Category Archives: On Questions of Faith

One Year

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Today officially marks one year of clean time for me. As I consider this, I am grateful, humbled, somewhat in awe, and amazed.  I have learned so much about myself, other people, and my place in the world in the past year, I wouldn’t change any of this for anything. No pain is wasted. No tears are shed in vain. Everything can be infused with purpose, if we choose so. Our experiences can make us bitter people, or better people. I choose to let this experience make me a better person.

Often we say  that experience is the best teacher. I don’t believe that’s true. I believe evaluated experience is the best teacher. So, I have taken some time to look back and consider how I got here and what I’ve learned along the way.

I had to consider how it is I fell into addiction in the first place. I realized that drug addiction was only the latest in a long string of behaviors I have used over the years to avoid psychic pain.  Before drugs, there was alcohol. Before alcohol, there was self-injury, and I have a body covered in scars as a result. Before self-injury, there were possessions…shoes, handbags, clothing, whatever. All of these things were addictions, in one form or another. It wasn’t until I came face to face with my addiction to MS Contin, though, that I realized I had a problem.

Physically detoxing from the drugs has been the easiest part of this journey, despite the fact that by day 4 of detox, I was begging the heavens for death. I distinctly remember believing it would be less painful to chew my arm off than it would be to continue the living hell of detox. Even with medication to help ease the process, detox is brutal. DO NOT do it at home like I did. Get yourself into a facility where they specialize in treatment of addiction, and detox under the compassionate, watchful eye of those trained to help you. Detoxing alone, even with medications, is a living nightmare. Don’t do it.

Doing things the way I did, though, I realized that I am stronger than I thought I was. Although, when people tell me I am strong, it’s difficult for me to accept it as true. I do not often see myself as strong. I see myself as a survivor. I am strong because I have to be, not because I want to be or because it comes easily for me. I am simply too stubborn to accept defeat if I can help it.

While I was detoxing, as soon as I was able to hold a book and read for a bit, I read The Other Irish: The Scots-Irish Rascals Who Made America by Karen McCarthy. It helped me remember that those who came before me were also survivors, being strong because they had to be, finding a way through their difficulties with ingenuity, an indomitable will, and the ambition to see the other side of their troubles. Some people read religious texts during detox and find strength in that. I read about my heritage, found courage in recognizing that I am part of a heritage of strength, and found the will to see the excruciating process of detox through to the end.

As I said, though, the detox was the easy part. I haven’t had an arm-chewing day in a long time, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still struggle with cravings. When I am having a rough time emotionally, it’s very tempting to numb the pain. I know it would be so easy to drown my sorrows in whiskey, or get my hands on a few pills and numb myself that way. For a brief moment, I would feel great, life wouldn’t hurt, and all would seem well. However, on the other side of that are the consequences for that choice. On the other side of that awaits the dark abyss I have just climbed out of…a place where I am emotionally numb, mentally absent, unavailable for my son in any real context, and letting life pass me by because I am too checked out to give a damn. I don’t want to go back to that place. So, I “think through the drink”… or the pill-popping…and recognize that no amount of temporary relief from pain is worth what it would cost me.

Since getting clean, I have found myself capable of enjoying my sweet son like never before. I have always enjoyed him, but I was so checked out for the first few years of his life, I missed getting to know him. As I woke up from my years-long stupor, I had the joy of discovering that I have been given an amazing child. He is smart, creative, funny, sweet, compassionate, kind, mischievous, clever, tender…and so many more wonderful things. We have become so much closer than we ever were before, and I savor my time with him. I am an unbelievably blessed mom to have the privilege of raising this child. Single parenting isn’t always easy, but I believe the investment in our children is always worth it. I wouldn’t trade this for all the child-free time in the world!

I have learned that I am capable of deeply loving someone. That at once thrills and frightens me. Love makes us so vulnerable. When you love someone, no one else can hurt you quite like they can, even if it’s not intended. I used to believe that loving someone makes a person weak. For a long time after I left my son’s father, I put up walls. I lived in an emotional Fortress of Solitude, and while I wasn’t happy there, I was blissfully unaware of my misery because I was too doped up to care. In the year since getting clean, though, I have realized a longing for love in my life like never before. I became aware of the emptiness I felt, not because I need someone in my life to complete me. I am a whole person and becoming a stronger, healthier person every day. No, I long for true love in my life because two are better than one. I long to know and be known, to love and be loved. I think love is a risk, but one which humankind chooses to take over and over and over again, and it is a terrible risk that reaps great rewards for those who are willing to take a chance and let their heart lead the way.

I have learned that no pain lasts forever. No matter how difficult a day may be, night eventually comes, we go to bed, we sleep (or lay awake, as it may be), and morning comes with a fresh start. It doesn’t mean everything is resolved, it just means that we can look at things with a fresh perspective. It’s amazing what can happen when we choose to stay quiet and calm rather than be reactionary when we’re faced with difficult situations. I am finding that out more and more every day. There is strength in silence. There are answers when we stay quiet and listen. Things don’t always have to be resolved in a day. Sometimes, we have to sit with the discomfort for a bit, letting things work themselves out, knowing all the while that the pain will eventually pass.

Whatever comes, life goes on. When we’re hurting, we can find comfort in knowing the pain will pass and someday we will smile again. When everything feels wonderful, we savor it and treasure those moments, knowing that life ebbs and flows, and we need rain so we can appreciate the sunshine.

Physically, I feel better than I have in a long, long time. I’ve lost a lot of weight since I stopped using, and that feels amazing. I was at the bank today and someone said, “Hey, skinny!”. It took me nearly a full 30 seconds to realize they were talking to me. They asked me what I was doing to get in shape. That was amazing to me. I explained that I have literally been dancing my ass off. It never occurred to me that anyone would be asking me what I was doing to look good. I mean, that’s just ridiculous.

Still, it’s yet one more thing I have been able to accomplish since I stopped using. I am reclaiming my life, piece by piece. Reclaiming my physical health is something that I’ve needed to do for a long time, and I finally feel strong enough to do it. I look better, I feel better, and I am living better.

I have started looking for work, another area of my life I am reclaiming. I am not helpless. I am not weak. I am capable of taking care of myself and my son and moving us toward better things in life. Working again is going to bring so much more meaning to my days, because it will enable me to feel the pride of bringing home a paycheck, the joy of interacting with other people, the thrill of learning new things, and the satisfaction at the end of the day of feeling tired for a good reason. I am eager to get back to work, and I hope something comes through for me sooner than later.

If I had to summarize this past year, I would say it’s been a year of rediscovering myself. I have learned a lot about how strong I can be when it’s required of me. I have learned a lot about what I am capable of when I set my mind to something. I have learned that I am more than I give myself credit for, and I need to be as kind and gentle with myself as I am with my friends when they are in need. Being kind to myself is something I am not good at, but I am getting better. I am blessed with some amazing people in my life who remind me how important that is. I have learned that none of us are perfect, and we can all afford to give each other a little more grace. I am very much a work in progress. I am deeply flawed, unapologetically human, but the goal is progress, not perfection.

