Thursday, April 29, 2010
I left a toxic, destructive marriage. And unfortunately I really believed for a moment that I was over that experience - that I had indeed "moved on." In fact, I see clearly now I have a ways to go. The anger, sadness, pain of it all still overwhelms me some days. I am not "over it." In fact, all the honesty I've been trying in the past month has sucked me into some sort of vortex. I'm having difficulty concentrating, struggling at work and feeling down. Releasing the denial of the past 10 years has overwhelmed me. I feel close to tears a lot. And I'm having difficulty communicating how I feel to people around me. I'm writing more lately. And talking less. Perhaps it's time for that.
Today, I feel no closer to discovering what it is Thomas was trying to teach me a year ago . But perhaps that's not fair. I heard this Gospel again recently. And while I was still moved to tears, I was gently reminded that while Thomas couldn't get there - not on his own - that God still met him where he was. And that there was no condemnation for Thomas. Jesus didn't kick him out of the club because he was struggling with it all. My faith, I've discovered, is still at its core shaken, but not broken. I still believe there is a God. I still believe that God wants relationship. I still believe I want relationship with God. These certainties are about the only ones I've got right now. But, maybe, just maybe, these are enough for now. Rather than feeling as if some sort of metaphorical biological clock is ticking for me, and that if I don't have some pretty monumental decisions made by tomorrow, then I'm not accomplishing what I set out to accomplish; I feel strongly that whatever path is set before me, I'm going to walk it. And that I won't walk alone. And despite all my misgivings about faith, life and my place in it, there is still so much beauty in the world. There is still laughter. There is still indescribable joy.
I jokingly commented to someone today that "it's all a process." I was joking because that phrase has become so cliche these days. We say everything "is a process." But, we don't really mean it. We don't really give ourselves (or those we love) room to grieve. Room to just be sad. Room to feel a little off. Oftentimes what we really mean when we say this is "Gee, I'm hoping this part is over soon. Maybe if I say it's all a process then this part will pass and I can move on." But this is largely the lesson I have learned from this past year.
For Thomas his journey certainly didn't end in that room feeling the scars in Jesus's hands. No, for him life continued on, and he was forever affected by this man. He couldn't undo what he had seen, what he had lived with Jesus. He was deeply affected - and his hurt as evidenced by his refusal to believe - was evident, even palpable. I'm sure if Thomas had thought of it, he would have told us, "it's a process." This thing called faith - hope - love. All are in process. While I yearn for the answers, I have come to accept that for whatever reasons they are not clear to me today. I have to believe God is still with me. That is really all there is say. All I know for sure at this moment.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
I have loved Amy Grant since I was a pup. I think I might've been 10 or 11 when my church youth leader introduced me to her. Prior to that I was a big Madonna/Michael Jackson fan. (I still am actually) But there was something about Amy. I had never heard of "Christian pop" or "Contemporary christian music" - as she eventually was labeled. All I understood was here was this young woman singing about God, her faith and her struggles. I was fascinated, and I loved her honesty. I went to my first concert when I was 11 or 12 - at the Fox Theatre. It was actually my first concert ever. We were in the WAY back of the theatre, but still I was mesmerized. I went back, again and again, to see this woman sing. I followed her music over the next 2 decades as she went pop and then back to hymns and now to somewhere in between. Her newest CD speaks to precisely where I find myself today. It is soulful and gentle. It is painful at moments, and sweet at others.
I think the reason I was so overcome with emotion tonight had to do with a lot of things. At least some of it was remembering how easy and simple faith was back when I first met Amy. While it wasn't nearly as textured and layered and moving, it was faith all the same. And it was strong and overwhelming even then. I didn't understand God very well, and I was often fearful of screwing up - but I knew I wanted this thing called faith - this relationship with God. My image of God has changed drastically...but the longing remains. That beautiful longing for the Divine. There is something to be said for life experience, but that first breath - that first fall - it is holy. It is what drove the songwriter to write, "How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed." I remember, with not just a little longing, that hour. How new everything appeared - how I knew that my faith was enough to sustain me for a whole lifetime. Amy was a part of that experience.
