My Murph

I came home from a particular workout this week, and my mind was buzzing. No doubt about it, I’m stronger than I used to be. Probably stronger than I’ve ever been before. It was a tough workout, and I set my weight hard. An ascending rep schedule meant that each round was harder than the one before. And every time I felt the weight of the bar land in my front rack position, I felt tempted to drop weight. Afterall, no one would judge me. No one would even notice. My arms and legs were shaking a bit and that’s not normal for me. It seemed perfectly justifiable to lift less. But I didn’t. And I made it through.

On my way home, hands still shaking, I wondered to myself just when a person actually gets stronger. I mean, when do the actual muscle strands enlarge and develop the ability for heavier and heavier loads. Progress is so painfully slow and mundane and sometimes it feels like months in between little glimpses of it. And the actual work of it is grueling. There isn’t a workout when I’m really pushing myself that I don’t hate every single second of it. That I don’t ask myself “why in God’s green earth am I doing this?”

Does it happen every time? Every time I show up? Did it happen today? Was more mental toughness forged today when I said “no” to peeling a plate off each side of my bar? Will that mental toughness translate to a new PR in the future? Will this one workout have really made a difference? Or do they all just bleed together and somehow or other, one day, we just find that we are stronger than before. Or is it because I had a good breakfast today.

I felt proud and happy and almost high about it. A small, incredibly private victory for me myself to enjoy. Just like the roundedness of my arms and legs and back that I’ve never experienced before. I mean, I’ve had muscles before, but different ones. Ones that were straight and thin-lined and not very bulgey. The ones I’m getting now are circular and thick and more like ropes than thin strands. And because earning them has been so ridiculously hard for me, I appreciate them for much more than the aesthetics of it. They are my medal for a hard fought battle.

I thought about it more as the evening went on. It’s a combination of a lot of things. Developing strength, I mean. It’s being persistent. It’s technique. It’s not quitting even during the bruising stage when I just could not figure out how to front rack without turning my collarbones into what looked like a severe case of domestic violence. It’s exploding harder than I did last time. It’s drawing deep and fighting for one or two more reps as the last 10 seconds of the clock run out. It’s fighting the urge to vomit or quit or just not show up in the first place. It’s tossing and turning at night with a body aching and throbbing. Aching and throbbing because the muscle growth is happening right then and there. Right in those sleeping moments. Repair and regeneration. Proteins filling in the gaps of microtears. Developing. Becoming.

Later that night, we had a few people over for dinner. People that have spent a few years on my “list”, so to speak. People that are in my life and worth the effort of good relationship. But the efforts have been hard and bloody. And for me personally, they’ve felt quite expensive.

So after we ate, we sat in the living room and I laid on the floor because my body was still on fire from the workout I just mentioned. We laughed and talked and had a great time. My body had cooled down in my own sweat as it does when I don’t have time for a shower immediately after a workout. Sweat dried in my hair and left it curly. I was a disaster. But I was there with these two having real relationship. I felt no judgement for my appearance as I have so many times over the years. I felt no hate and no jealousy from them.

My questions from my car ride home from the gym returned to me but with a twist. When did it happen? When did my tolerance of these two change to true enjoyment of them? When did forgiveness find its way all the way through to the micro-torn strands of my heart? When did love come in like a protein and repair me? Regenerate me?

It was the same as before. It was all of it. It was each silent victory won in the dark and quiet places of my heart. It was each time I rehearsed words of forgiveness rather than drinking in the sweet nectar of the remembrances of wrongdoing. It was each time I chose to act in a way that didn’t fit how I felt… I felt angry and hard and cold, but I forced myself through the emotional workout of setting my feelings aside and actually behaving in the way I should if I wanted to make progress. And progress I made. And here I was, seeing the living proof of it.

Much greater than the victory of any lift, this one was a victory that much emotional blood has been spilled for. And what a sweet victory it was.

It’s not the first time this has happened to me. The thing that happened the next day. In fact, a part of me wants to think that all the forces of hell simply cannot abide with the triumph of a human spirit and so, when some such victory is attained, like an angry unearthly beast being taunted, the head lowers and the pupils narrow and the blood thirst drips from hungry fangs. Suddenly, this is the sole intent. To steal the victory. To return the victor to a heap of pain and defeat on the ground where he belongs. An all-out pursuit of destruction. All aimed at one who would dare to live right.

The shit hit the fan and pieces flew everywhere. Half-truths and bold lies. Vile emails and massive boundary invasions. By evening, I was so angry, I could barely contain myself. I read one last new email at bedtime and literally felt my body shake from head to toe with the sheer volume of rage coursing through my veins. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a visceral response before. It was near violent. I wanted to scream or throw or punch a hole in something. So personal; so “below the belt”; so intentional.

