Tag Archives: Facebook

A Time For Healing

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Chains

Chains (Photo credit: h20tubig)

For the last couple of days, the blogosphere, Twitter, and Facebook have been buzzing with opinions regarding the comments made by “Duck Dynasty” patriarch, Phil Robertson. I have engaged in debate to the point of feeling sick with frustration, only to realize that neither I nor the person I am talking to on the other side of the issue is going to budge an inch and the debate is essentially pointless. What was an opportunity for discussion and understanding had devolved into an “us versus them” volley of memes and bumper sticker logic, and there was no understanding to be had at that point.

Yet, even as the debate has cooled, the questions raised by both Robertson’s comments and the debate which followed seems to have left a good many of us feeling bruised and beaten. In the limited time I spent on Twitter yesterday, I saw several people state that they felt profound grief over what happened in the wake of the GQ interview with Robertson.

Why so much sadness over this? Why has it effected people so deeply? It would be easy to spout off some snarky comment regarding the people who have taken this to heart. It would be easy to say that the people who have absorbed all of this and made it, for a time, a part of themselves are being too sensitive, getting too worked up over what a reality tv star said, and dismiss all of this out of hand as little more than just another buzz-creating PR ploy by A&E or overblown tabloid fodder.

I think it is much more than that, though, and it goes far deeper than being a trending topic on Twitter and Facebook. I think this has resonated so profoundly with people because it brings into focus deep wounds from which the church, and society at large, have not healed. The church has a history of supporting ideologies which disenfranchise people based on their sexual orientation and their race. The church has not been a friend, by and large, to people who are not white heterosexual males. While progress has been made, I think the discussion over the last couple of days shows that there is still a long, long way to go toward reconciliation between the gospel and its practical application in the world outside the church’s doors.

The Bible has been used to bludgeon those who are disenfranchised by the society the church has helped create. Gays, people of color, and those in poverty still regularly feel the brunt of ideologies, espoused as ultimate truth, which do not afford them the same dignity as white heterosexuals. I realize that’s a polarizing position to take, but an honest look at the culture which spawned the overwhelming support of Robertson’s comments would indicate that there is at least a measure of truth in what I’ve said. You’re free to disagree.

I have been grieved to see the unrelenting passion with which people defend the comments made by Robertson, essentially boiling their arguments down to, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” Aside from the fact that there is a tremendous amount of scholarly debate regarding what the Bible really has to say about homosexuality, it’s worth noting that the Bible has been used to support everything from slavery to the subjugation of women, and scripture can be easily found to lend credibility to these positions. Using unexamined scripture to support bigotry is still supporting bigotry.

The rhetoric adopted by the Christian right in support of laws which deny equality to homosexuals has real world consequences. People have been deeply wounded by the dogma which tells them, in essence, that they are deeply flawed because of their sexual orientation, and that even though it was not something they chose for themselves, God finds them so vile that he would rather send them to an eternity of conscious torment than allow them to set foot in heaven. It is disturbing to me that so many people are okay with this idea. These ideas are not at all far removed from the same rhetoric which justified slavery and the Jim Crow era Phil so fondly spoke of, in which people were told that they are less than human and are therefore not deserving of the same considerations as the white, fully human citizens of the United States.

Once upon a time, preachers spoke from the pulpit about the virtues of slavery, using myriad scripture regarding the humane treatment of slaves as a means to bolster their opinions. As the Bible has so much to say about slavery, it would be easy to make the case that it was okay for one human being to own another, to be master over that person. Yet, somehow, we found a way to form a new understanding of the Bible and concluded that there is “neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, slave nor free,” and we are all God’s beloved. We are all deserving of dignity and equality. How did we get to that place? We got there because we used the Bible in total to inform our position on the issue, rather than cherry picking verses which support bigotry and hate. We reached a place of understanding the context in which passages regarding slavery were written, understanding the cultural and political context surrounding the instructions to masters regarding slaves. People came to understand that owning another human being was so egregious a crime against that human being, it was worth altering America’s trajectory in order to bring it to an end. Laws which allowed for the marginalization and disenfranchising of a human being based on the color of their skin have met the same fate, and the remnants of the Jim Crow era which stubbornly hang on in the law books are called out for what they are: unjust laws based on antiquated stereotypes which have no place in our modern world.

If we were to hear a preacher today praise slavery as being a state of existence intended by God, bolstered by scripture, the outrage would be great and the backlash would be swift. We understand that there is no place for it in our modern era, and we are so firm in this conviction that we root out pockets of slavery which still exist in the world and do our best to liberate the captives. Yet, in the same breath, the church-at-large says it’s okay to withhold equal rights from a person based on their sexual orientation, and scripture is used to bolster that position. Is it possible that the church is just as wrong about homosexuality as it was about slavery? Is it possible that the scripture used to support the anti-gay rhetoric is being cherry picked, the cultural and political context in which it was written being wholly ignored?

This question is one that needs to be talked about in setting where discussion is open and safe, where people will come to the table with a desire for understanding and commit to avoid falling into the trap of sound bites, memes, and bumper sticker logic. For many people, myself included, the passages of scripture regarding homosexuality have never made sense because it seems that it is calling for the condemnation of a person based on something that was not their choice. For many people, these passages have been such a point of contention that it has been enough to make them walk away from church altogether after witnessing the way the church is so loudly and proudly against not only homosexual behavior, but against homosexuals as people. The church has been a major factor behind the laws which keep gay people living without the same protections and benefits afforded to heterosexuals, and the pride the church-at-large seems to take in this is something which only serves to further alienate people from the love of Jesus.

I realize that people are going to believe what they want to believe. I realize that people are going to read scripture with their own prejudices at work, and the way we interpret the Bible is largely influenced by factors outside of our control, such as what type of upbringing we had, what church we went to most of our lives, and so on. I am challenging people, though, to at least consider with an open mind that the church may be wrong about homosexuality, and acknowledge that we have collectively caused untold damage to the individuals who have had to live the reality of the rhetoric the church has so long stood behind.

I am grieved by the commentary in support of Robertson because it represents ideas which have hurt people I love. It hasn’t merely made them uncomfortable, as some Christians are want to say, because they are feeling “convicted about their sin.” It has wounded them deeply, destroying their relationships with family who could not accept them once they came out, destroying their reputation because of the rhetoric’s tangential link often made between homosexuality and bestiality and/or pedophilia, destroyed their sense of who they are because they were raised in a culture which told them that people who are like them are vile, disgusting, an affront to all that is good and pure in the world, and will destroy marriage and family for the heterosexuals. It’s easy to dismiss dogma out of hand, calling it what it is. However, in truth, dogma has real world victims who face serious, real world consequences, and, sadly, some of those victims find the wounds so painful that it is easier to end their suffering through suicide than it is to continue living in  world in which they are considered less than fully human and fully deserving of the dignities readily given to heterosexuals.

If we want to find scripture to wound each other, we can do that. If we want to find scripture to heal each other, we can do that, too. It’s easy to find scripture to validate just about any cause or whim we have. I choose to believe that Jesus, who has nothing to say about homosexuality and chose to focus his words on love for all people, would prefer we use scripture to heal the world, not hurt the world. Our faith shouldn’t be a weapon to be wielded against those who do not agree with us.

I am not going to pretend that this blog post is going to change the world one iota. However, if it makes even one reader give some consideration to the issues raised here, if even one person chooses understanding over rhetoric, I have accomplished something.

For further reading:

What Does the Bible Really Say About Homosexuality? 

Behind every great kid…

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This picture was taken about four and a half years ago. Sometimes, I still feel *this* new at motherhood.

This picture was taken about four and a half years ago. Sometimes, I still feel *this* new at motherhood.

My son’s fifth birthday is only 10 days away, and that fact seems to be edging on the realm of the impossible. Surely time cannot pass so quickly. I know it’s cliché to say, “It seems like I had him just yesterday!” Yet, it often does seem like I had him just yesterday. While being a mother for the last five years hardly makes me a pro, I’m not exactly new on the job, either. I often feel as if I am, though. I often feel as if I am just as naïve and ignorant about motherhood as I was the day he was born, and just as terrified that I am going to forever ruin his chances to grow up to be a decent human being.  If I let him watch too much “Yo Gabba Gabba!” and eat foods that have dye in them, he’s going to grow up and be a terrible person, right? And we won’t even speculate on what might happen if we continue with vaccinations.

Based on everything I’ve been told in the last five years, I’m doing almost everything wrong. Along with the vaccinations, I allow him to watch a limited amount of TV. I let him play video games. Video games! His favorite food is macaroni and cheese, and I am okay with that. I avoided the use of baby talk, I encourage conversation, and I give him considerable autonomy in his choices. Depending on who you ask, I am either a great, hip, modern mom, or a hippie mom who is raising a hellion. Most of the time, I feel sure I am a mom who is getting most things wrong most of the time.