Probably another part of my breakdown had to do with my present circumstances and fear. Amy sings a song called "It takes a little time." And it was one of the first songs she sang tonight. The idea behind it is that change/pain/difficulty is a process, and sometimes it takes some time to pass through it. While I have paid lip service to this idea for the past year, I am just beginning to feel the depths of the pain I have over my divorce. The loss, the betrayal, the pain of it all has overwhelmed me in the past few weeks. It has made me confront feelings I haven't dealt with...ones I have shelved away and hoped not to have to pass through. All I can say is, I hurt. It's hard for me to even speak of it without breaking down. As I type, tears stream down my face. It's as if someone uncorked something deep inside and I cannot help but overflow. My emotions are so near to the surface.
Again, Amy's music is defining for me. When she talks of being unafraid, I get that. While I feel pain, I feel that I can finally face my future unafraid. Fear has played such a large role for me. I have made so many decisions out of fear. Fear of being alone...fear of being rejected...fear of not being enough...fear of what it would mean to live unafraid. For the first time in my life, I am consciously aware that I want to face life unafraid. As she sang tonight, love has made me unafraid, I realized this is the difference. My faith has become about love - about claiming God's love for my life. I can't always tell you whether Jesus was a sacrificial lamb or whether we should have open communion or how I feel about the conflicts that mar our churches from the inside out. But I can tell you that love has to be part of this thing we call faith. And that faith means very little, if anything, without it. And that the only God I understand is one that is love first, and anything else second. And I can tell you that that love is stronger than any fear I have encountered. If I can get out of the way...if I can let go of the faith of my father...if I can embrace what I've always known is holy...then I can live unafraid. Love has made me unafraid. Amy says it best.
This post appears somewhat incomplete. I know there was more to my breakdown tonight than I can recognize or articulate at this point. But I'm thankful. By the end of the concert I was singing along and laughing. It was a journey through my past - a past of both great faith and a life lived with fear. And I know there's so much more to learn - to know - to have faith in.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
In November, 2006, when our son was only 6 or so months old I began to find evidence that my husband was having an affair. Given that I was a divorce lawyer working for a firm that specialized in this kind of stuff, it wasn't hard to identify the patterns of my spouse. I went on a mini-investigation and it didn't take me long to figure out he was certainly seeing someone. If I think back to earlier days in our relationship, certainly there were signs that he likely had had affairs before this one. For whatever reasons I chose to ignore the evidence before me back then. I continued on, and reassured myself that I was just being reactive and paranoid. However, the incident in 2006 was undeniable. It was in my face. There was really no ignoring it. No pretending it didn't happen. While my husband denied that he was having a sexual affair with this woman, he did so half-heartedly. I wasn't overly convinced, but still there was some part of me that wanted some plausible deniability.
At the time I was struggling in a job I hated, contending with an active 3 year old and trying to care for my infant who was having a multitude of health problems. Additionally I was dealing with a major fall out in my family of origin over my brother's issues with addiction and the legal system. It was a hectic time in my life, and quite honestly I was ill-prepared to be confronted with my husband's infidelity. Initially, I raged at him. I cried for days. And then, I acted as if it never happened. I swallowed it down like a bitter pill. Life went on. Within 6 months his father died suddenly, and I tried my best to take care of him, to keep us together by the sheer force of my will. I ignored the misgivings I felt, and plowed through. Somewhere along the way I developed some sort of plausible deniability about the whole thing. After all I didn't know *for sure* that he had cheated. Maybe I was being paranoid or crazy or both. And of course my husband wanted me to believe that so he continually promised me he would never be unfaithful to me. I wanted desperately to believe him.