Yesterday was a whirlwind of trying to regain a semblance of governing over myself. Over my own spirit. A forceful, moment-by-moment effort to tame the beast in me that had suddenly been woken and made to want blood again. I looked over at the metaphorical bits of forgiveness that had tenderly been woven in my secret places as they lay in a blood heap in the corner. Almost like a sweet little creature that had been allowed refuge in my heart but then was violently evicted the day before. If the thing had eyes, I’m sure it would look at me wondering why on earth it’s place of gentle repose had gone away so quickly and so abruptly. And so immediately after the reflections of peace and gratitude for long battles that brought about so much healing.

In our gym, we do an annual workout that is meant to be a bit of the queen mother of all bad workouts. It’s the sort of thing that, when you first analyze the details, you think, “Hmm, why the fuss? I can do that.” But it doesn’t take long into this delicious blend of agony for a person to realize that they must summon every.thing.they.have to simply not quit. I’ve done this particular workout twice and the second time was so intense that it left my sleep patterns interrupted for almost a month, presumabily because of the toll it took on my adrenals to push through.

The abrupt shattering of so much peace and forgiveness in my soul felt much like dragging my body across the last few feet of Murph only to find out that that one didn’t count. That it was a warm-up or something. With my whole body shaking from the effort just exerted and the pulse of my veins still pounding hard in my brain and the inability of my lungs to keep up with the demand my heart was putting out. In that moment of all-out-obliteration, to find out that I needed to go back and do it again. Now. Today. Oh, and this time, we’re going to make you wear the weighted vest that you couldn’t manage on your first time through. This time we’re going to add a new cocktail of added insults and lies and distortions for you to fight through as you struggle to help your little creature in the corner find a heartbeat again.

I don’t want to do the Murph again. Oh God, I do not want to do the Murph again. I want to lay down in green pastures and all that crazy shit that is now completely gone. I do not want to fight again. I do not want to work that hard again. I do not want to bleed emotional tears again. I do not want to have to press up against my humanity that hard again. I do not want to feel the mental and emotional depletion of the moment by moment struggle to forgive.

What a slippery thing forgiveness is. What a slimy fish. Can’t hang onto it. Just when you think you’ve got the thing, and you might make a mosaic and hang it in your kitchen window to tell the story of how you fought so hard and won, the beast sees the art and says, “Oh hell no. Not on my watch. I’ll shatter that, you wait and see.”

My mind is busy with decimating these asinine emails. Word by word, line by line, I have responses. Oh I have responses. I have logic and critical thought to lay the whole crappy thing to rest. But it’s all for naught. There is no winning in this fight.

What am I to do? On this day when I find out that all those workouts didn’t count. When I suddenly can’t figure out how to front rack again and catch that bar in the safe, strong parts of the meat of my shoulders rather than on the tender places of my collarbones. What am I to do when I forgot how to explode? Forgot how to move heavy weight from the floor to over my head with simply the right amount of explosion mixed with the right amount of technique mixed with the right amount of a heart that just really wants it? How am I to summon the desire again? The defeat was so vicious and so nasty that I just don’t even want the thing anymore. To hell with a good clean and jerk. I couldn’t care less.

But these two. They aren’t an efficient lift in the gym. They are flesh and blood. They are people I must fight for. People I will fight for. People that cause such a powerful cellular response in me that the urge to throw in the towel and say, “You know what, jump off a bridge” is so loud and so powerful, but it simply must not be allowed to abide. It’s a poison seed that must not be allowed to take root.

A truth rings in my heart this morning. A truth about silent wars. Private battles. The type we fight and no one sees and applauds and appreciates. It’s the same fiber of heart that kept me from sliding plates off both sides of the bar on my 45th C&J, and it will lead me back to that place where I am physically able to stoop down and nurse my forgiveness back to life. Back to health.

You see, it’s the hidden things that matter. It’s the unseen that makes the seen. No one gets a pass on this. No one gets to sidestep it. If you want to be a beautiful person, you better be ready to do the work of developing some inner beauty. All the hair extensions and make up in the world won’t make up for the lack of that hidden thing. If you want fortitude and power and real strength, strap on the weighted vest and dig deep.

“Every action of the common day makes or unmakes character. Therefore, what one has done in the secret chamber will one day be cried aloud from the housetops.”

I refuse to be unmade.
I am becoming.

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Hungry for glory…

Morning breaks, still night.  My house sleeps while I move about my morning rituals.  Thirty-five minutes and I’m out the door.  Alone and dark.  Radio songs keep me awake.  Faint shifts of dark to light break the horizon.  All at once, rays spread fingers.  This spring, the fingers have been pink more often than usual.

Duty moves me on and carries my through my days.  I am loved and am full of love, but something rings hollow.  A thing I can’t quite put my finger on.

Always the paradox, I seek both the struggle and the release.  The thing rising up in me that needs my attention and the thing at peace within that says “enough is enough”.

