on sweatshirts and liminal space

“You can’t panic when you get stuck! You’ve got to give me a minute. I’m working on it!”

I’m putting on my three year old’s sweatshirt and his arm has gotten stuck in an inside out sleeve while his head is still trying to get through the top. He’s started to panic and I’m trying to keep him calm so I can get the sweatshirt straightened out.  It’s such a silly thing – just a sweatshirt! But, in the moment, his mouth and eyes are covered by dense material and an almost too-small neck hole is squeezing his large head. Even at three, liminal space is uncomfortable.

I know he’ll be fine – this isn’t the first time I’ve guided a toddler’s head and arms through the right holes. But for him, it’s a small loss of control – a surrender to being helpless for a moment.

As I speak words to calm my panicking child I hear God speaking the same words back to me.

“You can’t panic when you get stuck! You’ve got to give me a minute. I’m working on it!”

Three year olds aren’t the only ones who panic in liminal space.

See, we’re in the middle of a large leap at our house. Our home just went under contract, my husband is switching jobs and we still don’t know quite where we’re headed. Life feels a little like our head’s stuck in the sweatshirt, we’re struggling to breathe and one of the sleeves is inside out. But, as I often do, I feel God parenting me through my own parenting. It’s the gentle reminder He whispers – “you’ve got to trust that I am on the outside, untangling the sweatshirt sleeve, waiting till it’s ready and I can help you pull it over your head so you can see clearly”.

I wish I could say I was standing patiently, waiting to slide my arm through the sleeve and pop my head through the top. Reality? I’m that annoying kid who runs away from you with their head still stuck in the sweatshirt and then runs into the wall because they can’t see, screams at you and is in full on meltdown mode.

I want to control things, dammit! Move faster, God! I can’t see and it is freaking me out and I don’t trust you.

I don’t have a neat, tidy end to this story. Just hanging on the knowledge that God is working things out, pulling out the sleeves and making space for my head to pop out the top so I can see what’s going on.

But right now? Can you just say a prayer for my control freak self being smothered by the sweatshirt I can’t get over my head?

on country music and going home

When I moved down to southern Colorado after I got married, my options for radio stations narrowed quite a bit. NPR was no longer an option – I don’t even think there was the ubiquitous K-Love in the valley. Instead we had the option of Mexican music or country. I don’t have anything against mariachi per se, but we ended up landing on the country station a lot more often than the mariachi…And, as I protested and complained about it, I secretly started to enjoy it. It became the soundtrack to driving through the mountains, the long(ish) drives on country roads to get to pretty much anywhere and became the background music to the first years of our marriage.

When we left to come back to N. Colorado two years later, I brought with me a sort of nostalgic soft spot for country music. Now, a lot of modern country is trash, a different version of trash than pop, but junk music nonetheless. Still, despite my classical roots, there’s something about the honesty of talking about life and everyday struggles in this music that appeals to me. (I know, I know, the chord progressions are all the same, and musically it’s not that interesting, but I know where to find Shostakovich when I need him.)

During the last couple years of working through things, country became my go-to when I couldn’t stomach christian music and couldn’t handle classical. (After I graduated with a music degree I think that I didn’t listen to classical music at all for five years). It was safe enough that I could sort of lose myself in it a little and relax, but had enough emotion I could also cry when I needed to, or just get in the car and drive, turning up the volume as loud as it would go.

During the last year or so I discovered that the classical music station I had loved as a child and teen came back on air and was in our area. I started dipping my toes back into that, revisiting old pieces as friends, and slightly better equipped to handle all the emotions and memories hooked to them. But, this last spring I returned to country (and some random P!NK and Fun. thrown in for good measure)… And this was one of the songs I drove around to, squinting out my windshield as it blurred every time.

I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
This brokenness inside me might start healing.
Out here it’s like I’m someone else,
I thought that maybe I could find myself.
If I could just come in I swear I’ll leave.
Won’t take nothing but a memory
From the house that built me.”

