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.

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.

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{I am a Witness. I have a Voice. I Intend to Use it.} Looking Back on Year Two of Being a Writer

8728474819_71223eda2e_oThere are moments when I hate what’s inside my heart, tarry and thick with things quite undesirable. Learning to be comfortable with yourself, and equally discontent in order to be transformed, is one of life’s most difficult lessons.

I’ve just completed year two of “Being a Writer.”

OTHERS

As I have received affirmation from other writers and publications it amplifies to me the incessant poverty of my soul: the need for attention. Like a sacred signal, others have the power to bestow and to validate. And the bedevilling truth is that my soul craves it. To know how others perceive your work. The challenge has been to confront that gnawing need.

I want to write from a different place—a place of purpose. I have learned to question the longing for endorsement, which is particularly challenging when we all know that it is through others that we will become more influential and be read.

As I search about for evidence of my ability I have seen signs of it. I can admit how good this feels. I feel honored and humbled to be included in projects, and I fly for a while, intoxicated by seeing my words in places other than this little blog.

LISTENING WELL & SHARING PARTS

This year has been less about perfection and more about process.  As I settle in to liking my own ideas, the words collected on the page, I fight a little less with each sentence. Hold less tightly to what Anne Lamott calls “little darlings.” Precious sentences are usually over heavy, causing the reader to stumble and perhaps even give up.

Though writing is difficult work, I am learning that reading should be a delight, smooth and sweet like cream.  I have also learned that editors can make you sound better than you imagined possible, if you will only listen.

The responsibility to scratch words down is about more than cleverness, more than holding truths in my two hands and hammering it down on the page, more than dazzling others and more than pride in my work. It is about letting go of sacred totems and knowing when to hold back. It is accepting that your soul truths are precious and must only be shared with intention. One’s life and experiences, the anguish and pain must (at times) be sacrosanct.

Too much spilling over, with emotions a rushing avalanche, crushes the reader.  People look away if the ideas are too stark and as they do you are left alone with the sorrows. Then you must take care with what you share of your own life.

So, I was drawn to a new prayer life this year, to solitude, and came to the understanding that to be a writer is a grave, holy responsibility.

In a language of prayer then I returned, after a time. Open-handed with God first, then to the pen and page. Collecting the words pooling up from a tuition paid in the blood of one’s life, letting go of some things. My suffering is sacred to me but it is only after the dross burns away that it grows suitable for others to read.

I look ahead with eyes blazing, fiercely determined to learn from my life.  And as I peer into the mist of tomorrow’s sure ache, I am conscious of how little I know and yet I find myself strangely satisfied.

To write is to be exposed. While uncomfortable this is also a revelation.

Year one was a stew of fear and childlike developing aspiration. I was a little too comfortable with my naïve perceptions.  Year two has been a rich smelling curry of risk-taking and yearning but had a stench of feeling left out. For even online there’s an in crowd, the A-team, the coterie of the Elite Lists.

YEAR THREE

I hope in year three to let go of “I Can’t” and of “If Only” and face things squarely.  This is who I am.  This is what I have to offer.

As I set down goals, and slowly begin to achieve them, I feel purposeful and ambitious and aspiring.  I will write about things that are heavy on my mind: a deepening faith, mental illness, the injustice of racism and sexism, and my ongoing sobriety.

This year has been mostly survival and “writing down the bones.”  Being a mother, wife, daughter and friend has invaded my personal goals and aspirations. And, living with ash in one’s mouth all the time, you only offer the remains, hoping these odds and ends are meaningful but knowing in your deep places that they were sometimes artless and ghastly, often self-indulgent.

This year as a writer has taught me that life is to be lived well—in order to have words worth reading—which often requires that I step back and reserve the parts that are too hot and holy.  This is the growing up of year two.

This year was hard.—

With lusts of envy and greed creeping in,

with personal heartaches and deepening spiritual awareness,

with “real life” weighing tragic and heavy in ways that I have been unable to express.

—All demanding balance and requiring a maturing of spirit, soul and mind.  Admitting it here is the easy part. It has required honest and brave time alone, necessary no matter how long it takes.

Although I live often in the darkness, I’ll fight to write no matter the grief.

Over and over this year, I have been surrounded by awareness of Women, witnesses in the Holy Scriptures and all around me in life; the women who were and are faithful to Jesus.  They went back to the tomb, were greeted and commissioned by Jesus to bear the good news of the resurrection.

I’ve struggled with my role as a woman in the Church and in my church.  And out of a desire for unity, out of fear of being misunderstood, from a place of insecurity I have shut myself up.  In year three I hope to become a stronger advocate for women.

I am a witness. I have a voice. I intend to use it.

MY CONCLUSIONS

Life is hard.  You cannot write about all of it.

Work on internal integrity.

Learn to trust yourself and your voice.

Take risks. It is usually worth it.

Don’t let life overrun your goals and aspirations as a writer.

Listen to the places where your heart breaks and write about it.

Thanks for sticking with me in the writing, growing, and dreaming.  I’m grateful your hearts, following along this journey.

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{When the Truth Hurts: “Being Broken” is Not My Life’s Metanarrative}

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Rilke says to celebrate the questions.

1.

A truth has circled me like a persistent fly, zooming in close and then away again. When I stare straight at it, it becomes momentarily clear. Then suddenly it’s gone disappearing into thin air.

The truth hurts almost as much as my perception of my Being Broken has wounded me, at least at first.  Perhaps that is why we sometimes stay stuck in a static and gray malaise.

Recently the fragments came together – swiftly, an epiphany—through the help of a friend.  What I had struggled for so long to understand now made perfect sense and then it was echoed by several other people reinforcing what I heard.

