{A Miscarriage of a Life – a post Mother’s Day Lament}

Yesterday I told myself over and over — I have had a miscarriage of a life.

The day before, I spent all day celebrating my older sister as she received a doctorate of ministry in preaching from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.  Yes, I was happy for her but I could not enjoy the day fully because I was so disappointed with my own life.

After the very long ceremony (those Lutherans know how to “party”) I asked her what was next on her list for world domination? It was a backhanded compliment, which had a risk of offending her, but luckily she was gracious. (I get snarky and sarcastic when I’m feeling bad about myself.)

These sisters of mine are capable of doing anything.

Harrison’s seem to have the brains and talent, ability to work extremely hard, a yearning for justice to prevail and the certainty that injustice is, in part, our life’s call, challenge and responsibility.  We are strong, capable, and powerful women. Some days I actually believe that about myself.

I have come to believe that much of the spiritual journey is one of being stripped of all that we would put our trust in, other than God.

Life is found in losing it for Christ’s sake.  The life that God has for each of us, if received–changes us.  There is not one sacred path for all.

My journey over the last twenty years has been a stripping, for I never knew Jesus, before.

I never knew I was beloved. I didn’t believe there was a purpose for my life outside of what I could accomplish, a life purpose that is all about Jesus.

Until my father died nine years ago, I was in many ways “asleep.”  Because of the severe damage to my psyche from his anger, I did not know myself.  I did not know the Trinity of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit in any real way.

I did not know it, but I was bankrupt in spirit.

But even in that absence of belief, God planted questions, passions and strong desires inside me, a prompting that has never left me to know the Word of God and interpret it. I know that I am to receive that– and submit to the unique journey God has laid out, even when I cannot see clearly the road ahead.

Trusting is painful — the stripping away of sin, of selfishness and in many ways of aspects of my humanity, my character, that I thought were who I was.  But there is grace, protection, comfort, provision and shalom in submitting to the Holy One’s purposes.

It is the only safe place. And yet it hurts so much when I feel I do not understand clearly.

In my 20s and 30s I lived for my job, it was my identity and all that I knew.  Strangely, I believed it was all I was good at and I thought that I was choosing to walk away from that work, because the environment was unhealthy, but I see now that God led me away, took everything that made me feel good and strong and powerful.  I thought I knew.

I could have lost my marriage and family because of my addiction to alcohol.  I thought I knew, thought I was strong enough to beat it with will power, but the addiction beat me and I found that I was nothing without the Holy One.  Even if I gave up the drink, without the Holy One filling me, healing, and strengthening me I was nothing. I thought I knew.

I sat Sunday scrutinizing people who had given many years of their lives to learning, thinking, writing, believing, enough to sacrifice time with their own children and partners, to achieve this incredible goal of a masters or doctorate. Some were restrained, some were giddy, and many were just slightly stunned to survive it, it seemed to me as a bystander.

I was so incredibly jealous and sad for myself, even mad at myself.  Though the day wasn’t about me, inside my head everything was about me and my feelings of not exactly failure, but a strange bedfellow to it, a miscarriage of a life.   In that moment, how dearly I regretted leaving my career in my early thirties and staying at home with my kids. Deep down a part of me still believed that I would not have succumbed to alcoholism or depression in the end if I had continue to work fulltime.  I’d still have a great career, I’d be able to leverage it toward other work, and I would be respected by others.   Pretty much bullshit and lies, but I almost believed it again as I sat there fuming internally.

I said all that and more to my mother as we drove back home.  I don’t know if I really believed it.  I do know that who I am, the real me, the person I never knew until I had no job, suffered from major depression and became a drunk – that woman needs Jesus! She believes in the Creator in a way that she never did before she lost it all.

I remembered that my boss, while I was trying to decide about leaving InterVarsity told me to go have babies and come back in five years to continue my part of world domination.  Only, I never went back I was too busy having a breakdown and drinking myself stupid.  That’s what I mean by a miscarriage of a life.

I was debriefing the day with Tom, who is extremely smart and has an almost PhD from the University of Chicago.  As his head hit the pillow he exhaled, he said something like:

Higher degrees have their purpose, and there is a sense of personal achievement if it is important to you, but being a parent is three times harder than getting that PhD.