Four hours later, house now empty, I return.  Books and study and coffee and dishes.  Mundane but necessary.  And the thing I can’t put my finger on is still there.  It twists in my soul like the hunger in my belly that comes around noon.  Slow but persistent.  Asking to be acknowledged.  Asking to be sifted.

Hours tick like a metronome of my life.  One gone, two gone, four gone, and then ten.  Bed, sleep, rise, work, eat, converse, rest.  And again.  Hours turn to years so quickly.  And the sands run thin through my hourglass.

What is this thing deep down that keeps tugging?  Keeps gnawing?  Haven’t I made those big changes that I thought would settle that restless hunger?  Haven’t I started writing a different story?  So what is it?

Friends and weekends and new walls to decorate.  Seasons leaving, making way for seasons coming.  Things that bring me delight.  And yet, the delight is… less.  Not because I have stopped loving the things wired into my senses to sting and zing my heart like a summer strawberry eaten warm, straight off the vine.  But because something else has begun to wake.  Something else has begun to stir.

Something deeper.  Something quieter. Something a little less showy and at the same time, infinitely heavier.  Something ethereal.

Hot water from the shower head pours down on me.  The burn bringing my nerve sensations to a crescendo.  My hands run over the inches of my skin.  All of the inches of me.  Except the inches of me that I can’t touch.  I wonder at the smallness of everything that contains me.  All that I’ve been and everything I’ve wanted.  All the hurting and all the healing.  All the years and all the stories.  All the everything that makes up the full story of this person is contained here in this skin that stands barely over five feet.

Moments when glory breaks through my thoughts and lifts me out of what is into What Really Is.

Cinnamon buttered coffee and a good book.  Stillness and peace.  Moments for heart wracking introspection.  Who is this whom I have become and who is she that I really want?  Why have my longings – my even ability to long – grown so stagnant and so easily enticed by glittery things that fade as the grass of the field when the sun withers it?

Awake my soul.
Speak to me.

Words on a page.  Ones written by someone else but mirror my own heart.  My own struggle.  My own hunt.  My own hunger.

Eyes closed, head back, I understand now.  You are what I keep looking for.  Even when I think I’ve found you.  Even when I think I’ve worked the knots straight out of my soul, I see that my human-condition scar tissue just keeps returning.  Just keeps needing to be massaged out.  I move through yet another cycle of this ceaseless hunger.  This insatiable that will always remain insatiated.

I was made to long for the things of glory, not the things that so easily satisfy.  I was made to ache for the unseen, not for the occasional bursts of happiness that pass more quickly than the bloom of spring’s first crocus.

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Let my soul long again.  Give me manic moments of glory.  Feed my hunger on the things plain.  Things right in front of me that whisper Your Story.  Mundane and brimming with beauty.  Quench my thirst on thanksgiving.  Unscale my eyes and show me ten thousand gifts that you have laid before me in the most humdrum of places.  And let me see You and not the thing I think it is.  Happiness or heartache.  Companionship or aloneness.  Ritual or rife.  Struggle or relief.

Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. 

As the deer pants for streams of water, make my soul to pant for You.  Why are you downcast, oh my soul?  Why so disquieted within me?  Put your hope in God; praise Him who is your hope and your God.

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Life…

So I’m at the MN State dance show today. A really large and loud celebration of life and youth and vibrancy. I feel lumps in my throat when I watch her dance. This has been a hard year for her and the dance floor is the place I see her most alive.

Alive.

During the break, I got a text that my coworker was killed this morning on her way to work. We haven’t known each other long but the sheer shock and awe of a text like that sitting in such direct contrast of the sort of event I’m at is a little hard to swallow. A little hard to pull together.

On the one hand, the girls hold a real chance of taking home gold tonight. And that would be a cherry on top of an already good season. On the other, it occurs to me that I won’t be seeing Dana’s silver Kia Sol in the parking lot or hearing her sharp one-liners and wisecracks over the radio any more.

Bill snapped this photo of me and the girls in between prelims and finals today and as I look at it, instead of doing what I ordinarily do – nit-picking my frozen image and wishing away my square chin and corny “photo” smile – I see life. Me and three of the humans who mean the most to me. Life. So precious. So fleeting.

Such frail creatures we are. We get up and go out and think we have life by the coat tails, but only God knows our hour. Only He has numbered our days.

Goodnight Dana. You will be missed.

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When I cannot stand…

I accidentally ate black pepper in my dinner tonight, so here I am now, about five hours later feeling like a thousand nails have pierced the left side of my body and like I’m on fire.  I lay in bed but sleep won’t come because my body is so grumpy.

My heart feels the same as my face does right now.  Hot, tired, restless, achy.  In need of some great reprieve.  Some great relief.

My mind rushes around trying to solve some heavy burdens that lay on my plate right now.  I offer myself the most sound advice I can think of.  I move mental and emotional chess pieces trying to strategize the best outcome.  But still sleep will not find me.  Rest runs away from me.