Awhile back, a friend from Facebook posted a meme which said, “Behind every great kid is a mom who’s pretty sure she’s screwing it up.” When I read it, I thought it stated succinctly how I feel just about every day. There aren’t many days that go by when I don’t think at least once that I am really messing up this whole parenting gig, and I just pray that my son will turn out alright in spite of it all.

You know that story, don’t you, mamas of the world? It’s so easy to be our own worst critics. It’s so easy to think of the myriad ways in which we could do better. We aren’t patient enough. We don’t listen enough. We aren’t affectionate enough. We are harsh when we could be gentle, we are loud when we need to be soft spoken. We give time-outs when we should give time and hugs. It’s so easy to become our own worst critics.

Yet, if we were to ask our kids, I bet they’d tell a different story. I remember one evening, after a particularly rough patch during our day, I said to Jaden, “I’m sorry, Jaden. I’m not doing a very good job of being Mom today.”

“No way, Mom!” he says, incredulously, “You’re the nicest mom in the whole world!”

And just like that, all is right with the world. It’s amazing what a vote of confidence from an itty bitty person who calls you “Mom” can do.

Tonight, my boy and I wrote a letter to Santa. It’s his first letter ever to Santa, and we’ll be mailing it tomorrow. Santa is going to write back, of course. More important than the letter, though, were the moments spent investing in Jaden, investing in magic. After we finished the letter, I put it in an envelope, stamped and addressed it, and set it out to be mailed on our way to school in the morning. Jaden kept checking to make sure the envelope was in the right place, asking me where the letter would go after we mailed it, and telling me he might sleep with it tonight so he can know it’s safe. To Jaden, those moments were monumental. To me, they were sweet and precious.

Moments later, Jaden was in my lap, telling me, “Hug me as tight as the wall!”

When he says this, it means he wants a tight, tight hug.

Then he said, “Now hug me tight like tasty chocolate!”

This was a new one, but I hugged him a little less tight and gave him many kisses, which must be what he means by “hug me tight like tasty chocolate,” because he snuggled in and gave me kisses, too. It was a perfect, tender moment, and it couldn’t have been made better if I had tried to carry out my idealized notions about motherhood.

I think this is so with every parent. So long as our heart is for our children and our intentions are for the best, I trust that there is a whole lot of grace poured all over whatever shortcomings we might have. Children have the incomparable ability for seeing the heart of a person, despite whatever else may be in the way. Somehow, despite the fact that I am decidedly not a morning person, my son still greets me every morning with, “Good morning, Mom” and snuggles, which makes everything a lot more bearable until I am able to make coffee. When I have made a meal that I know wasn’t the best, my sweet boy never fails to say something like, “Thanks, Mom, for making me such good food.” When I feel like I have lost identity in a pile of laundry, matching small socks and folding little shirts, my son says, “Thanks for all these clean clothes, Mom,” and I am reminded what’s important and why I do what I do.

Motherhood is more than a list of tasks to be performed. To be a mother cultivates at once profound vulnerability and unbelievable strength as we grow into this identity of “Mom.” If there is anything nobody ever tells you before you have a baby, it is how much courage it is going to take to walk this path, day after day, and hold your head high, believing for the best even when you feel like you’re really screwing it up. Being responsible for the shaping of another life is a monumental task. Becoming a mother was the easy part. Being a mom is altogether different.

“Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

Elizabeth Stone

Moms and dads,  I think we all need to tell ourselves, and each other, that we’re doing okay so long as our kids know they are loved and taken care of. Everything else is a bonus.

 

Thoughts and Ranting: Life and Death, Rich and Poor

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Yesterday marked 5 years since my Uncle Roger passed away at the age of 59. He hadn’t been in the best of health for awhile before his departure, but life just prior to his death had been wrapped up in cancer treatments and the complications thereof. I saw him at the family reunion the summer before he passed away, and while he was loving as always, he was quieter, weaker, and sicker than I’d ever seen him. I would never see him again.

About three weeks before he died, though, he called me. He was so excited about the upcoming birth of my little boy. I had been through my own bout with cancer only a year before, and I don’t think any of us imagined that a year later, I’d be having a baby. Yet, a baby was on the way. My uncle told me he wasn’t feeling well after his chemotherapy. He had throat cancer, and he told me that he felt like he’d swallowed shards of glass. He hadn’t been able to eat, and had been threatened with having a feeding tube put in if he didn’t find a way to at least swallow some Ensure. We only talked for a few minutes before he told me he was going to take his medication and watch a movie, anticipating the sweet relief of sleep that would surely come. His last words to me were, “I love you. You take care of that baby!”

And that was it. Three weeks later, he was gone.

On December 27, 2008, my little boy was born. My thoughts went to my last conversation with my uncle, and I felt sad that he wasn’t going to be able to meet my amazing baby boy. Yet, I know he already knew him, and he loved him. They would have gotten along famously, had my uncle lived long enough to see what a cool kid my boy is becoming. My uncle loved little kids. I have many a happy memory of mischief instigated by my uncle, one such event involving a magnet and a tv that would never be the same after my uncle innocently…?…shared a story about what a magnet can do to the picture on a tv. I had to find out if he was right.

He was.

So it goes, though. One life ended, another was just beginning. Life is a short, fragile, uncertain thing. We don’t know how much time we have in this world, and all that is to be done is to make the most of the time we have. We are only given this one life, this one day, this one moment we are living right now. Everything can change in the blink of an eye, and all we thought we knew can be taken away just that quickly.

While we’re going through this life, I think one of the greatest gifts we can give to the world is simply leaving no pain in our wake as we go through our days. The world we live in can be cold. People can be selfish and pursue their dreams with a cruel disregard for what that pursuit may mean to other people. It seems that, more and more, we live in a world in which people care little for the happiness and well-being of others. Still, there is tremendous good in the world, and there are times when we get to see that good clearly demonstrated in acts of selflessness which remind us that we are all connected and we’re all in this together.

Yet, I see an increasing trend, particularly in the online community, of people using and abusing others in order to assuage their own loneliness and despair. I have been the victim of such acts, and I know several others who have also experienced it. Women are especially vulnerable, but we’re not the only victims. People use the distance and anonymity offered by a Twitter or Facebook or dating website account to inflict untold damage on the soul of another person through the creation of a ruse which convinces the victim they have found the love they have long sought after. Those who prey on the vulnerable know just what to say and when to say it to create a sense of security in the victim, while simultaneously creating just enough insecurity that the victim feels they “need” the other person in order to function. When we see these relationships play out in the real world, it’s easy to recognize it as unhealthy and something which needs to come to an end. In the world of the internet community, these relationships play out with far more privacy, as most of the exchanges that would reveal the nature of the relationship happen in private emails or chats. No one knows what’s happening to the victim, only that there is something terribly wrong. The person victimizing them is leaving tremendous pain in their wake, and they have little or no concern for it. The victim serves a purpose for the perpetrator, even if the only purpose is to make the perpetrator feel a little less alone in the world. When everything ultimately falls apart, the perp just moves on to someone else, while the victim is left to sort things out and put the pieces back together.

To those who have never been involved in a relationship that begins online, it’s easy to say, “Well, starting a relationship online is just desperate, and you’re kinda asking for the pain.” There are myriad reasons why a person may go about a relationship this way. Maybe it’s difficult to meet people where they are. Maybe they’re shy and it’s easier to get to know someone online first. Maybe they have tried every other way to meet people and it’s not worked, so they’re giving the internet community a try. There are any number of reasons why a person may choose to pursue something online, and none of those reasons warrant being victimized.

As I see these situations play out, I have to wonder about the people who hurt others like this. I have to wonder at the level of pain they are inflicting on others, and how it is that they have no concern whatsoever for deep wounds they are leaving on their victims. LIfe is short. LIfe is uncertain. All any of us want is to love and be loved, and if we have that in life, then it makes all other things in life seems sweeter. For a person to take that basic human need and use it as a means to inflict pain is really something I can’t wrap my mind around. Yet, it happens all the time, more and more. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it. There have been episodes of “Dateline” and “20/20″ covering the topic.

For all the activity on the many social networks out there, it seems that we are becoming increasingly disconnected from our humanity. Collectively, we are becoming automatons, clicking and tweeting and status-updating away the things that make us human and vulnerable, adopting something similar to sentient software through which we can live out an entire existence without the messiness that comes from being fully human. I think social networks offer amazing opportunities for meeting people, particularly for weirdos like me who have trouble meeting like-minded people in the real world. Yet, there seems to be a growing trend toward disregard for the soul of the people we are talking to, and it can and does cost people their lives.

I don’t know what the solution is. I only know we would all do well to remember that life is but a vapor, and we are responsible for the pain or the joy we leave behind when we leave such things behind intentionally. There are few of us in the world who live such a bifurcated existence that we are unaware of how our actions impact others. We are human, we are connected, and there is even some scientific evidence which suggests that seeing another person in pain causes us to mirror their pain. We are wired to be compassionate and feel empathy. There aren’t many of us who even know how to begin to live otherwise, so those who victimize others, be it online or in the real world, are not unaware of the pain they are causing. Rather, it seems they just don’t care, and that lack of concern is as dangerous as it is damaging.

