Monday, May 24, 2010

In the belly of the whale

Today would have been my 8th wedding anniversary...if I had not gotten divorced nearly a year ago. I'm left feeling somewhat ambivalent today. On one hand I am well aware of my current status as a divorced mother of 2 and on the other hand it all feels rather raw and difficult, still. It was also one year ago this week that I announced to my husband that I believed we needed to separate. It was an ultimatum of sorts...either work with me or I'll not work on this anymore. I meant it, and we were divorced just a few short months later.

I was re-reading the story of Jonah and the whale recently. I was inspired to re-read the story after an author I've been reading talked about it as a story of finding oneself. As I looked again at the story with fresh eyes, I was taken by how fully I can identify with it.

The story begins with Jonah on the run. He hears the voice of God loud and clear and he dives in the bushes. Or rather below deck. I was struck by the observation of how Jonah (in his running away) fell into a deep sleep. As if he wasn't too bothered by the fact that he was on the run. It doesn't seem to be a big problem for him, at first.

I feel much the same. In the beginning, when I first started moving away from who I was, I wasn't even really aware of it. It was like a slow that was carrying me away from what I knew for sure and from God. By the time I reached the point when I began to understand that something was amiss, I had drifted far from home. I almost felt unrecognizable to myself. I hadn't just run away from home, I had created a new home where up was down and wrong was right. I couldn't recall who I was. And when I started wanting to, I just became more upset with myself, with God. How to make sense of this mess? Who am I? What do I need? What is my "call?" What the hell do I mean by that anyway? The questions overwhelmed me, and I wasn't sure that I had any faith, let alone enough to sustain this sort of bumpy ride to nowhere in particular.

Still there was something compelling me. Or perhaps more appropriately stated propelling me forward. A deep recognition that something seemed different. That God was with me, even then. Even in my darkness. Maybe especially in my darkness. While I felt I was groping for something I couldn't see clearly, I understood this dance was not *the* dance, and I had to break away.

The others on the boat wake Jonah up and tell him to stop the waves from tossing the boat so they can live. Jonah's wake up call is loud, profound and leaves little room for doubt. And pretty soon he finds himself thrown overboard into the raging sea. It doesn't take long, and Jonah is swallowed up, and next thing he knows he's in the belly of the whale suddenly ready and willing to go to Nineveh. Amazing what desperation does to us.

When I was startled awake, I found my own wake up call loud, profound and leaving little room for doubt. I knew life had to change and move and grow. What had been static was now dynamic. I could no longer stay in a marriage that was artificial and harmful to me. I could no longer pretend I didn't care or wasn't affected, when I did and I was. But I had no idea where to go and how to start. What I did understand, fundamentally, was that life was a-changing. And I could either run like hell, or try to adjust my eyes to this new place. To see what was around me, in me, through me.

As Jonah sat in the whale's belly - he had time to think and to see clearly, with his heart. So too, I have had the past year or so as time to try and make sense feel deeply what I know is let go of fear. I can't say I get it...or that I'm always able. But certainly there is a new recognition in me. Of God. Of me. Of God and me. Of communion. Of what it really means to be in relationship with as opposed to trying to relate to. The belly time is important I think. Although for this impatient woman, not an easy thing. I heard a song recently that said something to the effect of "if it all happened overnight you would never learn to believe." There's value in that. Some sort of wisdom. I get it. I'm listening.

A few nights ago I was really struggling. Thoughts racing through my mind and I couldn't shut them off to try and sleep. The same sorts of thoughts I've struggled with for did my marriage/relationship/life get so off course? How did I not see what was right in front of my face? How could he do that to me? Why me? Why any of us? Where the hell is God in this mess? And after laying in bed restless for an hour, wrestling with the multitude of thoughts, I finally just whispered, in a moment of panic "Jesus help me." Out of my desperation. Out of my depths. It was the only thing I knew to do. And while the thoughts were still there, I was able to sleep. I had some measure of peace. Even here. Even in the belly of the whale.

