In the Space of Days I Grew Up

In the space of days I grew up.  Not wise in years or experience, but still inevitably I became an adult this week.  

I am not ready for this next stage of life but then, that’s how life works doesn’t it?  Was it John Lennon who quipped that “Life happens while we are making other plans?” Seriously true.

When I was a child, I was often hiding — afraid.  More often than not habitually worried and anxious about my father and mother, each for different reasons.  It was the fights — the yelling, the meanness, and then Dad’s long absences which even as we savored them I feared what they meant.

And when he returned, I hid.  I was attempting to be invisible.  I think I was underdeveloped emotionally, for as I went numb to life I lost many, many years of my life that I cannot remember.  Try as I might, and I do try so very hard, I cannot recall the early years in Papua New Guinea, then California, most of high school in Texas, and only a small amount of college years.  All those years I lived with my parents. And in the years post college what I remember is still all intertwined with my parents dysfunctional marriage and relationships.  My life was so tangled up with my parent’s happiness and my father’s happiness and success that even as they travelled all over the world doing “God’s work” I returned back home to them over and over again.

I worked for my father.  I attached myself to his coat strings of always striving and never being satisfied.  I had no way of knowing at the time, but all I wanted was to know him.  To gain his impossible approval would have been a cherry on top of the Sundae of simply knowing my father and finally understanding why he was so angry.

But I never learned why he raged.  He died without really telling me, except to say that his anger was “righteous” and to the end he justified it.  Even as I told him the day before his brain surgery that he had hurt me, that he had wrecked me.  I told him, out loud to his face that I was damaged and he said he always thought his was a righteous anger.  For most of my life I doubted God’s existence because he didn’t heal my father – not  to heal the brain tumors which I never asked for and never expected, but I prayed for my father to be healed of his raging anger that he took out on my mother for forty+ years and on his four daughters all of our lives, as well as on many of his employees and other innocent people.

Oh, for most of my life I was asleep, numb, and afraid to breathe.  Stomach aches of stress we remembered this week as we recounted how each of us daughters live with various ailments from having ulcerous stomachs, frequent headaches, addictions including alcohol,  the raging, and for me at least, I have ongoing anxiety, cataclysmic fear and depression.

In the space of days, this week I grew up as I realized that my father is gone these nine years and my mother is old.  There is no one else to take care of her and she has no plan.  How could he have left her with no plan? Because he didn’t ever believe he would die — stupid man.  And so, we the daughters who are still fraught with the consequences (of him) will become the adults who care for her.  This is right.  This can be done.

But in some ways I am angry.  Just as I have begun to wake up, to see that my life was half-lived, full of fear and frequently put on hold pain, even as this is so, I must once again become the care giver, in the space of days.  I must grow up and forget the past which I cannot remember and step bravely into the future.

I must grow up.

The Illusion of Enlightenment & the Boob Tube



My father used to call our television the Boob Tube.  I don’t know where that name comes from, but I always thought he meant if we watched too much we’d turn into “boobs” ie.stupid.

Now that I think about it Boob Tube a horrible name in a house full of women.

He never really said outright that the TV was bad, but we were only allowed to watch four hours a week growing up—yes, that was four hours in a week. Of course we started life in Papua New Guinea with no television at all.  Since I grew up not really understanding what a television was, my first encounter which happened on furlough, was with a small box that showed us the show Sesame Street.

In the early 70s, before remotes, Dad made us one.

It connected to the television with a wire, so technically it was not a remote.  It was basically just a switch to turn off the sound during the commercials.  After all of that sincere effort he was really miffed when my little sister Holly could sing the tunes to the commercials even without sound!  We laughed along with my parents, but really didn’t like it when he turned off the commercials.

I never intended to own a television when I grew up.

Don’t you think it is just what you do?  In the years that Tom and I have been together our lives have been a progression of buying bigger and bigger televisions which then forces us to move rooms around, over and over again, in a desire to create a TV room and the other “peaceful room where we will read, or talk, or listen to music, or make music.”

