Tag: Hope

5Dec

Now or Never

I am absolutely positive on this one point: I had no idea what Dan and I were getting into when we started this Kickstarter project. Of course, had I known, I would have waited for sometime when I had a month off work, excess energy, and aligned stars guaranteeing our success, which would have been never. There’s definitely something to be said for just squeezing your eyes shut and taking the plunge. Things get done that way.

But goodness. The past few weeks have taken an industrial-sized ice cream scoop to my insides and scraped up every last speck of energy. Every. single. day. Through the giddy fun of setting up our fundraising page, I failed to see that it would become our full-time job this month—managing websites, editing media, socializing, networking, writing, writing, writing, and asking people to exchange their hard-earned money for our dream. I don’t use the word “our” lightly, by the way; the only way this campaign has been possible on top of my teaching schedule has been sharing the load with my nerdy rockstar husband… who is also keeping up a day job. We haven’t been sleeping much.

If you want to know the truth, though, the most draining thing so far has been the emotional effort of all this hoping. I dearly want to see this gamble pay off, so every new minute sends me swinging between elation and despair. The hopeful calm in between feels as impossible as the $10,000 I’m asking for. I can’t help comparing my project to some of Kickstarter’s wild success stories and then slumping lower because I don’t have their thousands of Twitter followers or their corporate sponsorship or their professional video shoot. I know jealousy isn’t attractive, but this is me, real.

I want this book to happen. I want the chance to work from home this winter writing it. I want to be present for my little girls again instead of dashing off to work every day. I want to follow my creative impulses and devote my time to what gives me life rather than what saps it away. So many wants… yet the word itself makes me cringe at my own selfishness. Only the thinnest line has ever separated gratefulness and guilt for me.

However, I can’t agree to live without hope, without reaching toward what matters even when that hope feels undeserved. This book is part of a larger vision for our family, and dismissing the idea because of misplaced guilt would be like coating a kaleidoscope in concrete.  So we’re doing this now, knowing that the other option is never and clinging to color for all we’re worth.*

*Which we hope is at least $10,000.

1Sep

I Was Born Not Ready

I was going to start with It’s Thursday; how did this happen? when I realized that the last official month of summer had slipped out of my open window during the night, ergo…

It’s September; how did this happen?

Last week was a long blur, some moments punched into sharp focus by worry or hope over our shapeshifting future and others stretched timelessly over evenings at the table with friends. This week, Dan is off bringing possibilities into the present tense, my worry has officially lost out to hope, and I should be floating now that the weight of so much unknown is out of my arms. In reality though, I’m simply feeling heavy, fingers numb.

Though it seems incongruous with the adventurous streak that trotted me to this corner of the globe in the first place, I always have difficulty adjusting to new circumstances, so this lull… okay, funk is probably just the natural result of my perspective playing musical chairs. Combined with my introvert personality and social opportunities overlapping without recharge time,  it’s made for a bewildering week so far. The space-time continuum is dragging against my feet like gravity, and despite a light work load, I’m plumb worn out.

That justifies singlemouthedly demolishing half a pan of Rice Krispie Treats, yes?

I’m not ready for it to be Thursday, and I’m certainly not ready for it to be September. I’m not ready for the early work morning tomorrow or for the day trip on Saturday or for church on Sunday. (I think my reluctance over that one is especially justified considering last Sunday when I, unwillingly presiding over the piano, butchered a hymn request. In my defense, the song was an unforgivable 9/8 time signature with meter and tempo changes halfway through, but I was clearly spattered with gore by the end. This may also be a contributing factor to the dearth of Rice Krispie Treats around here.) I’m so very not ready for the deluge of personal expectations waiting for me once the girls start school the following week, and it’s all compounded by the list of things I planned to do ahead of time. (I know summer break looks long and carefree at the start, but seriously—what form of substance abuse inspired me to promise the other moms I’d plan a group picnic???)

Incredible disappearing Rice Krispie Treats (Probably this kind.)

All this to say sorry for mybusily-out-of-sorts radio silence, and please, if you have any idea how it got to be September, let me know so I can bribe it back into hiding until I’m properly ready.

