one is dead. We had a lovely conversation filled with laughter and her voice just exactly the way I remember.

I still fear answering my phone. I get a jolt of adrenaline and panic.

I’m tired of my grief. I am choosing life, I promise you. But grief just comes ambling in and you are stricken by lightening. You choose to regroup, get on with whatever it is you were doing, or curl into a singed ball.

I hear a certain performer and remember she loved going to concerts with her kids. I see a certain flower and remember her love of tulips. I smell a food and think of her cooking. I cook and the kitchen is messy, I think of how messy she was. I unlock my car and think of how she broke my lock and how furious I felt. I drive her son to football and know that she would have been a great sports Mom.

Forty something years of memories that cannot be boxed up and made to go away. Though I am tired of my grief I carry on.

heartache

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Heartache.

What an inadequate expression of pain. Generational heartache is heavy, and physical, a sagging weight on your chest. That is what my heart felt like yesterday. Holidays hurt and I am left trying to figure out why.

Yes, I miss my mom and sister, but more so I miss the traditions that my father relentlessly enforced. It is complicated. Growing up I felt controlled by his insistence that we all share all holiday meals together. Those traditions were important to him. I never asked him why just resisted being controlled. But he had no mercy, not for other plans or other people in our lives. Bring them along he always insisted. And now I long for them like an abused child longs for the love of their abusive parent.

On Easter we gathered and living in Texas we got new outfits for church, we ate lamb with mint sauce.

He made us gather.

And now, the lack of tradition creates a crater inside me. I am so averse to being controlling, that we don’t do it at all. I don’t want to insist and I don’t want the hurt of family choosing to be elsewhere. And to labor over a giant meal like my mother always did, only to have family eat and disperse as quickly as possible seems like too risky. Why do I protect my heart at all costs? Or perhaps I’m simply too lazy and I do not want to do the work.

And it is work. It was easy for my father to insist when he wasn’t the one spending all day or days in the kitchen.

I don’t want to become my father a dictator of tradition. I don’t want to become my mother a slave to tradition.

I am left with a hole so cavernous I can hear the wind blowing, whirling, and lashing. I was physically ill for days thinking about it all, so complicated, so twisted, and so hard to understand.

I am broken by my upbringing and unable for whatever reason to create our own traditions. It is too painful to be rejected and that is why I think my father just made us. As crazy as that sounds, perhaps I get it now.

I know I do not want to be that person. Fifty-four and both parents dead and I am still trying to figure myself out.

hello my friends

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Back at therapy. Been doing this since my twenties. Does anyone else get therapy fatigue? Back with my Psychiatrist.

I’ve lost myself. I always blame the medication. Because I just really want to cry. I have tears inside. I am drowning inside me.

With the antidepressants, I struggle to feel. So we’re trying to figure out what’s next.

Being more empathic than your typical person is exhausting. Even without the ability right now to feel my own, and at my current level of medication I should not care about anyone around me. But I do. My heart is breaking everywhere and all the time. But I have no internal emotional life. I am hard and soft at the same time.

This is not profound. But it is difficult.

But, I took a leave from work in November. Doctors are telling me that I have all the signs of severe physical exhaustion, stress, my brain is wounded and tired. I have had memory loss, frequent tension headaches, and fatigue. I thought three months should help me find myself again.

This was naïve.

What I discovered is that I am doing for others everywhere and myself nowhere.

There are needs everywhere in my life. And that is perfectly alright. As we’ve been given a lot to handle; my own depression, anxiety and sobriety, one child’s mental illnesses, my mother’s dementia and kidney failure, buying our business which we brought back to thriving, my best friend and sister Holly’s murder, my mother’s death five months later, and the stress surrounding the murder and taking care of Holly’s children.

I lost myself. Eventually the body, brain and heart called it quits. Sputters to a stop. Demands a time out. Shuts down.

I am happy to not be depressed. Not right now, thankfully. But I do not control my depression. I only know how to keep it at bay. It doesn’t always work. I have no magic tricks.

I am praying for some kind of relief. That one day life will ease up and I will find my passions again. For life, the writing and photography. More than today.