The story of course doesn't end in the belly. I realize that I am approaching that moment when I will be coughed up onto the shore. While I long to feel forward momentum, that moment is a little worrisome for me. What will it look like? What shore? What then? Now more than perhaps any other moment, I trust the answers will come. And at the rate and depth I can handle. If I've learned anything in the belly, it is to have a little faith. That when I feel at my most vulnerable, if I can whisper, "Jesus help me" - that he will. It really only takes a little faith. Nothing that's moving any mountains.

Sometimes I realize that but for the belly time, there would be no authentic faith. No life-giving faith, hope, joy. And perhaps that has been the most valuable lesson of being in the belly of the whale. It is only in the belly that I learn that faith has texture and layers and depth beyond what I ever knew intellectually. It becomes sustaining rather than just something to fall back on. As I remain in this time, I hope I am preparing for what is to come while still tasting what is now. I hope I can appreciate this time and accept the gifts that come with it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

When it all comes down

I've been thinking a lot this past week about what I most hope to teach my children...what I hope they will get from me above everything else. I'm not dying or anything (at least not today I hope). But after watching them at Mickey Mouse Land, and feeling a little of the awe and wonder they felt at the sights and sounds of that magical place, I have been thinking about my legacy for them. And what I've begun to realize is that I hope they understand more than anything else that I love them. I want them to rest assured that for the rest of my life, until I have nothing left to give them, until I draw my last breath...that I will love them.

I know, all too well, my weaknesses. I am impatient. Sometimes I snap at them, and my tongue can be harsh. I lose my temper at moments. I forget they are 6 and 4 and expect them to comprehend things they cannot possibly fathom. And still I love them.

Above all, I love these two people like no one before and likely no one after. Since the moment they entered my world, they have been incredible gifts. Even in their moments of impatience or anger or frustration...they are still mine. I claim them regardless. And I love them.

I was listening to some good ol Amy Grant on youtube tonight, and there's an old song she sings called Hope Set High. The refrain, which I used to think was more than a little hokey, is "When it all comes down...when it all comes down...if there's anything good that happens in life, it's from Jesus." When it all comes down, the only thing I know to do for my children is love them. And yet it is the greatest gift I can give them. I recognize I fall short at times, but I hope that when it all comes down, that I can love them first, and figure out the rest second. This is the thing I hope for in the communities I'm involved in.

The fighting, the positioning, the silliness that we all succumb to from time to's all really of very little consequence. When it all comes's about love. The love that is so strong it knocks down the walls we build up around us and between each other. The love that knows no boundaries...that sees no limits. The love that despite our shortcomings and faithless moments still says I will carry you...I will hold you until your faith returns and you can come to the faith on your own again. The love that overcomes our anger, sadness and fear. The love that is holy, wild, beautiful.

Love doesn't mean we ignore our own shortcomings...or ignore or condone bad behavior by others...but what it does mean is that before we talk about those things...we love each other. Someone was complaining recently to me about another member of my community. After listening for several minutes, I finally replied, "But I love him, and I have to believe that he wants what is best for you and for me. If I don't believe that, then I have to leave the community." It really is that simple for me.

If I believe that those I trust with my faith, with the faith of my children are not examples of love...then I have to move away from the community and into some place different. I've reached that point in my life, and in my faith journey, where logistics mean very little to me. Whether we gather in a basement, at a bar or in a park...means very little to me. Whether we say the words of the past thousand years or we don't say any words at all...means very little to me. It's what we do. How do we live? What are we saying to those not part of our community by what we do? What message do we send everyday in the small, subtle ways? Do we love each other first, and talk about our differences second? When we fail one another, can we still be a community of love first and of everything else second? When we disagree, whether it is about the way we worship or whether we are moving in the right direction, can we love one another first and talk about our areas of disagreement second? When it all comes down, it's about love and if anything good is to come from all of our efforts, it has to start there.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day

Today is Mother's Day, and I've been fairly contemplative today. I think I started thinking about this day yesterday during a quiet period of planned contemplation. My relationship with my mother has always been a bit of sore spot for me. Complicated. Complex. Not comforting. The benefit of being 34 is that I finally see that in most ways she was doing what she knew to do. I don't believe there was any malice on her part.