27Aug

How to Pray [If You’re Me]

Weigh butter and chocolate on the little kitchen scale gifted two years ago by a friend who understands how your heart-language is pooled in the creases of your hands. Double the amount needed. Pause, and triple it.  Swirl the lumps into liquid over simmering anxiety as your future fades in and out on the fringes of heat waves. Swelter wordlessly. Breathe the fragrance deep.

Brownie-making - 1

Sift in sugar and salt with a shaking hand. Unclench fingers along with illusions of control, and pour in a generous freeflow of vanilla steeped long months in an old medicine bottle, its brown pharmacy glass as familiar to you now as the life you ache not to leave. Stir in flour and watch the textures morph and meld, ever shifting toward goodness.

Brownie-making - 5

Slide triple-heavy pans into the oven to swell and stabilize in the pressing heat as you tackle the grand mess left behind, knowing that every last angle will soon come clean. Wipe away sweat and trickling fear.  Sideswipe batter into your mouth. Remember other kitchens you have created in, other spillovers of grace from your own half-written story, and wash your way down to the marble-smooth surface of trust.

Brownie-making - 7

Wait in the front row as baked chocolate offerings cool on the countertop. Imagine the faces of your intended recipients and exhale gratefulness. Whip together butter and sugar and tingling drops of peppermint into frosty decadence, and spread with a hand that has learned lavishness. Top chocolate with chocolate, and catch molecules of hope on your tongue.

Brownie-making - 8

Dissect your labor of thanks and arrange it bite-size on a recycled platter, a shabby but heartfelt gesture for the men who are giving your husband the financial backing to chase his dreams.  Rest assured that they’ll understand the language of brownies. Tear ripples of aluminum foil and seal a wave of joy in with the gift as you dare to believe that the wide miracle fields stretching ahead are as true as the simple ingredients you hold. Feel, earnestly to the brink of bursting, and for once, find no need for words.

Brownie-making - 10

10Aug

Despair and Contrast

I’ve been doing a bit of blog spring summer cleaning over the last few days—super-gluing links, spit-shining categories, that sort of thing—and I found myself reading back over the first two years’ worth of entries while gravity slowly condensed in the room. My God.

The summer we packed up our lives to move to Italy, my head was unstable territory. I had been juggling four part-time jobs which suited me not at all, my plans for graduate school had been shot down for the second time, and I had stopped writing… which meant I was no longer checked in to my own life. On top of this was the vast unknown of our future. I was in my second trimester of pregnancy with Sophie, and the delay in getting our Italian paperwork had left us literally homeless and living off the generosity of friends.

It was during one unsteady weekend curled up in the guest room of our friend’s house that I started this blog. I was desperate for the outlet, the perspective, the satisfaction, and the community, though I couldn’t have articulated those reasons at the time. Blogging still only registered as a hobby (I had no idea how much the blogosphere had changed since our first fling; Dooce was now a verb?!), but it got me writing and connecting with kindred spirits again, just in time for the greatest upheaval of my life.

We moved. I adjusted piecemeal to the new culture.  I pined for friends and set up house and gave birth, and somewhere in the rock ‘n’ reel of it all, depression yawned up underneath like a sudden sinkhole. I’ve had melancholic tendencies my whole life, but nothing could have prepared me for the following year and a half. I never admitted here on my blog just how bad my depression was, but the utter hopelessness in mind still left its imprint on posts about frustration, insufficiency, and unrelenting exhaustion. My personal journal entries delved into far darker territory, and reading over them now recalls the pain so intensely that my lungs flail against its memory.

Have you seen those “depression hurts” commercials with the sad-faced people blankly going about their daily routines? I only wish my experience had been so serene. For an eternal year and a half, my mind was trapped inside a darkness that I couldn’t measure, couldn’t make sense of, couldn’t get enough of a grasp on to fight. I couldn’t describe it without sounding crazy, so I tried to pass it off as allergies, nutritional deficiencies, standard new mom tiredness, even weather-related gloom. (In retrospect, maybe my doctor would have helped me more if I hadn’t done such a good job playing down the crazy.) I didn’t know how to ask for help because I didn’t know what I needed except OUT, and I didn’t have the courage anyway to admit my problems to our new Italian friend-quaintances.

