New: A Solemn & Ordinary Life. #Self-Care in Living with Depression

profile_36488479_75sq_1396225512on one level, her day-to-day life had become solemn and ordinary;

awkwardly commonplace, when

{self-care} is at the top of her To Do.

she thinks.

what kind of person needs that to do?

a person that deep down disgusts herself. she starves herself all day long until her hungry body confused enough to relentlessly hoard calories. a person that starts smoking in her forties then quit overnight. in the not too distant past was a falling down drunk. she does not remember much of childhood.

her daily heartache now is that she cannot remember details of her baby’s early days

when she was addicted to work, driven. Still, three babies sucking at her breasts for six years were fed by a body starving itself. staying home to be with Them she became unrecognizable to herself, depressed and before long, a decade was gone.

she was a missionary’s kid, a girl that went numb. living in denial of all the fear and heartache at home, her superpower was discovered early, invisibility. a middle child, the peacemaker, and the “sensitive one.” she pretended. always hiding from The Rager, they were all concealers and secret keepers.  Mother was ill. it was not a conscious choice to slowly evaporate.

she finds herself intensely staring down forty-eight;

the Rager is dead and gone. now she is a care giver to her elderly, addled mother and those precious children grown into teenagers.

she is unable to remember how—sitting at her kitchen table which never holds hot meals,

classical music is jangly and bombastic,

strong, hot coffee,

the summer rain falling outside the bay window is cold.

She writes

To do:

1. self-care. 

 

When Depression is a Killer: My Story

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1

Anxiety crushes me in sleep. It wakes me in the middle of the night with my chest already full of dread before I’m even conscious of being awake.

For two years this Depression has been inside me.  This is the longest duration I have ever experienced. At times my depression is a low hum and at other times she devours my strength, my resolve, my appetite for life, my interest in food, love, and intimacy. She renders me hapless. She steals my judgement and intellect, covering my brain in a fog. Many days thinking is like wading through thick murky air.  Rational thinking is obscured. The irrational and the lie seem real.

I choose to see my Depression as something Other than myself. I must. She is a killer that wants to devour me. Lately I wake up in dread of her.

“What gets you out of bed and on to your day, when you wake in that state of terror?” a kind Psychiatrist asked? “Duty,” I reply without thinking. Now I would tell him: “Devotion. And resolve.”

I resolve that I will not crumble. I will survive this. As I write these words down it is out of a Hope that this episode will pass like so many that came before. It’s almost a mantra.  If I repeat it enough it will be true.

I’ve recently found a meditation class. I’ve discovered again how helpful it is to simply be aware of your own breath (or of holding it, as I so often am.)  I love the becoming aware of your body, then coming out of your body and entering a different space.  For fifteen minutes we breathe together in perfect silence. I find myself repeating in the intake breath “I trust you God” and releasing my lack of trust out into the room. Out of me.  Releasing stress, and the ache in my chest, and an anger that I wasn’t even aware of until that moment. I discovered that I am not trusting God at all.

I am angry at God.

2

A friend described his body’s response to chemotherapy as unpredictable from one day from the next. He doesn’t know when exhaustion will strike.  A simple walk up the stairs can feel like running a mile. I thought, this is like my depression. I say nothing, thinking only: My depression is killing me. Thinking irrationally I’m dying. (This is not the same as being suicidal. I have been there before. This is a deep exhaustion and grief that comes from suffering for a very long time.)

Depression is an invisible disease that bullies and devours.

She steals the strength to call oneself Artist or Creator. And worse still, she kills the desire to create.

I hold with two fists my belief in God’s love for a person living with a torment like mine. Surely God has forgotten about me? I don’t know what I believe anymore. I cannot hold on to my faith or belief solidly. It is tenuous and ethereal.

I have stacks of books about suffering and faith. I stare at them on my nightstand. I am unable to read more than a few minutes. My consciousness wants an explanation for this suffering but my subconscious knows bad things happen.  My friend with cancer isn’t asking what did I do to deserve cancer? Cancer happens.

Still as a person of faith there is the ever-present question. Why has God deserted me? While knowing God is here.  I find sitting in the quiet early stillness of the morning alone with God, no words, is a comfort.

This isn’t self-pity. I tell myself that I know that I didn’t do anything to deserve this illness. That insight has been a long time coming. I am as biased as anyone, thinking that surely a depressed person needs to simply get up and live. And people of faith are wondering where your devotion to God stands.

3

There are things I do that make depression slightly better. I know them by heart.  But they are not easy and the key is to Make Yourself.

Make yourself eat good food. Make yourself go for a walk. Make yourself do the simple tasks of daily life; shop for food, cook meals, launder, vacuum, drive places, make and keep appointments.

I must engage with my Mother’s dementia and her daily fears and needs. You may have other demands.

Take your meds. See your doctors. Tell the truth. Work at therapy. Be with others and reach out or follow-up with friends. Participate in church life. Serve communion. Keep up with children’s homework. Write daily.  Read if you can.  Answer the phone.  Stop reading all the bad news on Twitter and obsessively passing it along.

And then on another level that is bottomless and yet crucial to being a mother and partner, show an interest in family members. Smile and laugh.

4

Depression feels like failure. It’s personal when you can barely wade through the thickness of your day and your daily challenges aren’t hard at all; or shouldn’t be. Depression will lie and say you’ll never work again. You’re sick and broken.  You are no longer capable. You aren’t able to serve others.

