Lessons from the Monastery: Part Two (Sixty Year Old Memories of Sensible Shoes)

Part Two in a series: Lessons from the Monastery.

I don’t find it hard to confess that dissatisfaction comes easily to me, along with the admission that my life has disappointed me. Disillusionment too, as my life is not what I thought it would be. I can admit this is true.

Well, that’s not exactly right – I had no plan.  No grand scheme.  I didn’t have any idea what I would do with my life as a youngster.

One thing I knew.

From that moment when I was swiftly rescued, “healed” in an only God could have done it miraculous sort of way.  As I grew up, I was told the stories over and over.

I was “the peanut baby.”  The miracle was something of God, everyone said so. And for whatever reason I began to believe that God had something special planned for me – for my life.  Eighteen months old I was choking on a peanut. I should have died. I will have to get my mother to retell the story because even as I ponder it now, there is much I cannot remember.  I don’t want to lose the details.

I have no memory of it.  In fact I have very few memories of childhood at all.

They are all gone, stuffed somewhere safe.  I haven’t in all these years of healing been able to find the key to unlock that precious girl’s life.

My life. My memories.

I’ve been going to the monastery with my mother.  Being with my mother is startling and even as I learn to trust her, I am afraid.  She’s a blurter.  And she has for memory everything, and more, that I don’t.  Her brain is iron clad; she is a beast of remembering.  And her stories come out at the oddest, least opportune moments; like the shock of ice-cold water.

So much so, that sometimes I cannot bear to be with her, sometimes.  I am learning to not be so afraid.

But today her memories were of her childhood.  A controlling father “much like your father” she said.  “Only mine was around less often, which was perhaps less damaging …” her thoughts trailing off.  In my mind, I too found I was wandering back to my dad’s controlling ways.  She’s remembering that her dad made her wear ugly shoes, because she was “hard on shoes.” Even though her sisters got any kind they wanted.

Those are sixty year old memories about sensible shoes.  Her father long dead and yet still, she remembers it today. 

God save me from bitter memories I say, not to her but inside to myself and to the ghosts.  Perhaps that’s why I keep them all locked up safe, because I don’t want to be bitter.

Today the speaker at the monastery spoke of stability and the descent into darkness as a way of becoming comfortable with uncertainty; a willingness to explore our pain.  Moving down into it and facing it.

No way!  I thought immediately.  This is simply nuts.

Then I remembered…

all the ways I learned to numb my pain, to forget.  And in that moment saw my progress – over time, over years.  A decade flashed.

I used to work hard at my job, to do really well and I received tons of praise and it was never enough.  I was never happy about it.  I was always afraid – of being unmasked, shown for the farce that I was.

The speaker spoke of learning to live deeply in the monotony of life, as do the Benedictines, monks, others – shall l I just say it?  The stay-at-home mom’s life was the epitome of mundane to me.

I see now that is was because I was running.

I couldn’t run fast enough from my internal demons.  Michael Casey, the Cistercian monk of Tarrawarra Abbey in Australia, says that distraction seeks to avoid and that we need to accept life as it is given to us. 

Ten years.  More than a decade of running.  Looking back I can see progress.  My heart was full of self-deception.  I couldn’t feel my feelings for many years and I numbed my feelings with alcohol, work, shopping, obsessive busyness, Christian service, action and movement of every kind.

And now I attempt to live in this moment — to see what’s in front of my nose. 

The speaker asked: Where do you find sources of stability in direct opposition to the running?  What does life look like when you need some stability? How do you know when you’re running? What prompts our perpetual running? What stops it, for you?

I was able to see, today that I have come a long way.   There are still moments of grievous disappointment in myself, but I lay that aside knowing that life is a long, long path for which I am only partway there.  It felt good, even divine, to gaze backward seeing the timeline of the years to appreciate that I am altered – different  – shifting and less flustered and more resolved.

I am able now to go unhurried into the future.  And I can now appreciate the dailies of life. I look forward to remembering, when it comes.

The deep monotony is good, in order to simply be.

MHH

Inspired by Stability and Balance in Relationships and Prayer led by Carole Kretschman at the Holy Wisdom Monastery, March 7, 2012

I Looked Up and The Sky Was Blue: What I Want vs. What I Need

I looked up and the sky was blue.

I don’t know why that is so important, except that it is — blue — today.  And I would have missed it, if I hadn’t looked up.

There are so many days when I don’t. Because it usually looks like this.

How often do we miss out on the amazing beauty in our life because we just don’t look up?

“What if we believed in the deep places, the darkest recesses, that God always provides — and not barely, but abundantly?   Wouldn’t we always be at peace — no matter what?  What if thanks in all things actually could be easy — because we believe that God always gives us the thing we exactly need? What if gratitude was as natural as breathing, because we knew in our bones that the air we breathe is grace? (… A Holy Experience)”


We are having an ongoing discussion in our house about “Needs vs. Wants.”

