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.

{The Dilemma of Being unHuman—And Becoming Whole} a poem


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1.

I want to radiate Light in a worn-out world. I want to face others with joy and eagerness. Glad to share life with one another. Life feels less weighty and onerous, when we are vulnerable with One Another. We all need community.  I long for it,

then I open my mouth.

I always seem to be

lacking. For I did not learn to trust

humans.

Friendship by its nature is reciprocal. But all I can focus on, in my weakest and worst moments, is what I don’t have to give, what I am not receiving, how alone I often feel, so alone. Irrelevant to anyone that I imagine to be my friend. The world of relationships is moving around and beyond me. Somehow I am not invited in, shielding myself by saying I’m not a joiner but really likely ignored or forgotten.

On the other hand I am caught

inside myself. It‘s the dilemma of feeling unHuman.

2.

Parenting too is not for the meek, but for people with wisdom and strength collected by watching a mother and father long ago. My parents had many good qualities. But they could also be insular and ingrown. It was from them that I learned to be suspicious and untrusting.  The Generous Spirit my Father had for Others often failed to come home. I learned to go inward from his regular correctives and criticism. The love my Mother shared, she didn’t receive unconditionally in childhood or in their marriage. This made it hard for her to pass love on. (She’s different since he died.)

I fear for myself. Together is not something I do well. Community is for Others so unlike me. And so I withdraw even further.

Away from the Light I might

find, the Light I might hold within, the Light I might share with others.

3.

These days I am unlearning Who I Am. Almost every day I work to be more Human; to forget the broken promises and to forgive.  Letting go of the anger and resentments that are carving grooves in my soul. Forego the automatic ungracious way I learned to speak to those I love.

I have worked hard to stop being me, the Me I Hate.

Just stop.

If only—

We are named Beloved but I can barely accept it.  I need to know Grace, but I’m worn down, the trenches within are real, torrents rushing through pulling away at

the Me I Could Become.

I try so hard to Become, to Be someone you want to be with, worth breaking bread together.

But I am still here. Shaky with sadness, knowing I may never find my way.  I’m only forty-seven but I feel a hundred year’s weary.  Intellectually I believe in transformation.  But in the daily, all I can muster is longing for One Another and I am left with my hollow heart and howling grief.

How do we learn to be Light when our hearts are shadowy, rigid and so very heavy?  When we believe we have nothing to offer.  All the years of trying and not measuring up, now turning us

up into what kind of person? How do we convey our acceptance and satisfaction to our children when our hearts echo a hollow sounding love?—when “unconditional” was always tethered to conditions?

I want to believe, oh help my unbelief.

4.

I try very hard—to be a Good Mother, a Good Daughter, Sister, Partner and Friend.  Every day I am failing, for even when I am told I am loved I don’t believe.The one doing the speaking is never enough to fill the hole inside.

I need healing.  I need to set down pride and fear and discontent, take off Never Good Enough and take on my true name—Beloved Daughter.

Then will I feel whole?

5.

I meet so many people who I can see are hurting; opening up just enough for me to see Myself inside their soul.  The Me I don’t want to be.

I see you.  I know you.  I recognize what’s inside. I ache for you.

Let us become Light for One Another. Even though I don’t know how and some days I don’t believe. I have to believe that this Heavy Awareness of myself holds a greater purpose, in the intuitions that lay bare the souls of those around me and make me want to take their pain on myself.

And Perhaps that is an answer. As I take my eyes off my own wrecked heart and look deeply into yours, I will feel your pain more than my own.

May I be a person who can take others pain.  May I be A Beloved Daughter who cries with you, your tears collected in a basin that I will hold,

a chamber that is perhaps duck taped together. I’ll hold it close to my heart.

May I forget myself in that Holy Moment and become finally

not whole, but holy.

An Extended Awareness: Some Thoughts on Lent

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I.

I didn’t grow up observing Lent.  Perhaps this is your story too.

Over time I have come to believe that Lent is an extended awareness and a reminder that life isn’t only about Me and Mine.

The word Lent is old English meaning to lengthen. It comes in the spring as the days begin to stretch and elongate.

Traditionally during the forty days of Lent people give something up and there are lessons learned.

I’ll confess to only dabbling with Lent and usually not making it through to forty days, sometimes “giving up” chocolate or some thing that is more of a sacrifice like caffeine. Once or twice I remember giving up alcohol. (That one didn’t last!) Other times I chose sugar or carbs. Turning it into more of a diet. Thinking maybe I can be “spiritual” and lose weight at the same time. The most pious customarily give up eating anything made of the fat from blood animals.

Abstaining at Lent may be an epochal moment in your spiritual journey—changing your spirit and body forever.

2.

The act of giving something up forces a complete revaluation of self.  Suddenly life is not about our incessant self-satisfaction. Bringing a reconnoitering of what is Mine and what is Ours, etching on our soul an openness to greater generosity and community.  Hopefully one comes to understand the idea that restraint or curbing of the Self is as important as satisfying Self.

As the years go by, I have come to understand more fully that this experience of sacrifice and repentance could be an important part of what it means to be a spiritual person.

And we join an ancient tradition in religious history that is thousands of years old.

III.

The Lenten fast is a part of the liturgical church’s calendar but that doesn’t mean evangelicals need not engage in this important spiritual tradition. Knowing that it is coming up, I wanted to learn more about this Church tradition.

Observed over the forty days before Easter, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.  It is traditionally a time of fasting and reflection.  The last week of Lent is Holy Week.  Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent starts, is a day of penitence, to clean the soul, and a day of celebration as it is the last chance to feast before Lent begins.

I found it interesting that in order to not waste food, families have a feast on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday to eat up the food that would spoil in forty days.  The need to eat up the fats (meat, butter, eggs and milk, etc.) is where the French name Mardi Gras (‘fat Tuesday’) came from.  Pancakes became associated with Shrove Tuesday because they are a dish that could use up all the eggs, fats and milk in the house with the addition of flour.

But background should not trivialize out awareness of what this sort of fast might bring to us spiritually. Our bodies and spirits being connected. When we gorge ourselves day-to-day We (the wealthy among us that is.) aren’t as aware of our immense spiritual needs.

IV.

I have been in a long-drawn-out icy season of grief. Not a loss specifically, but a suffering that life sometimes brings; which I have written about elsewhere.

I know intellectually that this dark season cannot possibly stay forever, and joy will come.  At least I’m hoping it isn’t permanent. Hoping for healing or at least some movement toward healing.  More days than not over these two years (and this decade) life has been filled with depression, fear, anxiety, sorrow and more recently grief.  All internal.  All inside me.