“Yeah,” I said, “but the world doesn’t esteem parents.  Parenting won’t get you a job.  Parenting won’t bring you any real regard or admiration from others.  Parenting is something everyone does.  (Not to mention you don’t get paid and the hours are terrible.)  It’s not enough.” 

My eyes filled with tears so many times on Sunday, I felt like I was choking most of the day.  I was happy for my sister, genuinely — for I know only in part the many sacrifices she and her loved ones have made for her to accomplish this incredible goal.  I know my father was doing a happy dance, wherever he is.  My mother was beaming.

I spent my mother’s day celebrating my sister in part because I believe in doing things even when they are hard.  I want my children to grow up knowing that doing the right thing isn’t always what’s easy, nor is it usually about you. That there will be many opportunities in life to choose yourself over others, but when given the chance to celebrate someone you love, you should take it.

All day I had moments of deep self-pity and self-loathing for my choices and beating myself up about the last fifteen years.  Hindsight is 20/20 and all, still this is what I have come to know.

I know I would be different and horrible person if I had continued on the path of a workaholic and constant striving for external approval. My character has been changed through these experiences.

Through the mistakes I have made I have found a true understanding of God’s mercy and grace in my life. I know that I am loved by Jesus – I didn’t know or believe it two decades ago.

Through the mistakes I have made I have found a daily dependence on God for my health – my mood, my purpose and meaning.

For even as humbling and hard as each day is and how much it feels like a sacrifice to not have a viable lauded career at this time, I’m on my knees ever more.

Most of what I am learning is yet to be understood or written I suppose.  Clearly, I am still broken, still too easily overcome by the wrong motives. I continue to be frustrated and discontented and I am frustrated with myself because of this.

In studying the book of Proverbs (because that is where we are in Eat This Book reading the entire Bible in a year at church) I am being drawn to Proverbs 31.  I look forward to learning what a 21st century feminist wife and mother, a homemaker, budding writer has to learn about being a Proverbs 31 woman.

I am open, and fearful. I am angry and aching inside, deep where no one understands me except God.

I know I should be grateful but everything about me is wired to work hard, to please other people, to get the acclaim of others, to be esteemed and admired; it is the entire human condition without God.

I pray for spiritual understanding and an ability to lay all that down — to trust and obey.

Deep down I know that as long as I keep longing for all the wrong things, I can’t grasp what is good, whether that is understanding of what I already have or whether it is receiving what God has for me next.  I cannot grasp it because I am still so filled with discontent.

I thought I knew.  There is very little that I do know.  But my story isn’t fully written.


My Grown Up Days

The jubilee that I thought this life would be,
is more often drudgery, a never-ending ache, stinging salty tears,
an albatross, when I had imagined my grown up days to be a dance.
Clinging to the Cross, I trace its rough textures, acutely
knowing what is there.
For I know my own failings to my core,

my dim
faith, my inner weaknesses, flaws and faults,
dearth
of wisdom, a crooked unforgiving heart, my lack
of love more frequent than not.

This life is bittersweet.

This infinitely

fearful heart is not sensing

glory

and I ask, when does the splendor begin?

And then I hear the Holy One’s whisper:
I AM the Peace you seek.
Keep clinging.

What’s changing, so that I can be writing!

This is such a busy time for folks with kids.  We are living the last month or so of school and for whatever reason my kids seem to teeter on the brink of things this year academically, spiritually, emotionally — this has been a challenging and demanding year.  With summer looming, there will be any opportunities to stick our feet in the river and less time to write.

I am thinking about that tension.

I’m starting to work more seriously on writing projects. As I listened hard at the Festival of Faith & Writing  and looked at my writing life and habits, I realize that I need to cut back on some things before I can ever dream of space to write every day.  (I know I have a lot to tell you about that experience, the festival.  We’ve been back a week and there’s been no time!)

Projects that I’m working on:

I am working on a book review of the book Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer for The Englewood Review of Books and hope to do more of those, both for Englewood and other publications.

I continue to write for Provoketive magazine:  This included a review of  the book Resignation of Eve by Jim Henderson, a piece titled The Accidental Stay-At-Home Mom and others, but by far the most popular essay was The Voice of the Feminine.  That content is not repeated here on my blog  so you will have to pop over to there to read it.  I hope you will.