I am grateful every day for my sobriety. I am thankful for the support I have from friends and family. I am thankful that I have had this past year to heal and get stronger. As I begin year 2 of clean time, I realize it’s time to set goals for the future and work toward them. I’ve been in this place of limitations and loss long enough, and it’s time to move forward. Step by step, one day at a time, I am doing exactly that.

Thank God.

Now, we dance.

Life is for Loving

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Just today, I finished reading The Slavery of Death by Richard Beck. I’ve said before, and will say again, if you can get your hands on a copy, it is well worth reading. Regardless of your views on religion, particularly Christianity, this book will challenge you to examine what you hold dearest in life, what you fear most, and where your treasure truly lies.

The truth is, none of us is getting out alive. Eventually, we will draw our last breath and transition from this plane of existence to whatever comes next. There is no escaping it. So, what we’re left with is deciding what we will do with this one life we’re given. What is going to motivate us? How will we spend the time we’re given?

Of course, while we may not say it outright, many of us harbor a belief that life is best spent reaching toward some notion of success that can be measured through wealth, material gain, and a name that becomes somewhat immortal. When people remember us, we want them to remember us as good people who put our whole selves into everything we did, working hard to achieve the accolades we received, the possessions we owned, and the reputation we carried with us. For many of us, this drive is not merely about providing for our families and making sure we want for nothing, but it is something far deeper. It is the slavery of death. We are striving for immortality in the only ways we know how, become slaves to a paradigm in which our worth as human beings is directly linked to our success in the corporate world, our reputation among our colleagues, our ability to bring in a large paycheck and have the possessions to prove it.

To be sure, there is nothing wrong with wanting nice things. There is nothing wrong with pouring yourself into your work. The problem is, we so often choose to do so at the expense of other things, the things that make life truly rich and blessed. Time with our families, time with friends, time with ourselves to simply “be.” All of these things fall victim to the slavery of death, the knowledge we carry with us that our time is short and the best way to make time on this planet count is to make ourselves somehow materially indispensable to our employers, our communities, and our families.

The problem is, we are not indispensable. We are not immortal. We can be replaced by our employers, and millions of people have learned this sad fact in the last several years as our economy falls apart and people who have given years, sometimes decades, to their corporate bosses suddenly find themselves handed their walking papers. We plant flowers in the sand when we come to a place of believing that our hard work and dedication to the nebulous idea of “worth” to a corporation defines our value as human beings.

We hold the ideal that our value is not directly linked to our ability to earn a big paycheck, yet people working tirelessly for their bosses while ignoring their families proves that we do not really believe the ideal we hold in such high esteem. Call it the rat race, the hamster wheel, the day to day grind…whatever you like to call it, it’s a destructive cycle of striving and exhaustion. What is the better way?

The simple answer is: Love.

When we recognize that this life is but a brief moment…and hardly even that…in the larger scheme of things, and we are barely a blip on the cosmic radar, we can be liberated to embrace the better things life has to offer. We are free to exist outside of the striving. We are free to let ourselves be okay with being “average” or “good enough” from time to time, if it means we have more of ourselves to give to those things that are more important than paychecks and accolades. There is freedom in knowing this ride, this beautiful, crazy, all to brief ride of life, is a temporary thing and we only get to go around once. Who wants to spend that time on a hamster wheel?

But what does love mean, and why do we seem to collectively fear surrendering to it? Love makes us vulnerable. Love indicates the possibility for pain and loss. Love creates a sense of fear in many of us. We know that when we love, it costs us something, and we fear being spent into a deficit. Yet, if we were to surrender to our collective need to love and be loved, which are truly the most fundamental needs human beings have when you strip away all the superficiality, we may find that there is plenty to go around.

Love is transformative. When a person is in love, they see the world differently.  Everything is more beautiful. People are more lovely. Colors become more vibrant, songs become more melodic and meaningful, and feet more readily dance to the rhythm of life. When a person is in love, everything…everything…everything…feels perfect. Life is just as it should be, because that person has surrendered themselves to something that is too big to contain, and they do not mind pouring themselves out for their beloved. In fact, it is a joy. The greatest motivator for someone in love is knowing that what they do is going to make their beloved smile and feel happiness in their heart. There is no concern for the expenditure of love, because it is an overflowing stream that never runs dry.

Imagine if we could fully surrender ourselves to love not only for that one uniquely beloved person, but to all of humanity. What would happen if we stopped looking at each other as a threat to our advancement or success? What if we shed this notion that we need to be “fine” all the time, and we could let ourselves be human and vulnerable and show each other when we need to be helped along the way?  What if those who are different from us were not perceived as enemies because they challenge our notions of what is important, but were instead perceived as people who challenge us to expand or do away with those notions all together? What if the people who are “problems” to us were people we went out of our way to love instead going out of our way to avoid?

And when we are confronted with all this need, failure, and brokenness, love will be the courage to listen, accept, and care for each other. And love will be the courage to face down my fears that in caring for you I will be used up, wasted, poured out, and expended. Love will be the courage to trust that others will care for me as I care for you. Love will be trusting in the needy economy of love over the fear-driven temptation to be self-contained and self-sufficient, to retreat into being ‘fine’ all by myself. And in stepping into this communal life we experience our liberation from slavery to the fear of death…In loving others and being loved in return, we move, in the words of St. John, ‘from death to life.’ (1 John 3:14 NIV)

-from “The Slavery Of Death”

I will be the first to say, I have a long, long way to go in shedding my tendency toward self-preservation. I get jealous. I get envious. I feel the need to do better than this person or that person just to be able to say that I did it. I do not always give way to these petty notions of what it means to be human, but when I do, I really do. As I read The Slavery of Death, though, I was challenged to evaluate why I do those things. What threat is anyone else to me, when we are all walking the same mortal road, fighting our own private battles? When everything the world tells us matters is stripped away…the titles, the money, the things, the reputation, the striving for perfection…all any of us yearn for is to love and be loved. It’s a universal longing, and it is one we have the ability to satisfy by laying down our weapons of pride, jealousy, and ruthless ambition, and embracing ourselves and each other as human, flawed, and mortal.

Be patient with me. I am an unfinished work. But I am learning.

Books can be dangerous. The best ones should be labeled ‘This could change your life.’

~Helen Exley

Life, In Pieces

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My son handed me his box of Legos and an instruction manual.

“Mom, we need to finish this helicopter.”

We … or, I, rather … had started building a helicopter for him, using the instructions included in the kit, and set it aside when, mercifully, bedtime arrived. It sat, unfinished, for days, pieces of it being knocked off as Jaden played with it, tossed it back in the box, and played with it again…before tossing it back in the box. All my hard work was for naught, and I had to start nearly from scratch.