Words from a church hymn from my childhood creep into the corners of my consciousness.  A little cry for help.

O safe to the rock that is higher than I
My soul in its conflicts and sorrows would fly
So sinful so weary thine, thine would I be
Thou blest rock of ages I’m hiding in thee.

I wipe a desperate tear from my eye and remember harder times.

A January morning nine years ago.  My husband of ten years has just left us.  My babies sleep unaware.  An impending eviction sits heavy on my heart, but my greatest immediate burden is that I suddenly have no car to take my son to school in the morning.  I ask for help and no one responds.  And so I lay there on that sleepless night – a night much like tonight – trying to work through my difficulty and trying to fix something that I personally simply wasn’t able to.  I concoct plans that don’t come together and imagine ways of helping my situation instead of admitting my helplessness.

By early morning, I slip off into a light sleep and hear other words.

When the rest forsake you, I will take you up.

The next day, I wake to get a phone call from a friend I’d never met except online letting me know she and a group of more people I didn’t know had pooled together to buy me a car.

Just a simple story, I guess.  But if you’ve ever stood on a cliff with four babies strapped to your back and felt the tingle of the fall work its way through your legs and back and then somehow feel yourself pulled back and rescued by something, Someone, outside of yourself, then you know what that car meant to me.

It meant I was going to make it.
And that I was not alone.

A thousand stories sit in between that one and the one I face today and still somehow I cannot still the desperation within.

She’s fifteen and I’m pretty sure there’s something wrong.  Mental health, I’m sure of it.  But I can’t seem to find a diagnosis even after $10,000 spent last year.  When you’ve spent every day of nearly seventeen years caring for them and being the one to solve their problems, lying in bed awake and working things through is simply second nature.

How can I fix this for her?
How can I figure out what’s wrong?

What’s really wrong?

I spend my free time reading and examining symptoms lists because apparently even the finest mental health care available is so damn unhelpful that I need to sort this one out on my own.

On my own.

Again.

There it is.

That feeling that is but really isn’t.

It’s my default.

Isolating myself and going to work on the problem rather than immediately asking for help from those around me.  From the One who helped me last time and the time before and all the other times.

I sit in church this morning.  No pews and stuffy sermons for me anymore.  My church is a living room of couches and chairs and little kids scattered on the shag rug.  We share what’s been going on in our lives this past week and talk about how we can help each other and how we can pray for each other.

Among this small group of dearest friends, my soul rests for an hour or two.

I remember.

That I’m not alone.  Not here in this place – in this room of these people and their stories and our real and messy lives – and in the other places of life when I might not physically be in the presence of another human.

We sing songs together, and we read together.  We share victories and failures.  And then we take communion.  The Eucharist.  The meal of thanksgiving.  The place we come, together yet separate, to offer ourselves as thanks.  To remember.

With this cup and this bread, we remember.

In the spaces of many bodies crammed into one small room and the sounds of many people talking and singing and taking their turn to dip a small bit of bread into a small bit of grape juice and recall a great and personal sacrifice, somehow there is still room for silence within.  Quietness amidst the noise.

I have not forgotten you, Heather.  Nor have I forgotten her.

I remember that many miracles have been performed on my behalf.  Even the miracle of the people around me.  The stories of even harder times I’ve been rescued from fall heavy on my memory.  I once was lost but now am found; was blind but now I see.

A gentle hymn sung perhaps accidentally a key too low.  Words that penetrate my panic and my worry.  That reach right into that place where I am, before anything else, a mother.  Words that wrap my soul in warm blankets and shield us from what seems to be her harsh reality.

So teach my song to rise to you when temptation comes my way
When I cannot stand I’ll fall on you, Jesus you’re my hope and stay.

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When life has me undone, undo me further.
Take me apart so that I might be mended wholly.
When I cannot stand, let me rest my tired head on you.
When answers run away from me, whisper truth to me in the dead of my night.
Bring me what I need to bring her what she needs.
Help us live and survive.  Help us thrive.
Do not leave her to her own devices.  Be the same to her that You’ve been to me.

Solid ground.

Unshakably reliable.
Utterly trustworthy.

Seek and save.

It’s what you do best.

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Lost and Found Girl…

I first met God when I was nine years old. My friend Lauren was swinging with me on the swing-set, and she asked me how to get to heaven. I knew the answer because I’d learned it in church. When she was done asking for eternal life I figured I’d better do it too because, well, I didn’t exactly want to burn in hell.

I didn’t really know him – “know Him” – for another twenty years, but that was how we first got acquainted.

For many years, I saw him as my wish granter and maybe my good luck charm. I’d pray silly things like asking for a good hair day or that I’d get a letter in the mail from my cousins in South Dakota. Or when things were really bad, I’d pray that He’d make it end and send someone to rescue us.