All I can say is this…Karma.

In other news…

Perhaps you’ve heard that there is a groundswell of rage against the poor for being poor. I think Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor…but they need to get off their asses and quit their complaining.” At least, to hear the way some talk in this climate of disgust with the poor, you would think that’s what Jesus said. What is of greatest concern to me is that the political sects which so closely identify themselves with the Bible and Jesus are the ones most vocal about the plight of the poor being their own fault, as though every tool is available to the poor to change their circumstances, but the poor are having so much fun being poor that they choose to stay that way.

I hear a lot about government entitlements and the Utopia such entitlements offer to those who use them. Let me break it down for you in simple terms…government “entitlements” help and hurt at the same time, and no one is better off for having to use them for the long term. Yet, the situation is such that the longer a person uses them, the harder it becomes to get off of them. The system is deeply flawed and is designed to create dependence. For example, a person whose family is using food stamps or Medicaid, both of which provide essential things for the family, could lose those benefits if they get a job that pays only a few dollars more per week. That’s not to say that the increase in pay makes them better able to afford food and health insurance, but it is enough that the government has determined they are no longer eligible for the assistance they need. Families are then faced with children who may have to go hungry, or, if they can eat, they are fed  affordable processed foods that merely fill the belly without providing any nutritional value. This becomes a greater problem when health issues arise and they can’t get medical help because they were told they no longer qualified for Medicaid.

This notion that people living in poverty somehow enjoy their poverty so much that they choose to do nothing about it absurd. Most people I know who live at or below the poverty line, myself included, would love to live a wholly different life if they could. There is no pride that comes from knowing that you are one act of congress away from having no paycheck or food budget or health care. There is nothing comforting in knowing there is money in the bank when you know that money comes from a government that gives with one hand and takes with the other, and the decisions about your future are being made by people who refer to use as a “moocher.” Many people living in poverty are working damn hard to improve their lives, living on a hamster wheel of working harder and harder to get absolutely nowhere. They are running to stand still. Anyone who believes for a moment that this is something they willfully choose for themselves is living in a delusion, and that delusion is being fed by people who I find incredibly ignorant and cold. I’m looking at you, Fox News pundits.

There are many stories we can point to of people who pulled themselves out of poverty and went on to tremendous success. Those stories are inspiring, and they can provide hope when all else seems bleak. Yet, for most people, the opportunities and connections simply do not exist that would allow them to pull themselves out of an impoverished life and go on to great financial and personal success. For me, I have yet to discover any remarkable talent or skill I have to offer the world that would allow me to market myself in such away as to ensure some level of success. I don’t sing or dance. I’m not an artist. I am not an actress. I’m not incredibly gorgeous. I write. I am in the process of writing a bestselling book, but until that book is written, published, and sold, what am I to do? What are any of us stuck in this cycle to do, particularly in a world that is growing ever more hostile and impatient with us for daring to be poor?

I think there is something to be said for the need to redefine success and reprioritize the American dream. The American dream was built on debt, and we have all become serfs. Every dollar we spend comes with debt built into it, so none of us are immune. Yet, even with all that’s happened in the last several years, we still see commercials and hear propaganda encouraging to have and to spend and to finance what we can’t afford and that if we could just find a way to have it ALL, we could be happy. Is it any wonder that the United States in the world leader in psychiatric problems and the use of psychopharmaceuticals? We are told day in and day out that we need to have this and earn that much and drive this and wear that in order to be fulfilled. How wrong we have been.

Yet, there exists real poverty in America that has nothing to do with the inability to afford an iPad AND an iPhone. There really are families who cannot afford to feed their children food that is going to give them what they need to grow into healthy adults. There really are families that live with the constant threat of eviction hanging over their heads because they scarcely make enough to pay for the hovel in which they are living. The disparity between the rich and the poor is becoming more glaring. Banks which have forced our country into near bankruptcy and corporations which make billions in profit but don’t pay their employees a livable wage are lauded as nearly heroic for their business savvy, meanwhile those they crush under the wheels of corporate progress are left to wonder where they will get money for bread and milk this week.

In a world of plenty, it is a shame that so many go without. America likes to think of itself as a great world power, an example to be followed, yet the way we as a nation perceive and treat our most vulnerable citizens tells the true story. To look to the poor and tell them to take a vacation, sing a song, and stop complaining is beyond callous. The corporations that are lauded as the job creators are the same corporations who will only hire people part time in order to avoid paying for benefits, and provide only a miniscule paycheck that is more of a joke than an income. When corporations are generating multiple billions in profits and bankers who should be jailed are told they’re too big to fail, that so many people are living at or below the poverty line is a travesty.

While poverty in America certainly seems like tremendous wealth when compared with poverty in other parts of the world, those living in poverty here have to operate within this economy. Poverty in America is real, it is damaging, and its impact is far-reaching, well beyond being able to afford groceries and health care. The problems we don’t fix now will be inherited by our children. It would be wonderful if we lived in a world in which every person who wanted to get out of poverty could find the way to do it, and all would be well. We don’t live in that world, though. Until we do, we need to find a way to address poverty with measures that not only fix the immediate problems but also create solutions that reach well into the future.

Thankfully, there are community-based movements addressing this, and those in poverty are being heard by people who care about what we have to say. Being in poverty does not mean being stupid and having nothing to offer to your community, and it is refreshing to see that there are people in our communities who recognize this, who want to find what is best and brightest about each person stuck in this cycle of poverty, and use those skills and gifts to help create a way out. It’s a long process, though, and it is not helped when those who are in the positions of power continue to see the impoverished as a burden they shouldn’t have to deal with.

We can do better.

However, in the meantime, please enjoy this illustration of how people do their worst to the poor, this time coming to you from McDonalds. I’m not lovin’ it. They can suck it, as far as I’m concerned.

Shame…Shame…Shame…

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Help Point

Help Point (Photo credit: markhillary)

I read an article yesterday on Slate.com called “Comfort Food: No One Brings You Dinner When Your Daughter’s An Addict.” In the article, the author, Larry M. Lake, contrasts the different reactions people had to his wife’s bout with breast cancer versus his daughter’s bout with mental illness and drug addiction. The contrast between the two was stark and revealing. When his wife was going through the travails of breast cancer, their home was flooded with the warmth, love, and kind gestures of friends and strangers alike.

One of the mainstays of human kindness during such times is the bringing of food. The family had so much food brought to them, they were literally running out of places to store it. There were casseroles abundant. The family ate well as the author’s wife endured months of painful, debilitating treatments. Friends and family didn’t hesitate to ask how she was doing, was there anything she or the family needed, what are the doctors saying about her progress, and so on. Waves of concern and well-wishes steadily poured in as the months of treatment and rehabilitation rolled by.

However, when the author’s daughter had to go into treatment for bipolar disorder after years of drug abuse, there were no casseroles. No phone calls. No stacks of “Get Well” cards filling the mailbox. Nothing, save for the deafening sound of silence.

I have experienced both of these reactions from people. When I had cancer in 2007, I received so many flowers at the hospital I had no room left for them. Every day, cards came in the mail, sometimes from people I had never met and likely never will meet. I received a nearly endless stream of emails, as well as comments on the CarePage I used to keep people informed of my progress, my state of mind, and so on. I held nothing back, never hesitating to share even when I felt the most despairing. People were undaunted by the darkness I sometimes exhibited, continuing to offer me support and encouragement, as well as the practical assistance of taking me too and from radiation treatments, and, yes, the bringing of casseroles.

I was living with my sister at the time, and we ate well. I would experience a similar response with each of the surgeries I had (one in 2009, another in 2012), and, of course, the birth of my son. If ever I wondered if I was loved, all I had to do was open my email or read my Facebook or CarePage, or get the mail, and I was reminded that I was not alone in the world and there were scores of people who loved me.

By contrast, when I decided earlier this year that it was time to get clean after years of abusing opiates, I heard little more than crickets chirping. I received some support from friends online, but the cards and the flowers and the casseroles never came. Whereas people never hesitate to ask someone how they are doing if they are going through cancer treatments… How are you feeling? How is your appetite? What are the doctors saying? You look thin. Are you eating enough to keep up your strength for treatments? Are you going to lose your hair? What kind of medications are you taking? and so on… or after having surgeries or giving birth, people are remarkably reticent when it comes to talking to the recovering addict about their recovery. No one asks, How are you dealing with the cravings? What was detox like? Are you going to lose your hair?

As addiction and mental illness so often go hand in hand, the isolation a person in recovery may feel is compounded, as they now have two major aspects of their lives which society has deemed worthy of shame and, therefore, not to be discussed. I have dealt with depression in varying degrees my entire life. In my mid-20s, I feel to such depths of inky black despair that I called a crisis hotline and was admitted to the psychiatric unit of one of the area hospitals that night. I would spend five days there. In that five days, I had a few visitors, one of whom actually asked me what sin there was in my life that had allowed for my mind to turn on me the way it did. It was a moment that felt like a kick in the gut, and it knocked the wind out of me. In that moment, I knew I was on my own, for the most part, in dealing with whatever was happening in my brain. I had never felt so lonely.

