Loving the world as it is, no matter the news cycle

I never used to care about the news. Granted, this is a pretty short sighted way of living in the world. But I vaguely remember a time when I assumed most things would continue working as they are always have. This was before I became aware of a larger world view (I know this is privilege at its finest, but the best we can do is admit our weaknesses and mistakes and move forward). Suffice it to say, I lived blissfully unaware of so many things for a long time.

Perhaps, for some of us, this is the trade we make when we are in the trenches of parenting. When our family needs demand our attention for most of our waking hours – and many of our sleeping ones – there simply isn’t time or room or strength to face the world as it is. So we build mental constructs of how it should be so we can feel comfortable, and we live as though those things were true. Maybe that’s privilege speaking as well, I cannot say for certain. It has been my experience, anyway.

Last year arrived like a landslide, children becoming adults, and going off to school. Politics became…what they are now. And I? I found myself facing a whole reality which I hadn’t realized was keeping pace with my tidy little family life. my fairly uncomplicated existence.

Enter despair, uncertainty and, with a flare of trumpets, my codependency. When I can’t count on anything else she will fix, change or justify by any means necessary to make the world a peaceful place again. Honestly, I’ve spent most of my life trying to tidy things up so they look pretty in a box – with a bow. I practically have a PhD in dysfunction.

Fortunately, I’m learning to be more whole-hearted now, which means codependency has to take a back seat. She’s not so great at fixing broken world systems anyhow. It’s easy to cover up a few bad personal choices, but genocide and hate crimes are harder to explain away.

So here I am, looking at this great, big, beautiful world and all the people in it. I can’t fix it, these systems, the climate, the violence and hatred and war. I can’t explain away the despots and warlords, the nationalistic rhetoric of a handful of power hungry madmen – and a few mad women- who would shape this fragile globe according to their nightmare vision.

As much as I want to, I can’t check out either. I can’t pretend this isn’t happening. My eyes are open now. I can’t close them again and remain true to my soul. So the question I ask myself every day is this: how do I love the world without fixing it?

The Kingdom of God will come – not everywhere at once, not suddenly, but gradually, like a seed growing in a field, like yeast spreading in a lump of bread dough, like light spreading across the sky at dawn. – Brian McLaren

We can’t fix the world. But we can make it better. Each of us in small and not-so-small ways. This week do your part for love, truth and beauty. – Diane Butler Bass

Both of these quotes entered my life this morning in different ways and right on time. Maybe I can’t stay away from the news. And I’ll probably have to keep meditating on account of my rage. I’ll definitely keep contacting my representatives on the daily. But I am not powerless to enact change. Perhaps not on a global scale, but on an even more intimate level.

I can create change in the world face-to-face. I can give birth to mercy, kindness, compassion and inclusion here, on the very ground where I stand. The Divine in me can bleed out of my fingertips and off of my tongue into a world desperate for something beautiful.

Even if no one sees it, especially if no one sees it.

I can rewrite the curse of original sin with a reminder of deeper, more permanent truth: original blessing. Starting here. Starting now. Today.

Finding Calm: Something Fun Sunday, Ep. 6

The week has finally arrived. My middle daughter’s graduation party is this week, and I am knocking down the details while trying to maintain my cool, calm demeanor in the middle of it. *snort*  OK, maybe calm isn’t the first word that comes to mind when you think of me, but I am working on creating margin, so I have no need to panic, and making time to sleep, exercise, eat and create. Which brings us to the fun stuff.

I know Saturday is technically the day I talk about books around here (On the blog, at least; I talk about books at home on the daily). But I feel it’s necessary to put first things first when I speak of fun things. This week marks the release of Modern Mrs. Darcy’s summer reading guide. As usual, I’ve obsessed all week over what is available at my library (nothing), and what is available on overdrive (a few). I’ve picked out the ones I can’t miss, and the ones I am not so sure about. I’ve arranged and rearranged my too read list based on what I want to read now and what is coming due at the library. What can I say, book are serious business around here.

Today two of the books on the reading guide are on sale for kindle. I’ll link them at the bottom of the page.

Having reached the pinnacle week of May, I’m personally anticipating arriving in June and not feeling completely burned out. For me, this is a huge win. But as an introvert, I know by the time June rolls around, I will feel maxed out socially.

June is officially the month of no. I will not make commitments nor will I travel. I will not be out four nights a week. No will be a word I use often and with great relish. With my family and close friends I try to say yes as often as possible, but next month even those will be sparing. It’s good to give and give joyfully, but there is also a time to lay low and replenish. I loved this article about saying no.

