{rough thoughts on love and mortality in the middle years}

I have no business writing when I need to be packing, preparing, paying bills, picking up prescriptions, cleaning house, and washing laundry, readying myself and the family for me to leave town.  These are very drafty thoughts on aging parents, ailing friends, launching teenagers, and being human.  


Love and Mortality in the Middle Years

Our middle years—carry

the work of tending to ailing parents

and sometimes losing,

nursing them respectfully and without impatience.

That is love of a child.


Our middle years—rambling side by side with good friends,

you and I, fighting illness and the frailty of being human.

Growing into who we were going to become.

That is the love of a partner and friend.


The human toll of ageing all the while launching

children to fly! The human ache of

watching lives unfold.

Let them fly, let them flail.  Breathing hope into their

youthful lungs. Speaking truth all the while

shaking your head as they roll their eyes in disgust. Wobbly legs

running out and away.  Knowing this

is what they are meant to do.

That is the love of a parent.


We all need wisdom, grace upon grace and more joy (oh, for more joy!).

In the midst of relentless sorrow and loss,

your doorway remains open.

In this middle space of anticipation, of letting go

in more ways than is reasonable or comfortable,

all of which is profoundly difficult

and is the principle achievement of being human.


Middle years: Caring and holding,

loving and letting go.

All this is the Life and Death of the middle years.

This is love and mortality

in the middle years.

{When You’re Not Qualified to be Alive}

So I’m trying something new.  Picking a subject at random that I seem to obsess about or fixate on, something that grips my imagination in compulsive and ugly ways, (I started with one of my secret obsessions.) I’ll write honestly without  a lot self-editing or controlling “the message” to see what comes out.  No answers. No over spiritualizing.  Just the real, gritty, sometimes awkward me. I’m trying to push myself in my style to loosen up a little. Have you noticed that I take myself a bit too seriously? This is my second excursion into a different kind of real. 

Parenting surely is the most difficult job I’ve ever had.  Many times in a day I think “I am not qualified.” But it’s too late, for those regrets.

No one is qualified to be a parent, not really. 

Yesterday, I was reflecting on our exceptionally verbal, strong as steel, at times tyrannical daughter  who is so like my father!  I just wanted to fall down on my knees, humbled by my own lack.  Again, as if a prayer, whispering this time as a lament: I am not qualified to be a mother.

I went through most of my life in some strange, surreal auto pilot. 

I went through forty years utterly afraid of life.  I sometimes think back, strange as it sounds and wonder aloud how I even survived the catastrophes of living in our home.  My father’s spirit and soul crushing rage destroyed me, my personality and I spent many years just grieving who I might be, might have been.  That sort of grief is debilitating.

Oh there were moments, especially outside of home, where I found  parts of myself.  I loved my youth pastor; he listened to me and allowed for my incessant questions about the Bible. He listened to my ideas and fears.  He never once yelled at me, or told me my sarcasm or sense of humor or quick thinking and verbal sparring was bad.  He somehow validated me and I loved him.

But for the most part I went through my tens and twenties and thirties heart-sick, depressed, and afraid.

So when my daughter rages at me (I told you she is like my dad) or the world, or she stands up to me, or questions … every little thing, a small part of me is cheering inside!!

She is alive.

She is breathing, kicking and screaming, going into the world believing that her thoughts, her questions, her jokes, her ideas matter and for that I am so pleased.

She is alive and I am slowly coming alive too.  I believe my father had to die for me to begin living.  A new friend, after hearing about the childhood that I had said to me yesterday “It’s a wonder that I have any faith at all.”

I am simply grateful I am alive.  Yes, this life of believing is really hard; harder for me than it seems to be for many people I know.  I’ve come to accept and understand this to be a part of what makes me, me.  And yes, this is something I embrace.

I may not be qualified, but I am grateful to be alive.

Today I Said No

Today I said no.