When I was in my twenties, I’d learned enough about life to know that God isn’t quite who I thought He was back then and that sometimes He doesn’t answer in the way we want Him to. I’d learned that life has happy moments, but the main story is long and forgettable and mundane and sometimes quite shocking and painful.

I found God – the Real God – in the pages of a book in my twenty-ninth year. The book told me about a God who seeks the lost ones. About a God who can totally handle my level of brokenness. About a God who never leaves and always chases. About a God who does not make silly promises about happily ever after. Instead, His promises are about peace and presence and closeness in my worst moments.

He and I stayed on that mountain together for many years, growing more deeply attached to one another the whole time. There were many storms ahead for me and while the rain raged and the winds howled, I buried my face deep in His chest and I wrapped my little fingers tightly around Him and hung on for dear life. And He showed me then that He was who He’d said He’d be. That He was trustworthy and reliable.

No matter where you go, I will find you. I will search for you until you come home. When others leave, I will stay. When the rest forsake, I will take you up.

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I suppose I’m not the only one who could write a book about the sad stories in their life. In fact, I’m guessing that, like me, some of us could fill libraries. I think sometimes part of being a mere mortal is that we narrow in so closely on our own stories that we forget the human rhythm of it all. We get lost in a bunch of “me” and “I” based story lines that we get to feeling alone and like these things only happen to us.

And the more we listen to those little whispers about how bad it is for us and how good it is for everyone else, little tiny bricks start to accumulate around us, walling us in and quarantining us from being part of a collective body of humanity. It exaggerates our loneliness and the voices in our heads tell us half-truths and deceptions that, if we were in open community with other broken people who have felt similar hurts or were facing similar battles, they would have been able to tell us that they are lies.

When separated from the herd, even the strongest eventually dies.

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My earliest experiences and memories were ones filled with the church life. Churchy people with churchy clothes and churchy talk and churchy walk.

When I’m honest, most of the largely traumatic events in my life have centered around churchiness.

And while a small bit of credence can be given to the idea that Christians are “just people too”, another whole series of books needs to be written about the value of being a truly changed person who no longer participates in the random slaughter of others based on which preacher you like and which one you don’t, which church you go to and which one you left, which author is right and which one is apostate, and all of the such nonsense that the dedicated church goer has likely seen take place in a million painful scenarios.

The trouble with bad Christians is that they tell a bad story about a good God. Even someone who has known God himself for a very long time can get off on the wrong path after enough exposure to that sort of thing. Even someone who has buried her face in the very chest of God to endure the harsh beatings of life can lose sight and think that the term Christian and Christ are somehow synonymous of one another and that when one is filled with remembrances of pain and hurt and betrayal and wrongdoing, the other is likely to be also.

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When I was young, my aunt had cancer. Back then, cancer was still something that almost no one had. And when they had it, they normally died.

I hate even trying to recall what I remember of her death as I know I remember the details the way a young child would… upside down, backwards, and probably out of order.

Her cancer started out as breast cancer and then metastasized through her body. She was so totally going to die. There was just like no way that she was going to be able to get well.

For a while, I had the chance to stay with her in a clinic. I remember her lying on the mattress on the living room floor and brushing her hair. I remember blowing up an inflatable boat in that living room to help her have a bath because she couldn’t get to the tub. I remember the tears she hid when her babies would come visit and oh how they would run when she was finally alone and could let it out.

And one day, she left to go have an alternative treatment done in Mexico. She came back healthy. “Cancer free” is what the doctors said. I still remember thinking that it was such a miracle how she kicked cancer’s butt like that. I mean, she really was a tiny little thing. Cancer had eaten her alive, and I’d watched her shrink with my own eyes. But inside her little bitty self was the heart of a warrior that just didn’t quit. And she so totally lived.

A while later, she went in for a routine procedure of some sort. Again, I was too young to really understand. All I know is that she died on that operating table because the strain of it all had become too much. Yes, I know there was something about a fat lipid acting like a blood clot, but what I remember most was realizing she’d just been through too much. She’d come as far as she could come. And she finally couldn’t go any further. At least this is how my heart took the news of her passing.

And in a very similar way, this is how things went for me too.

I was like a little ship that spent the first thirty-five+ years of her life being tossed around in a dark ocean being beaten senseless by waves and sea monsters. And when I finally made it to harbor, instead of surviving, I just fell apart.

The strain of it all had just become too much.

The stories of churchy people with churchy words who threw spears right through me “in the name of Jesus” got mixed up inside of me with the story of the God I knew before I really knew Him and somehow in the tangle and mess, I just got lost.

Super lost.

It was like my bones were so full of holes that they couldn’t bear weight anymore. Like if I put the full pressure of all my questions on any part of me, those parts would give way and my bones would splinter and crumble.