We’ve called it the Reading Room and the Music Room, but eventually that room, the one without the television, has become a dusty shrine to our lofty ideals and to the illusion of our enlightenment.

We actually spend all of our waking hours in the TV room, other than those spent cooking and sleeping.

Because of this, many times I get pulled into television shows without any willful consideration of their merit.  My youngest likes to watch the show Wipeout (quite possibly the most inane television show I think I have ever seen and yet oddly compelling to my son.)  What comes right after it is a show called Expedition Impossible that immediately drew me in.  I’ve watched it now for three weeks, too lazy to pick up the remote and turn it off.  But this week on Thursday night I have to admit I found myself actually watching the clock for it to start and rushing through washing the dinner dishes, because I’m hooked!

I’m drawn to people being pushed beyond what they believe is their physical, mental and emotional ability.

In this show, a dozen teams of three must work together on mental and physical challenges, with the final team making a bunch of money.    The reason I mention this is that although I am drawn to these sort of things and I am the person who would embrace something like that, in everyday life I’m a wus, a scaredy-cat, afraid of my shadow; these days I feel like a weak and ineffectual person.

Cliff jumping in S. Korea
Image by bzo via Flickr

One of the teams on the show has a team member who is blind.  Yes, blind.  I watched him jump from cliff this week, forty feet down into a river.  He had to trust that his friend would find him, after he comes up.  It is no wonder they called the episode Leap of Faith.   I was blown away!

And beyond what that says about his bravery and trust, I was impressed just by the jump.  I’ve jumped off cliffs like that on a boat trip to Dale Hollow, in Kentucky, and it’s friggin scary.  Some of the men were jumping off these cliffs.  Now, I know intellectually that I am capable of doing anything I want; I just have to overcome the fear. The only reason I did the jump was that there were no other women jumping and I’d been egging on, for fun, this friend who was referring constantly to the “girls” at the office—challenging his calling grown women older than him, girls. And so “for women” I found myself at the edge of a cliff looking down.  I took a leap and jumped.  And then I did again, just to prove to myself that it wasn’t a fluke.  I did have the courage.  It was horrible and frightening and amazing!

If I am capable of doing that why am I so afraid today?

As I sat and thought about what it must take for Erik Weihenmayer, the man who is blind, to do this trek in Morocco, I am blown away by his courage and inner will and utterly ashamed by my apathy and fear of failure, and unwillingness to take risks.  And so I have been thinking all week about why I am so afraid.  And why is he so brave?  He could have let his disability keep him from many things (including this show!) and yet he hasn’t.  I ask you to consider this question:

If you knew you could not fail what would you do?

And, back to the original idea that the television is a bad influence on us, I would assert that it is the single worst “idol” in our culture that I wish I had the courage to give up.

Anticipation … is Making Me Wait.

“Faith is different from theology because theology is reasoned, systematic, and orderly, whereas faith is disorderly, intermittent, and full of surprises … Faith is homesickness. Faith is a lump in the throat. Faith is less a position on than a movement toward, less a sure thing than a hunch. Faith is waiting.” — Frederick Buechner

It’s the new year.  Which means nothing really except a calendar roll over.  It provides an opportunity to reconsider our focus and intentions.  The children continue with their job of school.  Husband continues with work and musical passions.  He started a shoe-gaze type rock band in 2010 and that will continue to be his focus outside of work.  We each continue with the opportunities before us.  At church we are taught to love where we live; that’s my challenge in 2011, as I seek clarity about …well,  me.

What I’m Learning.

I’ve thought hard over the past few years and realized that I am stuck in a way.  As God has done this incredible work in my heart, mind and soul and then put me back together into the person of his making, rather than being confident in the transformation, I have grown afraid.  Fearing the hell of depression returning I’ve grown cautious and careful, reluctant to take risks of any kind or to believe in the possibilities of my future.  I have forgotten how to believe that I have a future and a hope.  Sounds strange and odd to me as I write it down but as I sat at coffee this week with a new friend, we talked about our areas of brokenness and healing.  I expressed my worry that my “mess” is impacting my children in negative ways.  I was expressing the worry I have over my complicity.