2.

There is a sacredness in tears…They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition and of unspeakable love.  Washington Irving

The last decade has included repeated seasons of depression, ongoing recovery from addiction, and spiritual upheaval. These were all things I had to pass through to become who I am today. I am grateful.  Through it all I learned that I am resilient.

I have been stuck.

I’m finished with being stuck in regret, wishing that I had made different or better choices, and imagining who I might have become, and thinking of life with different parents or greater personal fortitude or less fear or more gumption. We don’t get to choose our parents or our family of origin with its dysfunctions and ghosts.  It’s all too easy to look back and wish, wonder or hope for something unattainable.

I have lived long enough in the shadows of my father‘s rigid control and in the murky, gloomy regret of my mom’s life. I love them both, but I don’t want to become either of them.  No matter how afraid I am, I will forge my own path.

Finally, I have admitted to myself that I am afraid of the future, of autonomy from children, and of a purpose greater than what I can plan or believe for myself.

3.

The years have left their mark on me with many gray hairs and furrowed facial lines. I turn 48 in September and we’ll be married twenty-one years in June; we have three teenaged children and an adult child, who are all learning to fly.  I love being a mother, but while my children learn to fly I will also grow some wings.  I will search for my voice. And find it.  This is frightening for me.

In 2001 I walked away from a PR & Marketing job I was proud of and was successful at by any standard; I was thirty-five years old with three babies under four.  I turned my back on my leadership and creative talents. I hid them away. Now I see that I have been like the servant in the Gospels who buried and “protected” her talent and waited.

I accepted a lie that “Being Broken” was the metanarrative of my life – the only narrative I have to offer others, as if it safeguarded me from the uneasiness of finally rising up afraid of my authority.  I began to believe the lie that I was broken beyond usefulness, because of the years I spent addicted to booze and healing from the illness of depression.

The hard truth is that my brokenness has consumed and side tracked me. I came to believe in my aching places that at forty-seven years old my life was over.

Every time I imagined otherwise or began to dream fear took over.

4.

Finally it’s time to kneel hard on my father’s grave and say: Daddy, I’m sorry for many things but most of all for how I wanted to hurt you. But this bitterness became a virus in my soul telling me I am the failure you were afraid I’d become.

Only this hasn’t hurt him. It’s become my self-fulfilling prophecy—an obnoxious, stench of a lie that I’ve been living. I’ve been scared to open my mouth. I’ve been too insecure to believe I have anything unique or worthwhile to say or give. I have been waiting for validation from my dead father that will obviously never come and that I don’t need.

I thought I was no longer trust worthy. I’ve written BROKEN on my body; a lasting tattoo reminding me that because daddy said or thought so, I wouldn’t amount to anything. My father has been the Puppeteer controlling me, even now his power looming though he’s been dead eleven years.

It’s time to find another image to prick and stain on my skin!  To mark myself with promise.  I am a blank canvas full of dreams. I want to believe in me again, to stand up and clear my voice and shout, even if it is shaky and quaking at first. This new thing has been a long time coming.

It is also true that I have used my words and my pictures, quietly seeking to tell a story to help others.  And in my little corner of the universe I have made beauty out of shards of my pain.

So I say out loud, I am worthy to speak and it matters little my pedigree or that more than a decade of my life seem to have disappeared like a vapor.

5.

“I think I need a job” I spoke hesitantly to my friend. She asked why, saying “you’re an incredibly gifted writer and a photographer.” “My life feels wrong.” I replied. “I want to contribute. Perhaps I want a paycheck. And I am lonely at home.” I added this as an afterthought.

This friend brings out the best in me. The ME she sees, I don’t see for myself.  I tell myself and out loud I tell her, “I am all these bad things.” And she gently laughs and tells me honestly who I am.

I ask her, “How do you have the courage to do something new? What do you do with your fear?” Changing the direction of our conversation completely, she asked the question that changed everything.

“Melody, what do you have that’s uniquely you?” Her question forced me to peel away truth from my regrets, self-doubt and fear.

It came quickly and quietly: “I have my words and my way of thinking. That’s what I have to offer. That I know is true.”

We all get stuck or believe in our own mediocrity.  Perhaps your life isn’t quite as ambiguous as mine.  But I believe this is true for everyone.  As we face our daily challenges, we have to keep believing that there’s a greater and enduring purpose to our life.  It may not be a grand opus we’ll compose. It may be much more humble and much less exciting. But whatever it is, it is important for each of us to discover.

It’s never too late.  None of us are too broken.  We only have today.  What will we do with this day and days ahead, together they become our life..

6

Deep into that darkness peering,
long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting,
dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.

Edgar Allan Poe

Today has been a long time coming—growing out of distress, blunders, and discomfort. I still have a lot of spiritual work to do, but I accept that embarrassment and shame will be a part of the past and the future is a blank canvas.  The uncertainty of tomorrow forces me to deliberate, knowing that life can be snatched away in a moment.

I’m uncomfortable with generalizations about gender but I wonder if this is a particularly female instinct? To have a proclivity toward self-doubt, a desire for external validation, (for me especially) a Daddy hole the size of the universe, to imagine that your life could serve no purpose and to believe that you don’t have anything unique to contribute.   Male or female, I know all people experience these doubts at one time or another, Perhaps it is middle age that bring a wondering if your life could be over, when it could be just starting again.

Taking a decade long break from a career is a frightening proposition that is traditional to women.  Combine that with my particulars, the idea of believing in my future takes faith.

I believe, help my unbelief.