A key component in my daily balancing act is the calm app. I’m using it twice a day currently. Those fifteen minute chunks may be the most important thing I do each day. My anxiety is better. I don’t struggle as much with anger and resentment. I feel calm (go figure). There is a free version if you want to try it out, and it’s apple and android compatible.

Finally this:

Graduation

I can’t even apologize for the language. In this month of nostalgia and misty eyes, when people express sorrow that I am growing older and my children are leaving home, this is how I feel.
Empty nest party time is almost here, folks. We’re powering through.

 


Hello, goodbye: A self-care guide for my next year

If you haven’t guessed by this week’s writing, it’s a churned-up emotional time here at Palace MoJoy.  MoJoy, in fact, is in short supply. While I purposed internally at the start of this little project to avoid making this a platform for political diatribe – don’t worry, I still won’t – I also can’t change how the political atmosphere affects me emotionally. It’s a self-care nightmare for many of us.  Today my anxiety is sky high and learned helplessness is running frantic laps around my brain muttering, “We’re doomed. DOOMED!” under her breath.

My therapist moved out of town, dang it.

Still, I can’t continue like this emotionally. I can’t be always angry, and the way to stop this cycle is to pull the plug. In the month before the election, I had to step away from social media in order to stop feeling anger towards everyone and everything, all the time. I couldn’t manage my anger so I cut off its supply. It worked, until the nightmare of election night.

However, next week is my birthday week and my 21st cancerversary (you better bet I’ll toast that milestone, and not with Bud Light in the Rose Garden), I don’t want to spend the whole week outraged and offended. I can’t expend all my energy on processes over which I have only miniscule control and which drag on in agonizing slowness.

So, I’m unplugging. It’s all too much, too big, too heavy, too awful. And I’m not a very kind person in the middle of it.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been up to my eyeballs in self-care. I’m teaching it, preaching it, and learning more about it. But I’m not very good at practicing what I already know.  Lately, social media is more about escapism than connection, and it’s an escape which usually leaves me more distraught than whatever it was I was seeking to distract myself from. It’s a draining cycle with only one solution.

Stop it.

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how I’ve changed since my last birthday. I’ve drawn some hard lines, rebooted some relationships and just booted others. I lost a pants size and gained reading glasses. So much healing and self-awareness has happened in my soul. I don’t want to go start my 45th year angry and defeated. I need more Truth and less rhetoric. If I can’t change the political climate of the nation, I can at least work to cultivate peace in my soul.

So be it.

PS I still have seventy days of writing ahead of me, so this little corner of the internet will still have new content daily.

The Box of Disorder: How I survived when I burned it all down

A few weeks ago, before I lost my brain to whole 30 and fourteen unexpected schedule crises, I wrote a bit about the three boxes: order< disorder< reorder. I learned about these boxes from Richard Rohr. Whether or not he originated the thought, I don’t know. I’m just glad I heard him speak of them. You can read about order here and disorder here. But I want to take a bit longer and talk about my own disorder story.

I believe everyone’s journey is unique; we don’t all walk the same path even when we are headed in the same direction. But I also know there is power in “me too”, and it’s very important for those of us on the disorder journey to hear this, because it can be an extremely lonely time.

I wrote earlier that sometimes the disorder starts with a simple question, and so it did with me. Back when I used to love to study scripture – a feeling it’s hard for me to remember now; the Bible and I approach each other gently now, like lovers who said too many horrible things in a fight and haven’t fully recovered – I read something which contradicted everything I’d been taught about Jewish people. Namely, they missed the boat in Jesus and so were lost to salvation. But what I was reading, didn’t support this idea at all.

Excited by my ‘discovery,’ I began to share with others. Their response is what you probably expect.

No. You’re wrong. God doesn’t work like that.

Their utter refusal to even entertain these, to me, exciting and beautiful revelations left me feeling diminished. Their tone when they rebuked me left me feeling ashamed. Questions open the doors to dangerous ideas; we sure don’t want to go down any slippery slopes.

Except I did.

I could write for days and weeks if I enumerated all the reasons the cracks in my iron-clad theology grew, personal relationships became strained and snapped. The dissonance in the doctrine I knew and what I was actually finding in scripture was too loud. I knew too much of what happens behind closed doors in churches (hint: people I placed unfairly on pedestals acting altogether human). All these things contributed their weight.  I struggled, floundered and pushed back.

Then we were kicked out of church.