Depression screams her rebukes and you begin to believe. Fear overcomes your knowledge of yourself; your abilities and experience. She crushes logic and creativity.

Depression tells me to be ashamed. But I’ve always told my story readily and without shame. Because I can imagine all the people suffering with depression who don’t have the words or don’t tell anyone. I want you to know you are not alone.  May my words be yours.

5

Your mind churns and roars like invading waves in the ocean before its undercurrent pulls you down. Before you know it you have become her—depressed and incapable.

Then you wake from the nightmare to face another day. And silently scream to her: You are Other.  You are not me.

And you begin again.

P.S.

Much of the story of this blog is my story of struggling with major depression which began in 2001.  You will find this in my poetry and other posts.  Check the headings above or search for Depression.  If you’re a regular reader of this blog you know I haven’t written in months.  I do write, daily lately but deemed most of it unfit.  I’m sharing this part of my story because with the recent death of Robin Williams and some of the conversations surrounding it, I saw a great intolerance and lack of understanding of mental illness and specifically depression.  I hope my story helps you. If you suffer from depression that you’ll find your story in mine and feel less alone. If you love someone who suffers, I hope that you’ll feel a new level of compassion and empathy and a greater understanding what it takes to live with this disease that 14.8 million  adults in America suffer from, that is 6.7 % of the population over the age of 18. (Source: NAMI)

{I Lost the Month of May: A poem} by Melody Harrison Hanson

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I lost the month of May
somewhere between watching my mother
suffer extreme pain and mental confusion.

I felt her pass by heavily; Time,
slowed to a crawl
as I was watching.
And now, the month of May is gone.

Time lost cannot be retrieved.
I know this as my friend’s cancer roars in wildly.
This third time more persistent.
And I am heavy with awareness that the months and days of her reprieve, I spent

weighed down with my life.

Gone is the month of May
on bursts of sudden energy, then

languishing in the dark.
Being strong and capable,

as my heart leaked lost time.

I watched the hours tick by at my mother’s bedside.

Time lost forever?
or time spent on forever.

Knowing forever is such a long time.

Friend love stretches on forever.
Mother-daughter love lasts forever too.

Each, a lifetime of forevers found,
to be savored. Still,
the month of May is spent,

costly. On loving.
Or is it simply lost and gone?

We are all lost and found.
I am a friend and daughter.
Love is here, there,
and gone.

As I sit here thinking
my heart is leaking
forever time.

{I am a Witness. I have a Voice. I Intend to Use it.} Looking Back on Year Two of Being a Writer

8728474819_71223eda2e_oThere are moments when I hate what’s inside my heart, tarry and thick with things quite undesirable. Learning to be comfortable with yourself, and equally discontent in order to be transformed, is one of life’s most difficult lessons.

I’ve just completed year two of “Being a Writer.”

OTHERS

As I have received affirmation from other writers and publications it amplifies to me the incessant poverty of my soul: the need for attention. Like a sacred signal, others have the power to bestow and to validate. And the bedevilling truth is that my soul craves it. To know how others perceive your work. The challenge has been to confront that gnawing need.

I want to write from a different place—a place of purpose. I have learned to question the longing for endorsement, which is particularly challenging when we all know that it is through others that we will become more influential and be read.

As I search about for evidence of my ability I have seen signs of it. I can admit how good this feels. I feel honored and humbled to be included in projects, and I fly for a while, intoxicated by seeing my words in places other than this little blog.

LISTENING WELL & SHARING PARTS

This year has been less about perfection and more about process.  As I settle in to liking my own ideas, the words collected on the page, I fight a little less with each sentence. Hold less tightly to what Anne Lamott calls “little darlings.” Precious sentences are usually over heavy, causing the reader to stumble and perhaps even give up.

Though writing is difficult work, I am learning that reading should be a delight, smooth and sweet like cream.  I have also learned that editors can make you sound better than you imagined possible, if you will only listen.

The responsibility to scratch words down is about more than cleverness, more than holding truths in my two hands and hammering it down on the page, more than dazzling others and more than pride in my work. It is about letting go of sacred totems and knowing when to hold back. It is accepting that your soul truths are precious and must only be shared with intention. One’s life and experiences, the anguish and pain must (at times) be sacrosanct.

Too much spilling over, with emotions a rushing avalanche, crushes the reader.  People look away if the ideas are too stark and as they do you are left alone with the sorrows. Then you must take care with what you share of your own life.

So, I was drawn to a new prayer life this year, to solitude, and came to the understanding that to be a writer is a grave, holy responsibility.

In a language of prayer then I returned, after a time. Open-handed with God first, then to the pen and page. Collecting the words pooling up from a tuition paid in the blood of one’s life, letting go of some things. My suffering is sacred to me but it is only after the dross burns away that it grows suitable for others to read.

I look ahead with eyes blazing, fiercely determined to learn from my life.  And as I peer into the mist of tomorrow’s sure ache, I am conscious of how little I know and yet I find myself strangely satisfied.

To write is to be exposed. While uncomfortable this is also a revelation.

Year one was a stew of fear and childlike developing aspiration. I was a little too comfortable with my naïve perceptions.  Year two has been a rich smelling curry of risk-taking and yearning but had a stench of feeling left out. For even online there’s an in crowd, the A-team, the coterie of the Elite Lists.

YEAR THREE

I hope in year three to let go of “I Can’t” and of “If Only” and face things squarely.  This is who I am.  This is what I have to offer.

