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.

{Just Like Me: Being Introverted in the Church}

dylan 2If I could have demanded anything

for my shy and wary child,
would I have begged God

make him less cautious?

Would I have wasted
a wish, a prayer, even a thought
on that part of my personality that I hate

and have come to
tolerate.

Make him less afraid.

Make him less

like me: petrified, wooden, shaken, sick to my stomach
terrified.

Though I hate it about myself,

could I possibly hate this

in

my son?

How is this conceivable?
My baby, my flesh, my skin and bones
always crawling away from people

just like me.

I have learned, when the extroverted-overjoyed-inner-glowing-pastor says almost gleefully to
turn to our neighbor, I don’t immediately
run. I have learned.

Still, the bathroom is a cool, echoing, quiet and comforting place just then;
and I can hear
my heart exploding inside me.  Blood pumping, rushing to all extremities.
The fear rushes about me, like pixies dancing, mocking,
Silencing me.

When extroverted-overjoyed-inner- glowing-pastor says:

this is love

I think
I may puke, not because I want to puke
mind you. (What kind of fool would want to throw up in church?)

But.
seriously

when will church life be easier for introverts?  And how to tell my kid,
that forcing him to attend Church events is virtuous?

It’s for your own good.

How? I’m thinking.
How? He’s asking.

This isn’t faith, I know. This isn’t my religion.

What’s an introverted mom to do?

Teach him to run?

The answer lies somewhere in between.  Even
with programs bent on making you
fit

your circle shaped heart into their

square pegged hole of a program.

Still, love wins
when you risk.  And for us introverts, some days that’s

just showing up.

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Waiting to be Born

3954991177_90ed5da242What is waiting to be born
inside me,
hope and delicate, childlike faith
and courage.  I am
wrecked, at the moment.  Empty,
consumed, used up and useful to no one.

This
life
is too much to bear.

I’m waiting for it.
I’m wavering, it is
flickering within enough
to burn.
Bright and on, or
out.

—————————————————————————-

“Come Fairies, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame!” [Yeats]

THIS WAS A WORD CANDY PROMPT.  What is waiting to be born?

{Apart and Away}

I’m worn-out; tired as I’ve never been before.

Weary in a

not sleepy frantic hungry and hysterically wild frightened,

nothing-is-working,

everything

is

falling

Apart and away.

Restless and abysmal

[unable to talk because some problems are not for public consumption.]

I lay arrested, in the midnight hours, whispering

Jesus, what are we going to do? 

Some problems are so profound, causing the scary-monster-in-the-closet

kind

of

fright

that you cannot

cry enough tears.

The universe isn’t large enough to contain these fears. I cannot pray

long and hard enough, for there are no words

for this kind of tired.

Comfort, Jesus

where’s the comfort?  No pithy assurances.

No words.

Except soul weary, bone aching, wretched

tired.

{Fly Away From Me: On Children}

I woke up this morning, the sun creeping in earlier than I wanted.  Coming out of my dreams, I felt grief wash over my body, sore from running daily; I felt the years wash over me physically.  And fear.

I am afraid for all the time—lost.  Gone.

My children are almost grownup into people, yet not ready to face the challenges of being adult.  But more and more they are absent from me and I feel their absence, the loss, physically — These babies I fed from my breast, nurtured if feebly the best I knew how.  Babies I brought in to the world through the tearing of my flesh and blood.  They are young adults and the time is gone.

I’m running out of time and as I woke I felt the years,

Weighty, heavy, lost.

Lost to the days of over working; long workaholic driven years of loving work more than I loved being at home.  I have forgotten those toddler years, unable to recall the first word, first steps, first book, I simply cannot remember.  Write everything down they said, but I thought I’d remember.

I was wrong.

Lost, because of so many days of a drunken cloud, a constant buzz from self-medicating.

I was trying to forget the sadness, the feelings of inadequacy. Feeling doubt in a world of devoted, sure people. Feeling the loss of losing the faith of my parents and not being courageous enough (yet) to find my own.

