Making space for emotional and spiritual health

In May, I stayed pretty busy. It was a good sort of busy. I felt like I was growing and contributing and celebrating important events. Not at all the wheel-spinning busyness that is exhausting with nothing to show for it. This month, and likely this entire summer, is intentionally much slower. It’s a time for more internal work rather than external work. Time to take the lid off my emotional and spiritual health and stir it up a bit, see what floats to the surface.

Healing from trauma is interesting. For awhile you have to look trauma in the eye. Then you have to step back a bit and let it all settle again. If you move too quickly, you end up with a worse wound than you had to begin with, but if you wait too long, or leave the work unfinished, it festers. Last month was a good time to step away and let the dust settle a bit. Now I can more clearly see the things which still require attention.

This week, I did some work with understanding spiritual trauma, and some research on anxiety, both causes and techniques to deal with it. Unfortunately, these things snag all my triggers. Here a trigger, there a trigger, everywhere a trauma trigger. I’ve meditated so much I dream about meditation, not even kidding. I’m not as worried about depression anymore, but stepping away from that lethargy means engaging with things that are difficult.

I journal, and share with some of the people I trust, but none of these things change the fact that I am currently in an unresolved stress cycle. This means I that I can’t escape from the thing which triggers my fight or flight reaction. It’s a frustrating situation. In many ways I my emotional and spiritual health is improving. However, until I can break free of this cycle, I face the probability of regular set backs .

I see the problem, but I’m currently unable to solve the problem.
And so the question remains, where to I go from here?
My guess is figuring this out, will be my work for this summer.

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.

New spiritual pathways: Breaking free from dogmatism part 2

Yesterday I shared about giving myself permission to explore new ways of exploring and understanding the world and my place in it. As I wrote, I felt both excitement and trepidation. This spiritual path I’m traveling is exciting. I’ve anxiously peered down the way for so long, afraid to move forward lest I get lost. I’m finally walking, making my way forward, slowly. I’ve found surprising and pleasing companions along the way. It’s an adventure for sure, but I also still feel rather fragile and vulnerable about this journey, so I’ve been keeping it close and safe.

One of the hardest things about traveling a new way is the condemnation received from those who aren’t traveling with you. I’ve traveled long in religious circles, and, let’s be honest, religious circles can be more condemning than most. I’ve felt the hard edge of condemnation. It hurts every time, maybe the effect is cumulative. Or maybe my co-dependency plays a part. Probably both. Either way, in giving myself permission to freely share the spiritual part of my journey, I open myself to criticism and condemnation yet again. After all, it’s only ok to think heretical thoughts if you keep them to yourself.

In almost sixty days of writing, I’ve managed to avoid writing almost anything spiritual. I’ve touched on it, circled around it’s edges. Mostly, I keep those observations and wonderings to myself, though. Two decades in ministry have taught me well that Jesus forgives, but systems seldom do.

I’m afraid. That’s the long and short of this post. I’m afraid to be honest, afraid of the repercussions, of rejection, of condemnation. But I know I can’t continue to dance around the edges of something which is so deeply part of who I am. I’m a spiritual being. Although I’ve asked at least ten thousand questions these last few years, not one of them has been whether God loves me still. When no one else makes room for all my wonderings and wanderings, she does. In fact, the farther down this path I travel, the bigger and more beautiful God becomes.

The evolution of my faith looks something like a set of Russian nesting dolls. I began in the smallest possible construct, and every few years, my spiritual understanding emerges into a new and larger form. The thing about Russian dolls is that although each gets a little bigger, on the outside they look identical. Imagine my surprise when I emerged from my last evolution and found an entirely new image looking back at me. The God I knew turned out to be a graven image, looking more like my own heart than the actual heart of God. In fact, this new revelation is far more beautiful, broad and all-embracing than anything I’d dared imagined. She’s far less equation and far more mystery than I’d been taught to be comfortable with.

But oh, it’s exciting, awakening in this wide open space. Every way I turn, new images of a living God unfold before me, each one exposing more and still more of the wild and furious heart of God. I can no longer continue sharing about this journey without sharing this part of myself as well.

So yes, I’m afraid, afraid and excited and uncertain and joyful. I’m learning a new way of living which is an entirely different sort of new than simply changing geographic location. The restlessness I cannot shake is my soul longing to sing, if not without fear, at least without disguise.