I’m taking the first shaky steps toward a future still unwritten. My life isn’t over.

Perhaps another way to look at it is that I’m only forty-seven years old. It is time to dream.  I have a unique voice and a way with words.

I intend to use them.

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The Stones I Carry and a Band of Saintly Women

“With or without our permission, with or without our understanding, eventually suffering comes. Then the only question is how to endure it, how to accept it, how to cope with it, how to turn it from dross to gleam.”  

Joan Chittister, The Liturgical Year

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A saint (noun) is a virtuous person, particularly good or holy, or one who is exceptionally kind and patient in dealing with difficult people or situations.

1.

I’ve been angry. And it is passing.

I’m embarrassed about my anger being a person of faith. I’ve been wide-awake, tossing in the Dark of the Night.

It’s a level below wakeful consciousness.

Hardly daring to speak of it because mature followers of Jesus should know ahead of time that people suffer and life is hard; all the clichés rattling round in my skull late at night and in the early morning, sitting at a red light, during the stretches of waiting in my day.  I do a lot of waiting.

There are so many moments when I have tried to pray and my consciousness hits my anger hard. That is where I got stuck.

My heart’s gone stony.

Examining my heart dispassionately, I hear a gusting and desolate wind howling, see whirling tumble weed. My emotions are hard and gritty. (Antidepressant medication ironically stops almost all sensation.)

This is the state of my heart, mind, and body, until recently.

“Suffering experienced leaves us crushed in despair – content to survive and endure, to switch off from the life of the world beyond our pain, to allow darkness to fill our horizons and hide our hope – rather than continue to love our (equally hurting) friends and world in whatever ways are left to us.”

Joan Chittister, Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope

2.

My doubts tell me my spiritual path is probably not worth writing—elusive, brittle, and often overly bleak. My pain is at times far too precious. And yet I’ve been sanctified by reading Saints attentively. So perhaps the inverse could be true.

But I’ve struggled against my anger and disappointments with life to the point of spiritual torpor or inertia.

I am no saint.

To be sure, as a teen I had flashes of spiritual sincerity mostly through vigorous questions and an appetite for scripture. The “mountain top” was climbed infrequently but often enough to be certain that God was doing the stirring in my squashed shattered heart. (I’ve written about that heart ache on this blog enough times to leave it for now.)

Life is full of spiritual spaces described by Richard Rohr as “the spaces in-between forged by a stinging ache of pain.”

There is a dying inside with spiritual movement in the heart, which includes darkness every time. “Darkness and not knowing—then surely an even larger letting go is necessary to move from one spiritual stage to another…  Without great love (of someone beyond yourself) and great suffering, where there is a major defeat, major humiliation, major shock to the ego, very few people move [spiritually].”   From Richard Rohr, The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of St. Francis.

3.

The shock of suffering and grief can catch one in its slow surprise.  It is a relentless beating. As frequent and steady as the rain drumming outside is mesmerizing on the senses.  That’s what it is like to watch someone you love stagger under the weight of unfair and ruthless mental illness.

That is what it is like to feel wounded by life’s sting. Your humanity departed, stones weigh you down.

For months all I could think to pray was: “This is too much.”

Not even able to whisper the usual question of how a good God would allow an innocent child to feel so much pain? That came later but didn’t last long. Accepting that  sh*t certainly happens. And those that know me, know, that I’m no optimist, generally.  I expected life to be tough; it’s been hard for me, but not for my babies.  Damn you, not my babies my heart screams.

I don’t believe that pain is FROM God.  Or that God punishes us with suffering.

I believe that with everything I am. Though I am angry, there is no one to blame. I have come to see with startling clarity that life will be hard and pain will eventually come for most everyone.  What’s most important is how we respond.

4.

When I became pregnant I hadn’t given much thought to whether my children would eventually suffer.Yes, I was that naïve. They were born healthy and I was pleased, as if I had anything to do with it. I thought if we do a good job parenting, our babies would grow up to be happy and carefree.

I hadn’t prepared my heart for the powerlessness of watching a child suffering.  And didn’t realize how much I had bought into what the world considers to be kid’s perfections or imperfections, much of it utterly out of anyone’s control.

When everything began to crumble for us nearly two years ago the first thing I did was question what’s wrong with us as parents.  Then, what’s wrong with my child?  Eventually I had the thought: how can we “fix” this?  I hadn’t seen it before but I guess I believed children could (perhaps should) be perfect.

My daughter’s health was someone’s failing.  This illness could be, must be fixed.  I was caught in this thinking. A different doctor, a different medicine, a different ANYTHING would be the answer and I would find it. I would do anything for my child!

One day seeking yet again “The Answer” we met with another specialist, a good, gracious and brilliant doctor.  He was probably the fifth or sixth doctor that had tried to help us through more than two years of hard work of therapy, hospitals, dozens of variations of medications. Not to mention all the feelings of grief, failure, desolation, loneliness, rage all processed mostly in solitude or between Tom and me.

Finally, after lots of conversation this new doctor asked the most incredible question.

“What if you could see that she’s perfect the way she is?”

I’ll be honest I laughed out loud, more like snorted, choking back my scorn. Still so caught up in grief I sputtered:  “Perfect like this? She’s broken…”  Yes, I said it out loud.  My child is broken. She had recently been discharged from the adolescent psychiatric hospital.  We were once again in crisis management after the short reprieve of hospitalization.

That’s what people convey with ideas of Tiger Mothers and Helicopter Parenting, with the ugliness of genetic testing, and the standards of a perfect GPA and natural athleticism, and in the church expecting us to raise Velcro children that are attracted to our Sticky Faith. What?  With the stigmatization of mental illness everywhere it is lound and clear: the mentally ill are broken. And in the Church, If our children no longer believe, we should feel shame and be blamed.