That is, until I went through detox and began the process of recovery from addiction. It’s an ongoing process, one that I will be working every day for the rest of my life. It is, I am finding, a road that has its own kind of loneliness.

I think people are reluctant to speak openly about addiction and mental illness as they would any other disease because their is the perception that addiction and mental illness are representative of personal weakness, poor choices, and failure. People view the mentally ill and/or addict as someone who is where they are because they chose to be there. If they were a stronger, better, smarter, more capable person who practiced their religion more faithfully, they would not be where they are. People hesitate to show compassion the mentally ill/addict because the stigma of shame still hangs heavily over those labels.

When a person finds the courage to face their addiction or mental illness and go through the hard work of stabilizing their lives, which by that point have likely become completely shattered, it is worthy of recognition. There are rough days ahead, for the individual and anyone whose life is directly involved with that person. In my own case, I had a little boy who needed looking after as I went through the hell of detox. I had told a few trusted people that I was going to be detoxing and would need help with my son. I had no offers for help. If it hadn’t been for my dad’s willingness to care for my son when he was able to during the first week of withdrawals, I don’t know what I would have done. There were no offers of help, no phone calls to see how I was doing, no “Get Well” cards. Nothing. My choice to begin recovery deeply impacted not only myself, but also my son, and my dad. I was hardly well enough to even walk upright, let alone make meals, do laundry, and so on. No offers of assistance of any kind came in, creating a remarkably different experience from what I went through when I had cancer, or surgeries, or gave birth. The lack of these offers impacted all of us during that first horrendous week.

I think sometimes people just aren’t sure what to say or how to act when it comes to reacting to the socially unacceptable scenarios of addiction and mental illness. I think a good place to start would be for those who have someone they love who is facing either of those things to know that ignoring the things that make us uncomfortable does not make them go away. Keeping silent about your sister’s diagnosis of bipolar disorder does nothing to eliminate the stigma. Feeling flush with embarrassment when the subject of addiction comes up, hoping no one around knows that your son is a recovering addict, doesn’t erase the needless shame. Allowing resentment to build between yourself and the recovering addict in your family doesn’t create an atmosphere of safety in which said addict will feel secure and protected enough to be honest about the rough days that will undoubtedly come while they work their recovery. Refusing to acknowledge that your daughter has a brain disease called major depressive disorder, or that your son has been given the diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, is not conducive to finding better treatments and perhaps even cures for such diseases. We cannot fix what we do not face, and the devastating tolls taken by addiction and mental illness impact all of us, directly or indirectly.

If you have a friend who is facing recovery from addiction or treatment for a mental illness that unraveled their lives before everyone’s eyes, avoiding eye contact with them only heaps shame upon shame. If you’re unsure what to do, start with, “How can I help?”. Maybe they don’t need your help. Maybe they could use some help just getting a load of laundry done so they have a clean pair of socks to wear. Maybe they need to eat, but haven’t the strength to cook a meal. Maybe they just need you to watch a funny movie with them so they can stop being a patient for a couple hours and just be a person laughing with a friend. You never know in what form your opportunity to bless another person may come to you, even if you recognize that the need to be a blessing must be in there somewhere. Operating from a place of fear is a disservice to both ourselves and the one in need of help, and serves only to turn up the volume on the voices of shame already echoing inside the mind of an addict or person diagnosed with a mental illness.

From my own experience, I can also say that it’s important that the subjects of addiction and mental illness are not off limits, should the person facing one or both of them wish to talk about it. In some families, it simply isn’t talked about, even in the midst of or after the world-shattering experience of the addict or mentally ill individual hitting their rock bottom. It is not discussed, or it is referred to in vague euphemisms such as, “her problem,” or, “what happened a year ago,” or “when you got sick.” Why is it important to call it what it is? It’s important because, unlike some diseases that have a clear beginning, treatment, rehabilitation, recovery, and a time when the patient may ultimately be considered cured, addiction and mental illness are forms of dis-ease that have no clear end in sight. They are diseases or disorders (depending on who you ask) in which a person is going to be dealing with in one capacity or another for the rest of their lives, and it impacts everything they do. For many, it may have cost them jobs, families, wealth, health, reputation, status in the community, and much more. The toll taken can be a heavy one, and it will continue to resonate for years to come. The freedom and safety to discuss these things in terms that are raw and honest, should the individual want to do so, is important because acknowledging what is happening and seeking initial treatment is more often than not only the first step on a long, difficult journey for the addicted or mentally ill individual.

It would be wonderful if we are all evolved to the point that we could rise above any obstacle we faced, be it poverty of spirit or body, and eliminate all of our problems. I believe it is possible to do that, but it takes years of work, dedication, a complete restructuring of beliefs, and a lifetime of practice before a person is able to face something as devastating as addiction or mental illness, or cancer, or diabetes, or any number of other things, and simply think and believe them away. That is not the world most of us live in, and whether we should nor not is neither here nor there when the frying pan of the present situation hits us over the head. To consider the addicted or mentally ill individual a weak-willed failure is, to my way of thinking, no better than having the same consideration for someone who has cancer. Would you tell a person who has cancer, “Well, ya know, if you weren’t such a weak person, if you hadn’t made such terrible choices for yourself, if you only had more faith, you wouldn’t be where you are now. You did this to yourself. You got yourself into this mess, and I am going to help you become stronger by making you find your way out of it.” Most of us (though certainly not all of us, unfortunately) would never think to say that to a person who has just been diagnosed with cancer. Yet, to the person just diagnosed with bipolar disorder, or the person who has finally accepted that they are an addict in need of help, the silence from their community, whether that community is comprised of family or friends or church members or what have you, is implication in itself that their circumstances are deemed a product of their own choices and failures.

We must do better. We must move past this. I think the greatest stigma-busting exercise a person or a community of people can do isn’t marching at rallies at the state or nation’s capitol, it isn’t wearing t-shirts designed to identify the addicted or mentally ill person and thereby passively eliminate shame, it is choosing to walk into their world when everyone else walks out and choosing to bless when everyone else has cursed that individual. It is saying, essentially, you are not afraid of the phantoms that lurk behind the labels of “addict” or “mentally ill,” and you’re choosing to stand with and walk beside that individual, even if some of the shame and stigma attached to them decides to rub off on you.

In the article I mentioned, the man wrote that his daughter experienced a terrible accident while she was at rehab, and it left her horribly injured and facing rehabilitation of whole other kind. She chose to continue at the psychiatric/drug rehabilitation facility after she was sufficiently recovered from her physical injuries, even though she had to return to the facility in a wheelchair. At that point, the cards and well wishes were once again pouring in, after years of near silence while she was in rehab “just” for mental illness and drug addiction.

Should shame be such a driving force that in times when we’re most needed, we choose to turn away? Should stigma be the deciding factor in how and when we choose to be the hands and feet of Jesus?

We know better.

Tattooed Jesus

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Jesus Tattooed

If you were online at all on Sunday, particularly on the social networks, chances are that you saw at least a bit about the controversy surrounding Tattooed Jesus. Tattooed Jesus has been declared blasphemous by many within the Bible Belt. As such, I was more interested in learning more about this inked deity.

You can read the story here.

When I looked at the image of the tattooed Jesus, I wondered why anyone would find it offensive. Some people thought the image of Jesus tattooed was blasphemous, yet how is it different from the tortured, mutilated, bloodied body that is often presented when we are told of Christ dying a brutal death to take away our sins? I fail to see how a tattooed Jesus is more disturbing than a mutilated, dead Jesus.

In any case, after I read the article, I shared it on both Twitter and Facebook with the simple question, “What say you?”.

The first response I received came via Twitter, from a lifelong friend who is also an active member and leader in her church. She says, “I actually like it! We all have words tattooed on our souls. I think that is what the artist is recreating.”

Indeed we do. And those words tattooed on our souls shape us in ways we may not perceive until they have done significant damage to our lives.

On Facebook, the responses were equally positive. One friend commented that she has never been able to identify with the perfect white Jesus so often presented. Another friend reminded me of the story “The Ragman” by Walter Wangerin, a beautiful, profoundly moving illustration of what it is that Jesus did for us in taking our old, tired, tattered rags of self, and giving us something new and altogether lovely in return.

In the video which accompanies the billboard campaign, we see a tattoo artist who operates a tattoo parlor which is odd, to say the least. Those who come into his tattoo parlor do not begin by choosing an image, but by revealing an image that is already etched into their skin. The tattoo artist looks at the image, then sets to work. Person after person comes in, showing words etched into their flesh…Addicted…Outcast…Useless…and the artist transforms those words into life-giving truths, sending each person away with words that will, over time, change them as much as the original markings did.

At the end of his busy day, the artist, worn and weary, takes off his shirt and reveals that not only did he give each person new words, but he took on their old words. He was the addict. He was the one living in fear. He was the one who felt useless. His skin bore the marks of the lies they had believed.