I said no to something that might have been sweet and good, something that I would enjoy and that would make me feel good about myself – helping other people.  It was something that was even noble.  Can I be honest and tell you that I need some things to do that make me feel good about myself?  The recent Stations of the Cross exhibit, which I was a part of, was profound for me in that it was a thing that I did, for me.

Today I said no.

No because there are other good things, needs, jobs for me to do.  And I have to be careful as an addict, to not feed that need to help others.

Things are going on in my family, screaming out to me, which need resolution and clarity and my time.  My children are of the age that they need my daily prayer, daily.  My attention, fully.  My love and affirmations, honestly.  This takes the kind of attention that I haven’t had for them as of yet.  My widowed mother living alone needs more of my attention, care and to be blunt she needs errands accomplished.  My sisters each deserve my love and attention in a way that I haven’t ever had the courage to give them.  My marriage isn’t perfect; it has holes that need patching even though, after eighteen years together, we know it’s for life.  We’re in the boat together but we’ve sprung a few leaks.  No one’s sinking but we deserve to give the time that a good marriage requires.

So, today I said no – no to something good.  So that I could say yes to being a mother, a sister, a daughter, a wife and more than anything I said yes to be a writer.

Today I said yes.

A Poem: I Never Knew Love


I never knew
that love would be so good.

Our beautiful chaotic life
of music, creativity and ideas. Of
trust, values, and goodness.
Of dreams.

I’ve learned
what it means to give up yourself, yes die
to self. That’s love
to me.

Often the world says
otherwise. But they don’t have
this beautiful chaotic life
we share.

I thought we had to fight,

and disagree
more than not. I imagined
we would be in constant friction.
Because the house that raised me
burned to the ground.

But I learned
the way to live is to give. Then
you get it all back without even realizing you are loved.

My dear, you are, everything.
And from you I have learned
to live.

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

My heart is heavy. 

I haven’t shared these thoughts, thinking that it’s just not kind to be such a bummer during the holidays.  And admittedly, there is much to celebrate — to be thankful for — to enjoy this time of year!

Ringing in the new year has been solemn, as my thoughts return again and again to the people in my life that I love who are in pain.  A friend who is a young mother of three, is very sick and experiencing extreme physical pain.  Actually I have a several friends who are suffering physical pain.  Another lost their mother unexpectedly.  A family member’s wife is leaving him – they have two young children. 

I find myself wondering how much of life are purely random even chance.  How much of a difference do our choices make?  Do you think some things are pre-determined?  Was my friend always going to get sick? Was this family member always going to walk out on their marriage?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary RANDOM is:

Having no definite aim or purpose; not sent or guided in a particular direction; made, done, occurring, etc., without method or conscious choice; haphazard.

Is it just pure randomness that some get cancer and some don’t.  Some die from a disease, some don’t.  Some are generally optimistic people, others are pessimists.  Some choose truth.  Some choose lies.  Some stay married for better or worse, in sickness & health, till someone dies.  And some people give up.  Good things happen to some.  Sh*t happens.  Some lead charmed lives.  Some just don’t.  Alternatively, some with easy lives aren’t happy and others with challenges and trials have true joy.  Go figure.

I do not believe that all of life is random, but are we the sum of our choices?  I don’t think so.  I hold strongly to the belief that through forgiveness life changes.  Through God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others our circumstances change.  Our fates are changed.   We change our future by being people who are always growing and developing, people who have personal strength and integrity.  And that takes faith.   But I am getting ahead of myself.

There is an aspect of chance and randomness that feels fated.

Are we in command of our lives?  How much of a difference do our choices really make?  Will we not die when we’re supposed to die.  Or get sick when we’re supposed to get sick.  How much do our choices really affect our destiny?

Can I change my future by what I do or don’t do.  If I choose over and over again in my life a certain, unselfish path will more good things happen to me?  That’s been debated for hundreds even thousands of years.  I would say, of course not.  My good actions don’t bring me good karma.  Or vice versa.  That is why so much of life just isn’t “fair.”