If you are lost in a Long Winter of Grief, how do you step into the extended awareness and lingering of Lent? When you feel brittle and bent like a reed how do you find Belief again? 

All I can reason out is that it is important to make a choice to lay aside this cloak of grief. Though it is obviously not an actual physical entity, some days it feels weighty. Like a somatic struggle of an Other, it is on me, pulling at my flesh and spirit.

The wise and brilliant Joan Chittister says Lent is a growing season.

It doesn’t happen to us. She says, “It is at most a microcosm of what turns out to be a lifelong journey…”

Perhaps what we need annually on this faith walk is to confront our absorption with Self, which is “conscious and purposeful.”  If it is a growing season as Chittister says, this must help us handle the rest of our life.

V.

Our lives in the West have become so trivial and pedestrian. We go about them mostly focused on our own pleasures (Or am I the only one?)  Perhaps in this next season, whether you fast for Lent or run in the green grasses of Spring or simply experience a greater awareness of life’s renewal, ask yourself–what’s important?  Perhaps renew your commitment and passion to that over these coming days.

So, out of a need to declare the end of This Thing Grief. Or to grow into what it means To Carry Grief On, if that is required. I have chosen to take up a fast over the forty days of Lent.  I anticipate a great internal struggle, the voice of Self telling me I cannot make it. And even as I fight inertia and hunger and disbelief, I choose to believe in what I cannot see.  I resolve that I will find something that I don’t yet have words for and cannot explain.

In the end that is Faith.

Isn’t that all each of us can do? To remain Open, Extended and Aware in this season of longer Light and Hope.  For life is not all about joy.  It is also about the power to endure and to Believe.

Sources:

National Catholic Reporter, Feb. 23, 2001. See more.

The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister (Thomas Nelson)

–I also read this from BBC.

In 2014:

Shrove Tuesday is March 4th
Ash Wednesday is March 5th
Lent is March 5th – April 19th
Holy Week is Apr 13th – 19th
Maundy Thursday is April 18th
Good Friday is April 19th
Easter is April 20th

Other things I’ve written about Lent.

Lent: My agenda or God’sPerfect Practice: A Poem; To Lent or Not to Lent: That is the Question; What is Lent Anyway, Besides Strange; {Lenten Series: Winter Slowly Recedes (Poem)}; {Lenten Series: If You Were Homeless}; A Prayer For Lent; {Lenten Series: Thou Mayst in Me Behold}

Be Gentle. Don’t Lose any Opportunity.

Don’t lose any opportunity, however small, of being gentle toward everyone.

Don’t rely on your own efforts to succeed in your various undertakings, but only on God’s help.

Then rest in his care of you, confident that he will do what is best for you, provided that you will, for your part, work diligently but gently. I say “gently” because a tense diligence is harmful both to our heart and to our task and is not really diligence, but rather over eagerness and anxiety…

I recommend you to God’s mercy. I beg him, through that same mercy, to fill you with his love. — Francis de Sales.

If Winter is Dying, then Writing is Life

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This isn’t my usual type of post. I have some thoughts ruminating into a slow boil. Aching about justice & the Stand Your Ground law and being white and privileged. A response. But I need more time to mull.

I finished the article on loving a drunk for Today’s Christian WomanAhem, I know. I’m not a likely writer for them. I don’t read resources written just for women (much). Nor do I like ministries just for women which I’ve written about.  The issue is about addiction and when they asked, I started to think about how little this topic is discussed in the Church. I think this topic needs attention.  

Still, it was one of the hardest things to write in my life.  That’s no exaggeration. I thought this piece for SheLoves was vulnerable because it was to such a “big” audience.  Well just leapt larger than life here with being published on a Christianity Today website.  My stomach curls in on itself just thinking about it. So I try not to think.

But more than that, it’s just hard to go back there, where I cannot remember. I had to interview Tom about those Falling Down Drunk years. Yes, I had to interview my husband as weird as that sounds. Tell me about that time when I barfed all over the car.

As you can imagine those monster enemies of Shame and Regret hovered around, clouding everything I did for days. Remembering what I put him through feels like hell but I’m hopeful that this will help people.  Or I would write it. The mind blowing thing was the good that came out of the sweating blood of this writing. I got to see how he loved me in such a long-suffering and courageous way. How awesome to feel, stone cold sober the love of my husband after twenty years. I’m smitten all over again. just thinking about his sacrifice and love for me.

I blasted out a poem for my church’s Pulse Conference on Worship & the Arts. I didn’t have time to over think. It came fast and I loved it. I am learning to have more confidence in my Voice. And like I mentioned before when things are printed-and-official I usually get the heebie jeebies and completely freak out; telling myself how unworthy I am to be writing a poem for “Artists.” I didn’t go there this time. (Phew, deep exhalation.) I am evolving.

I found a Psychiatrist, meaning—after having the number for five months I finally picked up the phone—I scheduled an appointment. Sometimes it’s the little things that feel unbearable with depression. I have a list of those things collecting Shame.  I look at the phone a lot, I mean a lot. Then my chest hurts with anxiety and starts burning. More deep breathing helps. 

I feel like I should wear a warning sign these days: KEEP CLEAR of me.

The good news is I like this doctor and today I feel a burst of hope that together we can figure out a better cocktail (of medications). What I take now makes me feel flat like a faded old piece of paper. Everyone else seems to be living in 3D and I’m one dimensional. The current medications got me out of the troth of not wanting to be alive (Which is different than suicidal—an important clarification.) But I’d like to shoot for something a tad higher than flat and undead.  Perhaps happy. I’d also be satisfied with sociable.

“My world is so small right now.” I found myself confessing to the doctor.  This made me even sadder and I wanted to cry. Crying not something I can do currently, another side effect, but as I said I’m hopeful with a change of medication that crying will come back.

Someone asks: Do you want to get together? (Blank marshmallow filled space in my brain and then panic.)  Feel like coffee? a text  (I feel nothing if I were to be honest.)  Want to go to that concert with me? (No.) You could listen to them online. You’ll like them. They’re really great. (No, definitely no. Milwaukee. It’s too much effort.) Can you host Christmas? (… birds chirping …     hell no!)  Don’t forget life group is tonight. ( … I don’t think I can go. Two hours of not talking in a group of talking people makes me feel dead and I don’t think I can speak. If I have to give another update saying things are still … bad.  I’m so tired of my life updates being so [insert pejorative].)

