My Very Little Faith

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As it turns out I have A Very Little Faith. Perhaps I am a product of my human father who believed personal greatness was achieved through his tenacious hard work. Having a false humility, showing off A Very Big Faith, I saw that it was one that didn’t fundamentally change his character. Not really. This was my experience.

Still doubting his own goodness at the end of his life, my father died longing to hear “Well done.”

2.

All of my life I have feared the thought of not really knowing. What do I believe? Feared this very thing: A Very Little Faith. Consequently my prayer life has been frantic and hapless.  There’s a weariness in faith achieved by your effort. And yet, this is faith. Not knowing, striving.  the balance needs to be in how much is human effort and how much is laying down, in relief, our human need.

When strife hit us it struck like a cold winter’s storm. Those of us who live where the seasons always come know that winter is expected.When adversity came and set up camp in our lives, at first I thought, “Of course.” And “I deserve this, somehow.”

3.

Then, as time went on, I came to understand something entirely different. A realization about myself that only adversity has brought. I’ve done a lot of my spiritual life in my strength. The work of living with clinical depression and occasionally overcoming at least for seasons. The strength of mothering with depression. The control required to get sober. And stay sober for seven years. And live sober daily. All me.

Our child three years in and out of psychiatric hospitals. A great effort required me to find and work with all kinds of doctors, psychiatrists and therapists. To wrangle with the school system. All to advocate for my child’s current and future health. To hold on to hope in the middle of destruction and pain, singular sorrow, a mother’s grief, all took my personal strength and wits. There is the constant not knowing how to receive help and not allowing others in, to protect my child’s privacy, How does one receive encouragement and take help for a while to share the load? Almost impossible. Layered atop it, helping my mother in the last two years of her rapid decline, physically and mentally. All required doggedness and charity and choosing to do the right thing.  Too much of me.  And over time this has weakened me, isolated in unhelpful ways, the searing fear and solitude.

4.

Prayer then is what? I have struggled to understand. My Little Faith drove me to my knees, humbled. Hurt and pressed in by all this pain.  Call it suffering if you like, most people would but I’ve become uncomfortable with the comparison.

As if life isn’t just hard. For good people and bad alike, life brings good and bad things. Calling it suffering presupposes that somehow I don’t deserve hardship.  And that’s not the point. It simply is what it is.

5.

I don’t want to know how will it all turn out?  That question remains unspoken, becomes the greatest test of My Very Little Faith. Erroneously, for as I said, life is hard. For good people and bad.

Will we be okay?  Will she grow out of her mental illness?  Will he or she ever grow up to work and live on their own?  Will the business survive?  Will I stay sober?  Will I ever be free of depression? How will my mother’s last years disappear into the fog of her memories?

I don’t ask God to explain.

I think it, I wonder about it. But these are not prayers.

I’m afraid to pound on God’s chest which assumes an intimacy I wonder if we have ever shared.

Turns out I have A Very Little Faith.

6.

I do have Hope. An unreasonable belief that we will get through this.  Life may yet give us a reprieve. Life may not.

This is the tension of being human. Hope, I suppose, is a freedom to not be dejected by it all. To not be destroyed. Ultimately, to be content in this, too. To grow comfortable with life enough to pray something altogether different.  I accept this.

Hope is believing God is good and longs to share goodness with us all. Do I know what this means, not really. Is it enough to believe that God is faithful to us? To let go of the how, the why and the when, all existential?  Hope is based on the premise that God only gives what is good, which is not the same as gives all the good things that I can imagine to ask for.  Peace is found in the release of open hands, willing for anything to come–the unimaginable. Even something better than my limited imagination and Very Little Faith allows.

The unseen is ahead, the future is unclear, the mist heavy and yet the person of hope finds peace which is beyond intellectual understanding.

The prayers of a Very Little Faith faith weakens my soul. Corrupts the possibility of a good future. All my attention on the present moment and not on the One who is good beyond my comprehension.