I realized in a flash of insight that I have carried an awful load on my back.  A load of fear.  And in many ways of doubt and lack of faith!  Doubt that God has plans to use me … any more.  Doubt that I have something unique to give … to the global plan of God or even local Madison.  Doubt — nagging at my soul, tearing at my heart, filling my mind, even consuming my hope.

If I could sum up what I feel God has led me to and through in the last few years, it is found in the lyrics of the song Holiness by Sonicflood.

Holiness, holiness is what I long for, Holiness is what I need. Holiness, holiness is what You want from me.

So, take my heart and form it. Take my mind and transform it. Take my will and conform it. To Yours, to Yours, oh, Lord.

Faithfulness, faithfulness is what I long for. Faithfulness is what I need. Faithfulness, faithfulness is what You want from me.

Brokenness, brokenness is what I long for. Brokenness is what I need. Brokenness, brokenness is what You want from me.


What I Know.

This path and my story over the last few years has been about the metamorphosis of my person.  A reshaping.  A tempering.  An internal spiritual revolution if you can forgive the dramatic way of expressing it.  But it has been nothing less!  Healing implies God is finished, which is untrue.  But He allowed me to fall apart and he put me back together again.  And I learned a few things from those years of pain.

… I know God has given me the spiritual gift of Mercy. I have never been more sure of anything.  Painfully sure, to a point that I question  His care because it hurts so.  But I am learning what to do with that.  There is so much more I need to know about this and what to do with it.

… I know God has given me a Voice through writing and my photography — a way of speaking that people listen to.  A way of telling the truth.  I am learning to hone it.  And learning to listen to Him.  I seek more quiet spaces in order to listen well.  I find the noise of life to be debilitating and soul sucking!  My ability to listen to God and to listen to my heart, mind and soul and believe in my ideas is also progressing.

… I know God has put in me a thirst, a hunger, a hollowed-out cavern of unsatisfied need for the WORD of God which I cannot live without satisfying.   I want to know what to do with it?  And so I wait.

... I know that God has given me “eyes and ears” for the Ancient Tears of Women through out the history of the Church and perhaps this is a part of the heart of mercy.  I do not know why, but I do hear them crying.  And I know something must be done, said, understood, written so that future women & girls do not have that same spiritual pain.  I live in it, breath it in and out.  Their tears and cries echo in my soul becoming my tear, my cry for justice, mercy and hope for women in the Church.  As I said, I don’t know why.  I don’t know what I am to do with it yet.  And so I wait.

… I am impatient to see and understand why I have these gifts and why I hear these voices with an equal measure of apprehension and anticipation.

… I confess that I have not trusted God or believed that I have a good future ahead of me.  In my years of being broken down, losing e v e r y t h i n g that I knew to be true and solid,  God has taken the shards of what I once was, swept them up and formed me into something else — someone other than who I once was.  I just haven’t believed that this someone could be useful to God.

You see in those years, I was driven.  And insecure.  Hungry for authority and power, for significance.  Passionate,zealous and perfectionistic.  Continuously pushing myself.  Never satisfied with my work.  Rarely satisfied with others and overly judgmental, critical and irritated.  I became lonely, sad, and most importantly spiritually lacking a true faith.  I was bereft and lost as up until a few years ago I did not comprehend that Jesus died for me — yes, if I were the only one here on earth Jesus would have given his life for me — my life, my sin.  Me.  I could not accept that.  I didn’t not understand G R A C E.

And then God began to work.  And though painful it is beautiful.

But I still don’t want to live a small life.

“I live a small life. Well, valuable but small. And sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it or because I haven’t been brave?Meg Ryan’s character in You’ve Got Mail.

