Tag: Authenticity

28Jan

Focaccia

Pearl Jam is exactly the right music with which to have a religious crisis. You just know that Eddie Vedder is singing from the depths of his own dreadful, gravelly crises and that he would understand if you suddenly shouted a very bad word into the angsty void. (I like Catherine Newman’s use of “focaccia” without the last two syllables.)

I am writing this knowing full-well that it is not socially acceptable to have a religious crisis, at least not in the Christian world. I imagine most other religions are the same way though, too convinced of their own rightness to allow wiggle-room. Admitting weakness to churchgoers inevitably spawns a feeding frenzy, and you haven’t met sharks until you’ve ticked off a Southern Baptist. I know. I used to be a Southern Baptist poster child, a preacher’s kid with curled bangs reaching up to heaven and more righteous indignation than the Bible. Yes, I would very much like to smack my former self too.

I managed to survive the “God loves my parents and thus hates me” crisis when I was thirteen, and then the “God might not exist” crisis prompted by my Christian apologetics class at age fifteen (Feel free to bask a moment in the irony. Are your pores opening yet?), and then the “God doesn’t listen to me,” “God doesn’t talk to me,” and “God is a misogynist” crises in college–all without telling a soul. The idea is to get over your shameful lapse of faith quickly and quietly and then tell everyone your “testimony” of how God brought you through.

If you’ve ever hit a rough patch in your spiritual journey, you know just how much it sucks. You feel like you’ve done something horribly wrong. You feel embarrassed for not having it all together. You feel like a hypocrite for not understanding the system you’re supposed to promote. Most of all, you feel a bottomless, inky-black loneliness. If you can’t talk to God, who’s left?

If I were to name my current state of loneliness, it would be “God exists, but I don’t like him.” What does one do with that, not liking God? Everything triggers it–mealtime prayers, bedtime stories with Natalie, news reports, movies, that sharp doorway that deliberately gets in the way of my elbow. When we eat, I think about all the people starving across the world. How can he say he cares more for humans than for birds? When I hear news about the Middle East, I think about the endless violence and terrorism. How can he say the government is on his shoulders? When I cuddle my precious Sophie, I think about the baby he sent to be tortured, murdered. How can he call this the “good news?” When I read the Bible, I can’t see past the God-sanctioned warmongering, the murdering, the animal-sacrificing, the salt-pillaring, the earth-swallowing, the flooding, the exiling. How can he call himself good?

You have no idea how much I feel like the first un-closeted gay right now. I mean, am I normal? Do any others exist? How do they… uh, do this? Will acceptance possibly outweigh the judgment aimed in my direction? Will anyone be able to help me without just trying to cure my “condition?” Where is the backspace button for my mouth?

It doesn’t matter; I’ve said it. I don’t like God, at least not right now, and hopefully that’s not as scary in his mind as it is in mine. I also hope he’s not offended if I take this opportunity to say exactly what’s on my mind, that being FOCACCIA. (Imagine that being growl-screamed, Eddie Vedder style, please.)

8Jan

Mondo Beyondo

Note: I didn’t intend to post this, the results of a therapeutic journaling session, for a few reasons:
~ I feel like I’ve already bored my readers to death by writing about this last crazy year.
~ Speaking of readers, I have readers. Readers who will read this.
~ I’m still new to this full honesty concept, and it’s terrifying. (See above.)
However, reading other people’s “Mondo Beyondos” has made me feel so affirmed in this harrowing business of being human, and I want to share that feeling–that we’re all real, with jagged edges and soft, spongey hopes, and that these twelve-month blocks we order our lives around matter more than we might ever realize. So:

“What do you want to acknowledge yourself for in regard to 2007?”

I’m proud of myself for jumping off the deep end into dream-chasing mode, for letting go of control and the need for stability. I found my secret stores of flexibility during a summer of three moves–the last, a one-week dash to another continent–and I found my secret stores of bravery during an autumn of jarringly new surroundings.