Whether we ask and we question, or we rail against God and we ask again. Or we thank or praise. It comes to this. Is it a prayer made in hope or A Very Little Faith?

7.

For months now, even years, my spiritual life is stagnated by fear of more pain than I can handle. My Very Little Faith holding to a pattern of foggy, doubting emptiness.

Henri Nouwen says, in this moment “Spiritually you are dead. There can be life and movement only when you no longer accept things as they are now, and you look ahead toward that which is not yet.”

How much of the spiritual life is wrongly asking but not hoping for what is not yet? What we want will surely never come. For we long for peace, for comfort, for good health, for success and happiness for our children, for all the good things we feel promised somehow.  Not promised by God, surely but by a fractured, ill, witless weak culture. We subconsciously buy in and are subsequently dismayed with our lives. Or are we thinking wrongly again. Yes, with certainty.

And in the end people of A Very Little Faith are compelled to open our hands to God in hope.

Simple hope. This, then, is A Very Big Faith grown in us without our doing anything at all.

Amen

P.S. I’ve been reading With Open Hands (Ava Maria Press, 1972) by Henri J. M. Nouwen which has heavily influenced the laudable parts of what I’ve thought here.  The foolishness is all my own.

I’ve been honored to be a part of a collaborative book titled Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels. I wrote on my ideas of prayer based on my understanding of 1 Thessalonians 5 that we are to pray without ceasing.

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Award-winning religion columnist Cathleen Falsani (Chicago Sun-Times, Religion News Service, Orange County Register) and Jennifer Grant edited this labor of love, the new anthology Disquiet Time.

In their words:

At its conception, we wondered,

“What if we asked a subset of our most intelligent, inventive, and faithful (and/or scoundrelly) friends to reflect in a deep way about how the Good Book has affected them?”

We decided that we needed to give them room to be snarky, to dig deeply, and to stray away from a PG rating if needed.

And so, almost two years after our first, funny email exchange about the idea, we present a book comprised of more than forty contributors including Dale Hanson Bourke, Eugene Peterson, Margot Starbuck, Jay Emerson Johnson, Debbie Blue, Brian McLaren, Amy Julia Becker, Karen Swallow Prior, Christian Piatt, Carla Barnhill, and many other talented writers and Island of the Misfit Toys-souls who describe themselves as Christian, post-Christian, Jewish, Zen Buddhist, Anglobaptist, or “none of the above.”

That’s kind of the point of Disquiet Time.

I do hope you will look for it.

It’s not about theological or ideological labels or conformity, but, instead, about hearing stories you might not otherwise have been in the room to hear.

It’s about giving thoughtful people the opportunity to tell their faith stories, as rough or incomplete or irreverant or sincere as these stories might be.

Read, enjoy, and be a little braver when you tell your own story of faith and/or doubt.

The book launched last week and (although our publisher Hachette and Amazon are currently arm-wrestling, and Amazon isn’t making it easy to order Disquiet Time), our friends at independent booksellers, and Barnes and Noble and iTunes (among other generous and author-loving places) will cheerfully honor your order of our book.

If Winter is Dying, then Writing is Life

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This isn’t my usual type of post. I have some thoughts ruminating into a slow boil. Aching about justice & the Stand Your Ground law and being white and privileged. A response. But I need more time to mull.

I finished the article on loving a drunk for Today’s Christian WomanAhem, I know. I’m not a likely writer for them. I don’t read resources written just for women (much). Nor do I like ministries just for women which I’ve written about.  The issue is about addiction and when they asked, I started to think about how little this topic is discussed in the Church. I think this topic needs attention.  

Still, it was one of the hardest things to write in my life.  That’s no exaggeration. I thought this piece for SheLoves was vulnerable because it was to such a “big” audience.  Well just leapt larger than life here with being published on a Christianity Today website.  My stomach curls in on itself just thinking about it. So I try not to think.

But more than that, it’s just hard to go back there, where I cannot remember. I had to interview Tom about those Falling Down Drunk years. Yes, I had to interview my husband as weird as that sounds. Tell me about that time when I barfed all over the car.