Here’s my soul exposed, open, vulnerable, happy, anticipating what’s next. This beautiful spiritual pathway unwinds before me, cleared and made welcoming by those who have traveled before.

Monsters in the closet: Scary things I’m doing right now.

It was a dark and stormy day. No, really, it actually is a dark and rainy day, but that’s not scary. I love this sort of weather, quiet, meditative, peaceful. It’s the perfect day to think about plans and dreams, for puttering around, reorganizing the dresser and cabinets. The perfect sort of day for examining the monsters hiding in my closet, and maybe chase them away for good.

Scary monster #1: Writing every day

When I decided to do this one hundred day writing thing, it scared me. I stink at follow-through. I’m constantly distracted by shiny, new, exciting!!! Not to mention being terribly out of practice with writing. Also not to mention when I go public with my thoughts and feelings, it tends to come back and bite me in the…well, you know.  It hasn’t been a good experience. While I can’t control how people react to my online conversations, I can control whether or not I let those people scare me. I can control whose voice I listen to or whether I want to listen at all. If I show up and you show up, we can face scary things together. Monsters, and mean people, aren’t nearly so frightening in the light, I’m finding.

Scary Monster #2: Speaking up in public

As an introvert, I’d much rather handle all my communication in writing, after thinking about it for a a few days. But over the last year, I’ve been in a teaching/leading situation where more and more often, I find myself telling personal, vulnerable stories to an audience. The first time, I thought I might hyperventilate or throw up, or both. Even though I’d written a manuscript and practiced, practiced, practiced, it was scary. Yesterday I shared that acceptance is my drug of choice, but when you share the messy parts of yourself, rejection is always a risk. Fortunately my audience was grace-filled and understanding. They even laughed at my jokes. Some of the monsters in our closets are boggarts, they disappear when we laugh at them.

Scary Monster #3: Saying no to toxic people

Fortunately for me, I’m co-teaching a class right now which uses the book Boundaries as part of the curriculum. It’s my second time reading it, and it’s possible I’m learning even more this time. (Seriously there isn’t a single person who can’t benefit from this book. It’s amazing.) I’m learning to make peace with the fact that some people are simply bad for me, whether intentionally or unintentional. I’m stepping away from guilt, manipulation, control, and boundary tramplers. People may be upset or angry. They may react badly. My big, bad fear is a level of rejection like we faced years ago when we were excommunicated. I realize it isn’t likely, but it’s what I know. It’s all I know. Stepping away from that fear to do what is necessary for my own well-being is facing one huge closet monster.

Scary Monster #4: Being Myself

Listen, I love Jesus, but I struggle with church. That’s not news. However, church is my husband’s occupation, so this struggle is in my face daily. I’ve carried hurts and collected scars for a decade now. I’ve absorbed the message that I’m dangerous, subversive, not good enough, and that I need to sit down and be quiet all the way into my bones.

But no more. Just no more. Measuring every thought, word and opinion in case it makes someone uncomfortable is an activity I’m quitting. I’m done accepting I need to change, conform or contort my position in order to fit into a cultural construct I’m not even sure I like anymore. My deconstruction has been leading me back to the me I used to be before I got so bound up in all the rules and false constructs of who a “church person/pastor’s wife/ proverbs 31 woman” should be.  I am myself, and the flaws or changes I make are between me and the Spirit who dwells within me. I like the me I’d forgotten how to be. It’s nice being in her skin again.

 

 

 

To be Bold again: a lesson from my daughter

Yesterday evening, my baby girl –or not so baby at just days from seventeen– did a crazy, bold thing. She stood in front of a room full of people, the majority of whom do not agree, who may never agree, and defiantly spoke a piece on racism in America which she wrote herself.

Recently, I, too, have been sharing aloud things I wrote myself, thought nothing so brilliantly bold. It’s very much like standing naked in front of a room full of people who may or may not jeer at your audacious vulnerability. It’s one thing to drop words on paper (a difficult enterprise in itself), it’s another to look a person in the eye as you deliver them.

But there she stood, passionate, offensive, confident in her rightness, and perhaps a bit blinded to her own complicity. Aren’t we all, eh?