I have always thought it was a cosmic curse to have a propensity for addiction.  It’s all over my family tree and all over me.  Not based on my choices per say.  So, will I always be an addict or can I change?  I  chose to stop drinking. And I choose to believe that I have control over (at least that bit of) my destiny and I still believe that.

And then the little devil of addiction jumps to something else.  For a while even Farmville. For two months last winter I was addicted to the point that I lied about how much time I spent on it, even to myself.   It’s ugly!

And for many years I have worked against a shopping addiction.  Yes, worked againstNow that is a slippery, elusive purely evil addiction. So much of life in the American Dream of a culture is centered around shopping, so much so we even shop for our entertainment.  It’s how we “provide”, how we “take care of” our family.  And one can easily lie to themselves about the “need” for many, many purchases.

But I know I have a problem and I’ve had to do various things to control it and I am grateful for God’s grace — and Tom’s grace!  Because there are times when I genuinely can’t seem to control myself.  And sometimes I can.  And do.  And that’s what makes it so tricky.

When it comes to lying there is so much gray.

Here’s what I’ve honestly been thinking about — marriage, love and commitment which is really what I have been thinking about. I ask myself what holds some marriages together — like my in-laws who have been together for fifty years?  It’s more like fifty-five, as they met each other in middle school.  They really “shouldn’t” have lasted because the circumstances were such that they had everything going against them.  Married very young (17 & 19).  An early pregnancy.  Another baby a year later.  But I’m not here to tell their story, I’m just wondering how that happened?  Random chance?  Or by choice.  So I asked them what they thought was the key to staying together?  Bonnie said: “We always looked at it as a lifetime commitment. And I learned not to try to change him.  Accept him for who he is and vice versa.”

Well, that’s what I have always believed.

  • That we have a lifetime to get it right.
  • We shouldn’t expect our partner to change.
  • That I should work to be the person I want to be married to.
  • That love means serving one another.
  • That I am not a perfect** person so how can I expect him to be perfect? **Yeah, that’s an understatement. 

Be the person you want to be with.

 What makes it work for Tom and me?  Yes, we have disagreements and disappointments with one another.  Isn’t that normal?  Thought not that many, which I suppose isn’t normal.  But contrary to the perception I got from reading Harlequin Romances no-one is perfect.    And even gorgeous people gain weight and lose their hair.  They lose jobs.  They lose vitality.  They sometimes even “lose it.”

But I was actually thinking about internal qualities which are the stuff of genuine love: how we treat one another.  Do we respect, trust, and love?  Do we affirm?  Are we kind most of the time? … Those are the things that hold marriages together, I think.  And even if things aren’t perfect, it makes for a great life, exploring it together!

And speaking of strange — we all know couples where there is abuse involved — and yet strangely they stay together.  My mother stayed with my father for 42 years and he was a b*st*rd to her.  No not all the time.  Not publicly.  Not in ways that she or I can “prove” because words don’t leave bruises people can see.  She says she stayed because she believed marriage was for life.   I really believe she should have left him.   But she stayed until she buried him.  Who am I to judge one way or another  and this isn’t about her story either.

Back to the questions.

Should two people who aren’t “happy” [with each other] separate?  Divorce?  What if there are kids?  What if there is no abuse?  What if one is an addict?  Or one of them is a chronic liar?  What if one of them is destroying their future and won’t get help?  I don’t know.

Tom has “stuck” with me through all my nonsense and pain, history, baggage, “stuff” I’ve had to work out in counseling.   Because he made a commitment to me?  Because he loves me?   Yes to both.  And because he is good and generous and kind man. Because he believes in that illusive thing: lifetime commitment? Some days perhaps that was why, the commitment.  But no matter why I am so glad he did.

Then I think about the random fact that if Tom’s first wife hadn’t walked out on him after eleven years of marriage, he and I wouldn’t be together.  Randomness.  Chance.