As you can imagine those monster enemies of Shame and Regret hovered around, clouding everything I did for days. Remembering what I put him through feels like hell but I’m hopeful that this will help people.  Or I would write it. The mind blowing thing was the good that came out of the sweating blood of this writing. I got to see how he loved me in such a long-suffering and courageous way. How awesome to feel, stone cold sober the love of my husband after twenty years. I’m smitten all over again. just thinking about his sacrifice and love for me.

I blasted out a poem for my church’s Pulse Conference on Worship & the Arts. I didn’t have time to over think. It came fast and I loved it. I am learning to have more confidence in my Voice. And like I mentioned before when things are printed-and-official I usually get the heebie jeebies and completely freak out; telling myself how unworthy I am to be writing a poem for “Artists.” I didn’t go there this time. (Phew, deep exhalation.) I am evolving.

I found a Psychiatrist, meaning—after having the number for five months I finally picked up the phone—I scheduled an appointment. Sometimes it’s the little things that feel unbearable with depression. I have a list of those things collecting Shame.  I look at the phone a lot, I mean a lot. Then my chest hurts with anxiety and starts burning. More deep breathing helps. 

I feel like I should wear a warning sign these days: KEEP CLEAR of me.

The good news is I like this doctor and today I feel a burst of hope that together we can figure out a better cocktail (of medications). What I take now makes me feel flat like a faded old piece of paper. Everyone else seems to be living in 3D and I’m one dimensional. The current medications got me out of the troth of not wanting to be alive (Which is different than suicidal—an important clarification.) But I’d like to shoot for something a tad higher than flat and undead.  Perhaps happy. I’d also be satisfied with sociable.

“My world is so small right now.” I found myself confessing to the doctor.  This made me even sadder and I wanted to cry. Crying not something I can do currently, another side effect, but as I said I’m hopeful with a change of medication that crying will come back.

Someone asks: Do you want to get together? (Blank marshmallow filled space in my brain and then panic.)  Feel like coffee? a text  (I feel nothing if I were to be honest.)  Want to go to that concert with me? (No.) You could listen to them online. You’ll like them. They’re really great. (No, definitely no. Milwaukee. It’s too much effort.) Can you host Christmas? (… birds chirping …     hell no!)  Don’t forget life group is tonight. ( … I don’t think I can go. Two hours of not talking in a group of talking people makes me feel dead and I don’t think I can speak. If I have to give another update saying things are still … bad.  I’m so tired of my life updates being so [insert pejorative].)

I’ve been so tired of feeling like this daily for months and months.

But I’ve been making myself do a few things out of the conviction that I cannot sit in my chair alone all winter. Besides motherhood, which doesn’t stop ever.

I’m attending the Festival of Faith and Writing in April. When I made the reservation I thought I’d never be able to go, not in a million years. My brain won’t even compute navigating the drive, let alone attending a conference alone. But somehow, things have been improving.  Writing this and asking for help went a long way. I know I’m not alone.  And now a break from life sounds damn good. It has been the most awful winter that I can recall EVER and I’m not talking just about the weather.

2796253209_98caa0e57e_o “The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable, they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.” – Ernest Hemingway

Remember the hot days of summer, when I was working on an essay on PRAYER and feeling really skeptical about whether I even believe in prayer? That essay is now published in the book Disquiet Time. You can pre-order it here published by Jericho Books in October, 2014. So that’s very cool.  

Did I even tell you that I have two poems in the book Not Afraid: Stories of Confronting Fear which is available here.

Lastly, WordPress is telling me I have been blogging six years sending their congratulations. Looking back, I see that my first post was 2008/10/07. That means I’ve been sober six and a half years.  Six years of blogging! Wow.

In that time, I’ve gathered TO MY UTTER AMAZEMENT 1,751 subscribed email readers. Not sure how that happened but I can only thank you, for when you pass along my writing. It helps me build traction and readers which helps me imagine one day I’ll be published. So, I’m grateful that Spring is coming.

