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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.

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 not quite believable Miracle: there is Power to Change

I have a big problem with trust.  It’s as if I’m expecting a colossal

smack down from Life.

The question I’m always asking myself is do I make it happen, with my fear and negativity? This existential question cannot be decided simply, not today.

I do know that I often withdraw from life.

I’m afraid of things, of humans. My long ago voyage into stay-at-home-mother-dom only worsened even determined this quality in me. I’m a hopeless introvert.  I feel like misfit in the world. I hate that I’m afraid all the time. (This is one of the reasons I chose FEARLESS as my word for the year.)

And here’s the funny rub, people like me.  People seem to generally want to be with me.  People find me interesting, worth listening to and engaging with, they even find inspiration in my art.

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Recently, my eighty-eight year old neighbor, confined now to a small 11′ x 11′ room in a retirement home called me.  She’s expecting a visit.  And I don’t mind, but I’ll drag my feet. And when I do call, and when I do finally go, it will be lovely and wonderful.

And I’ll wonder why I didn’t do it sooner.

Friends, acquaintances reach out and I’m scared.

I put on a strong face, as a mother you must. And I don’t really have any trouble keeping up with others since life is being forced into endless interactions, but I don’t like it. Until I’m in the middle and then I’m fine, I guess

Our children cannot know how fearful we really are.  They need our strength. So we are strong, when we feel weak.  It may not be fear for you, it may be something else but there is an aspect of parenting that is simply about white knuckling it through.

My son has asked me, endlessly it seems this week.  “Why am I so afraid to talk to others?” – In class, to teachers, to any adult figures, to grandma, to a stranger, even girls.  And I don’t know.

I don’t have answer. Did I somehow do this?  That’s the perennial question.

I hurt for him.  I do not want him to feel what I feel. I don’t want him to be like me, endlessly afraid to open his mouth out of perfectionism, fear of failure and the judgement and condescension of others.

How can you help an introverted child learn to find their voice?

When I started in the workplace as assistant to the director of missions, I came out of myself, in order to pick up the phone, make travel arrangements, set appointments, and interact with folk. Now some twenty years later, I’m still hopelessly introverted unless forced.  And I don’t know how to help my son.

If you had power to and could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? 

And would you really do it?

I’m shy.  I come across as aloof.  It’s because I’m a fearful person.  I’m expecting a hard slap from life – and if I’m being totally honest, kind of think the rug will be pulled out from beneath me, by God.  

Especially this last year, when many things in our lives have been hard, even horrible.  It is without doubt, one of most difficult painful years of our lives full of challenge and struggle.  I want to blame God.  I want to be mad

but what I know is that rather I need GRACE, daily grace, AMAZING GRACE.  In me, deep down,

Into my pores, and deep within, where my heart got broken as a little girl, such a long time ago.

Truth is, Jesus loves us,

me.  And gave his life. And Jesus

has the power to do miracles.  The woman in Luke 8:40-49, only and simply

touched Jesus cloak

and believed.  And she was

healed.

I need to touch Jesus’ cloak today.

I need to believe it’s possible to be healed.  I’ll always be an introvert, okay.  But I don’t want to live afraid, a perfectionist, aloof and proud.  This isn’t free.  This isn’t grace.

There’s a song sung at our wedding which has ministered to me for twenty years. It’s words so sweet.

Amazing Grace! (How sweet the sound.)
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
and grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believed!

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine,
but God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.

It is not simple.  It is not easy.  It isn’t magical.

It is about touching Jesus cloak and believing.

(This is a part of five minute Friday.)

{Forgiving is a Miracle: Courageous and Holy. “When Daddy’s Rage”}

We are not too old to take courage.

We are not too late to sacrifice.

We are not too lost to reach out to each other and linger on the rim of time.

– Ann Voskamp

As I read those words this morning I was thinking instantly of my relationship with my Dad — gone since May, 2003. He was a tortured soul in many ways or perhaps I just didn’t understand him.

It was when he was dying that he admitted to me that he often felt righteous in his anger and raging at us.  All this reminded me of something I wrote several years ago. I share it now.

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Forgiveness of grave acts of injustice can feel like an abstract concept to those who have not experienced those acts. (PRISM magazine)

My pastor said yesterday … that anger and the need to retaliate when someone has hurt you is “normal” even as normal as the reflexes a doctor checks when she taps on our knees during a check-up.  Normal.

