Grief

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Grief has no kind of timeline.

It follows strange pathways through my body. I’m tired of feeling it.

I had the thought two days ago, I want to forget her. I will gather all the things in my home that remind me of her. I will box them up and make them disappear from sight. Memories only lead to grief when your someone is murdered.

My phone rings from a good friend of thirty years.

We never talk talk. Just catch up via social media.

It triggered the same panic that I get every time the phone rings, someone is dead. I answered it. Of course no one is dead. We had a lovely conversation filled with laughter and her voice just exactly the way I remember.

I still fear answering my phone. I get a jolt of adrenaline and panic.

I’m tired of my grief. I am choosing life, I promise you. But grief just comes ambling in and you are stricken by lightening. You choose to regroup, get on with whatever it is you were doing, or curl into a singed ball.

I hear a certain performer and remember she loved going to concerts with her kids. I see a certain flower and remember her love of tulips. I smell a food and think of her cooking. I cook and the kitchen is messy, I think of how messy she was. I unlock my car and think of how she broke my lock and how furious I felt. I drive her son to football and know that she would have been a great sports Mom.

Forty something years of memories that cannot be boxed up and made to go away. Though I am tired of my grief I carry on.

heartache

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Heartache.

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

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

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

He made us gather.

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

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

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

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

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

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

hello my friends

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Back at therapy. Been doing this since my twenties. Does anyone else get therapy fatigue? Back with my Psychiatrist.

I’ve lost myself. I always blame the medication. Because I just really want to cry. I have tears inside. I am drowning inside me.

With the antidepressants, I struggle to feel. So we’re trying to figure out what’s next.

Being more empathic than your typical person is exhausting. Even without the ability right now to feel my own, and at my current level of medication I should not care about anyone around me. But I do. My heart is breaking everywhere and all the time. But I have no internal emotional life. I am hard and soft at the same time.

This is not profound. But it is difficult.

But, I took a leave from work in November. Doctors are telling me that I have all the signs of severe physical exhaustion, stress, my brain is wounded and tired. I have had memory loss, frequent tension headaches, and fatigue. I thought three months should help me find myself again.

This was naïve.

What I discovered is that I am doing for others everywhere and myself nowhere.

There are needs everywhere in my life. And that is perfectly alright. As we’ve been given a lot to handle; my own depression, anxiety and sobriety, one child’s mental illnesses, my mother’s dementia and kidney failure, buying our business which we brought back to thriving, my best friend and sister Holly’s murder, my mother’s death five months later, and the stress surrounding the murder and taking care of Holly’s children.

I lost myself. Eventually the body, brain and heart called it quits. Sputters to a stop. Demands a time out. Shuts down.

I am happy to not be depressed. Not right now, thankfully. But I do not control my depression. I only know how to keep it at bay. It doesn’t always work. I have no magic tricks.

I am praying for some kind of relief. That one day life will ease up and I will find my passions again. For life, the writing and photography. More than today.

Today it is good enough to go to work, organize our family of seven’s appointments, show up on time for football practice pick up, keep my head down and avoid most people.

It is not that I don’t (double negative sorry) love people. I do.

I am simply not myself.

Violence and Mental Illness

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As many of you know, we have mental illness in our family lineage. The details don’t matter in this case, I think. But it is important for people who know nothing about it to know that mental illness can be in any family and violence is not directly correlated with it. Despair and lack of hope, maybe. Many things come together, mental health being just one of them, to create a situation where a person does a violent act.

My brother in law was a mostly gentle person in my experience. Of course I wasn’t married to him and my sister is gone, but from our lived experiences I believe she would agree. Verbal abuse is something that did occur which was painful to be a child in their household. But my sister struggled with verbal anger too, a legacy from my father.

We were verbally abused most of our lives into adulthood up until his death.

When we asked Holly if she was comfortable with Paul having a gun in their home, she said she was because he kept it in a safe. I am sure she was thinking a child wouldn’t stumble on it, don’t we all think that about guns at home? Keep them away from the kids. She was offered a restraining order during the divorce which she declined. She did not believe he was violent in that way.

But he murdered her. He took his gun, did some target practice (we didn’t know this until afterward from the police), tricked his way into Holly’s home, laid in wait upstairs and then killed her.

I have many sleepless nights thinking about that. Of course, we could have said something. We just listened, when more than a year before her murder when she told us about the gun. Paul was not a violent person. It was shocking to us that he thought he needed a gun in a suburban neighborhood of Seattle. But we just listened. At that point I didn’t know my brother in law very well. He was depressed for many years through out their seventeen years of marriage. A few times I tried to help.