I did not make Lego vehicles and such while I was growing up. I made simple things, like houses and primitive Lego cities, but I left the building of the machines and vehicles to my brother. When I was a little girl, those were things boys did, not girls, and I didn’t bother even considering the idea that I could build something of any useful purpose other than a rectangular building made out of rectangular blocks. (Admittedly, I was not the most imaginative child when it came to Lego structures…)

I looked at the box of Legos. I looked at the instructions. There were many steps, and each step required fitting together several pieces in just the right order. For a Lego rookie, it was intimidating. Yet, when your 5 year old says they want you to build a helicopter and they look at you with all the confidence in the world that you can do it, how do you explain to them, “Well, son, Mommy suffers from a crushing lack of confidence from time to time, and this is one of those times, so I’m going to have to say ‘no’ to the helicopter idea. Let’s build a rectangular house!” Of course I couldn’t say that. So, taking the box of blocks and the instructions in hand, I set to work.

Piece by piece, step by step, the helicopter came together. Some Legos had apparently been lost from the kit since Jaden got it last Christmas, but I improvised. What started as a jumbled mass of blocks began to look more and more like something recognizable until, finally, we had a completed helicopter. It had taken time, and my fingertips were a little tender from prying apart and then pushing together various tiny blocks, but the job was done.

“Here you go, bud, all finished.” I presented Jaden with his long-awaited flying machine.

He just beamed for a moment as he took in the sight.

“Mom, you did it! You built the helicopter!” He handled it gently. Bedtime had come and gone by now, but I was determined that he was not going to bed that night without having a helicopter in his possession. Sleepily, he carried the toy back to his bedroom and set it on his dresser. He fell asleep easily that night, sleeping soundly the whole night through. Something about having that toy completed gave him peace. Maybe it was the thrill of simply having it, or maybe it was the peace that came with knowing he could trust his mom to get things done. Whatever the case, he slept beautifully.

While the building of a Lego toy may seem small, it was a lesson for me. Right now, a lot of pieces of my life seem disjointed. I have big dreams for Jaden and me, but fulfilling those dreams requires income from a job I do not yet have. There are things I long for in the way of love and relationships that are utterly beyond my control, yet I firmly believe are meant to be part of the life I dream of for Jaden and me. There are so many things I dream of and hope for, and I only have a bunch of small pieces of those dreams that I can make a reality right now. The rest of it is still all mixed up in the box, and I don’t know what the pieces are or how they fit together just yet.

I do know the pieces are there, however. Piece by piece, step by step, as I do each next right thing, it all comes together to form the whole. I may have to improvise along the way, as some things may not fit together exactly as I want them to, but the finished form will be exactly what it needs to be. The finished form may change over time, but the pieces I need to keep life in tact during those changes are always going to be there, and will always fit together so long as I have the courage and insight to do what I know to do in this moment I am given.

The older I get, the more I see that life really isn’t that hard. When it gets complicated, it’s because I make it so. My emotions get in the way. My fearful thinking gets in the way. My worries about things outside of my control get in the way. All of those things are pieces that are not meant to be part of my schema, and they are pieces that will completely alter, possibly beyond correction, my progress toward my goals. Every great teacher the world holds in highest esteem teaches against a life lived in fear, constantly constricted with worries. Far better to live in this moment and do what we know to do right now, trusting that all will turn out just as it should if we do things piece by piece, step by step. We are always given enough light for the road directly ahead of us, and if we stay in our peace and follow the path illuminated for us right now, we can trust it is leading us right where need to go.

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Jaden’s helicopter. He did the stickers himself. :)

 

 

Rant: Stupid Girl; Screw the Patriarchy

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Stupid Girl

I posted this video a couple days ago but did not take the time to comment much on why I did it.

I did it because I am a vain, insecure woman who all too frequently feels the pressure to look like this and act like that…even though I know it’s stupid and not true to who I am. I posted it because, as always, I am hoping we can have an honest conversation about the dichotomy of influences between the kind of women we want the young girls in our lives to become, and the kind of women they feel pressured to become by the media beast.

I am an intelligent woman. I am a great writer. I am well spoken. I can articulate my thoughts and feelings well, and in such a way that it inspires others toward honest introspection followed by actions reflecting what was found when they looked within. I am loving, caring, nurturing, passionate, honest, and loyal. I am a strong woman, a fighter, who has been through a lot more than many people would ever imagine being able to handle. I can be intense, but when tempered by the right measure of a low intensity vibe from others, I can relax. All in all, I think I’m pretty spectacular in the ways that really matter.

I’m also very humble.

I am not, however, a model. I have never been “hot.” I have never had the kind of look that makes a man forget his name, turn his head as I walk by, and watch me walk off into the distance. I have never had an enviable bust line. I have never had a taut behind that looked great in any pair of jeans I decided to throw on. And I sure as hell would never be caught dead in a bikini, although I do understand some women of…ample…proportions are confident enough to wear such attire, and that’s cool. I do not play “ditzy” very well. I absolutely will not…cannot…dumb myself down for someone. For these reasons, I often do not get a second look from most men. That doesn’t concern me. I only need a second look from the one who happens to be right for me.

What concerns me is that girls are being brought up in a culture where women who achieve great things that do not involve making a sex tape are routinely cast by the wayside, whereas those who choose to make a reputation for themselves based entirely on their stupidity and lasciviousness are esteemed as women to be idolized. We hear more about the Kim Kardashians of the world than we hear about all of these women put together on any given day, as though having made a reputation for oneself by playing dumb and stupidly sexy is somehow more laudable than, say, the actions of a teenage girl who stood up to the Taliban, even surviving being shot in the head at close range, to advocate for human rights and the right for all to have access to education. Where did we go so wrong?

I hate tabloids. They really, really make me sick. They are good only for lining bird cages or helping house train puppies. Beyond that, they serve no useful purpose. Yet, walk into any grocery store, pharmacy, discount store, and what do you see? Fodder. Garbage. Filth. Right there at the checkout stand, counting on the eye-catching headlines to grab you and whet your appetite for celebrity gossip, distracting you from the bigger, far more important, truly world changing things happening all around us. And those the “journalists” who populate these tabloids with their meaningless words and filthy lies elevate the ditzy women of the world to a place of importance which they do not deserve, meanwhile talking about whether or not the size of Hillary Clinton’s ass should be a deciding factor in whether or not she runs for president in 2016. Somewhere along the line, we have gone so far off track, and it is a terrible, destructive disservice to our girls.

And our boys.

By advocating an idea which states that women should be little better than dumb sex robots, it minimizes our young men to little better than consumers of mindless pleasure. Sure, that sounds great in fantasy. In reality, it’s a collective dumbing down of society, which can only lead to our demise. By teaching our boys that their greatest achievement would be to grow up and find a hot, dumb woman to … marry? live with? just have sex with? … we teach them to severely lower the standards for themselves and their own expectations out of life. We teach them that they are not worthy of achieving greatness with their intellect, because all their energy is spent obeying the god in their pants. By teaching our boys that they are no better than this, we perpetuate a culture which tacitly encourages abuses of all sort, rape, violence, and an utter disregard for self and others. When we reduce ourselves to products and consumers, we have made ourselves expendable in every sense.

Culture is such at this point that it is in every sense a man’s world. Women are told through multiple media outlets that their entire existence is spent looking, acting, living, working, in such a way as to please a man. Women, for all the progress we’ve made, are still treated as second class citizens by society at large, and women who protest this treatment are looked upon as frigid bitches, portrayed as ball busters, too edgy for mainstream but not to be outright ignored lest she become more infuriated and really cause a problem. We can’t undo an entire culture of lies and misrepresentation of women. We can, however, start by speaking truth at home and, in our small worlds, be voices for change in how women are perceived and treated.

