Advent Lament: My Endless and Voluminous Need

Some have said Advent is an opportunity to walk into the dark night of the soul, as Nouwen called it. This works for me.  As I sat in church yesterday I felt unsettled and angry.  Stirred by the challenges of my life I felt a heightened awareness of my need — my endless and voluminous need.

For some weeks I have had a growing sense of discomfort.  This happens to me from time to time, though years can pass in between.  It is a strange unwelcome melancholy that affects me emotionally, spiritually, and physically.  In can bring a new level of understanding, a softening, an unfolding of my heart.

But in what I have come to know as predictable, my inner self resists.  I find myself becoming angry, distrusting, and irritated.  I do not know why I respond this way, only that it has come enough times in my life that I recognize it.  It may take me a while, days or weeks to finally see it for what it is, but then as I face it, the unsettling of my soul, I understand why nothing seems right, no one pleases me, and everything is causing a level of increasing frustration.

Especially expectations of Christmas, stated and unspoken.  I am overly aware of money or lack of it, kitsch or classy decorations, who is spending or not, and how special I can make things for my children and family.  This focus on material becomes enormous, crowding out what’s going on inside me.

My every sense is magnified. My heart tells me it is impossible to resolve all the conflict in my heart.

For the first time in a while I responded by writing a lament to God.  Restricted by the scenario at church of time and space, everyone jotting down on a small piece of paper their gratitude, praise or a lament, I resisted at first.  Then, I quickly wrote from my heart:

Tell me what you want me to do.  Speak.

Hearing God speak is one of my greatest places of doubt as a believer.  Oh, God does speak to me and when he does I am always totally blown away by its clarity.  But still I live mostly in the in between riddled with unfaithful doubt.

As a voracious reader, the world of blogging has opened up to me an instantaneous flood of information and I’ve gorged on it of late.  As is my nature, I tend to go to the extremes.  I have found hundreds of insightful people and blogs.  I wish I could read them all daily but my world around me would fall to pieces in disarray if I did.

Early this morning I read a summary of a presentation by the Rev. Dr. Christopher Beeley, professor at Yale Divinity School.  It put into words this cycling of despair, response, growth in a way I have not been able to understand or summarize myself. Don’t you love it when that happens?  Beeley presented:

“a three-step process of faith formation offered by John Newton and developed from a reflection of Newton’s on the parable of the sower. The first step is “Desire.” A person might feel “elation” and “joy” or “relief.” The sense of desire propels one into church with a sudden surge of awareness of God’s grace and love. This first phase is like the Hebrews freed from Egypt, it brings with it a sense of elation. While the sense of desire and God’s love persist they also change with time leading to the second phase.”

“The second phase is “Conflict.” This is the “dark night of the soul” phase where one wrestles with God, with faith,and often faces challenges that were not experienced in the first phase of Desire. If Desire is marked by elation like that of the Hebrew freed from slavery, this phase is marked by a sense of being lost, the Hebrews wandering in the desert for 40 years. This is a time of growing more dependent on God and deepening our trust as we travel through one challenge after another.”

“The second phase leads to the third phase. Newton is careful to spell out that one is not necessarily a better believer or person in one phase or the other, rather one’s sense of dependence on God increases through each phase. To me this phase sounds a bit like what the Buddhists call “Detachment.” This phase is marked by a shift in emotions where one becomes less emotionally engaged in the challenges and more able to view them with some distance, having put one’s trust in God.”

“…These phases, A, B, and C were not linear but perhaps a spiral that repeats over and over through life.” (emphasis mine).  Grace in the Blade by John Newton, three phases beginning on page 171.

As I sit fully within the Conflict stage, naming it helped me immensely.  I can say that my spiritual path has wound around and around in that spiral my entire life.  It wasn’t until I read these thoughts of Newton that I understood what was happening.

Much of my spiritual journey has involved doubt, restlessness and pain.  As I listen to those believer’s whose ‘faith’ seems to be pure saccharine goodness, I’ve felt constantly in revolt!  That has not been my experience!

My spiritual experiences have been marked by questions and confusion as I wrestle with the strange truth of this radical person Jesus and the rest of scripture and reconcile them with real life; Christians whose lives are tinged with hypocrisy, the weakness of my own dark heart, and a life riddled with iniquity.

As I learn to cry out as I did yesterday, I am certain that He will respond.  Advent for me will be a time of listening, and so I wait.  I wait for him to speak and tell me what to do.  I wait for Him to speak.

Why are we here?: On Purpose, Artistic Expression & Fear

I’ve got a problem and my mother summed it up correctly:  “Something’s got you stuck.”

As I sat in her living room yesterday, even my body spoke of the heavy, languid place I am in.  Slouching, holding my head which by the end of the day had become a migraine with nausea and halos, I was sinking; mired in body and spirit.