I knew the stigma of mental disorders as faux illnesses, socially unacceptable displays of weakness. I had judged people before for not being able to “get a grip” and even for seeking counseling. So I kept the darkness within the walls of our apartment and only wrote about it on the good days… days in which I could handle getting out of bed and putting on some makeup, maybe even taking the girls to the park for ten minutes. On the other days, the not so good ones, life pressed in from all sides with an impossible weight, and continuing to breathe was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I didn’t want to survive.

Yet I did. No matter how unbearable the panic of being, I couldn’t leave my daughters or husband bereft, and flickers of hope from here in the blogging community helped me keep that resolve on days when darkness started to win. Encouraging comments from kindred souls. Liz’s virtual hugs. Nino’s information on long-time postpartum depression (up until then, I had never heard of it lasting beyond six months). Jennifer’s honesty about her own time in the valley. Prayers from people who read between the lines and got what was going on. Together, they lit the way to my freedom.

And now, more than two years on the other side of endless night, I’d like to follow Jennifer’s lead and show you a photograph from the very worst stretch:

Tackling sick Mommy

It was taken mere days before I started to get better, and it kills me knowing that the me in the photograph had no idea. I wish I could slip back through a shortcut in time and promise her that spring is already there, even if she can’t feel it yet. I want to tell her that in a few short weeks, she’ll be tossing sun-drenched hair out of her eyes and chasing those sweet little girls through streets full of stories. I want to assure her that she’ll laugh again and that her daughters will forget the tears. I want to show her the beauty masquerading as a demolition project, the grace dissolving her terror of motherhood, and the art whispering promises, and I want her to see this next photograph of an August afternoon two years later on that same red sofa:

We like each other

There is hope.

25May

Untethered

I don’t know where to start writing about this, even just for myself. It’s too big for me, too heavy, and my soul just wants to stretch out on a beach chair in some blissfully deserted part of the world and fall asleep to the sound of waves. How do I write through where I am now without coming across as fickle or, as more than one person has suggested, deluded?

It’s true—my perspective was warped by years of religious brainwashing and abuse in God’s name—but if nothing else, growing up with people who swallowed someone else’s ideology taught me not to do the same. I refuse to adopt a belief system just because others tell me to, and that applies to Christianity as well. Have I ever believed in God because my own story and experiences led me there? Have I ever even had that option?

I once thought that every good thing that happened to me was an act of divine benevolence. Scholarships, job offers, relationships, fast recoveries, relationships—each a personalized stamp of God’s approval and generosity.  What does that mean for my friends who had to work their way through college though? What of my friends living off of unemployment? What of those who didn’t meet Mr. Right or never recovered or had their homes destroyed by a natural disaster or went bankrupt or lost a child? Where I used to see God’s puppet strings, I now see coincidence because I can’t deal with the implications of an all-powerful benefactor playing favorites.

It doesn’t mean God isn’t good. Rachel Held Evans wrote about the same internal debate, and I’m relieved to know that the struggle isn’t confined to my own head and that others have found other ways of measuring God’s goodness. In nature, for instance, I can’t help seeing the beauty of its blueprint… but I don’t see perfection, and I don’t see personal intention. Whether the sky cooperates for someone’s outdoor wedding or a hurricane devastates thousands of families, I simply see a flawed universe set to random.

And I understand now more than ever why some Christians I know cling to their beliefs at the expense of everything else in their lives, even peace of mind. Coming untethered from a doctrinal picket line is a frightening experience, and there is only a hairline difference between feeling liberated and feeling lost (I tend to vacillate between the two). I can’t turn off my questions any more than I can turn off my instinct to breathe, but I wish I could. Some days, I am absolutely certain I would choose unthinking acceptance over this mind that tracks down holes more easily than it does happiness.

