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.

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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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{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.

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

1-DSC_0101I have so many things going on. The heaviest specifics, I don’t dare to write about.

These are Heavy, hard days of—if not Suffering —Pain.  But I know so many, many people going through Pain.  In that, we are not alone, but being a writer and photographer comes with a price.  I know what’s happening to us isn’t for public consumption.  Lives, hearts and souls are at play.  If I cannot write, what do I do? If I cannot Speak through images I fear I’ll drown in my grief.

I have been thinking hard about what’s useful for others. What I can pass on.

I was recently at a meeting for parents of youth, a “you rah rah” sort of meeting where a couple traipsed up on the stage as Master Parents (My words).  The pastor said: “If my children could turn out like anyone’s I would have them be like so and so’s kids.”

I thought to myself, “Damn. He did not just say that.”

This was before I went back on Effexor, when I could still cry.

I’m not a public crier. I actually try very hard to never cry in front of others, men especially because of the stereotype that women are overly emotional.  (This is one of the sexist ideas that I most loathe.)

So I ran from the room in grief and anger and disappointment (I know this pastor and I was surprised he’d say such a thing.)

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Our recent months, even the last year and a half, were difficult. I have had moments in the last while that I was certain I couldn’t go on; as doctors, and friends, and mentors, and experts, all had no idea how to proceed with some of our challenges.

We’ve wept, we’ve prayed, we’ve read, and we’ve met with experts, We have done more than everyone can imagine, turned over systems, got to the top of the chain of command, advocated beyond what everyone said was possible.  And yet, after all that, life’s not much different.  Circumstances improve incrementally and then fall apart, then settle down. We adjust and we try again to find normalcy.

The same issues continue.   With a new normal, we have a new resolve.

I ran from that room coming face to face with the audacity that we might be able to DO something more to create a certain outcome for our kids.  As I slithered to the floor, I wept uncontrollably for our situation, for our lack of hope, and for all the kids growing up in homes where parents do think there is a formula to arrive at “a great kid, a healthy kid, or a spiritually grounded kid.”

And when I had composed myself, I very nearly walked out of the building to never return to youth group, just yank my kid out, because I’m impulsive like that.

I am rash.  And that kind of haste is wrong when it comes to an unfortunate turn of phrase with someone you trust.  I say things now and again I don’t even mean.  Second chances are important and I’d want one. I returned inside.

But I haven’t felt so alone in a long, long time. I sat in the back, on the steps so I could make a run for it.  Knowing the Church isn’t cognizant of how to help families with mental illness.  One, because we’re not sure we can talk about it, sure.  But also, they just don’t know to help.

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I cannot pray.  It’s ironic and convicting as I spent the summer reading everything I could find about prayer since I was writing an essay on Praying without Ceasing, will be published next year in a book.  And today, these days, lately, I cannot pray.  I’ve always struggled with praying.

My heart feels like stone. Partly, this is the anti-depressant medication.  I know this because I’ve been on it before.  I didn’t cry for more than five years last time.  Yes, that’s a special hell.  Don’t make that decision lightly, to take antidepressants.)

I cannot feel, except a flat, emotionless, disorienting pain.  My heart feels like when they numb you before a shot; if I poke at my heart I know it’s still there but you get the idea.

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So what then?  What’s the outcome of a Most Difficult Year?

We’re being strong.  We’re hurting, but we’re cognizant of a long-suffering kind of trust in God.  Right now doesn’t feel good but over our lifetimes God has been present, faithful, supplier of hope, our healer and God has sustained us.   That doesn’t change.

But most days are like today. Sitting here feeling isolated, feeling afraid, feeling unwilling or unable to be with humans. But I know, even still, God in Jesus is present.  God waits.

I don’t feel it. I know it. I hold on to Belief, clutching.  Today, it’s all we have.

{This is for the Dads. I See You}

This blurry pic, a copy of a copy, is my father holding my son.  You cannot see it from this cropped copy but they are sitting on the floor.

This is for the dads, I see you.

Recently at wedding of two friends it hit me.  I’m past the feeling of broken-heart-ache when I see tiny babies.  For nearly a decade each time I saw a newborn I’d practically lactate with longing for just one more child.  My body kept telling me it needed another baby—even after two miscarriages, three unbelievable and healthy children, an exquisite step daughter, (who is now twenty-five, but only five when we met.)

and yet my body kept crying for more. 