I’ve been so tired of feeling like this daily for months and months.

But I’ve been making myself do a few things out of the conviction that I cannot sit in my chair alone all winter. Besides motherhood, which doesn’t stop ever.

I’m attending the Festival of Faith and Writing in April. When I made the reservation I thought I’d never be able to go, not in a million years. My brain won’t even compute navigating the drive, let alone attending a conference alone. But somehow, things have been improving.  Writing this and asking for help went a long way. I know I’m not alone.  And now a break from life sounds damn good. It has been the most awful winter that I can recall EVER and I’m not talking just about the weather.

2796253209_98caa0e57e_o “The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable, they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.” – Ernest Hemingway

Remember the hot days of summer, when I was working on an essay on PRAYER and feeling really skeptical about whether I even believe in prayer? That essay is now published in the book Disquiet Time. You can pre-order it here published by Jericho Books in October, 2014. So that’s very cool.  

Did I even tell you that I have two poems in the book Not Afraid: Stories of Confronting Fear which is available here.

Lastly, WordPress is telling me I have been blogging six years sending their congratulations. Looking back, I see that my first post was 2008/10/07. That means I’ve been sober six and a half years.  Six years of blogging! Wow.

In that time, I’ve gathered TO MY UTTER AMAZEMENT 1,751 subscribed email readers. Not sure how that happened but I can only thank you, for when you pass along my writing. It helps me build traction and readers which helps me imagine one day I’ll be published. So, I’m grateful that Spring is coming.

I leave you with thoughts of summer, which I am longing for — running in flip flops, or curled up with a book in grass, or squinting at the sun by the lake.

As always, thanks for reading,

Melody

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When I Was A Falling Down Drunk: A Love Story

tomhanson_bwIt’s only been a few days but I feel it.  In the hidden, hard place where I keep my little girl heart that learned to be scared too early.  That place in my heart has shifted.

It might be that I am writing out the story of how I once was a falling down drunk.  I’ve been looking for ways that I was loved through it, and I’ve been realizing

over and over how I was so loved. My husband

lived out this incredible, sacrificial, life-giving, endless, kind, patient, generous, soul upon soul holding of my precious life when I wasn’t into or able to be caring for myself

at all.  Didn’t believe I was precious or lovable at all. I guess you can say I couldn’t possibly, since I was more and more consumed

by booze.

And here’s shit’s honest truth: I will never, ever–not ever–be able to repay him.  Every ounce of love that I can give, a life time of kindnesses, every selfless act of thoughtfulness—all of it,

none of it will ever make up for his saving my life by helping me through the drunken years.  Trust me I have walked back over every ugly moment that I can remember. And when I couldn’t remember I interviewed him. Phew that was hard on us both.

And that is what he did.  His love saved me and it was totally undeserved.

Kind of like what God does in sending Jesus and that’s so amazing I’ve just had to sit

here in my writing chair.

Hours on end, sitting.

Feeling my thankful feelings for sobriety. And for Tom. For my children surviving (though we can all see a toll in their minds and hearts, but that’s another story.)  I’m just

unabashedly

thankful.

So whether it actually was the practice of stopping and writing down what I’m thankful for, I’ll never know.  Sometimes God works by making two things collide bringing a providence of actions and

then it is on us how we respond.

How to love a drunk is a love story.  Yes, a valentine.

xoxo,

Melody

An excerpt from the article I have been writing:

It is breathtaking for me to think how much Tom loves me and showed it both with his long-suffering gentle care.  And, in the act of telling me he couldn’t take it any longer he faced his greatest fears.  He was potentially losing me either way. That letter confronting my addiction was selfless love.

After drinking an entire bottle of white wine the night before, I was scared to death. And God’s spirit had been graciously preparing my heart, perhaps for years. Tom’s letter and my readiness collided and became the catalyst.

I was ready. That was our miracle. That’s what it looks like to love a drunk.

Honestly there are no sweet guarantees.  But Tom never gave up on me.  When we married twenty years ago, pledging in sickness and in health neither of us knew what a high price IN SICKNESS contained.

Gratitude: A Quiet Discipline, An Offering, A Setting Down, An Unfreezing of the Heart, A Spiritual Continuum

I wake up every day tired, mostly of me. This is how depression repeatedly exposes itself to me, in exhaustion. With each breath and step in the day, with every mundane activity only reinforcing my life’s obvious lack of direction. It is sad. I seem unable to enjoy life.

Sometimes I think this is easily solvable.  Do I have a lack of gratitude for all the good in my life? It might look like that if you saw my beautiful life.

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If pushed I can name all the things for which I am thankful. In my bleaker moments, I imagine that I don’t know how to live out this gratitude.

“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” Meister Eckhart  (c. 1260 – c. 1327)

I don’t completely agree, but I know that it is up there in importance in the spiritual formation of a believing heart. Anne Lamott says help, thanks, wow in her tiny book by that title.

To implore, to give thanks and to offer praise create the liminal places preparing us for a deeper spiritual life. This allows for a vulnerable, more exposed and prepared spiritual self.

It is lost to us when we get caught up in over thinking and not allow ourselves moments in the day when we let go of that rigid way of spirituality in the form of dry and useless ingratitude.

The wonderful Catholic visionary and author of more than 40 books Joan Chittister says:

“Gratitude is not only the posture of praise. It is also the basic element of real belief in God.”

This convicts my aching, thankless, over thinking mind and heart.

One of my favorite spiritual fathers, a gently resplendent author, the late Henri Nouwen, is the most convincing to me today. As a recovering alcoholic I seem to have many resentments that crowd in before I know it. I can go through a whole day, my brain buzzing with one resentment or critical thought after another, and then before I realize it my physical body and spiritual heart and heartless brain are full.  I am brimming with bitterness and judgement.

In Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit he said:

“”The opposite of resentment is gratitude (from the Latin gratia = favor). Gratitude is more than an occasional ‘thanks be to God.’ Gratitude is the attitude that enables us to let go of anger, receive the hidden gifts of those we want to serve, and make these gifts visible to the community as a source of celebration …” When I think about what it means to live and act in the name of Jesus, I realize that what I have to offer to others is not my intelligence, skill, power, influence, or connections, but my own human brokenness, through which the love of God can manifest itself. Ministry is entering with our human brokenness into communion with others and speaking a word of hope.”  (My emphasis)

My bleak spiritual state is so obvious to me when I am depressed. But to dwell there deciding my life is useless would be the real tragedy. Even with and perhaps because of depression, even with some of the things that plague so many of us including spiritual doubt, incessant fear or anxiety, the self-hatred so many struggle with, our life’s deep regrets and our brokenness.