Do we need cable?  Do I need books of my own or will the library suffice?  Does my daughter need rain boots or want them? Why won’t snow boots work in the rain? Do we need Ezekiel 4:9 Organic Sprouted Whole Grain bread or just want it?  Are we desperate for fizzy water (what we call mineral water in our house) or can we live without?  Does the cat need a new collar when her old one works perfectly well?  My daughter is concerned that she (the cat) got her feelings hurt because she received the dead cat’s collar.  Hm … Does Tom need seven or eight guitars, even if they are a knock off brands from China?  But you see what I mean?  And that’s just scratching the surface.

“Your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him” (Matt. 6:8).

“My God shall supply all your needs, according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19).

Things.  Needs.  Wants.  It’s hard.  It’s complicated!!!

I think we have many different motivations for making change in our lives.  It is smart or prudent or loving or generous or “the adult” thing to do.  I’m thinking of money and resources now, all the stuff of life.  To begin to make those choices because it is all God’s anyway, well, that’s a whole other league of maturity.  Dang, why is it so hard?

What I’m talking about here is complicated.

Our motivations.  Why do we think we need all this stuff?  Cable.  Books.  Rain boots.  Gourmet food.   Stuff for the animals.  More than one of anything? Yes, I have money on the brain.

But it is more than that.  It’s about being discontent on a deep, cellular level.  My pastor called it a cancer and I think it really is.

If you have spent time overseas or simply in a different less abundant and materialistic culture you likely were  floored by how great that was. For me, a summer pared down to a forty pound backpack was still more than my Russian students had.  I seriously never wanted to come back to America.  I felt for the first time an incredible freedom from caring about the things that are so important in America.

I believe.  I believe that God will care for me all my life.

Not that good things will always happen to me or that bad things won’t. Rather that in the midst of life and its icky messes God is here and he loves me.  I’ve never had the courage to read the book of Job all the way through because I’ve always thought that if I read it God will think I’m ready to live it.

I have never felt persecuted.  Even in the midst of my father’s illness and mother’s illness going on at the same time.  Even with major depression not receding no matter how much effort and work I spent on it.  Even needing medication and finding out I was pregnant.  And then losing the baby.  Losing my father.  Helping my mother get into recovery.  Already struggling with my own addictions.  Even in the midst of all that — which I found myself recounting to a friend the other day — I believed. Deep down I believed God would care for me.

I’m reading, slowly as it applies, The Women’s Bible Commentary. (see desc. below)  As I was reading about the Psalms I read this:

“Those who speak with complete candor in the presence of God, those who articulate their doubts and their pain as well as their trust in God are all included among the faithful in the Psalms.  Women who have been taught  (like children) to be “seen and not heard” in relation to faith and religion should notice that the very act of putting anger, impatience, and frustration into words often enables the speakers in the Psalms to come to a renewed sense of assurance in God’s continuing care. The confessional stance of the Psalmists (their willingness to articulate feelings of anger and pain as well as joy in the presence of God, their refusal to submit passively to oppressive circumstances, and their confidence in God’s concern for their needs) has had and continues to have a significant influence in shaping the theology, the piety and the lives of many women.”

This has been my experience.  I think this is why during all of that which I listed above the one thing I was able to do was cry out to God.  Many times by writing but also with friends, and in prayer or through reading Bible, especially the Psalms.  My bitterness toward my parents manifested in depression, low self-esteem, alcoholism …  My poetry is so real because it came from that core.

When I first wrote it was God cleansing and healing me.  A secondary result has been how my words have helped others — perhaps jog a mind or heart to circumstances  between themselves and God.  That was an unexpected delight.

Do you believe God will care for you, abundantly?

If you aren’t sure cry out to him.  He listens.  He is good and he is our Shepherd. (John 10)   This section of scripture describes the most incredibly loving relationship between Jesus and people.  He calls his sheep by name.  The sheep know his voice.  Jesus is the gate for the sheep.  Whoever enters by Jesus will be saved and will come in and go out and will find pasture.  The thief comes to steal kill and destroy.  “But I came that they may have life and have it abundantly!”

Write thy blessed name, o Lord, upon my heart, there to remain so indelibly engraved, that no prosperity, no adversity shall ever move me from thy love.  Be thou to me a strong tower of defense, a comforter in tribulation, a deliverer in distress, a very present help and a guide to heaven through the many temptations and dangers of this life.

— Thomas a Kempis

I want to be content.  I want it to be true of me.  All I need is my pasture.  And the Good Shepherd calling me by name.

Be well, Melody

I highly recommend The Women’s Bible Commentary if you preach or teach, especially if you’re male.  It will give you a perspective that you cannot possibly have since you are not a woman.

From the back of The Women’s Bible Commentary — an outstanding groups of women scholars introduced and summarized each book of the Bible and commented on those sections of each book that have particular relevance to women, focusing on female characters, symbols, life situations such as marriage and family, the legal status of women, and religious principles that affect relationships between women and men.  (It also has a huge bibliography!)

dance on the tightrope of life

The feet of a tightrope walker.
Image via Wikipedia

That cosmic space

where we balance so gingerly,

where we so often live

between discontent and content.

