Monday, December 30, 2013

Considering Change (9 years ago + a future)

NINE years ago

I couldn't even dream of being loved, but I smiled at people at church as an act of courage.

I cried hopelessly on the floor as my three year old screamed and screamed, just out of reach, unwilling to let me hold her.... Afraid!... of what, I didn't know. What haunted her in the dark? Did my own daughter hate me?

I felt like a monster. I was afraid, too. I begged God to help her because I didn't know how.

My best friend helped me uncover X's lies. I finally knew I couldn't trust his word any longer, even with seemingly honest eyes in answer to direct questions.

My best friend became my comfort in that shock, and then he became my secret. His wife didn't know about the long phone calls, the webcam connection, the lust. My husband didn't deserve to know, I thought. Maybe we would run away together and start a new life? But he chose his wife, instead, and I was no longer welcome in his life.

My husband found out and acted like he hadn't been cheating in a very similar way. It was traumatic. Everybody knew.

So I decided to never have secrets again. I make sure there are always several people who know my deepest secrets.... Sometimes I open them to the whole world. Secrets breed ugly actions, choices I regret.

I hated myself. I finally agreed with X that there was nothing good in me.

God seemed to hate me, too. I couldn't imagine he might not.

I held knives to my wrist and stood there begging God for the courage to get past my fear of pain so the world could be free of my existence. But instead he gave me the song, "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" and made me feel like someone out there must understand the place I stood.

I started rewriting the story I had been telling myself.

I ended my day-dream of being loved and planned to stop lying to myself. I wouldn't imagine the impossible any longer.

I lived, but I thought it was a terrible thing.

SIX years ago 

We spent the year searching for a house to purchase, since X had a good job. Every Sunday, visiting open houses. Tiring. Whiny kids. So much effort.

I sat on the bottom step of the stairs as my six year old screamed, refusing to wear her shoes to go to a place she wanted to visit.

I lost my temper. I felt like a monster. An hour later, we were still fighting over the shoes. I finally gave up and we stayed home.

I lay on my bed, weak and shaken as my heart raced for no reason. I'd given up on going to doctors. They could never find anything wrong with me.

I jumped in fear every time I heard my husband's car pull into the drive.

I watched my kind neighbor play with his daughter and my kids ... and wished X were so patient. I felt guilty for comparing them and wished I could avoid the neighbor so I wouldn't see the differences.

My college-age neighbor accidentally (or maybe purposely) nearly killed herself with sleeping pills and alcohol. I felt guilty for not trying hard enough to be her friend. Her parents came and took her home, and I still have the thank you gift she gave me, even though I feel like I don't deserve it.

I was trapped in my own pain, still thinking of death, but sometimes I could see it was good to be alive. Sometimes I wished X were dead, instead, and felt terribly guilty about it.

I was beginning to see God might love me after all. It seemed amazing and improbable, but maybe he was making me lovable by some miracle?

I practiced talking to people who seemed lonely at church, because it was what I wished others would do for me. I realized some were actually grateful to me for it. This surprised me.

I no longer struggled with impossible fantasies, but I was still miserable in my reality. Maybe a new house would help me want to live.

THREE years ago

I told X he had one year to change my mind about our relationship because he begged for more time after I asked him for a divorce.

I was finally beginning to recover from such severe chronic fatigue that I could scarcely walk for three months. (A result of years of abuse and fear, followed by overdoing it while remodeling the house, followed by a severe illness.)

My children attempted to protect me from X's anger by trying to explain why he didn't need to be upset, making me worry about his responses to them. I tried to control them so he wouldn't lash out at them, and hurt them myself, instead. I hated myself for it, but I didn't know what else to do.

X hadn't had a job for over a year, and we would enter complete bankruptcy within the year.

My friends at church let me lean on them when I couldn't sit up for the whole Sunday School service, but I refused to miss attendance because it was my only chance to be around non-family who cared about me.

I finally began to realize that there were people who genuinely loved me, mostly because they'd been proving it by accepting me as I was, for years.

I spent the year in pseudo counselling with a church lady and her husband, who didn't have a very good relationship themselves. They had no clue what to do in the face of an abusive relationship. They were overwhelmed, but gave us lists of things to do better because they were certain it would work.

I was judged for wanting to leave and failing to live up to X's "simple" demands. X was given leniency for abusing me because my pain (and being myself) made me less submissive than a robot.

I realized the church wasn't God. God's love didn't look like abuse, I knew, and the only other explanation was that these people were outside God's will somehow.

I finally realized I had always been loved ... that I had been believing lies about God. Fear lifted, because the specter of imminent judgement no longer obscured my view. Love set me free.

Within that year I realized X was still lying to me, still cheating on me, still treating me the same way as always. I no longer believed the word "love" fit his treatment of me. I stopped thinking love looked like a cage.

After the year ended, I took the kids and moved out, and the church kicked me out, too, breaking my chains.

Even though I was afraid, I knew staying was more dreadful.

I learned who my friends were.

Now

I am single, and so grateful. This isn't as terrifying as I once believed it must be. I could live the rest of my life like this, surrounded by friends, and I would not regret it. 

My children laugh with me as I use newly-discovered energy to play with them as I tuck them in at night. Tantrums are rare. They look for me when they have a bad day, instead of running away.

I finally am learning to help my children develop their strength and independence, instead of attempting to control them all the time. Turns out they are capable of choosing and growing when I set them free, and their mistakes are easier to live through than I once thought they would be.  

I realize that God isn't so easily overwhelmed as I used to think he must be. Even when everything is a mess, something good happens, too. 

I am loved and I love. 

I am LOVED! It's true. 

I know God loves me. I know my friends love me. This knowledge flows through me, and it gives me courage. 

My friends made me notice my skills, gifts, abilities, strengths, and now I can see them for myself, just like I see the strengths and beauty in them ... and in so many others who cross my path. 