As I set down goals, and slowly begin to achieve them, I feel purposeful and ambitious and aspiring.  I will write about things that are heavy on my mind: a deepening faith, mental illness, the injustice of racism and sexism, and my ongoing sobriety.

This year has been mostly survival and “writing down the bones.”  Being a mother, wife, daughter and friend has invaded my personal goals and aspirations. And, living with ash in one’s mouth all the time, you only offer the remains, hoping these odds and ends are meaningful but knowing in your deep places that they were sometimes artless and ghastly, often self-indulgent.

This year as a writer has taught me that life is to be lived well—in order to have words worth reading—which often requires that I step back and reserve the parts that are too hot and holy.  This is the growing up of year two.

This year was hard.—

With lusts of envy and greed creeping in,

with personal heartaches and deepening spiritual awareness,

with “real life” weighing tragic and heavy in ways that I have been unable to express.

—All demanding balance and requiring a maturing of spirit, soul and mind.  Admitting it here is the easy part. It has required honest and brave time alone, necessary no matter how long it takes.

Although I live often in the darkness, I’ll fight to write no matter the grief.

Over and over this year, I have been surrounded by awareness of Women, witnesses in the Holy Scriptures and all around me in life; the women who were and are faithful to Jesus.  They went back to the tomb, were greeted and commissioned by Jesus to bear the good news of the resurrection.

I’ve struggled with my role as a woman in the Church and in my church.  And out of a desire for unity, out of fear of being misunderstood, from a place of insecurity I have shut myself up.  In year three I hope to become a stronger advocate for women.

I am a witness. I have a voice. I intend to use it.

MY CONCLUSIONS

Life is hard.  You cannot write about all of it.

Work on internal integrity.

Learn to trust yourself and your voice.

Take risks. It is usually worth it.

Don’t let life overrun your goals and aspirations as a writer.

Listen to the places where your heart breaks and write about it.

Thanks for sticking with me in the writing, growing, and dreaming.  I’m grateful your hearts, following along this journey.

{rough thoughts on love and mortality in the middle years}

I have no business writing when I need to be packing, preparing, paying bills, picking up prescriptions, cleaning house, and washing laundry, readying myself and the family for me to leave town.  These are very drafty thoughts on aging parents, ailing friends, launching teenagers, and being human.  

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Love and Mortality in the Middle Years

Our middle years—carry

the work of tending to ailing parents

and sometimes losing,

nursing them respectfully and without impatience.

That is love of a child.

 //

Our middle years—rambling side by side with good friends,

you and I, fighting illness and the frailty of being human.

Growing into who we were going to become.

That is the love of a partner and friend.

 //

The human toll of ageing all the while launching

children to fly! The human ache of

watching lives unfold.

Let them fly, let them flail.  Breathing hope into their

youthful lungs. Speaking truth all the while

shaking your head as they roll their eyes in disgust. Wobbly legs

running out and away.  Knowing this

is what they are meant to do.

That is the love of a parent.

 //

We all need wisdom, grace upon grace and more joy (oh, for more joy!).

In the midst of relentless sorrow and loss,

your doorway remains open.

In this middle space of anticipation, of letting go

in more ways than is reasonable or comfortable,

all of which is profoundly difficult

and is the principle achievement of being human.

 //

Middle years: Caring and holding,

loving and letting go.

All this is the Life and Death of the middle years.

This is love and mortality

in the middle years.

How to Love a Drunk: Bits of My Story are published and #FFWgr

invincible summer within

How to Love a Drunk

When you’re an alcoholic you get to tell your story  and admit to your illness at the oddest moments. There is usually no time to prepare emotionally or to get the words just right.  What comes is what comes.  I actually enjoy these unrehearsed moments.  The questions I’m asked push me to think about my sobriety in a new way.

Friday there I was outlining the basics of my recovery to a program director for a youth counselling program we’re looking at for one of the kids.It is completely unemotional task, to tell a doctor the details chronologically. Very unlike the real toll it took to write recently for Today’s Christian Woman. How to Love A Drunk, you probably know, is a story of addiction that includes healing and grace and Tom’s selfless love. This story took weeks to write. I interviewed Tom for the painful and awkward bits that I don’t remember and it was hard.  Really hard! But I’m happy with the outcome.  And I’ve already received feedback that the story is helping others.  That makes the sacrifice as well as the awkward tender feelings worth it.

“An alcoholic is one for the rest of their lives, whether they quit drinking or kill themselves abusing, so love has to prepare for the worst but never give up hope.”

If it requires a subscription to Christianity Today to read it, I apologize.  Their online subscription is $9. (This may not be worth it.)

Festival of Faith & Writing

Next week I head to the Calvin’s Festival of Faith & Writing.  I’m excited and looking forward to the alone time that will inevitably come.  If you’re headed there too feel free to FB message me or text.  There will be time to meet IRL some of the fun people I’ve connected with online.

I’m excited to hear literary heroes speak.  Anne Lamott wrote Bird by Bird and Traveling Mercies among other favorites. I hope she’s as funny IRL.  James McBride’s The Color of Water:A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother is one of my favorite books.  Other speakers I’ll seek out include Scott Cairns, poet, Okey Ndibe and Richard Foster possibly Rachel Held Evans, the popular blogger and Jeff Chu who wrote Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America.  There is always an inspiring line up.