To me, this is a powerful illustration of the work of Jesus, the purpose of his incarnation.  Often when we speak of “dying to self,” we think of laying aside our vices, or our wish to engage in those vices, and instead choosing to do whatever it is we believe would be the antithesis of licentious living. Yet, even for those of us who don’t live licentious lifestyles, it is possible that we are still living a life that is not in keeping with God’s intentions for us because we are living in a paradigm constructed of lies about his beloved…lies about us.

All of our souls have been tattooed with something, and those things that have left their mark on us define in a multitude of ways. They help determine how we function in the world, what we believe our role is in our relationships, what sort of relationships we pursue and what we are worthy of, how we treat other people, how we let them treat us…all of these things are born out of those identifying marks that are etched onto our souls. If we are not “dying to self” in these measures, all other acts of contrition amount to very little because we are still caught in a paradigm which identifies with life before Jesus.

That is not to say that simply replacing one word with another in our ongoing internal monologue will render the needed soul-shift. It will take more than that. Yet, choosing to acknowledge that we are marked by untruths about ourselves, and those marks have rendered such damage in our lives that we are not living in the fullness of who we were made to be, is a tremendous first step in embracing not only a cloak for those ugly images, but stepping into a whole new self. A new creation.

Many years ago, I was given the book “Hinds’ Feet on High Places,” written by Hannah Hurnard.  The title of the book comes from Habakkuk 3:19, “The Lord is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places.”

The book is an allegorical novel in which we follow the journey of Much Afraid as she is transformed into Grace and Glory. Throughout the book, Much Afraid is made to face her worst humiliations, her darkest fears, her greatest trials, as she journeys away from the valley and the home of her Fearing family to the High Places of the Shepherd. The Shepherd, while always gentle and tender with Much Afraid, does not lead her around her fears, but takes her through them. It is in facing the pain of the journey that her transformation takes place. Surely, the Shepherd possessed the ability to offer Much Afraid an instant new nametag with Grace and Glory written upon it, but it would not have been her identity. Without the hard work of transformation, the new name would merely cover over the old name, not replace it.

The labels we wear at the deepest level of who we are shape us. They become us. We become them. I have many labels etched into my soul that have taken years upon years upon years of work to even begin to erase. Surely, on an intellectual level, I know I am not useless, I know I am not unworthy of love, I know I am not stupid or ugly or worthless, and so on. Yet, I have lived in that paradigm for so long that I adopted those words as my identity, and shaped my life accordingly. I have spent much of my life living in fear and want, because I have believed I am inadequate to carve out a stable life for myself, and I would fail if I tried because I am not smart enough, capable enough, talented enough, blessed enough…whatever enough…to succeed, all of that not-enoughness amounting to the soul tattoos of Inadequate, Unworthy, and Stupid.

As I get older and I understand more about how these lies work, I understand that I can create a paradigm shift based on new soul tattoos, and those tattoos will not only cover the old ones, but will replace them. Just as powerfully as the old tattoos shaped my life, so can the new ones, if I choose to let them.

And why do we sometimes avoid doing the things that are so right for us? Sometimes, we are so comfortable in our misery and loneliness, it feels safer to just stay there and continue to wallow in it than it does to take the risk of stepping beyond the filthy environs of the valley of fear and shame, and into the light as we venture toward our high places of freedom.

Galatians 5:1 reads, “It is for freedom that Christ as set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be burdened by a yoke of slavery.”

Jesus came and lived and died and rose again so we could be free from the things we are enslaved to, the things which keep us from fully identifying with God and his purposes for us. I am not talking about sin in the traditional sense, though certainly there is room for discussing that. I am talking about freedom from slavery to the false identifiers which have become lodged in our souls. I know of many people who have faithfully served God for most of their lives, doing all the right things all the time, yet they still live within the grip of false identifiers which haunt them in the quiet moments when they are not busying themselves with all the right things they are doing. It is in these quiet moments when we have no distractions and we have to face who we are without the noise when we are best able to see what lies behind the mask that looks like us. Jesus came to set us free from those things that haunt us, to set us free from the need for the mask.

Imagine what the world could be if only we would allow our most damaging soul tattoos to be transformed into truths that empower us to impact our worlds in positive, healing, restorative, reconciling, rehabilitative ways. We could lay down our weapons. We could open our hearts. We could be more peaceful, gentle, and forgiving with each other. If we allowed ourselves to embrace the truth, if we allowed ourselves to really believe that Jesus took all of our sin…in all its forms…upon himself so that we no longer had to be burdened by it but could live in freedom, it would be world changing.

For me, Tattooed Jesus represents the exchange made when we step into our new paradigm as a new creation. The old has gone. The new has come. There is freedom.

There Is Not Always A Reason For Everything

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God the Father 21

God the Father 21 (Photo credit: Waiting For The Word)

I’m angry. You should know that outright.

I read a post of Facebook today from a friend who is going through some difficult things. She has been going through difficulties of increasing intensity since long before we met 10 years ago, and I have seen firsthand how these problems have impacted her life significantly in the decade I’ve known her. I have seen her face health obstacles that most people cannot fathom happening to them once, let alone again and again, surgery after surgery. She has been on dialysis the whole time I’ve known her, going to the dialysis center three days a week, sitting with the machine four hours at a time, just so she can live. In the time I’ve known her, I have seen her life become smaller and smaller as her compromised health robs her of more and more.

Recently, she shared with me that she is facing another surgery, the outcome of which could be life or death. She told me she’s tired. So tired. Her life has been one of tremendous struggle, from the time she was a little girl. Of all the people I know, she is one of the bravest, and it is rare that a time has come when she has faced an obstacle when she didn’t rise to the occasion. She may not always overcome the obstacle, but she is going to fight like hell to stand her ground like no one else I know. I have seen her do this with her health, with her relationships, with businesses treating her unjustly, with government bureaucracies trying to mire her down in red tape rather than give her the help she needs… this woman…this tiny, tired, woman who has been kicked around by life will stand up and kick ass when she needs to, she is tough as nails, and there isn’t a whole lot that can keep her down for long.

So when she tells me she’s tired, it means something.

When she says she is tired and asks people to pray for a miracle or a smooth transition to eternity, because she can’t keep going on as she has been, it means something.

Which is why it broke my heart to read all the well-meaning but rather thoughtless comments which included, “There’s a reason for everything. Hang in there. Keep praying.”

There’s a reason for everything? Really? And if we are to go with that logic, then it means by extension that untold suffering in the world, not the least of which being what my friend faces every day of her life, is orchestrated with intention. Taking it further, we are to believe that these events are orchestrated by a power or a being that has the foreknowledge of their outcome and their impact on all who experience, read about, hear about, watch a YouTube video about, or tweet about these events, because there is a reason for everything and we can only assume that in all that screwed up mess there is something redemptive. If we don’t see the reason, we say that it is because we don’t understand God’s ways, but we must surely trust that God has a reason for every fucked up thing that happens in the world.

The children starving to death despite the world’s abundance of food, the millions who have been murdered, raped, and tortured in the Democratic Republic of Congo whose plight goes virtually unnoticed by the world’s most powerful governments because those governments have no fiduciary interest in the survival of such as they, useless wars against faceless enemies that cost thousands of lives in the name of patriotism, a war on drugs that ultimately empowers all the wrong people and renders systems of control utterly useless, children killing other children in their schools and neighborhoods, families sick and dying from wholly preventable diseases because they do not have access to clean drinking water… and my friend, facing questions of life and death, eternity, who is only a few years older than me.

There is a divine reason for any of this? Because, seriously, if that’s what we believe, then what kind of megalomaniacal God do we believe in? This omnipotent, omniscient God can find no better way to communicate with humankind than through these devastating tragedies that leave more questions than answers in their wake? This God…he asks for unwavering obedience, but just in case you didn’t get that message, he’s got all sorts of tricks up the sleeves of his flowing white robes that he will use to get your attention, and his favorite methods involve inflicting pain. This is what we believe, when you get right down to it, when we say, “There’s a reason for everything.”

We don’t often use that phrase when good things are happening, do we? It is only when things are going terribly, terribly wrong that we throw that phrase around, because it somehow makes us feel safer. We don’t have to live with the discomfort of the randomness and gut-wrenching unfairness of life if we can believe, even for a moment, that there is a reason for great suffering.

It is my belief that “there is a reason for everything” is one of those phrases we need to just decide to stop using, particularly in situations when the suffering is big, the answers are few, the relief is far off if it is there at all, and there is just no way to wrap up the situation in pretty packaging and make it more appealing. Sometimes, life just sucks. Sometimes, the world is cruel. Sometimes, people have terrible things happen to them because life is just like that, and there is no greater reason for it. Sometimes, we have to be willing to lay the platitudes aside and call things what they are, acknowledge that it’s a lousy hand that’s been dealt, and there is little more to do than scream alongside the person who has to figure out what they are to do with the lousy cards.