Hurting people come to me. They show up from nowhere as if following a hidden path, so I give them what I have. Questions. Love. Acceptance. Hope. Time. Safety. Smiles. Hugs. Appreciation. Gratitude. 

I'm so thankful to have something to give, so thankful to be trusted. It feels like a miracle every time. 

I know how to reflect the beauty I see in them, because I know what it is to be unable to see the beauty in the mud-covered mirror too many others hold up to our souls. 

This. Joy. I. Could. NEVER. Have. Imagined!

There is no dream insightful enough to capture what I will do with my life, but I dream anyway. Not to escape. Not in desperation to find something different. But because I finally know I can choose what to do with each day and dreams help me to see the choices that are available. 

I am glad to be alive.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Past Judgment, Present Love

In spite of all I've forgotten, the memory swims up from the murky depths of my mind.

I'm sitting, hand clapped over my mouth, blocking a shocked gasp for air. "How could anyone call having multiple partners love?... They're so wrong!"

Oh, yes, I scorned those distant strangers whose eyes I had never seen, whose hearts I had never heard.

I--in my rotting marriage, coated with whitewash--felt proud to be better than those people.

I sneered.
I groaned.
I assumed.
I judged.

And then I went on with my miserable life without another thought for why or how they could live such different relationships than my own. After all, I assumed they couldn't possibly be doing better than me ... and I was distracted by my own destructive marriage, which wasn't nearly as exclusive as I assumed ... for either of us.

-

Today, it is perspective-changing to realize I deeply love and trust someone who is non-exclusive in all of his relationships.  I love him, so I must seriously consider how our relationship will develop in light of that knowledge.

There is a foundation-shaking irony in searching for an understandable description that fits his lifestyle, finding a polyamorous relationship blog; then realizing that these fascinating people are teaching me much that is worth knowing.

Seriously, this is the best article on consent I've ever read.

I desperately needed this information when I was a teen.

Above all, I have realized that Nick's respect for my individuality, personal honesty, and trusting transparency are more reassuring to me than promises of exclusivity or "elevating me above all others."

In contrast, I see that it was dishonesty, secrecy, and destructive relational habits that ended my marriage. X and I could have worked through his cheating if we had even a portion of friendship to fall back on. The relationship was broken long ago, before it began, really. I sometimes wonder what I thought I had in the beginning, aside from an emotional filler for my desperate desire not to be alone.

Nearly every friendship I've ever had has been deeper and more honest than my marriage.

Eye-opening.

Yet, after a great deal of thought, I know I'm not presently capable of remaining emotionally healthy in a half-polyamorous relationship, not even with Nick. I'm not letting go of my dear friend, but there is a clear line in our relationship we have agreed not to cross for the sake of remaining close.

I can be his best friend and support him through his relationships ... but I can't be involved sexually and honestly accept who he is without falling apart myself ... at least not unless I change a great deal more than I can imagine myself changing right now.

There is too much destruction and instability in my past to even begin facing sex without guarantees of stability and privacy, never mind my personal preference ... which is clearly monogamy.

It's not surprising.

There are many lifestyles I know I couldn't survive with my personality, skills, and internal perspectives on life. Polyamorous relationships have joined that list, right after cross-fit training and a vegan diet.

I'll be researching the various ways people build relationships, though. This research has made me aware of how little I know of the many ways that relationships work, and how different people have different needs. As usual, "Everybody is like this, so anyone who is different is messed up," turns out to be a false premise.

I'm also more "abnormal" than I realized.

I love new variations on perspectives I once took for granted, even when it's sometimes a little painful to find myself standing in a different place than I expected because of these realizations.  Interesting. Creative. It's fascinating how different and beautiful people can be.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

We waiting-wounded drop our heads and moan - a poem

Beloved,
tied to weight of living
sink beneath the darkest waters
wrapped in ties of ancient history
gaping mystery of knowing
we waiting-wounded
drop our heads and moan
within the long-swept shadows
where starving wolves pursue
and ropes too long
yet stretched to breaking
weapons loaded in the heart
below the liquid-table ends

Life,
we watch distant horizons
for a reason yet to stay
stay
stay
and live a daylight longer
as the murky, clouding thought
sweeps amid the lurk of shaking
on the edge of what is not
that hope we wish
beyond this present
un-gifted
letters to departed solace
they do not answer our last call
lines too busy every moment
and next to us
the weary drown in desperation
still blinded as they fall

Love,
arises in the vision;
by the giving sparks flare bright
as our hands reach to the anguished
be the answer in the shadows
mystery of dark made light
we are the ones that walk in darkness
and now the eyes who hold the sight
our stories form the fragile healers
we, weeping, wear the tearing burden
where tears trickle through the gaps
in woven fingers in the night
reach the pain-formed network wide
to catch all falling, fragile souls
we hold the waiting, gentle warmth
the knowing is our simple guide.

-------------

My thoughts after reading Faith in a Dark World over on Registered Runaway.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Fundamental fear and freedom in love

Hannah, at Wine and Marble, posted an interesting assessment of "the ethics of leaving fundamentalism" ... taking the word out of my expected "churchy" definition to reveal how the overall attitude and social effects of a fundamentalist stance can simply transfer into a new ideology. I was going to respond in the comments, but my thoughts were expanding rapidly, so blog-post it is.

The ethics of unlearning fundamentalism must go much deeper than just jumping to the other side of your line in the sand. -- Hannah

I've been dealing with this a lot while wading through the detritus of my past. My instinctive response to people who believe like those who hurt me is fear/push-back. They have little chance to build relationship with me if they use too many code-words or sound the least bit judgmental, even though I know very well how it is to think that way because I used to be like them.

I watch my internal walls go up and realize I'm not being fair to the person in front of me. Usually, they are not trying to attack me, or even correct me. They think they are being helpful, encouraging,... flexible, even.

Yet as I recognize their labels and frames, I frame and label them as "other" and "dangerous" in response.