I leave you with thoughts of summer, which I am longing for — running in flip flops, or curled up with a book in grass, or squinting at the sun by the lake.

As always, thanks for reading,

Melody

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When I Was A Falling Down Drunk: A Love Story

tomhanson_bwIt’s only been a few days but I feel it.  In the hidden, hard place where I keep my little girl heart that learned to be scared too early.  That place in my heart has shifted.

It might be that I am writing out the story of how I once was a falling down drunk.  I’ve been looking for ways that I was loved through it, and I’ve been realizing

over and over how I was so loved. My husband

lived out this incredible, sacrificial, life-giving, endless, kind, patient, generous, soul upon soul holding of my precious life when I wasn’t into or able to be caring for myself

at all.  Didn’t believe I was precious or lovable at all. I guess you can say I couldn’t possibly, since I was more and more consumed

by booze.

And here’s shit’s honest truth: I will never, ever–not ever–be able to repay him.  Every ounce of love that I can give, a life time of kindnesses, every selfless act of thoughtfulness—all of it,

none of it will ever make up for his saving my life by helping me through the drunken years.  Trust me I have walked back over every ugly moment that I can remember. And when I couldn’t remember I interviewed him. Phew that was hard on us both.

And that is what he did.  His love saved me and it was totally undeserved.

Kind of like what God does in sending Jesus and that’s so amazing I’ve just had to sit

here in my writing chair.

Hours on end, sitting.

Feeling my thankful feelings for sobriety. And for Tom. For my children surviving (though we can all see a toll in their minds and hearts, but that’s another story.)  I’m just

unabashedly

thankful.

So whether it actually was the practice of stopping and writing down what I’m thankful for, I’ll never know.  Sometimes God works by making two things collide bringing a providence of actions and

then it is on us how we respond.

How to love a drunk is a love story.  Yes, a valentine.

xoxo,

Melody

An excerpt from the article I have been writing:

It is breathtaking for me to think how much Tom loves me and showed it both with his long-suffering gentle care.  And, in the act of telling me he couldn’t take it any longer he faced his greatest fears.  He was potentially losing me either way. That letter confronting my addiction was selfless love.

After drinking an entire bottle of white wine the night before, I was scared to death. And God’s spirit had been graciously preparing my heart, perhaps for years. Tom’s letter and my readiness collided and became the catalyst.

I was ready. That was our miracle. That’s what it looks like to love a drunk.

Honestly there are no sweet guarantees.  But Tom never gave up on me.  When we married twenty years ago, pledging in sickness and in health neither of us knew what a high price IN SICKNESS contained.

Gratitude: A Quiet Discipline, An Offering, A Setting Down, An Unfreezing of the Heart, A Spiritual Continuum

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I wake up every day tired, mostly of me. This is how depression repeatedly exposes itself to me, in exhaustion. With each breath and step in the day, with every mundane activity only reinforcing my life’s obvious lack of direction. It is sad. I seem unable to enjoy life.

Sometimes I think this is easily solvable.  Do I have a lack of gratitude for all the good in my life? It might look like that if you saw my beautiful life.

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If pushed I can name all the things for which I am thankful. In my bleaker moments, I imagine that I don’t know how to live out this gratitude.

“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” Meister Eckhart  (c. 1260 – c. 1327)

I don’t completely agree, but I know that it is up there in importance in the spiritual formation of a believing heart. Anne Lamott says help, thanks, wow in her tiny book by that title.

To implore, to give thanks and to offer praise create the liminal places preparing us for a deeper spiritual life. This allows for a vulnerable, more exposed and prepared spiritual self.

It is lost to us when we get caught up in over thinking and not allow ourselves moments in the day when we let go of that rigid way of spirituality in the form of dry and useless ingratitude.

The wonderful Catholic visionary and author of more than 40 books Joan Chittister says:

“Gratitude is not only the posture of praise. It is also the basic element of real belief in God.”

This convicts my aching, thankless, over thinking mind and heart.