Certainly, we can inject purpose into things. We can look at famine and use it as a means to become more aware of our own blessings, and then take it a step further and become part of a movement to get aid to the countries where people are dying for lack of food and water. We can look at the suffering of a friend and become more aware of our need to slow down and live with intention, act with compassion, and step outside of ourselves to sit with our friend in the ashes and mourn. We can see the terrible tragedy of genocide, and become more aware of our need to collectively raise a voice against it and demand that those in power do something…my God, SOMETHING…to help the victims. But to say that these outcomes were the driving force behind the master plan for these tragedies to begin with cheapens God, cheapens God’s love, cheapens God’s grace, and cheapens God’s heart for humanity.

The older I get and the further I move away from the faith I had as a child, the more the concept of “a reason for everything” seems not only foreign to me, but dangerous. I recall many times when such thinking was used by various sects of the Christian community to explain away such horrors as the Columbine shooting, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and even more recently, the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook. In these instances, the reason was that God was angry with the political choices America was making, angry with us for aborting our babies and affirming homosexuals, and these events…these horrific, tragic, terrible, course-changing events…God’s way of waking up the nation to his displeasure with us, and served only as warnings of greater tragedies to come if we didn’t stop flying our rainbow flags and supporting Planned Parenthood.

It is very easy to get caught up in the need to rationalize every tragedy that befalls humankind, whether those tragedies happen on a macro or micro scale. It’s easy because it’s comfortable. It’s difficult to accept that life really is that uncertain, that each of us is only one life-altering event away from everything we think we know being stripped away from us, it’s easy to think that we can insulate ourselves from the utter devastation of the soul when these things happen by just telling ourselves, “There’s a reason for everything.”

There is a reason for everything, I suppose. Sometimes that reason is that life is unfair. Sometimes that reason is that the world is cruel. Sometimes that reason is that humanity seems to be devolving and people do not know how to treat each other anymore. Sometimes, as in my case so very often, it is that we made a stupid choice and must now live with the life changing consequences of that choice no matter how much it hurts.

Whatever the reason is, the outcome sucks. Life can really stink sometimes. I think there would be far more comfort in being able to be honest about that with ourselves and each other, because it eliminates the implication that the person who cannot see the reason for their suffering is somehow spiritually deficient, whereas those spouting platitudes are not. We can find healing in the common ground of suffering, because seeing each other in our brokenness and anger and despair allows us to identify with each other on a human level, as much or more as we do when we are sharing in our joys.

So, my friend…and you know who you are…I hear you. I see you. I feel you. I know this stuff you’re dealing with sucks and you’re tired. And I’m with you, in your joy or your pain. I love you to the moon and back.

Oh Happy Day

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English: Downtown Traverse City, MI, USA, as v...

English: Downtown Traverse City, MI, USA, as viewed from West Grand Traverse Bay. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It has been what feels like a long time in coming, but I got some good news today regarding our upcoming move to Traverse City. I still don’t know exactly when or how we’ll make this happen, but I feel more confident than ever that it is going to happen fairly soon. I got a call today informing me that one of the places I applied to has accepted my renter’s application, and now we’re just waiting for something to open up. From what I could gather, they are expecting openings within the next couple of months.

I cannot put into words how happy I feel about moving us onto the next thing in life. I want us to be in a place where we have access to diverse experiences, a network of support within the recovery community, friends that I don’t get to see nearly often enough, options for schools when it’s time for Jaden to start kindergarten…In a word, freedom. Freedom to make choices I can’t make here, freedom to try and fail at some things, freedom to try and succeed at others, growing stronger and better all the while. As long as I am in what feels like an over-protective cocoon, I have no opportunity to see how strong I really am, or show Jaden what strength in all situations means.

I have been sorting through things over the last couple of weeks in anticipation of this move. I don’t know when we’re moving, but when the time comes, I want to be ready. Taking the steps toward a goal is inviting circumstances to transpire which will facilitate the achievement of that goal. My goal has been to get us moved out of here and to a place in Traverse City, and I firmly believe that is going to happen sooner than later.

There are a lot of things I am looking forward, first and foremost having a space that is really “ours,” where I feel more free to develop our tiny family of 2 as I would like to. I am also looking forward to have a bathroom that has a bathtub. When you have a small child, a bathtub is one of those things that you don’t really notice until it’s gone. I realize that there are billions of people on the planet who do quite nicely without bathtubs, and even without showers, but…I want a bathtub, and I’m looking forward to having one.

I am going to be 38 years old tomorrow. To be this age and living in my parents’ basement apartment with my son feels so…stagnate. I won’t say it isn’t scary to think about getting out there on our own again, but I have to keep in mind that for the first couple of years of Jaden’s life, we were doing just that, and we had less money coming in. Sure, there may be some lean times, but those are the times when we see what we’re really made of and what truly matters. We have learned to live without TV, I got rid of my expensive cell phone plan and instead use a prepaid service, we’re getting rid of material things we don’t want or need. All in all, we are learning to live with less, and those lessons are only better preparing us to face whatever the challenges may be when we’re out from under the umbrella offered here.

My outlook as I go forward is remarkably different from what I’ve had in the past, and I think that is going to make a tremendous difference is the outcomes. In the past, I felt profound fear, always worrying about how I am going to make ends meet, always waiting for the beast of failure to pounce and claim me and my life as its prey. Worry was my ever-present companion, and my fears would manifest in a multitude of ways, assuring that the failure I feared would be mine.

Not this time, though. I know I am strong. I know the universe is generous. I know that our thoughts create our reality, and when I feel the fears begin to rise, I must harness them, tame them, and put them in their proper place. I know that the love of God enfolds me, and where there is perfect love, there is no fear. I believe only good things wait for Jaden and me as we start down the next leg of our journey together, and each step on the way is an investment in a stronger future for Jaden and me.

Taking on something new is always a little intimidating, I think, but it’s a challenge I am ready for. I’d rather be moving forward and feel a little intimidated than be stuck and feel like I’m dying a little more every day.

I Believe…I Believe…

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On particularly rough days

when I’m sure I can’t possibly endure,

I like to remind myself that my track record

for getting through bad days so far is 100%,

and that’s pretty good.

Jaden has been with my sister and her family for the last few days, and it wasn’t until he was gone that I realized how exhausted I really was. I have spent a lot of time resting, too physically drained to do a whole lot of anything. There are a lot of things I would like to get done in this time, but I realize that getting some rest and some quiet, without interruption, is critical if I am to be ready for him to come back in a few days.

Parenting is an exhausting venture, even on a good day. When you have a child who is “hard to parent,” and you are also trying to focus on recovery from addiction, parenting goes from being exhausting to being almost completely overwhelming. I have been hangin’ on the best I can for the last couple of weeks, but there comes a point where something’s gotta give. In this case, I was grateful that my sister and her family were able to take Jaden for a few days, because I was worried that the thing that was about to give was my recovery.

I have never been one to doctor shop, so the option of going to a doctor to get medication isn’t something that ever crossed my mind. There is one health care center in my small town, and with my well documented history of substance use and abuse, there is no way I could ever go there and say, “Yeah, so this whole ‘clean time’ thing isn’t exactly working out as I hoped it would, and, um…oh yeah! my back hurts!…can I have some drugs?”.

Until recently, the idea of compromising my recovery is something that didn’t occur to me. However, I have hit the point in the process that every recovering addict eventually faces, and that is the end of the miraculous, non-drug-induced high that can come with the first 90 days of clean time, when the euphoria lifts and you are left to deal with life without the crutch of pills to pop when things feel stressful. Detoxing is easy. Getting through the first 90 days of recovery is not without challenges, but still comparatively easy. It’s everything that comes after that…the kick in the teeth that happens when you realize all the coping mechanisms you’ve used up to this point are gone and you have to learn new ways of dealing with the stress of life…that’s when the real work begins.

With my sweet boy gone for a few days, I’ve realized a couple of things. First, his presence makes my days worth having. As much as I have enjoyed the quiet and the solitude, I also see that it would be very easy for me to slip into a really dark place in my mind if I didn’t have him to bring light and energy to my days. Even though his presence in my life was utterly unplanned, even though being a mother has not been without its incredible challenges, there is no denying that he has made my days more colorful, and he gives me someone besides myself to think of every moment of every day. He is a gift.

A friend on Facebook posted a little picture for me with this quote on it:

I am your parent. You are my child. I am your quiet place. You are my wild. I am your calm face. You are my giggle. I am your wait. You are my wiggle. I am your dinner. You are my chocolate cake. I am your bedtime. You are my wide awake. I am your lullaby. You are my peekaboo. I am your goodnight kiss. You are my ” I Love You.” – Maryann K. Cusimano

And every bit of that is true. Children, whether they are our own or they are children that we are privileged to have in our lives through friends, family, our vocation, or simply meeting them along the way, are the incredible, miraculous beings that make this world a happier, lighter, brighter place just by being a part of it. Children tether us to the wonderment of existence, reminding us that life is not meant to be taken so seriously all the time and that there are worlds within worlds within worlds to discover. When I look into my son’s eyes, I see glimpses of those worlds, and I know that I have only just begun to get to know him.