I’m also anticipating that it will be a good experience to be a part of this Festival Circle:

Suffering and Salve: Writing and Believing in Seasons of Illness and Pain. Illness and suffering can provoke powerful questions in the creative spirit, but they can also drain a writer’s physical, emotional, and spiritual resources. This circle will discuss how a writer’s creative process and spiritual state are affected by suffering and how other writers have engaged with, or disengaged from, their craft in times of personal suffering.

I am looking forward to meeting many friends from my writing world.  So much has changed in our lives since Tom and I went together two years ago. And I’m grateful to go all, considering our circumstances. But will you pray that I wouldn’t allow my introvertedness and my current state of mind to be a liability? 

And I’ll be back to writing in a few weeks unless something powerful hits.  Thanks for being such faithful readers and friends.

Melody

{When the Truth Hurts: “Being Broken” is Not My Life’s Metanarrative}

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Rilke says to celebrate the questions.

1.

A truth has circled me like a persistent fly, zooming in close and then away again. When I stare straight at it, it becomes momentarily clear. Then suddenly it’s gone disappearing into thin air.

The truth hurts almost as much as my perception of my Being Broken has wounded me, at least at first.  Perhaps that is why we sometimes stay stuck in a static and gray malaise.

Recently the fragments came together – swiftly, an epiphany—through the help of a friend.  What I had struggled for so long to understand now made perfect sense and then it was echoed by several other people reinforcing what I heard.

2.

There is a sacredness in tears…They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition and of unspeakable love.  Washington Irving

The last decade has included repeated seasons of depression, ongoing recovery from addiction, and spiritual upheaval. These were all things I had to pass through to become who I am today. I am grateful.  Through it all I learned that I am resilient.

I have been stuck.

I’m finished with being stuck in regret, wishing that I had made different or better choices, and imagining who I might have become, and thinking of life with different parents or greater personal fortitude or less fear or more gumption. We don’t get to choose our parents or our family of origin with its dysfunctions and ghosts.  It’s all too easy to look back and wish, wonder or hope for something unattainable.

I have lived long enough in the shadows of my father‘s rigid control and in the murky, gloomy regret of my mom’s life. I love them both, but I don’t want to become either of them.  No matter how afraid I am, I will forge my own path.

Finally, I have admitted to myself that I am afraid of the future, of autonomy from children, and of a purpose greater than what I can plan or believe for myself.

3.

The years have left their mark on me with many gray hairs and furrowed facial lines. I turn 48 in September and we’ll be married twenty-one years in June; we have three teenaged children and an adult child, who are all learning to fly.  I love being a mother, but while my children learn to fly I will also grow some wings.  I will search for my voice. And find it.  This is frightening for me.

In 2001 I walked away from a PR & Marketing job I was proud of and was successful at by any standard; I was thirty-five years old with three babies under four.  I turned my back on my leadership and creative talents. I hid them away. Now I see that I have been like the servant in the Gospels who buried and “protected” her talent and waited.

I accepted a lie that “Being Broken” was the metanarrative of my life – the only narrative I have to offer others, as if it safeguarded me from the uneasiness of finally rising up afraid of my authority.  I began to believe the lie that I was broken beyond usefulness, because of the years I spent addicted to booze and healing from the illness of depression.

The hard truth is that my brokenness has consumed and side tracked me. I came to believe in my aching places that at forty-seven years old my life was over.

Every time I imagined otherwise or began to dream fear took over.

4.

Finally it’s time to kneel hard on my father’s grave and say: Daddy, I’m sorry for many things but most of all for how I wanted to hurt you. But this bitterness became a virus in my soul telling me I am the failure you were afraid I’d become.

Only this hasn’t hurt him. It’s become my self-fulfilling prophecy—an obnoxious, stench of a lie that I’ve been living. I’ve been scared to open my mouth. I’ve been too insecure to believe I have anything unique or worthwhile to say or give. I have been waiting for validation from my dead father that will obviously never come and that I don’t need.

I thought I was no longer trust worthy. I’ve written BROKEN on my body; a lasting tattoo reminding me that because daddy said or thought so, I wouldn’t amount to anything. My father has been the Puppeteer controlling me, even now his power looming though he’s been dead eleven years.

It’s time to find another image to prick and stain on my skin!  To mark myself with promise.  I am a blank canvas full of dreams. I want to believe in me again, to stand up and clear my voice and shout, even if it is shaky and quaking at first. This new thing has been a long time coming.

It is also true that I have used my words and my pictures, quietly seeking to tell a story to help others.  And in my little corner of the universe I have made beauty out of shards of my pain.

So I say out loud, I am worthy to speak and it matters little my pedigree or that more than a decade of my life seem to have disappeared like a vapor.

5.

“I think I need a job” I spoke hesitantly to my friend. She asked why, saying “you’re an incredibly gifted writer and a photographer.” “My life feels wrong.” I replied. “I want to contribute. Perhaps I want a paycheck. And I am lonely at home.” I added this as an afterthought.

This friend brings out the best in me. The ME she sees, I don’t see for myself.  I tell myself and out loud I tell her, “I am all these bad things.” And she gently laughs and tells me honestly who I am.

I ask her, “How do you have the courage to do something new? What do you do with your fear?” Changing the direction of our conversation completely, she asked the question that changed everything.

“Melody, what do you have that’s uniquely you?” Her question forced me to peel away truth from my regrets, self-doubt and fear.