Even now, after divorcing this man, I must admit that part of me still clung to some notion of plausible deniability, part of me still hoped it wasn't true, that my husband had loved me enough to remain faithful to me. It is much easier to cling to plausible deniability than it is dealing with the feelings of hurt, betrayal, anger and pain over what I have always known happened. So, when I found out last night that indeed the relationship between my ex-husband and this woman was ongoing and now open and notorious, plausible deniability became impossible. It is right in front of me. There's no more hiding behind the illusion. I wasn't prepared for this. It seems overwhelming and hurtful, as if the scab has been ripped off the wound suddenly, without warning.
Someone said to me recently that it's a hell of a lot easier to live in denial than it is to live with the pain and disappointment life brings. I agree. But now there's no more denying what I know, what I've always known. And that's tough, but perhaps shaking off denial is just the first step. No more denying the truth, even when it hurts. No more hiding behind excess weight so that I can shield myself from my feelings, my heart. No more denying what I've always known was my path even if that path doesn't seem convenient, easy or simple. No more denying God, denying who I am as a child of God even when I'm sad, hurt and lonely. No more denying the gifts God has given me because denying them is safer, easier and comfortable.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
Tonight I was mowing the lawn at my house. I actually enjoy this chore, if the kids are asleep or gone. I pop in some earbuds and sing along to whatever is playing in my ears, and push the mower around the yard until it looks pristine (ok, maybe just shorter). Since I'm not someone who "creates" or "builds" things for a living, I don't often get to see the results of any labor I might undertake. Seeing a freshly cut lawn afterwards is a great reward to me. I feel like I've actually accomplished something.
As I was mowing tonight I became increasingly aware of how much weight I have gained in the past year. This is distressing to me. I spent the better part of 2007 and 2008 shedding some 140 lbs. Slowly in 2009 and 2010, about 55lbs have crept back onto my belly, thighs, face. And the more physical activity I do, the more I realize how much weight I have gained. My huffing and puffing around the yard is inescapable. And I'm frustrated.
Since I was about 13 I have battled my weight/my physical self. Oddly enough if you had asked me some years ago when it started, I would've told you birth. My mother, who is obsessed with weight (both mine and her own), had me fairly convinced that I was likely to be mistaken for Shamu when I was 8 or 9. It wasn't until years later that I realized I was a pretty normal-sized kid until 13. At 13 and 14, I poured on weight. Again at 18 and 19, I gained. I lost 85 lbs or so my last year of college working out and eating better, only to regain much of that weight in my first year of law school at age 22 and 23. I gained even more weight prior to my first pregnancy, until I was well over 300 lbs. Oddly enough I lost weight with both of my pregnancies, and then in 2007 and 2008 I dropped off a substantial amount of weight to get to the smallest I had been since age 14 most likely. And I felt awesome. I was in great physical shape and had energy to keep up with my kids. Then in 2009, I began to slide backwards, and to land where I am now - about 55-60 lbs heavier and pissed off.
Of course it is no mystery why I have gained weight. I have made bad choices, I have spent time stress eating. I have chosen not to exercise for months on end. The question that comes to my mind is why? Why for nearly 2 years did I do everything right only to halt that course of action and go back to the way I had been living before? Part of me says it was the stress of my divorce. Or it was the stress of not knowing where the hell I'm going to land. But those really aren't very good excuses. In the middle of the worst marital stress I had, I did the right things. When my son was sick and often hospitalized, I managed to stay the course. When I was opening my own practice, and terrified of what would happen to my stream of income, I held on to the new, healthy habits. So, back to the question, why now?
Before I began to gain, I became somewhat obsessed with my weight. I was on a scale everyday, I couldn't figure out how I had gotten to the point of having lost a person, and I couldn't figure out how to stay there. Part of me felt the disconnect, but I couldn't identify why I felt that way. I just felt a sense of brooding.