“Your child is perfect” he said, again.

5.

My anger wakes me in the murky, shadows of the night causing frantic, fearful anxiety.  I’ve faced my anger with the maturity of a petulant teen. I’ve tried to understand suffering standing on the edge of a cliff considering a jump.

Standing at the top of that very high cliff looking down, I hear God gently saying, “Steady on, I’ve got you.” Abysmally, I know that I will eventually believe. Still angry. A bit sulky and disappointed by it all. But I will come to a change.

6.

Today is a cold blustery and snowy winter morning. I find I can suddenly pray more than “This. Is. Too. Much!”

Somehow in some way something is different.  Then I remember. This week I reached out to a band of women from several continents and dozens of walks of life, each knowing me in different contexts and decades of my spiritual progression.  Some know me well, we’ve got flesh history.  Others I’ve met online. The relationships bound by our writing.  Some I know peripherally. It doesn’t matter to me how I know them or how long, because they are praying for me.

And into the faith of many good women, I lean.

I let it all drop. Like heavy stones I’ve been carrying stuffed into my pockets, clenched in my tired hands. I hear each one fall to the ground. Soon they are behind me.  I keep walking forward.

I looked back this morning to see the stones are smaller in the distance.  Still there, still on my spiritual path with me, but each step takes me farther from their weight.

That’s the case for my heart, mind, and body now. I am lighter.

I begin a new prayer:Lighten my load, oh my God, it is still just a few words. I find I am carried along by the faith of more than twenty saintly women of great faith and prayer.  Right now, they are far stronger than my solitary heart.

Now,

I’m still burdened if I turn around and lift those heavy stones back up: Worry. Fear. Anger. Doubt. Lack of trust. Disappointment. Grief.

I whisper the words of faith, growing within.  Finally, I have a few more words.

Give me faith, love, patience and kindness. Give me the strength to continue on.

Give me a love that always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.

Give me new prayers. Give me renewed hope.

Kyrie eleison.

Today I believe it. Today I’m certain.  All shall be well.

Not perfect, but well.

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New Year, Old Pain, Sudden Hope: When Depression and Heartbreak do not Win

[Warning: this is longer than my usual posts. 2,779 words]

In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself. Souls of prayer are souls of great silence.” 

 Mother Teresa, In the Heart of the World: Thoughts, Stories and Prayers

10820152714_fd52cd5689_o (1)I.

“Have you prayed?”  It was an obvious question.  I had an MRI on my brain scheduled for later in the day. The doctor is fishing for answers to why had I fainted and had a temporary inability to use my legs and arms and other weird symptoms that may or may not add up to calamity.  (As of this edit, I still haven’t heard back.)

I sighed; one of my deep, bottomless infinite sighs that people hear from a distance and wonder out loud what’s wrong? I have asked others to pray for it.  But I haven’t talked to God for a good long while.

He was probing into something that should be certain, surely, to a person of faith—offering up prayer for yourself, especially when you’re frightened. But he knows nothing spiritual or self-loving is sure with me.

“Pray for what exactly?” I replied, feigning lack of understanding.  It was clear and came in his swift retort.

“That seems selfish,” I countered; not at all sure I believed what I was saying. “To ask God to heal you isn’t selfish.” He held the sentence out like a talisman, “Unless you’re perfectionist.”  This under his breath, but I heard him.  “It’s sad,” he went on, pressing his point. “You don’t have enough self-love to pray to God to heal you.”  He wasn’t being unkind. He was both empathetic and mystified at my state of mind.

“I can pray that God would give me strength to endure, no matter the result.” I said finally.

But then I didn’t pray. I haven’t been talking to God.

10818503543_88d67b3eaf_oII.

“Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.” ― Mother Teresa

I’ve got a complicated association with prayer. This has been true for as long as I can remember believing in God.

This summer I found myself studiously researching “prayer” for an essay I eventually submitted to a devotional book.  After reading parts of more than fifteen books, I wrote on 1 Thess 5:16-18 focusing on “pray without ceasing.”

These snippets of notes may help explain why I have remained in the desert plains of faith and disbelief for nearly forty years.

Re: prayer. I have wondered more than attempted.  Perhaps I even believed that I had cajoled God into doing things, by my choice of words or holy behavior.  But the fact that we cannot prove prayer works, whether we do it unceasingly, or infrequently, continues to swell inside me, a barrier, a conundrum.

I never believed in God’s love for me.

For many years I suspected my faith was neither sincere nor robust. Surely God would change my (human) Father?  Undoing the idea that God/Father was an asshole has been time-consuming and a tremendously difficult spiritual exercise.  My faith was gnarled and weedy, rooted in fear.

By the Grace of God, eventually I accepted that I am the one Jesus loves—thanks to Brennan Manning and my husband, and sweet, sweet mercy.  I found a restored understanding of God, by reading the full narrative of YAHWEH in scriptures, end to end.

Distrusting God disturbs prayer. 

Suffering depression, then recovering from addiction to alcohol, was the beginning of accepting my helplessness and ultimately I found that God doesn’t shout. He’s more of a gentle whisper as Dallas Willard put it.

Vulnerability before this God has been a glacially slow melting of my icy heart to trust this gentle Father God.

Perfectionists fear what they cannot achieve, but spiritual people move toward what they fear and do not understand.  At least this is what I long to do.

1-DSC_0036III.

Before that  conversation with Tom, I’d been feeling helpless against the pull of my physical and emotional issues.  I’ve been in a deep trench.  The only solace has been found in writing.  I haven’t even been able to read.