I am working on a short series of articles on “The F word and the Church.” (Yeah, that F word: feminist.)

I am really excited to hear that I will have some poem in a book about fear titled Not Afraid to be published around August, 2012 by Civitas Press.  (This is the same press that published my essay on Depression in their book Not Alone which is available now. If you know someone who suffers from depression this book may help.  I have been told by many people that it has been a good, honest resource.  I also have many pieces on my blog about my personal trials with the black dog of depression.  They are collected here. )

What I want to change:

One thing that I find to be soul crushing and destructive for me is Facebook.  Being at-home with such great flexibility to my schedule  I see that I allow many things to interfere with the “work” of writing and with spiritual growth.  Facebook is such a time waster for me.  I’m inherently curious, nosy kind of person and the fact that I can vicariously follow along other’s lives is bad for me.  That’s where the soul crushing part comes in.   It’s like high school insecurity all over again.  So I’ve been tempted to quit completely.

Image by JJ Pacres on Flickr

But at the Festival of Faith & Writing I heard over and over that writers must have online presence and following.  We have to nurture that and  be able to “prove” our popularity to a publisher.   But the flip side of that is that it is just not good for me!

If I don’t have time

to think,

to be,

to write and

to allow the Holy One to mold and move me (not really in that order.)

So I’m backing off of social media  for a season — except here.  I’m really going to try to do this moderately.  When I got hooked on Farmville (of all things — proves I can get addicted to anything!) I had to quit cold turkey and I did.  I don’t want to do that with Facebook because I don’t like being an all or nothing person.  But I’m going to try to limit my time there.  And set some writing goals for the next few months.  I look forward to sharing those with you.

Another thing that I learned at the festival was that I need to hone the purpose of my blog.  Mine has multiple messages and intents.  I have been known to write about:

  1. family (dysfunctional and otherwise.)
  2. God and devotion, faith and (dis)belief
  3. women in the church, feminism as a Christian’s option
  4. various justice issues
  5. my alcoholism and addictions
  6. my church – Blackhawk Evangelical Church
  7. poetry on all these topics
  8. prose on all these topics

Is there anything in particular that you come here to read?  Where do you see my passions and strengths converging in helpful ways?  Would you add more of anything?

Grace & Peace. Melody

When you are Afraid of Home

It was stunning for me to realize that I had no anxiety the entire time I was away at the Festival of Faith & Writing. The thought of returning home brought the familiar burning in my chest — so unwelcome.  I do not want to accept its presence. And just for a minute I know that I must drill down and try to find the truth there, asking myself Can I figure out why I am afraid of coming home?

There was a small sense in which this place, this moment wasn’t real.

Just as I lament to myself (a regular foible  of mine, to be sure) that I didn’t have any real relationships here at the festival, another part of me knows that it was quite wonderful to wander anonymously.  Soaking in wisdom and not be expected to say anything. I didn’t have to be wise or special in any way. I could many times, for hours on end, not utter a single word to another human being; which I found was peaceful, even liberating. (Not speaking except perhaps to an infrequent stranger in a seminar, so that I wouldn’t come off a weirdo.)

But mostly, I was silent. 

I wasn’t even writing this week. My head was going, of course. Especially my dreams which were full of thoughts, words, conjectures and I would wake every morning with all that magical and perplexing jumble.  Words.  Ideas.  Inspiration came unbidden, naturally, because of all the incredible people and ideas surrounding. And then it would drift away as my mind became clear and the caffeine settled into my veins.

And then, we return home  and there it is. The fear.

Here it is.  I didn’t have the sense this week that God is disappointed in me. It was gone – that feeling that is always hovering in and around me that I’m not measuring up. The legacy of a childhood gone awry, the anger and disappointment of my human father killing joy.

Where did it go and why did it have to return?  Drilling down, still further, to that little place where I feel God’s displeasure.  I have a hunch this is not of God or from God at all.

I was having this amazing conversation at dinner with Tom. He expressed his belief that most American Christians have this lover relationship with God, I knew that I don’t. I have a disappointed-with-me-and-angry-at-me-parent type of relationship with God.

I think I know God. Fact is I hardly know God. If he is even knowable fully in a human lifetime, I sure doubt it.  And God knows everything about me. And God is very much not disappointed with me. In fact he’s thrilled. He made me to be a creative, a thinker, a deeply passionate, mostly introverted whittler of words and pictures.