I know now, after years of struggling with this huge, suffocating burden, that pushing back against the system was only part of the reason for our eviction. Ego, dysfunction, resentment and jealousy took part in the decision. I was not innocent of some of the uglier motives, but I no longer believe I deserved what I got. For years, I carried the weight of responsibility for this eviscerating event. When I took it upon myself, I also decided I would be the one to fix it and prevent it from ever happening again.

Obviously, the way to prevent pain was to be the best little evangelical pastor wife I could be. You can’t evict perfection, right?

I threw myself into my wifely position at our new church home attending all the services, promoting all the programs, keeping the nursery. I crossed all the t’s, dotted all the i’s and made countless covered dishes. The box of order was my security blanket, the thing that would keep me from ever being hurt again.

Except I kept getting hurt. Human relationships are messy; we can’t avoid hurt in this world unless we remove ourselves to a desert cave. Even then, we may still end up wounded. My wounds only added to the internal pressure I felt from denying all my questions and struggles from before. I couldn’t continue to embrace things I knew weren’t the final Truth and remain true to myself. If I embraced these dissonant doctrines, I was going to lose core pieces of my self entirely, and I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t.

The breakdown was not a lovely time. At all.

It was messy and painful. I ached and wept and railed in fury, isolated and shut down. I wounded people with sharp edges and anger. Honestly, I’m lucky to have anyone still withe me, who knew me before. I lost many along the way. Fortunately, despite all my fear of intimacy and strangers, I knew I needed professional help.  I spent many hours in the office of a therapist, a beautiful, open-minded soul who made space for my disaster and told me again and again and again that there was room in God’s love for even this.

That message, apart from religion or expectations or appearances or all the other things I hated about myself and everything else….Just God and space and LOVE…is the one thing I held, pressed right up against my heart, tight, tight, tight, tight.

Then I razed the rest.

Once I knew, really knew, God’s love held room for my disaster, I wanted nothing else. I wanted to rebuild my self piece by piece: likes, dislikes, theology, philosophy, relationships, dreams, hopes, all of it. Everything. Nothing was sacred, not even the sacred.

But first, I sat in the ashes. I mourned. I wept. God made space for it and me even as I railed against Him for my own decision. I cursed Him for my lonliness. I turned away from Him in my disappointment. But even in this, I found space. I found love.  Companions sat with me in the ashes, wisely speaking no platitudes, correction or rebuke. Simply bearing witness to the death of so many things.

Not everyone experiences disorder on this scale, but some do. I foolishly built my identity on something which couldn’t last, so when the time for disorder came, as it does for all of us, most of my identity disintegrated with it.

But there’s hope. Always hope. While we are still in the box of disorder hope does not leave us. In fact, it builds the bridge to the box of reorder, which is where we are going next.

Minimalism and Flexibility: How to stay sane when everything happens at once

When I woke up this gloriously cool morning, I thought to myself , “Man it’s nice to have a slow paced Monday ahead.”  Then everything changed, and suddenly, I’m filling-in, rearranging, TCoB and all the other things that happen on a not-relaxing day.

And it’s ok. It really is.

One of the things that’s great about my life right now is my level of flexibility. Partially because I’m in an in-between season, but mostly I have minimalism to thank for the space to manage a day when all the unexpected things happen at the same time.

Last week I wrote about my obsession with moving and changing things (we have a new smaller bed arriving today, whoo hoo!). Seeing my stuff through a minimalist’s eyes has certainly reduced the amount of belonging in my home. But minimalism isn’t really about stuff. It includes stuff, and for me it began with getting rid of stuff. At it’s heart, minimalism is about making space for what’s most important, and embracing those things fully.

While minimalism may have started with my stuff, it became about making space for who I am. Minimalism is why, when I reached the end of my ability to function without some alone time last week, I was able to move everything aside and make space for self care. I’m not flexible because I have a clean counter-tops, but because the commitments I make on my calendar, to my family, with my friends and for myself are all things which matter most, instead of a jumble of possibly good opportunities with no real relationship to who I am. Breathing space matters, so I make room for it. I schedule it in, and I honor that commitment without guilt.

It takes some courage to apply minimalism to my schedule. It means sometimes I am generous with my No. For instance, we’ve filled May with delightfully fun and celebratory events for people I love deeply, including myself–BIRTHDAY GIRL! Plus, I have two weekly commitments for ministries in which I am heavily invested. Which means anything else that comes up is 99.5% likely to receive a no response.  Yes, I may disappoint people. They may feel I, somehow, let them down. Maybe, but probably not.