Trying to stand as close
as restrictions allow,
they strain to reach through
cracks and gaps and gates
of love in their beliefs
and cry, proclaim, or say,

"I can go no further.
If you stand right here,
draw near, come to
the wall between us,
I will reach through
and offer you these gifts."

They do not understand
this fear of their frameworks.
They do not see the poison
in their healing potions.
They simply want to nurture
and do not know how.

I know how conflicted I always am when I try to both love and keep inside a predefined framework of correct action and thought.  While feeling founded on correct fundamentals, whatever they may be, the dividing effects on relational processes do not always align with my intentions toward unity.

I don't always recognize the damage I cause when I respond through my view of the world, thinking I am seeing what others ought to know.

If I do not intentionally shake my foundations, both new and old, I will easily slip into the restrictions of fundamental beliefs. Yet there is no escaping living based  on what I know of the world, whether I am fearful or loving in my approach.

The difference is that fear makes walls, draws lines, separates ...

Love sees that even the greatest wrong, the most distinct separation, the most crucial error in perception ... can be shifted, altered, transformed, corrected, broken ... and that I am not immune to these effects myself. I, too, am being changed, even as I live within that process and attempt to share it with others.

Because we are all learning, I can react with hope for transformation.

Even when I point out the poison and highlight the failures in an ideology. Even when I unveil the secret, mass graves beneath the stately whitewashed walls of a fundamentalist construct. Even when I protect the wounded. Even when I am rightly angry at abuse, deceit, and corruption.

There is no victory in using the same weapons as "the enemy." Such attacks only anchor them deeper into their foundations. I see the effect of their methods on myself, as well. Is it useful to entrench them further?

I don't know how to love some people. Honestly, I'm figuring this out, as I stumble into life.

For now:

When I realize how incapable I am of seeing their value as unique individuals caught within a machine, I try to restrain my words about them and focus only on the thoughts, ideals, stories, and contrasts I gain from their challenges against my identity. I'm still learning to offer even those who hate and attack myself and others the same respect I hope will be given to my story. Recognition of process toward change. Realization that there is always more than can be seen.

It doesn't stop me from communicating disagreement, protecting others when I can, challenging their blindness,... or even fearing them (Sad to say, because I think that fear blocks my ability to see them for who they are.) ... but it does alter my response. I leave room for hope and transformation inside my perspective of them, even as I attempt to stand firm against the damage caused by their blindness. I'm not sure what else I can do ... but it is a start.

If I'm going to have a fundamental stance by my nature and training, then may it be founded on a love that sees through onion-layers of masks and searches out the mystery-path to mutual healing and growth wherever possible.


Monday, December 16, 2013

I can't offer a healthy romantic relationship right now ... and it's okay

It took me years to believe in friendship. Years to really learn to live that exchange of meaning and presence that turns strangers into the people who transform your life so much that you have no idea who you'd be without them. And I desperately need friendship right now.

There is this THING that happens when I start wondering, "Might we be together? Could I give him that additional level of love that is generally reserved for one special person?"

Basically, I turn into a panic-stricken, raving lunatic.

I imagine horrible things about men who are gentle and honorable.

First Hawk.

Now Nick.

These kind men can seem to be monsters, cloaked in darkness. Ravening liars just waiting for a chance to stand back and laugh over my broken heart. Angry. Bitter. Annoyed at the person I am. Resentful of me for thinking of them, for asking to know them, for wanting to talk with them.

Of course it is all lies.

Every common sense observation of their interactions with me makes it obvious that these things aren't true. Unlike the gaslighting and emotional manipulations that characterized X, they consistently prove themselves to be kind, respectful, loving, genuine, honest ... yet my emotions just don't respond to common sense. The reality is drowned out by the bitter voices of my past, spewing poison into my mind.

I don't believe myself when I tell the truth. I can't shout loud enough on my own to fight those thoughts. My only defense is to ask for truth from the person himself, and my other friends also.

I hang on tight to the man I saw before all the craziness took over, and choose not to let go until my mind grows clear again.--Sounds like a fairy tale or something.

This is why it's a good thing I figured out friendship first. We were transparent as we built our relationship, and because we are friends above all, I can hang onto those realities no matter what.

Without the friendship, there wouldn't be a relationship anymore. I would self-destruct over every little thing, and no matter how compassionate Nick might be, he can't fix me from the inside. He can only help me heal myself. We need the friendship to handle this transition in my emotions as I process the "what might we be to each other?" questions.

Nick is capable of keeping up with me through this insanity in a way Hawk wasn't. And that's amazing to me. He invites me to call, to panic, to text ... to tell him my confused imaginings and question his intentions. He worries that he might not be available when he's busy, and that waiting to hear back from him might hurt me.

I hoped to find the kind of relationship in Hawk that Nick offers as naturally as breathing.

It wasn't in Hawk to do more than be patient with me, and I'm well aware of the fact that my request for more wasn't fair to him at all. You can't ask people to act out of character. Now that I'm not wanting more than friendship from him, I see him for who he is again. No more imagining he hates me. Our friendship was always good and solid.

I still don't understand why I kept feeling so fearful when I was the one burdening Hawk with all the weight of my hopes, and he was the one who had every right to feel pressured even though we didn't talk about my feelings much. He hasn't brought it up again since we established who we are to each other clearly. Have I mentioned he's a kind man?

I find this humorous, in a way. This transition is just too unexpected. Nick? Really?

Now it's all the same emotional junk pouring out, only this time there is plenty of room to talk it through.

It is so obviously my own problem (and understandable given my history of verbally abusive relationships, from teachers to X) and it's good to know these emotional landmines have nothing to do with the individual I'm looking at.

There was a time when even new friends triggered these responses. I'm amazed to realize it doesn't happen anymore. I've grown! Wow...