It came quickly and quietly: “I have my words and my way of thinking. That’s what I have to offer. That I know is true.”

We all get stuck or believe in our own mediocrity.  Perhaps your life isn’t quite as ambiguous as mine.  But I believe this is true for everyone.  As we face our daily challenges, we have to keep believing that there’s a greater and enduring purpose to our life.  It may not be a grand opus we’ll compose. It may be much more humble and much less exciting. But whatever it is, it is important for each of us to discover.

It’s never too late.  None of us are too broken.  We only have today.  What will we do with this day and days ahead, together they become our life..

6

Deep into that darkness peering,
long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting,
dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.

Edgar Allan Poe

Today has been a long time coming—growing out of distress, blunders, and discomfort. I still have a lot of spiritual work to do, but I accept that embarrassment and shame will be a part of the past and the future is a blank canvas.  The uncertainty of tomorrow forces me to deliberate, knowing that life can be snatched away in a moment.

I’m uncomfortable with generalizations about gender but I wonder if this is a particularly female instinct? To have a proclivity toward self-doubt, a desire for external validation, (for me especially) a Daddy hole the size of the universe, to imagine that your life could serve no purpose and to believe that you don’t have anything unique to contribute.   Male or female, I know all people experience these doubts at one time or another, Perhaps it is middle age that bring a wondering if your life could be over, when it could be just starting again.

Taking a decade long break from a career is a frightening proposition that is traditional to women.  Combine that with my particulars, the idea of believing in my future takes faith.

I believe, help my unbelief.

I’m taking the first shaky steps toward a future still unwritten. My life isn’t over.

Perhaps another way to look at it is that I’m only forty-seven years old. It is time to dream.  I have a unique voice and a way with words.

I intend to use them.

Organizing and Rearranging

handsHi,

After having this blog for six and half years, I’m finally reorganizing. WordPress sends their congratulations.  I take the time to go back and look and my first post was 2008, October.  If that’s true then I’ve been sober six and a half years.  Hooray!

Today I accidentally sent an empty page to you. Sorry for that.  I give my word that you will continue to receive updates ONLY when I write something new. The exception is this email and that post that just went flying out to the universe a moment ago, by mistake.

Your readership is important to me and your time precious, so I apologise for wasting them both.

I’m hoping the result of my reorganization will be a more logical site, where newcomers can easily navigate more than 600 poems and essays written over these six years. In the meantime I appreciate your patience and am grateful for your grace.

Melody

P.S. A last thought in the realm of shameless self-promotion, if you haven’t yet would you go to Facebook and like my writer’s page?  This helps me promote my visibility as a writer and is another way to know when I write.  You can link to it here.

 

 

 

 

{be Light} a poem

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be Light.

God spoke and said: be Light.

and whether we wanted it,

when we are trying the least

to be

we are Light.

from inside us comes

creative acts, audaciously arranging the Light, into

words that move stone mountains,

dances that soar, minds transformed,

images breaking hearts open crushing the death within,

chords shifting hardened souls with their tender tones.

all beings,

women and men in ensemble.

from verses and rhythms heard, ordinary humans all

flinging down pigment, colorful stains;

bent with sacrifice and unrealized possibility.

God spoke and said: Own your Light

blazing and luminous.

Be the light

on canvas, stage, page, seen and heard.

And God sang beside and in human beings

celebrating

the Light in one another.

Toiling in separateness and isolation, breaking

under the weight of creating.

See and hear one another.

Turn, ask, and take heartache’s sting.

Revel in one another’s triumphs.

be

the

Light

in the dark places.

All beings,

Women and men in ensemble

held one another up.

And God was pleased.

written for Blackhawk Church Pulse conference, March, 2014.

Pulse: connecting arts to the heart of God

Pulse is a one day arts and worship conference designed to help connect a passion for the arts with a heart for God. Be encouraged, equipped and challenged. Whether you’re a worship leader, musician, actor, technician, video producer, dancer or visual artist, Pulse will help you explore how your art form can point others to God.

 

A Mother’s Lament {You cannot stop this train. Save yourself.}

These words have leaked out of me, like tears trickling down the crevices of my heart. 

It’s been an all-consuming few weeks. I owe friends updates, but it feels as if there’s no space for conversation when I’m taking in heaving breaths of air just to survive and dodging sorrow’s persistent arrows.

At the same time. 

Time is in such a hurry, glaring at me as it rushes by. Other’s opinions are strong; swift and sharp like missiles: and advice flows so easily, that supposedly isn’t personal. Then a trustworthy and brilliant doctor tells me that I don’t have to be perfect. Of course I am not perfect, I think to myself. But it’s nice to hear a professional say that “you can stop trying so hard” and acknowledge that we cannot fix anything anyhow. It’s nice to know that I can stop but I’d like to see him try to get off this train.

1.

I’m a home-grown perfectionist partly from a critical upbringing. (That is no surprise to regular readers.) This has shaped me and made me who I am.

All my life I believed that if I tried harder, sweltered and burned through the workout of life, ran harder and tougher, perspiring and aching with my heavy burdens, then I Would Find God’s love, Feel It Finally.

