heartache

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Heartache.

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

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

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

He made us gather.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Creative Soul.

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

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

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

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

Right now I cannot find

spare words.

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

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

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

First words spill like heart ache.

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

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

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

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

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

And I soar.

April 8, 2017

My Very Little Faith

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

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

2.

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

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

3.

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

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

4.

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

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

5.

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

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

I don’t ask God to explain.

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

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

Turns out I have A Very Little Faith.

6.

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

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

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

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

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

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

7.

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

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

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

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

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

Amen

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

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

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

In their words:

At its conception, we wondered,

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

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

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

That’s kind of the point of Disquiet Time.

I do hope you will look for it.

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

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

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

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

Happy Birthday to Me: A Look Back. And A Book Release.

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I’m forty-eight today. Surreal.

We will not celebrate for various reasons, none of which are as morbid as you’re imagining.  It is: no wish to celebrate (yes, I told Tom not to do anything) and being a little broke. I’m content.

Instead of writing my annual birthday post, I’ve listed all the essays and poetry I wrote this year. In case you missed something. I have listed them chronologically from September 2013.

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

The Dust Bunnies and the Broken Hearts of Mental Illness

Life Begins Again and Again: Seeing the Good in Depression

The Silent Scream: Depression & Autopilot Mom

I Poke at My Heart To Know It is Still There. I Hold on To Belief, Clutching.

{My Silence, Depression’s Lies, and Faith}

On Seeing Syria

The Stones I Carry and a Band of Saintly Women

As The Winter Is Long [a NEW Poem]

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

When I Was A Falling Down Drunk: A Love Story

If Winter is Dying, then Writing is Life

Be Gentle. Don’t Lose any Opportunity.

An Extended Awareness: Some Thoughts on Lent

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

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

Lent Diary: The Wilderness of My Spiritual Doubts

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

{be Light} a poem

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

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

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

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

{I Lost the Month of May: A poem} 

When Depression is a Killer: My Story

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

New: When God Seems Silent

disquiet time
Find Disquiet Time at an independent book store.

In October look for an essay from me on prayer and doubt in a forthcoming book Disquiet Time. Learn more here.

Here are four other birthday posts.

{reflecting on the past year and turning 46}

The Second Half of my Life, Indeed.

44 and 40 more!

I’m 42 Today and Considering My Life

 

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

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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. 

 

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{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.

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{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.

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{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.

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{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.

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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.

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.

The Silent Scream: Depression & Autopilot Mom

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For months I have been unable to smile honestly.  When I think about it, that I need to smile so that people don’t wonder, I can’t make my face do it.  My husband asks if I’m okay.  Yes.  I will always say yes, unless it’s really grave.  But it has not been life and death for years thank God.

I’m okay.

But I cannot make myself smile.  I do laugh. And this strikes me as funny. I can laugh but I cannot smile. My kids engender my heart opening like a flower and I smile genuinely at them.  But I cannot make my insides smile.  There’s no joy.

Depression is a dark and silent bastard, sometimes. Screaming at other times, an internal hell.

I have likened it to a black dog chasing me, as I try to walk tripping. Though I don’t fall, I feel shaky, uncertain.

It’s a smog cloud that surrounds, clinging with a stench.

It’s cement in your legs, arms, and heart.  It’s sand in your brain.

It’s panic, which is hard to describe, in your heart.  Panic is a bit like someone’s inflating your heart without your permission.  Heavy and full.

Depression is sadness at the beginning of the day, when you wake, realizing you’re still alive.  Not that you want death, but you cannot think of having responsibility for another day even being possible.

Eating, dressing, shopping, deciding things, all—too—much. Just too hard, this is surely quite unimaginable to someone who is happy, I know.  It’s simple — the brain no longer works properly so you cannot convince it

to endure,

to do,

to face it all.

Depression is the opposite of happy, it’s happiness turned upside down.  The ugly step sister who is unpleasant, unattractive, persistently complaining in your ear, she’s a pain.

Raising children is almost a heartbreak—considering the lost conversations, lost moments, lost years, lost memory.

But you remember regret.

The unsmiling, aching, sad person that I am causes me silent anguish.

I know what I’ve lost, what I’ve been incapable of giving. 

I wonder. When will it occur to my children that they have had half a mom?

Depression sucks.  I rise and I go to auto pilot.  Autopilot mom knows what to do.  Tasks, appointments, phone calls, and rides.  This is my life these days.  I do it, wanting to lie down.

Reading is hard.

Concentrating is hard.

Grocery shopping is hard.

Cooking is hard.

House cleaning is hard.

Talking, thinking, participating is hard.

Writing is an ache, a longing to be transparent, a silent scream.

I hate depression.