I don't know what Nick and I will become. We're friends. We love each other. And this is enough, for now. I don't want to make big decisions while I'm still psycho-girl, and Nick agrees that we have all the time in the world to find out what the future holds. We share the belief that it is more important to remain friends--no matter what happens--than to somehow force our relationship into one structure or another that might not fit us.

I just hope the other side of this process leaves me capable of offering a healthy romantic relationship to someone, because I really don't like the frustrations caused by this crazy, fearful, sick person who takes over sometimes. I'd like her to become at least healthy and loving ... even if she's still crazy.

For me, crazy might be normal.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

You cloak me like shadows and wear me for storm-clouds - a poem

Oh! I can’t see you.

re-gifted heart
I offer you broken pieces
still sharp-edged for pain
that love you lost
I found it
   again
just missed you somehow
I would hold you closer
like chains and mystifying
lock-clear key
   rings
like earthquakes
tumbled church towers
echoes land-sliding to the sea
for nothing
   tolls

I have ever paid.

you … you … you … you
what you seem
in this vapor-filled dream of
   if-only
you’re everything and nothing at all
that I wanted and looked for
   when
I shopped all the world with my jacket on
because it was cold in the plain
where the sun rises
dawn in the evening rain

Four words I knew.

I would see you
again and again
and again ...
and again
here in the ocean
the moon-pulling waves
to a tick-tock ... calling
   moments
like sand still receding
through the glass
my melting clear
on the verge of a notion
that you ...
you and I ...
that we ...

It’s nothing.

You cloak me like shadows
and wear me for storm-clouds
I wrangle with lightning
and blind you in daylight
till moments have passed
and the reasons are ...
   fallen
to dust on far
desert tree-shattered pillars
you look so sky-fragile like jewels
in the distance
I seek you again
and again lava spews your face
from my eyes
and I cry mountain-meanings
of nothing from hollow
heart-shaped abyss
in the core of the circle
with no form
at the last

   then

I see you again.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

I wasn't going to be me, but that didn't work out so well.

My friends call me a rebel, now, and I'm okay with it.

My parents missed out on the whole teenage rebellion stage when I was younger. I was very cautious back then. I feel a bit sorry for them now as I tell them I don't really want to attend church anymore ... even the little church on our block that I could walk to, even on cold days. But not sorry enough to change that choice.

Will I ever go "back to church?"

Did I ever leave?

She's not a little girl anymore, the youth I stifled and tried to kill with conscientious pursuit of others' expectations, back when I was too young to understand that being myself was okay. Somehow in the past few years she reached her teens, I think. Or maybe I am all caught up and she's 36 ... still rebelling.

Maybe.

There is something about a framework of walls that makes a lot of people-of-faith comfortable, as if they are where they're supposed to be. But that comfort seems so deceptive to me now that I've been evicted. Back when I was inside those walls, I wasn't developing or growing much. If anything, the teachings I found among the faithful were holding me back from pursuing God in real life.

Oh, I had faith. I still have faith. God isn't moved no matter where I stand, and somehow that place is closer now than before, in spite of my flagrant questions and challenges to the average church-promoted authorities. People ... friends ... (strangers, even) have been telling me they see growth/maturity/inspiration/insight in me all along the way. If I believed some of what was said to me while I was inside the walls, I could rest on my laurels and be done growing. But it was always just impressions.

The thing is, I know what I am called to, and I'm not there yet. I was most definitely very, very far from it back when I was "inside the church" and now that I'm "outside," I'm much closer.

Who did God make me to be?

Well, he made someone who asks questions. And questions aren't as dangerous and explosive as I once thought they would be. Only fear or certainty makes them explosive. The rest of the time they are simply questions. We all have them, when we're honest.

The little girl who feared asking questions because the teachers would get angry now wears them every day. She finds the not-knowing is more secure than the knowing. There is more room for trust here. There is less fear. There is more space inside her for everyone she used to think she "had to love" even though she couldn't really accept them as they were because they didn't agree or weren't good.

Now?

Now that she doesn't know who they ought to be, the love is right there and easily accessible.

I told Nick, today, that it feels like I'm finally living the story that was designed for me. I have strange life-goals. Creative. Artistic. Crazy. Unrealistic. I've always known this.

Yet the life I'm living now is the reality of the dreams that kept returning in my journals again and again over the years ... the impossible, improbable, unrealistic dreams that I kept denying because there was no room for them between the walls of my life.

Now I think the dreams that are too big are the biggest gift of all. Because the only way they could possibly happen is because God designed them in the first place.

Here is my church:
The people I speak to. The people I love. The people I encounter for only a moment on the street. The ones I support. The ones I admire. The ones who share life with me. I live church every moment of every day.

Did you know God made them all?
Did you know God is at work in every life?

Let me tell you. Security isn't safety.

I'm not safe. I never was,... even at my most obedient and careful and insecure. And now that I'm not even trying to be safe ... I am much more secure, confident, loving. God gets this place of real uncertainty, I think. It's odd in contrast to how he never seemed to acknowledge all my effort back when I wondered how to have the kind of faith that would allow him to accept me.

Giving up on myself allowed me to see him where he always had been all along, holding me together no matter what.

Faith lives inside the questions, and sometimes faith looks like rebellion to those who are afraid.

Now to overcome the rest of the fears that haunt me ... because I don't like how fear kills relationship.

--------------

This is a linkup with Bonnie at the Faith Barista Jam.
Writing prompt:  The Little Girl in Me - Click through to read other perspectives.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

I try to write in present prose, but poetry comes from confusion.

It's hard to write the confusion. Words, structured on the page, are ordered and organized along a path. There is supposed to be clarity. A beginning. An end.

When I am confused or uncertain they become poetry, open-ended, alarming, confusing. (Never mind difficult to read.)

I told myself this isn't a poetry blog. I'd write those thoughts clearly in prose, thank you. No need to make my writing more obscure than necessary.

"Think of the readers!!!" my mind whispers, "People need clarity!"