Earlier this week, my shrink really pissed me off.  I’m sure he did it purposefully and that makes him good.  As I see him monthly, this schedule makes it obvious that I’m stuck, afraid to move on with my photography.

For months, and months, I’ve been allowing everything under the sun, every good thing, to get in the way.  I found myself saying to him, “I know, I know!  I don’t want to become my mother!  In my 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s resenting and regretting all the “sacrifices” I made for everyone else.”  I don’t think she regrets them completely, actually.  Nor is she bitter, amazingly.  But I watched as she gave up so many of her aspirations and dreams for others, mostly my father.

Why am I stuck? …  What is it that I fear or is it even fear?

I am a lover of words (a wordie).  And I will travel down every rabbit trail of language’s meaning, fascinated by each manifestation.  It makes me interesting in a Bible Study group, and fairly annoying I think as a blogger, but just look at this list on words related to fear.

“Fear, as a noun, denotes the agitation and anxiety caused by the presence or imminence of danger.

Fear is the most general term: “Fear is the parent of cruelty” (J.A. Froude).

Fright is sudden, usually momentary, great fear.

Dread is strong fear, especially of what one is powerless to avoid.

Terror is intense, overpowering fear.

Horror is a combination of fear and aversion or repugnance.

Panic is sudden frantic fear, often groundless.

Alarm is fright aroused by the first realization of danger.

Dismay robs one of courage or the power to act effectively.

Consternation is often paralyzing, characterized by confusion and helplessness.

Trepidation is dread characteristically marked by trembling or hesitancy. (www.education.yahoo.com)

Or is it something else entirely, inertia?  Don’t worry, enough about words.

Kafka was wrong when he said: “It is not necessary that you leave the house. Remain at your table and listen. Do not even listen, only wait. Do not even wait, be wholly still and alone. The world will present itself to you for its unmasking, it can do no other, in ecstasy it will writhe at your feet. ”

It’s definitely lined with excuses whatever it is that is keeping me from doing something, anything with my photography.

I don’t have time to have an opinion on all the things I have an opinion on. I don’t have time to express all the things I want to express.  I don’t have time to learn all the things I want to learn, to create all I want to create,  to do all I want to do  …..  choices, blessed choices!

I think THIS is the midlife crisis I have been colliding into!  I can hear that big clock ticking ….  this is the funk I am in.  It is a little bit fear but it’s mostly inertia, dismay and consternation all rolled into one and I cannot visualize what I want for myself so I cannot go after it.

What does it mean to be successful at my photography?  The business aspect, say the bottom-line?  The artistic expression? The public accolades?

And so, as I put sarcastically to a friend yesterday, “I have been trying to know as little as possible about how to take pictures, and expect hardly anything as an outcome.”  I am sooo funny.  Sooo pathetic more like it.

What makes what I do worthwhile? Is it simply because I make it and I like it?? Or do others need to value it to make it of value? How do I determine what is worth pursuing artistically? Is it about listening to others cues or simply allowing my inner vision to grow and the world can stuff it?

Rosanne Cash said in an NPR interview that she isn’t a performer if she doesn’t get out there and perform. The music cannot stay private.

And yet, so much of art is how you market it, market yourself, the glossy package of your website, studio, groups you join.  If that’s the case I’m in trouble: My office is in my junky basement, my gear is okay, and I have no slick studio. I haven’t gotten around to making a website or …. all the other  elements of “Making your photography Business a Success.”   So what? How much of it is perception and how much reality.

And if you have some ability you can take dynamic, compelling images no matter what your gear.  That I really do believe.

I think what’s more important is what’s the message?  What’s the story? Does your art have to have a message and story to be ‘good.’  I lean that way and then can think of tons of art that is simply pleasing to look at, esoteric, full of mood, just makes me feel good ….

Here’s a question for you:  If you don’t know what the “rules” of art are (e.g. no classical training, art school etc. ) and you break them, can you make good art?  And who decides?  Should art have outcomes?  I don’t know.  And, I don’t know how or when I will be out of this stupid funk. And I’m starting to feel some fright!

The good news, it’s not depression (and if you know my story at all you know that is major).  It really is not turning into that, but rather, more of a Why am I here?  What are my days for?  How do I serve others?  Can I serve with my artistic talent?  If so, how?  Do I have to be paid money, written up in the New York Times, recieve critical acclaim in order to prove myself.  And who is it that I’m trying to prove myself to, besides my father who’s dead.  To whom do I owe ultimate justification of my exsistance?  If god real, what is really expected of me as an artist?  Starting from the belief that god is real, how does that change my actions, deeds, what I create.

My kingdom for a magic eight ball that actually worked…

Addict

Being an addict catches me by surprise.  Today,

seemingly innocent things — a drink, a smoke, a purchase, food, even exercise can become

urgent

need.