One of my favorite spiritual fathers, a gently resplendent author, the late Henri Nouwen, is the most convincing to me today. As a recovering alcoholic I seem to have many resentments that crowd in before I know it. I can go through a whole day, my brain buzzing with one resentment or critical thought after another, and then before I realize it my physical body and spiritual heart and heartless brain are full.  I am brimming with bitterness and judgement.

In Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit he said:

“”The opposite of resentment is gratitude (from the Latin gratia = favor). Gratitude is more than an occasional ‘thanks be to God.’ Gratitude is the attitude that enables us to let go of anger, receive the hidden gifts of those we want to serve, and make these gifts visible to the community as a source of celebration …” When I think about what it means to live and act in the name of Jesus, I realize that what I have to offer to others is not my intelligence, skill, power, influence, or connections, but my own human brokenness, through which the love of God can manifest itself. Ministry is entering with our human brokenness into communion with others and speaking a word of hope.”  (My emphasis)

My bleak spiritual state is so obvious to me when I am depressed. But to dwell there deciding my life is useless would be the real tragedy. Even with and perhaps because of depression, even with some of the things that plague so many of us including spiritual doubt, incessant fear or anxiety, the self-hatred so many struggle with, our life’s deep regrets and our brokenness.

Before God these are my questions. Am I am able to let go of them and lay them in prayer at the Cross? Can I set them down to pick up the communion bread and cup? Can I find, as a daily discipline, a few things for which I can say thanks? If this is hard, especially for a melancholic person like myself, I think it’s paramount to express thanks as a part of our life of spiritual discipline.

Gratitude it’s an offering. Gratitude is a discipline. It is a setting down of bitter burdens to try to trust God with our brokenness.

Gratitude I think is the ultimate trust.  This isn’t a formula; rather it is a part of life’s spiritual continuum.

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Wisconsin has had more than 30 days below zero already this winter.  It’s a hard place for me to live. It’s a cold, wrecked bitter place. But it also has great beauty such as snowflakes falling this morning; dancing as they fall, whirling playfully and slowly, and dropping to the already covered ground.  I have to admit, sitting here in my warm house it is beautiful to see the snow form into an angel.

Gratitude is a spiritual or life discipline that can bring health and heart healing.

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For the next 30 days or so, through the bleakest whitest part of winter, I’m going to keep track in writing. Want to try it with me?  Perhaps the last activity before sleep or first thing in the morning with a cup of coffee.  Take a moment to write five things (or even one) for which you are grateful.

Will this cause an inner shift in my frozen, depressed heart caught up in its own gloom? It may not.  It may simply get me through this frozen winter.  Whatever the outcome, I’m a little more hopeful today.

Let me know if you’re going to try 30 days or nights of private gratitude. Let’s step toward this hope together.

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As The Winter Is Long [a NEW Poem]

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In the dreary midwinter
time is never-ending and merciless.

I chase the shadow’s
bright reflections, brittle patterns
on the silvery snow.

This distracts me from the echoing lament
I woke with today.
Melancholy sits dismally on my chest, like a lethargic cat
As I consider what’s gone wrong with me.
There’s always something and I’m as tired as the winter is long.

I chase the shadows.
Somehow, they hold hope
when I’ve got none.

“Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of god is glue. — Eugene O’Neill

<

p>Ever conscious of the grace of God. As I think and pray about, and write the details of my addiction story, it is heavy.  The weight of mistakes, the shame of walking backwards trudging through the broken ways my addiction hurt my family; It’s heavy to carry it.  Thanks for your prayers as I finish up an essay on How to Love an Addict. 

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

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

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

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

10820152714_fd52cd5689_o (1)I.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10818503543_88d67b3eaf_oII.

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

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

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

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

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

I never believed in God’s love for me.

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

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

Distrusting God disturbs prayer. 

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

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

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

1-DSC_0036III.

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

IV.

Recently I wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DSC_0004 (1)VI.

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

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

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

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

I hold on, only

in order to

hold on.

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

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

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

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

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

2014 will be…UNKNOWN.

