Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Please Do Not Feed the Fears

I dream a lot. And like many people, I've had a recurring dream since I was young. Okay, it's not normal. Quite a humdinger of a nightmare really. I'm alone, afraid and trapped in a house of multiple rooms, confusing stairways and hallways. Something sinister is lurking out of sight, enjoying my powerlessness, mocking my struggle. The last time I had this dream was a few years ago. Once again, I had been stuck in the house for a long time and was frustrated and exhausted. Stairways led to solid walls and small doors led to smaller doors. I knew that something horrible was hidden deep in the house. Something that had to do with me. I didn't want to find the horrible thing, I just wanted out. Usually about this time I woke up. But not this time, not yet. Words are going to fail miserably here, but here you go... I rounded a corner and found myself face to face with what felt like pure evil. A malevolent being, about eight feet tall, with wings (not kidding) bore down on me. I froze in terror. For about one second. Because something in me finally snapped. I exploded in rage, lashing out at the top of my lungs, "LEEAAAVE MEEEE AAALONEE!!"

It felt incredible, purifying. What happened next was unexpected.

Bizarrely, the thing's head bowed as it turned quietly away, disappearing like smoke. I swear I detected a hint of hurt feelings. It was as if my outburst, my sudden change from fear to righteous anger, drained it's power.  I wanted to laugh with relief and wonder. My fear gave it life. Without that, it was nothing. I woke up in a twist of sweaty pajamas and the sound of my own yelling still ringing in my ears. That was the last time I had the dream.

The subconscious is a powerful thing. It's very subtle, but since then I have felt less frozen, less guilty. Definitely bolder. Once again, I can't find the right words. I don't know how to describe it. It's as though something in the chambers of my heart that was rusty and stuck was given oil, like the tim man, and finally settled into place.

To anoint with oil is a sacred form of blessing. I now look at that nightmare as a blessing. A gift from God. I will carry it with me always.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Statue of Liberty - You're Fired

At a rally in February 2015, Donald Trump was asked by an audience member if he could "look at Syrian children aged five, eight, ten, in the face and tell them they can't go to school here." Without hesitation, he said "I can look in their faces and say 'You can't come. I'll look them in the face." Friday, he made good on that promise.

Pause for a moment and look at this boy's face. There but for the grace of God go my boys. Or yours. I am all for keeping out those who seek to do us harm, but keeping out those WHO ARE FLEEING ACTUAL TERRORISM?? This man, our president, has no qualms casually turning his back on the most vulnerable and desperate of the world who have been through our already quite extensive vetting system? I'm floored. Note that Syria has produced exactly zero immigrants/refugees that have done us harm. Saudi Arabia - where Trump has business interests and where we rely on oil - has. But they were not part of his ban. Syrian refugees are afraid of exactly the same thing we are - Islamist terrorism! They are doing exactly what you or I would do were we in their shoes. Our president just slammed the door in their face.

This is not what America is about. This is not what we stand for. We are SO MUCH BETTER THAN THIS. Aren't we? Please tell me we still are.

I GET that our schools are over crowded. I GET that we have our own homeless, our elderly, our veterans, our own poor and sick to take care of. But what kind of people have we become if we let fear rule our actions? If we turn our backs on those who have suffered horrible atrocities, those who were simply unfortunate enough to be born into different circumstances than us? We have a legal obligation as a country - the 1951 Refugee Convention - to accept refugees. I believe we have a moral obligation as well.

One of the most repulsive things I have heard since the election is that my husband and I will be better off financially with Trump in office. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? I refuse to sell my soul to the devil in such a way. I would gladly pay more taxes and give whatever I could potentially gain with this creature in office to those who need it so much more. This life here on Earth is but a blip in time for me. For all of us. My life here will end, I'll shed this body and the trappings of the life I had, but I know for certain my soul will endure. I've tried to stay positive about this president and wait and see what happens. But this has shaken me. I can't imagine the thought of coming face to face with God and having to explain how I stood by and said or did nothing while my country, no longer a beacon of hope to the world, turned away the suffering. I will not bury my head and sit quietly. We have a president who is perpetuating fear and division. So I'll resist. Annoying and uncomfortable as it may be to some, I will speak up and go on record as saying No, this is wrong.