Today it is good enough to go to work, organize our family of seven’s appointments, show up on time for football practice pick up, keep my head down and avoid most people.

It is not that I don’t (double negative sorry) love people. I do.

I am simply not myself.

Violence and Mental Illness

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As many of you know, we have mental illness in our family lineage. The details don’t matter in this case, I think. But it is important for people who know nothing about it to know that mental illness can be in any family and violence is not directly correlated with it. Despair and lack of hope, maybe. Many things come together, mental health being just one of them, to create a situation where a person does a violent act.

My brother in law was a mostly gentle person in my experience. Of course I wasn’t married to him and my sister is gone, but from our lived experiences I believe she would agree. Verbal abuse is something that did occur which was painful to be a child in their household. But my sister struggled with verbal anger too, a legacy from my father.

We were verbally abused most of our lives into adulthood up until his death.

When we asked Holly if she was comfortable with Paul having a gun in their home, she said she was because he kept it in a safe. I am sure she was thinking a child wouldn’t stumble on it, don’t we all think that about guns at home? Keep them away from the kids. She was offered a restraining order during the divorce which she declined. She did not believe he was violent in that way.

But he murdered her. He took his gun, did some target practice (we didn’t know this until afterward from the police), tricked his way into Holly’s home, laid in wait upstairs and then killed her.

I have many sleepless nights thinking about that. Of course, we could have said something. We just listened, when more than a year before her murder when she told us about the gun. Paul was not a violent person. It was shocking to us that he thought he needed a gun in a suburban neighborhood of Seattle. But we just listened. At that point I didn’t know my brother in law very well. He was depressed for many years through out their seventeen years of marriage. A few times I tried to help.

“There’s no shame in seeking help. Antidepressants do change you. They don’t feel good. I am struggling with that myself, for much of my adult life. I don’t like how they make me unable to feel much. But they also help me out of the passive suicidality of major depression.”

Our situation is unique. But aren’t they all and I suppose that’s my point. The people that are out there killing, who have mental illness of some sort in their history, are unique humans. Their upbringing, their financial situation, their lack of healthy relationships, their solitude, their access to mental health support, joblessness, access to medicine, therapy, doctors all create a moment of time where anything is possible. And being poor, to get help almost impossible to resolve.

It is more difficult to get mental health support in this country than to buy a gun.

Psychology Today

Mental health support needs to be continuous, it is very dependant on the person’s access to help as well as all the things I listed above.

For many years we fought the system to get our daughter help and when we in our most despondent, when all we could think of was to take her to the ER, we were told she has to be a direct threat to herself (actively suicidal) or to others. Do you know how hard that is to prove? Much less wanting to declare that about your loved one.

Mental health and violence to yourself or others is an impenetrable labyrinth.

Hey, How are You? My Sister is Dead.

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My sister’s murder shut me down, I have had to close off the pain. It is the only way to keep going. And go we must. It is not like I don’t want to go on. Life holds plenty of goodness. But living in a world where a husband can kill a wife with a gun, well, that is unimaginable to me. I have spend many, many hours thinking about how to go on.

We must not only imagine it, we must live it.

With all the killings this week, I have to admit, I’m shook up. There are so many hard memories that I have put away in a safe box and the news takes that box and shakes it hard. Pain comes flying out at the most unexpected and inconvenient moments.

And then things that shouldn’t be hard, become hard. “I chose the number 73 on my football jersey because it is the year mom was born.”

“What a wonderful way to remember her,” I say with my heart crackling like it is on fire and my head spinning.

We are coming up on three years, in June. Three years later it is still a hard lump in my throat and I find myself avoiding conversation with everyone today because I don’t want to answer “How are you?” People just mean “hey” or “how was your night?” and I want to say “My face is burning hot right now, to be honest, because I just remembered my sister is dead and I don’t want to talk to you right now.”

But I won’t be rude. “Hey back,” I’ll reply, “Great Bucks game last night.”

A Creative Soul.

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My first words are lethargic, yet I know it is time. They have slowly birthed themselves, then are bursting out of me like an explosion.