Random chance?  But if you give in to that kind of loosy-goosy thinking then nothing is solid.  Nothing can be counted on.  No one can be counted on and no one can count on you.  We do have choices and they do make a difference.   It makes us who we are, a person of character. Or not.  And it impacts what happens to us.

Galatians 5:24-25 (NLT) says

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to His cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.

Galatians to me is about obedience; asking ourselves, as we search our heart for the passions and desires of our sinful nature, what does love have to do with it?  Can we lay them down our selfishness and sinful desires?

What does it mean to obey in the midst of broken hearts and broken lives, randomness, sinful choices, abuse, selfishness, commitment, love and the simple pursuit of happiness — because in the end isn’t that what we all want — to be happy.

What does it mean to follow the Spirit’s leading with our passion and desires?

44 and 40 more!

I know, I know.  Hoky.  But I can’t help it — that phrase is ringing in my  head — “44 and 40 more.”


– Emily Dickinson

I love, love, love dear Emily D.

I have without a doubt found healing and answers in the last few years looking backward.  The truth of those experiences needed to be brought into the light and this was important because my family had lived so many years afraid and not able to speak truthfully.  But …

several things happened on my birthday that confirmed the idea that I am easily drawn to the negative.  Perhaps this is my nature.  Perhaps this is human nature?  I have to tell the truth, which I am grateful to be able to in all honesty.   But I don’t think it is completely about truth telling or not at this point.  So, what is on my mind and heart  is to dwell in possibility.

Of this I am certain — that I am to focus on the unlimited possibilities found in today.

CS Lewis said: “Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.”

What comes to mind this morning …

Perseverance is a long obedience in the right direction!

(Who said that?)

Just thinking … about agape.

I’ve thought a lot recently about the last decade.

How quickly it evaporated.  If you mark your life by major transitions a big one was in 2001 when I quit full-time work at InterVarsity.  In the years since I have grown up — as in separated from my parents emotionally and allowed myself to grow up, mature, and even move ahead of where they were at my age.  It was harder than you think.  I have also fallen in love with Jesus, as never before and accepted the Grace offered to me freely. I pray for better understanding!  I have begun to ponder life’s greatest purposes for people and more specifically me.  And, I have found an emotional equilibrium of sorts — became a drunk & got sober.  All this in a decade.  Phew!

I can’t help but wonder — What will the next decade hold?

Sunday, we heard teaching on agape which is a different kind of love than the other three: eros, storge and philios.   Agape is completely motivated in one direction.

I struggle with love.  Not loving others, that comes easily for me.  Even the kind that goes only in one direction.  And I want to be the sort of person that doesn’t need to have something in return.  But the example I grew up with made it difficult for me to believe others really love me. I’m afraid that my parent’s example was always doubting others’ love and rarely trusting anyone.

I didn’t learn that people can be counted on.  My family legacy is one of anger and record keeping.  I am breaking that cycle but I still don’t really believe that I am lovable.  My Doc says if I would just “find confidence within myself” I wouldn’t need him any more.  “The root of all my problems” is my lack of confidence.  (Of course he also tells me not to take the things he says out of context, which I have completely done here.)

But I do think — have thought for some time — that if people (if I) could learn to love others in this way — agape — we (I) would be ultimately content.  And happy.

Where I get into trouble is my need.  What do you DO WITH THE NEED?

I do honestly help others simply out of a wish to be helpful.  These pears I dutifully checked for ripeness daily for three weeks for my neighbors, not out of a desire for anything but just to be helpful as they traveled.  Stuff like that comes easily.  But often, I know I am longing for people to love me. I am not motivated by it but it is there and can’t be ignored.  Or maybe I’m just a nice person.  Perhaps it doesn’t really matter that our motives are pure?  If you believe 1 Corinthians then I think it does.

On the other hand, if I expect nothing in return because I don’t feel lovable that is not agape either.  That’s something I don’t have a name for but my prayer is to stop that!