IV.

Recently I wrote:

I need a pen that carves smooth and sure, to write all the hard words down.

Stacked one next to the other, a shrine to pain that is breaking me apart into one demolished life. Can beautiful things ever come from the dark places inside me?

As an addict, I’m learning it’s wrong to try to do it all on my own—willpower is unsustainable. I see that I’ve been trying that for far too long. Just do it (alone), stubbornly thinking my way through sobriety, but the truth is impossible. I’m so depressed.

“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill, but time and chance happeneth to them all.” – The book of Ecclesiastes

I am depressed and I live from a depressed place. These days, all so heavy and unbearable, with each word lying naked at the altar of my ego and my dreams, I know that I’m failing myself.

I’m a keen believer in BEING UPLIFTING and yet I am so the opposite these days.  How can I help anyone?

I’m drawn like a moth to sunny and joyful people — out of my joylessness.  I fear my hyperbole. What erupts from me; the heat of it burning within.  And after the foul smoke blows away, I am clearly still left with me, the Depressed Person spitting up gore, without pausing to consider the response.

It is only sometime later that I consider the consequence.  I ache with knowledge of it, for I long to help others, to serve, and I know I cannot with this constant dwelling on myself as “the Depressed Person,” the one that I have become.

Depression has come, roosting deep in me, laying eggs of sorrow, grief, and injury—all a reminder of my destroyed places.  Then, and now, and into the future I plead for the future and past me—for time and chance, for the person I never became that grieves inside me.

I close the book on one year and open another, gravely aware of the future pressing, in hours, minutes and seconds.  I cannot will it to be anything more than this, these words scribbled down.

1-DSC_0038-001V.

Perchance I catch the ear of God, I lay here as tidal waves of fear choke, and shout “hear me” to God.  “I am in PAIN! I don’t even want to be with me, so I understand why I suffer alone.”

I don’t choose this, to be ill with depression; though I know others don’t know that. I have worked! I have read the books. I have taken the pills. I have talked in therapy the odd thirty years. I’ve exercised hard.  I’ve eaten well. I take vitamins. I have a S.A.D. lamp.

And some days I have sat staring at these white walls laid flat, drained believing that EMPTY is my forever. No longer considering that this word or that will be of more or less importance, more or less help for mine are no longer words that fill a soul.

I have a hole at the bottom of my heart.  Everything is leaking through.

2013 had to end because I have no more air. I exhale, light-headed gasping.  I send the year back to where she came from, a vast scorching hell, a melancholic, dry desert, and an infinite amount of gritty, gravel atop my scavenged bones.  I am Depression. I am disappearing under the burden.

DSC_0004 (1)VI.

I will hold on to hope; only because I want to see my kids find joy. I want to believe, it’s still possible
for them.

I will hold on to hope, only because there is one man who loves me even when I have gone numb.
I want to believe I can thaw.

I will hold on to hope, only because I have lived my life making “faith” the cemented corners of my forty odd years. May it keep me. I want to believe ((Help my unbelief))

I will hold on to hope, only because I am a Mother and I am responsible — even when I wake, staring at the wall in disbelief of another day to be endured.

I hold on, only

in order to

hold on.

The faith I cling to only suffers with me; it sometimes sustains but doesn’t take away the anguish of Depression.

If this is it, if I am to live with this gray
All. My. Days.
Simply sober and alert;
if I cannot will the fog of depression to clear;

If I cannot find relief. If the question is the same, this year, last year, and the next.

Can I BE, Can I PRETEND, Can I offer others more than I TAKE regardless of what’s burning within?  It seems to be the only way to go on, each day giving more, loving more, helping more, learning to stop speaking of the Depression, Me.
Learning when asked: How are you? To say: thankful. How are you? Thankful. How are you?

The endless question echoing in the voluminous quiet of my heart.

2014 will be…UNKNOWN.

3204758186_5f88f12666_oVII.

I woke at 5:00 am with a headache so severe as to be unbearable.  After the fainting last week one cannot help but frightened wonder.  Is there something disastrous going on in my brain?  MRI scheduled, I told Tom I was unafraid, just curious.  And that’s how I want to be though obviously I’m struggling to fulfill that preposterous idea.

I record this, I suppose, to remember if in coming months I do have a brain tumor like my father.  I watched my father disappear into his illness and there are moments when I fear the worst, but tell myself and others “It’s probably nothing.”

I’m thinking of the future and if I have less time than I’d want I will write more. Quit wasting time. I hope my book, if it gets written,is intelligent and thought-provoking as well as poetic, soulful and beautiful.

And I hope, even more importantly if I have less time that I’d want, that I would Mother well… 

My job, for all their lives has been protection. Now as they reach their teens I must do the opposite. Let go. This comes to me as I watch my baby, now twelve, scared from a bad dream come downstairs to be nearby.  As he lay on the couch and falls asleep again trusting in the proximity to Mom, no longer chased; it hits me, my job description has changed.

Teach him that he has wings; and as he fluffs his feathers and strains to contain himself, I am here
to celebrate, listen, advice, even nudge. And if from time to time he falls I will pick him up and kiss his face.  And off he goes again.

Bad dreams will come.  And life cannot stop because I am afraid for him, his brother and sister as well. For myself. The worst thing I could do is let them know how afraid I am. Fly babies, fly away from me.

What I’ve been hiding from all these years is my own bruised and broken wings, clipped too early, too young.  I must go there now, sit.  Every day of the New Year my plan is to write, and run, and eat well but lately I’ve been only—still.