Lately I’ve felt the urge to return to some of the more proverbial houses that have built me. I’ve been thinking about picking up my violin – I feel the tug when I listen to the many familiar pieces on the radio and remember this thing I used to love so dearly. It feels dangerous to return, but I’m letting the longing stay after years of reflexively pushing it away. Maybe there’s a chance that there’s some healing to be found in returning “home”. I did pick it up the other day as a favor to someone and could barely remember how to play at first. Thankfully my fingers remembered what to do, but it sort of scared me. I’d left my instrument sitting in it’s case for a whole year without touching it and the reality that I might forget this whole part of myself seemed pretty real in that moment. I used to play at church -it was the only place that didn’t have strings (haha) attached, but then things became complicated there, too. And so I’ve started wondering, am I really going to let 16 years of classical training go to waste because it’s so painful to re-visit all of it? As I phrase it that way, it sounds utilitarian, and I suppose I have felt the weight of guilt that I am “wasting” a God given talent. The perfectionist, service oriented part of me has kept on plugging through, playing at church or wherever asked because it’s what I “should” do. And then circumstances changed and for almost two years now, no one has been asking or demanding that I do anything with my musical abilities. And it’s been okay. I’ve needed the time and space to detach and become something other than Annelise, the violinist. But I’m wondering if maybe Annelise, the person could still play violin and even enjoy it.

It’s not much different from the struggle I’m facing to sort out Annelise the good church girl, Annelise the doormat, Annelise the perfect child, Annelise who keeps her mouth shut… All these frozen and one dimensional parts that feel like empty shells I sometimes step into for a moment, knowing that they’re not really me.

Integration requires picking them back up without shaming them for how they came to be. I can only hope that as I return to these facets of “the house that built me”, something will start healing.

In the meantime, you may find me driving with the windows down rocking out to this, this, or this (it might be “our song”).

on poems and pilgrimage

A friend sent me this poem this past week. I am thankful that the words I need seem to show up when I need them:

“Welcoming Blessing”
by Jan Richardson

When you are lost
in your own life.

When the landscape
you have known
falls away.

When your familiar path
becomes foreign
and you find yourself
a stranger
in the story you had held
most dear
.

Then let yourself
be lost.
Let yourself leave
for a place
whose contours
you do not already know,
whose cadences
you have not learned
by heart.
Let yourself land
on a threshold
that mirrors the mystery
of your own
bewildered soul.

It will come
as a surprise,
what arrives
to welcome you
through the door,
making a place for you
at the table
and calling you
by your name.

Let what comes,
come.

Let the glass be filled.
Let the light
be tended.
Let the hands
lay before you
what will meet you
in your hunger.

Let the laughter.
Let the sweetness
that enters
the sorrow.
Let the solace
that comes
as sustenance
and sudden, unbidden
grace.

For what comes,
offer gladness.
For what greets you
with kindly welcome,
offer thanks.
Offer blessing
for those
who gathered you in
and will not
be forgotten —

those who,
when you were
a stranger,
made a place for you
at the table
and called you
by your name.

I read this poem again this afternoon, then curled up in the fetal position next to my (finally) sleeping baby and cried. I feel the bewilderment of wandering in unfamiliar territory strongly right now. Though I’m in the same body and even the same general geographic location that I’ve been in for the last twenty some years, my understanding of both has changed so radically in the last two years that I often feel as if I my my entire world has been turned upside down. I’m still reeling from the disorientation of it all.

I rage at the injustice – my soul holds the position of the clenched, pounding fists of a little child, hitting at the adult whose deeper knowledge of the child’s needs, has completely confounded their immediate desire. Why did you not show up here, God?

I am angry that my obedience in walking this hard road has not resulted in reconciliation, repair or anything except what feels like me to be an ever greater sense of collapse. I want to question God’s seeming absence of intervention in the same way Mary runs from her brother’s tomb to say, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:32 AMP) The weeping woman, running out to ask Jesus why he had not seen fit to allay her suffering, strikes home to me. “If you had been here…” the assumption, of course, is that Jesus was not there. If only He had been, this wouldn’t have happened.