Which brings me to my next point…

Screw the Patriarchy

Yesterday, I reblogged this post, in which some very bizarre ideas regarding courtship and a father’s role are analyzed. Among my favorite quotes are:

The young man who pursues marriage enters a foreign land where he wages war. On the hinges of that battle lie happiness or shame.

But though a potential bride may be deeply loved, she’s also at some level the foe. To achieve victory the young man must not only win her, he must defeat her and her family, snatching her from their bosom, converting her to himself, breaking her natural bonds with father and mother, brother and sister, nurse and friend, dog and home. There’s little that’s tender about it.

and…

Quite simply, our jobs as fathers is to present our daughters to their husbands as virgin brides (Deuteronomy 22:13-21).

I wish I could say that these ideas are unique, but I don’t think they are. They are stupid and ridiculous, but they are not unique to the weirdoes who wrote them. It seems that there is an undercurrent of such thinking among conservative evangelical Christians, and it’s alarming in its implications.

While the young ladies growing up in these households are certainly taught to dress modestly, live a “pure” life, and have a heart to serve others (meaning, her father and her future husband, respectively), she is being taught to be just as stupid as the women I discussed a few paragraphs ago. There is nothing to be admired in teaching a young lady that she is so incapable of thinking for herself that her father must select and approve of a mate for her, and that man must then tear her away from everything she holds dear lest her loyalties be divided. There is absolutely nothing to be admired in telling a young woman that she is so mentally and emotionally frail that she cannot even be in control of her own body, therefore, her father must take responsibility for assuring that she is a virgin on her wedding day.

(Note to fathers: There is no way you can guarantee that. Sorry.)

And this is another area where teachings at home have such far reaching consequences for the world at large. It’s easy to point to women who are scantly clad and gyrating across a screen and say that she is a stupid girl. Much more difficult is it to point out a young woman who is being trained to be stupid by men in her life who are telling her she is incapable of making some of the most life-changing decisions she will ever face. It is merely two sides of the same coin, and it is just as damaging. Stupid is stupid, whether it’s dressed in a cardigan and an ankle length skirt or a bikini top and Daisy Dukes.

Furthermore, this only reinforces to boys that women are substandard creatures. Therefore, this sort of teaching only further perpetuates cycles of abuse, dehumanizing women once again to a place of becoming a product to be consumed by whomever the woman’s father deems worthy. This sort of teaching elevates men to a place of ultimate authority, leaving women groveling for recognition and a place at the table. Again, it reduces men to mindless consumers of cheapened products, refusing to acknowledge the humanity and full worthiness of both men and women to be in mutually respectful, mutually loving, mutually submissive, mutually deserving relationships.

The Christian religion teaches followers to “be in the world, but not of it.” As far as I can see, media-trained stupid girls and victims of patriarchy who are trained to become church-stupid-girls are merely two sides of a very, very thin line.

The Power of Story

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One of my all time favorite shows is Syfy’s Destination Truth. The series features “intrepid world-adventurer” Josh Gates and his small crew traveling the world to investigate unexplained phenomena. These phenomena include everything from the stuff of your worst nightmares to things as common to the global zeitgeist as Big Foot or werewolves.  In every case, there is a legend behind the phenomena which drives the belief in its reality.

One of my favorite episodes features an investigation into Argentina’s El Lobizon. I find this episode compelling because it demonstrates how deeply the power of story can inform the choices of those whom the story impacts. While similar to the American werewolf, El Lobizon is a phenomenon which is said to occur only to the seventh son in a family with all male children, and he will morph into a ferocious dog rather than a wolf. So powerful is the belief in El Lobizon, the seventh sons are baptized as a precaution, with the president of Argentina occasionally in attendance. Families who do not baptize the seventh son are ostracized. The belief in El Lobizon is tenacious and powerful in its influence.

My all time favorite episode features an investigation into existence of Icelandic elves.  The belief in elves is so profound in Iceland, road projects have been diverted or delayed in order to protect elves and their habitats. The belief in elves informs not only planning decisions, but contributes to an overall abiding respect Icelanders hold for Iceland’s environment and unique landscape. These legends date back centuries, and stories involving elves and the need to protect them continue to be told to this day.

We are all influenced by the power of story. Whether we hold to religious myths, legends unique to our ethnic heritage, the memories held by the land we live on, or myriad other ways in which stories shape our lives, none of us are beyond its influence. These stories shape our world views and pepper our conversations with words and phrases rooted in stories we may never have heard, but which still hold sway over us.  Our stories empower us, encourage us, and inform us. The power of story is intrinsic to the human experience, from the smallest indigenous tribes in the most remote parts of the planet to the maddening pace of life in cities that never sleep.

The power of story is woven into our individual lives. Life is an individual’s story informed by the larger epic, and we shade that story for better or worse with how we live our lives every day. How do people feel when they are around us? How do they feel when we leave? Do we make the world a better place, or contribute to its problems? These details are what make our story either one worth reading, or one which people can happily live without.

There are plot twists. There are tragedies and brokenness and healing. There are love stories, and stories of loss. There are broken hearts. There are all the things necessary to make for one hell of a story, but it’s what we do with it that matters.

My own story has had its share of plot twists and brokenness. Lately, as I think about my story, I believe it’s in need of some redirection. The things I ache for in my life I cannot experience where I am right now, and I realize another major plot twist is going to be necessary in order to move my story forward. As it is, I have had a nearly 7-years-long chapter about loss, more loss, pain, stagnation, and only occasional moments of triumph and joy. It is a story I would have grown tired of reading a long time ago.

I finished the first draft of my future bestselling book over a month ago, and I haven’t touched it since. I often think about, but I haven’t been able to get back to it. I have wondered why this is, and I have concluded it is because I am still too close to the story. I do not have the clarity and perspective offered by distance from the places, the experiences, and the people I am writing about. I am still too wrapped up in the things which have shaped my story up to this point, the things I yearn to be completely free from. I came to understand that I cannot finish writing this book so long as I am here, because try as I may to move beyond the baggage that comes with this place, I cannot do it to the degree necessary to write a book worth reading. Everything in my life right now represents one thing to me: Failure. So long as I am living in a paradigm in which reminders of my many failures are all around me, I cannot finish this book.

I could contrive an ending, I suppose. I am creative and intelligent enough to weave together an ending which would satisfy the reader and would get this book technically finished. I make a point in my life to avoid contrivances, though. Whether it is in relationships or writing, scheming with an eye on achieving selfish goals is not my thing, so I cannot formulate a contrived ending for my book and find any satisfaction in it whatsoever. This book does need an ending, though. I need to finish this book, if for no other reason than to say I’ve done it.

So, now what? PLOT TWIST.

Honestly, though, I don’t know where such a plot twist would come from. Every effort I have made to orchestrate said twist has been thwarted, and I end up being knocked back down into the rut from which I am desperately trying to escape. For myself and my son, this story must move forward. I need a person or an opportunity to enter the story and change the course of events, because I can’t seem to do it myself no matter how hard I try. If ever a deus ex machina was needed, it’s now. While it is a literary device to be avoided at all costs, it is just this sort of intervention I would welcome in my life at this point.