I hate that word – “Normal”.  I don’t understand the use of it.  It is a bit reckless to say anything is normal these days when people have such diverse experiences and upbringings. But think I understand what he was trying to say, that a wish for vindication when you have been hurt is a healthy response.  But even that doesn’t sound quite right.  It is a human response?

But what response should one have to being hurt or abused or rebuked or shamed or yelled at — retaliation?  No, I think he means a human response to lighter stuff.  If you are being gossiped against it is “human” to want to strike back.

When I think about my childhood, I think the healthy response is to shrink and cower.

One learns to hide, to disappear, and to not be the object of Dad’s attention.  Perhaps this response is not “normal” but it sure was reflexive for me. That’s why it is hard to hear that wanting revenge is a normal, human response.  If that is indeed what my pastor meant.

Then, as I look back, I see that THERE HAVE BEEN TIMES when I wanted a sort of revenge with my father and mother.  I have carried fear of my father for as long as I can remember and an anger at my mom for not protecting us.  And a kind of fury.  I used to have rage dreams all the time. On the really rare occasion I will have them still, but they are thankfully now years in-between.

The powerlessness that comes from having a father who never admitted he was wrong creates that anger and sense of worthlessness.

It is not worth trying to explain yourself.

It is not worth having your own opinion.

It is not worth expending energy because nothing really matters, nothing really matters at all.

I am so glad I am past that.

It’s just too bad my father had to die for me to come to this place.

I carry a huge feeling of loss that I never knew sweetness in my relationship with my dad.  I loved him out of fear and a wish to please him.  I know he loved me.  But he just – couldn’t – help himself? If it is true he couldn’t help himself, I wish he could have let God help him.

I miss him now, as I ponder what could have been.  He really was a dear man, loved by so many around the world who were his friends and never knew the secret rage he carried inside him.  I’m glad that many people didn’t know – in a way – because Dad accomplished many good things, helped many people, was loved by many.  God why did you take him so young?  Sixty-two?

I hope it wasn’t simply so that I could live. No, I don’t really think God works like that.  It was a convergence of events coming together to give him cancer and take him.  And my ability to heal, to forgive — I have to believe that I might have come to it even if my dad was still here.  Perhaps it would have taken longer, but it would have come.  Eventually.

I have forgiven my father and then I think of my mother who still has a story to tell.  I don’t know if anyone would believe her, but she has so much in her life story that could be helpful to others.  Surely we can’t be the only ones in this situation, caught between a person who does good things and has their secrets A Christian leader who means well but whose home life isn’t right, isn’t right at all?  That’s our story

IN THE END what needs to be said is this: Forgiveness is what each Christ follower is asked to do in response to the forgiveness Jesus extends to us.  It is not easy.  It can take a long time.  It often depends on the emotional health of the person doing the forgiving.  It always depends on all the factors surrounding the situation and each person has to sort that out, often with the help of a pastor or a counselor.

I have been in therapy of one sort or another, off and on, for twenty-five years!  Wow, that’s crazy sounding but it’s true.

Pulling back the layers of pain,

the years of stagnation and lack of healthy growth as a human being,

the crazy mixed up ideas,

the strange perspectives and opinions picked up over the years.

The times of resisting God.  Or not being willing to obey God.

And finally, I came to a point of decision, for myself – without the guilt, or fear or coercion of others, but in complete obedience to God.

Forgiveness, it’s messy.  It’s damn difficult. But it is so sweet, when finally healing, forgiveness and the mercy of Jesus come down.

And you begin anew. And your story continues…

I am still left with where rage comes from? What makes a daddy hurt us so bad?

I have pondered my father’s strange rage for many years.  I cannot pretend to have answers and obviously I cannot ask him.  But I have a friend who works with incest survivors.  She has a very special ministry. My father always said that he was sexually abused as a child, by a minister in his church.  I never believed him.  But I asked my friend about this and she said:  “When a person admits to this as an adult, they are telling the truth.  They have no reason to lie.”

No reason to lie.  She also said very often anger like that comes from abuse in the past.

I don’t know if it is true but I cannot ignore this about forgiveness, about following Jesus into radical loving.

Paula Huston says: “Regarding the tender souls of children, Jesus says in a passage that can be read as referring either to young human beings or to “baby” Christians: ‘Things that cause people to sin will inevitably occur.  It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.’ (Luke 17:1-3)  The roots of our adult sin patterns are often to be found in the still-gaping wounds of childhood.”