YALL, when Dick Cheney, Lindsay Graham, Michael Moore and the Pope all agree that banning immigrants is wrong, well, strange times we are living in. If we stand by and allow this ban to happen, may God forgive us for being so horribly selfish and cowardly.

Pope Francis washing the feet of Muslim and Hindu migrants to Rome.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Dear Winter, Go to Hell. xoxo, Me.

It's 23 degrees and windy as eff outside. I'm standing at my kitchen window clutching my third cup of tea for warmth. There's a package of chicken breasts on the counter put out to thaw this morning. Eight hours ago. They're still frozen. I just heard a bumpety-thump and skid in the driveway. An arctic blast has blown the trashcan over and about twenty feet away.  I look to see if it's blocking anyones ability to drive up. It is not. Who am I kidding, I wasn't going out to move it for nothing. Peering out the window and contemplating my fourth cup of tea, I hear a tiny shrill whistle right next to my ear. I look down and realize wind is hissing through the little slits of an electric outlet. Winter hates me. Good. I hate it too.

I wouldn't make a very good pioneer woman. I've read Little House on the Prairie and Cold Mountain. I saw The Revenant. I turn into a champion, Grade A, all-conference complainer in the winter. Not proud of it, but I just can't deal. Not when my hands are blue, my shoulders perma-hunched and my nose runs like a mountain stream. Things like getting out of a warm bed are monumental feats of inner strength. From the minute Christmas is over, I go into an irritated funk of pouting. I'm a preschooler, basically -loudly sighing, throwing a tantrum or two, pretty much seeking sympathy. Expressing my utter misery isn't optional. My sanity depends on it. I'm incapable of suffering quietly. So yeah, I wouldn't last long on the prairie. The townsfolk would shoot me dead and have a party around the bonfire celebrating the blessed silence. Ding dong the witch is dead. Fine by me, at least it's warm in hell.

Nope. Not gonna.
Satan's mouthpiece

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Faith the Size of A Mustard Seed

I will admit I have been mad at God this week. Maybe one day I will have the kind of rock solid faith that doesn't budge in the face of evil and injustice, to have my first thought be to pray, resting in peaceful assurance that everything is in God's hands. But I don't. Instead I get upset, toddler style. Internally, I rant, rave, jump up and down, cry, kick and scream at the unfairness of it all. I am not proud of this. I truly hope to grow out of this and become a wise and steadfast old woman one day. For now, I appreciate his patience. Here's the thing, when I have exhausted all that emotion and finally collapse at his feet, He wraps his arms around me and I know He understands exactly how I feel. My brothers and sisters are hurting. He feels it seven billion more times than I do. They are His children.

I'd love to say that after my outburst, God and I have a great talk and He explains all about giving us free will and why there is evil in the world and I'm okay with it and go skipping on my merry way. Tra la la la la. If only. Jesus didn't sugar coat it. He told us "You will have suffering in this world." (note: you will not you might) It's not paradise, this life. Now we see through the glass darkly but then we will see face to face. Right now our perspective is limited, but it won't always be. I have so many questions that I hope will be answered one day. For now, I will be grateful to be alive on this crazy and beautiful planet.

So when I fall at God's feet and surrender my anguish, what happens is this - a bit of a paradox - I feel both small AND powerful. I feel small because, well, He's God. I am reminded of my place in the vast universe. There is comfort in that. I also feel powerful. Why? God has given me, and you, a job in our time here on Earth. Love others. There is immense power in that. Maybe right now I can't comfort a Parisian man who has lost his wife or a Syrian child who has lost her home, but I can love everyone I come in contact with, friend or stranger, right where I am. Every day. And I can chose not to get sucked into the fear. Because as hokey as it sounds, our energy and our attitude is contagious. So I will keep my eyes open and my mind alert in our dangerous and complicated world. But I will not be paranoid. I will not live in fear. I will not become skeptical and bitter and negative. I will choose faith, love and yes, joy in the face of terror and sadness. It feels good, this small rebellion in my heart, to deny the terrorists what they want. Why? Because I can.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Love Prevails In Charleston

They welcomed him into their Wednesday night Bible study. He sat with them for an hour as they studied, worshipped and prayed. Then he stood, took out his gun and said "(black people) are taking over our country, you have to go" and ripped another ugly, irreparable hole into the magnificent tapestry that is the American people.