Still, I have not resigned myself to accepting the current plot of my story as being the only plot available. There are always ways to alter a story and open the avenue for change, and it is with this in mind that I have been purging the unnecessary material baggage in my life. Last week, Jaden and I went through his many, many toys and chose for donation all but the toys he plays with most frequently. Yesterday, I sorted through the multitude of craft supplies of all kinds I had accumulated and sold the overwhelming majority of it for the bargain price of $20. An avid scrapbooker and her friends acquired hundreds of dollars worth of materials for very close to “free,” and I felt the burden of unnecessary stuff lifted from my shoulders. All in all, it’s a win/win. Will it dramatically change my story? No. However, it does create greater freedom for my son and I to seize upon any opportunities which may arise for us because we won’t have so much “stuff” to pack.

I am believing for big changes. I need these changes. I ache for them. I need them like I need oxygen, because I feel as though every day spent in this rut is sucking just a little more life out of my soul, and I don’t know how much longer I can do that before I fade away completely and become merely a shadow of myself. I feel as if I am becoming ashes.

Yet, like the phoenix, I am not undone by this. What could so easily mark my undoing will be the very things from which I will rise stronger and more beautiful than before. I am counting on it.

Plot twist.

The Thinks You Can Think

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If you missed the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, you missed a good show. The question up for debate was a fairly straightforward one: Is creation a viable model of origins in our modern, scientific era?

I watched the debate and did some live tweeting throughout, and I may or may not have become so frustrated at some points that I dropped an f-bomb in Ken Ham’s general direction.

Ken Ham, arguing in favor of creation as a model of origins, consistently fell back on his standard answer, which boiled down to, “Because the Bible says so.” Bill Nye consistently provided scientific evidence for his beliefs, challenging Ken Ham to do the same. Instead, Ken Ham delivered in less than two hours a complete argument for why creationism has no place in our public schools, and why it is most decidedly not science. What should have been a debate about science became, for Ken Ham, both a means by which to promote his museum and website, and a platform from which to share his beliefs regarding sin and salvation. What was couched in science became little more than another avenue by which to share a limited religious world view, and Ken Ham did more for the case against teaching creationism as a viable model of origins than he may even realize.

The Bible is not a scientific book. It can’t even be said to be an historically accurate book. It is a book of legends and myths, passed down through generations, never meant to be read as science or, in my humble opinion, meant to be applied as though its teachings are timeless. To use the Bible as though it possesses unique wisdom is ludicrous and, frankly, ignorant. The stories contained within the Bible aren’t entirely unique, nor are their spiritual implications. By the end of the debate, I truly felt sympathy for Ken Ham, because his repeated claims that no other book on earth contains the answers about man’s origins, the birth of consciousness, explanations for illness and disease, and so forth, made him look foolish. It made him appear as a man who is so deeply entrenched in his own world view, his own system of beliefs, he cannot even fathom the possibility that he may be wrong, or that others may have wisdom of their own to contribute. He became the consummate fundamentalist, the embodiment of every reason people have to fear religion and order it out of the public arena.

If you missed the debate, you may watch it here.

This blog post, however, is not about the debate. Not really. It is about what Ken Ham’s arguments indicate about the state of things in fundamentalism. To quote Bill Nye’s oft repeated phrase during the debate, “It’s unsettling.”

The resistance against critical thinking within the fundamentalist circles remains strong. Throughout the debate, it became clear that the fear of the unknown and the discomfort with mystery has waned not a bit since my upbringing. The fear that thinking about things too much will lead to an abandonment of fundamentalist thinking, perhaps even faith itself, is as pervasive as ever.

Consider the following quote from the article The Problem With Explanations by Jay Younts, featured on Kirk Cameron’s website:

God has not called parents to explain but to train. Explanations often lead to frustration and anger for both parents and children. Children are not in need of lengthy, compelling explanations. What they are in need of is the understanding that God must be obeyed.

Explanations tend to focus on getting someone to agree with you. The logic for explanations runs something like this: If I can just get my children to understand the reason for my direction, then they will be more likely to follow my instructions. While this may sound like solid reasoning, it is not. Explanations are more consistent with gaining approval and winning arguments. Neither of these are appropriate goals for biblical parenting and can lead to anger in your children as Ephesians warns against.

I grew up in such a home. Explanations were never given. God was to be obeyed. Questions were not welcome. To see that in 2014 the quote above would be considered by some to be solid parenting advice is disturbing. Children need to be taught how to think, now what to think. These children are going to grow up, and in that process, they will have choices to make. If children are not taught how to analyze a claim and determine for themselves if such a claim is true, only partly true, or completely false, they are in no way equipped to handle the decisions they will face in a world where clear cut answers are rare and options must be weighed.

Why the fear? What is it about teaching kids to think that is so disturbing to the fundamentalists?

I think the answer is best stated in a conversation with Veggie Tales creator Phil Vischer. Initially, it appears he may be reading from the book A Manual for Creating Atheists by Peter Boghossian. As the conversation continues, however, he expresses his own points of view.

Vischer [possibly reading from Boghossian's book]: Here’s what I want to do. I want to encourage parents and Christian educators to teach critical thinking skills… do you know why we don’t do that?

[Co-host] Skye Jethani: ‘Cause it’s hard.

Vischer: ‘Cause we’re afraid our kids will actually use them.

Jethani: And they might come to a different conclusion.

Vischer: And they might come to a different conclusion than we have come to.

Vischer: … some in the home-schooling movement, because of Michael Farris who’s the head of the [Home School Legal Defense Association] and founded [Patrick Henry University]… he’s been encouraging home-schoolers to learn forensics and debate so that they can debate the world… And so home-schoolers are debating and kids are learning how to debate, but what’s happening that no one foresaw is some of these kids are using their new critical thinking skills to question their parents’ beliefs, and parents are becoming very upset.

You can view the entire podcast here.

While this is but a snippet of a much longer broadcast, I know from my own experiences and from reading about the experiences of others that the fear that children will learn to think for themselves is real. The tendency toward questioning the absolutes is blamed on the humanistic teachings of “the world,” with no consideration of the possibility that perhaps people question these things because they prove to be irrelevant in the world which exists beyond the carefully guarded borders of fundamentalist circles.

I encourage my son to think. I encourage him to ask a lot of questions, about anything and everything. I want him to make his own discoveries and come to his own conclusions. There have been more than a few occasions in which he has presented an argument for his perspective, and I had to concede the point to him. While some people may see this as permissive parenting, I see it as teaching my son to utilize and hone skills he is going to have to use every day of his life, because we are never lacking for decisions that need to be made. Furthermore, I encourage it because I want my son to know he can talk to me, and that he can do so without fear of judgment or shame. I love his mind, and I enjoy seeing him grow into a creative problem solver and a wise thinker. He is an old soul, and far be it from me to hinder that old soul with antiquated superstition and the utilization of vague fears and unnamed guilt.