I fear insignificance and I fear my need for the opposite.  The search for significance has run deep in me.  As long as I can remember I believed that God had “saved” my life for a reason.  As a toddler I choked on a peanut and through a series of dangerous events came close to a predicted death (This was in Papua New Guinea and Australia in 1968) but God intervened; At least that is what I have always believed — that He saved me for a reason and I have been searching for that reason my entire life.

I have been Searching.

Do you believe this? I think I do.

“When God created humankind in the divine image, the highest expression of that image is the power to be a decision maker. In this sense, one is never complete, but is always being formed by the decisions we make. If this be true, God casts the responsibility on us to choose that which is best for us. These choices come inevitably from the judgments we make about what reflects our highest selves.  Each one of us is a unique person, with gifts, abilities and desires that give us the opportunities for creativity. To discover who we are and what those deep desires of our hearts mean gives us the clue to making decisions about what we do with our lives. If we choose wisely, we will experience the joy of growing a self and offering it as a source of strength to others. This does not mean that God is not with us in the critical moments of decision-making. Through prayer and meditation, we have access into the divine Presence that provides guidance and inspiration. God is never so pleased as when we stand up and make a moral decision that reflects our desire to live at the highest and most useful level attainable.”  —The Rev. Dr. Brooks Ramsey

To end where I began, with Beuchner, I am reminded that “faith is disorderly, intermittent, and full of surprises…. Faith is homesickness. Faith is a lump in the throat. Faith is less a position on than a movement toward, less a sure thing than a hunch. Faith is waiting.”

Yes, I am waiting with a lump in my throat. I’ve learned some things.  I anticipate the new year with hope and joy.

Yes, anticipation.

Slowly, I Gave Up And Forfeited Living For Peace



Finding My Feelings.

I am listening to an NPR interview, on people who have lived with traumatic experiences and it adds to a growing unease I have had all week, a compelling need to write.  But I have had no computer.  I’ve borrowed one now. It is one of those times when I write to unearth what’s inside me.  To recover some bit of story that up until now was lost.

When My Father Died I Was Reborn.  This Is A Fact. 

To be quite honest I didn’t know it, but I was numb and deadened inside for most of my life.  I do remember brief moments as a child when I was conscious; happy and aware of it.  It was a beautiful time in Papua New Guinea running barefoot in the jungle, blithely unaware.  Even being thrown into the ocean at a young age, in order to learn to swim, was scary but for the most part an innocent lesson.  But I remain fearful of the ocean to this day.  I do not take any pleasure in swimming.   

 It Hurts Me Now, To Know How Much Memory Is Simply Gone

 I am a human being who lived more than forty years of life and yet today I cannot recall a good deal of it; I have very little memory of childhood.  And the memories I do have are full of the trauma we experienced.  I don’t want to only remember the dread and fear.  I do not choose to remember the ugliness; the ruthless cruel anger that we experienced.  I don’t want to focus on that, but you see it isn’t a selective focus at all – it is all I have left. 

 I am hopeful though that if I spend the time to remember what little is there, perhaps somehow, some day I will find more of the good memories.  I know those experiences must be there .  I would think that I and my sisters would not be as “normal” as we are able to be.  Would we not have become monsters — like — him? 

I am gratified that today I recognize goodness when I see it and so I must have experienced this at some time.  I see the tenderness and sweetness of casual, physical affection between a mother and her teenage children and I think “that is normal.  That is good.”  But I never experienced it.  By the time I was a teen, I loathed my father’s controlling touch, a hug or kiss at the beginning or end of the day was a salutation to him.  For me, it was a reminder of cage we lived in.  And my mother never had a physical connection or bond with anyone — at least not with her children.

Often Today, Unless I Force Myself To Allow It, I Cannot Feel. 