So perhaps my father was hurt as a child.  And I was a child, crushed by his pain and hurt, as he took it out on his family in his rage and anger.

At some point we are each responsible to work through our experiences and get to a point of healing.

Again, from Huston:

“Then, and only then (after the process to be sure) we can see the other person as “a human being, no matter how degraded, a fellow soul made in the image and likeness of the God we adore.”

“God causes his sun to fall on both the good and the evil, and his rain to fall on both the righteous and unrighteous.” (Phooey, I can’t remember the reference.)

The longer we shut up our heart against the one that has hurt us the closer we come

to losing our own heart,

our humanity,

even our life.

And for some even our minds.

These things happened to me in the form of depression, alcoholism, and self-loathing and disgust; a misery of life, abject poverty of soul. I was a dead man walking.

There is hope, found in Jesus at the cross.  Laying those things down, the heavy burden of pain, of picturing yourself putting your pain at Jesus’ feet.  If you truly give it to God, release it when you can and

be ready for miracles!

MELODY

** Some people have a hard time picturing things in their mind’s eye.  If that is true for you I would urge you to watch the movie THE MISSION.  That movie changed my life.  I believe it will give you a picture of your pain and lack of forgiveness as those heavy pieces of armor that the priest dragged up a water fall as penance.  Whenever I begin to forget what my bitterness and anger, lack of forgiveness are doing to me, I can see in my mind’s eye that sack of armor.  No one can live that way.  No one should live that way.  No one needs to live that way.  I did for so long.

{Growing up in a house chock-o-block full of Resentments and Grudges}

Yesterday I was a jerk.

And the odd thing, and what was quite alarming to be honest, is in the moment I felt justified.

So I shot out a petty email, said couple of things that I can’t get back.  While possibly true, I was dragging up old issues – my old issues.  And it’s entirely my fault that I have held on to this old difference of opinion. I don’t know what to do with Resentments. I vacillate when there is a potential for conflict and sometimes this turns into resentment.

I grew up in a house chock-o-block full of Resentments and Grudges.  My parents were always feeling insulted or resenting or holding a grudge from something someone did or said.  I suppose it sounds like I’m blaming them for today, but not really.

I just don’t have the tools to sort out what resentments are worth getting into and hashing out. And which ones you surrender and ask God to help you forget and of course eventually forgive.

I carried a resentment from Christmastime that reared its ugly head yesterday when asked a favor (and it was not a small favor mind you, but normally something that I would consider gladly).  Whew! Rather than slowing down and asking myself what to do about that Ugly Old Thing, I kind of made the person asking for the favor pay for it now.

Blindsided by this old concern, this person justifiably lashed back.

And then it was an opportunity to get into it and really hurt each other.  Or I could admit that I was wrong.  And, after much discussion and processing with Tom (I am so grateful for him), feeling attacked, and justified, and unfairly accused, and self-righteous, I did finally manage to get around to being genuinely conciliatory.

Today I sit here, sorely disappointed with myself and trying not to think about whether the other person was also wrong….because ultimately I am not their conscience.

But I thought I was passed this sort of immature crap.

And gratefully, this morning I was led to scripture. 

Alive in Christ is supposed to mean dead to your transgressions and sins, in order to do good works.  (Ephesians 2:1-10).   We are purified by him to slander no one, be peaceable and considerate, to show to humility to all. (Titus 2:14) At one time you lived in malice and envy, but when the kindness and love of God appeared … He saved us (not because of good things we have done) but because of his mercy.  Through washing, rebirth, renewal by the Holy Spirit (Romans 2:2) put off your old self to be made new in the attitude of your minds, put on new self. (Ephesians 4:30-31)  Do not grieve the Holy Spirit, get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, malice, be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, be children of light whose fruit are goodness and truth and righteousness.

It’s hard to admit when I am wrong.  Being rigid and inflexible is not what we are meant for nor are we ever justified to carry around resentments because they can, and likely will, rear up at the worst moment.  As we rub against people in life, we’re going to make mistakes. For me, in those moments, it is sometimes most difficult to forgive myself. 

{Do I see, hear, or know the least of these? Do I know Jesus? (and an apology to white men)}

For several days I’ve been trying to figure something out. Why did it hurt so much?