I have problems with a lot of people who claim to take their marching orders directly from God, and this casts doubt on the whole notion of a converted life (at least a life converted from assholery). I have even bigger problems with the Bible, questions that I fear have no answers aside from churchy platitudes, and as much as I might want to, I cannot sincerely subscribe to the whole traditional Christianity package. I cannot accept that a loving God created people for heaven and then set their defaults to hell. I cannot believe that a Jesus who taught turning the other cheek represents the same deity who went around wiping out heathen nations in the Old Testament. I cannot see my way past the violence or the inconsistencies or the staggering injustice of what some call the “Good News.” I just can’t.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where this leaves me. I’m not rejecting faith, but I can’t flash a denominational membership card either, and even the space just beyond the old tether’s radius is unfamiliar territory. My biggest hope is that God isn’t tied to the picket line either and that my uncertain journey forward will bring us face to face, maybe in an open-air café without closing hours where he can answer every question I’ve ever penned in my journal or posed to uncomprehending pastors or sensed without being able to articulate. More than anything, I want God to be real and different than I was always told, and I think this longing counts as faith for me right now. And if I am simply deluded, I  pray I’ll eventually stumble across that beach chair.

 

3May

Liturgy

The storm hits, and I have been too distracted to notice the boiling clouds or cobble together a shelter until it’s too late. I am drenched in a fury outside of anyone’s control, at the mercy of merciless elements. Unwelcome memories soak me to the bone. Doubts thunder, and anger illuminates my universe in stark flashes. It is simply too much. My feet give out from under me, and I let the torrent sweep me away.

In these times, I don’t know which way is up, much less whether or not God exists. All I can see is the pounding blackness of my immediate reality, and I start to think that disavowing religion altogether might keep the storms at bay.

But my soul doesn’t actually want a retreat; it wants a fight. It wants a shouting match with someone who can stand up in the force of all my turmoil. It wants a defense from the one I sometimes believe orchestrates the storms, and it wants to be convinced that I’m blaming the wrong things. It wants answers for now and answers for then and answers tucked into the pockets of my future. It wants a way of belief that validates my logic and my experiences, my ever-racing mind and my ever-tired heart.

Above all, it wants peace… and here in the darkness of cloud cover, the anchorless tumult, and the weary absence of intention, I catch an unexpected glimpse of it:

“May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you wherever he may send you;
may he guide you through the wilderness, protect you through the storm;
may he bring you home rejoicing at the wonders he has shown you;
may he bring you home rejoicing once again into our doors.”
(from Common Prayer)


14Mar

Picture of [Im]perfection

As you may have guessed, the last couple of days have been rough. I never know what might be a trigger until I’m rubbing my eyes on the other side of a long tunnel, emotions bloodshot, wondering what the hell happened. Thank goodness for work. I’ve heard distraction recommended as a coping strategy for PTSD sufferers, and it was actually a relief to have to get out the door early this morning and focus on teaching a class. It snapped my mental energies back to the here and now, and it always does my soul good to be around people and places who don’t remind me of anything. Later, an irrational translation client had me laughing (I apparently “ruined” the central Italian landscape with my un-poetic word choice and grammatical consistency; I guess it’s true that the pen is mightier than the real world?), so I think it’s safe to say I’m back to myself.

I often wonder how these episodes are going to end up affecting my girls. I worry that seeing me sad and struggling to cope will traumatize them, but at the same time, our conversations during the hard times are incredibly precious. The girls know that my sadness is only occasional and has nothing to do with them. They know their mom is human and fragile and willing to be honest with them about both. They also know love. They’re experts in it already, and their hugs and notes and daughterly concern add up to the most healing treatment plan I can imagine.

Thank you for your encouragement too. I always ricochet between feelings of stupidity and feelings of guilt whenever I let on that I might not be the picture of psychological perfection (might not, mind you). Authenticity will probably always be a struggle for me considering my background. However, Jennifer pointed out that naming something is powerful in lessening its hold, and I’d like to think that writing about it goes a step further—aims typeset floodlights into the shadow, illuminates the sniveling nightmare, and says I’m not afraid to expose you (even if I am). I’d also like to think that my honesty with the girls will help them flip the tables on their own fears one day, though hopefully with less neurotic two-stepping. More than anything, I’d like to think that my ability to write this today means that love is the one winning this struggle.

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