From a very early age, I felt a disconnect from my mother. My mother is aloof, at times cold, and often emotionally unavailable. From my earliest days, she demanded a lot of me. When I was a first grader, I was so fearful of getting anything but A's and B's in school that I sat on the stoop of the school crying when I saw a "C" on my report card. The C was actually my reading level, and not anything bad...but I knew my mother demanded more of me, and I was fearful of her reaction, of disappointing her. My mother was never physically abusive or intimidating. She just did not know what to do with me. But, my driven-ness made her happy. And so I spent a lot of time trying to get better and better grades, to be the best at something. But I never felt like what I did was quite enough. Not that she said so...just my own projection - I felt inadequate.

My mother was (and is) hard to read. She shows little feeling, and so it's hard to know what it is she is thinking and feeling. Contrast this to me...and well, I'm sure I was a challenge for her. I have always been someone that is emotionally charged - I love to laugh and I cry easily. I have always been pretty social - I like to spend time with people - all types of people. I enjoy hearing what other people think and feel. My mother has always had a strong disdain for overweight people. Sometimes I think one of my chief hangups with my weight is some sort of defiant gesture aimed at her. My mother and I...well we lack much commonality at all.

When I was a child, she took me to church. Even in the years my father was "angry" at the church and refused to attend, she continued to take me each week. She encouraged my participation. She went to church really for two reasons I think - first it was what you should do if you were a good, respectable kind of person and second she didn't want to go to hell. She didn't share any part of herself with the people there, and she spent a decent amount of time judging those in attendance. On the other hand, I was attracted to the community and to the "feelings" I got from faith. It didn't start out as an intellectual pursuit for me. Although she introduced me to the church, the church really became my home - I don't think it did/does really nourish her the way it did me. I remember her being incensed with me for telling our pastor that my parents were talking divorce. They had been fighting continually - and I was I told the person I trusted - my pastor. He called my parents in for a meeting. To say they were displeased with my betrayal of family secrets would be putting it mildly. I was taught a lesson in that instance, and never again did I discuss our family drama with anyone at church. But the drama continued, and church was my escape.

My mother and I...we've never really shared much about what we think and feel about things. Despite this fact...I do realize that she has done her best with me. She did what she knew to do. She made sure I was physically cared for and provided for. She encouraged me to go on to college, and made sure that I knew she still expected a lot from me even after I had moved away. What she couldn't give in verbal or physical affection, she gave in other ways. After the birth of my first child, she came to my house and cleaned and cooked one day. Anytime I have called, she has come. I have rarely called, because our relationship hasn't really ever made me feel entirely comfortable asking for her help. This week I was telling her how disappointing it was to me that my daughter's father is not more involved in her schooling. She didn't say much about it. But today, she indicated she would attend my daughter's first grade play tomorrow night. My daughter has one line in the play. But, to her, having her grandmother there is a big deal. So, she will drive an hour to listen to a moment. She is doing what she knows to do. And I appreciate her efforts more now than I have in the past.

Maybe my new found appreciation has something to do with wondering how my own daughter will judge her mother some day. Will she only remember what I was unable to do? Or will she remember the good things to? Will she judge me on how little I know? Or will she give me the benefit of the doubt because she knows I love her? One of the things I never understood about my mother was why she stayed married to my father. They fought often. And it certainly didn't seem that they loved each other most days. Why stay? Perhaps someday in the not too distant future, my own daughter will question why I left. It's hard to know how all this will look 20 years from now.

Regardless I am thankful my mother gave what she had to give. I hope I have learned the lessons she taught me, both in what she did do and in what she didn't do. And I hope someday my own daughter will grant me a measure of grace for those things I did and did not do for her.