I’m proud of myself for saying goodbye to handwritten journals and a new hello to online publishing–exactly what I needed to kick start my writing again. Beginning with this impulse blog project in June, I’ve found satisfaction and resolution and incredible enjoyment through writing again. These increasing pages of text have helped me explore my voice and find clarity. Even more importantly, they have convinced me that writing is my love, my dream career, and thus my aspiration.

I’m proud of myself for learning how to care for two little girls at the same time. Despite all my previous assumptions to the contrary, I found the courage to leave the house… then to drive (stick shift, on hills, with Italian drivers, oh my)… then to run errands with both of my daughters in tow. I have been a good mother, as evidenced by the perpetual smiles on my girls’ faces, and I think they will love remembering these times through photos and wisps of memory and the letters I recently started writing them.

I’m proud of myself for digging far past my comfort zone to unearth new layers of honesty this past year. I’m also incredibly proud of my decision to stop regretting my past, my present, and everything about myself. It has certainly been a challenge for someone so accustomed to self-deprecation, but it has been freeing. I’ve found myself in the shower, mulling over blunders I think I’ve made, then pulling up short–No, this isn’t me anymore; I no longer regret myself. And perhaps this will turn out to be 2007’s greatest gift to me.

“What is there to grieve about 2007?”
I grieve that my relationship with God traveled beyond doubt and anger and simply dissipated. I need to forgive myself for leaving my Bible unopened on the shelf and my questions unasked simply because I didn’t want to face the pain.

I grieve that my relationship with Natalie moved into such rough territory. I need to forgive myself for yelling at her during bouts of frustration and for not giving her enough of my undivided attention.

I grieve that I spent so many days of the year battling depression… or not even finding the strength to battle it anymore. I need to forgive myself for being chronically tired, needy, human. I also need to forgive myself for letting the “shoulds” conquer my mind and saturate me with frustration. And I need to forgive those around me for not magically making me better or knowing the solutions that I can’t seem to find.

I grieve that I accomplished so, so little throughout the year–that I didn’t learn Italian fluently or finish my book or complete art projects or practice my instruments or cook new foods or exercise regularly (or at all) or make progress on reading lists or teach Natalie more or do volunteer work. I need to forgive myself for being one person, for being unable to multitask, and for needing so much sleep.

“What else do you need to say about the year to declare it complete?”
2007 was deep and raw and intense, dark chocolate with pepperoncino eaten from the blade of a knife. It hurtled between welcome adventures and terrifying ones; it pulled us far into the joy of close friendships and then slung us away. It taught us about generosity and flexibility and courage and communication, about how we face fears and changes and the future. And even though I know it’s okay to reel in 2007’s dizzying wake for a while, I’m ready to move on.

I declare 2007 complete.

27Nov

Thief, Ogre, Janitor = Mom

It’s hard to relax when you’re a thief, stealing a few minutes for music and uninterrupted breath in your sunny corner studio. Even though all your offspring are contentedly sleeping in the other room, you coach your guilt along–I should really be cleaning or editing or studying or cooking or saving the world–as though, without the guilt, you will disappear.

You dig farther into the reserve, tonguing your 9 a.m. frustration like a mouth sore. I wasn’t going to be a yelling mom. I wasn’t going to use the TV as a babysitter. I was going to smile constantly at my children, be accessible, stimulate their creativity, enjoy every minute with them. It’s worse, even, because you used to be a Good Mother™. Now, you’re mostly ogre, and the monster is coming out in your little girl, and you have no idea which prompted the other.

You don’t mean to change the subject, but there are no solutions in sight–only dusty windowsills and dirty coffee mugs. Your serotonin levels plummet under the weight of so many unfinished tasks. The physical laws of the universe dictate that housecleaning is never finished–not when people move and breathe and inhabit said house–but universal truths are no match for your dissatisfaction at uncompleted projects. You’re a terrible janitor for the same reason you’re a stellar one.