In the time that it takes to feel a flash of happiness, sadness or regret;

less than 60 seconds of my life

and I remember,

I am an addict.  How could I have forgotten?

Today I must ask what brought this on?

For tomorrow I must fill the need

with OTHER.

As for yesterday, I can only look back and remember

I am an addict, but I am stronger than my need.

And as for this moment — I know I am an addict;

I am. I was. I always will be, always will be

an addict.

ADDICT written april 9, 2009 by melody harrison hanson

Those that have no background in addiction look at the word ADDICT and the word alcoholic as kind of wicked and weak.  Face it, our culture doesn’t understand.  But if you’ve been there, if you live there, if you love someone who does or has you know exactly what I mean.  And I thank you for understanding.

Tom’s Music on Primetime CBS show

tomsmusic

My lovely husband.  I am so proud of him.  Although his ‘day job’ is wonderful and he’s an amazing leader of his organization, I know that his passion is his music which does in his off hours. Last year he completed his 2nd album, ironically titled Everything Takes Forever, a five year project?! It’s a beautiful CD.

He just received word that one of his songs—“Even So” from his 2nd CD Everything Takes Forever will be used on  the CBS prime time show, Ghost Whisperer, tonight Friday (2/13/09, 8:00 PM ET; 7:00 PM CT) If you’d like, check it out.

Also, his website is:

www.myspace.com/tomhansonmusic in case you want to stop by to sample.

Peace to all,  Melody

Compulsivity and Change

Between stimulus and response, there is a space.

In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response.

In our response lies our growth and our freedom.*

STIMULUS —————> Freedom to Choose –————> OUR RESPONSE

For years it has been a compulsive habit to chew my nails.  Frankly it’s a disgusting habit, and it is an instant signal to me (and to others unfortunately) that I’m feeling insecure.  When I was in high school I noticed that my very accomplished and well-educated teacher had disgusting, chewed to the quick, nails.  And I realized in that moment, which felt extremely profound to me as an 11th grader, that my teacher was  insecure.  And if you combined the fact that she over-weight, in my mind, she was extremely insecure.

My take away, I was not the only one! I know it seems strange, but at that point in my life, I was self-aware enough to see that I was insecure I didn’t realize that other people were too.  But in that amazing moment in my class I accepted that other people were insecure too.  I will never forget it.

What makes us so afraid of change? It takes three weeks to make a habit, supposedly.  So are we basically lazy, or don’t believe in ourselves enough to change, do we think we somehow deserve what we have, or are we afraid of change?  I’ve been thinking a lot about this as I work on internal and external issues.  Internally, I am working on liking myself and acknowledging good and positive things about myself.  Externally I am working on liking myself and fixing the things I don’t like.  Actually, I’m working on change in both places.

But it’s seriously more familiar to stick my head in the sand, as they say, and just ignore the scale, my energy level, my moods, my low esteem for myself, and the good people in my life that love me and accept me.  Even as I write I can see how screwy it is.  But, it is….what it is.

But I’m working toward looking for the indicators in my life that say other truths.  Although I have some friends who have said that I’m too difficult, manipulative, unpredictable, mean-spirited ….  I have others who have said my story, my experiences, my processing my pain, helps them.  Do I focus on the one that feels like rejection or on the positive?

Well, you know what I do choose, habitually and compulsively. The NEGATIVE!

Listening to those positive people, it doesn’t mean that the others were wrong.  Alcoholics are manipulative.  I am broken. Many times extremely dysfunctional.  I am needy.   I a’m impulsive.  I am unfaithful.  I’m … see how easy it is to make that list? (Deep breath.)  But not always.  Not completely.  And I’m working to change. I cannot change the past, and even some relationships I can’t fix.  As much as that hurts, I can’t stay there.  And I trust that some day, something redemptive will happen there.

But for now, it’s on to mastering my life!

So, about the life change:  I’ve been dieting and exercising for two weeks, Sunday, and had gotten pretty discouraged because I wasn’t losing weight more quickly.  I started at 168.5 and yesterday, at noon the scale still said 165, which makes me fucking furious. (Please excuse my cursing.  It’s a inelegant habit.  Perhaps one of these days I’ll work on it too, but until then …)

Today I was finally at 163!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I’ve changed two things.

1) I weighed myself first thing in the morning, before I got ready for the day, before eating, drinking my coffee, and exercising, and it was lower. Wahoo!

2)  I actually think I may have been eating too few calories, so as Tom has told me a million times, my body thinks I’m starving it and goes into hoarding calories.  It is impossible to lose weight in those circumstances. And although the fact is weird, I just lose my appetite when I’m not eating.  And I’m just compulsive enough to not slam a bunch of carbohydrates if I happen to feel hungry, like I normally would.  A chocolate croissant or even a Big Mac for lunch, yes that is me.   (Did you know a Big Mac is 600 calories or something?  That’s like half the day’s calories if you’re watching it.) So instead I’d have a couple pieces of string cheese or a hand full of almonds or a protein bar, none of which is more than 200 calories and not enough for a meal.