Well, I admire organized thought in others, possibly because I don't usually create such structures, so it offers a nice contrast to the ever-changing, wild, and free landscape that is my internal world. However, I always end up back in the wilderness after exploring the straight-lined passages. Since my words turn to the poetic even when I'm calm and collected, maybe I'll just go with it.

Continuously structured writing is limiting for me, I think. The ideal has a good motivation and would work for someone who processes life that way, but desire doesn't alter this particular reality ... and ordering words as prose when I'm crying inside simply doesn't happen.

As much as I admire logic and sense and order ... I literally have to create a numbered list to even come close. It works. I don't mind the process. However, as it is constructed ... I sometimes fail to verbally reflect the struggle. Who I actually am loses to the idea of who I could be.

And since this is my life story made transparent ... it seems fake.

It makes me look stronger than I am. More aware. More confident.

And so, if you happened to compare yourself to me (Please no!!!) you might think "I wish I could be like her," when I'm over here thinking the very same thing about this person I have projected into the web. I wish I could be like her, too.

This is why it feels good to write through her, I think. She knows the things I'm still figuring out. She makes statements about thoughts that are still questions for me. She's a facade ... although she is still truth. She is an anticipation ... a hope ... a desire to be ... a recognition of process.

She is a glimpse of what could be, though maybe not the only possibility or even the best one.

Right now?

Right this very minute ... I'm fighting with the universe and losing.

Oh, I'm not losing anything valuable. (I hope.) I have this sense that I'm being given something I didn't even know existed ... something too beautiful to comprehend yet, because I haven't seen it.

But I'm over here hanging onto the things I already understand to be treasures ... and I don't want to let go of this one, because what I receive might not be better.

I can't hold both. I can't keep the certainty and also have this element that is too large to contain.... It seems likely that it will always be a matter of experiencing the adventure and living the changes without any promise that life will be comfortable.

I've got my mental sailboat, carefully constructed to sail the pond out back, and I'm on the gangplank of a ship heading out into the ocean. My little boat can't keep up with a real adventure, but I'm looking back at the pond and wondering whether I'm insane to let it go. It looks nice and safe back there, surrounded by walls and limits and unseen horizons.

Do I need more than a patch of blue sky?

Yeah. That wasn't really a question. The ship left the dock a long time ago, and my little sailboat has long dropped out of sight. I'll post the poetry, too.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Gifting the future to each other

I call life a weaving, a story, a song ...

Or maybe a mystery because lives merge and separate, leaving marks and strands of presence that alter the future by their existence.

Sometimes I notice more than others.

There are people who shine bright to me for who they are. I don't know why it is only some, because everyone has that quality of an incredible and unique presence.

There it is. The limit.

I only clearly see a few people, as do we all, but among the many connections we form the possibility to know everyone and share the experience of it. The network of relationship.

In a way, I am made of the strands of other lives, woven in my experience of time. A nexus of the people I've met or read or encountered in others. And it is valid to meet the father in the son, the daughter in the mother, the teacher in the student, and the myth within reality, as it becomes a part of experience shared.

I contain the essence of so many individuals and, in addition, a portion others shared with them to make us capable of connecting in that way. This is all I offer ... the moving stream of connection between us, the weaving of lives.

We are always gifting each other the future, if we only look into each others eyes and notice the transition in every act, intention, and word.

My intent....
My hope is to notice the gifts while making the future brighter for all who pass through my life.

How?

Well, that is the living question, isn't it?

Monday, December 9, 2013

How to Win Against Fear in Your Mind

Friday night was more difficult than I expected. 

I always think of myself as someone who is used to separation. I'm good at thoroughly enjoying time close to a friend, and then still being thankful when we are separate again. Only the truth seems to be that I learned to detach at some point, and now that I'm opening my heart completely to people again, I'm not so good at this whole "being apart again" thing. 

I spent the day fighting spectral voices that were whispering lies about Nick's character and thoughts.

I know this creature from the days when I was trapped in depression. At the time I was bound to it and believed everything it said. I had to expose and silence it in order to become strong, and my friends helped me win by supplying me with an abundance of truth to shield myself from the lies. 

It's not dead yet, though. I still hear it whispering in the back of my mind most days, whining for attention, hoping I'll give it enough space to creep out and cloud my mind. Usually quoting my friends at it will keep it in check. But when I'm chemically depressed. When my emotions drop for good reasons, such as grief over a friend leaving after a visit, then the specter comes out in full force to take advantage of the situation. 
Below is a clarified version of the email I wrote Nick after calling him Saturday morning.

The minute I heard his voice, I felt healed and unafraid, but I would have struggled longer if I hadn't called him.

It was humorous to me how difficult it was to fight back against the mental image of him as being reluctantly dragged into relationship with me by some super-power I don't even have, and how quickly that idea vanished the moment I heard his voice.

I don't need to know why it works in order to realize this is a useful way to fight.  