I hope he is halfway right and that one day it does happen, that people of such exceptional character as those nine beautiful souls do take over this country. We should be so lucky to have people just like them in charge. One was a beloved pastor, a "peacemaker" and a "moral compass", whose wise counsel was sought by many. One was a 45 year old mother of three and an inspirational high school track coach. One was a quietly giving librarian dedicated to helping others acquire knowledge. Another was a war veteran, retired pastor, scholar, and grandfather. The eldest was an 87 year old grandmother who, according to her grandson, "had no animosity toward anyone." All fine people. All contributors to the world. All cherished by friends and family. All dedicated to their faith. All shot simply because they were black.

The deranged shooter and racists like him, hiding in the dark behind their imbecilic ideology, are the ones that have to go. There is no place for them in society anymore. I pray they are rooted out and exposed for who they are: a fearful, ignorant minority. As technology connects us and the world gets smaller, we have better insight into our fellow human beings around the world, I see us moving forward with curiosity, acceptance and a desire to understand each other and to be understood. We are beginning to see that our similarities and our common humanity far outweigh our outward physical and cultural differences. Racists have a choice. They can cling fearfully to their false sense of superiority and get left behind. Or they can open their eyes and face the truth that no one race is better than another, just different. That our souls are what we truly are, what matters, our bodies just a shell. I pray they can change. For those that refuse, justice can't come swift enough. 

What happened after the shooting is nothing short of miraculous. The shooter said his intent was to spark a race war and bring back segregation. The exact opposite quietly unfolded in Charleston last week. Two days after the massacre, the families of the dead faced the killer at his bond hearing. Broken hearted, hurting and angry, they rejected hate. Through tears, they forgave him. They told him they were praying for his soul. That Sunday, over 15,000 people - black, white, brown - peacefully gathered together on the bridge that spans the Cooper River. Families, neighbors and strangers held hands, embraced, sang songs and marched. They held up signs that said "Love thy Neighbor", "Only Love Conquers Hate", and "My Race - Human." Dozens of boats from Charleston harbor formed a line and dropped anchor under the bridge, honking horns in support. As the sun slipped below the horizon, the activity paused for nine minutes of silence. The Holy City has shown the rest of the world what love, grace and courage in the face of evil looks like. May they be an example to us all.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie

I am not Charlie. What I am a is wholehearted supporter of their right to free speech. I admire their bravery and persistence, but on a personal level I just can’t relate to the desire to provoke rather than engage. I don’t see the productivity in mocking the religion of an entire population of my fellow human beings, knowing most will find it in poor taste and the batshit crazy minority will find it grounds to commit murder. I get that it’s satire, and I sincerely hope there is always a place for that kind of humor to be expressed freely, but to me it simply wasn’t funny.  It came off as juvenile and irresponsible. I’m grateful I have the freedom to buy or not to buy and to agree or not to agree with political satire and I hope Charlie Hebdo will always remain in print. I didn't even know they existed until last week, but now the whole world does thanks to the terrorists. And I imagine their audience has multiplied tremendously. To that, I say comme il faut, vous aves ce que vous meritez, des terroristes.

Personally, rather than igniting the rage of a murderous few, I’d like to see journalists create work that sparks an honest dialogue with the millions of sane Muslims on our planet and those of us that seek to understand them better. I believe if we could do that, we would find we have a lot more in common with each other than we have differences.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Broken Crayons Still Color

I was depressed. Not sad, not blue, not going through a rough patch. I was clinically diagnosed with severe depression. Diagnostic code 296.23, to be exact. It's been so long ago that it almost seems it happened to a different person. But it was me and it makes up a significant part of who I am now.

Mental illness is complicated and talking about it makes people uncomfortable. We tend to hide the uglier side of ourselves out of fear others will think less of us or worse, abandon us. So we don't talk about it. Only a handful of people in my life know about my depression and the things that led up to it. I used to be ashamed of it. Not so much anymore. Maybe it's my age, but the truth is we are all flawed and damaged to some degree. The older I get the more I see that. I wish I knew it then.

I was about halfway through college. In an odd way, I was happier than I'd ever been. My nomadic childhood behind me, for the first time I felt I truly belonged somewhere. On the surface, things were good. What I kept hidden was that I was drowning in waves of heavy sadness, lapping at my feet at first, then eventually my head was going under. Away from home, I was starting to process some of my troubled early years. Utterly exhausted and tired of holding it together for so long, I began to slowly fall apart. I was powerless to stop it. It's surprising how easy it is to fall apart. The hard part is putting yourself back together.