I am comforted by Jesus’ response to Mary’s pain stricken reproach: “When Jesus saw her sobbing, and the Jews who had come with her also sobbing, He was deeply moved in spirit [to the point of anger at the sorrow caused by death] and was troubled” (John 11:33 AMP) He does not reproach her lack of faith, but joins her in her weeping. “Jesus wept” – it is, as we learned in Sunday School, the shortest verse in the bible. He knows the ending to the story that Mary cannot know at that point, but still He weeps with her.

I don’t know the ending to this story with my family – I wish I did. It all seems (and actually is) a hopeless mess right now. Holidays amplify the brokenness that I can sometimes compartmentalize in everyday life. I weep, too, “a stranger in the story I held most dear” – that is, my understanding of what my own life has been ( and is now?).

So, the words of this poem encourage me to “let what comes, come” whether it is grief, sadness, anger, joy… I am not good at letting emotions come. I fight them with frenetic activity and walls of composure, constructed so I can maintain my illusion of control. I find in the poem an invitation to step out into the bewildering new-ness of navigating the world differently, perhaps more honestly. There is the companionship of those who have been willing to make a place for me, and call me by name, even when I am not quite sure what my name is. For my husband, the one who has seen me through the last two years, and never let me forget that my name is Beloved, I am so grateful. For the friends who have patiently waited for me as I muddled through, I am so grateful.

I was reminded by a talk on Hope this spring, that we are living in the “not yet”. And so, though I long for family, I must remember that even that good thing is, as C.S. Lewis speaks of, is “not the thing itself; [it is] only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” (Weight of Glory, pg 3) The longings for the good thing, are the echoes of truth that orient us towards what our true hope is. To hold our own lives up to the imprint we have in our souls of what “should be” leads to despair if we let our lives stop here, as I often do. But to orient myself towards Hope – “the memory of the future” as this speaker said, is to remember that I am on a pilgrimage, weariness is to be expected and I desperately need both the map showing my destination and companions to encourage me along the way.

“joy is not a crumb”

“Don’t Hesitate”

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

–Mary Oliver

“joy is not made to be a crumb”…

I read this poem maybe a month ago, and I’ve been having that line roll around in my head the last couple days. In a counseling session a few months ago I found myself blurting out that I had given up on joy. Joy was too dangerous when your own mother was jealous of it and you had to bear the wrath of envy. And so I stopped. I stopped being joyful. I stopped enjoying things. Life was drudgery and duty. It was like the tentacles of envy and her intense need for me to fulfill her, sucked the life out of me. I am not angry at her anymore – she has her own demons – but the grief of what might have been is staggering sometimes. I want to go back and tell myself at all these ages – the 8 year old asking “mommy, is it my fault you’re mad?”, the teenager having to hold it all together at home while her sister almost died repeatedly, the college student who exercised herself into numb oblivion while pasting on a competent front – that it wasn’t my fault. I want to go back and tell that girl that it wasn’t supposed to be like that. It wasn’t my fault. It has never been my fault. It wasn’t because I was bad or deeply defective as I have supposed, that all this happened. I didn’t deserve abuse… I didn’t ask for PTSD.

But still, all of it did happen, and I’m trying to learn how to believe that “life has some possibility left”. I’ve learned to tightly control my emotions and I’ve learned that I do not deserve things. I don’t have an eating disorder anymore, but I do have a chronic illness that means I break out in rashes and am sick for days when I eat things not on my narrow list. I’m not actually starving anymore, but I still stare longingly at the things that everyone else has and wonder what went wrong? Why is this my body? Will it ever get better? I’ve tried to explain it all, figure it all out. I’ve worked so damn hard to fix myself. And I’m deeply, deeply tired.

I don’t know where the intersection of mental health and physical health lies. Am I sick because I was always going to get sick, or am I sick because it turns out that trauma changes your brain chemistry and the way your body works? I don’t know. I have tried so hard to explain it all, something, anything to make me feel more in control. Well, I’m not. I’m not in control of anything.

“Much can never be redeemed”… yes, this is true. I can’t go back and change things – I can’t even change the things that are right now. I can’t change the fact that I have regular nightmares about my family, and also that I miss them so much it aches. But maybe there is still joy to be found, maybe life is not just a crumb to be gathered up from under the table – just barely enough to keep you alive. I listened to this podcast recently, and in one of the episodes there was this quote about believing that there was “no goodness” left – that you were beyond the scope of rescue and so you must give up, soldier on and believe that you were beyond repair. I keep thinking about that phrase and connected with it, the verses:

“I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the Lord.”