This cannot go on.  I must begin to live if not for myself for my children. I must soar again.

DSC_7805 copyVIII.

I’m weighed down, heavy. I hurt.
Depression’s been

kicking
me
down
the long slippery trail
my brain, my heart, my body knows too well. I’m tired

of life. Tired of breathing.
I know, what an awful admission that is.
I fear
sounding pitiful and worry what others think of me:

If I’m tired of me,
I can only imagine what they think.

Why are we hardest on ourselves?

I’m having
an existential prolapse, everything inside my body; head
is tumbling
shaken upended. I’ve forgotten
where I once found hope, like a person wandering lost in a golden sunny field. Yet still eager to find the other side.
Somehow

I forgot how.  Where
to walk on.

She wasn’t always ill
though hindsight wonders
how would we have known how long this hyperbolic collision of wit and prudence
churning until it ruptured
all over what we knew to be true.

Days upon days I’ve taken to
forgetting last month, the one before, summers colliding one after the other,
the past evaporates behind me.  Today’s pain is enough.

These days, and many others, remind me. I’ve forgotten the way
I’ve fallen.
Was I once so inconsolable
or had I never felt true pain?

I’m tough; survived my Frozen Child years.  Building a wall of stone

around me.  Then eventually
learning that God wasn’t the Bastard Daddy I thought I knew,

but a comforting Bosom, a Nursing Provider. Only then slowly, oh so slowly I began to Believe Again. I needn’t fear wrath

Rather receive with holy awe, Grace.

But, on the way
this year and last somehow I stopped
seeking GOD.  Like a child I put hands on my ears in defiant anger.
I shut up my mouth stubbornly refusing

To speak.

I don’t exactly when it happened.
I shut down.
I began to only survive,

Only

do the day,

though starving and spiritually thirsty.

I wonder when Hope stopped.  Yes, I feel the lapse, the need, the yearning, the ache of all that is amiss inside.

“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.
I’ve called your name. You’re mine.
When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.
When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place,
it won’t be a dead end—
Because I am God, your personal God,
The Holy of Israel, your Savior.

—Isaiah 43:2

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I have startled awake today.  Challenged by knowing that I know nothing, I control nothing, life happens. Every day that I want to crawl into a ball and disappear, I will get up again.  Sometimes I hold my breath for as long as I can stand it willing my heart stop when I feel I cannot withstand this much sorrow and pain.

I will lay my burdens down like the old hymn says.

I have never felt, in my short life, less control over a n y t h i n g.  Life is an avalanche of relentless grief, unthinkable in its grotesque lack of care. Seeing children suffer is the most hellish place for a parent to be.  No I don’t doubt God and his incredible love.  I don’t believe anything is a punishment for past mistakes — though I’ve been there.  I am sure bad things happen to good people and vice verse.  It’s random.  And that is the sad truth. It’s an incoherent thing that has next to nothing to do with God.

tuesam 10X.

Finally, as I sit here in the almost dark of the incoming night, twilight bringing a blue hue over the room. I know this is true.

I turned away.
God didn’t do anything of the kind.

I turned away and slowly my heart hardened, to the point where I could no longer feel God’s presence. That was my choice and I know too that when I’m ready God is right here beside and around me, waiting. He’s grieving for me.

Just turn back, daughter.  I’ll offer the Comfort you’ve been craving, sitting all alone in the dark.
Come back and I’ll sing a sweet song of relief in your ear, I’ll whisper

Truth.

I’m watching out for your children.

I’m watching over
you.  Come on home.

That was last night. I still haven’t gotten the call from the doctor about my MRI.  I have no inclination as to what the future holds.  But in the dark hours between hopelessness and today, I cracked open.

And God’s embrace covered me as I laid down my burdens by a lake in the cold winter.

Today, I came home.

P.S. Can you tell, my one word for 2014: SPEAK.  More on that later. 

The Dust Bunnies and the Broken Hearts of Mental Illness

water 3

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. 

Life Begins Again and Again: Seeing the Good in Depression

“The words spirit and inspire both derive from the Latin word spirare which literally means to breathe. These emotional highs and lows that we experience are just the natural breathing process of our spirits.” 

The Rev. Marcy Ellen, author of The Soul Truth: Reflections for the Waking Soul

Yesterday I wrote about what depression feels like and how much I hate it.  I’ve done that a lot perhaps even dwelling too long on the negatives, pain and grief.

Today, I’m reflecting on that. I found myself telling Tom, when he asked, “Yes, when I smile I’m forcing it, if not technically faking.  Fake it till you feel it,” I answered in a text.  Even he was surprised by my statements. And that got me thinking.  What about a positive post?

So this is about how one accepts the positive outcomes of depression. What are they? How do we grow from this pain? Six ideas.

We must face the things that might have made us depressed.

When you are clinically depressed, it is difficult to process reality well or consider clearly what might come of being sick. Surely there aren’t positive outcomes?  It’s likely you’re not thinking about how you might become a stronger person through the experience.  But I have learned that if you are willing to continue the hard work of therapy good things do eventually come.  I can attest to this in my life time and again.

For me, two good outcomes of depression and therapy are the growth that comes from self-discovery and  forgiveness. This only happens by facing your pain squarely and accepting your past, then working toward forgiving yourself or others.

It is only by looking at yourself very directly as if in a mirror and seeing in your own pain—your history and the toll it has taken on your weary face and in your tired eyes—that you can begin to move forward.

My depression often returns (the really bad stuff) when I start thinking that I’m responsible for things, that I’m in total control of the outcomes of my life, my family, my past and my future. Ironically these are things that are usually quite out of my control.  My perfectionism, my rigid thinking, and my acting like I am god all stems from a false belief that it is all within my control.