It is because he is such a treasure in my life that I have been giving serious thought to what is best for both of us as I get through the difficulties of adjusting to “clean” living. The truth is that for his whole life, up until … what is it, 15?…weeks ago, I had never been totally without drugs or alcohol. It isn’t something I’m proud to admit, but this blog is a no-holds-barred glimpse into my life, and being an addict has been a significant aspect of my life for several years, and it has been a major influencing factor in Jaden’s life since the day he was born.

As I adjust to parenting without pills, I find myself feeling more frustrated with my son, unable to deal with his strong will and brilliant mind when all I want him to do is just go to bed, or clean his room, or stop whining, or just give me five minutes of silence so I can THINK, or…or…or… I do not have the coping mechanisms to deal with these frustrations very well, and it becomes more and more evident as I get further into my recovery and have to face life outside of the protective fog of morphine.

Last week, during a particularly heated battle of the wills, I got angry and clenched my fist. I didn’t strike him, but I so easily could have, and don’t think I don’t feel like a rotten mother for even having the clenched fist in the first place. It scared me, which is why I asked for help. I was at a point where I didn’t feel safe having my son in our home, and I just needed a break. I suspect he needed a break, too.

I miss him. I miss his sweet laughter and his brilliant mind and his snuggles. As much as I miss him, though, I also realize that I still need some time before I am ready to have him back. I have given some thought to what I will do when this weekend comes and Jaden comes home. I know I will be glad to see him. I know I will hug him and kiss him and listen to his myriad stories that always begin with, “Mom, guess what…,” and I will savor the way his light fills our home again.

I also know that the time will come when we will disagree on how our little world should operate, and it is in that moment that the real challenge of having him home again will begin. As much as it is an adjustment for me to learn how to parent clean, it is an adjustment for him to have a mom who is present and authoritative, and he isn’t sure yet how to navigate his world with this new mommy.

I talked with a friend yesterday who has been exactly where I am. After a lot of talk about the importance of not obsessing about how we got here, not rehashing all the woulda-coulda-shoulda thoughts about how I might have prevented this, it becomes important to simply accept where we are and find a constructive solution for dealing with it. Should I check in to rehab and have Jaden placed into a temporary foster care w/structured visits for us, counseling for us individually and as a family, help through rehab in learning how to cope with life in recovery…? Should I stay home and go to outpatient treatment while Jaden is at school, getting connected with a counselor to help me get healthy? Should I ask our family intervention case worker for help in finding a program that would provide safe and healthy temporary placement for Jaden so I can focus on recovery, relocation, and restoration? What should I do?

I would like to say I have clarity. I dont have it, though. I know there are a lot of options out there, but all of them involve doing something I don’t feel at all ready to do, and that is letting go of my son for awhile. Even though I know it would ultimately be in his best interests, and in mine, it is something I can’t bring myself to think about too much, except perhaps in the most fatalistic terms.

I have considered if he would be better off without me entirely, perhaps in my sister’s custody permanantly, or in the legal custody of the friends who would take him if something happened to me and my sister couldn’t take him in. I have considered that just maybe…just maybe…that would be the better solution all around. Maybe he would be better off with someone else, now and for the duration of his childhood.

You see where my mind goes when I don’t have him here?

I went outside tonight to look at the moon. I missed Jaden especially in that moment, because that is something we like to do together. When I first went outside, all I could think of is why in the world I was even here at all. I wondered how people who live with psychic pain find the courage to carry on day after day, week after week, year after year, until the sweet release of death finally comes knocking. Where do we find the courage to get up and face the world all over again, every day, choosing to believe that today will somehow be better than yesterday, making it all worthwhile? How do we humans do it?

I told God I wanted out. I imagine his response to that was something along the lines of, “Nope.”

As I looked at the moon and marveled at its glow, I recalled a prayer I learned a few years ago when I attended the Unity Church.

The light of God surrounds me.

The love of God enfolds me.

The power of God protects me.

The presence of God watches over me.

Wherever I am, God is, and all is well.

This prayer is known as the Prayer for Protection, penned by one James Dillet Freeman in 1941. I could only remember the first two lines, and the last line, so I began praying… “The light of God surrounds me, the love of God enfolds me, wherever I am, God is, and all is well.” I walked up and down the driveway, the moonlight feeling watchful and protective, and prayed that prayer over and over again. I was reminded of a conversation I had with another friend in which she advised me to live in the moment…and in that moment, pacing the driveway and bathing in the moonlight, everything was okay. There was no need for the anxiety I was feeling, because all was just as it should be in that moment. I prayed and I made the effort to be present, and eventually, despair gave way to peace.

I still don’t know exactly what I will do when Jaden gets home. I am going to call our case worker later today and give her the unsanitized version of what I am dealing with, telling her in no uncertain terms that I need help as I work out living this new life. I am trusting the process and believing that simply telling her I need help, and telling her exactly why, is going to be enough for her to use her position to open some doors for us. If it means I need to be away from my son for awhile so we can both be stronger and healthier, it will be with a saddened but hopeful heart that I will embrace what needs to happen.

This is not the end of our story. I think it is so easy to mistake the middle of the story for the end when things get difficult, particularly when they are so difficult that the odds seem absolutely and irreversibly stacked against you. I refuse to believe that our tiny family cannot be saved, and that we cannot be made stronger and healthier for the experience. I refuse to mistake the middle of the story for the end. The plot has thickened, certainly, but there are still connections to be made and answers to be revealed before the final page is written.

I am still looking forward to the day when we can look back on all of this, and sometimes it is only the anticipation of that day that makes me want to keep trying and make the effort to get things right. I have made a lot of mistakes. I have at least as many skeletons in my closet as my readers have, and perhaps more. The one redeeming factor in all of this is that I know that the things I am going through can eventually be used to help others who are facing odds that they think are insurmountable. We are not victims, and our stories need not be tales of defeat. We are stronger than we know, and our strength is revealed not in epic shows of indomitible will, but in the steady pace of living each day with the courage to carry on even when things seem to be pushing us beyond what we think we can endure. We can’t mistake the middle of our stories for the end. There is much yet to be written.

“Everyday create your history.” — Michael Jackson

Truth.

As to the title of this blog, it comes from this little video, which makes me smile every time I watch it because it reminds me that our world, our reality, begins with belief. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Do You Believe in Magic?

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THINK

THINK (Photo credit: Erik Eckel)

I woke up this morning with the determination that today would mark the beginning of positive changes for Jaden and me. We are in need of a major overhaul, and I believed the best way to welcome those changes was to put on paper, whether in word or image, the things that represented the changes I wanted to see happen in our lives.

Jaden climbed into bed with me this morning for our nearly daily ritual of morning cuddles and conversation. After awhile, I told him it was time to make a Magic List. I explained to him that I was making a Magic List of things that I wanted to see happen in our lives, and he could make a list, too, if he liked. As he doesn’t write many words yet, he made a page of many scribbles, separate letters, and various pictures. I have no idea what they mean, but he knows.

I began writing my list. As I wrote my Magic List, I began to understand that the list was merely a reflection of deeper changes I needed to see, and those changes would begin within the core of my being. In my mind and heart, I needed to change. I have for so long looked at the things I longed for and thought of them as being impossible, out of reach, not meant for me, and so on. I realize that, as Dr. Wayne Dyer says, “We get what we think about, whether we want it or not.” I have many things in my life right now that I do not want, and I see now that it is because my pessimistic thinking helped create my world, and it didn’t matter that it wasn’t the world I wanted.

So, it was time to change that, and today was as good a day as any to begin living with intention. I wrote out my Magic List, tucked it away, and started my day.

Yesterday, I had posted on Facebook that I would be selling my card making supplies. A friend immediately put in a sizeable order for some cards, and I figured I would sell my supplies after I filled that order. Then, this morning, another friend told me that she hopes I will reconsider because my cards are the first cards she looks at when she goes into our local pharmacy, and she believes I have a talent for making beautiful cards. I explained that I don’t want to sell my card making supplies, but I am trying to raise money so Jaden and I can move. After that, I began to see the first magical happenings of the day.

Another friend asked if I had a page on Facebook for my little card making business. I shared the page on both Facebook and Twitter, and it immediately generated a lot of traffic, a lot of interest in my cards, and a load of encouragement to continue with the card making business and trust that funds/resources will come from elsewhere.  I received more orders, making the orders I’ve received in the last two days greater than the orders I’ve received in the last six months.

I love making cards. Working creatively is something that helps keep me sane and sober, and it gives me joy to make things that I know will bring joy to others. I am grateful for the knowledge that others see value in what I do, and I am greatly encouraged to continue doing it.

With that decision happily made, I went on to my next order of business, which was to list my TV for sale. I posted on Craigslist and on Facebook. Within the hour, I had the TV sold. Once again, another affirmation that I am moving in the right direction, and the resources I need are already on their way to me as long as I continue to take steps forward toward my goal.