I like to ask questions and throw things out on Facebook, sometimes (many times) that I don’t even think through carefully. I’m something of a rabble-rouser. I sometimes even take pride in it, thinking it’s my “special gift” to provoke others.

Why did it hurt each time I read her words?  And I did read them, over and over, again and again.  I thought about it all weekend.  Even becoming grumpy, bothered, then deeply troubled as my stomach lurched and tears sprang to my eyes, after days there was still, so much pain. And I have come to know what this means — linger here.  Deeply, scrupulously sit with this, discover what it is.

I am mouthy, petulant and troublesome, even stupid at times, on Facebook. This is what I said:

“I’ve long wondered why it doesn’t occur to white men that they are so privileged, but as Julie Clawson says if you don’t get that you are a part of the problem. It’s not tokenism rather catching up to the world, where women and non-white are your equals and simply want the opportunities to represent themselves.  In a WHITE and in a MALE dominated culture.” 

Okay (in retrospect) that was arrogant and whiny. (Perhaps I really do need to give up Facebook.  It feeds all the wrong parts of me.)

Then my old  and dear friend, she challenged me. I quote the entire conversation because it matters to me.  Here is exactly what she said (Emphasis is mine):

I wonder Mel if in the logic of what you are saying in your statement whether it cannot be applied to anyone who has any privilege in any part of the world. And I do mean that literally within the logic of your statement. It is known as systemic sin and it can be applied in other ways…I wonder why people who earn over $20,000 a year, or I wonder why persons who were able to go to college, or I wonder why people who have running water in their homes and carry through the logic. I think you are able to speak in these ways because you are part of a white and economically dominant culture so then you are in a similar situation to the people you are accusing.

I am not saying therefore change cannot be brought about. I am saying we all live in power dominated systems. It is what Scripture means when it talks about principalities and powers, and we ALL have our blind spots where we don’t see our privilege and we don’t see our power orientation and we don’t see that we don’t see. I do see that the Gospel calls us to a different way – of being the servant in love. I find it fascinating that Jesus was among an oppressed people, the memory of about 2000 Jews having been hung on crosses at one time within the living memory of people alive at Jesus time,

the fact that the centurions came out at Passover in huge numbers because Rome knew what Passover celebrated,

the fact that Jesus told them don’t just walk one mile, walk two…what is that about…it is about

the fact that by law a centurion could require you to carry all his gear for a certain length of his journey,

the fact that Paul didn’t free the slaves but gave alternate teaching…

So even those who do get it who have a household of over $20,000 a year, or a University/college education, or have water running through pipes to their homes are still part of systemic inequality how often do YOU, do I not get it when we eat an ice cream when that money could have gone to digging wells etcetera….

I am not saying stop seeking to bring about change but let’s recognize we white women are parts of a fallen world too…

And then ask ourselves what concretely does it mean to be a servant in love to those whose lives we can impact concretely … Why does Jesus define His kingdom in the manner he separates the sheep from the goats…

Me: So, what then? Certainly yes, white women are born into a world of privilege and opportunity and we too should look for ways to give up our power. I suppose I just assumed this was understood.

She said: But why do you assume it was understood, when you constantly are commenting about white men…

Me: I never/rarely say “white” men, but it must be implied. Your “constantly” gives me pause perhaps I just talk too much.  I don’t mean “white” when I talk about men. We all have our lens through which we process obviously.

And that was the line that cut so deep …

when you constantly are commenting about white men…” 

You see I don’t want to be known for that, for constantly commenting and complaining about white men.  Even if I do feel a challenge to speak on issues of women in the church, as I do, I do not want to be known for that.  That feels wrong.

That is wrong. 

To my friends who I have offended or verbally accosted, white men mostly I ask you to forgive me if you can.  

[Friends, I hope you will bear with me, I think you will be glad that you read to the end.]

And not having read about the sheep and the goats and not remembering the story at all (apologies to all my Sunday School teachers) today, it’s still bothering, even nagging at me. So I read the account from Matthew 25:31-46 of the Sheep and the Goats (again emphasis mine):

 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fireprepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. ”

Whatever you did for the least of these …

I have so much it’s sick.  I am rich.  I am white.  I am educated and privileged.  I have every opportunity and I have every responsibility to see and to do something. 

And most days, other than that, if I am not going to do that I think I just need to shut up. Yes, I write.  And I may have “things to say.” But I was struck to my core, shattered, stunned with the conviction that this is the core message so many of us (me, I am missing) are missing.