Anyway, lessons for life.  Making positive change in your life is firstly about believing in yourself.  Deciding, just for today, I’m going to do something different.  Not glancing back at yesterday, for it is likely to have some failures.  And NOT looking at it like it is for the rest of your life.  It’s today.   What am I eating that is in the positive column, if you will: fruit, veggies, protein, even carbs if they are grains that are good for you.  Did I exercise in any manner.  Why not a 15 minute walk?  or, something else.

If I’ve learned anything about this alcohol addiction it is live for today.  Today is the one I can do something about, not yesterday, and not tomorrow.   Just this minute.   Make it count.

* The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Familes, Stephen R. Covey

Mastery of Life: About Face!

The whole idea of blogging about diet and exercise is such a pedestrian stereotype. But be warned, this is a journal about a personal transformation. No, even better, my personal body revolution!  No blood will be shed, but change is occurring!  And if, by following along, it is meaningful to others, that’s a reward too.  I won’t be preposterous  and say it with help someone.  But I know MANY people struggle with  “issues” of weight loss or gain, disordered eating and body hatred, so that’s why I make this journal public.  It will be about mastering my body and life.

A week ago Sunday I began to use our treadmill for a long walking workout.  Every day, I walk for at least an hour, because this gives my body a “wake up” time and then once it (my body) is fully awake and functional, I give it a good hard sweat.  Doing this, I am able to burn from 500-750 calories in about an hour.  And I feel great afterwords.  I drink about 32 oz. of water during and after the workout and am feeling really good.  I know I just said that, but it bears repeating!  This type of workout makes me feel really, really good.

When I quit drinking in July, 08 my weight was up to 169, which is the very highest my weight has ever been when not pregnant or recovering from pregnancy.  I’ve always said I will never ‘get fat’ I am not certain that I have the willpower to take it off.  As members of my family have struggled with their weight for years, the yo-yo of a life of dieting was something I feared.  I do not want that!!  I’m afraid of that eventuality.  An yet, here I am at 42 and 168 or so pounds, and the scale and my BMI tell me I am over-weight at 5’6″.  As I said, I thought when I quit drinking that the weight would drop off, but I guess that my body had adjusted and was comfortable with it.  This puts me at a size 14 and uncomfortable.  For about a half a year I have been in MAJOR denial about this weight gain.  But you can’t deny it forever and hitting 170 would be it for me.  There’s no denying it.

Since giving birth to three kids in 1997, 1999 and 1991, I carried about ten pounds for each child.  In 1992 I tried the first diet of my life more out of a desire to be supportive to Tom.  I can actually say that South Beach diet works and I lost 17 pounds in about two months.  I was a beautiful size ten and I have to say that I felt fantastic.  I wasn’t working out at all and people told me I looked “unhealthy.”  But for the first time in years the heavy, bloated, thick-waisted feeling was gone.

So now, in my closets I have my skinny clothes (did I just say my skinny clothes? Ew!) (9-10s), my medium clothes (11-12s), and my heavy clothes (solid 14).

All this rambling brings me to today.  As already mentioned, a week ago Sunday I started working out and watching my calories.  Tom’s the kind of dieter that counts calories, tallying in his mind all day long.  When he gets to his limit he stops eating.  For me, counting calories doesn’t work.  I can’t remember the value of everything and after about three or four days of writing everything down on scrap pieces of paper in the kitchen, I want to scream and stop writing things down.   But with eating through out the day and then a workout to subtract and have no idea where I am.

During the first week, I fluctuated up and down, but couldn’t break the 165 barrier.  Frustrated and confused, I kept limiting calories and exercising every day, and drinking lots of water…. Yesterday, finally, after two weeks, I weighed in at 165.  Today it is 166 again.

OH, just to be clear: My commitment is daily exercise and I’m going to apply Phase I of the South Beach Diet.  The South Beach is perfect for me.  It’s simple, healthy, and kicks my body into turbo calorie burning.  I need the  immediate results.  I can’t wait to see what happens next although today I’m frustrated to not see results yet.  To be sure, it didn’t help to eat some birthday cake last night.  Strictly speaking I broke all the rules, but, I’m back on the plan today.  Cheese and meat for breakfast.  Lots of water.  I woke up with a pick ax behind my eyeballs, which has been a reoccurring problem and Tom’s theory is I’m dehydrated.

More later on, the psychology of dieting and the South Beach program and why I like it.

Goal: 140 March 15th!

1/16/09 168