I lost many years of my children’s lives to being a drunk.

I woke this morning feeling the weight of it, a grief that is carved deeply within.  It is a heart ache, and with a cry  I wanted to start fresh.  A second chance; to rewind back fifteen years to hearing that I was pregnant for the first time.  I was surprised that my body, which I had loathed all my life, was capable of giving life.  And then I felt annoyed at the interruption to my career.  And then it came eventually; the felt joy and disbelief.

Now that baby girl, my little bird, is a young woman.  She is gone more than she is here and each interaction feels like our last.  I know we have just a few more years.  I think: hang on to love and do what you can to keep things open and safe.  I want to have a home, a heart that welcomes; A home of second chances, and third and fourth.  Arms open wide.

The days are slipping away, the chances are running out.

Even as I know this I know that I cannot clutch at her.  I must open my hands, joyfully and watch her fly. I will pray that she will want to return.

As I get up and face another day, it is to keep the nest warm and welcoming.    Yes, I woke up this morning already grieving. I knew.

My little bird is practicing her flight away from me.

Today I Said No

Today I said no.

I said no to something that might have been sweet and good, something that I would enjoy and that would make me feel good about myself – helping other people.  It was something that was even noble.  Can I be honest and tell you that I need some things to do that make me feel good about myself?  The recent Stations of the Cross exhibit, which I was a part of, was profound for me in that it was a thing that I did, for me.

Today I said no.

No because there are other good things, needs, jobs for me to do.  And I have to be careful as an addict, to not feed that need to help others.

Things are going on in my family, screaming out to me, which need resolution and clarity and my time.  My children are of the age that they need my daily prayer, daily.  My attention, fully.  My love and affirmations, honestly.  This takes the kind of attention that I haven’t had for them as of yet.  My widowed mother living alone needs more of my attention, care and to be blunt she needs errands accomplished.  My sisters each deserve my love and attention in a way that I haven’t ever had the courage to give them.  My marriage isn’t perfect; it has holes that need patching even though, after eighteen years together, we know it’s for life.  We’re in the boat together but we’ve sprung a few leaks.  No one’s sinking but we deserve to give the time that a good marriage requires.

So, today I said no – no to something good.  So that I could say yes to being a mother, a sister, a daughter, a wife and more than anything I said yes to be a writer.

Today I said yes.

Silent for Days, becomes Years

Silent for Days, becomes years
when the Girl Child now Woman is afraid of her own words,
allowing her many fears to overwhelm.
sometimes offering Powerful Utterances
that shape, guide, portend,
sometimes paralyzed.
Deep calls to Deep, inside
the Place Where She is Full, saying
lay down, let go.

Silent for Days, becomes years
when the Girl Child now Woman
knows and comes to love
herself and comes to believe
in the One who Gave His Life for us all.
Still waters, Silent
deep, deep inside
the Girl Child now Woman is daily groping,
hoping not to misstep.  knowing
she holds one, two, three, four
Souls in her sweaty, grasping hands.
she is hopeful and
needing, wanting to nurture and heal.
so much faith, so much potential, so much possibility.

Silent for Days, becomes years
when Girl Child now Woman
lays down her life, lets go
of control,
of results,
of Knowing her Future or
knowing anything at all.
building calluses on her knees, head
bowed, tears flowing, hands
open, heart
free.

the Girl Child now Woman knows
how little she knows.
she lets go.  her heart
bursting from the agony of it,
the birthing of the one, two, three, four lives
put into her hands and
her One Life.
Just ahead, Looms.  Just ahead,
the One who Gave His Life for us all
Asks it of her
and she lets go.

Faith Transforms Me, Sometimes.

My motto these days is to do the next thing — what’s straight ahead of me.  In life, in faith, in parenting.