You wish you didn’t think of yourself as a janitor; no one embraces that label. Plus, it’s an overly dramatic and negative interpretation of your role as mom. It also shows a horrid mix-up in priorities; when did janitor replace playmate and teacher? And how could something as mundane and fundamentally imperfect as a house take precedence over your own children?

You swish around the guilt in your head, vaguely wondering how much of your brain it has taken over. You wonder how different your days would be if you hadn’t grown up believing that guilt was Godliness. You wonder how you can keep it from spreading like a toxic stain over your family. If only it could just be scrubbed from your persona… How did I get stuck with myself? My personality traits, my memories, my vast inadequacies? I know how to skin emus, play Chinese flute, write iambic pentameter, pronounce words in Zulu, and teach babies to sleep through the night but not how to make myself work right.

You grimace at how self-centric your thoughts have become. You don’t know if sharing your foibles with the world at large is helpful or entertaining or hideously presumptuous, and you run through the disclaimers: I still love my family. This is just a stage, compounded by a lot of major life changes. And it’s not actually that bad; I’m just a pessimist. But you know that the disclaimers will only sound fabricated, in a “she doth protest too much” way, and presumptuous or not, un-disclaimed honesty has value.

You swallow several times, write “Stop overanalyzing!” on a to-do list, and sit down to play puppies with your two-year-old daughter. The dirty dishes–and the guilt–can wait for a while.

30Oct

Prepartum Depression

Is it possible to contract postpartum depression before one’s baby is born?

I feel like I was handed a “Get Out of Jail Free” card when Natalie was born. The depression I was expecting, due to both my mother’s lifelong misery and my own pessimistic streak, never materialized. I never felt trapped in an impossible life, resentful of my baby, overwhelmed by the minute hand. I never had to measure the success of a day by how few irrational crying sessions I managed. I never battled fatigue that pinned me down with almost-physical force. I never felt unthinkable thoughts like I don’t want to be a mother anymore.

Until now. Yesterday was our due date according to my first ultrasound, and I can’t fathom why I’m still pregnant… not when the baby is big enough to be a two-month-old, not when her sister was born four weeks early, not when I’ve spent every day of the last month analyzing contractions. It feels like punishment, especially since my mind and body no longer cooperate with the simple task of surviving. And no, realizing that she will be here soon no longer makes me excited.

I already want to delete this post because I don’t want to admit that this October has sucked, tremendously, and because I don’t want to give people the impression that I’m imperfect (Pastor’s Kid Syndrome) or–heaven forbid–neurotic. That’s why I haven’t written much lately and why I haven’t posted most of what I’ve written.

This morning, however, I was reading some of Dooce’s archives about depression as well as journal entries from a friend whose newborn daughter was born crippled, and their honesty loosened the straightjacket I’ve shoved over my struggling brain. I have plenty of relatives who cope with problems by stuffing them into a sealed vault that eventually corrodes and leaks acid over everyone around, and I don’t want to do that to myself or my family. Ever.

So this post has no point except to say I’m having a hard October, which feels a lot like admitting I’m an alcoholic or a serial killer or possibly a combination of the two. But I’m glad to open the vault. It’s my grown-up way of rebelling against my parents and also a pretty good way to actively unregret myself. Call it therapy.

15Sep

Going Hoarse

Apparently, a week away from writing was too much. Or maybe late-pregnancy unmanageability has finally settled in my brain. Maybe I just haven’t gotten out enough lately to refill my stockpile of words. At any rate, I’ve had a dry week.

Writing the last few days has consisted of me sitting at my desk in a pool of afternoon sunlight, feeling the baby fidget, staring into space as I try to corral my creativity. I’ve typed an average of one word a minute, and reading back, it sounds so forced. I explain to Dan that it just isn’t clicking, as if my brain and the blank page were puzzle pieces, temporarily mismatched.