I want to become a person who is fully living out agape.  Mother Theresa was someone whose life exemplified agape. Henri Nouwen.  Many others.  How do we become more like them in their loving others?  I guess I’m gonna have to read C.S. Lewis’ Four Loves.  If this agape is something that is really important, as important as it seems to be, then I need to understand it more fully.

Just thinking.

If this got you thinking, my church is doing a series on all of this and you can watch or listen online.  Or, you’re welcome to come along with me some time.  I can’t promise that they have all the answers but they do make you think.  And obviously I don’t either but the journey is fun!

Be well,


Intense love does not measure, it just gives.   — Mother Teresa

When my heart hurts, I wait. (a poem)

could be doing many things right now, my mother taught me that. 

should always comes to mind first. I could, gives breathing room. She had a lifetime of shoulds. She lived for every one. And lost herself.  And so, she sits now with her regrets. 

I could be cleaning, calling a friend, or washing up.  I could be playing the piano, or laughing with ‘Mel & Floyd’ on the radio. Even singing.  Or I could be digging outside. But here I sit, with sleepy Jaz by my side. I linger with my heavy thoughts  and the radio that is playing Chaka Khan. Now she is wild and so funky.  So unlike me. 

As the kitten stretches in the sunshine.  I sit and wait for the words.  For I have poem inside and when that happens, I have learned I can wait. It is not time wasted.  Rather, a moment of anticipation. So I go to the screen; the sacred chamber that collects my words and blows them softly  way from me. I sit, pondering hard things.

I could be a better lover. 

I am earnest and devout, but I lack fire. 

I could be a better mom.  I sometimes cave.  If you’re a parent, you know what I mean.

I could definitely be a better friend. 

And should,yes should, take better care of each precious one. 

You and I spoke late into the night of our love, desire and longings.  Of heartache. Of your loyalty.  Of my addictions.  And of God.  And, of other secret things. And in the moments, when my heart hurt so much as if I was being crushed from the inside out I could only hold on to our love. And know that for all the shoulds that sit there between us; unrequited. Honest disappointments.  Pure pain. Still.  It’s you and me.  And I know, even though our journey together is imperfect I am glad to walk this life’s path with you. 

There, it came.  The swirling thoughts are out. Not always what I want to say. Not always something I would choose to admit.  But always when and what is needed.  I suppose the thing I most love about you, is the that though we are imperfect I can wake after such a hard conversation with hope.

April 15, 2010
Marriage.  It’s an amazing thing and yet so difficult.  I don’t talk about my marriage much but I know that just like all the other things that I write about (childhood psychological abuse, addiction & recovery, motherhood, creativity, insecurities, spirituality & faith, disbelief) everyone has relationships and many people have hard marriages.  Mine isn’t difficult, funny enough.  Mine is amazing.  But we have our things and from time to time they raise their head up and demand attention.  I don’t think we should be afraid to talk about it.  Like everything it is delicate and precious.

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

Some Day

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

This I know.

Tattered hearts are the consequence.

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

from the next room, and wonder and think

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

only some day.  You know what I think?

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

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

distracted, distressed or in a disagreement with you.

Life seems to get in the way

of some day.   As for today,

as you kick and scream on the couch demanding

your own way

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

Written October 28, 2009

Life Long Yearning

Image by M e l o d y via Flickr

The galactic hole in my heart

makes me tired of holding all the pieces together.

Tired of doubting.

Tired of needing.  Wishing.  Hurting.

Crying out in all the ways that speak of your neglect.

All my life, Daddy, learning

that I am incomplete.

So I gorge on all the things that don’t fill.

Wishing for love that never came.

All my life, yearning for the hurt to stop.

That I would not billow in space without

an anchor.

I want more. I need more.

I wish.  I hurt

and long

and cry

for love and finally, I find it at the Cross.

At peace I lay down my life long yearning.

I am home.

updated March 2, 2010

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