The next home task, the next creative project, the next scriptural study challenge — I choose to do this because I don’t know what else to do.  So I do the next thing.  I say yes to requests and a chance to help those in my immediate life.  I want to be useful.  This is tale about something l learned while trying to be helpful to a friend and be a good mom.

I should know to welcome an imminent challenge  when I write about parenting.  And I should also know by now that when I get intentional about any aspect of life, experiences come up that cause my “great” ideas to suddenly seem anemic held up to the light of day, real life.

One of my kids came home today particularly ornery.

Nothing I said was good enough. Or correct. Or useful.  Finally when I had had enough I stormed off angry saying: “I don’t know why I bother to say anything around here.” (I know who’s the kid, right?) The more I thought about it, the madder I got.  I was steaming, white hot mad and before I knew it, even slamming doors.

Fuming I went downstairs to fold their laundry.  I decided if that’s the way she wants it fine.  What if I simply refused to talk to her anymore? …. for a while, for a good long while.  I’m thinking, yeah, I will pass information along via her brothers.  That way I could make my point (which was that she doesn’t listen to my sage advice) and still get things accomplished.

Before long she came creeping downstairs.  Still seething in my plans for my “cold-war” campaign, even though I knew that my plan would never work.  Beyond the plain immaturity of the idea, it just wasn’t kind.  And if anything, I try to always be kind.

“I’m sorry I don’t believe in Jesus” she says inaudibly. “Not right now.”

“What?” I asked breaking my short-lived resolve.  In this moment, when a child says something like that, at least a thousand thoughts run chaotically through your head within the space of milliseconds. You’re dizzy from the swirl of emotion.  Still, in these kinds of parenting moments, my main thought is stay calm.

I remind myself: Do not say anything you cannot take back!   You cannot let on that you’re freaking out … no!  It is not like the whole world is sinking.

How she even knows what she accepts as true is decidedly up for consideration.  She is just a child. Stay calm.

She came home saying she didn’t want to go to church anymore.  What was the point? Then, as well as now in this moment, I mostly listened.  I said something vaguely like: “We just want you to continue going, so that you know what you’re choosing.”

I’m kicking myself.  The last time we had this conversation I totally choked.  Later, as I was telling Tom it was all so clear to him what he would have said.  And with hindsight it was clearer to me as well.  I should have been ready for this one, but instead of that I’m hyperventilating inside about MY BABY is rejecting my faith!  (Perhaps only mothers know what I’m talking about here.)  Yes, I’ve talked about this before, but I just can’t believe that at fourteen she’s already rejecting the Church, and by that I mean big C church.  “I already know everything I need to know” she had said.  And I think that was somewhere in the vicinity of when I stormed out of the room earlier.

“I’m sorry that I don’t believe in Jesus” she repeats.  “Not right now.” And I looked her square in the eyes. And shrugged.  Obviously I’m no Billy Graham.  There will be no coercing from me.  No broad explanations or great appeals for faith.  I know that I understood less than nothing about spiritual things when I was her age, not really.  I really couldn’t grasp the concept of substitutionary atonement at all. If someone had tried to convince me of it, I would have written them off completely.

I believe that one comes to an understanding of the truth of scriptures slowly, and a huge part of that is seeing others whose lives are utterly transformed by Jesus Christ.  This is one reason I had so much trouble with my personal faith for more than two decades—I didn’t see people around me transformed.  (Blame the Methodists and Presbyterians?)

So, I looked her straight in the eye. And shrugged, as I turned back to folding.

Later, I decided that I wanted her to come with me as I delivered soup to some sick friends.   This is it!  (I’m thinking I’m pretty brilliant.)  She will see the feet of faith—the good deed, out of my love of my friends that makes me want to do kind things for others.  This is it!

So with her  mumbling loudly and her iPod blaring, with great drama and complaining, she got into my car as I put the Tupperware of soup on the floor between her feet.