3204758186_5f88f12666_oVII.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DSC_7805 copyVIII.

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

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

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

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

Why are we hardest on ourselves?

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

I forgot how.  Where
to walk on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rather receive with holy awe, Grace.

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

To speak.

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

Only

do the day,

though starving and spiritually thirsty.

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

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

—Isaiah 43:2

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

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

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

tuesam 10X.

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

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

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

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

Truth.

I’m watching out for your children.

I’m watching over
you.  Come on home.

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

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

Today, I came home.

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

The Dust Bunnies and the Broken Hearts of Mental Illness

water 3

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

Breathing under water
is life threatening.

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

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

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

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

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

Breathing under water
is life threatening.

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

Breathing under water
is life threatening.

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

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

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

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

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

Breathing under water
is life threatening.

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

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

desk bound and writing.
Breathing under water, alone.

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

Life Begins Again and Again: Seeing the Good in Depression

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Through reflection, stillness and rest healing comes. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ECCLESIASTES 3:1-8

[hope]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Awareness and acceptance are all. 

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

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

{Chasing the Light}

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Writing about sobriety puts a pit in my stomach

today.
I am sober

but many days this doesn’t by implication mean happy.  Getting dry

isn’t a formula for bliss.  It is only a pathway toward
discovery.
When I was a drunk I didn’t feel sensation – there was mostly

emptiness. 

I didn’t feel the ache deep inside me, I was smothering it with gin, or wine, or 

vodka. 

These days, I feel all my pain. My skin hurts of it sometimes. 
It’s discomforting to be miserable, but important

that I can feel and know I’m alive.

The most important thing I can say today
is that I’m no expert in sobriety.

I am a Vessel

(the capitalization is important, because I AM ALIVE)

containing my story.

Life is only lived one day at a time. I cannot forget the past but I can forgive.

I’m writing  today about how my sobriety is like Chasing the Light.  Find it at SheLoves magazine.

For those that don’t read me regularly, there are other things I’ve written about my sobriety here and all over my blog.  The heading above are quite helpful, I hope.  Or just search for a topic.

Grace & Peace friends,

Melody

Featured

The Tale that Cautions: I was a Drunk

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I write down words.
I was a drunk.
It hurts still, the heavy story bulges in my heart.
Knowing it’s true, that’s one thing.

Going back
to the vomit and need and empty
ache
the desperation
sits heavy with me again
all day.

But in writing comes a slow redemption.

My words
are a gift:
the tale that cautions.

If you are there, broken

believing that you can drink away your fear

come home.

Home to the place in the crook of the rocks,
where the eagle wings of God cover and protect.

Come home, beloved because.  No one
is too far gone into addiction, or into any other ugly dark thing
that Jesus’ sweet, mystical

life altering LIGHT fails to shine.
He weeps for us, whispering

Beloved come home.

An Ode To Joy: When Chasing Significance, Ministry, Motherhood, & Alcohol Isn’t Enough

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My daughter thinks she Knows My Dreams, she pushed hard recently trying to get me to admit them. Telling me “Go to seminary and be a pastor that writes, mom. That’s what you want. Just do it.” It’s so easy for her to say, I think to myself, with my incessant dissatisfaction and oh so many fears.

I think to myself: I’m stuck. I’m not worthy. I’ll never Be.

First came sin.

I mean we’re all sinners for sure, but the home I grew up in, I never met Jesus. I never knew Grace.

I didn’t know Jesus who is the Lord of the Universe and Hope for the world, that my Dad was always talking about.  I couldn’t believe, not for decades, that I was loved and that if I were the only Blessed Sinner on Planet Earth, Jesus would have died that grizzly death, for me. No Way.

Work Harder.

I have lived day by day, believing that if I could just be A Better Person.  If I accomplished that much more than other people, worked harder, worked longer, worked better, then, I’d be okay. And so for years that’s what I did. I worked and worked and worked, and I lived a lie.

I was never okay. I was always terrified.