I think perhaps the answer for me is my own discomfort with disclosure - with telling secrets- with revealing who I am. Each of the times I gained massive amounts of weight, I have been at a vulnerable moment in my life. I've felt alienated and lost from who I was. I have felt exposed in some way. My reaction to vulnerability appears to be to drop any and all good habits with regard to my physical self and to gain weight rapidly, as if a layer of insulation around me could protect me from the risk...the potential for rejection. This latest round of gaining started about 14 months ago, about the time I decided that life was going to change with or without my cooperation. I, as much as I could, embraced the process, and tried to be patient and gentle with myself. Some days I have been successful, and other moments I haven't been. But I started writing, reading and talking after spending years being fairly disingenuous with myself. I asked hard questions, and struggled with the answers. I let myself grapple with the unknowns. I refused to blink. As I struggled internally I no longer spent anytime on the external me. So, now what?
Well, I've come to the conclusion that I'm not much good at balance, and that I have to start to figure that part of my life out. Living in the not knowing has become normative for me, and I cannot afford to physically wait this phase of my life out. I have to begin again. Begin anew. I have to learn some balance between the search for God, for myself and the physical journey to renew my body. There is room for both.
The bigger issue is that I have to discover how to risk without running, how to be honest without seeking to hide behind extra layers of myself. This is the key that has eluded me each time I have lost weight. Each time I have failed to figure out the internal struggle associated with my weight. At some point I have gotten scared, frightened of who I was without the excess weight. And that fear drove me back down the physical road to destruction. Oddly enough even with my discomfort at having gained weight, I have again returned to a place where I am affectionate with people. I am being more honest, both physically by reaching out to people I love and emotionally by expressing who I am without apologizing for who I am.
The time for renewal has come again. And the time to run has passed yet again.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
In life, shit happens. It ain't pretty. There's not any way to dress it up or make it more presentable. The fact of the matter is that shit happens. Sometimes it happens to us, and sometimes it happens to people we love, too. And if I'm honest with myself, I don't know why shit happens, it just does at times. And if I'm really honest with myself, the not knowing of it all has always been one of those things that makes me angry with God for his silence and with myself at my own helplessness.
This week, among the normal hurting people I meet in my practice and guardian work, I've been confronted with two people I love going through horrible stuff. One's parent is hurting badly and is ill. The other is being confronted with cancer and a child who has his own health challenges. Both of these women are good people. They care for others, are loving and good folks. And the parent of my friend, he is a good guy, too. He has spent the better part of life loving and nurturing others. There is no rhyme or reason for these things to be happening to these people. They are hurting, I am at a loss for how to help. I so want to think of articulate things to say that will be comforting and helpful. I want to somehow come up with a solution or fix to the issues that are simply not able to be fixed. It just seems so cliche to say, "Gee, I'm praying for you."
And this is where Forrest comes in. All I can do in response to my friends is to offer my presence and my witness. I can be a witness to their suffering, to their strength and maybe to their love. When I was at Baptist college, I heard a lot about "witnessing" to other people. What I think was meant by this was evangelism...the idea of telling other people about Jesus. This was always a turnoff to my sensibilities. I didn't mind loving people, spending time with them, walking or talking with them...but mentioning God, Jesus or my faith because I was obligated to was not something that came naturally to me. It still doesn't.
When I talk about bearing witness in this context what I really mean is being fully present to another's suffering. Offering myself, all of who I am, to be present and faithful to this person and their pain and sorrow. This is not easy. In fact, I will venture to say it's a hell of a lot harder to bear witness to someone's pain than it is to offer a "Jesus loves you" and walk away. Bearing witness requires relationship...it requires risk. The risk of looking foolish, or not being able to find the words, the risk of rejection. It requires living in relationship to other people so that their suffering is my own... my pain is their pain as well.
I was trying to write a letter to the parent who is hurting, and all I could think to say was, "I'm sorry you're hurting." and "I love you." There are no other words. What's happening to these folks isn't fair. I have no words of wisdom that will heal them or make things better. But I can bear witness to their pain. I know that sometimes there just aren't enough rocks. And that while shit happens, sometimes joy happens. Somtimes healing happens, too. Not because I, or anyone else, found the right words, or prayed hard enough or did anything more than bear witness to suffering. And we hoped and prayed with the person hurting. And added our voices to those everywhere who are crying out for mercy and peace.