At this wedding I noticed for the first time I was no longer at risk for snatching someone’s infant from them, out of a need to smell that baby’s goodness.

I tried holding a baby that night and my mother magic was gone.  I couldn’t console that child and I think that he read my fear.

This is for the dads who are afraid.

Petrified and yet cannot admit it, dads who take off work to “babysit” their own kids. But guiltily, if they’re honest, would rather go to a movie, or for a motorcycle ride or make music or read a book.  Don’t feel bad, you are taking time off work for your kids.  My dad never did that.

This is for the dads that shuffle meekly behind harried young mothers while they nurse.  Somehow showing solidarity?  I don’t quite understand it.  For the dads that never quite do it right—the bottles, the diapers, the comforting. You should understand that moms don’t mean to make you feel incompetent.

I sensed your fear, even pain, holding a baby that I could not console.  That I didn’t quite have it anymore.

Suddenly I felt weak, un-mothering, broken.  Something inside me hurt—but more than for my lost ability to have babies, I was aware of all the Dads in the room.  All the dads who perhaps feel like they don’t quite ever measure up.

This is for the dads who trudge off to work to earn an income for a family when they’d rather be making music, or writing poems, or doing whatever men do in “man caves.”  While their wives have ten year nervous breakdowns, while sitting at the pool and don’t even manage to have a meal cooked at 5 pm or throw a load of laundry in.

This is for the dads who never criticize.

This for the dads who are fair and good, “egalitarian”—mindful of their partner’s thoughts, and tears, and breakdowns, when what they really want is dinner and maybe if they’re lucky sex.

My dad, he worked. 

Came home and kicked us all around.  He didn’t listen to my mother— no matter how he pretended.  She couldn’t debate him, not about big or little things.  She was never quite good enough. When she asked for help, he told her to be stronger.

As for me, I shuffled in the background trying not to be seen.  I lost myself.  I lost perspective of my own center, that I was a human being who deserved (just as much as him) to have opinions, emotions, and take up space in the room.

I stopped breathing.

I’m a forty-six year Old Woman who was never a child.  I’m not saying it’s my father’s fault entirely, but this is to all the dads who need to know. You matter to your kids and your partner—You have power.

You can break your children. Or help them grow up into people of compassion and empathy.

You may “only” bring home the paycheck; causing your kids to think somehow you don’t care as much as mommy.

This is what I say to you Dads—Don’t buy into the bullshit of being less compassionate.  There is a type of empathy that all people have and God and nature intended.  It is not exclusive to women.  It’s not exclusive to mothers.  You may do it differently, but we need you.

This is for all the dad’s that need to know, it’s okay to let go of macho and give more hugs. To work less and BE more.  To change the diaper differently than your wife.  To cook dinner and throw in a load of laundry, listening all the while to your hapless sad wife.

This if for all the dads, no matter what the culture says, that step in the door of your home at the end of the day and get down on the floor—your kids need to know you. Stop rushing.  Say no once in a while to external things.

Be available.

This is for all the dads.  I see you.

At the end of his life, in the last months when my father was pretty sure he was dying (though he was holding out for a miracle) my Dad admitted to me this stunning truth.  That his “incompetence” as a father caused his anger and raging, his disapproval, his meanness, his perfectionist expectations; they all came from feeling like he didn’t know how to be a good dad. (Here’s a poem I wrote not long after his death titled: Good Dad, Bad Dad.)

When we were very young he stopped trying.

What a tragedy.  It’s too late for me and my dad, but it’s not too late for you.

This is dedicated to Tom.

[I Asked God for More] than Motherhood

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I woke up on Sunday full of lament. The depression that had been crushing me was now a throttling choke. I woke up straining. Strangled and gasping for air, for truth, for relief; I woke up.

I woke up on Sunday already giving up. Begging for it, the answer to the question depression always asks:  Why am I here?

All night long, relentlessly; a jangling chorus, a litany of failures, a litany of fears, a litany of shame. Making a list, my brain ordered them into meaningful classifications, one by one, a citation of what’s gone wrong.

Then, I went from listing to knee-deep in real water that came in while we were sleeping.  While he slept and I tossed about listing endlessly my disappointments. They were a song, the cacophony of my failures, singing and dancing in a winged frenzy above the bed.  Those songs have always been there for me, silent to him.

