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.”

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.

The Dust Bunnies and the Broken Hearts of Mental Illness

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I say the things aloud. It is an effort.
I want to make them come true.
“I will clean today.
I will cook dinner.
I will go to the bank.”
Even as I speak the words I know how unlikely it is that I will be able to do
more than sit here.

Breathing under water
is life threatening.

Looking around the house
I see the relics of our months of chaos and disorder.
How long has this constant been going on?
I count 35 months of circling and spinning at dizzying speeds or
churning, sticky  slow moments that seem to l—–a—–s—–t.
Strung together for days.
Sitting here now I recall
our cyclone of shock as we have watched our child suffer, would rather die. As the life killing anxiety and depression threatens to smother
the life
out
of
the little child we
know, we knew. Oh, how we remember.
We are fighting for her.

We are fighting each other.
We hold on tight, we weep, we pray small whispered cries
sometimes full of doubt and
sometimes swept up with outrageous
Hope. Most often throttled by our anguish, at times held by unimaginable peace.

We confess and repent as we scour the past for clues, pulling apart our parenting until it is a skeleton hanging bereft of blood and sinew,

something dead.  We resist giving up,
we acquiesce to today, we contemplate our future. Answers don’t come
as doctors, the so called experts keep changing their “plans.”
Outcomes are suggested, how do we know if they are good or bad?
The long and short of it all is that we must let go
of “normal.” We must come to understand that this,

our life now, might be[come] our forever.

Breathing under water
is life threatening.

When someone is mentally ill there are no promises or guarantees, only
Heartache,
Acceptance,
Disbelief,
Resistance,
Fury,
Fear and
[Days and months of] Solitude.
The secrets of the mentally ill
create wide, scorched throbbing universes of heartache, misunderstanding and pain.
We’re so broken apart, crushed down
we don’t even hold on to one another anymore, consumed
we binge on Netflix and ice-creams.
Outcomes seem inevitable.

Breathing under water
is life threatening.

Dust bunnies, in all corners and on the stairs collecting overnight, as if no one lives in this house of relentless pain.

The ghosts of activity –an unread book, the youngest’s week old work left unread after
the bribe—“If you bathe, you can stop reading for now.”

Reading vs. Bathing.
Who knew it could come to this? Only when you’re exhausted by breathing.

The question of why he dislikes reading presses into me like a fork shapes a raw peanut butter cookie.  An indent of
memory symbolizing something far greater, as if

it’s an indication that all of life is
Awry.

Breathing under water
is life threatening.

Please tell me there’s no one at the door, when the little fury of a dog growls
to a supposed intruder.  My heart rate speeds up, just like it does recurrently
nowadays.  Almost everything makes that muscle race.

And even as I lament the loneliness
I am glad it was just a passerby and that they kept walking.
Others are going somewhere
as I look out the window

desk bound and writing.
Breathing under water, alone.

Full disclosure: I borrowed the phrase of “Breathing Under Water” from the title of Richard Rohr’s book Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps which is sitting on my side table. I have not read the book but the phrase leaps out at me today.  The book was recommended by an old friend. 

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

Family in Town (a poem about family, loss, addiction, and change)

Family in town and from out of town
sometimes means heavy remembering,
and just a little trying to forget though you are
no longer disappearing.

Into the bottle.

Family in town means many goings-on,
even when you’re sick and tired.  It means
running out of money. It means trying hard to make everyone
happy.  Trying hard to just be.

Happy.

Family in town
means someone drinking too much, and
everyone else acting like it’s not true.
Your triggers activated, but sticking to the
almost- four- years- sober- kind -of- truth.

Family in town means laughing, lots of gut busting laughter,
Eating too many desserts, and wondering if you’re
forgetting something important.

Family in town, you remember and forget.

People gone.  People here.

You don’t get to choose
Family in town.

Choking

You choke on the words.
You hurt me.

Three simple words,
a confrontation that won’t come.
The fear-scab
comes off the child-grown-up-into-woman wound.
The mutilation, scarred over long enough  
that you had actually forgotten.
Again.
Impossible.

You needed to forget.
Until
mother-sister-blood
family rips it off again.
Their indifference,
your insignificance,
that’s what you need to forget
their command
over you.

They are the only ones
Wielding the control, able to make
you choke on the words.
You hurt me.

They don’t read.
They don’t come.
They don’t care.

You choke on the words
You hurt me.

On Parenting Deeply and Well

Parenting is undoubtedly the most difficult job I’ve ever done. Can I admit it here — it’s not instinctive for me? It’s not intuitive. Though Tom will argue voraciously with me on this, and has, the fact remains that I do not feel like a good mother. Many times I wonder what I was thinking becoming a parent. But that’s me being negative and fearful, not living in abundance.

How does one become a good parent?

We look back at how we were raised. We observe others, although this can quickly turn into bad comparison for me. We work on our own s***. We pray a lot! (I know my father prayed for me every day. I felt that loss when he died.) And we hope that the days will s t r e t c h, time will slow down, much like a sci-fi movie. I mean who doesn’t need more time to improve upon themselves? Now, when life is moving quickly and my children are dashing into their teen years I want to press the slow motion effect. If only.

If the Bible were a parenting manual (which it is not) I think perhaps it would say work on your character and the fruits of your spirit and the LORD will add to these things, but there are no guarantees. The more you try to control the outcome the less likely you’ll get it .

So what’s a person to do?

Today I was thinking and wondering this.  How do we teach our children that they are unconditionally loved – that no matter what they ever do our love is irreversible. This superpower, called “unconditional love,” was modeled for us by Jesus Christ. I lay down my life, regularly.  Or,  is it more like giving up my rights?  My power. My control. Oh, we’re back to that again. Yeah, I was mightily controlled growing up so that’s one of my issues.

And I vacillate with my kids. Oh, how I hated feeling controlled as a child, and yet without boundaries children (and adults) flounder. So I regularly pray for a good measure of strength to apply appropriate boundaries with consequences without being perceived as or wanting to be controlling.

There’s a strange characteristic in kids — they believe in the live and let live, totally. Yes, even mom and dad.

If you loved me you’d just let me … stay up and talk to my friends on the computer. Leave my stuff all over the house. Lose my cell phone with no consequences. Not work that hard in school, I mean lighten up, Mom. It’s only grades. Not live up to my potential, I mean if it were important to me I’d do it.

Yup, true. But I definitely regret that I wasn’t pushed more when I was a child. I was left to flounder. So, I have to admit, I’m a bit befuddled.

What’s the best book on parenting you’ve read?

What’s the best advice you’ve been given about parenting?

What did your parents do that was really right?  

Do you have any advice for a young mom like myself?

SOME DAY: A poem about Siblings (Not) Getting Along

Some Day

Some day I won’t have to ask the question: Why do siblings war?

This I know.

Tattered hearts are the consequence.

It is said by some that soon you will be the best of friends.  And so I listen

from the next room, and wonder and think

it is said so assuredly, but that slippery truth isn’t now,

only some day.  You know what I think?

Some day, if you are lucky, you will long to share breakfast with your brother

and he’ll live miles away.  Or he may be

distracted, distressed or in a disagreement with you.

Life seems to get in the way

of some day.   As for today,

as you kick and scream on the couch demanding

your own way

I can only listen from the other room and pray, for some day.

Written October 28, 2009

Tom’s Music on Primetime CBS show

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

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

Also, his website is:

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

Peace to all,  Melody