-
It's funny the way my mind plays tricks with the past, Nick. The incredible friend you actually are ... and the vague "person-who-really-hates-me-even-when-they're-nice" projected by my head tend to mix me up when I'm feeling down. 
My emotions pull out the caricature because it's most familiar, and ... oh, that terrifying voice speaks loudly in the darkness. I vividly remember being alone and bound to the creature, believing every lie it told. I spent most of the night telling the truth to hold it off. 
I have a sudden mental image of holding my own against a cloaked specter, battling with words, truth against lies.
I won the fight, but it still wounded me. And that is why I needed to hear your voice ... to make my win feel tangible against the battle-wounds of fighting the past. I am not so strong as to stand on my own, and that's okay because you stand with me even when I can't see or feel your presence. 
I'm thankful for your willingness to supply me with confirmation of the truth and stick with me even when my fight doesn't make sense ... after all, you know only the reality of your genuine friendship and not the poisonous lies hidden in my mind.
-
Because I know I'm not the only one who faces these moments, it seems helpful to point out how I fight the specter that attempts to lock me down so I won't rely on my friends or find reassurance. (Basically, it would have won if I had chosen to cut myself off from the people who love me. I've been through that re-cycling negative-cycle, and it's no fun.)
  1. My friends and I speak to each other with complete transparency. This is vital! 
    - It is the friends who are consistently open with me who give me the best weapons. Their love equips me.
    - Collecting words from people who "might be lying" because I don't know them well just isn't as effective.
    - Back when civil friendships were all I had, it took a lot more people saying the same thing to create a useful counter-attack, and it was harder to fight.
  2. I contact my friends immediately when I find my emotions are becoming unstable.
    - If I can, I let them know ahead of time that I'll probably be struggling, and why. That way, they'll check in on me if I get caught up in the lies.
    - I keep reaching out until I connect with someone, even if it isn't someone from my core group of friends.
  3. I tell the truth about the situation both to my friends and myself. 
    - The problem usually isn't what just happened. It's usually something that happened a long time ago, and I'm feeling the emotions from back then, also.
    - I let them know this so they aren't trying to solve something that isn't the real cause.
    - I tell them what I need to hear. I'm the only one who knows what the specter is saying to me, so I have to let them know what words to supply to fight it. I can either tell them what I'm hearing inside so they can correct it, or say, "Can you please remind me of what you said about ... "
    - They give me truth because they are truthful people. This is why #1 is so important.
  4. I make sure they know it's not their problem, even though I'm trusting them to help me fight it. 
    - For example, Nick couldn't help going back to California. My agonizing reaction had nothing to do with his actions, even though his leaving triggered the specter.
    - I made sure he knew that I didn't believe the lies that rose up, and that I knew it was just an old recording from the past playing over again like an opportunistic ghost.
    - Once he understood this, he knew just what to say to help me re-write the scene so it couldn't possibly end the way my mind was attempting to write it.
    - He broke the cycle with me.
  5. I keep their positive responses and support up front in my mind. 
    - We can only focus on so much. Our brains are limited in their capacity to process information.
    - So when I have a choice between two subjects of thought, I choose the one that leads to a healthy balance in my emotions. (And it is completely legitimate to distract myself with a comedy if I just need some time to balance out, naturally.)
    - Even if I can't completely silence the negative perspectives and lies right away, when they have less room they die out a lot faster. And now I have a history of proof that they do die, eventually, no matter how my blood chemistry and situation might set me up for depression.
    - It's good to know that time is a part of the battle. 

Now I know "this, too, shall pass" and have some patience with myself when it seems to take forever. Thankfully, my friends are patient, too.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

I realized I was safe, and ...

“Thank you for being you,” I say, resting my head against Nick’s shoulder because he is here and warm and real. It is simple gratitude for his visit that overwhelms me in that moment. I sometimes wonder if we've really only known each other less than a year.

I hold him closer, knowing he will soon be on a plane heading home ...

and I am safe!

I was safe while clinging to a man I'm not dating. I was more than safe … I healed in his presence. Nick helped me so much this past week! I can’t thank him enough.

He helped me process a few of my concerns regarding men, and we dug up some new realities to consider in the face of all my theories. I can only develop my ideas in actual practice.… Until real action and choices come along, I remain unstable. Nick gave me the freedom to really face my fears and ideas, and a safe place to cry and talk about it.

The past came up a lot. I’ll be writing more about what I learned from our time together, but I wanted to share something amazing about him, first.

I spent a lot of time with Nick. With family and friends. Curled up on the couch. Walking around town. In restaurants. Shopping. Standing in line. Snuggled together while we talked through an entire, precious night.

I kept feeling like I was missing something important.

Something was unusual, but what? (Everything was unusual for me, really.) I have never been so comfortable with a man … ever. I thought it might explain that odd feeling. Then, after writing everything out for Mica and Ree, I finally realized what it was that I kept bracing for.

We spent so much time together and hugged and snuggled and talked for hours and hours … and there was physical attraction there, too … but …

I want you to notice how amazing this is.

not once did he grope me!


In contrast:

I remember the first date with X. It is vivid because he shocked me by groping my leg. I nearly fell off my chair in surprise, and he laughed at me. After that the groping escalated and continued whenever X felt like it, until the day I moved out. 

Though there were times when he wouldn't touch me, there was never a time when I felt safe from the possibility, and a simple “no” wasn't a preventative.

With Nick touch was a simple honesty without pushing even to the edge of private areas. Even when we kissed, there was no invasion based on an assumption that permission for one form of contact must include access to everything. My clothes remained entirely in place the whole time.

No wonder I felt safe. He wasn't waiting around for a chance to sneak more than I was ready for. He just appreciated me right where I am for who I am.

Everything between us was a gift because we expected nothing more from each other than the friendship we had already constructed and gifted to each other. There were no demands, and if one of us hoped for something or wanted something we simply talked it through. When we had different levels of interest, we stopped at the lower level.

Apparently I believed men
(1) always have such urges and
(2) can’t resist them when given an opportunity
because I’m still amazed, even as I write this.

It is a relief to know that this respect of personal boundaries is a real possibility.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

High Priestess in the Temple of Love

I read the Twilight series a few years back, easily caught up in the angst and drama that reminded me so much of my secret dreams. Many of my “if only” feelings played out in an eerie alternate reality.

Though Meyer probably didn’t intend it, the series played a clear role in bringing to light a certain uncomfortable attitude I had brought into my view of love and marriage. A perspective encouraged by church leaders, self-help books, and many of my mentors and advisers through the years.

Few would ever describe it as I finally did. Much of the imagery they used was deceptive, a result of skewing the Bible toward a predefined relational appearance.

Wife and husband are representatives of the church and God. Wives submit … like the church. Husbands lead … like god. And there was a subliminal, unspoken theme through it all, “Love will provide all your needs, if you do it right. If not, then you probably messed up.”