The water is rising around us and soon I forget my question, my list while living the longest day that I can remember. We vacuumed 600+ gallons out of the basement, while it kept coming.

That day, on a Sunday, I woke up, realizing the only one who declares me a failure is me. I am my own worst enemy. Only I am disappointed and angry with me and

I am angry at God.  I thought God and I had big plans.

A missionary kid, I watched my parents traverse each Continent of the world, going where others feared, doing what others wouldn’t, changing things, making good happen, and always leaving us to DO THINGS.  I assumed – I thought I would be a part of this in the end, do something big, significant. Eventually I would do something special.

I thought I was special, when I was doing, making, performing, achieving.  God and I, I thought we had plans.

I woke up on Sunday and realized, failure isn’t at all what I thought – and when life took a detour for me, into shame, regrets, sin, my mistakes, it all taught me and turned me into a new person.

Redeemed, New and Different, I woke up.

And knew, again. And the question changed.

What is success in life if we cannot be there for our family, to be nurturing, teaching, holding, comforting? What I rarely felt growing up, this is my offering now. Even though it isn’t within my control what my children choose to do with their lives, who or what they become, I woke up on a Sunday and realized.

I’m no big shot, except in my kid’s lives and there I am.  And I’ll struggle for this to be

Enough. And I know it’s not forever

Except it will last forever, for them.

{Nightmares and Day Dreams: For Our Children}

bad dreams
we free fall together.

an enormous wall, grows looming.
the waves rise and fall

the pull
of the tide, a wall

in the distance threatens drowning.
i grab for her,

shouting
“raise your head.”

and still, it comes.

8462158314_6dd9b2ae32“Childhood: that happy period when nightmares occur only during sleep.” (Unknown)

I have always believed that a parent’s job is to protect. 

Our children come squalling into the world, bloody and innocent, at risk.  As we push them out of our body we are committing to make their world safe.  We make a promise that we will provide every opportunity for them to thrive.

I have always believed; I was wrong.

We cannot protect our children fully.  At a certain point this safety net we so carefully construct around them hurts them. As they flail, or run away from us, as they pull and long to soar, our net of safety, it constrains them.

On the other hand, I always understood that scrapes on the knees were important.  The physical scars that come from running hard, playing insane and wild in the backyard, from jumping off the swings as

just for a minute, they imagine

they can fly!

These experiences toughen up a child and teach them about life.

In real life, you cannot fly.

My youngest wears a tiny, centimeters long scar on his chin which has lasted when other scars have faded.  He was running through, round and round in an utterly maddening and charming way, in my parents Colorado kitchen.  As a toddler, he was curious and strong. unafraid. Chubby, teetering, always about to fall, he loved to run the circuit of their kitchen, dining area, living room and back to kitchen driving my father mad!

But there was a rug and it tripped him.  Down he went. Down, with blood spurting from his beautiful chubby chin.

No stitches only a scar, which sits on his chin today to remind me that I cannot keep him safe even when I know the dangers.

I’ve walked the path of life; I know well certain things that are sure to trip them up.  That tiny, sliver of a scar reminds me, though I want to ignore it, that

children need to fall down.

It is Elizabeth Stone who said the truest of words, “Making a decision to have a child is momentous – it is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

When your heart is hurting because children will get hurt, there isn’t much you can do.  I mean, these hard times of adolescence come quickly. 

I blinked and the wonderful days of stinky diapers and toddler-hood, learning first words, proud scribbling on paper and walls, putting blocks in the right shapes; those days of innocence are so quickly gone.

Overnight. They become small adults, a scrawny teen wearing pants the long length of a man and I wonder at it.  How did we get here?  I’m still holding on so tightly, trying to keep that net of safety around.

It constrains.

Our children need to run, to let go of the sweaty grip of our hand, to fly away from us little by little.

We cannot hold them, at a certain point.  We cannot choose for them.  We cannot do the hard work of homework, and friendship, and the heart searching for God in a big and wide universe, or for young love, and we cannot even do the work of mental and physical health.  We cannot do it for them.  In many ways, we must step aside and

let them fly;

Up and out the door of our hearts, taking our heart with them.

I feel the time slipping.

: I learn to be open-handed,

I must teach them to look up and out, not fearfully down.

To lean forward, toward life, hopeful.  To be filled, fully taking life in, not afraid.