I was a mess inside, deep down where you cannot admit working at a Christian organization that you’re not sure that you ever believed.

Motherhood.

So I quit all that, thinking Being a Mother is noble (enough) and even a very good thing to do.  I mean, who doesn’t find meaning in motherhood?

Never mind that I just wasn’t ready to be at home.

Too Broken Up Inside, Not Even Knowing Jesus and With a Hole in my Heart, I quit work in ministry for all the wrong reasons.

Then came Despair on a Colossal Level.

Was I ever unprepared for the depth of my anguish. For the loss of meaning without Work. The hole in my soul was frantic with fear, day after day, still.

I thought to myself I must miss My Important Work!  All those years of Chasing Significance and Feeling Important, all that had made life meaningful in the past was gone.

Stripped Naked, the rug pulled out from under me, I fell hard; I fell flat.

Major Depression.

Depression hit just as I was starting to meet the Jesus Everyone Knew and Believed in. We were now attending a lovely church that ministered to my Broken-down Heart.   Just as I began to learn and study scripture for myself.  Just as I was learning that no matter what things I did or didn’t do with my life, I was loved and okay.  Just as a little of that truth sank in,

I slid down into the darkest pit of misery and hopelessness and despair. A place So dark, so bleak, so heavy that I was surprised by this new level of unhappiness.  I never knew that people could feel that lost. (I wrote about that in Not Alone: Stories of Living with Depression.)

Broken by a life that was bereft of meaning, tired beyond comprehension with three babies in diapers, bored by being at home, dissatisfied with my contribution to the world, rejecting Grace still though I had begun to understand it intellectually, then came drink.  It was a respite in the beginning, an oasis.

Alcoholism.

As the years went by what had been a brief escape, a place to go when all else seemed

Worthless, Hopeless and Endless,

I drank.  And drank. And five years passed, and I was

Work-less, Meaningless, and soon a Fallen Down Drunk. I was addicted.  And working through the Depression and All Of The Above, I finally heard the

Sweet

Whisper

of the Spirit.  By this time I knew a bit more, I believed in the Grace of Jesus and God broke in and confronted my

Cycling Toilet of Shame, the hole in my heart leaking pain all over the floor, and

my F E A R.

An Ode to Joy.

A decade has passed and I’ve been sober almost five years.  I’m still

a colossal addict even sober, who wakes up every day on the verge of an existential crisis.  Deep, DEEP within, I crave significance. I crave making a meaningful contribution to the world. I long for Joy, real Joy.

Even now, listening to the mystical, providential, sweeping Spirit of God who Speaks and Holds me every day and quiets my frantic heart, that says:

{Just Be. And wait and Trust me.}

The surrender daily is bittersweet. Because I still don’t know What I’m Doing with my LIFE.  This poverty of spirit within me breaks my heart; I feel I betray Jesus in every moment that I’m

fearful, restless, dissatisfied, and confused.

Because unlike what my daughter believes, I don’t know what I am to DO, more than

Just Be. And so, I wait.  And in the waiting, I am transformed.

A Bad Poem About My Sobriety

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SOBER.

Antonyms: alcoholic, drinker, drunklush, souse, wino

I’m Sober today. But I’m clutching at it. And not contentedly. Control is an illusion. I’m powerless, that I can confess. Today, when the whole thing, my duct-taped heart, feels like it’s falling apart and I’m heart racing tired, knowing I should never get.this.way. I think, “If I could I’d smoke then, … What?” But the broken down lungs no longer cooperate. I want a drink less than a smoke today, which is weird when you think about it. Alcohol does help you forget, for a while. There’s not anything to compare with the high of tumbling down out of your head, out of your Frantic Over Thinking, out of your heart, Bursting. Nothing like it. Of course,I’m sober and holding.on.tight to Teetotalling Me. Because even though I’m Scared, and Sad, and sitting here alone, feeling all kinds of Awful, I know

I chose that,

And now I choose this. Yes, I choose Sober every.day.

Other things I’ve written about my five years of sobriety, see My Alcoholism & Addiction.