Do I see, do I hear, do I know the least of these? Do I know Jesus?

Thanks to a dear friend, who loved me enough to challenge me, I may never (I hope) be the same.  This is one of those serendipitous and life altering moments.  I have a choice — to see Jesus, to invite Jesus in, to clothe Jesus, to care for and heal Jesus.  I have a choice to know him.

The question remains what that looks like with my hands and feet.  I remain open for that.

I am so grateful.

Turn the other Cheek? That just makes you a Chump.

Have you ever noticed that the Golden Rule comes with no promise at the end?  No words of hope — do this and you will get this.  Nothing. Do it because it’s the law. 

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.”  (Matthew 7:12, NLT)  The ESV says “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” and the NASB says “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you.”

I think that stinks.  I have struggled with a situation where I believe I have the higher ground to stand on.  I have made good choices.  I have done well.  I have been the loving daughter, yes.  I have accepted.

And this Christmas — as always happens, when will I ever learn — I got slapped in the face by my mother again.  I don’t even know that the details or the reasons matter.  I think she is incapable of keeping her promises.  She is unable to do something based on what’s right.  For all my disputes with my father, I can say at least that he lived by his convictions.

I could make a list and this would be a long one, of the significant times in my life when I trusted her and she betrayed that trust.  I’m so tired.  I know that I am to forgive her but when will I learn?  If forgiveness means putting yourself out there to let it happen again, and again, then, well, that just makes you a chump.

But what if the person that hurts you with regularity is your own mother?  And what if that person is almost alone in the world?  Isolated (if by her own choice) and living for herself, impulsive with her generosity and love, unpredictable in her withdrawal?  What if …?

Lewis Smedes in his book The Art of Forgiveness, says:   “we filter the image of our villain through the gauze of wounded memories and in the process alter his reality.”

And yet, even she was made in God’s image and is loved by Him.  I don’t want vengeance, as Smedes suggests is the next step to forgiveness — surrendering our desire to get even.  I don’t want her to hurt.  She’s lived with enough pain.

She oozes her pain and fear of life.  I actually want my mother to be whole.  I long for, wish for in my deepest sad places for my mother that she would heal and be free.

And I’m just tired.

I want to surrender to the idea that she can no longer hurt me.  But every time I let her close she does just that.  And I’ve been searching mentally for days with my questions and I have been trying to figure out what to do.

“Forgiving is not meant for every pain people cause us.  Never has been, any more than Prozac was invented to cure the Monday morning blahs.  Forgiving is for the wounds that stab at our souls, for wrongs that we cannot put up with, ever, from anyone.  When we forgive people for things that do not need forgiving we dilute the power, spoil the beauty, and interrupt the healing of forgiveness. But when we forgive the things that forgiving is for we copy God’s own art.

God is the original, master forgiver.  Each time we grope our reluctant way through the minor miracle of forgiving, we are imitating his style.  I am not at all sure that any of us would have had the imagination enough to see the possibilities in this way to heal the wrongs of this life had he not done it first.”(Smedes)

When I first read these words I was angry, for I have an unreturned call to my mother and I have to figure out what I am going to do.  She asked to spend Christmas Eve with my family, she chose to come to church with us and celebrate with our brood.  And then she called and said she wasn’t coming though she only lives across town.  Ten minutes. “I could pick you up”, I said.  “No I don’t want to come.” was her reply.   I don’t know why.  Sure, I’ve speculated.  And as I have in the past, I could try to pick her brain to discover what small hint of truth is there that will appease the gaping hole in my soul, feeling her rejection physically.

This rending is old — My heart is shredded.

My heart weeps with pain that I don’t understand – the sense of being rejected my parents.  It is an ancient unhappiness, pain that feels older than me, going back a generation to my father and mother.  Neither of them felt loved by their parents.  Both experienced rejection, they tell stories of actual real rejection, which I never experienced.  Not really.  But for some reason I live it.  And every action they live out has become either proof of their rejection of me or proof of their acceptance.

She is set up to fail even before she does.  And she does.  Oh she does!

When she told me over the phone that she was moving with no processing, no reasons, no explanation just fact.  When she chose not to invite me to Mother’s day, with no reasons, or explanation.  “I don’t know why I didn’t invite you.”  “I don’t know why I didn’t process my moving with you.”  “I don’t know why I couldn’t come for Christmas with your family.”