And only then, we become – ears to hear them, when the troubles of life overcome. Eyes to see them when the world seems to not value how unique and incredible they are,

And then,

Less and less, we use our

Mouth to shape, advise and teach but from time to time, still we are doing the hard work of instilling day dreams.

Being a parent is difficult. What was once intuitive and charming becomes jagged and painful, a tidal-wave, the stuff of bad dreams.

Even as I dreampt of drowning, of not being able to pull my daughter from the waves

I woke, and knew that I cannot save my own children.

I have done the work of preparing imperfectly, of praying much less than I should, and now in many ways I must begin

again, by letting go.  And getting on

with day dreaming of my own.

A Crack in Your Life, That’s How the Light Gets In

I spent most of my life numb and afraid.

I spent the next while trying to fix myself.  Then, I began to let go of control.

Now life is a daily letting go.

“Maybe you have to have a crack in your disbelief, that’s how the light gets in.”

I am fighting, kicking and screaming inside where I am sadly still a (spiritual) child. I pray to be wise, resilient and strong, spiritually mature and faithful. I pray to live completely without doubt.

I pray, but I do not always live that way. And I am not any of those things today.

Today I am stewing in doubt.  I want proof of a benevolent God, I want it so much I could scream.  (And spiritual tantrum ensues.)

I am fighting, full knowing life has no guarantees.

I am who I am. I am a person who questions everything.  A cynic and pessimist who is perpetually asking why. Why? Why? Why? I never grew up out of why.

Why pain? Why suffering?
Why random illness, ill will, ignorance?  Why random kindness?  Why health, or wealth, or poverty?  Why high IQ’s or low?
Why an Old Boys Club?  Why gender differences and exclusion? Why are people born into privilege? Why are people living in garbage dumps?  

Why Anger?

Why joy?
Why is there depression or anxiety, in children?  In anyone?
Why are some parents cruel, angry even controlling.  Why is it easy to be kind when you have everything? Then I reckon that’s not even true, the kindest gentlest people I have heard of have been materially poor — Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Jesus.
Why illness? Why alcoholism? Why cancer?
Why Facebook and Twitter?
Why hunger, why sexism, why homophobia, why racism? Why are they all in the Church? Why is “the Church” the most despicable place sometimes?
Why is the Word of God so mysterious?  So difficult to understand.  Why is it used as a club to hit people over the head?  Why is it used as a “Club” to exclude?

Why is prayer, this prayer, any prayer just a cry of the soul for help?

Hear me.
Meet me.
Answer me.

Life stripped down, naked.  Past all pretenses. Past and beyond to the heart.  Our belief or disbelief, the Truth; does it really come down to choosing?  What is the alternative?

Chaos and Randomness.

But when your child doubts, it throws back in your face all that you have held dear. Now that is a different kind of awakening.

Because I cannot defend intellectually the comfort I have found in knowing God.   I only know that I am a different person, down deep inside where I was once shattered and broken.  I have been rebuilt into a strong and empathetic person that believes in loving others, as the greatest and highest aspiration one can have.

God has helped me to love, to stay sober, to be a good and much less selfish person. I am in myself corrupt — bankrupt, broken, angry, jealous, bitter, self-centered and self-indulgent, an addict, sarcastic, judgmental and so sickenly insecure.

And then I recognize fully who I have become.  I realize with sterling clarity, suddenly that it is not that I doubted God exists but that I don’t understand why doesn’t God  act?

Change more people.  

Heal more sick.

Help more.  Restore us all.

Now.

In her new new book, Help. Thanks. Wow. Anne Lamott says:

“Sometimes pain can be searing, and it is usually what does us in.  It’s most indigestible: death, divorce, old age, drugs; brain-damaged children, violence, senility, unfaithfulness.  Good luck figuring it out.

“It unfolds and you experience it, and it is so horrible and endless that you almost give up…. But grace can be the experience of a second wind, when even though what you want is clarity and resolution, what you get is stamina and poignancy and the strength to hang on.”

And so, the cycle of life unfurls and this time around it is full of heartache and anguish — for parenting is so hard, friends get sick and may die, people become self-destructive and addicted, kids suffer mental illness, people we love and pray for kill themselves.

And even though all these things are true,

we go on.

I prayed and asked God. Just “help.”

God answered my prayer, but not in the way I had in mind.  The answer was complex and forced me to face some hard things.  To take a deeper breath.  To hold on to God, hard and fast. To acknowledge that I’m not drowning tho I feel as if I am.  God is my life and buoys me in yet another storm.