The thing is, I have a tendency to see myself with an inflated sense of self-importance. I like to believe I am needed by more people than I am. This isn’t to say I am not appreciated; I am and I know that. But in many instances, I am replaceable, and I believe it’s very healthy to realize this. It doesn’t mean I am not loved. It means I understand where I fit in the world. This understanding is a very freeing way to relate to everyone and everything around me. It helps me make decisions without guilt or resentment. My yes is yes, and my no is no. Those to whom I am irreplaceable, my husband, my children, my family, my intimate relationships, they are the ones who will receive my greatest focus. Other things may be important, but they aren’t permanent, and that’s ok.

All of this self-awareness is possible because minimalism encourages self-exploration and discovery. I know myself better, because I have made space to understand who I am and how I tick. Clearing away the clutter, physical, mental, spiritual and in my schedule, makes room for options and flexibility. It’s why I may feel some stress today, but not nearly crisis or meltdown level. I’ve made space to honor true emergencies, and still meet my most important responsibilities. Everything else is adjustable. It’s truly liberating to be able to say that and mean it.

The Box of Disorder: meeting God on the Slippery Slope

Yesterday I opened a box will take time to unpack, for me as well as anyone else along for the ride. I shared about Three Boxes: order>disorder>reorder, specifically the box of order. Today I’m ready to tackle the box of disorder, I think.  Let’s find out.

 

Almost everyone has opened the box of disorder. Some of us flirt with it many times in our lives, but never dare to climb inside. Some of us climb in and never leave, unfortunately. Disorder isn’t an easy place to live forever.  Most people who do climb inside react one of two ways: by returning to the order box because of fear, guilt or shame (it happened to me), or by embracing disorder, eventually emerging to enter the box of reorder (this is currently happening to me).

 

Usually we face the box of disorder because something catastrophic happens in our lives. Illness, loss, tragedy, or a drastic shift in life circumstances can send our idols of order crashing to the ground. We stop being certain of anything; we aren’t sure where to turn.  The box of disorder feels like a carnival fun-house with unlevel floors, distorted mirrors and hard-to-find exits.

 

I’ve spent the last few years deep in this box, attuned to terms used to describe the experience: dark night of the soul, back sliding, crisis of faith, falling upward, and my personal favorite, the slippery slope. None of them are particularly appealing, with good reason.  In the box of disorder we are likely to lose our identity, our certainty, some of our friends and possibly the support of our faith community. It’s a messy, bloody process.

 

Sometimes, the box of disorder starts with a simple question: is that really true? You may have heard this question before. The serpent used it on Eve in the Garden of Eden. Did God really say that? Is it really true?  The story ends with disastrous consequences, and humanity has avoided the question ever since. It’s easier to simply accept what we are told without question and cling to order in an attempt to avoid pain.

 

I don’t say this in condemnation, having done it myself.  Sometimes the answer to the question, is it really true, is too big, too terrible, too full of unknown consequences to face.  When this happens, we retreat to the box of order.  Possibly many, many times, we open the lid of disorder to discover we can’t face what’s inside. So we retreat, again and again and again, until one day, we simply can’t accept the easy answers any more.

 

I believe my descent down the slippery slope began just this way, with one question that created a crack in my order box. I ignored the crack for a long time. But like a scab we can’t stop picking, I never left it entirely alone. Eventually more cracks appeared.  They became harder to hide. My box was splintering, drawing attention.  Like Adam and Eve in the garden, the consequences for my defection were swift and terrible. When the dust settled, I mended the box of order as best I could, climbing back inside as deeply as I could. I stayed there for many years, uncomfortable and unable to forget my questions, but terrified of what was in the next box..

 

Eventually, a series of difficult events created too much tension and discomfort to remain. Glue and duct tape, even my prayers and fears couldn’t hold the box together anymore.

I shattered.

 

I couldn’t stop asking the question, is it really true, of every belief, rule, relationship, person and experience I knew.  This is disorder.

 

But let’s go back to Adam and Eve a moment.  Yes, when faced with the question, ‘is this really true‘, they encountered disastrous consequences. However, the more I reflect on this story, the more I realize something very important. Ejection from the Garden of Eden is the best thing for Adam and Eve, and for all of humanity. Stay with me. How often, both in scripture and in other wisdom literature, in nature itself, do we see created things become stronger, better versions of themselves as a result of distress?  We see it in diamonds, gold, marble, trees, flowers even our very own bones?

 

The more I experience life and God, the more convinced I am the Garden, like the box of order, is a beautiful beginning, but not a place we are meant to stay. If we want to become more like God, we need His Spirit within us, which isn’t possible in the Garden. We know and love God best when we also experience that which is not God. Inside the Garden, there is no choice for us to make.

 

Disorder does not reduce. It refines. We become more wholly ourselves when we experience doubt, disorder and yes, brokenness.