Monday, May 3, 2010


These past few days have been some of the hardest of the past few years. My daughter came home recently with the news that my ex-husband had fathered a child with another woman during our marriage. I have been alternately stunned, angered and incredibly overwhelmed with sadness and hurt. There really aren't any words to describe how I feel. Stunned probably comes the closest. Stunned that he lied to me so completely and easily. Stunned that I didn't see the signs. Stunned that he was capable of such a thing. The tears have flowed constantly, even when I've tried to stop them from coming. I feel as if a heavy blanket has been thrown over my head, and I can't get out from under it.

I started reading a new book last night, in the midst of my breakdown. Sometimes the synchonicity with which God works in my life amazes me. I had went to the bookstore a few days ago and stumbled upon three books that were unrelated, but that appealed to me. I, in an odd moment of impulse, bought all three, brought them home, and then got busy with life. I can't help but think now there was a reason I came home with these three messages.

The first is a book by Sue Monk Kidd called "When the Heart waits." I just started it, but already I see some light at the end of this seemingly endless tunnel. She says, "when the fullness of time comes, a sacred voice at the heart of us cries out, shaking the old foundation. It draws us into a turbulence that forces us to confront our deepest way or another, the false roles, identities and illusions spill over the sides of our life, and we're forced to stand in the chaos."

The thing that struck me when I read these lines is how radically I changed who I was to remain in a very dysfunctional marriage. If I'm honest, I changed everything about myself. I changed how I spoke...choosing to dumb down my speech rather than speak the way I know how to speak. I chose to appear less intelligent than I am. I chose to squash the feelings I felt and deny them to everyone, including myself. I stopped trusting my instincts, and stop listening to them altogether. I tried to lessen who I was, because if I was who I am, who I know I can be...then my light shone too I had to dim it. I couldn't read philosophy, theology and the stuff I enjoyed. I had to be less bold, less funny than I was. It goes way beyond not being able to see the movies I wanted or eat the food I desired when we went out...I changed who I was all the way to my core. All so that this man would love me. And the kick in the ass didn't work. He wasn't capable of an adult, faithful relationship. So, all that work on my part to be sure I was less than I am only to have the plan fail miserably.

Now that I understand all this, life must change. And perhaps this is how I got into this "mess" to begin with - when I really began to understand a year ago that I was missing something - that Thomas was trying to explain to me - that I had to enter into a period of becoming...I realized rather quickly my marriage was doomed. There wasn't room in the relationship for the real me. And for his part, my husband didn't know what to do with me acting like me. He was only accustomed to me acting like the version of me I thought he wanted me to be.

And if I'm realistic, this is how I have lived my whole life. I was who my parents wanted me to be for as long as I could handle that...then I was who my mentor wanted me to be until it conflicted with who I had to be for my family...then I was who my husband wanted me to be. Having children opened my eyes though. Suddenly I yearned to be who I knew I could be. I wanted my children to grow up whole, healthy and happy and I felt the only way that could happen was if there mother was whole, healthy and happy. Somewhere along each of the old paths, I lost who I was born to be...who God created me to be from the beginning. Again, Sue Monk Kidd says, "There is a self within each of us aching to be born. And when this aching breaks into our lives - whether through some crisis or struggle - we must somehow find the courage to say yes. Yes to this more real, more Christ-like self struggling to be born."

I cannot help but believe this is my truth. If I only have the courage to continue the path, stay the course. This new me is struggling to be born...can I handle the pain of this process and remain in it? It seems as if there really isn't a choice - I cannot go back. I feel the change coming over me...there really is no other option. It's sort of when you see something so promising and spectacular that you can't recall what life looked like before you saw it. Having each of my children was a moment like that - holding each of them shortly after they were born - that stunning moment when I knew that my life was forever changed by the experience of loving them. Similarly, I see clearly now that my life has changed. Not just because I got divorced, but because I have finally chosen to enter into the becoming. I am no longer running from it, fearful of what the consequences of such a choice look like. I am no longer trying to skip over it to move on to something newer and prettier. I am becoming something new...something old...something holy and blessed from the start.