And God likes me – generally.

Of course I’m am still an ugly sinner. Deeply aware of my spiritual lack. Needing a Holy filling daily, even moment by moment.  Needing a Holy shaping, a changing by the beautiful Potter who is creating something beautiful out of the pieces and parts of my little life.

No, he’s not disappointed and there it is, that’s the source of my anxiety. That’s the place that I must return to work on, over and over, and again, even as I perfect this craft of writing it is the being that matters most. I must always, and frequently, sit with him and allow the Holy One to perfect me.

It’s a homecoming I am unused to — this beautiful welcome he is offering.  It is so good to know that I am home.

When I’m Scared

Scared. Scared shitless and no plan to make it better, makes for a very hard week. 

Too much comparison with others’ lives, careers, talents, jobs,  kids, health, weight, even others’ sense of humor.  It all kills all my joy.  Not enough trust kills my ability to enjoy my incredibly blessed life.  Constantly thinking about all the ways that I am frequently scared. Knowing how often I am just plain terrified to breathe.

I used to be a pretender.  (Not so) confidently white-knuckling my way through leadership, creativity, people  and their problems, service.

I thought I could to anything. And I just about did. Though there was always a price.

But I was scared and my faith, well that was missing.  I didn’t have faith in anything and I worried endlessly that someone would find out just how little I believed.

Jesus loves you, this I did not know.

It wasn’t until I lost everything  (I thought) and I fell down, down, down into depression, and alcohol, and isolation from good people and into what was for me deep depravity, that I knew Jesus as my source.  It was days without God, stretching out for what seemed like perpetuity – no, it wasn’t until I was living those hopeless days and nights that I came to know and believe.

I’m still scared, and I still can’t believe that there is something good out there for me.  I sit and sometimes I cry.  I just cry hopeless tears and the fear flows out of me, and I ask God for something that only I can do, but then I do the only thing I know.

I lean into the Holy One and rest.

This me, the one you know and see today, she’s no pretender because she’s got nothing left to hide.

Still scared, yes but down low with Jesus, resting in him.  Sometimes, when your fear is clutching your heart tight, you’re blinking back the bitter taste of anxiety and you think you cannot bear it another minute, that’s when you must sit and rest in the Holy One.

I’m not saying I know how to do it, only that I know I must seek the sweet release of Jesus.

He took it all, already.  The pain, anxiety, addiction, sin, crappy self-esteem, fear and disbelief, lack of self-love, lack of trusting others, lack, all my lack!  He already nailed it to the cross.

Why do I keep taking it back down and walk around wearing it like a heavy armor, dragging it through my life, making my days slow and painful.  Why?

I know I must give it back to him.

Still scared, yes. But down low with Jesus.  Resting in him.

Watching my Father Die, What I Learned

Whether I die of a prolonged fight with cancer or go quickly in a mishap, I hope that I will have no regrets.

I hope that I die knowing that my life pleased God.

I watched my father die and learned something.  For whatever reason, Dad couldn’t let go of his life. He died resisting,  even disbelieving that it was possible that he might actually die.

He wouldn’t allow goodbyes, because he believed that there was more he was supposed to do; there was more that God wanted him for, there was more to accomplish for God.  I can’t help thinking how sad and arrogant that idea is.

And yet, I spend more days that I want to admit asking “Is there something that God wants of me?

I have spent prolonged, painful years learning this simple lesson.  (Or not learning, but banging my proverbial head against the wall.)

I have wrestled with God, fought, cried, and shaken my fist at God insisting that there must be something important I can only do — insisting that God help me feel valuable, necessary – even important.

Believing that there was more than this, that God has for me to do. How sad, how arrogant that idea really is.

Perhaps these years of frequent struggle were meant to help me absorb this one truth, this one hard lesson.  I can’t do anything to make God love me any more than he already does.  No more than he did at the moment that I came to know him fully.  You see, I don’t believe our days and nights of toiling matter much at all in the Big Story.

To the God of the Universe.

When I die, he will ask did you love me.  Did you love those I put in your way while you were striving for significance?  Did you feed my lambs?  How did you treat them?  Did you give up your power? Did you give of yourself?  Did you give away the things I entrusted with you – power, money, love?  How did you care for those along the pathways of your life?   Did you give up your life?