I fear for the children who are not encouraged to think. I fear for the future in a country where fundamentalism is gathering momentum through political agendas funded by religious organizations. I worry that the Ken Hams and Kirk Camerons of the world are considered heroes, who believe that everything is black and white, answers are found in only one source, and are convinced that if you do not believe as they do then you are simply, unequivocally wrong. All perspective is being lost. I fear that those fighting to wrestle power away from the people, with an agenda toward what amounts to a theocracy, will nearly criminalize free thinking to such an extent that the collective dumbing down of our nation will result in something not entirely unlike the world featured in the movie Idiocracy.

Thinking is such a gift. Everything we see around us, for better or worse, began with a thought. An idea. A spark of inspiration. The question, “What if…?” My heart weeps when I think of children being robbed of this gift in the name of religion. My soul trembles when I think of what it means for the future for all of us if we cannot celebrate the gift of being able to think and decide and do for ourselves instead of relying on books and notions that were never intended to be a panacea for all that ails humanity.

Thinking does not have to lead to a loss of faith. Thinking may transform that faith into something of substance, brining the Sunday School Jesus down from the flannel board and into a place of vitality and viability in one’s life. Thinking is not the enemy. Rote answers and blind obedience are the things that enslave us, and we were not born for this.

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery

None but ourselves can free our minds.

-Bob Marley, “Redemption Song”

Why Do I Blog?

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My amazing new friend, Ellen, of Ellen Exploring, asked a poignant question when she asked “Why Do I Blog?”.

I answered the question on her blog, but I thought I’d bring the discussion here, too. I have a handful of bloggers who follow me and I am interested in knowing…. Why do you blog?

I blog for several reasons, but the first being simply that I love to write. Writing has, for as far back as I can remember, been my mainstay for self expression. I have dabbled in poetry and short stories over the years, and filled countless pages in diaries. I write because I have hands. Trying to explain why I write is like trying to explain to a fish that it is wet. I write because I do. It simply is.

I also write here, though, because I have been through some things. I was bullied a lot as a child, teased for everything from my looks to the kind of socks I wore and everything in between. This went on through most of my school years, and continues in various forms even in my adulthood. Having known that pain, I can well relate to what it feels like to grow up believing one is somehow flawed, inadequate, not pretty enough to be one of the cool girls, and so on. It is a terrible pain to endure, and it creates festering wounds that heal only with a willingness to face them and all their smelly gore, open them up and clean them out, and find the strength to heal. And heal. And heal again.

When I entered my preteen years, the onset of depression was swift. Whether this depression was the outgrowth of years of bullying or the onset of changes in my brain that came with age, I don’t know. All I know for certain is that I went through a desperately dark period of time during which I often thought that to die would be a great adventure. The struggle was made worse by growing up in a Pentecostal evangelical environment which, to this day, generally does not acknowledge the reality of mental health needs, thus causing people who suffer with depression or other forms of disorder to suffer in shameful silence. I learned early on that the church was not a safe place to turn and share with raw honesty about one’s struggles in this regard. Over a period of years and many attempts to find understanding within the church bubble, I learned that people who have the obstacles I face within my own brain are, more often than not, left to fight their battles alone, in the shadows where their perceived spiritual failures have placed them.

By the time I was in my twenties, I reached a place of nearly complete despair, and ended up engaging in self-injury as a means to deal with it. My body tells a story with its scars. In my mid-20s, I began receiving treatment for depression, and I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I began making a new life for myself, and I felt as though I was on top of the world. Finally, things were turning around. I had a life. I had friends. I had a certainty of myself such as I had never felt before. I carved out a place for myself in my small corner of the world, and life was good.

At the age of 31, I was diagnosed with cancer. Everything fell part again. What had taken me so long to accomplish was undone as quickly as the diagnosis was given, and I ended up moving back in first with my parents and then with my sister as I underwent radiation therapy, which followed major surgery to remove the tumorous kidney. The treatment had left me more sick and weak than the cancer itself, but I am told it saved my life. I will have to take the doctor’s word on that. The depression I had so successfully held at bay came back with a vengeance, and I began drinking and popping pills to cope with it. Enter, six years of addiction.

Less than a year after my cancer diagnosis, I met the man who would be son’s father. We got married, despite a thousand tiny red flags along the way, and a few massive banners, telling me that I needed to run, not walk, away from him. About a week after we were married, he told me, “You married the devil.” He was right. Our marriage was a brief, hellish nightmare, and I left when I learned I was pregnant. I never went back except to get my things.

I went through my pregnancy without a partner. I had people in my life who loved me, but going through a pregnancy without a loving partner by my side was by far the most lonely experience of my life. I cried myself to sleep many nights, holding my swollen belly and apologizing to my unborn baby for the mess he was being born into. Morning always came full of promise, though, and I learned valuable lessons in the months leading to my son’s birth.

My son was born in December of 2008, and I entered a new phase of life: single motherhood. I learned to hold loosely to things. My ex didn’t pay child support very often, and when he did, it was never the amount ordered. I learned to sell what needed to be sold so I could keep food in my baby’s belly and keep the electricity on. Everything else gradually became less and less important. I do not take nearly so much for granted now as I once did, and we have learned to live with less than the newest and best of everything.

In April of 2013, I finally faced my addiction, which had become far worse than most people would have ever guessed, and I got clean. The first week of detox was hell on earth, and I well remember wanting to chew my arm off because it seemed like it would be less painful than what my body was going through as the cravings raged. I remember begging for death. I remember the first morning I woke up without a craving, and thanking God for second chances. I have had no regrets since the day I chose to get clean. I feel more now than I have in years, and sometimes feeling the whole gamut of emotions is almost too much, but it’s far better than being one of the walking dead.

My heart has been broken. I’ve been betrayed. People have walked out of my life. I’ve had dreams shattered. I’ve had dreams fulfilled. I’ve loved passionately. I’ve been wounded deeply. I’ve lived. I keep living.

I blog to tell people that they are not alone. I’ve been through things, and it is my hope that I have learned a thing or two along the way that may help someone else who is going through some of the stuff I’ve been through. I blog to offer a hand for someone to hold, to tell those who are in pain that it will pass and a brighter and better day will come. I blog to remind myself that love is a risk, but it is one worth taking, and not everyone is out to get us. I blog so I can savor the beautiful moments life sends my way, and in doing so, perhaps offer someone else a taste of that beauty. I blog because I am human, and in sharing that blessed, messy, beautiful humanity with others, I find through people’s responses that we are all so much more alike than we are different.

I blog because I believe love wins, every time, and it is my hope that my story…my many stories…illustrate victory over adversity and a safe haven found in what only love can do.

Locusts

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Migratory Locust Locusta migratoria Swarm above marsh Okavango Delta Botswana October

“You’ve been through a lot in your young life, ” a friend said to me a couple nights ago.

She’s right. I have been through some things. There are times when I am prone toward wondering what my life might have been if I hadn’t encountered the difficulties I have along the way. How different would my life be if I hadn’t faced debilitating depression when I was younger? How different would life be if I hadn’t been bullied as a kid, or faced cancer as an adult? What would life have become if I hadn’t grappled with addiction? What condition would my heart be in if I hadn’t married a man who didn’t love or respect me? Where would I be if I hadn’t had a child by that same man, and taken on the daunting 24/7/365 task of single motherhood?