And so it seemed clear that a primary purpose of life is to find a holy prince/princess and worship/love together as high priest/ess on the altar of unity. In this way you will find eternal salvation from loneliness and live an idyllic life of service to god while raising children to do the same.

Sacrifices are necessary to fulfill this role.

So I worshiped love and followed my husband along the path to perfect union. We were our own cult of two in the temple of marriage, where I hoped my self-sacrifice would bring blessing and great joy … somehow … even though the prince/priest failed to play his role properly. After all, God had designed this demonstration of his relationship to us from the beginning of the world, right? Even if only one of us fulfilled their part, the other would be saved as well.

If my ex had played his role, I would never have realized what I was doing. I would have blindly worshiped our relationship till death, with the church cheering alongside.

Edward contrasted the man I had married against that mythic ideal in a shocking way. His cloyingly sweet obsession revealed its shadow in X, an angry demand for the worshipful, dependent response Bella gave, and which I felt compelled to offer. I couldn’t help but think Bella might one day regret her eternal marriage as I closed the final book.

In reality my husband wanted me to become undamageable so he could have his way without the annoyance of guilt. He claimed his rough and lustful nature was just part of who he was, and to be expected. All women must handle such inborn male traits. Didn’t I know it is a woman’s responsibility to wrap herself around those cutting edges and make men safe for the rest of the world?

I was too eager to become unbreakable, but I didn’t have a vampire husband who could offer me that immortal fantasy. All the same, I often lamented my sensitivity, and managed to reach the point where I could no longer weep over my internal wounds, apologizing for my tendency to wince away. I developed a remarkable ability to forget abusive events, though I couldn’t suppress the associated emotional agony.

He didn’t have the grace to hope I would remain myself.

In the end our love was exposed as simple idolatry. All my years of obsessive effort to force my contribution to our relationship into the ideal mold was only worshiping a lie. I closed my eyes and wept, but my soul couldn’t help but see the intangible temple as the light finally entered.

I watched the curtain tear ... and there was no holy of holies beyond it … only a rotting relationship and the bloody altar of my abused heart. My righteous sacrificial robe was only a filthy rag. My treasured ornaments were barbed chains.

God was not my marriage and never could have been. Even if our relationship had been healthy we still were both imperfect. Marriage will always clearly demonstrate how deeply human we are; that is the beauty and the terror of relationship.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Maybe success is simply loving people well.

I was talking to Nick the other night about that painful feeling when you realize a relationship isn't capable of handling a certain type of closeness,... not because you don't want it to,... but simply because the best we can offer is friendship ... or even distance, sometimes.

He's on the other end of a similar experience to what I've been facing, since he had to reject someone's request for a closer relationship because they damage each other when they're too close. And that isn't easy, either.

It's really rare for anyone to clearly say that love isn't about being in "the closest possible relationship" but about making sure both of you are healthy, strong, or at least healing within the relationship. 

Love cares more about how the quality and types of interaction affect each other than it does about some external construct of the way love ought to play out. 


How do you know when the best relationship you can offer someone is friendship?

See, Hawk and I had this discussion. 

I was waiting, you know ... for him to think about it and decide if he might be interested in adding another level to our relationship. I knew his answer was encoded in our communications already ... the "it's not going to happen" was implied. But for some reason I really needed to hear him say it. 

Did I say this directly? No. Maybe I should have. Next time I might face down the fear of having someone say, "I can't accept more from you, really." 

But he figured out what I needed and told me clearly and firmly, "What I feel toward you isn't romantic."

He appreciated what I offered, though, and didn't reject the love ... simply one of the ways love might have played out. I told him that I would instead love him as a friend and support him that way, and he accepted. 

It was inspiring to feel free to offer what he is capable of accepting from me. Friendship is a gift. I don't know. I often think we need a better term for caring deeply about someone for unselfish mutual benefit, because "love" is such a corrupt term and friendship has such a casual connotation for most people.


I have a choice, now, between three kinds of "love." 

I can "love" him for my own benefit. (Not really love, in my opinion.)
I can love him for HIS benefit.
or 
I can love him with a love that is for everyone, equally, and that love extends to encompass both his life and my own ... because we are both connecting points within networks of relationship ... and ...

who we are to each other affects everyone we touch.

This is very, very important, and true for everyone from family and friends to life-partners. 

Culturally,... we tend to tie more on top ... the love plus the romance ... the love plus the expectation of ... well ... it could be any benefit we see as intrinsic to love, however we categorize the term. 


Love isn't the part we add to the relationship that looks at how the other can serve oneself, but rather it looks to create a healthy place for both.

I made a graphic out of my examples:  Feel free to share.



I had this same choice with X.

I gave him everything in the black lines, and only learned how to live the second kind of love toward him by recognizing how the first kind twisted everything in life, especially our relationship. 

It was better for him, for both of us, for everyone ... to be apart. When a relationship is not only mutually destructive, but also a negative influence on family and friendships, then it's time to consider what it is you think you're building. 

By the time I learned to love him well, the best way to love him was to leave ... because anything else would have been a wide-spread lie. Because that corrosion of relationship isn't love ... it's an unfulfilled expectation that is wearing the label "love." Our reality was his abuse and my acceptance of that treatment from him, along with the influence that relationship had on everyone. Not love. 

If I had latched on to the idea of Hawk and I together ...or  if Nick had tried to stay with the girl ... it would have been based on those same destructive mental patterns. I don't think we're alone in this, either. 

Real love exists by facing the full reality of a situation and finding the unique pathway that offers what is best for everyone. Or ... at least ... to the best of our ability. (Sometimes we are not our own ideal of ourselves, and admitting this is difficult.) People must be free to be who they are, where they are in life. That is the only way to have anything honest or real, even if this sometimes means the most honest and real act is to leave each other to more beneficial relationships. 

I read a small portion of the letter I wrote (from my conversation with  Hawk) to Nick. And Nick said, "I feel like you wrote that to me, because that is how you handle our relationship, too. You could say that to any of your friends, I think." 