“Forgiving isn’t meant for every pain people cause us.” (Smedes)

And then the moment of clarity comes.

What’s going on inside me is more about my frailty.  I can love without being loved in return, because it is the right thing to do.  And I can adjust my expectations, to none, so that I won’t be hurt so often.  And I can and must stop talking about my feelings of rejection so that my children can have some semblance of relationship with their grandmother.

Without the generations whispering fear and brokenness into their hearts.

That is my challenge.  That is the higher choice.  That is what it means to forgive as you were forgiven.  I don’t necessarily agree with every word Smedes says about forgiveness, or perhaps that too is simple semantics.

I have a phone call to return.  I expect to listen.  And offer simply my ear and perhaps a tiny piece of my heart.  I expect that I will be hurt again, but for today I will not turn away but turn toward my mother.

Offer her the other cheek and who knows, perhaps one day rather that a slap I will receive a kiss.

See there I go again, feeling hope. Thank you Jesus.  

If you love only those that love you, what reward is there in that?  If you are kind to only your friends how are you different than anyone else?  (Matthew 7)

Creativity is an Act of Faith, Like Forgiveness

It’s a simple idea really that life gives us many opportunities to change and we have the choice to continuously grow or remain stuck.  It stuns me when I realize how often and how easily we do choose just that — to be stuck.  We get stuck in bitterness toward another person.  We get stuck in the pain of a transgression or mistake we have made.  I came to the realization recently that I have been stuck creatively for a long time.  And this is connected to lack of forgiveness on my part. It is also connected to putting my achievements artistically and what others think of me ahead of my relationship with Christ.  I took my eyes off Christ and put them on my status and what other people think of me.

Looking Back.

I have long imagined working for an NGO — long before I found my passion for photography.  It started with being a missionary kid and doing that work as my first and only career path. Years ago, I began to see there might be a way to fuse a lifelong passion for service to others with my burgeoning photography skills.  Granted, photographers are a dime a dozen and many are do-gooders that want to serve globally.

I knew my chances were slim to make a living at it, but I was full of passion and enthusiasm in 2008 when I applied and was accepted in a Master’s Photography Class to be held in Cambodia.  When I wrote an email to friends to raise money for the trip I felt honored to be going to Siem Reap to learn.  A close friend that I respected as a photographer wrote back opposed the idea and discouraged me from “wasting my money.”  The details of why he was so sure don’t matter now, but the important thing is that I allowed his comments to become overly significant.  I perceived them to be an assessment of my talent or potential as a photographer and an artist. Too easily I let it crush me and I didn’t end up going to Cambodia.  I talked myself out of it for a variety of reasons and over time that choice and his advice became large and loud in my life.

When I look back I see that this is when I began close down creatively by allowing the idea that I wasn’t “good enough” to wind its way into my marrow and psyche.  I lost confidence in myself and eventually I quit my professional photography pursuits.  More importantly my friend’s untended message eventually became louder in my head than what Jesus thought of me. I was isolated and alone creatively and did not have other voices speaking into my world.

(Although my husband disagrees interjecting here that in his opinion I did have a type of community online.  And lots of other people affirming my work which is true.  I even had someone track me down on Flickr, because of my work.  And that began a creative relationship with Our Lives Magazine which continues today.) But I didn’t know other artists in the community and I felt alone creatively and spiritually.

Let’s be clear. I know that my friend is not responsible for any of the events that transpired after our disagreement.  In retrospect what he said should not have had the power that it did but I lacked creative confidence.  I am only now realizing these things because I am in a healthier place.  I became bitter toward the person and situation. I was unable to enjoy the God-given gift of creativity.  I could not longer enjoy participation with any sort of creative process. And I doubted my artistic talent.  Eventually I quit.  And I was so wrong to do that.

The Healing.

I am working my way through a creative “recovery” of sorts in a book The Artist’s Way.  In it, Julia Cameron says:

“Art is a spiritual transaction.  Artists are visionaries.  We routinely practice a form of faith, seeing clearly and moving toward a creative goal that shimmers in the distance — often visible to us, but invisible to others.

… Art is an act of faith, and we practice practicing it. Sometimes we are called on pilgrimages on its behalf and, like many pilgrims, we doubt the call even as we answer it.”