Psalm 27:13-14

And so I will wait, and I will try my best to grab to the moments of joy – to my fat baby’s giggles and my boys that love me. I will try to remember that there is redemption still, even for me.

restoration

frightened and ashamed,
someone left her with this broken thing.

we have this treasure in [shattered?] earthen vessels.

treasure?
more like debris.

her story was stolen
by shame,
echoing sweet and poisonous lies.

but hope whispers,

you are not crushed.
you are not driven to despair.
you are not forsaken.
you are not destroyed.

beauty for ashes?
it seems impossible  –
but then, so did the tomb.

on plates

Sometimes life looks like standing on your front porch and breaking plates.

(No, I’m not completely crazy. Yes, I cleaned them up. No, they weren’t a wedding gift.)

It’s not some bizarre metaphor.  I really did that this week, and I’m okay with it. My M.O. for dealing with intense emotions like rage has been to turn them against myself, so it feels like a small victory that I chose to just break a stupid plate instead.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the transformative power of the Gospel. I’ve held this idea that if I just “quiet-timed” harder, I would be a better Christian, I would somehow gain intimacy with God and the gnawing ache of something being horribly wrong would go away. So that’s the approach I’ve taken for most of my life. Try harder, be better, pull yourself up, just do it.

As counterintuitive as it seems, letting the gospel work in my life has looked nothing like any of these Instagram-worthy ideals.

I’ve had to start trusting that God can handle the truth of situations, emotions and brokenness. This morning I ran across a quote I posted 7 years ago (thanks, Facebook) – “humility means that we will no longer be shocked and horrified when we realize that we have yet another defect.” – Uff. Um, yes. Also, I hadn’t attributed this quote, and when I looked it up, it turns out it’s from the Overeater’s Anonymous 12 step handbook. (Yep. I can’t believe I just typed that, but it’s the truth.) I thought perhaps if I did that workbook, it’d be enough to make me in control of my life again. It wasn’t enough, but I don’t regret the degree of healing it started or any of the many, many steps that God has used to get me to today. I think there will be many, many more. I guess what I’m trying to say with this, is that maybe gospel transformation can only happen when, in humility, we throw up our hands and say, “help, please”. Humility realizes that transformation is not going to be a matter of fixing our one defect, but that we are hopelessly flawed. Humility requires the gospel to be true, or else we despair. Transformation is not an immediate fix, but the “working out of our salvation in fear and trembling”. It’s becoming alive after being dead, the painful tingling of a life fallen asleep waking back up.

Our backyard is another reminder right now of what transformation entails. Our landscape design when we moved in was hopelessly flawed; the drainage was a mess, there were weird, archaic pieces of concrete that served to do nothing but pool water near the foundation, and random dirt piles that didn’t make sense. And so, my husband started to dig. There wasn’t a way to make the process pretty. It looked (and still looks) like dirt piled everywhere, bricks torn up, concrete torn out and a lot of garbage being hauled off. But, if we want a yard that’s beautiful, functional and that can serve it’s full purpose, then it means redesigning the whole framework upon which it’s built. There is a goal in sight: we know why we have chosen to tear it all up, though right now it looks worse than before. But, even in the middle of it looking messy and gross, things are changing. The water pools differently, there is less junk, the garden beds are in a place that make sense. So sure, it’s a mess, but it’s a mess in progress.

I strongly identify with the current state of my yard. I mostly FEEL muddy, messy, and like if I just would have left things alone then maybe they’d look a lot nicer. But I’m looking forward to one day enjoying a life that’s closer to the fullness that God meant it to have. And, if that means a few plates get broken on the way, then so be it.

Children 

Emotions are like children –

they get louder when I ignore them.

So I sit with the angry two year old

and provide safety

for all the things that don’t make sense.

Reason fails

when confronting the angsty adolescent.

I cradle the helpless babe,

held hostage,

in the body of Responsible Adult.

He says “let the little children come to me”.

I hope he means these ones.