Before God these are my questions. Am I am able to let go of them and lay them in prayer at the Cross? Can I set them down to pick up the communion bread and cup? Can I find, as a daily discipline, a few things for which I can say thanks? If this is hard, especially for a melancholic person like myself, I think it’s paramount to express thanks as a part of our life of spiritual discipline.

Gratitude it’s an offering. Gratitude is a discipline. It is a setting down of bitter burdens to try to trust God with our brokenness.

Gratitude I think is the ultimate trust.  This isn’t a formula; rather it is a part of life’s spiritual continuum.

celestial snow

Wisconsin has had more than 30 days below zero already this winter.  It’s a hard place for me to live. It’s a cold, wrecked bitter place. But it also has great beauty such as snowflakes falling this morning; dancing as they fall, whirling playfully and slowly, and dropping to the already covered ground.  I have to admit, sitting here in my warm house it is beautiful to see the snow form into an angel.

Gratitude is a spiritual or life discipline that can bring health and heart healing.

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For the next 30 days or so, through the bleakest whitest part of winter, I’m going to keep track in writing. Want to try it with me?  Perhaps the last activity before sleep or first thing in the morning with a cup of coffee.  Take a moment to write five things (or even one) for which you are grateful.

Will this cause an inner shift in my frozen, depressed heart caught up in its own gloom? It may not.  It may simply get me through this frozen winter.  Whatever the outcome, I’m a little more hopeful today.

Let me know if you’re going to try 30 days or nights of private gratitude. Let’s step toward this hope together.

As The Winter Is Long [a NEW Poem]

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In the dreary midwinter
time is never-ending and merciless.

I chase the shadow’s
bright reflections, brittle patterns
on the silvery snow.

This distracts me from the echoing lament
I woke with today.
Melancholy sits dismally on my chest, like a lethargic cat
As I consider what’s gone wrong with me.
There’s always something and I’m as tired as the winter is long.

I chase the shadows.
Somehow, they hold hope
when I’ve got none.

“Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of god is glue. — Eugene O’Neill

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p>Ever conscious of the grace of God. As I think and pray about, and write the details of my addiction story, it is heavy.  The weight of mistakes, the shame of walking backwards trudging through the broken ways my addiction hurt my family; It’s heavy to carry it.  Thanks for your prayers as I finish up an essay on How to Love an Addict. 

The Stones I Carry and a Band of Saintly Women

“With or without our permission, with or without our understanding, eventually suffering comes. Then the only question is how to endure it, how to accept it, how to cope with it, how to turn it from dross to gleam.”  

Joan Chittister, The Liturgical Year

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A saint (noun) is a virtuous person, particularly good or holy, or one who is exceptionally kind and patient in dealing with difficult people or situations.

1.

I’ve been angry. And it is passing.

I’m embarrassed about my anger being a person of faith. I’ve been wide-awake, tossing in the Dark of the Night.

It’s a level below wakeful consciousness.

Hardly daring to speak of it because mature followers of Jesus should know ahead of time that people suffer and life is hard; all the clichés rattling round in my skull late at night and in the early morning, sitting at a red light, during the stretches of waiting in my day.  I do a lot of waiting.

There are so many moments when I have tried to pray and my consciousness hits my anger hard. That is where I got stuck.

My heart’s gone stony.

Examining my heart dispassionately, I hear a gusting and desolate wind howling, see whirling tumble weed. My emotions are hard and gritty. (Antidepressant medication ironically stops almost all sensation.)

This is the state of my heart, mind, and body, until recently.

“Suffering experienced leaves us crushed in despair – content to survive and endure, to switch off from the life of the world beyond our pain, to allow darkness to fill our horizons and hide our hope – rather than continue to love our (equally hurting) friends and world in whatever ways are left to us.”

Joan Chittister, Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope

2.

My doubts tell me my spiritual path is probably not worth writing—elusive, brittle, and often overly bleak. My pain is at times far too precious. And yet I’ve been sanctified by reading Saints attentively. So perhaps the inverse could be true.

But I’ve struggled against my anger and disappointments with life to the point of spiritual torpor or inertia.

I am no saint.

To be sure, as a teen I had flashes of spiritual sincerity mostly through vigorous questions and an appetite for scripture. The “mountain top” was climbed infrequently but often enough to be certain that God was doing the stirring in my squashed shattered heart. (I’ve written about that heart ache on this blog enough times to leave it for now.)

Life is full of spiritual spaces described by Richard Rohr as “the spaces in-between forged by a stinging ache of pain.”

There is a dying inside with spiritual movement in the heart, which includes darkness every time. “Darkness and not knowing—then surely an even larger letting go is necessary to move from one spiritual stage to another…  Without great love (of someone beyond yourself) and great suffering, where there is a major defeat, major humiliation, major shock to the ego, very few people move [spiritually].”   From Richard Rohr, The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of St. Francis.

3.

The shock of suffering and grief can catch one in its slow surprise.  It is a relentless beating. As frequent and steady as the rain drumming outside is mesmerizing on the senses.  That’s what it is like to watch someone you love stagger under the weight of unfair and ruthless mental illness.

That is what it is like to feel wounded by life’s sting. Your humanity departed, stones weigh you down.

For months all I could think to pray was: “This is too much.”

Not even able to whisper the usual question of how a good God would allow an innocent child to feel so much pain? That came later but didn’t last long. Accepting that  sh*t certainly happens. And those that know me, know, that I’m no optimist, generally.  I expected life to be tough; it’s been hard for me, but not for my babies.  Damn you, not my babies my heart screams.

I don’t believe that pain is FROM God.  Or that God punishes us with suffering.

I believe that with everything I am. Though I am angry, there is no one to blame. I have come to see with startling clarity that life will be hard and pain will eventually come for most everyone.  What’s most important is how we respond.

4.

When I became pregnant I hadn’t given much thought to whether my children would eventually suffer.Yes, I was that naïve. They were born healthy and I was pleased, as if I had anything to do with it. I thought if we do a good job parenting, our babies would grow up to be happy and carefree.

I hadn’t prepared my heart for the powerlessness of watching a child suffering.  And didn’t realize how much I had bought into what the world considers to be kid’s perfections or imperfections, much of it utterly out of anyone’s control.