Surely it has a name?

Presuming I know, I believe we are meant to live in that space as Christ followers.   If one becomes too content we become apathetic to the cries of the world and to God’s priorities.  We forget to listen for his voice .  We may even stop believing that Jesus has the power to do something important in our life.  We forget what it was like to just be walking in the garden of Eden with Jesus.  An easy stroll in the twilight of the day — a peaceful not frantic moment. We just forget when we are too content.

But I can easily fall into discontent and quickly be overcome by bitterness and then I become hard to be around.  Yeah, I know this about myself.

And so there I am dancing on the tightrope of life.  Right now.

D i s c o n t e n t.  With a capital D.

God’s quiet voice seems to be saying “Don’t push so hard Melody.”

I have wrestled hard.  With myself.  With God.  With the voices in my head.  I feel angry. And anxious.  And lost.  And frustrated and simply scared to be in the place that I am.

No real job (at least not for money) and no real prospects in the middle of the recession of the century.  I am ten years out of the marketplace and have only worked at one organization for my entire short career of thirteen years.  I do have certain abilities and gifts that have risen to the surface over the last ten years but they have little to nothing to do with my previous job experience. I could go on, but I won’t.

I am not content.  I am so not!  Right now, I am anxious.  Feeling uncertain if God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit truly care about this conundrum I am in.

(But before you despair for me read to the end — there is hope in the struggle.)

Psalms 75 says “The righteous do not exalt themselves.  God will promote them in the proper time.”

RT Ritenbaugh says of this, “In the meantime, it is best for all of us to be content with where He has put us …  The cure for presumptuous behavior is realizing what God has given us, where He has placed us, and what is best for us at the time. If we work within the parameters He has set for us,we will grow and we will perform the task He has asked us to do.”

Eventually!???

There is a verse in Song of Songs that talks about “bringing contentment.”  Wow, that strikes me like a fist in the face, as even in my best days I am not that kind of person.  I am afraid that my very soul is defined by what is aggravating me.  By what is causing agitation.  I look for it.  Yes, I seem to seek it out.  I’ve always seen this as a asset, or at least a (somewhat) good thing, in that my voice is one that (perhaps) needs to be heard?   But I also have my doubts about whether this is true, or effective, with such a state of discontent radiating through it?   Yes, my heart and mind and soul gets shaken and moved by the things of this world — stories of the downtrodden, powerless and those that are experiencing injustice. And yet, I so long to be a person that brings contentment.  It’s an amazing concept.

It’s so not me.
The dance on the tightrope of life just became more challenging because of this.  And it’s more than trite smiling while you balance there on your tippy-toes.  True contentment is peace.  Bringing shalom (contentment or peace) to a world that is so chronically dissatisfied, stale, empty, barren, hungry, and afraid.

My soul longs for that to be true.  Of me.

In the Hebrew, the word that is translated “contentment” is shalomCompleteness, soundness, safety, peace, quiet, tranquility, contentment, friendship, peace (from war). The noun comes from a verb that means to be in a covenant of peace, to cause to be at peace, to be complete, to be finished, to make safe, to restore.

Being that person won’t just happen.  It is uncomfortable to think about how little I bring that to people I meet every day!  May I have courage enough to ask God for that!  That is my prayer.

These are the questions I wonder:

Am I a safe person? Do I help others to be more at peace?  Do I cause others to hide from me?  What aspects of my life bring restoration, peace and safety to others?  Even the Apostle Paul says he learned to be content. (Philippians 4.)  If Paul the great agitator can learn it, surely I can.  Apparently that didn’t just happen for him when he became a follower of Jesus, but he found over time that he could count on Christ to meet his every need.

I guess being discontent conveys that we don’t totally trust that God has a plan.  Something good.  It makes me remember the Israelites in the OT who were such a terrible group, an example of  lack of trusting God for any goodness in their lives.  Such chronic whiners they were constantly rejecting the manna, which was provided by God, a daily source of strength.  They thought wasn’t good enough.  Too blah, too bland.  That is eerily familiar.  Yikes, I have to ask myself honestly:

Am I also rejecting God’s provision saying “Too bland Lord.  Surely there is m o r e?”

Jesus is the “true manna which came down from heaven.” (John 6:33)  Am I not throwing my own cosmic tantrum saying  that it’s inadequate?

Is Jesus enough?  Can I forget about my surroundings (of being a jobless stay-at-home mom) long enough to walk with him in the garden?

The dance on the tightrope of life just became more challenging if true contentment is:
  • to be with Jesus in the garden.
  • to trust Jesus to make me into a person of peace, safety and restoration.
  • to not allow my circumstances to distract me from what is important and true.

And then, and only then, I may be a person that brings peace, Jesus’ shalom, to a world that is so chronically dissatisfied, stale, empty, barren, hungry, and afraid.

My soul longs for that to be true.

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This is what got me writing today which was not in the plan.  Reading the blog: A Holy Experience.