The assumption was that life is hard.  But I sought perfection in adversity. I’d become the perfect person for my husband and for my kids and for my siblings and for my mother. And for my dead Father, and for God, I’d finally Become Worthy. And then I’d feel Good Enough. Truth is, though there is no If,Then kind of promise from God or Life. A promise not really spoken by anyone anywhere, a false hope that a child of a raging parent needs, to believe—if I do this, he will … what?? —Stop yelling. —Stop raging. —Stop his anxious, relentless criticism. —Be happy with mamma, be happy with my sisters, and be happy— with me. Or simply be happy? He was a good Dad; He was bad I wrote long ago.  If that’s the case then I am too. Both Good and Bad. My aim was always perfection.

Put your oxygen mask on first should be the advice given to every new parent in those first days when you’re learning the art of diapers and tight swaddling. Save yourself.

2.

The trustworthy and brilliant doctor asked “how are you both doing” and at the same time, same song with different notes, I answered Terrible and he replied Good.  Our therapist laughed a little, allowing Tom to go on.  But like a great therapist, he circled back around to my Terrible. I looked away from his piercing eyes, because I haven’t said that out loud in a while.

And I’m afraid if I give it space, a crack in the universe will open and, my grief will come screaming out. I’m in control, but holding in that Terrible makes me numb. I’m doing the job of motherhood and dying of pain inside. I’m not supposed to show my weakness and it’s indulgent to let others know how much I hurt when the others are children. Or school professionals and doctors wanting to help our family cope. Hold it in, if you can.

How are you? I’m asked dozens of times a week and the answer must be fine. I’m holding it all in and then the trustworthy and brilliant doctor looked me in the eye.

Skirting his gaze that is boring into me, I focus on his strange lamp—a clarinet turned into something that no longer makes music—how sad, a clarinet that no longer croons.  Wretched, both, the instrument turned lamp and I.

I’m heavy with despondency. My cheeks burn red with heat, the toll of trying to control my emotions. My tears disobey my order slowly dripping down my cheeks.  I’m staring at the wall and the sad clarinet that no longer sings.

3.

A person with anxiety or depression, they sometimes get that way from trying to control too much. Believing they can control outcomes, control people, control themselves and circumstances enough to make all the things work out, but real life isn’t like that. Controlling all that is a mind numbing mess. And the more you try the harder it is to feel anything.

Then a trustworthy and brilliant doctor, he said, “It’s alright you don’t have to do anything. There’s no magic answer. There’s no perfect choice nor will “enough” perfect choices make you all healthy and thriving.”

4.

Recently I attended Pulse, a conference for artists, at my church.  I felt honored to have been asked to write a poem for the program. It’s here.

I should not have gone to Pulse.  Even in the midst of the ache of our circumstances it was a calendared reminder that we were in this crisis two years ago at the last Pulse.  And this tidal wave of events hasn’t stopped for a moment; it has been relentless and crushing for all those months, hours, minutes.

I went heart aching, sleep deprived, hurting, spirit crushed and of course feeling critical.  Not a great formula.  Not a great day.  There were no momentous one-on-one conversations or amazing-prophetic-just-for-me-words spoken, only more lonesomeness and sadness in a crowd. But one must choose to keep on living even though you’re experiencing the hardest times of your life. You have to keep pretending you are alive, and it’s not cheating. Be open to healing. Keep going, heartbroken.

5.

Day after day, my depressed brain says lay down. So I get up, again.  Night after night, I pop the right combination of prescribed medication to sleep, waking daily at 5:40 am to foggy and desolate despair before I get up again. Get up.  Keep moving.  But don’t pretend that the casual “Hi, how are you?” is an opening to tell your problems.

Perhaps it is only here, where people are a captive audience, I can let the words and heartache flow. Most people cannot enter into the darkness of our lives now and I’m not totally not sure why.  In the improvised dogmas of other’s lives, our anguish is too much.  In a way, I get it. I’ve been there knowing people’s heartache and not having the courage to follow-up.  I get it. I keep moving too.

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6.

I’m not living in the Light but I’m watching for glimpses of it every day. The gift of quiet solitude is time to see the shadows moving across the wall and capturing a moment, beautiful but never to be seen again. My philosophy is see the beauty in a light filled moment, quickly. Before another call from another so-called expert comes.  And I lie down again and see in the window, a twinkling that is different from the one moments before.  Holding on to these seconds of tranquility, then I get up again, pick up the phone and make another call. Always searching for answers. Then the trustworthy and brilliant doctor says finally, in that quiet hour with just us two, that we can both stop striving so hard for answers. There’s no fix. There’s no answer, perfect or otherwise. A final fixing when we’ll suddenly be done. That’s the heavy grief and the answer for now. And, help yourself and in doing so you’ll become the parent your kids need.

7.

I can feel my heart heavy and tight in my chest. Then it comes to me, the thought that Jesus on the Cross experienced everything real to us humans, including mental illnesses like anxiety and depression and bipolar and all. On the cross, that’s what Jesus did. Jesus took it for us all.

8.

No, I cannot join you in the happiness of Light, enjoying casual encounters or live music, feeling the anticipation of love or joy of birthday milestones, no laughing hard at jokes, or knowing the thrill of spiritual mountaintops – I cannot join you there.  I listen, I am physically present, and I might even laugh but I don’t feel it. Even laughter tastes bitter on my tongue. I am living in the shadow lands of unremitting lonesomeness and I sit here.  I am waiting for it all to end. But that’s just it.  I have to learn that finding my oxygen mask is to save myself and in doing so it will save them.

When the trustworthy and brilliant doctor said it, something resisted. Our lives are on a careening train but I’m supposed to jump off, save myself and watch the crash? No.