When everything began to crumble for us nearly two years ago the first thing I did was question what’s wrong with us as parents.  Then, what’s wrong with my child?  Eventually I had the thought: how can we “fix” this?  I hadn’t seen it before but I guess I believed children could (perhaps should) be perfect.

My daughter’s health was someone’s failing.  This illness could be, must be fixed.  I was caught in this thinking. A different doctor, a different medicine, a different ANYTHING would be the answer and I would find it. I would do anything for my child!

One day seeking yet again “The Answer” we met with another specialist, a good, gracious and brilliant doctor.  He was probably the fifth or sixth doctor that had tried to help us through more than two years of hard work of therapy, hospitals, dozens of variations of medications. Not to mention all the feelings of grief, failure, desolation, loneliness, rage all processed mostly in solitude or between Tom and me.

Finally, after lots of conversation this new doctor asked the most incredible question.

“What if you could see that she’s perfect the way she is?”

I’ll be honest I laughed out loud, more like snorted, choking back my scorn. Still so caught up in grief I sputtered:  “Perfect like this? She’s broken…”  Yes, I said it out loud.  My child is broken. She had recently been discharged from the adolescent psychiatric hospital.  We were once again in crisis management after the short reprieve of hospitalization.

That’s what people convey with ideas of Tiger Mothers and Helicopter Parenting, with the ugliness of genetic testing, and the standards of a perfect GPA and natural athleticism, and in the church expecting us to raise Velcro children that are attracted to our Sticky Faith. What?  With the stigmatization of mental illness everywhere it is lound and clear: the mentally ill are broken. And in the Church, If our children no longer believe, we should feel shame and be blamed.

“Your child is perfect” he said, again.

5.

My anger wakes me in the murky, shadows of the night causing frantic, fearful anxiety.  I’ve faced my anger with the maturity of a petulant teen. I’ve tried to understand suffering standing on the edge of a cliff considering a jump.

Standing at the top of that very high cliff looking down, I hear God gently saying, “Steady on, I’ve got you.” Abysmally, I know that I will eventually believe. Still angry. A bit sulky and disappointed by it all. But I will come to a change.

6.

Today is a cold blustery and snowy winter morning. I find I can suddenly pray more than “This. Is. Too. Much!”

Somehow in some way something is different.  Then I remember. This week I reached out to a band of women from several continents and dozens of walks of life, each knowing me in different contexts and decades of my spiritual progression.  Some know me well, we’ve got flesh history.  Others I’ve met online. The relationships bound by our writing.  Some I know peripherally. It doesn’t matter to me how I know them or how long, because they are praying for me.

And into the faith of many good women, I lean.

I let it all drop. Like heavy stones I’ve been carrying stuffed into my pockets, clenched in my tired hands. I hear each one fall to the ground. Soon they are behind me.  I keep walking forward.

I looked back this morning to see the stones are smaller in the distance.  Still there, still on my spiritual path with me, but each step takes me farther from their weight.

That’s the case for my heart, mind, and body now. I am lighter.

I begin a new prayer:Lighten my load, oh my God, it is still just a few words. I find I am carried along by the faith of more than twenty saintly women of great faith and prayer.  Right now, they are far stronger than my solitary heart.

Now,

I’m still burdened if I turn around and lift those heavy stones back up: Worry. Fear. Anger. Doubt. Lack of trust. Disappointment. Grief.

I whisper the words of faith, growing within.  Finally, I have a few more words.

Give me faith, love, patience and kindness. Give me the strength to continue on.

Give me a love that always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.

Give me new prayers. Give me renewed hope.

Kyrie eleison.

Today I believe it. Today I’m certain.  All shall be well.

Not perfect, but well.

New Year, Old Pain, Sudden Hope: When Depression and Heartbreak do not Win

[Warning: this is longer than my usual posts. 2,779 words]

In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself. Souls of prayer are souls of great silence.” 

 Mother Teresa, In the Heart of the World: Thoughts, Stories and Prayers

10820152714_fd52cd5689_o (1)I.

“Have you prayed?”  It was an obvious question.  I had an MRI on my brain scheduled for later in the day. The doctor is fishing for answers to why had I fainted and had a temporary inability to use my legs and arms and other weird symptoms that may or may not add up to calamity.  (As of this edit, I still haven’t heard back.)

I sighed; one of my deep, bottomless infinite sighs that people hear from a distance and wonder out loud what’s wrong? I have asked others to pray for it.  But I haven’t talked to God for a good long while.

He was probing into something that should be certain, surely, to a person of faith—offering up prayer for yourself, especially when you’re frightened. But he knows nothing spiritual or self-loving is sure with me.

“Pray for what exactly?” I replied, feigning lack of understanding.  It was clear and came in his swift retort.

“That seems selfish,” I countered; not at all sure I believed what I was saying. “To ask God to heal you isn’t selfish.” He held the sentence out like a talisman, “Unless you’re perfectionist.”  This under his breath, but I heard him.  “It’s sad,” he went on, pressing his point. “You don’t have enough self-love to pray to God to heal you.”  He wasn’t being unkind. He was both empathetic and mystified at my state of mind.

“I can pray that God would give me strength to endure, no matter the result.” I said finally.

But then I didn’t pray. I haven’t been talking to God.

10818503543_88d67b3eaf_oII.

“Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.” ― Mother Teresa

I’ve got a complicated association with prayer. This has been true for as long as I can remember believing in God.

This summer I found myself studiously researching “prayer” for an essay I eventually submitted to a devotional book.  After reading parts of more than fifteen books, I wrote on 1 Thess 5:16-18 focusing on “pray without ceasing.”

These snippets of notes may help explain why I have remained in the desert plains of faith and disbelief for nearly forty years.

Re: prayer. I have wondered more than attempted.  Perhaps I even believed that I had cajoled God into doing things, by my choice of words or holy behavior.  But the fact that we cannot prove prayer works, whether we do it unceasingly, or infrequently, continues to swell inside me, a barrier, a conundrum.

I never believed in God’s love for me.

For many years I suspected my faith was neither sincere nor robust. Surely God would change my (human) Father?  Undoing the idea that God/Father was an asshole has been time-consuming and a tremendously difficult spiritual exercise.  My faith was gnarled and weedy, rooted in fear.

By the Grace of God, eventually I accepted that I am the one Jesus loves—thanks to Brennan Manning and my husband, and sweet, sweet mercy.  I found a restored understanding of God, by reading the full narrative of YAHWEH in scriptures, end to end.

Distrusting God disturbs prayer. 