 

If we believe, which I do, that Jesus isn’t Plan B, hastily initiated because of our screw-up, then it is true that our salvation, enacted because of the Fall, was always the best possible way for us to become God-like. We didn’t accidentally fall, we were created to fall.  In falling we are finally swept up into the exhilarating, awesome, unfathomable grace of God.

 

Unless we leave the Garden, the box of order, there are ways and faces of God He cannot reveal to us. And He wants to; He’s literally dying to because He wants to be known.  His love is so enormous, so all-encompassing that He desires to unfold and unfold and unfold again each and every time we ask, is this really true?  But we must find the courage to ask. When at last we do, He pulls down all the false and comforting constructs we only thought were true one by one.

 

So we slide down the slippery slope tail-over-tea-kettle, meeting God at every tumble, looking right and left and seeing him tumbling beside us all the while, and when we finally reach the bottom, if we ever actually do, we also find him waiting there to catch us in His wide open arms and ask why we waited so long to fall.

 

The box of disorder is the scariest, loneliest, hardest, most beautiful, most miraculous, most invigorating place I’ve ever existed. Like Adam and Eve, I can’t go back to the Garden where order reigns. The way is closed, not as punishment, but as blessing. The wide world lies open before me, and God Himself inhabits every inch of it, even me.

 

Is it really true?  Yes, but not at all the way we thought it was. Life, faith, love, God, meaning, death, loss, grief, pain, all are so much bigger and more beautiful than we ever dared dream when we lived in the Garden.

Silly, little things: How I fight back against chaos

I’ve spent most of this morning hopped-up on Aleve and propped up on a heating pad. You know that weird thing where your whole shoulder and neck hurt for no obvious reason, but you walk around fearful of turning your head, or moving your arms, or breathing too hard or blinking? I’m writing about this silly, little thing because I don’t want to write about bigger events: bombs, sarin gas, fathers holding dead babies. Don’t get me started on Russia. I can’t be the only one who suddenly feels like it’s 1980 and 99 Red Balloons is the most true and poignant song ever written.

I can’t write about those things because writing is what I do to make things make sense, and honestly, not one damn thing makes sense to me right now.

Instead, I’ll write about how I’m propped up on a heating pad listening to Native American flute music while the last potato soup until sometime in November simmers in the crock pot.  It is perhaps the cruelest truth of adulthood that no matter how surreal reality seems, life simply goes on.

After I learned I had cancer, I would listen to people talk about what was on sale at the mall, or what was for dinner tomorrow.  I remember using all my self-control to keep from screaming, suddenly and without apology, DON’T YOU KNOW I HAVE CANCER?!?! WHO EVEN CARES ABOUT THOSE SILLY, LITTLE THINGS. NOTHING MAKES SENSE AND NOTHING MATTERS BECAUSE I HAVE CANCER.

It happened again when my father died and when I miscarried. Every time the bottom falls out I find myself wanting only to scream and scream until the pain stops.

I never actually admitted this urge, of course, not until many years later.  And only to people who know what it means to feel the foundation crack and suddenly see the black hole of chaos yawning beneath you, a hungry maw waiting to consume everything. War, cancer, death, loss, grief, the things which make our grip on polite social norms stretch to the breaking point.

Life just goes right on, full of silly, little things. I’ll get hungry, so I’ll make dinner. Someone will have a responsibility somewhere, so I’ll take them.  The dogs need exercise, so I’ll walk them. My shoulder and neck will tell me I’m old, so I’ll shop at CVS for more Aleve.

Hunky came home with reading glasses today. We are a good pair, me with my stiff and cranky shoulder and he with his failing eyes. We’ve experienced a lot together, good, bad, and truly terrible. I’ve worried about us, very occasionally. Wondering if this truly good marriage is enough to withstand raising kids, working in ministry, or my own, seemingly endless, shortcomings.

I’m not naïve enough to think anything I hold sacred is off limits.  There are forces which come to steal, kill and destroy, and they never, ever give up prowling.  They never make any sense, either.

Which is perhaps why, despite my overwhelming urge to give into nihilistic screaming, I’m making soup and vacuuming floors. I’m taking care of myself in hope that tomorrow I will feel, at least, physically better.  I lean into the silly, little things because are the handholds that guide us across the abyss. I’ll eat and pray and laugh and type and kiss my near-grown children, more than they like.

Meanwhile, I’ll anxiously watch for cracks in the foundation, for the gaping maw of chaos which always seems to threaten. I’ll write silly, little words to make sense of things because what else can you do when life goes on?