  • If I were a stronger, healthier or better role model and mother, “less depressed,” then my children somehow would not struggle.
  • If I had been a stronger child, more resilient and confident, I would not still be fraught with the outcomes of my father’s raging and abuse.
  • If I’d been less weak, sad and lonely, then I would not have become dependent on alcohol.

And on it goes, with wrong thinking about situations that were for the most part outside of my human control.

In my right mind, of course, I know that this is ridiculous thinking.  But depression does not allow the right mind to prevail, causing maudlin, senseless, sloppy and wrong thinking to rise to the surface and muddy the waters.

I’m so grateful to have been paired in life with a partner that is a frequent encourager, confident in his own ideas enough to sit me down, time and time again, and tell me squarely: That’s wrong thinking.

Through reflection, stillness and rest healing comes. 

I often guiltily spend time in stillness and reflection.  My life as a SAHM allows for this choice we have made for our family.  But my heartache and self-doubts make me wonder if I should be doing something more. True “work”—earning an income, being a breadwinner, and modeling work outside the home as a woman, something I believe in strongly.

I had to accept that a part of the reason I don’t “work outside home” at this point is that I need spaces of stillness in order to continue to heal.  My psyche is bruised. Spiritually I’m still dysfunctional.  I need space to heal, to pray, to listen, to become aware of and open to the Spirit.  I still wrestle with “Why me and not others? Why do I struggle so with depression?  Why am I privileged enough to not have to work?” My brain always asks.  For now, all I can do is accept how fortunate I am to have a partner who can provide for our needs.

Take the wide open spaces, as a Season to Heal.

When I worked full-time I was driven by fear of failure, insecurity and a need to build my own domain of responsibility.  The more I accomplished, the more they threw at me and I ate it up, loving the affirmation and the challenge.  If I’m honest I was motivated by conquest and power more than anything else.

Stepping away from that was not a choice to be a SAHM it was a choice to not work there any longer.  Over the years, as I have lost that part of my identity, as you can imagine it’s been hard.  I have always needed and wanted work—to fill me, even fulfill me.  

A part of the healing has been accepting that I’m okay without that part of my identity.  Yes, I write, and enjoy the expression of my soul and mind through photography but it’s not a paying full-time job. I have always written it off as lesser importance.  Finally, okay not finally but for the most part, I accept myself and that means that I can face those monsters of purpose and identity.

I’m not there yet, fully healthy.  My identity in Christ, my value in the kingdom, my desire for accolades, and attention, and applause, still live inside me.  I can say that things are headed in the right direction.

We can heal by asking why we were led into this spiritual recession.

Marcy Ellen suggested the question.  And this sort of question is helpful to me. I’ve never considered my depression as a spiritual recession and it’s a challenging idea.  It reminds me of the spiritual seasons of the book of EcclesiastesSp Chapter 3.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

ECCLESIASTES 3:1-8

[hope]

By accepting the seasons of living, we can be comforted. Especially when some seasons contain suffering and pain, we can know that it leads naturally to a season of healing and growth.  If we do more than simply endure it and fully accept, we can appreciate the ups and downs, leading to a deepened time yet to come.

Life can be outrageously difficult, “A wild and mesmerizing melody,” says author and Benedictine sister Joan Chittister, one of my spiritual mothers, in her book For Everything A Season. “We can go with the flow (of life) or we can resist it all the way to the bitter end. We can learn from it or reject it completely…Life is a relentless teacher.” p. 154.

The truth of this life is that sometimes we’ll struggle and at other times we’ll thrive, even dance!  This is hard to believe when you’re depressed.  But the thought fills me with hope.

And I believe hope is what eventually heals the depressed, if it is not total healing at least something good. Whether it is through God’s healing or a therapist’s genius. Perhaps it is a husband’s quiet truth spoken over two decades or a friend’s frequent kindness. Or other forms of healing.

Hope spoken aloud and believed is the path to healing, and it is the way forward to a season of laughter and dancing.

I believe these seasons of grief, with tears searing warm salty pathways in my soul, will lead to building up and healing, to days other than this.  As Chittister says, there is no such thing as a meaningless moment.  It is all important, teaching us, molding us, chiseling our souls, shaping us into a person of compassion and joy.  “Who is the happy person? Those who have survived each of the elements and found themselves to be more human, more wise, more kindly, more just, more flexible, more integrated because of having lived through that period of time, that moment of definition, that phase of survival, that streak of chastening awareness.” p. 156, For Everything A Season.

Awareness and acceptance are all. 

Accept your lot, even while you strive through self-care, perhaps medicine and spiritual guides, and time, to heal.  As we stop fighting our life, we become aware that each season is meant to teach and force us to grow and grow up.

This season of depression is an opportunity for me, if I am willing to be still and listen.  I will sit in the quiet of this moment and lean in, for there life begins, again.

The Silent Scream: Depression & Autopilot Mom

self

For months I have been unable to smile honestly.  When I think about it, that I need to smile so that people don’t wonder, I can’t make my face do it.  My husband asks if I’m okay.  Yes.  I will always say yes, unless it’s really grave.  But it has not been life and death for years thank God.

I’m okay.

But I cannot make myself smile.  I do laugh. And this strikes me as funny. I can laugh but I cannot smile. My kids engender my heart opening like a flower and I smile genuinely at them.  But I cannot make my insides smile.  There’s no joy.

Depression is a dark and silent bastard, sometimes. Screaming at other times, an internal hell.

I have likened it to a black dog chasing me, as I try to walk tripping. Though I don’t fall, I feel shaky, uncertain.