In an angry protest, I machine-gunned those questions directly at the softest spot of my soul for many months, all the while, telling myself that anything worth believing could hold up to my rapid fire. I poked every hole I could think of and watched thirty-seven years of belief fall flat right in front of my face.

Advisors from hell came to me to tell me more bad stories and to whisper things to me about the nonsense of the Bible and how ridiculous the whole thing really was. Whispers about how God was just this made up thing that these horrendous people came up with because they’re too weak to handle the really tough shit that life can dish out.

In between my drops of tears and blood, I would raise a defiant fist at it all. “If there’s one thing I’m not, it’s weak,” I would tell myself. I would weep tears of lostness, but the voices told me that I’d finally been found and was crying the tears of my redemption.

The sound of God’s voice faded away from me.

All went black.
All went silent.

I tried to read books, but with every intention on my part to help myself be found and not be so lost, it was as though the surge of violent counsel from the voices in my head would redouble their efforts.

One day about twelve months in, I stopped myself in the middle of another self-annihilation session and had the fleeting thought of my aunt dying there in that operating room all those years ago. Thinking of how ironic it was. Of how sad and seemingly meaningless it was that she lived through so much, and yet died over something that wasn’t even life threatening. And yet, here I was, doing that exact thing.

The real beatings in my life had ceased, but the irony was that the war that finally pulled me all the way under was something that raged entirely in the space between my own two ears. Inside of my memory. Inside of my anger and my hurt and my sadness and my fear. Inside broken feelings and terrible aloneness.

The tiniest pinprick of desire was all I had left, but it was enough to convince me to set down my tools of self-destruction. To shut off the voices and fire those advisors for their bad advice.

Inside my mental battleground, I finally surrendered and laid my bloodied face in the wet earth and rested. Not quite dead, but very far from resurrection.

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I think sometimes we think we can pull people back from their cliffs. You know what I mean. It’s when your friend tells you she’s getting divorced, and you somehow think that now is the time to start trying to convince them otherwise. I think that when people are already to that point, it’s a bit too late. The efforts needed to happen years ago for them to have the desired effect.

By the time they tell you they have stage-4 cancer, you can almost start counting the minutes before the credits roll.

And by the time I knew the true state of the darkness inside of me, it was well past the time that good talks with good friends or helpful insights from helpful books would be able to be of service to me.

All the lines that worked before stopped working.

Churchy words twisted inside of me like old worms, making me feel physically ill just to hear them.

I was too far gone to be reached by something as simple as the cut and dry answers of my childhood.

This time, what I needed was so much more than that.

I’d always prided myself on not needing proofs from God. I remember reading somewhere in a very meaningful book that the child who no longer needs the constant reassurance of such proofs is near to the heart of God. And I think that might still be true, but my point is that that’s just not where I was anymore.

I had been there at one point. At many points actually. But now I had entered a place that was void and silent and harsh. I called it the dark night of my soul. My Great Sadness. It was a place I’d never been. And as many times as I’ve tried to figure out if there was a way I could’ve avoided going there, I don’t really think there is. It’s just a place I needed to walk.

For another six long months, I spoke to no one about it. I was simply silent. The only intention in me was an intention to not be intentional. I can’t say I recommend this course of action, but I think that the God who knew me before was still knowing me then and was able to hear the groanings from my deepest places that my mouth simply refused to form words around.

I think He saw me there and had great pity.

I don’t think He was angry.

And I think He missed me.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*

Pieces of red and pieces of blue. Green too. And brown. Lots of gray. With a splash of yellow here and there.

These are the colors of me.

I once was a different picture, but that picture is gone now. About nine years ago, someone that I loved very much took a sledgehammer to that picture and sent pieces of me flying in all directions.

I carry a little bucket in my heart where I collect those broken pieces of me when I happen to find them along my way.

After recently adding immense piles of black pieces to my broken lot, I finally dumped it out one day to assess these pieces as a group.

What could be made of this? I wondered.
What good could come from this much brokenness?
Broken glass serves only one purpose, doesn’t it? To cause pain and to be a reminder of what broke it in the first place.

Is there anything anyone can do with this bucket of broken glass?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*

God came and found me again. Just like He did when I was nine and like He did when I was twenty-nine. There were no gonging cymbals or bursts of fireworks. There was still water and unseen movement and gentle breath and many words.

Words whispered to me in the mundane places of my life. Whispers sent to me under the hum of normal speech and above the deafening quiet that a heart can make when it’s chosen to give up.

Relentless words.

Words that demanded to be heard but insisted on being delivered via soft breath; forcing me to listen if I truly wanted to hear.

I would ride in my car and hear His voice in the wind rushing around in the backseat.

Do you remember Me?

In my bed late at night when sleep would not come, in between awake and not, I would feel memories rise up in me. Memories that were my own and therefore, not something I could argue against. Times when life had pressed me so hard against the wall that I felt as thought I could feel my spine separating… and then He would come through for me. Times that were solid and concrete and immoveable and not subject to my existential questions and theology hole-poking.