This afternoon, Jaden and I went out to do some errands, and then went for ice cream at his favorite ice cream shop. We had discussed going elsewhere, but he chose to go to the shop just down the road from our house. Once again, serendipity.

As we were eating our ice cream, a couple of people were walking down the street, and the man’s multi-colored tie-dyed shirt caught my eye. Emblazoned across the front was the word “Kleenstock.” I thought that was interesting, and wondered if it had something to do with sobriety. As they walked closer to my point of view, I saw the unmistakable Narcotics Anonymous logo on his sleeve.

“Please come into the ice cream shop, please come in to the ice cream shop…” I kept thinking. Sure enough, they did.

One thing about recovering addicts is that we have all “been there.” Almost anywhere you go, if you can find a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, you are going to find some of the most compassionate, understanding people you will ever meet.

Knowing this, it only took me a few moments to make my way to the two people and introduce myself. I asked if there was a meeting or something going on, as there are no regular Narcotics Anonymous meetings that meet in my small town. He explained to me that there was a convention happening at the resort in town, with an Open Meeting tonight that both my son and I were more than welcome to be a part of. After we talked for a few minutes, he and his friend both encouraged me to stop in to the meeting and get the boost I needed to stay the course of recovery.

So, Jaden and I finished our ice cream, hurried home and got cleaned up a bit, then headed out to the meeting. We got there a bit early, and I was very pleasantly surprised to see some people that I hadn’t seen in years, as well as someone from the first meeting I ever attended.

The atmosphere in the meeting was loving and energizing. The meeting opened with a moment of silence, followed by the Serenity Prayer, Slightly Altered for Narcotics Anonymous. Soon, we got into what would be the most inspiring part of the evening for me, the Clean Time Countdown. Starting with those celebrating 55 or more years clean, counting all the way down to those who have just finished their first 24 hours clean, everyone doing the hard work of recovery was celebrated with applause, cheers, and hugs. There was not one person in that room who had never known at least some aspect of drug addiction, whether their own or that of someone they love, and recognizing the diligence, the struggle, the work, the faith…everything that goes into getting clean and staying in recovery…touched me deeply.

As the Countdown continued, each celebration of recovery was followed up with the chant, “Keep coming back…don’t leave…keep coming back…don’t leave…!” In Narcotics Anonymous, “Keep coming back” is the encouragement to do just that, to keep going to meetings, whether you’re clean or you’ve relapsed, and lean on the support that is there. We will love you until you learn to love yourself. “Don’t leave” is another of the same type of encouragement…don’t walk away from your support, don’t give up on being clean just because it gets tougher before it gets better.

The person I was sitting next to had just celebrated 60 days clean. I had just crossed the 90 day threshold. We didn’t know each other at all outside of the common ground shared by being recovering addicts, but we congratulated and encouraged each other. After the Clean Time Countdown ended, Jaden was ready to leave, but I wanted to get a copy of the Blue Book, the basic NA text. The person sitting next to me, seeing that I didn’t want to lose Jaden in the crowd but also needed somehow to cut through the crowd to get to the books, offered to go get one for me. It was a simple gesture, but one that reminded me again of why I really love the people in the recovery community so much and why I need to get plugged in to a place where I feel like I belong.

After I got my book, Jaden and I left the meeting, as he was clearly getting tired and couldn’t last much longer. It was a perfect ending to a perfect day.

Anne Lamott, one of my all time favorite authors, has said that the three most essential prayers are, “Help. Thanks. Wow.” I wholeheartedly agree. This morning started with “Help,” was carried by “Thanks,” and ends with a, “Wow.” I am humbled and grateful for today, and I believe today was God’s way of telling me that I am on track again, and better things are coming. I may have faltered for awhile, giving way to negative thinking and a destructive paradigm, but every day is an opportunity to begin making right anything that may have gone wrong.

Today had an element of the magical to it. I really believe that we are given co-creative ability, and while God may provide the basic framework for life, He gives us a lot of freedom and authority to make of it what we will. I believe that my “Magic List” help clarify and solidify the goals I have in mind, creating a shift in my thoughts and intentions which thereby invited good things into my life.

As I was getting ready for bed and thinking about some of the specific events throughout the day, I couldn’t help but smile and say to God, “Well, You were just showing off there, weren’t You?,” because today couldn’t have been more “wow” worthy. I have been blessed.

Seeing Stars

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Autumn Framed Sky

Autumn Framed Sky (Photo credit: Lazellion)

I think our first day without access to cable tv was a smashing success! Jaden spent time today working on his numbers, drawing the most amazing pictures, and building towers with his blocks. Initially, he was upset about having no Nick Jr. to watch, and he asked me several times to make the call to have it restored. After explaining to him several times that we were going to be better off without it, he finally stopped asking and just went about his day.

Just a bit ago, Jaden was having “trouble time sleepin’,” so we took a short walk outside for the purpose of beholding the majesty that is the night sky on a clear night in northern Michigan. This is something we used to do every night. It was our ritual to read a few books, then go outside to say goodnight to the moon and the stars. Sometimes, we would put on a couple extra layers of clothes so we could lay in the small field behind the garage and stargaze for as long as we like. He seems as comforted by the night sky as I have always been, and those moments together are precious.

They are also another thing we lost after we plugged in the cable receiver. I am glad we have it back. I didn’t realize how much I missed it.

I realize that cutting the cable is something that hardly registers in terms of sacrifices people make. There are people in the world who are going with far, far less than what I’ve been willing to let go of up to this point, and it’s something they do every day simply because it’s a way of life. It is humbling to realize how much we have, how much we take for granted, how much we expect to have because we believe we’re entitled to it by virtue of being born in a wealthy country. Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, people are starving and dying. I complain about the Reagan-era carpet we have throughout the apartment, while there are people in the world who have no place to live whatsoever, ugly carpet or not.

It is embarassing, really, to see how much we have and to realize that we still think there is room for complaining. I have piles of clothes I rarely wear. I have more shoes than I have need for. We have food in the kitchen. We have warm beds to sleep in. I have so much…stuff. And yet, I complain. It’s really kinda nauseating when I think about it.

I feel the need to continue to simplify. I realize that the tendency toward excess is something that is, sadly, part of the American experience, but it is not something I need to perpetuate now that I am aware of it.

All around us, we see and hear messages that tell us we need more and better things. The car you drive is more than five years old, so it’s time to upgrade and get locked into a payment. Your laptop is slow and the operating system is outdates. It’s time to upgrade. Your television is great, but it doesn’t have the ability to connect wirelessly to the internet so you can look at Facebook and Twitter in hi-def on a 57 inch screen. Upgrade! If you can’t afford it, there are plenty of banks out there that are willing to help you get a credit to finance your dreams.

My soul is at a place of total unrest right now, and there is an urgency to take a good look at my life and get it right. For too long, I have believed the lie which says I am defined by the things I can afford. In believing this, I have managed to transform “want” into “need,” and justified all manner of financial stupidity in order to meet those needs. It has sickened my soul to its core, and I know there has to be more to life than living in this illusion.

So much of the American ideal regarding symbols of success is really about creating traps for ourselves, become enslaved to our possessions and the banks which financed them. We have become a nation of serfs, and somehow, we’re pretty okay with that. Our wealth is an illusion, and it can be wiped out faster than we think possible. Oh how the mighty have fallen…

I refuse to invest in any more self-made traps. I refuse to feed the beast of consumerism any longer. I am ready to invest in the things of greater value, things that can be world healing and world changing. This ride that we’re on doesn’t last forever, and when it stops, where will we be? All I know for certain is that I want to be free from the encumberance of excess, and I want my son to inherit that freedom as well.

As I write this, the song “Self-Made Trap” by the 77s keeps drifting through my mind. It seems fitting to end with the lyrics:

i’ll beat the rap for a self-made trap
get all tied up in endless crap
quicksand, i planned
pitfalls, i dig ‘em all

self-made rope
and self-made binds
i’m all wrapped up
in a sour grape vine
a human web,
i’ve spun every thread
tight nets, i weave all i can get
a rats maze wouldn’t faze
brick walls, i’m enthralled

self-made traps, self-made snares
handicaps and wheelchairs
drown myself in rain,
freeze myself in snow
help comes fast, pride goes slow
could be free if i choose
born to win, dying to lose

self-made twine,
hand-made chains
i’m all bound up and self-contained
jail cells, i build well
lions dens, i got a yen
land mines, i design
avalanche, i wouldn’t blanch

self-made traps, self-made snares
handicaps and wheelchairs
drown myself in rain,
freeze myself in snow
help comes fast, pride goes slow
could be free if i choose
born to win, dying to lose

the warden comes to set me free
i grip the bars, swallow up the key
it’s like serving time
when there’s none left
on a fast train nowhere
but we’re not there yet
the scenery moves
the train stands still

dungeon dark,
i’ll quench every spark
a hangman’s noose,
never leave ‘em loose

self-made traps, self-made locks
combinations i forgot
for guards and gates i await
i’m a natural born inmate
could be free if i choose
born to win, dyin’ to lose
lust came fast, love left slow
the die is cast, the word is no