Suffering depression, then recovering from addiction to alcohol, was the beginning of accepting my helplessness and ultimately I found that God doesn’t shout. He’s more of a gentle whisper as Dallas Willard put it.

Vulnerability before this God has been a glacially slow melting of my icy heart to trust this gentle Father God.

Perfectionists fear what they cannot achieve, but spiritual people move toward what they fear and do not understand.  At least this is what I long to do.

1-DSC_0036III.

Before that  conversation with Tom, I’d been feeling helpless against the pull of my physical and emotional issues.  I’ve been in a deep trench.  The only solace has been found in writing.  I haven’t even been able to read.

IV.

Recently I wrote:

I need a pen that carves smooth and sure, to write all the hard words down.

Stacked one next to the other, a shrine to pain that is breaking me apart into one demolished life. Can beautiful things ever come from the dark places inside me?

As an addict, I’m learning it’s wrong to try to do it all on my own—willpower is unsustainable. I see that I’ve been trying that for far too long. Just do it (alone), stubbornly thinking my way through sobriety, but the truth is impossible. I’m so depressed.

“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill, but time and chance happeneth to them all.” – The book of Ecclesiastes

I am depressed and I live from a depressed place. These days, all so heavy and unbearable, with each word lying naked at the altar of my ego and my dreams, I know that I’m failing myself.

I’m a keen believer in BEING UPLIFTING and yet I am so the opposite these days.  How can I help anyone?

I’m drawn like a moth to sunny and joyful people — out of my joylessness.  I fear my hyperbole. What erupts from me; the heat of it burning within.  And after the foul smoke blows away, I am clearly still left with me, the Depressed Person spitting up gore, without pausing to consider the response.

It is only sometime later that I consider the consequence.  I ache with knowledge of it, for I long to help others, to serve, and I know I cannot with this constant dwelling on myself as “the Depressed Person,” the one that I have become.

Depression has come, roosting deep in me, laying eggs of sorrow, grief, and injury—all a reminder of my destroyed places.  Then, and now, and into the future I plead for the future and past me—for time and chance, for the person I never became that grieves inside me.

I close the book on one year and open another, gravely aware of the future pressing, in hours, minutes and seconds.  I cannot will it to be anything more than this, these words scribbled down.

1-DSC_0038-001V.

Perchance I catch the ear of God, I lay here as tidal waves of fear choke, and shout “hear me” to God.  “I am in PAIN! I don’t even want to be with me, so I understand why I suffer alone.”

I don’t choose this, to be ill with depression; though I know others don’t know that. I have worked! I have read the books. I have taken the pills. I have talked in therapy the odd thirty years. I’ve exercised hard.  I’ve eaten well. I take vitamins. I have a S.A.D. lamp.

And some days I have sat staring at these white walls laid flat, drained believing that EMPTY is my forever. No longer considering that this word or that will be of more or less importance, more or less help for mine are no longer words that fill a soul.

I have a hole at the bottom of my heart.  Everything is leaking through.

2013 had to end because I have no more air. I exhale, light-headed gasping.  I send the year back to where she came from, a vast scorching hell, a melancholic, dry desert, and an infinite amount of gritty, gravel atop my scavenged bones.  I am Depression. I am disappearing under the burden.

DSC_0004 (1)VI.

I will hold on to hope; only because I want to see my kids find joy. I want to believe, it’s still possible
for them.

I will hold on to hope, only because there is one man who loves me even when I have gone numb.
I want to believe I can thaw.

I will hold on to hope, only because I have lived my life making “faith” the cemented corners of my forty odd years. May it keep me. I want to believe ((Help my unbelief))

I will hold on to hope, only because I am a Mother and I am responsible — even when I wake, staring at the wall in disbelief of another day to be endured.

I hold on, only

in order to

hold on.

The faith I cling to only suffers with me; it sometimes sustains but doesn’t take away the anguish of Depression.

If this is it, if I am to live with this gray
All. My. Days.
Simply sober and alert;
if I cannot will the fog of depression to clear;

If I cannot find relief. If the question is the same, this year, last year, and the next.

Can I BE, Can I PRETEND, Can I offer others more than I TAKE regardless of what’s burning within?  It seems to be the only way to go on, each day giving more, loving more, helping more, learning to stop speaking of the Depression, Me.
Learning when asked: How are you? To say: thankful. How are you? Thankful. How are you?

The endless question echoing in the voluminous quiet of my heart.

2014 will be…UNKNOWN.

3204758186_5f88f12666_oVII.

I woke at 5:00 am with a headache so severe as to be unbearable.  After the fainting last week one cannot help but frightened wonder.  Is there something disastrous going on in my brain?  MRI scheduled, I told Tom I was unafraid, just curious.  And that’s how I want to be though obviously I’m struggling to fulfill that preposterous idea.

I record this, I suppose, to remember if in coming months I do have a brain tumor like my father.  I watched my father disappear into his illness and there are moments when I fear the worst, but tell myself and others “It’s probably nothing.”

I’m thinking of the future and if I have less time than I’d want I will write more. Quit wasting time. I hope my book, if it gets written,is intelligent and thought-provoking as well as poetic, soulful and beautiful.

And I hope, even more importantly if I have less time that I’d want, that I would Mother well… 

My job, for all their lives has been protection. Now as they reach their teens I must do the opposite. Let go. This comes to me as I watch my baby, now twelve, scared from a bad dream come downstairs to be nearby.  As he lay on the couch and falls asleep again trusting in the proximity to Mom, no longer chased; it hits me, my job description has changed.

Teach him that he has wings; and as he fluffs his feathers and strains to contain himself, I am here
to celebrate, listen, advice, even nudge. And if from time to time he falls I will pick him up and kiss his face.  And off he goes again.

Bad dreams will come.  And life cannot stop because I am afraid for him, his brother and sister as well. For myself. The worst thing I could do is let them know how afraid I am. Fly babies, fly away from me.

What I’ve been hiding from all these years is my own bruised and broken wings, clipped too early, too young.  I must go there now, sit.  Every day of the New Year my plan is to write, and run, and eat well but lately I’ve been only—still.

This cannot go on.  I must begin to live if not for myself for my children. I must soar again.

DSC_7805 copyVIII.

I’m weighed down, heavy. I hurt.
Depression’s been

kicking
me
down
the long slippery trail
my brain, my heart, my body knows too well. I’m tired

of life. Tired of breathing.
I know, what an awful admission that is.
I fear
sounding pitiful and worry what others think of me:

If I’m tired of me,
I can only imagine what they think.

Why are we hardest on ourselves?