My thinking began to take a dark turn. All my imperfections, real and perceived, seemed insurmountable. I saw myself as a jumble of deficiencies, weaknesses and unfixable flaws. It was overwhelming. Physically, I was barely functioning. I had trouble concentrating and staying awake in class. Secretly, in remote private cubbies where no one would see me, I wrote - memories and thoughts, attempts at making sense of how I felt. I also read a lot, searching for answers in material from my English classes, the Bible, classic novels, self help books. Anything I could find on being human and surviving it. I pored over books on psychology and mental illness. I was looking for an explanation of what was wrong with me. It took months, but finally in all that searching, I discovered I was depressed. I wasn't crazy. Although I certainly felt like it. What is crazy is how good I was at faking I was fine.

It's hard to describe to someone who has never felt it. You hurt on a subterranean level. It's an odd thing to feel pain with no outward signs of injury. It's your soul that's hurting. And your body wants to quit. It's lonely and it's scary as hell. All your energy is required to do the most basic functions. You can't cheer yourself, talk yourself, reason, drink, eat, sleep, exercise, pray, yourself out of it. I know because I tried all these things. It has to go away on it's own.

I believe depression is a combination of things. It's a perfect storm of genetics, environment, personality, experiences, and how you process all that, or can't. Some events in my childhood caused ripple effects that I feel to this day. But I can't say those things were specifically why I became depressed. It's just part of the puzzle. There are people with way worse histories than me that don't get depressed. I don't like to blame anyone or any thing for my depression. It just was.

Tired of hiding it, I admitted I needed help one summer over break. Over the course of a few years in and out of therapy, I laid down my burdens and secrets and was eventually able to step away from them with some perspective. I tried a couple of different antidepressants and finally settled on one that had the least side effects. It was work. The hardest I've ever done. I had to force myself to go. I thought of quitting every time I drove to the psychiatrist, because often it felt like it wasn't helping, it just hurt, like picking at wounds that would never really heal.

Going to therapy was a regularly terrifying job of pulling back the curtains of my past and facing my demons head on. Eventually, I was able to close some doors and walk away no longer feeling haunted by what was behind them. I began to view the world in a more realistic light. What was revealed when that finally happened was beautiful. Life was there, waiting for me. It was hard and it didn't happen overnight. I had to learn to fight dysfunctional reactions in certain situations and to think positively because negative thoughts were ingrained, second nature. I still struggle with that almost daily, but fighting it is more of a habit now.

It's different for everyone, but for me a few things were key in surviving depression. I said earlier that you can't pray it away. What I meant is that you can't pray and suddenly depression is gone. But you can cling to your faith to endure it. Which I did. I talked to God a lot - even when I felt nothing but anger. Psalm 40:2 had meaning to me and always will. Then there is simply the passage of time. Depression has to lift when it is good and ready. It doesn't happen overnight, it's more of a slow emergence. When I was crawling out of the darkness, I met someone who changed my life forever.  For the first time, someone didn't buy my "I'm fine" act. He saw me for exactly who I was, flaws and all, and not only seemed to be okay with it, but embraced it. He saw who I wanted to be but was okay with who I was at that moment. Unconditional love is a powerful thing. I am not the person I would be had he not come into my life and insisted on staying.

None of us are perfect. We all have dark places in our hearts and minds. For some of us, the only path to real happiness involves going through that darkness and coming out on the other side. I'm no longer embarrassed or ashamed of my experience. I'm too old for that. If someone thinks less of me after reading this, that's their problem, not mine. It's a small miracle I graduated from college considering my state of mind for a good part of it. I still struggle emotionally at times and probably always will, but I've come to accept that as my normal. I'm okay with it because what I have gained is compassion, tolerance, perspective and patience - with myself and others. And a dark sense of humor that I rather like having.

I'd like to think that my experience was of value if I can put it out there and help someone going through the same hell I did. If you're depressed, you're not alone. I understand. Believe me when I say it gets better. You will get better. I promise. Fear thrives in darkness, shed some light on it and watch it wither. I know this. I've done it. Don't believe the voice that tells you you're crazy or unworthy or unfixable. It's a liar. There WILL come a day when you can see again that life is beautiful. It may be a long and rocky road but don't you quit. Don't ever give up.