Life is so loud that I can see the thickness and mass of the noise that surrounds me. I feel the sensation of the words. My soul is tired. An atrophied muscle. Sensation and muse have been absent. My ten fingers, slowly tapping out original thoughts are creaky and rusty like a derelict bicycle dragged out in the spring after several winters of inattention and lack of use. Distraction stretches and unfurls squeezing out my imagination.

We should teach children to prepare for an adulthood jammed full of clamoring urgency. Middle age will have paraphernalia that collects in the basement, garage, closets and corners of our consciousness until there are no decent ideas or inspiration, only excuses. Interruptions and noise.

When I was young I would not have believed that I would need to learn to be disciplined in order to challenge the “to-do” of family, work, and possessions. That I would need to carefully clear a room for quiet. As I do I am hopeful that the sparks of creativity will ignite.

Right now I cannot find

spare words.

Clatter invades even with my eyes closed. When I open them again life shrieks to be cleaned up, cared for, carefully ordered from disorder.

This noise competes for our creative soul. Clarity is somewhere the echoes of a silent room.

The empty pages have waited for me to trust myself with words again.

First words spill like heart ache.

I stare hard; curious and hungry, finally ignoring the noise. And for a moment I am filled with wonder.

I squeeze my eyes shut, salty with the sadness that has been pushing and pulsing to come bursting. Fury swells. I remember that I AM MADE FOR THIS! The anger comes because I have walked on for what seems an age. Walked without words.

At some point I left the path of imagination and curiosity which lost my interest. It is a path that requires trust and a willingness to face down the noise.

The energy of rage and the sadness is important in order to walk with words.

As if jumping on the dilapidated bicycle, I press my feet down on the two pedals slowly, beleaguered in the beginning, then faster and faster as the blood in my legs begins to pulse and flow. In my mind’s eye I feel the wind, my salty stinging tears flowing down the worn grooves of my face.

And I soar.

April 8, 2017

What Is a Good Life?

For months the words have toiled and churned inside me.
The black letters absent from the page.
A heavy, nagging problem. A writer’s liability.
Rather than anguishing over this loss I have lived.

Then with an intimate slow unfurling
I deliberate on these first scarce stanzas.
I feel their drumming.
Echoes in the chambers of my heart.

Still I have a constant awareness.

Sufferings, anxieties and troubles have come to be our life.
Both waking and sleeping.
Still delight and joy are wondrously present.
Each day’s lesson cracks me open bringing a Spirit-filled reliance.

To live, to love, to be, to give, to fear, to hold, to weep, to laugh,
to wait, to hope, to doubt, to accept.
The silence teaches.
Life is lived in the moments in between.
And all together this is a Good Life.

{Ten Thousand Tears}

Ten Thousand Tears.
….When I was a child I pinched my eyes closed to reject my weakness, my torment as I was hollered at by a daddy that didn’t know better. I closed down my heart; it hurt too much to feel bad all the time. So I told my tears, you aren’t welcome here. And my heart and soul slowly turned hard as stone.”

I know there are fellow sufferers of depression, others who have family or friends who descend into this murky, sinkhole of depression’s hell and you cannot imagine how to help. I hope that whatever is redemptive in my story will one day help others find help themselves.

Excerpted from a post on LogicandImangination.com.

Logic & Imagination

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My tears are welcome.

I see them splattered, dried on my glasses as I peer out the window into the wintry, cold, gray, foggy morning;

tiny specks on the panes of my eyeglasses.

I wipe hard at these dried salty witnesses.

They are a record of my sodden heart.

Ten thousand tears come raining down.

The soil of my soul is softened.
Broken apart by tears, which took forever to reappear.  Though I fear

that I cannot stop them, deep down I know that they are what keeps my heart growing.

Soil ready for love, open

to the community of believers,
to grace,
to healing, forgiveness and new life,
to hope.

My tears, such an old and forgotten notion

for me.

When I was a child I pinched my eyes closed to reject my weakness, my torment as I was hollered at by a daddy that

didn’t know

better.