I want my voice back, soon, while I still have the opportunity to use it. I’m apprehensive about losing my spare moments or my motivation (or both) once the baby comes; I feel like the next month is all the time I have left in the world. Irrational, I know. But once I have two little girls here, I don’t know how I’ll manage even grocery shopping, much less building a schedule that includes time just for me.

Dr. Phil would probably say that anxiety about the upcoming birth is stifling my creative process. Oprah would probably tell me that I’m not in-tune enough with my own spirit. Jerry Springer would… I don’t know, but it would probably involve getting hit by a chair. Which might be exactly what I need. Who knows?

What I do know is that making next to no progress on my writing project this week has turned me into a grouch. Grumpy, frustrated, unsatisfied, disappointed. My mind feels like a movie kept on pause for far too long–spinning in aimless circles, leaving the rest of the story unplayed. I also feel guilty that my blog entries haven’t been the happy, waltz-y, sunshine-with-a-balloon-on-top variety. I guess I’ve gone most of my life putting on a good face no matter what, and it feels intrinsically wrong to admit ugly, gritty, human things like frustration.

I’ll keep trying to write, just to prove that I can. I’m very, very good at beginning projects, and very, very bad at finishing them; it’s my version of smoking, and I want to kick the habit. I only have one question… Am I desperate enough to actually conquer myself this time?

1Jul

Donald Miller is the New Ex-Lax

So the title of this blog may contain coffee and clarity, but I’m enjoying neither at this moment. *Sigh* The problem is religion. (The problem with clarity, that is. The coffee problem is more likely caused by the desperate shortage of Starbucks nearby.)

Still reading?

Thanks.

It’s not just our current church, though the Presbyterians are [much] more liturgical than I prefer and find an enormous amount of foreshadowing in the Bible that I suspect may not actually exist. (“And we can clearly see that the hundred raisin cakes mentioned in 2 Samuel 16 foreshadow the glorious ascension of Christ.”) I’ve felt the same sense of utter deflation in nearly every other church service I’ve ever attended.

Admittedly, I’m still viewing Christianity through the sticky residue of a childhood in which every heartbreaking moment was called good and attributed to God. Perhaps that’s really the only problem. All I know is that I often leave sermons affected more by the absurdity of straight-backed pews, unspoken dress codes, and the word “partake” than by any relevant message.

I know that churches are really just groups of imperfect people who want to love God together. I know that many of these imperfect people radiate a rare kind of joy and genuinely care for each other. I know that church services are often built on decades, if not centuries, of tradition that has proven meaningful to many. I know that most pastors speak from a genuine desire to impart God’s relevance to their congregations’ lives. I know.

Yet when I sit in church, I find Prohibition-era morality presented as Biblical doctrine. (According to American theologians, Biblical accounts of wine refer to grape juice, and the term “drunk” actually meant “not drunk.” Just wait till Europe finds out!) I find self-deprecation taught as spirituality. I find petty issues like the sin of envy given more stage time than pressing questions about God’s identity and the point of Christianity in daily life. I find conditional acceptance based far more on personal appearance than on heart quality. I find long, lofty prayers full of words that no one but reverends and King James himself would ever use.

I don’t see curious neighbors, friends, or previously “unchurched” visitors. I don’t find church members talking about their personal troubles or concerns — especially not spiritual concerns. I rarely find a view of God that makes me want to spend eternity with him. He is the God who commanded puffed-sleeve dresses in the ’90s, after all. (Just kidding. Put down the pitchforks.)

I have no solution, but I feel more hopeful every minute I spend with people who can manage to love God while drinking beer and using language their grandmothers wouldn’t. (Just for the record, damn damn damn damn damn.) My general feeling of religious constipation lets up when I read Brian McLaren, Philip Yancey, and Donald Miller. My fingers are crossed for the “emerging church,” and I pray I can one day find my place in a group of people who are ready to rediscover God outside the box of American Protestantism.

Until then…?

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