“There’s no shame in seeking help. Antidepressants do change you. They don’t feel good. I am struggling with that myself, for much of my adult life. I don’t like how they make me unable to feel much. But they also help me out of the passive suicidality of major depression.”

Our situation is unique. But aren’t they all and I suppose that’s my point. The people that are out there killing, who have mental illness of some sort in their history, are unique humans. Their upbringing, their financial situation, their lack of healthy relationships, their solitude, their access to mental health support, joblessness, access to medicine, therapy, doctors all create a moment of time where anything is possible. And being poor, to get help almost impossible to resolve.

It is more difficult to get mental health support in this country than to buy a gun.

Psychology Today

Mental health support needs to be continuous, it is very dependant on the person’s access to help as well as all the things I listed above.

For many years we fought the system to get our daughter help and when we in our most despondent, when all we could think of was to take her to the ER, we were told she has to be a direct threat to herself (actively suicidal) or to others. Do you know how hard that is to prove? Much less wanting to declare that about your loved one.

Mental health and violence to yourself or others is an impenetrable labyrinth.

Hey, How are You? My Sister is Dead.

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My sister’s murder shut me down, I have had to close off the pain. It is the only way to keep going. And go we must. It is not like I don’t want to go on. Life holds plenty of goodness. But living in a world where a husband can kill a wife with a gun, well, that is unimaginable to me. I have spend many, many hours thinking about how to go on.

We must not only imagine it, we must live it.

With all the killings this week, I have to admit, I’m shook up. There are so many hard memories that I have put away in a safe box and the news takes that box and shakes it hard. Pain comes flying out at the most unexpected and inconvenient moments.

And then things that shouldn’t be hard, become hard. “I chose the number 73 on my football jersey because it is the year mom was born.”

“What a wonderful way to remember her,” I say with my heart crackling like it is on fire and my head spinning.

We are coming up on three years, in June. Three years later it is still a hard lump in my throat and I find myself avoiding conversation with everyone today because I don’t want to answer “How are you?” People just mean “hey” or “how was your night?” and I want to say “My face is burning hot right now, to be honest, because I just remembered my sister is dead and I don’t want to talk to you right now.”

But I won’t be rude. “Hey back,” I’ll reply, “Great Bucks game last night.”

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.

still< I want more

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I am spoiled. Wasted. Ruined.
Continuously wondering what is the purpose of this one life of mine?
To love God above all.And love your neighbor. As You Love Yourself.
I worry, I’m tainted, and I am lost.  How do I love?
I don’t choose it, but my mind cannot let it go.
The thought is present as I wake. Even now I am defeated and lost.

Depression sucks the marrow of my bones, unhurriedly.
I’ve wanted nothing more than to be useful.
Or have I lied to myself, even now.
Have I wanted importance? Recognition.  Esteem. Significance.
Dare I admit motherhood was never enough?

And as I struggled with deep-rooted interior, from childhood grief, in ruins.
My soul further decays.

So I pray. And Prayer becomes a mantra, habitual and constant.
Bursting with the ache, the existential whys.

The catastrophe is long over, decades ago.
He’s been dead
another decade as well.
Still, the Destruction stands on top of me. Crushing daily energy,

Still, I want more.
Where is the freedom that comes from all this mindfulness?
I fell like I am captive to my past, my psyche ruined.

Or is it only in my mind?

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.

disquiettimecover

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.

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.

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

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profile_36488479_75sq_1396225512on one level, her day-to-day life had become solemn and ordinary;

awkwardly commonplace, when

{self-care} is at the top of her To Do.

she thinks.

what kind of person needs that to do?

a person that deep down disgusts herself. she starves herself all day long until her hungry body confused enough to relentlessly hoard calories. a person that starts smoking in her forties then quit overnight. in the not too distant past was a falling down drunk. she does not remember much of childhood.

her daily heartache now is that she cannot remember details of her baby’s early days

when she was addicted to work, driven. Still, three babies sucking at her breasts for six years were fed by a body starving itself. staying home to be with Them she became unrecognizable to herself, depressed and before long, a decade was gone.

she was a missionary’s kid, a girl that went numb. living in denial of all the fear and heartache at home, her superpower was discovered early, invisibility. a middle child, the peacemaker, and the “sensitive one.” she pretended. always hiding from The Rager, they were all concealers and secret keepers.  Mother was ill. it was not a conscious choice to slowly evaporate.

she finds herself intensely staring down forty-eight;

the Rager is dead and gone. now she is a care giver to her elderly, addled mother and those precious children grown into teenagers.

she is unable to remember how—sitting at her kitchen table which never holds hot meals,

classical music is jangly and bombastic,

strong, hot coffee,

the summer rain falling outside the bay window is cold.

She writes

To do:

1. self-care.