Despite all the pain I see and feel at moments, I still believe God hears us/loves us/wants our healing. That He/She is in this very moment bearing witness to our suffering, and working to bring about our healing. I am compelled to believe this because of the healing I've experienced, the healing I've watched others experience. But rather than treat faith or God or being a Christian as a passive, observation kind of sport, I have to believe faith is meant to be participatory. I cannot sit by and watch my brother suffer without hoping with him/loving him as he is/praying for his healing. I cannot help but be his witness when he cannot bear his own truth. And all I can say is I'm sorry you're hurting. Let me sit with you. Let me hold your hand. I love you.
Sunday, April 4, 2010
After church, I took my kids down to see my parents this afternoon. First, we met up with my niece and nephew out on the farm where I spent a lot of time as a child. My grandparents have been gone for well over a decade, but the farm remains in the family. I take my kids there several times a year, and we wander the same fields and paths I wandered when I was their age. I show them the cows and explain the growth of the crops in the fields to them. We fish in the ponds and I tell them about my grandmother. The woman who adopted my father when he was orphaned at the age of 6, remains the one member of my family of origin that I will miss until the day I die. She was kind, affectionate and nurturing. I loved spending time in her presence, although we often sat in silence. I would sit at her table and watch her working, or follow her outside as she completed chores. She sheltered me, cared for me and loved me. I was the only granddaughter she knew very well, and she never let me forget for a moment that I was smart, capable and special. She had a lot of hopes for me, and I worked hard to make her proud of me.
In the spring of 1997, her husband, my grandfather, died unexpectedly. He was 87 years old. For the next year, I tried to hang on to my grandmother with all my might. I had just completed college, and had begun law school. I came home often to help my father care for his mother. I taught her how to drive again, at age 86, and made sure she knew that I thought she was smart, capable and special. I loved her presence and who she was, but in the end she died in the summer of 1998 from a broken heart. Once my grandfather died, she didn't know who she was or how to be without him. I had heard stories like this, but I watched her live this one. She had no medical condition that could be diagnosed or treated, but she hurt. Her heart hurt. She wanted to go home. And ultimately, she did. I never really mourned her death. I simply shut out the sadness, and got busy with my own life. Every now and again I would think of her, but mostly I tried not to. The pain of her absence was too much to bear. At every station of my life after 1998 - graduation from law school, marriage, the births of my children, I felt her absence acutely.
In the summer of 1988, my grandmother and I experienced our only impasse. I confided in her that something awful had happened in my life. It was beyond her ability to cope. I could see it in her face, I had hurt her speaking my truth. At that moment, she was the only adult in my life I trusted. She was the only person I could think of to go to when I was scared, alone and hurting. But, ultimately she did not know what to do with my pain, my shame. It would take years for me to talk about the experience again, and to this day I struggle to find the words to be able to talk about what happened. She and I never spoke of my confession again. It created a distance between us though, an unspoken hurt. I blamed her for not helping me, and I think she looked at me differently, perhaps that was my projection, but I went from being her beloved to a stranger she didn't quite recognize.
Ultimately, she died not knowing that I had long since forgiven her for not knowing what to do, for being scared of the truth. This past year, I have been struggling with that experience, and praying for some guidance in how to deal with the old trauma, the old shame that seems to be so deep that it permeates who I am, who I have become. While therapy was somewhat helpful, I think it really has taken unearthing the "stuff" of it all to help give me some clarity and ultimately some compassion with myself. That same compassion has spilled over, and I am finally able to see the whole experience from her perspective. There was nothing in her background, in her life experience she could draw from to know what to do, how to be or who I needed for her to be in that moment. I was a scared, broken child. She was a gentle woman who had lived an incredibly sheltered life, and was very likely as scared as I was in that moment.
Today, I took new flowers to my grandmother's grave. I've been doing this a few times a year for the past few years, but today I really wanted to go there. I felt something different and wanted to physically be close to where she is. I've dreamt of my grandmother a few times in the past few months. I feel her presence with me. It seemed fitting on this Easter to go back to the church where she was a matriarch and attended for 87 years. The place she was baptized, confirmed, married and eventually memorialized, where she is buried out back in the family cemetery.