I’m having
an existential prolapse, everything inside my body; head
is tumbling
shaken upended. I’ve forgotten
where I once found hope, like a person wandering lost in a golden sunny field. Yet still eager to find the other side.
Somehow

I forgot how.  Where
to walk on.

She wasn’t always ill
though hindsight wonders
how would we have known how long this hyperbolic collision of wit and prudence
churning until it ruptured
all over what we knew to be true.

Days upon days I’ve taken to
forgetting last month, the one before, summers colliding one after the other,
the past evaporates behind me.  Today’s pain is enough.

These days, and many others, remind me. I’ve forgotten the way
I’ve fallen.
Was I once so inconsolable
or had I never felt true pain?

I’m tough; survived my Frozen Child years.  Building a wall of stone

around me.  Then eventually
learning that God wasn’t the Bastard Daddy I thought I knew,

but a comforting Bosom, a Nursing Provider. Only then slowly, oh so slowly I began to Believe Again. I needn’t fear wrath

Rather receive with holy awe, Grace.

But, on the way
this year and last somehow I stopped
seeking GOD.  Like a child I put hands on my ears in defiant anger.
I shut up my mouth stubbornly refusing

To speak.

I don’t exactly when it happened.
I shut down.
I began to only survive,

Only

do the day,

though starving and spiritually thirsty.

I wonder when Hope stopped.  Yes, I feel the lapse, the need, the yearning, the ache of all that is amiss inside.

“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.
I’ve called your name. You’re mine.
When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.
When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place,
it won’t be a dead end—
Because I am God, your personal God,
The Holy of Israel, your Savior.

—Isaiah 43:2

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I have startled awake today.  Challenged by knowing that I know nothing, I control nothing, life happens. Every day that I want to crawl into a ball and disappear, I will get up again.  Sometimes I hold my breath for as long as I can stand it willing my heart stop when I feel I cannot withstand this much sorrow and pain.

I will lay my burdens down like the old hymn says.

I have never felt, in my short life, less control over a n y t h i n g.  Life is an avalanche of relentless grief, unthinkable in its grotesque lack of care. Seeing children suffer is the most hellish place for a parent to be.  No I don’t doubt God and his incredible love.  I don’t believe anything is a punishment for past mistakes — though I’ve been there.  I am sure bad things happen to good people and vice verse.  It’s random.  And that is the sad truth. It’s an incoherent thing that has next to nothing to do with God.

tuesam 10X.

Finally, as I sit here in the almost dark of the incoming night, twilight bringing a blue hue over the room. I know this is true.

I turned away.
God didn’t do anything of the kind.

I turned away and slowly my heart hardened, to the point where I could no longer feel God’s presence. That was my choice and I know too that when I’m ready God is right here beside and around me, waiting. He’s grieving for me.

Just turn back, daughter.  I’ll offer the Comfort you’ve been craving, sitting all alone in the dark.
Come back and I’ll sing a sweet song of relief in your ear, I’ll whisper

Truth.

I’m watching out for your children.

I’m watching over
you.  Come on home.

That was last night. I still haven’t gotten the call from the doctor about my MRI.  I have no inclination as to what the future holds.  But in the dark hours between hopelessness and today, I cracked open.

And God’s embrace covered me as I laid down my burdens by a lake in the cold winter.

Today, I came home.

P.S. Can you tell, my one word for 2014: SPEAK.  More on that later. 

The Dust Bunnies and the Broken Hearts of Mental Illness

water 3

I say the things aloud. It is an effort.
I want to make them come true.
“I will clean today.
I will cook dinner.
I will go to the bank.”
Even as I speak the words I know how unlikely it is that I will be able to do
more than sit here.

Breathing under water
is life threatening.

Looking around the house
I see the relics of our months of chaos and disorder.
How long has this constant been going on?
I count 35 months of circling and spinning at dizzying speeds or
churning, sticky  slow moments that seem to l—–a—–s—–t.
Strung together for days.
Sitting here now I recall
our cyclone of shock as we have watched our child suffer, would rather die. As the life killing anxiety and depression threatens to smother
the life
out
of
the little child we
know, we knew. Oh, how we remember.
We are fighting for her.

We are fighting each other.
We hold on tight, we weep, we pray small whispered cries
sometimes full of doubt and
sometimes swept up with outrageous
Hope. Most often throttled by our anguish, at times held by unimaginable peace.

We confess and repent as we scour the past for clues, pulling apart our parenting until it is a skeleton hanging bereft of blood and sinew,

something dead.  We resist giving up,
we acquiesce to today, we contemplate our future. Answers don’t come
as doctors, the so called experts keep changing their “plans.”
Outcomes are suggested, how do we know if they are good or bad?
The long and short of it all is that we must let go
of “normal.” We must come to understand that this,

our life now, might be[come] our forever.

Breathing under water
is life threatening.

When someone is mentally ill there are no promises or guarantees, only
Heartache,
Acceptance,
Disbelief,
Resistance,
Fury,
Fear and
[Days and months of] Solitude.
The secrets of the mentally ill
create wide, scorched throbbing universes of heartache, misunderstanding and pain.
We’re so broken apart, crushed down
we don’t even hold on to one another anymore, consumed
we binge on Netflix and ice-creams.
Outcomes seem inevitable.

Breathing under water
is life threatening.

Dust bunnies, in all corners and on the stairs collecting overnight, as if no one lives in this house of relentless pain.

The ghosts of activity –an unread book, the youngest’s week old work left unread after
the bribe—“If you bathe, you can stop reading for now.”

Reading vs. Bathing.
Who knew it could come to this? Only when you’re exhausted by breathing.

The question of why he dislikes reading presses into me like a fork shapes a raw peanut butter cookie.  An indent of
memory symbolizing something far greater, as if

it’s an indication that all of life is
Awry.

Breathing under water
is life threatening.

Please tell me there’s no one at the door, when the little fury of a dog growls
to a supposed intruder.  My heart rate speeds up, just like it does recurrently
nowadays.  Almost everything makes that muscle race.

And even as I lament the loneliness
I am glad it was just a passerby and that they kept walking.
Others are going somewhere
as I look out the window

desk bound and writing.
Breathing under water, alone.

Full disclosure: I borrowed the phrase of “Breathing Under Water” from the title of Richard Rohr’s book Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps which is sitting on my side table. I have not read the book but the phrase leaps out at me today.  The book was recommended by an old friend. 