For a time, forget the rest. Stay here in this place.
Remember Me.

A Sunday morning in a little living room on the east side, surrounded by new people. Fighting to breathe out and keep the tears in. Not really sure how I ended up here, but I can feel the unmistakable Presence. The Presence I’ve been running from. The Presence I’ve been longing to find again.

I told you that no matter where you go, I would find you. That I would search for you until you come home.

A morning hilltop just before sunrise. My daily ritual for most of spring. Watching the small town awaken and begin to move around. The perspective gained from even a minor altitude change. Experiencing that almost imperceptible shift from darkness to daybreak. Time and again, hearing whispers of invitation. But not necessarily an invitation to do, this time, to simple sit still and be.

Be still, Heather. Stop fighting. The war is over. Be at peace. And remember Me.

Sometimes the Voice came in a trickle. Sometimes in a downpour. Words from my childhood would flood over me and wash me. Words that had brought me comfort decades ago.

Heather, I have searched you and known you. I know your downsitting and your uprising. I know your thoughts afar off. There is not a word in your mouth that I do not know. Before a word is on your tongue, behold, I know it altogether. Where can you go from my Spirit, and where can you flee from my presence? If you go up to heaven, I am there. If you make your bed in hell, behold, I am with you even there. If you fly on the wings of the dawn and go to the uttermost parts of the sea, even there my hand will guide me and my right hand will hold you fast. How precious are my thoughts of you. How vast is the sum of them. If I were to number them, they would outnumber the grains of sand.

Word by word, whisper by whisper, brick by brick, my Great Wall began to become dismantled.

I love the Webster’s definition of dismantled. “To take to pieces.”

How apropos.
I have a whole bucket of pieces.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*

It’s always been a wonder to me that the affecting of love into a person’s life can produce it’s own abundance of the same material. Someone can be empty and have nothing to share and no ability to even meet their own basic needs. But an infusion of love into them can turn on some sort of invisible pump in them that not only enables them to fill themselves, it gives them enough to share. Enough to go around pouring out their water into the empty wells around them.

My anger began to dissipate around the time that winter ended its reign of terror. Spring came and brought with it fresh perspective and an intense longing to put the final period on this thirty-nine-year-long chapter and close this book.

Fresh pages and fresh titles. Forward-looking words and not ones that always looked over my shoulder at what has been. New stories of happy and not always the reflections of sad.

I wrote the letters. You know the ones. The ones you write but never send. The ones where you say what you truly need to say because doing so is like letting out the stoppered-up poison that would otherwise remain in you forever.

I even drove the twelve hundred miles to see those places and those faces. A lot of love can be rebuilt when there is enough desire and intention, but nothing slain stays dead in a vacuum. And where anger and unforgiveness has been eradicated, a wise person doesn’t leave it empty for long.

Still, I saw that the phantom sorts of feelings just wouldn’t leave me alone.

The things I wish I could say to them. The things I wish they’d figure out themselves. Yes, even after all these years, I still wished that they could understand how much excruciation their actions have caused me.

I felt like I was on a fence. One day, doing just fine. The next, threatening to return headlong into that dark night that I’d just come out of.

It was as though I’d done all the work of forgiveness, but I’d put all of my favorite wounds in a little balloon that went with me wherever I went. It wasn’t in me anymore, and it wasn’t even on me. It was just by me. Close enough to be pulled down and fixated on again. The string always keeping my fingers busy.

I read somewhere that the remembering of injuries is spiritual darkness and that the fostering of resentment is spiritual suicide. But when someone really has hurt you in a very legitimate way, letting it go is just dreadfully hard. I think there’s actually some pleasure we get in wallowing in the self-pity of it all. And then a person has to decide which they want more: the pleasure of the wallowing or the freedom that comes in the denying of it.

One day, I laid in the grass imagining my pretend balloon filled with all my saddest sads. It was floating up just above me, looking terribly benign and even a little sparkly, but I knew exactly what sort of poison was inside of it. I thought about pulling it back down to look at and hold maybe for a little while, but as the hardwired memories of painful experiences with the balloon made its way across a synapse in my brain, another thought came along.

Just let go.

I laid there for a while with the imaginary string coiled through my fingers. I didn’t really like the idea of letting go of all my most precious pains. As much as I hate them, I mean, I do sorta like them. And it is really really hard work to just let something like that go. It means that I’m done. Done carrying them. And while that seems a silly thing to even have to ponder, anyone who has carried their own poison balloon can attest to the struggle.

One by one, my fingers released.

I felt the wind tugging at the balloon speeding up the string’s departure from my grasp.

Oh how I want to hang on.
Oh how I want to let go.

The string passed through my little fingers first and then through my pointer and thumb.

Deep breath.

Here it comes.
And there it goes.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*

I think there truly is a thing inside of us that can will ourselves to live. Can choose life over death.