I blushed at first, after my initial startled gasp. My oldest daughter echoed my first coherent thought whispering, “Well it won’t be you that gets us rushed out of town this time.”  I wished her wrong, but she isn’t.  I once was inconveniently outspoken, bold, and more than a bit blind to my own complicity.  Genetics aren’t immune to passing on our fatal flaws.

I watched her passion and her defiance against all things expected of someone like her: woman, pastor’s child, church member, white, beautiful, intelligent.  She defies and defines so many things as she becomes herself.

I’m not sure if I envy her more than I am scared for her or not.

I see so much of myself in her.  But I blushed when she spoke because an ice cold thread of fear is twisted through my passion now.  Boldness and defiance can be costly.  They aren’t often well-received, and the culture we inhabit now abhors them more than most. I’ve developed the habit of staying quiet and unnoticed if I can.

If  you aren’t a Jen Hatmaker fan, you’re probably blissfully unaware of the whole religious drama unfolding around her. However, she’s a shaping voice in my world. She and I now share the dubious honor of excommunication from church due to an inability to conform to expectations. Then she had the nerve to speak out about it.

Every time I read about Jen, I blush and my heart races. I know this pain, this grief. We pay a steep price, we women who can’t calm down, play nice, fall in line. I know and yet my once bold voice is silent now. I only  manage shameful flushes and an overwhelming urge to disappear.

So what will I do with my brave, bold, passionate beautiful woman-in-the-making who speaks her heart and blazes forward damn the consequences, damn the damage?

I’ve thought about it all night and all day, and here is what I’ve decided.

It’s time for me to follow her example, rather than asking her to follow mine. I lost myself these last few years. I listened to the voices: be quiet; fall in line; fit in; play nice, listened and tried to disappear.  These decisions have done me no favors. I’m in danger of becoming less myself than ever .  The cost of conforming is far higher than the cost of becoming.
If we fall, we fall. If they throw things at us and turn away, then we will leave the stage together and move on. We’ll hold each other when we hurt and cheer each other when we stand.  We’ll whisper truth to the other when they condemn us and possibly pay the price again and again and again.

I wish I’d stood and cheered my daughter when she left that stage. I wish I’d whooped and hollered instead of clapping politely and wishing we could just get out of there. But I didn’t.

Next time, I’ll follow her example. There’s so much she has to teach me.

Why order is necessary: Breaking down the three boxes

I sat down at my keyboard today and wondered, Is it ok to write about writing? Do people want to read that? Which is a silly question because I have five readers, and obviously you are the five I can’t chase away no matter what I write about. We’re stuck together for life, and I’m very ok with it. But then I considered the layers beneath that seemingly innocent duo of questions and peeked at a familiar theme. What is expected of me? Am I upholding those expectations? That’s the voice of codependency and trauma. What are the rules and how do I follow them perfectly? Those questions tell me instead of writing about writing, it’s time to break down some boxes, starting with order.

I learned about the concept of three boxes from Richard Rohr, a formative voice for me over the last several years. He breaks the universal faith journey into three boxes: order > disorder > reorder.

In the interest of brevity–and because you can read more at the linked article–let’s call the first box the box of immaturity. It holds the foundational tenets which we are taught from the moment we draw breath. Whether or not we are talking about church or religion, we begin with certain rules, ways of explaining how the world works. This is a good thing. In fact, it’s a necessary process enabling us to grow in an emotionally stable environment. One of our most basic needs is security. Foundational rules keep us safe and provide order: the stove is hot; the street is not safe; God loves us; the sun will rise every morning.

These rules create order and provide the framework for reality. Without them, the world is a Salvadore Dali painting, skewed, unstable and unpredictable.

All of us rely on rules daily. But most of us don’t follow them blindly once we gain maturity. For instance, the rule we used to follow about going into the street. It is true streets can be dangerous. But when I take my morning run, I frequently run in the street if the sidewalk is bad because all streets are not dangerous all the time for all people. The principle is true even if the practice isn’t always true.

When I run in the street, I leave the box of order and venture into disorder (the time I went in the street and was nearly wiped out) and eventually reorder (carefully assessing traffic patterns before assuming street safety).

Religion can be a very first box oriented endeavor. We make rules because we want to know and understand God, which is good. A god who is too big or too mysterious to understand is a force of power with which we can never connect. Knowing and understanding are key to a relationship, therefore God makes Himself knowable and comprehensible because He desires relationship. However, there are parts of His being which are not immediately knowable and even those which are essentially unknowable due to the limits of human understanding.