It’s a smog cloud that surrounds, clinging with a stench.

It’s cement in your legs, arms, and heart.  It’s sand in your brain.

It’s panic, which is hard to describe, in your heart.  Panic is a bit like someone’s inflating your heart without your permission.  Heavy and full.

Depression is sadness at the beginning of the day, when you wake, realizing you’re still alive.  Not that you want death, but you cannot think of having responsibility for another day even being possible.

Eating, dressing, shopping, deciding things, all—too—much. Just too hard, this is surely quite unimaginable to someone who is happy, I know.  It’s simple — the brain no longer works properly so you cannot convince it

to endure,

to do,

to face it all.

Depression is the opposite of happy, it’s happiness turned upside down.  The ugly step sister who is unpleasant, unattractive, persistently complaining in your ear, she’s a pain.

Raising children is almost a heartbreak—considering the lost conversations, lost moments, lost years, lost memory.

But you remember regret.

The unsmiling, aching, sad person that I am causes me silent anguish.

I know what I’ve lost, what I’ve been incapable of giving. 

I wonder. When will it occur to my children that they have had half a mom?

Depression sucks.  I rise and I go to auto pilot.  Autopilot mom knows what to do.  Tasks, appointments, phone calls, and rides.  This is my life these days.  I do it, wanting to lie down.

Reading is hard.

Concentrating is hard.

Grocery shopping is hard.

Cooking is hard.

House cleaning is hard.

Talking, thinking, participating is hard.

Writing is an ache, a longing to be transparent, a silent scream.

I hate depression.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{My Silence, Depression’s Lies, and Faith}

me eye

I LIVE

depression is a liar wailing. it hates you as much as

you

hate

it.  and
you know, you fear
eventually
the battle will be won.
you may not be

the victor.
still you will fight 

the raging storm inside your brain.
to stop would be suicide.

life goes on, you cannot stop
for Love remains. those that depend.

it’s on you
to hold on.

now it’s not always

that bad, and why people get confused. i thought
you were depressed? you look so good. 
i thought you were depressed? you’re joking around.
i thought you were depressed? then

you pull back the curtain,
to give them a glance at the snarling beast and they’re quiet, momentarily.

to hold on means to be misunderstood.

flat doesn’t mean you’ve stopped loving.

though you’re so weak most days you cannot pull your leaden limbs out of bed this doesn’t mean you’re lazy.

afraid of people, sometimes terrified yes but this doesn’t mean you want them to go away.

depression is a snarling threatening beast.
weakening,
lying,
pestering,
oppressing.
today and every day

still i want you to know i welcome life even with depression.
I want to Live.

It has been a while since I wrote. Over the summer I was working on an essay for inclusion in a book. I’m really excited about it and do hope for its acceptance. I was studying like crazy, learning about PRAYER, which is something that I have been decidedly agnostic about. Full admission I’m not sure I really believed in the idea of changing God’s mind. This thought has eaten at me over the decades that I have believed and the years that I have attempted to live this life of following Jesus. That is a bit of what my submission is about and what I learned.  Prayer for me is this leaning, keening toward a loving waiting God. If it isn’t published I’ll show it here.

I realized recently that I’ve slipped. Depression, something that I’ve wrestled with for the twelve years I’ve been not working outside the home. There were moments and even years when I was free of it. And after a full year depression free I went off my medication, feeling strongly that this might be what had caused my inability to cry.  Thinking I was ready.

Imagine, nearly two decades of no tears.

I was a crybaby once, super sensitive to the nuances of other’s emotions (still am that to be honest) But I hated about myself the falling to pieces at a stern look especially from my father. I’ve always perceived crying as weak. This became something that I learned to control. And I got so good at it that when I went on Effexor many years ago tears completely stopped. I became incapable of them. It was a different kind of flat, and eventually I longed to cry.

I’ve written about that dam opening up, sometimes embarrassing me in public but I relished it.

My heart changed shape, from a stone to something more resembling human.

Recently, I realized that I must start again on medication because I’ve slipped down into a pit, a quagmire of dark that I’m unable to pull out of on my own. Not exercise, not diet, not prayer of others, not encouragement and support of my husband, not a new amazing therapist nor a kind loving community of friends could convince my psyche to shake this off.

It felt like failure, it felt like defeat, it felt like a huge lack of faith in my life, but I knew it was bad, and I feared what might happen if I didn’t do something and quickly. God only knows where things would evolve to and considering that this has been the most challenging two years in our twenty years of life together, Tom and I, as parents and for Tom as a business owner, I just knew.

So here I am. The black dog is nipping again at my feet, I’ve got helium in my brain and sand in my veins, which is a trip. I’m hoping that I’m gonna be okay.

Stigma with mental illness is one of the main reasons I believe that most depressed people don’t get help. I’ve experienced it even as many people affirm my courage to speak out about my experience. What will it mean for future employment? If I’m honest how does this stigma change people’s willingness to have me serve at church?  What are people really thinking?  These are just some of my fears. But that voice is a part of the lie and I cannot worry about what people think of me.

I know that God made me a truth teller, made me a writer, and made me the way I am for a reason though I cannot perceive it at this time. And I live every day believing, hoping and praying that I will one day be healthy – er.

But, my true admission is that if this never changes, if I struggle with this Achilles heel to my death, God loves me. This acceptance of myself is important and I’m longing to receive it fully.

Thanks for being a reader, for following this path with me if vicariously through the written word. And in my “real life”, those that have told me they read, I thank you for loving me, anyway.

Melody

I’ve written tons about this topic.  See the tab at the top of this page for more of my story.