I told her I was sorry for not being able to let got of my anger with her sooner, but that I wasn't angry with her anymore. And I wasn't angry with me anymore either. That I've forgiven both of us for not knowing what to say or do in that moment. I told her that I still loved her and thought about her nearly everyday. I thanked her for loving me, for being my shelter in the storm of a lonely childhood. I told her that I so wished she had lived to see my children - her great-grandchildren, but that I understood why she wanted to leave this earth. Mostly though, I told her that she didn't need to worry about me anymore. I whispered to her that I knew she was scared for me, but she didn't need to be anymore. That I was strong, that I had survived, and that I had found some peace in this life. That the God she clung to in her lifetime had delivered me from my sorrows, and gave me such joy this Easter. That while I'm not certain where she is or what she's up to these days, I wanted her to have joy in her heart. That while I was lost for a time, I have been found. I have been able to open my hands and receive who I am.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
The story of Jesus washing his disciples' feet struck a new chord with me. I was so moved by Peter's cry in the Gospel lesson tonight. When he begins (and I say begin, because I think he still struggled with it all) to understand why Jesus is washing the disciples' feet, he exclaims, "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!" He wants so badly to accept the love offered by his teacher, that he wants to be washed completely. Not to be only partially washed, he hopes to be fully cleansed. I understand his longing. Once I have tasted the divine, I only want more. Nothing satisfies me more than this. This incredible longing for God is powerful, consuming and a love unlike any other. It overwhelms me with emotion. I am rendered speechless and teary-eyed. And so I, too, want more. In fact, I, like Peter, long for more.
This combined with the sermon I heard tonight makes this day feel different to me this year. In the past, I have always thought of this day as one of a remembrance of the Lord's Supper. However, the sermon preached tonight reminded me of something different. As we turn towards the last night for Jesus on earth - his prayers in the garden - I am reminded that there is something missing. Despite all the growth I have experienced in the past year - it is incomplete.
It's not magic or anything earth shattering. The thing - that thing - is unconditional love. Despite all of what I want and believe and hope for - unconditional love is that thing that still eludes me at times. I want to experience it. Taste it. Know it fully. Be able to participate in the mystery - to love others without restrictions. And at times I catch a glimpse, and I like Peter, cry out for more and for that love to be complete here on earth, here and now. There have been those moments of realization - over time - that I can identify as moments of pure, unadulterated love. The birth of each of my children is probably the most memorable. In the first hours after each of my children was born I held them close to my face. I whispered prayers to God that He/She would hold them, keep them, protect them, love them. Tears fell from my eyes, as the newborn I was holding stared wide-eyed at me. I thanked God for the chance to be their mother, for giving me the gift of a healthy infant after 40 weeks of carrying them inside me. I have never felt the presence of God closer to me than in those moments. I knew immediately what it was to love another person unconditionally. And as strong as my passion for my children is, I know that God's passion is stronger, more full, more complete than mine can be. This is why the yearning will always be with me.
I understand now that this is not that moment where the story is complete, where I am made whole. And it will never be complete on this earth. No matter my intentions, I will continue to fall short, because after all, I cannot take it all in this side of heaven. Try as I might to love myself, God, others...I will continue to miss the mark. Not because I'm inherently evil or carry the old Adam with me, but because I am human. And others will miss the mark as well, and so at times I will be faced with the fact that others cannot live up to my expectations, that they cannot love as I had hoped they could or would.
While that news used to dash my hopes and make me spiral into a depression, I don't feel that anymore. I only want the taste of it that I can experience. The moments of grace that make me yearn for more. I want to be able to give and receive as fully as I can, here and now.
I'm liking Peter more and more, and hoping that I too can drop the pretenses and acts, and accept the love of God and the love of others fully and without reservation. That I too can cry out to God that I want to be loved fully and completely. Lord, not just my feet, but my head and my hands. Without reservation. Without fear. Fully. Completely. Here and now. Amen.