Life Begins Again and Again: Seeing the Good in Depression

“The words spirit and inspire both derive from the Latin word spirare which literally means to breathe. These emotional highs and lows that we experience are just the natural breathing process of our spirits.” 

The Rev. Marcy Ellen, author of The Soul Truth: Reflections for the Waking Soul

Yesterday I wrote about what depression feels like and how much I hate it.  I’ve done that a lot perhaps even dwelling too long on the negatives, pain and grief.

Today, I’m reflecting on that. I found myself telling Tom, when he asked, “Yes, when I smile I’m forcing it, if not technically faking.  Fake it till you feel it,” I answered in a text.  Even he was surprised by my statements. And that got me thinking.  What about a positive post?

So this is about how one accepts the positive outcomes of depression. What are they? How do we grow from this pain? Six ideas.

We must face the things that might have made us depressed.

When you are clinically depressed, it is difficult to process reality well or consider clearly what might come of being sick. Surely there aren’t positive outcomes?  It’s likely you’re not thinking about how you might become a stronger person through the experience.  But I have learned that if you are willing to continue the hard work of therapy good things do eventually come.  I can attest to this in my life time and again.

For me, two good outcomes of depression and therapy are the growth that comes from self-discovery and  forgiveness. This only happens by facing your pain squarely and accepting your past, then working toward forgiving yourself or others.

It is only by looking at yourself very directly as if in a mirror and seeing in your own pain—your history and the toll it has taken on your weary face and in your tired eyes—that you can begin to move forward.

My depression often returns (the really bad stuff) when I start thinking that I’m responsible for things, that I’m in total control of the outcomes of my life, my family, my past and my future. Ironically these are things that are usually quite out of my control.  My perfectionism, my rigid thinking, and my acting like I am god all stems from a false belief that it is all within my control.

  • If I were a stronger, healthier or better role model and mother, “less depressed,” then my children somehow would not struggle.
  • If I had been a stronger child, more resilient and confident, I would not still be fraught with the outcomes of my father’s raging and abuse.
  • If I’d been less weak, sad and lonely, then I would not have become dependent on alcohol.

And on it goes, with wrong thinking about situations that were for the most part outside of my human control.

In my right mind, of course, I know that this is ridiculous thinking.  But depression does not allow the right mind to prevail, causing maudlin, senseless, sloppy and wrong thinking to rise to the surface and muddy the waters.

I’m so grateful to have been paired in life with a partner that is a frequent encourager, confident in his own ideas enough to sit me down, time and time again, and tell me squarely: That’s wrong thinking.

Through reflection, stillness and rest healing comes. 

I often guiltily spend time in stillness and reflection.  My life as a SAHM allows for this choice we have made for our family.  But my heartache and self-doubts make me wonder if I should be doing something more. True “work”—earning an income, being a breadwinner, and modeling work outside the home as a woman, something I believe in strongly.

I had to accept that a part of the reason I don’t “work outside home” at this point is that I need spaces of stillness in order to continue to heal.  My psyche is bruised. Spiritually I’m still dysfunctional.  I need space to heal, to pray, to listen, to become aware of and open to the Spirit.  I still wrestle with “Why me and not others? Why do I struggle so with depression?  Why am I privileged enough to not have to work?” My brain always asks.  For now, all I can do is accept how fortunate I am to have a partner who can provide for our needs.

Take the wide open spaces, as a Season to Heal.

When I worked full-time I was driven by fear of failure, insecurity and a need to build my own domain of responsibility.  The more I accomplished, the more they threw at me and I ate it up, loving the affirmation and the challenge.  If I’m honest I was motivated by conquest and power more than anything else.

Stepping away from that was not a choice to be a SAHM it was a choice to not work there any longer.  Over the years, as I have lost that part of my identity, as you can imagine it’s been hard.  I have always needed and wanted work—to fill me, even fulfill me.  

A part of the healing has been accepting that I’m okay without that part of my identity.  Yes, I write, and enjoy the expression of my soul and mind through photography but it’s not a paying full-time job. I have always written it off as lesser importance.  Finally, okay not finally but for the most part, I accept myself and that means that I can face those monsters of purpose and identity.

I’m not there yet, fully healthy.  My identity in Christ, my value in the kingdom, my desire for accolades, and attention, and applause, still live inside me.  I can say that things are headed in the right direction.

We can heal by asking why we were led into this spiritual recession.

Marcy Ellen suggested the question.  And this sort of question is helpful to me. I’ve never considered my depression as a spiritual recession and it’s a challenging idea.  It reminds me of the spiritual seasons of the book of EcclesiastesSp Chapter 3.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

ECCLESIASTES 3:1-8

[hope]

By accepting the seasons of living, we can be comforted. Especially when some seasons contain suffering and pain, we can know that it leads naturally to a season of healing and growth.  If we do more than simply endure it and fully accept, we can appreciate the ups and downs, leading to a deepened time yet to come.

Life can be outrageously difficult, “A wild and mesmerizing melody,” says author and Benedictine sister Joan Chittister, one of my spiritual mothers, in her book For Everything A Season. “We can go with the flow (of life) or we can resist it all the way to the bitter end. We can learn from it or reject it completely…Life is a relentless teacher.” p. 154.

The truth of this life is that sometimes we’ll struggle and at other times we’ll thrive, even dance!  This is hard to believe when you’re depressed.  But the thought fills me with hope.

And I believe hope is what eventually heals the depressed, if it is not total healing at least something good. Whether it is through God’s healing or a therapist’s genius. Perhaps it is a husband’s quiet truth spoken over two decades or a friend’s frequent kindness. Or other forms of healing.

Hope spoken aloud and believed is the path to healing, and it is the way forward to a season of laughter and dancing.

I believe these seasons of grief, with tears searing warm salty pathways in my soul, will lead to building up and healing, to days other than this.  As Chittister says, there is no such thing as a meaningless moment.  It is all important, teaching us, molding us, chiseling our souls, shaping us into a person of compassion and joy.  “Who is the happy person? Those who have survived each of the elements and found themselves to be more human, more wise, more kindly, more just, more flexible, more integrated because of having lived through that period of time, that moment of definition, that phase of survival, that streak of chastening awareness.” p. 156, For Everything A Season.

Awareness and acceptance are all. 

Accept your lot, even while you strive through self-care, perhaps medicine and spiritual guides, and time, to heal.  As we stop fighting our life, we become aware that each season is meant to teach and force us to grow and grow up.

This season of depression is an opportunity for me, if I am willing to be still and listen.  I will sit in the quiet of this moment and lean in, for there life begins, again.