I don’t know. I don’t often speculate about it, because there is no point in doing so. I do know that I am grateful for these experiences because they have helped me become the person that I am, and I like who I am these days. There is a certain measure of honor that comes in suffering. There is a gift in being able to look at others who are walking down the path you have just left, and being able to validate their struggles with some understanding because you have been there yourself. Sometimes, the one who is suffering doesn’t need to be given the solution to their problem as much as they simply need their suffering to be recognized as valid, and there is a measure of joy that comes in being able to scream alongside someone because you know their pain, and you know it well.

That being said…

When my friend said that to me, my response was along the lines of stating a belief that I, and my son, will have restored to us tenfold the things that the locusts of life have eaten away. We will not always be in a place of running to stand still. As I have written here many times before, I choose to believe that circumstances, opportunities, and provision are already being made for us and when the time is right, the path to the next right thing will be made clear. I will not mistake the middle of my story for the end of my story. The best is yet to come, of this I am sure.

The LORD says, “I will give you back what you lost to the swarming locusts, the hopping locusts, the stripping locusts, and the cutting locusts. It was I who sent this great destroying army against you.

Joel 2:25

Locusts have a notoriously bad reputation. They travel in swarms, numbering well into the thousands, hundred thousands, or even millions in some cases. As they approach, they appear as a great black cloud, blocking out the sun, the sound of approaching destruction in the beating of their wings. Some observers have seen a swarm of locusts take anywhere from one to four hours to pass. When they land, they land as one body and immediately begin consuming everything that grows from the ground. When they are finished, little is left other than absolute desolation. Crops are wiped out. Trees die. Animals and humans starve for want of the food which would have been provided by those crops and trees and other living things consumed by the swarm.

A great destroying army.

Yet, we also read about locusts being used as food. While the eating of locusts is likely not something that appeals to most of us here in the United States, the consumption of locusts does offer a source of food which many people in the world use as a major source of protein. Protein is essential for the healthy maintenance of the body, from pre-birth to death. Our bodies cannot become strong and function as intended without the consumption of a substantial amount of it. Therefore, in the case of consuming locusts, that which could easily be a harbinger of destruction is turned into a source of life-sustaining nutrition.

So it is with the locusts that sometimes sweep through life. As difficult as the stages of my life have been up to this point, I have found that it becomes easier when I lean into the pain rather than do my best to pull away from it. Some pain is meant to be ours for a time, and when we’re in the midst of it, living from a place of accepting what is to be for the moment offers more peace than straining against it. Just as farmers have found that using loud noises and fire does little to ward off an approaching swarm of locusts, I have found that I can’t push away the seasons of struggling that are meant to be mine. The struggles only last for a season, and when it is over, that which could have easily been my undoing has ultimately only made me a stronger and better citizen of the world.

I am not sure what restoration looks like after the locusts have swept through and consumed everything. I do know, however, that there is freedom which comes with having all pretense stripped away and finding out who we are and what we’re made of when the things we used to identify ourselves are no longer there. I have been through some things. I know who I am without having a lot of the external identifiers culture tends to rely upon to determine someone’s place and value in the world. I know the damage that the locusts of life can do.

I also know there is something life-sustaining that these seasons of pain can offer, if we will partake of the unconventional offering.  I believe that is where restoration begins.

I told my friend that I believe Jaden and I are due for some really great things after this long season of myriad difficulties, and I truly do believe that. I believe there is something significant in the fact that I am coming up on seven years since my cancer diagnosis and treatment, as seven signifies perfection and completion. I believe we are coming upon a completion of this time of difficulty, and there are blessings awaiting us that are far beyond anything I could imagine right now.

Tonight, I am aware that there are still locusts munching away at my life. Trying to, rather. I choose to consume the locusts for their life-giving energy and strength, rather than letting them consume me. I’ve been through a lot of things, and I will get through the things I am dealing with right now. With a quiet sense of gratitude, then, I thank the locusts, because they show me who I am when all is stripped away and it’s just me standing there. I like me. And I find comfort in knowing that though a meal of locusts may not go down easy, I am only made stronger for having had it.

Hungry Ghosts

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gaki1

It’s been 6,480 hours. 388,800 minutes. 23,328,000 seconds. Nine months since I stopped using the opiates that were taking everything away and giving nothing in return but an insatiable craving for more. In the last nine months, I have had times of blissful freedom from cravings and the yearning to escape, and other times when the cravings and the wish to escape have been nearly overwhelming. In all of it, I have had moments of self-awareness and understanding such as never before, allowing me to make some sense of how I became an addict in the first place.

As this understanding grew, I felt compelled to write it all out, thus the humble beginnings of the amazing bestseller I am working on. In writing my story, I became aware of some patterns in my life, cycles I seem to go through over and over again before I finally reach a resolution which allows me freedom from whatever given cycle I had been stuck in. Recognizing this pattern prompted me to further explore an idea I first learned about a few months ago by way of a documentary.

Actually, I’m not sure that “documentary” is the right word for it. Samsara is more or less a guided meditation disguised as a movie. The imagery is at once breathtaking and disturbing, showing what is most beautiful and what is most hideous about our modern world existing side by side. I watched Samsara this past summer, and it has stayed with me since, needling at something within my spirit, begging for further attention.

So, attention it shall have.

“Samsara” is a Buddhist term that literally means “continuous movement,” and is often translated to mean “cyclic existence.”

Within Buddhism, samsara is defined as the continual repetitive cycle of death and rebirth that arises from ordinary beings’ fixating on a self and experiences. Specifically, samsara refers to the process of cycling through one rebirth after another within the six realms of existence,where each realm can be understood as either a physical realm or a psychological state characterized by a particular type of suffering.

That idea intrigued me, so I looked further into the six realms of existence. I am not going to pretend to understand all of this, as Buddhism is something I haven’t studied. I am only vaguely familiar with it. However, in looking into the six realms of existence, the one which most grabbed my attention was that of the hungry ghost.

“Hungry ghost” is one of the six modes of existence. Hungry ghosts are pitiable creatures with huge, empty stomachs. They have pinhole mouths, and their necks are so thin they cannot swallow, so they remain hungry. Beings are reborn as hungry ghosts because of their greed, envy and jealousy. Hungry ghosts are also associated with addiction, obsession and compulsion.

When I think about the years lost to drug addiction, and as I exam the years preceding that addiction, I can see that I had for a long time existed in the realm of hungry ghosts. Addiction can come in many forms. It can be an addiction to drugs or alcohol, certainly, but there are other compulsions which drive us to do all manner of self-destructive, relationship-destructive, and world-destructive things. It can be an addiction to power. An addiction to approval. An addiction to perfection which can take on an unhealthy dimension. It can be an addiction to feelings of worthlessness, held onto because they are comfortable and familiar, even as they are destructive. We don’t hold on for very long to that which does not give us some measure of comfort. Even the hungry ghosts find something comforting in their existence of constant, insatiable, unrelenting, ravenous want.