This tiny nugget of truth eluded my father.   He died believing he hadn’t done enough.

I hope I die knowing God is pleased and that there isn’t anything more I can do for him.  Whatever state of my mind and heart in those last days of my life, I hope that I will know there is nothing more that I need to accomplish.

I hope I will know when I die that I spent my days giving it all away.

Nothing you do today or ever will do will make God love you more.  Do you believe that?

I am human. Join me. (Thoughts on faith, confession and writing)

Part two of … this.  A response.

You know it’s funny.  Several people responded to what I wrote today with what I found to be a slightly odd, or at least a surprising response to me.  Okay, odd isn’t fair.  They expressed concern.   You need to know something. If I have gotten to the place of putting my thoughts down, I have lived it — bled it — known each word like a friend.  I am on the other side enjoying the lesson, learning and knowing I am beloved.  The things I write while true still, are not cloaked about me oppressively.  

You see, no matter how many times I have to learn it — like the Israelites who were incredibly short sighted, foolish and distrusting of God, over and over — I do know I am a beloved child.  I do. Don’t worry so about me.

I read an interview with Anne Lamott, a writer that I adore.  When asked about her writing about her faith (since she’s “pretty outspoken, eccentric artist—a quality we love and admire in her. How does she successfully reconcile the perhaps stereotypical connotations of ‘Christian’ in this polarized day and age—when Christian in the political sense often means an extreme conservative—with her clearly open-minded, open-hearted point of view and way of living.”)

Oh yeah, that.  I can relate.

She said:

“That’s a complicated question. A good question. You do the best you can. A certain percentage of self-identified Christians think I am doomed and just fucked beyond all imagining because I don’t believe the Bible is the literal word of God. I’m a progressive Christian. I’m more of a liberation theology person.

My religious life, my life as a recovering alcoholic, my life as a writer, and life as a public person are the center of my life along with Sam and Jackson [Sam’s son].   People are going to think what they think. It’s called “another thing I have no control over.”

And when asked about her writing process she confessed unabashedly, “Right now I have prepublication jitters, mental illness, and distraction.”

Here is what I think, we are all simply human.  And in writing about our “walk” with faith, some are more honest than others.  I try to be crystal clear, yes even hopelessly honest. That’s my style, my voice, my path.  Sure, I hope one day to write out of a place of certainty.  Just when I wish for that, then I know that I don’t really hope for that.

I carry the scars of my life, not proudly — as if — but I am not ashamed of them either. I am a child of a raging man, who was verbally abusive and controlling.  That makes me different than a lot of kids who grew up with unconditional love and certainty.  I am an alcoholic (in recovery.)  It is a part of my dna and I will write about it.  I’m a compulsive, addictive person — whether it be to Facebook, or Farmville, or television shows like Stargate, watching episode after episode for hours — and I will never have all the answers for why I am like that.  I will never know complete release from that this side of heaven.  That’s what I think.  That much is absolutely certain. But this won’t sink me, it will push me.  Humble me.  Help me to know how much I need God, and the community of believers. And what I must do is be a person that is committed to the spiritual disciplines of prayer and study, to the humble place of making callouses on my knees, and to surrendering myself to service of others.

Daily, hourly.  Sometimes moment by moment, this sweet surrender admission of my broken places.  That’s me.

Reading the incredible words today from Enuma Okoro who said in an essay on faith and the writing life, written to people who seek her wisdom, she said:

“Engaging in the craft of creative writing is where they feel most alive and the means by which they feel most passionate about witnessing to “the things about which [they] have been instructed” (Luke 1:4 NRSV).  … These men and women seek counsel on discerning how writing can be ministry and where they might turn for support and encouragement in understanding how faith and writing intersect…

and she said later:

“Take the leap of faith and trust in your gift to proclaim God’s word in new ways.” I hope I can grow into the sort of mentor who recognizes the writing gift and call in others and boldly and daringly says to them, “Write for the love and power of words. Write for the love of God.””

So, dear friends know this. When I write about the pain of being an artist in the church, or of being a feminist in an evangelical church or the f-word being a dirty word, or my struggles to totally surrender to God’s absolute love, I am simply telling you that I bleed.  I am human. Won’t you join me?