After several questionings about why she had to come, we arrive.  I reached toward her. She reached to hand me the soup, grabbing the handles of a grocery bag – and bam!  Soup splattered everywhere.  “Fuck! ” (Yes, that’s an exact quote)I yell: ” How could this have happened?!!”  I fumed loudly glancing up at the house.  Stomping around the end of the car, I see that there is soup top to bottom in my beautiful (if dirty) Honda—with a large portion of the soup on the floor, irretrievable.  It was a colossal mess!

Again, we find me furious.

Ironically what I had intended to be an example of my benevolence turned into me a fuming and cussing, even accusing her, in my mortification!

Then a light bulb went off. 

This isn’t about the “good deed” or about the soup spilling all over my car and daughter.  And though I was tempted to blame her for the spill, it wasn’t even her fault.

This is about how  I choose to handle it, right now.  This is about me being transformed by Jesus.

Self-conscious about the half empty Tupperware, dripping with soup, I sheepishly rang the doorbell and delivered my soup.  Then I went to the car and calmly drove home.  At home, after collecting my thoughts, I told her “You don’t need to feel badly about this because it wasn’t your fault!”  If anything, I should have warned her that it might be messy or risky to pick up.

So we cleaned up the car together, which was a lot like cleaning up vomit we both agreed, only it smelled really yummy.  It was good soup.  And we had another little disagreement.  This time about whether “Drinking until you vomit” was the same as just social drinking.  (Do I know a thing or two about that?) Still, she walked away from me into the house, sheeshing me about acting like an expert and saying that I was “wrong that I didn’t trust her ideas.”  And I, once again, I was left alone fuming and wondering.

Now if she can just make the connection.  If only I can too, more often be transformed.

Yes, faith transforms me, sometimes.

MH

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. 2 Cor 3:18

Music Makes Kids Smart

The policies of George W. have forced many cuts to local school budgets over the last eight years.

One cut  we have felt is that 4th graders at our elementary school can no longer learn a string instrument until 5th and they may cut the Strings Program all together.

Emma is in fifth. Since third grade she’s taken the standardized tests required by George W, which tell us what we already knew, she’s extremely intelligent.

Someone should tell old Dubya, that study after study has shown that learning music can make kids smarter.

When your child learns to play a musical instrument, not only does he learn how to make tunes, but he also enhances other capabilities of his brain as well:

* A 10 year study involving 25,000 students show that music-making improves test scores in standardized tests, as well as in reading proficiency exams (Source: James Catterall, UCLA, 1997).
* High school music students score higher on the math and verbal portion of SAT, compared to their peers (Profile of SAT and Achievement Test Takers, The College Board, compiled by Music Educators Conference, 2001).
* The IQ’s of young students who had nine months of weekly training in piano or voice rose nearly three points more than their untrained peers (Study by E. Glenn Schellenberg, of the University of Toronto at Mississauga, 2004.)
* Piano students can understand mathematical and scientific concepts more readily. Children who received piano training performed 34 percent higher on tests measuring proportional reasoning – ratios, fractions, proportions, and thinking in space and time (Neurological Research, 1997).
* Pattern recognition and mental representation scores improved significantly in students who were given a 3-year piano instruction (Dr. Eugenia Costa-Giomi study presented at the meeting of the Music Educators National Conference, Phoenix, AZ, 1998).
* Music students received more academic honors and awards than non-music students. These music students also have more A and B grades compared to non-music students (National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988 First Follow-Up, U.S. Department of Education).
* More music majors who applied for medical school were admitted compared to those in other majors including English, biology, chemistry and math. (“The Comparative Academic Abilites of Students in Education and in Other Areas of a Multi-focus University,” Peter H. Wood, ERIC Document No. ED327480; “The Case for Music in Schools”, Phi Delta Kappan, 1994)

Other research also linked music making with increased language discrimination and development, improved school grades, and better-adjusted social behavior.  Why does this happen? What is at work here?  and why is George Dubya making decisions that force cutting music programs around the country?

Why Dubya, why???