A hungry ghost is a pitiable creature indeed. Its appearance is grotesque. A hungry ghost is in a perpetual state of want, and perpetually unable to fulfill that want. A hungry ghost has not made peace within itself to live with contentment in the moment it has been given, and is instead persistently yearning for what it cannot have. The impact of the hungry ghost on its immediate environs and relationships is devastating, to put it mildly.

While I associate the hungry ghost with an addiction to substances, there are other types. Perhaps one of the most destructive is the type that comes in the form of an obsession over a relationship one cannot have. Either the object of the obsession is spoken for and therefore unattainable by any respectable person, or the object of the obsession simply isn’t interested. Whatever the case, being in love with someone who doesn’t love you back is painful, and the inability to accept that the love simply isn’t going to be returned can turn an otherwise fairly ordinary person into a raving lunatic in a short period of time.

I recently witnessed such an unraveling, and the destruction left in the wake of this hungry ghost continues to manifest. Jealousy turned into rage, rage turned into delusions, delusions turned into a character assassination, and character assassination resulted in relationships destroyed and trust forever broken. Yet, the hungry ghost remains insatiable, still pursuing the object of obsession, still mired in jealousy and compulsion, still roaming in its own personal, self-created hell. It is both profoundly disturbing and equally tragic to witness the appetite of a hungry ghost run amok.

How much more at peace could each of us be if we were to accept what is given to us, and let go of what is not meant to be ours. There comes a point when there must be a realization that an addiction, be it to a substance or to an obsession with an individual, is doing far more damage than good in our lives and it is time to go into recovery. Withdrawal is painful. It can be excruciating, and may make one beg for death before it’s all over, but it eventually does end and we are able to see clearly again. The sun rises on a new day, and we have the opportunity to live healthier lives, free of the compulsions which kept us in the realm of the hungry ghost. By choosing to accept that some things are not meant to be, and celebrate the things that are meant to be, we can create a new reality for ourselves.

This is my take away from the last nine months. We cause ourselves so much suffering by yearning for what is not meant for us. There is peace in accepting what is ours for the moment. What is meant for us will come to us in its own time. All we have is today. All we have is this moment. In this moment, we have all we need, and all is well.

A Thrill of Hope

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Truly He taught us

To love one another

His law is love and

His gospel is peace

Chains shall He break

For the slave is our brother

And in His name all oppression shall cease

“O Holy Night” is a song that moves me like almost no other song can. The message of hope which illuminates all darkness and transcends all despair has always resonated with me, and it’s a song I have long cherished.  This Christmas, though, the words mean more to me.

My sweet baby boy will be five years old in only a few days. In all his five years, this is the first Christmas we will spend together in which I will be completely clean and sober. There will be no opiate haze overshadowing the magic of Christmas morning or clouding my memories of it. I will not be so doped up that I am hopelessly dragged down, too sleepy from the false notion of peace that comes with popping an MS Contin or Norco or Vicodin or all three and then some. This Christmas, for the first time since my son’s birth, I will be fully present and engaged in the moments shared with my son and our extended family, and I will cherish these memories and write them all down for Jaden in the journal I keep for him.

This Christmas, for the first time in many years, I am experiencing the thrill of hope.

In thinking of the Christmases I’ve spent with my son up to this point, I feel a sense of loss because I don’t recall the details of what made those Christmas mornings special. When we woke up, my first concern wasn’t savoring the wonder of magic through my child’s eyes, it was getting my pills into my system early enough so I wouldn’t be grinding my teeth and clenching my fists while he was opening gifts. My primary goal every morning was always one thing: becoming numb. It was a goal I became all too adept at achieving, every single day for years on end, only to find that the homeostasis I sought was elusive because too much was never enough.

It’s easy to look back on the first three Christmases I’ve shared with my son and find a million different ways in which I’ve totally screwed it up, or could have at least tried a little harder to make things better. Yet, what is hope? It’s not something that wipes out every mistake we ever made, everything that ever went wrong, every wrong ever done against us. Hope is the belief that despite what has been before, it doesn’t have to be again, and our future has all the potential to be infinitely better than our past.

The first words spoken to mankind after the birth of Jesus, as recorded in Luke 2:10, are “Do not be afraid.” In that simple utterance, the beginning of liberty came for all people. The incarnation of God, in the form of a helpless baby wrapped in strips of cloth and finding shelter amidst the cattle and the sheep and the humans he would call Mom and Dad, came to us with the first concern being that we not walk in fear any longer.

I am 37 weeks and 3 days clean as of today. My addiction began when I went through cancer treatments in 2007. As I look toward 2014 and anticipate adding more clean time to my name, I also recognize that I am coming up on 7 years since the diagnosis which turned my life upside down.

On November 5, I wrote Seven, celebrating seven months of clean time as well as explaining why the number 7 has always been significant to me. As I approach 7 years since my diagnosis, I recognize that it signifies completion. A season in my life is coming to an end, a new one already beginning even if I don’t fully understand the ways in which that is happening just yet. So much feels different, and yet so much feels the same. I am still living in the small town I grew up in, only with an increased sense of urgency to move on to newer things for Jaden and me. I am still not sure what I want to be when I grow up, although “bestselling author” seems like a great idea. I still struggle with insecurities, fear of failure, feelings of inadequacy, and a laundry list of baggage that I’ve picked up and put down and picked up again over the years as I’ve tried to get out of this rut I fell into nearly 7 years ago. Yet, 7 calls to mind the thrill of hope as what has been comes to an end, and what will be is yet to begin.

As I celebrate the holidays with my son and our family and I think of the future I want to create for us, I am reminded of the gentle command, “Do not be afraid.” The angel goes on to say, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12, NIV)

God came to dwell among us, and his arrival was the beginning of something so remarkable that it was good news of great joy, for everyone. As though that weren’t enough, a whole choir of angels then bursts forth in song, singing “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is well pleased.” (v. 13, English Standard Version)

Do not be afraid. There is good news. God came to live among you, in the most humble and hope-filled form, that of a newborn baby, bringing peace to those who please him.

Who pleases him? I believe all those who want to please him. We may not know how to do it. We may make about seven years or more worth of mistakes before we finally do the first right thing, but I believe God is pleased with our desire to please him, even if our methods of carrying out that desire fall short. We may not agree on what pleases God, but there is a hint in the reading of some manuscripts of these few verses in which we’re told that God’s peace rests on people of good will.

How liberating that is! It’s almost like God is saying to the shepherds, and all of us who have read the words since, “Forget everything you’ve heard, forget everything you think you know. We’re doing a whole new thing now, and the fact that you want to please me, pleases me.”

Good news of great joy for all people, indeed.

This Christmas, my soul feels its worth, accompanied by the thrill of hope. The chains of oppression have been broken. I am free to live in Christ’s law of love, sharing the gospel of peace. When I look at my son, I see the face of God, and I know that regardless of what has been before, what is yet to be holds all the promise of being exceedingly, abundantly above all I could ever ask or think.

Worthy. Hopeful. Free. Blessed.

Merry Christmas