I closed down my heart;

it…

View original post 689 more words

still< I want more

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I am spoiled. Wasted. Ruined.
Continuously wondering what is the purpose of this one life of mine?
To love God above all.And love your neighbor. As You Love Yourself.
I worry, I’m tainted, and I am lost.  How do I love?
I don’t choose it, but my mind cannot let it go.
The thought is present as I wake. Even now I am defeated and lost.

Depression sucks the marrow of my bones, unhurriedly.
I’ve wanted nothing more than to be useful.
Or have I lied to myself, even now.
Have I wanted importance? Recognition.  Esteem. Significance.
Dare I admit motherhood was never enough?

And as I struggled with deep-rooted interior, from childhood grief, in ruins.
My soul further decays.

So I pray. And Prayer becomes a mantra, habitual and constant.
Bursting with the ache, the existential whys.

The catastrophe is long over, decades ago.
He’s been dead
another decade as well.
Still, the Destruction stands on top of me. Crushing daily energy,

Still, I want more.
Where is the freedom that comes from all this mindfulness?
I fell like I am captive to my past, my psyche ruined.

Or is it only in my mind?

My Very Little Faith

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As it turns out I have A Very Little Faith. Perhaps I am a product of my human father who believed personal greatness was achieved through his tenacious hard work. Having a false humility, showing off A Very Big Faith, I saw that it was one that didn’t fundamentally change his character. Not really. This was my experience.

Still doubting his own goodness at the end of his life, my father died longing to hear “Well done.”

2.

All of my life I have feared the thought of not really knowing. What do I believe? Feared this very thing: A Very Little Faith. Consequently my prayer life has been frantic and hapless.  There’s a weariness in faith achieved by your effort. And yet, this is faith. Not knowing, striving.  the balance needs to be in how much is human effort and how much is laying down, in relief, our human need.

When strife hit us it struck like a cold winter’s storm. Those of us who live where the seasons always come know that winter is expected.When adversity came and set up camp in our lives, at first I thought, “Of course.” And “I deserve this, somehow.”

3.

Then, as time went on, I came to understand something entirely different. A realization about myself that only adversity has brought. I’ve done a lot of my spiritual life in my strength. The work of living with clinical depression and occasionally overcoming at least for seasons. The strength of mothering with depression. The control required to get sober. And stay sober for seven years. And live sober daily. All me.

Our child three years in and out of psychiatric hospitals. A great effort required me to find and work with all kinds of doctors, psychiatrists and therapists. To wrangle with the school system. All to advocate for my child’s current and future health. To hold on to hope in the middle of destruction and pain, singular sorrow, a mother’s grief, all took my personal strength and wits. There is the constant not knowing how to receive help and not allowing others in, to protect my child’s privacy, How does one receive encouragement and take help for a while to share the load? Almost impossible. Layered atop it, helping my mother in the last two years of her rapid decline, physically and mentally. All required doggedness and charity and choosing to do the right thing.  Too much of me.  And over time this has weakened me, isolated in unhelpful ways, the searing fear and solitude.

4.

Prayer then is what? I have struggled to understand. My Little Faith drove me to my knees, humbled. Hurt and pressed in by all this pain.  Call it suffering if you like, most people would but I’ve become uncomfortable with the comparison.

As if life isn’t just hard. For good people and bad alike, life brings good and bad things. Calling it suffering presupposes that somehow I don’t deserve hardship.  And that’s not the point. It simply is what it is.

5.

I don’t want to know how will it all turn out?  That question remains unspoken, becomes the greatest test of My Very Little Faith. Erroneously, for as I said, life is hard. For good people and bad.

Will we be okay?  Will she grow out of her mental illness?  Will he or she ever grow up to work and live on their own?  Will the business survive?  Will I stay sober?  Will I ever be free of depression? How will my mother’s last years disappear into the fog of her memories?

I don’t ask God to explain.

I think it, I wonder about it. But these are not prayers.

I’m afraid to pound on God’s chest which assumes an intimacy I wonder if we have ever shared.

Turns out I have A Very Little Faith.

6.

