What Is a Good Life?

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

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

Still I have a constant awareness.

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

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

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.

New Post: Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering

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I sit in the early morning dark. It is 4 am and I am awake. I like this time of quiet and solitude. My mind is clear. But also my fear clouds out  my hope.  Fear woke me.

Sometimes when I wake this early I believe God woke me. Presumptuous to believe that God has something for me in this moment. Enough to wake me. Why?

There are many things to fear in this life. As a believer, my hope is in a powerful God who is in control of the universe. As a fearful being I doubt God’s control over my universe.

This has been a season of doubt. So many hardships, confusion over and questioning; the constant why’s of suffering and my lack of control.

Here is the crux. For much of my life I have lived, even as a believer, as if I am in control of my future.

When work falls out underneath you, when money is short, when children suffer, when the depression that plagues me is a battering ram on the soul then, for me, only then do I find in the Scriptures the truth that I am not in control.

Why do some people have to lose so much, and feel inordinate pain, to gain this understanding? That is my story.

The God of Job finally draws out the conclusion. For Job and his nefarious but loyal friends, it isn’t circumstantial at all.  I am God.  You are not.  But the book of Job is inconclusive for me.  He lost everything but his life.  That is a kind of pain you wonder how knowledge of God’s sovereignty helps.  Where’s the comfort?

This is stirring and unresolved inside me.  But I know the questions are authentic ones, banal. Today, I understand this truth. God does not mind me pounding on his chest, screaming, throbbing in pain, and filled with discomfort.  He does not mind the doubt and heartache.  God is okay with my rage. That’s the lesson of the Book of Job, for me, so far.

Melody

I am reading Walking with God through Pain and Suffering Tim Keller and Where Is God When It Hurts?Philip Yancey.

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: When God Seems Silent

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 1.

 I have not lost hope though I have lost the ability to hear God. Whether God is silent, which I doubt, or whether the pain throbs too loudly in my heart’s chamber to hear, I don’t know.

What my family is experiencing is not suffering. Life is hard and this distinction is important to me. There is true suffering going on in the world.  This is not that.

 2.

There are people who I like to call Shiny Happy Christians. I don’t understand them in any way, except to say they must not have not experienced real pain. Not yet. I’m uncomfortable around them, but I don’t blame them. Pain and suffering in this life is random I believe.

The randomness of pain is poignant when you are the one experiencing its sting.

3.

Life is misery, life is joy.

For much of my life I thought: “If I was better child. If I were pure of heart” then my father would be less angry and controlling. And my mother would come alive again. And perhaps I would feel less of the constant melancholy that clouded my days. But my actions, my heart, my prayers, my understanding of the Bible seemed to change nothing in my mother or father and the melancholy hovered, always.

My faith became ritual. I began to doubt God. I never thought, in my teen years, WHY was our family so sad, and angry, and afraid, and dangerous? Rather, I supposed that I must deserve this pain somehow.

Oddly, this ache drew me to God, the “Man of Sorrows,” hoping surely God would take my hand and lead me through the darkest valleys of my melancholy heart.

In college my depression worsened to the point of hardly holding on to learning. My father’s disappointment in me increased. The panic and dread I experienced when I was with him made me constantly sick to my stomach.

He took control of my life, as he had each step of it, including attending college. It was not that I didn’t want to learn but the cloud that had hung over me for most of my life was bleak and heavy.  It made college nearly impossible.

My father had always controlled my outcomes. I wasn’t in control and by the looks of it neither was God. All those year, my Dad didn’t change from the raging and controlling man he was at home. No matter how often I prayed.

 4.

From Tim Keller, I see with total clarity that the Bible, which I have always loved and studied, has suffering as a main theme. I hadn’t seen this though in certain books I have found solace. The Psalms has offered prayers when I had no words.  Ecclesiastes is empathetic.  Job holds truth.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalms. 34:18

 The great truth which I am clinging to today is that even in Job, his sufferings were not punitive.  As Keller wrote the purpose of Job’s suffering is an “enlarged life with God.”

Though God is silent these days, I find it is more important than ever to read the people of God who lead us into greater understanding in our faith, Keller being one.  Beyond that, I sit in silence no matter how uncomfortable.

I have found fifteen minutes breathing in and out, and in and out, again.  This supports a quieting of my mind.  Perhaps you like me have thoughts  that clutter up your head and worries push their way in. Allowing yourself just fifteen minutes of quiet is a stunning exercise.

In the in breath ask God to SPEAK.  In the out breath, release your doubts and fears. Let yourself be there.

To me this is prayer.   This is clinging.  This is dependence.  This is hope.

Even when God seems silent.

P.S.

My Psychiatrist and I have cut my antidepressant dose in half. It has taken about a two weeks and I already feel emotions. Although they are not all positive emotions, at least they are feelings. And I can focus enough to read!  I am reading Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller. I’ll be writing my way through the personal insights I gain from this book in the next few weeks.

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When Depression is a Killer: My Story

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1

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am angry at God.

2

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

Depression is an invisible disease that bullies and devours.

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

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

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

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

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

3

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

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

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

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

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

4

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

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

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

5

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

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

And you begin again.

P.S.

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

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

invincible summer within

How to Love a Drunk

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

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

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

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

Festival of Faith & Writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melody

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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.

{be Light} a poem

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be Light.

God spoke and said: be Light.

and whether we wanted it,

when we are trying the least

to be

we are Light.

from inside us comes

creative acts, audaciously arranging the Light, into

words that move stone mountains,

dances that soar, minds transformed,

images breaking hearts open crushing the death within,

chords shifting hardened souls with their tender tones.

all beings,

women and men in ensemble.

from verses and rhythms heard, ordinary humans all

flinging down pigment, colorful stains;

bent with sacrifice and unrealized possibility.

God spoke and said: Own your Light

blazing and luminous.

Be the light

on canvas, stage, page, seen and heard.

And God sang beside and in human beings

celebrating

the Light in one another.

Toiling in separateness and isolation, breaking

under the weight of creating.

See and hear one another.

Turn, ask, and take heartache’s sting.

Revel in one another’s triumphs.

be

the

Light

in the dark places.

All beings,

Women and men in ensemble

held one another up.

And God was pleased.

written for Blackhawk Church Pulse conference, March, 2014.

Pulse: connecting arts to the heart of God

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

 

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

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

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

At the same time. 

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

1.

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

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

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

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

2.

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

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

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

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

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

3.

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

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

4.

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

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

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

5.

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

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

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6.

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

7.

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

8.

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

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

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

9.

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

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

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I.

In The Wilderness of My Spiritual Doubts

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

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

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

2.

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

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

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

to Act.

3.

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

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

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

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

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

4.

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

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

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

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

How is Christ beckoning you?

Melody

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

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