“You cannot stop this train. Save yourself,” he said.  And,“The only way you can help your child is to save yourself.” And later, “Know that no one around you is going through what you are: no one, none of your neighbors or friends, can possibly understand nor will they ever have any idea of the depth of this sorrow you carry.”

9.

And so I go on. Watching for patterns in the sunshine and shadows, for lessons, for language, for hope, for rhythms that show me God’s order in the midst of this unrelenting sting. Light beckons the heart toward hope.

Lent Diary: The Wilderness of My Spiritual Doubts (Day 3)

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I.

In The Wilderness of My Spiritual Doubts

The pull on the soul between belief and disbelief has been the root of much of my spiritual doubt; that I cannot prove my faith, even to myself. This frequent disbelief and self-hatred are two among the many causes for me to hesitate to share my faith story.

Doubt, a status between belief and disbelief, involves uncertainty or distrust or lack of sureness of an alleged fact, an action, a motive, or a decision. 

Add to that my melancholic disposition, a cup half empty view of life and a more than slight bent toward negativity. You might say I’m doomed!  I would, no doubt.

2.

Every so often, I fear that I’m in a wilderness of my making.

I have written ad nauseam on my recent, lengthy stretch of epic depression—not the worst, but the longest.  One might wonder. If I have only just climbed out of this wilderness then why would I choose, with all my spiritual doubts and with the black dog of depression nipping at my legs, to practice Lent?

Perhaps I’m just desperate enough. Or could it be that I am just hopeful enough to believe that these forty days of surrendering “food and fat from my over full life, creating lengthy spaces of spiritual and physical hunger, will create a fertile environment for the Holy One

to Act.

3.

To realize we are not alone among the hurried and haggard human race.

After reading David R. Henson’s Into the Wild: A Lenten Homily I understand myself better than I have in a long time. A good writer will do that; by exposing the raw and ravaged bones of their story, they relieve us of our own heartache.

Suffering people feel alone. Suddenly, reading this I saw it. A tangible provision that came from knowing there is another person in the universe that has felt my pain. It is such a relief!  I feel that when I read Heschel or Eugene Peterson or Nouwen or Kierkegaard (Clearly, I need to read more women!!!!) or brilliant poets like Emily Dickenson or Mary Karr, and so many others. And sometimes, I identify with a sermon.

Talking about a wilderness time in his life, Henson says that his wilderness has made him who he is, and has created within him a greater compassion.

“Stories about the wilderness aren’t stories of temptation, either resisting it or triumphing over it. Rather, they are stories of identity. It’s a story of getting a little lost and scared and finding out who you really are.”

4.

As Jesus rises out of the water of his baptism he is proclaimed the Son of God, BELOVED.

That’s what I’ve heard through out my wilderness years. You are beloved. I don’t always accept it. Or believe it. But when we do choose belief over disbelief, we are saying I choose to listen to the voice of God in spite of the voice of the SLANDERER* clanging. Henson says that’s the great temptation—to believe the lie that we are Not Beloved.

I’m learning to recognize how often I listen to the slanderer (whether it is my voice in my head or the real evil one.) With the lengthening of the days (an extra hour of light on Sunday!) how will I fill it? As I experience the spiritual hunger that comes from a physical alertness of this Lenten fast I am eager. Even expectant.

As we become aware of the wilderness in our heart Christ beckons — Let go of self-hatred and grab hold of being named: Beloved.

How is Christ beckoning you?

Melody

I hope you’ll forgive these Lent Diaries are a little rough. I don’t want to spend a lot of time perfecting them when I can be doing just the things I wrote about above.

  • Henson says the word for devil in the book of Matthew is slanderer.

Lent Diary: The Mundane, A Holy Awareness, Our body, and Jesus

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My first Lenten post is here.

These are the indiscriminate observations from days one and two. 

Often, I allow dailiness of life to flood in, the tyranny of the urgent family agenda turning me half brain-dead.  Just do the next thing, if grumpily.

In The Sign of Jonas, Merton says:

 “I ought to know, by now, that God uses everything that happens as means to lead me into solitude. Every creature that enters my life, every instant of my days, will be designed to wound me with the realization of the world’s insufficiency, until I become so detached that I will be able to find God alone in everything. Only then will all things bring me joy.”

1. I SAW MY SHRINK.

The last time I saw her, a month ago, I was so down that she expressed concern. Meanwhile, until late last week I couldn’t even pick up the phone to set up an appointment. Yesterday I was floating; my brain was uncluttered and clear.  I was articulate and full of a strong sense of myself. I had a little extra energy and my spirits weren’t clouded by anxiety and depression. Is this a result of the medication change? I have no idea.

I often get an emotional bump from HOPE.  I have seen this time and again over the years.  There were so many incredible observations with my shrink.  I left knowing that I wanted to write them down the got stuck in the snow filled parking lot at Pier 1.  By the time I was out of that mess, I didn’t want to see if they had a round table-cloth and in a fit of anger huffily drove home.

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2. THE MUNDANE.

My days at home are full of the mundane.  Every keeper of a home knows that most things are never finished.  The laundry is never done.  Bathrooms always need cleaning.  The kitchen needs sweeping or wet mopping.  You wash the dishes so that you can have room to cook dinner and do it all over again. That’s why I love snow blowing or mowing depending on the season.  Jobs that make me feel good—it is finished.