How true for me.  And I wonder if I had been a part of any kind of artistic community, Christian or otherwise, at the time that I went through this “creative identity crisis” would I have given it up so easily? Why are artists are so isolated and have trouble supporting one another? How do we find community?  

I am not the first to wonder these things.  David Taylor is has thought and written extensively on the subject of supporting artists of faith.  As a pastor at Hope Chapel in Austin, Texas, he oversaw the arts ministry and adult education program. He also edited the book For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts. He has degrees in theology (MCS) and biblical studies (ThM) and is doing doctoral studies at Duke University. He wrote the best thing I have read on the topic A Meditation on the Art of Encouragement.

As I have gone through this experience God has put on my heart the question of how Christian artists help one another in the work of integration growing our faith and our creative pursuits?  If I had a mentor as I was starting out with my photography how would things have gone differently?  To continue with Julia Cameron,

“We must remain ready to ask, open-minded enough to be led, and willing to believe despite our bouts of disbelief.  Creativity is an act of faith and we must be faithful to that faith, willing to share it to help others, and to be helped in return.”

Artists need one another in order to be encouraged and mature in their craft.  We need to gather and share what we are working on, talk about how we create and discuss any challenges we may be facing as practitioners regardless of our discipline, skill level, or experience.   An artist’s ongoing creativity and belief in themselves are acts of faith that must be set at the foot of the Cross regularly.  Reaching out to other artists for encouragement and to encourage others are acts act of faith and although scary sometimes it is important enough to take the risk, just as forgiving and letting go of bitterness are also important acts of faith. These beautiful actions as believers require faith in the living God, the power of the Holy Spirit and in the death of Jesus on the Cross for us all.

Becoming UnStuck!

If I can only take my eyes off myself and off the views and opinions of others, and put them where they should be at Jesus feet.  And so recently I began to reach out based on the conviction that we artists need one another!  We need to be encouraged in the “faith” of creativity.  And I could do it because I know now that this isn’t about me and whether I’m good or bad at my art.  It is simply, I believe, right!

I thank God that we can grow and change and experience redemption in the form of healing and that through the resurrection we can become unstuck. That in the very act of forgiving we can lose our bitterness.  I thank God for the promises of Romans 6.

I am grateful that time offers us a panoramic view of our life so that we learn and grow by looking backward.

David Taylor seems to understand what it is like.

“If you asked me to tell you the Top Three Most Important Things I Have Observed throughout all my years as a pastor, one would be this: artists need continuous encouragement. This isn’t because they are a particularly weak. All humans need encouragement. But artists need it principally because of the nature of their work. Their work requires them to travel frequently into the realm of their own emotions, and then deeper still into their soul, and this can be demanding, wearying work.

“The two assumptions that inform my work of encouraging artists are that the natural condition of human beings, from Adam and Eve to the present day, is the condition of being afraid. For artists to become all that God intends for them to be, they must pass through many experiences of pain, each experience ushering them to a new level of growth and maturity.”

Amen and amen.  We must be willing to look back and address the things in our past that have made us stuck spiritually, creatively, or emotionally and forgive ourselves.  I’m grateful that this is what I have been able to do.  And I am praying and looking for ways that  I can play a role in encouraging and supporting other artists in the Madison community.

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This is a part of a series titled BE REAL.  Still, many days, as I search, as I long for, need, wander, hope and fear — the process becomes an idol.  The process becomes this thing that distracts me from who God is, what it means to be his beloved child, and the few things that he calls me to each day.

  1. I wrote a poem in response to a sermon about the greatest of idols self-identity. This sermon  kicked off a series titled American Idols.  The premise is that anything in your life, even a good thing, that becomes more important than God is an idol.  In an age of psychology and self-healing, through medicines and talk therapy, self-worth can all too quickly become an idol.  For me, the journey of finding my way back to faith and belief was so huge in my development of a healthy identity.
  2. Here is what I wrote the week before in response to the sermon Stop.

These are a series I am writing called: Be Real.  One of the ways I’m going to do that– be real — is by writing a response to the sermons I hear at my church, Blackhawk. These responses are not from the church they are my personal reflections.  I am always challenged by teachers at Blackhawk, sometimes profoundly, but I don’t — to be honest — always take the time needed to apply them to my life. But, if life is too busy to apply what you’re learning about your faith and if you don’t change and grow, what’s the point? So here goes.  Many people are busier than I, including my husband, and I just hope that this helps reinforce in some small way what God was already saying to you.

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