My child coming to church perhaps isn’t the answer to my prayer.

I cried to God to show himself to my child and in doing so also to me.

And now I wait, …

MHH

“Love blurs your vision; but after it recedes, you can see more clearly than ever. It’s like the tide going out, revealing whatever’s been thrown away and sunk: broken bottles, old gloves, rusting pop cans, nibbled fishbodies, bones. This is the kind of thing you see if you sit in the darkness with open eyes, not knowing the future.”  ― Margaret AtwoodCat’s Eye

{When You’re Not Qualified to be Alive}

So I’m trying something new.  Picking a subject at random that I seem to obsess about or fixate on, something that grips my imagination in compulsive and ugly ways, (I started with one of my secret obsessions.) I’ll write honestly without  a lot self-editing or controlling “the message” to see what comes out.  No answers. No over spiritualizing.  Just the real, gritty, sometimes awkward me. I’m trying to push myself in my style to loosen up a little. Have you noticed that I take myself a bit too seriously? This is my second excursion into a different kind of real. 

Parenting surely is the most difficult job I’ve ever had.  Many times in a day I think “I am not qualified.” But it’s too late, for those regrets.

No one is qualified to be a parent, not really. 

Yesterday, I was reflecting on our exceptionally verbal, strong as steel, at times tyrannical daughter  who is so like my father!  I just wanted to fall down on my knees, humbled by my own lack.  Again, as if a prayer, whispering this time as a lament: I am not qualified to be a mother.

I went through most of my life in some strange, surreal auto pilot. 

I went through forty years utterly afraid of life.  I sometimes think back, strange as it sounds and wonder aloud how I even survived the catastrophes of living in our home.  My father’s spirit and soul crushing rage destroyed me, my personality and I spent many years just grieving who I might be, might have been.  That sort of grief is debilitating.

Oh there were moments, especially outside of home, where I found  parts of myself.  I loved my youth pastor; he listened to me and allowed for my incessant questions about the Bible. He listened to my ideas and fears.  He never once yelled at me, or told me my sarcasm or sense of humor or quick thinking and verbal sparring was bad.  He somehow validated me and I loved him.

But for the most part I went through my tens and twenties and thirties heart-sick, depressed, and afraid.

So when my daughter rages at me (I told you she is like my dad) or the world, or she stands up to me, or questions … every little thing, a small part of me is cheering inside!!

She is alive.

She is breathing, kicking and screaming, going into the world believing that her thoughts, her questions, her jokes, her ideas matter and for that I am so pleased.

She is alive and I am slowly coming alive too.  I believe my father had to die for me to begin living.  A new friend, after hearing about the childhood that I had said to me yesterday “It’s a wonder that I have any faith at all.”

I am simply grateful I am alive.  Yes, this life of believing is really hard; harder for me than it seems to be for many people I know.  I’ve come to accept and understand this to be a part of what makes me, me.  And yes, this is something I embrace.

I may not be qualified, but I am grateful to be alive.

MOTHER [a poem about a parent aging]


Something shifted in the cosmos today as I became a giver, her One.

The one who thinks like a pastor, fondly listening inside to her heart which is lonely.
The one who touches like a nurse, open to the clues, simple hints about pain.
The one who creates food to share, serving the body and soul.

Daughter became caregiver to Mother.

And altered who I am.

Only, she isn’t frail, broken down or helpless — not just yet but it’s coming.  Even so she asks and I answer, and I tag along.  In case something is missed, she says.

Even so she still bails me out and listens as my heart bursts open, pooling over the edges of my day.  The “middle school” years, I am tender, raw with anguish.

Oh yes, she is still Mother, but today something in the cosmos shifted, and I became a Giver.

I became her One.

MHH

Other Poems.

the middle years (a poem about aging and knowing that you don’t know…much of anything)

The middle years
of middle age come without fair warning.
Raising the young
who think they know everything.
And those of us solidly wedged into midlife know
with confidence, that we know next to nothing.

The middle years are half way to a certain death,
while breathing in a life we did not pick.  For
life happens even as you make plans, dream dreams, and pray.

The middle years
when the body betrays,
the heart is crushed
by what actually happened,
not our plans.
The mind with every strong conviction
is suddenly even more
uncertain.
Oh, for the days of knowing everything!
But then going back there to certainty
would mean doing this
all over again.