I do have Hope. An unreasonable belief that we will get through this.  Life may yet give us a reprieve. Life may not.

This is the tension of being human. Hope, I suppose, is a freedom to not be dejected by it all. To not be destroyed. Ultimately, to be content in this, too. To grow comfortable with life enough to pray something altogether different.  I accept this.

Hope is believing God is good and longs to share goodness with us all. Do I know what this means, not really. Is it enough to believe that God is faithful to us? To let go of the how, the why and the when, all existential?  Hope is based on the premise that God only gives what is good, which is not the same as gives all the good things that I can imagine to ask for.  Peace is found in the release of open hands, willing for anything to come–the unimaginable. Even something better than my limited imagination and Very Little Faith allows.

The unseen is ahead, the future is unclear, the mist heavy and yet the person of hope finds peace which is beyond intellectual understanding.

The prayers of a Very Little Faith faith weakens my soul. Corrupts the possibility of a good future. All my attention on the present moment and not on the One who is good beyond my comprehension.

Whether we ask and we question, or we rail against God and we ask again. Or we thank or praise. It comes to this. Is it a prayer made in hope or A Very Little Faith?

7.

For months now, even years, my spiritual life is stagnated by fear of more pain than I can handle. My Very Little Faith holding to a pattern of foggy, doubting emptiness.

Henri Nouwen says, in this moment “Spiritually you are dead. There can be life and movement only when you no longer accept things as they are now, and you look ahead toward that which is not yet.”

How much of the spiritual life is wrongly asking but not hoping for what is not yet? What we want will surely never come. For we long for peace, for comfort, for good health, for success and happiness for our children, for all the good things we feel promised somehow.  Not promised by God, surely but by a fractured, ill, witless weak culture. We subconsciously buy in and are subsequently dismayed with our lives. Or are we thinking wrongly again. Yes, with certainty.

And in the end people of A Very Little Faith are compelled to open our hands to God in hope.

Simple hope. This, then, is A Very Big Faith grown in us without our doing anything at all.

Amen

P.S. I’ve been reading With Open Hands (Ava Maria Press, 1972) by Henri J. M. Nouwen which has heavily influenced the laudable parts of what I’ve thought here.  The foolishness is all my own.

I’ve been honored to be a part of a collaborative book titled Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels. I wrote on my ideas of prayer based on my understanding of 1 Thessalonians 5 that we are to pray without ceasing.

disquiettimecover

Award-winning religion columnist Cathleen Falsani (Chicago Sun-Times, Religion News Service, Orange County Register) and Jennifer Grant edited this labor of love, the new anthology Disquiet Time.

In their words:

At its conception, we wondered,

“What if we asked a subset of our most intelligent, inventive, and faithful (and/or scoundrelly) friends to reflect in a deep way about how the Good Book has affected them?”

We decided that we needed to give them room to be snarky, to dig deeply, and to stray away from a PG rating if needed.

And so, almost two years after our first, funny email exchange about the idea, we present a book comprised of more than forty contributors including Dale Hanson Bourke, Eugene Peterson, Margot Starbuck, Jay Emerson Johnson, Debbie Blue, Brian McLaren, Amy Julia Becker, Karen Swallow Prior, Christian Piatt, Carla Barnhill, and many other talented writers and Island of the Misfit Toys-souls who describe themselves as Christian, post-Christian, Jewish, Zen Buddhist, Anglobaptist, or “none of the above.”

That’s kind of the point of Disquiet Time.

I do hope you will look for it.

It’s not about theological or ideological labels or conformity, but, instead, about hearing stories you might not otherwise have been in the room to hear.

It’s about giving thoughtful people the opportunity to tell their faith stories, as rough or incomplete or irreverant or sincere as these stories might be.

Read, enjoy, and be a little braver when you tell your own story of faith and/or doubt.

The book launched last week and (although our publisher Hachette and Amazon are currently arm-wrestling, and Amazon isn’t making it easy to order Disquiet Time), our friends at independent booksellers, and Barnes and Noble and iTunes (among other generous and author-loving places) will cheerfully honor your order of our book.