We use these revealed truths as cornerstones on which we build our theology. God is good. God created the universe. Jesus is real. Jesus died to restore humanity. We can be like God, and He desires this for us. He helps form us in His image. These beliefs matter. They create order in our chaotic reality.

The problem is sometimes we see the rules as immovable constructs for all time rather than starting point for a long conversation. Yes, the stove is hot and may burn us. However, the stove also allows us to create an endless variety of food, which may lead to conversation, laughter, togetherness and community. What is true about the stove is not ALL that is true about the stove. It’s a starting point, but there is more to the conversation.

The same is true of our religious beliefs:

God created the universe, but the is more to the conversation.
Jesus died to restore us, but there is more to the conversation.
We can be like God, but there so much more to the conversation.

And honestly, sometimes the more to the conversation is scary. Sometimes, the stove burns your house down; the street proves deadly. Sometimes theology goes horribly, maniacally wrong.

At this point we face a sort of crisis, is it easier to continue the conversation, or do we revert to the basic tenets and never deviate? Do we conform to the rules and reject anyone who does not or cannot conform to them, calling them a heretic and casting them away from us for our own safety? Do we even dare question if the original rule might not be a true rule to begin with?

Now we’re in uncharted territory. It’s not safe, not secure, not popular, and definitely not easy. Which is why so many of us never leave the safety of the rules. If a thing is always true, we always know what to expect. We always know the outcome. We never have to worry about consequences. So we live this way for years. Some of us live this way forever. It isn’t inherently wrong to live our entire lives in the box of order, but it’s an extremely exclusive way to live. If a set of rules is true, then every other set of rules must be wrong. There can be only one set of true rules.

The box of order is safe, but it breeds superiority, contempt and disassociation. At its extreme it is completely anti-community. There can only be us and them, and we are always completely right.

Order is necessary, but there is more to the conversation.

**I didn’t start this as a series, but it has rapidly become one. Stay tuned for further installments.

Internal rebellion: Fighting against learned helplessness

I struggle with a sense of learned helplessness, a condition where a person gives up trying to affect change during difficult circumstances or toxic relationships. When I believe nothing I do will make any difference, I give up. In fact, I sometimes believe anything I do will only result in more pain, so I try to disappear entirely.

Several years ago I had an emotionally and spiritually abusive relationship with an authority figure. Obviously, it didn’t start that way. The changes were subtle, and because I was not familiar with the psychology of control, I didn’t read the signs.  The relationship lasted for years, but the power play escalated slowly. When I finally deviated too far from the desired behavior and could not be controlled, the retribution was immediate and devastating.

Unfortunately when dealing with trauma, we are often our own worst enemies. I allowed the counsel of others and my own, critically injured, self-esteem to tell me I was responsible for my pain. My choices bore the sole responsibility for damage inflicted on myself and my family. I became the enemy. For years I allowed other’s perceptions control over how I acted and how I responded rather than trusting myself.

Even though the abusive relationship ended the day of my ‘punishment,’ the influence of the relationship did not. Shrapnel embedded in a person’s body can take years to work its way to the surface.  So too, emotional shrapnel, while not visible, continues to cause pain and damage as it works through the soul. My response to trauma was to do whatever was necessary to ensure no one was ever unhappy with me. I used to have a dog who had been so abused he practically begged every person he met to not kick him.  He and I have a lot in common.

Even though I have experienced a great deal of healing, I still struggle with falling into self-destructive behavior patterns. The abusive relationship is long past, but shadows and echoes linger, sometimes, in current relationships. When this happens I want to cringe and beg or disappear.  I still experience learned helplessness in situations where it seems I can do nothing right, and I still deeply fear retribution because of my failure to please.

On Wednesday, I wrote about being self-aware that I’m circling dangerously close to depression. Learned helplessness is one of the fastest rides down that road. These next one hundred days of writing— now 96 – are my way of pushing back.  There are circumstances in my life which I cannot resolve. But each day I can summon the courage to write, no matter what others may think.  I can reframe the narrative which tells me I should disappear. By taking back control of my voice, I’ll spit in the eye of the messenger who tells me I don’t measure up to an impossible standard.

This is my story. This is my song. No one gets to silence it, not even me.