When I got home, I plowed out two driveways (we borrow from a neighbor and it was my turn).  My car got stuck again, this time in an icy snow patch in the street in front of my house. I lost almost an hour trying to get myself out and then the generous city employer helped.

Sadly, I blew out my shoulders doing that, more stupid than sad. I’ve had weak shoulders for twenty years.  If they get inflamed, they burn and ache all day long, with one special place that I have come to fondly call The Rod. I had to lie immobile or sit for the rest of the afternoon.

3. TIME COUNTS.

Rather than take advantage of the downtime, to read or study or write, I nosed about on Twitter and Instagram, alternating. I do read linked articles but reading on my phone gives me squinting, tired eyes. And my (self-diagnosed) ADD makes it so that I have eighty things open at once. I follow too many writers.  I don’t finish things. I’m twittering away my life – pun intended.

4. AWARENESS

Regular readers know that I appreciate the writer, international teacher and Benedictine nun Joan Chittister. She has written more than 30 books including The Liturgical Year.  In chapter 17 titled Lent: A Symphony in Three Parts she says:

“Having conquered our impulses for the immediate, having tamed our desires for the physical, perhaps we will be able to bring ourselves to rise above the GREED that consumes us. Maybe we will be able to control the ANGER that is a veil between us and the face of God. Perhaps we will have a reason now to forswear the PRIDE that is a barrier to growth. Possibly we will learn to forswear the LUST that denies us the freeing grace of simplicity. Maybe we will even find the energy to fight the SLOTH that deters us from making spiritual progress, the GLUTTONY that ties us to our bellies, and the ENVY that makes it impossible for us to be joyful givers of the life we have been given.

Lent is the period in which, learning to abstain from adoring at the shrine of the self, we come to see beyond the divinity we have made of ourselves to the divine will for all the world.” (pp. 113)

5. RISE ABOVE.

“There is no way under the sun to make a man worthy of love except by loving him. As soon as he realizes himself loved–if he is not so weak that he can no longer bear to be loved–he will feel himself instantly becoming worthy of love. He will respond by drawing a mysterious spiritual value out of his own depths, a new identity called into being by the love that is addressed to him.” — from “The Power and Meaning of Love” Merton

I’m conscious today of how easily I resent people, especially social circles where I may be forgotten; as much as I am embarrassed1-DSC_0036 by those “high school” type feelings, don’t we all simply want connection? Social media feeds that anger and pride and envy in me.

I’m not sure what kind of distinction I dream about for my writing, nothing specific.  As I said my goals are unclear.  There’s a chance that I’ll need to go to work outside the home. This came up late last week. And this shook me.  I became frustratingly aware of what I had to lose.  These twelve years of privilege, I do not have to work for money.  I saw my writing life suddenly threatened and had to ask myself how badly I want this.  Do I want it enough to get up early or stay up late for it; to sacrifice evenings or weekends to write if I had to work a 9-5 job? Right now my writing is very one offish. I respond to requests, take very little risks, never query, don’t have a writing group, don’t ask others to edit (except Tom.)  Haven’t taken further classes to improve. How serious am I?  I think I am but I haven’t been behaving that way. If I want to write for certain publications then I have to query and write and send.  As if I’m going to be “discovered” sitting here in my den, in Wisconsin.

I am my own worst enemy. Recently, a writer who blogs on Patheos.com asked me if I’d like her to check into their interest in my writing for them.  I’m the one that put the question out there but when she took the bait I got scared.  I haven’t written her to say one way or another.  I’m afraid.

“Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self-hood, whether or not it conforms to some image of which we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks–we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.” ― Parker J. Palmer

6. MY BODY.

Another Lenten awareness is that I’m eating an Orthodox fast for Lent, this is my first time.  That means no meat (except fish), no dairy or things made of fat from animals.  (Additionally no white sugar because why not?  It’s a brain drain I learned yesterday.) I don’t eat gluten but I’ve cheated on that.  I’m eager to return to the discipline of no wheat, to be honest gluten makes me depressed, foggy headed, and lethargic. At first, I was sure I’d feel deprived.  So far I’m not that hungry.  I’m aware of a cleansing of body and spirit.  I look forward to other observations.

From Isaiah: “If you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; Then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday.”

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7. MY SPIRIT.

I’m reading the four Gospels through over the forty days of lent. The Gospels tell the story of Jesus and that is what I want to know more about.  I think my (lack of) prayer life would be changed by truly knowing Jesus.  Prayer is communication in a relationship after all.

“Everyone was trying to touch him because the power came out of him that cured their ills.” Luke 6:19-26

I’ve got some ills that need curing.

8. SO FAR.

On this path of slowing down for Lent, so far I’ve seen I’m terrible at it. I’m self-consciously aware that I read my Twitter feed all day long. I dive quickly into FB and out again, because FB makes me feel bad. I post images on Instagram and wonder why I am not liked.  I want to sort out why does social media like Facebook make me feel bad about myself? I need to sit with my discomfort. Face it.  Own it.  Get over it. Do I think I’m a worthwhile person? Do I think I’m a worthwhile writer or photographer? Why seek other’s validation?

The word AWARENESS is sticking with me, nudging and prodding in all the right places.

I read these words somewhere today and jotted them in the front of my prayer-book.

Desire God, make space for God, and remember God does all the work.

Amen.

What about you? What practice are you taking on for Lent.  What are you observing as you slow down your days? (One day thus far.)  You don’t have to tell me here, just something to be thinking about.