My dear mother, aged 73, called yesterday asking if she could pay for my children to attend the Messiah show that I will be in this December since we were choosing to “not afford it.”  After years of missing concerts and other things that were important to me due to their travel, she was remembering that this had hurt me as a teenager.  I was actively involved in orchestra and chorus.  She offered to pay the $30 per child so that my children can attend the concert.  She felt this was important to me.  I promised her I would think about whether I felt that way. I have learned that if I am not careful, I just feel what she tells me I’m feeling.   She wants to help.  She’s aware of old pain.  She attempts to remake life now, for the adult child.  It’s complicated.  I have no idea what I feel about this situation. 

Feeling things — for me, it takes peeling back the layers of the moment to find – my – feelings.  Crushing them was how I survived.  Now it takes such hard work to feel.  And to trust the feelings. 

Remembering what it was like growing up is hard for me.  Whether I was conscious or not, it was important to hide or be invisible.  I spent lots of time in my room escaping into a book; the fantasy of a romance or historical novel or a Ludlum mystery.   I hid in the music, playing the piano or the bass clarinet.  In the concerts that my parents received free tickets to over the years.  Music has always been an escape.

And I found myself when I was welcomed at church by my youth pastor and in his grizzly hugs.  There I found an acceptance of “ME” that I had never experienced in my life.  I had a budding faith.  I recall lying in my bed late at night, after church, praying out loud the prayer that I could not make myself utter out loud at church; too afraid of not getting it just right.  The need to be perfect was true for all of my sisters and for me if I couldn’t be perfect then I would not try. 

 I do not recall much conversation with my parents as a child and teen.  I remember no talks with parents, except being forced to speak about certain things by my father.  What does Easter mean to you, tell me!  What are you thankful for?  Everyone must participate. I recall being yelled at for grades that were below my “potential.”  I was dragged, not physically but emotionally, down to the counselor at school so that the person could tell me what a high IQ I had and why I could (i.e. should) do better at school.

 I recall gazing at my bitten & bleeding fingernails in the microscope in Biology, wondering if I would ever feel good about myself.  Somehow, my hands came to symbolize my brokenness, pain and the ugliness I saw in myself.  They represented the self-loathing and to this day, they remain so; if there is anguish inside it always manifests itself on my fingernails and indicates nervousness I can’t control.

I recalled recently, being spaced out started young, a pattern of feeling just slightly crazy or numb.  Constantly tuned out started as a way to cope with the unpredictable nature of my father’s anger which could be triggered by anything;   A slip of the tongue, a comment coming out a too sarcastically or being considered disrespectful, not remembering an instruction and doing something else, and of course having ideas other than his.  That made him the most furious.  Enraged.  He was never physically punishing to us, but verbally hounding, over and over again; “At you” continuously until you admitted your offense – whatever it was — random things that bothered him. 

I began to shut down.  Concede not fight.  Give in. Confess. Not rebel.  Slowly, I gave up and forfeited living for peace. 

Even some of my last memories of my father, when they came to visit in October before he got sick, were of making concessions to his disapproval.  I had been suffering from five months of deep depression that had slowly been eroding my confidence and energy.  When they came to visit “to help, to support” I was very sick.  I didn’t have it in me to cook for them, so we took my parents out to dinner at our favorite Thai restaurant.  It was admittedly expensive.  It was delicious.  It was challenging with young kids.  He disapproved of the extravagance and made it known.  He went on about it as I slowly shut down.  There’s no productive discussion when he is convinced of something.  No reminder of the symptoms of depression being an inability to make decisions shopping for groceries or to focus for a long time on cooking or overcoming the fear of messing it all up.  I would rather have climbed back into bed, but because they were there I was up, dressed and attempting to function.

That is one of my last memories of my father before his tumors began to grow and his personality and ability to speak became impaired.  He came to help, to be of assistance, but he spent his visit on the phone and laptop and but he only criticized when he engaged me.  That’s a fact.  That’s what happened.

As I remember, sometimes I wish I could sugar coat the memories or even just deny them.  But what would that accomplish? 

Today, I choose feelings. 

And, I move toward memory. 

And living, well that comes slowly.  But it comes.