And I willed myself to live.

There was a certain moment when it happened to me, but I can’t exactly remember when it was. I chose to pull my head out of the water. I chose to allow myself to be found again. I chose to listen. To strain to hear if necessary.

And while the great work of it was done by Someone other than myself, it would never have been enough to simply lay there in my apathy in a permanent dark night.

I do not say that to contest or make light of those who have reached the same dark night as mine and not resurfaced in the same way. But my story is the one I have to share. The only one I have to share.

Mine is the story of a girl who was lost and was then found. Again. A girl who was once something and then became something else. A girl whose life was filled with shattered glass pieces of many colors. Glass that was repurposed to make something that only an Artist could have pulled together. Shards of this and pieces of that all woven together to tell a new story. To paint a different picture.

You are my lost and found girl.
You have been found again, and you are mine.

 You are my resurrection girl.
Back from the dead, over and over.

You are my stained glass window girl.
Give me your bucket of broken glass and see what I create.

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good friday eve…

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Of all the times I’ve read the story of Good Friday and Easter, somehow this line has always managed to escape me, “Then all the disciples left him and fled.” Beyond the physical torture story that we all know so well is one of emotional agony. To be abandoned by his friends in his most dire moment. Which of us has not felt the sting of having the ones closest to us turn their back and run when we needed them most. And here it is again in 8 small words… there is no depth of sadness or hurt or hardship that I have or will face where You’ve not already stood. #itsalmostfriday #butsundayiscoming #thankyouforthecross

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for the early good-bye…

On a warm sunny day in early October, she left for the last time. How could I have known that I would never see her again? That afternoon, she lay on my chest enjoying the warm sun that bathed us both, purring in her sleep.

When she first went missing, I looked for her everywhere I went. White plastic bags along the highway or small mounds of snow would catch my eye, making me think I’d finally spotted her tiny white body.

Posters and signs and search parties later, reality began to set in, and one gray day in late November, I laid my face down on the hardwood floor and watered the ground with my sadness for her early good-bye.

From time to time, nearly eighteen months later, I still catch my breath when I think of her. Tears have wet my face even in recent months. I told myself that she would come back like she always did, but that time, she did not.

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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A new year is a cycle wherein we go through the same rise and fall that we did during the last rotation. That loss and grief is cyclical is nothing new. And as was the year that my little Ella went away, winter continues to be my quiet, reflective turn around the sun.

I still feel the pain of her loss as I do the pains of other winter losses. Even nature seems to join in my sad song, shedding her glory for a bare, stark landscape of grays and browns. The sun hides away and clouds are ever present, seeming to turn an entire season into a place of empathy for a heavy heart.

The hardest thing about losing Ella was that I never saw it coming. I was not prepared. One day, all was well; the next, it was over. For months, I felt sure that if I simply persisted enough in my search, one day, I’d turn that corner in that neighborhood or on that block and I’d finally see her. But that day never came.

The thing about early good-byes is that though they are often final, life offers many stages wherein we relive them. A year after Ella disappeared, I found myself searching for her again and re-awoken to the pain of her absence.

In a world where loss and early good byes are commonplace, to pause for a cat seems trivial. But to not would seem to imply that grief and loss move on a varying scale of weight and gravity making one less or more than the other. And while it is obviously true that losing a child or spouse or friend or family member is indeed harder and greater than losing even a beloved pet – it is also true that grief, whether big or small, demands that we take time to pause and reflect and heal.

A piece of my heart left me with the disappearance of that small white bit of fur, but greater good-byes have gnawed away at my wintered soul. Memories of ill-timed good-byes spin around me like loose floating particles in a shaken snow globe.

The loss of friendships once dear to me.
The loss of a state I had called my home.
The loss of connections and places of belonging.
The loss of loves and loyalties and an entire identity.
My easy smile.
My light heart.
My carefree spirit.

Like the corners of my leaf-littered yard, I conceal withered pieces of happiness whose times have worn out and altogether expired. What once was is no longer and what remains are the handprints and impressions left behind in my now-hardened cement.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Winter has done her work on me once again, and I find myself fighting the cold that has crept in. Fighting the apathy that wants to take over. Fighting the tiredness that comes after a season of long nights and short days, after a season of dark and gray and brown.

Welcoming a new hello after an ill-timed good-bye is trickier than it might seem. Loosening a tight fist and clenched jaw happens only with hard work. And when the long waited-for melt finally comes, it does so with a bittersweet mix of releasing what was in order to, with free and empty hands, take hold of what is to come.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Every gray November brings a shifting landscape, but after she has had her time, she gives way to the thaw.

And when it comes; when the icicles hanging around our deliquesced hearts begin to release their watery captives, the drops fall down to hydrate the very places within us that have been brown and gray. They wash away the dark and rain on us with soft promises of new life.

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