It's true. 

Love. Real love ... is something you can give anyone. 

It's not about romance or marriage or ... that feeling of being "in love" ... it's the core of caring for and about someone. Now that I realize this, it won't be as difficult to admit and allow love,... or at least not the real kind. Expectations will always be painful to work through, I think.

Shouldn't it be normal to love?
Isn't love the best foundation for any type of interaction between people?
I'd like to figure out how to live that way with everyone. 

I'm so thankful for friends who help me figure this out. (and not "just for Thanksgiving")

-----

I'm linking up with the Faith Barista community again, for the topic:
Share a reflection or story about your journey walking through the Thanksgiving season.
Click through for more stories.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Fleeing self-contained certainty -3- Sharing Ideas

Of course we make assumptions, but we must also assume we are mistaken in ways we don't sense. There is no way to study God and the universe other than to see what we see, then test it. And if he is who the Bible says he is, then we will receive the clarification we need to move closer and find out more.

So why do so many fear those questions?

Why do so many fear those who disagree?

Instead of saying, "If you don't think of the universe as I do, then you do not know!" I think it is better to ask, "How do you know? What have you seen? What is your experience? What influences your perspective? Why?"

Perhaps answering these questions will help us all see more clearly. Then, too, I will have a chance to learn from, understand, and speak to others directly. Isn't interacting through relationship much better than broadcasting generic information from afar?

Every individual is designed with a valuable perspective on life, and when I allow them to combine and react, I gain the benefit of additional depth and color that might highlight flaws in my own lenses ... or not. Sometimes I realize that what I learned previously is more deeply true than I knew, even if I learn this from a perspective that disagrees ... viciously.

And, what? Am I right to say the elephant is only like a snake? I can't change their eyes. I can only see what I see, always missing something that is out of my sight. As time moves forward perhaps they will see it too, one day,... or I will know their perspective. It could happen.

I sometimes imagine a world where we all assume we have our own distortions to work around, but that teaming up to test our own points of view gives us the potential to discover more by experiment and experience.

Maybe we would know each other better.

Maybe we could see more clearly.

Maybe we could interact in a healthy and healing way.

Maybe mysteries are meant to cause relationship among us, instead of separating us?

What an idea!

However, I don't need others to "see it gently" to learn from them. Even poisoned attacks and exclusionary tactics teach me something ... it just might not be what they think I'll learn. Even pain cannot prevent the gift of wisdom. In contrast, perceived safety isn't always safe. If the world beneath my feet will collapse anyway, then I'd rather find that out while exploring and testing the foundations.

In the end, if God really did make the promises I devalued for too long ... then he will give me the wisdom and guidance I seek, because he wants to and not because I've somehow performed up to some standard I don't understand.

So far the (paraphrased) promises, "seek and you will find ... that I have already provided your needs ... and am with you always ... because I love you ... and I have prepared a meaningful existence through time that was meant for you from the beginning" ... prove true. I have the rest of my life and then, perhaps, the ages beyond to explore what more there is to discover, and what this path will make of me.

I am still very much in-process, but if I bend my mind around the concept of stepping outside time then I am already completed, past, present, and future. Maybe God is still making us within the fabric of time, still shaping the song of the beginning, even as he says it is complete outside of time and rests.

How can I claim to know?

I only ask questions, let the mystery be what it is, and hope to gradually see more clearly than I do today. It's wonderful to encounter others who are doing the same.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A letter of love to all over-strained, effort-bound hearts,

Let me weave of words a quiet place, the silent breath and an open gaze looking out on life from the place within, designed by God to see.

Where is the hook of the sharpened lie? Where is the string that binds you tight to the ancient scream of a soul that forgets we are all this small and God fills the spaces between? Nobody is all, you see.

And our gift can be our curse in life, if it binds instead of freeing.

The lies will die and the truth will glow ... it is from death that life must grow. Let the answer simply be.

We are each links of unbroken chain, so don't try to bear or wear the strain--for God is the substance and he is the weave--and we are the gaps where the light can be seen, not the strength that holds the world in place.

I so often fail to know the sound of the hidden voice when I'm shuttered and drawn ... in the busy world of that mindless place where I think too much and forget all grace. I try and try ... and then ... no more is done than would have been.

So often the good that will pour right through to the world is the rest that comes when I know I lost, in the breaking of my strength. Weak and alone. The light pours through the cracks where I held myself too true.

I widen the tears in my covering veil, for I am the bushel hiding the light. It's already there and I don't have to fight, but relax and release what was always given. There is plenty and more than I can reveal. The effort isn't the point.

How could we know it if we didn't feel the over-strain of our adequacy?

In weakness, then, is strength. And the path to knowing is sometimes the way of seeing the life of effort and pain and feeling the lack of that something more ... while knowing it's there in your very core. It isn't one step further, now. It's growing already and always must, for that is the pattern of things.

God has given you much, but is it yours if you cannot rest in confidence?

What child enjoys the gift she clutches to her chest in resistant fight that none should take what is her right? It is by letting go she finds the stillness, the space of rest and life. It comes and goes as she runs and plays; her motion does not bind or fight. Know the flow of living is always this way ... and we feel it is a mystery.

Pushing less will effect more, for we are the channel and not the source. Rest is trust and thanks and breath of life. One way or another,... we still find this is something we always knew. Hear this! It grows by season and time, and the sun is rising once again.

Observe. What is true?

.....

This was inspired by/for Samantha of Defeating the Dragons, after she spoke of the effort that seeks to bind her even as she overflows the gifts designed into her from the beginning.  I love her through her writing. You might, too.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Who am I?

I ask myself, "Who am I?"

--impossible question! I wander, awaiting the answer that will crystallize existence and freeze it into a form that I can keep in my pocket and know completely.

How large is my pocket? 

Time moves forward, and everything changes with every breath. Life cannot be held, only observed. And I am merely present, aware, prepared to see. This motion is ... in fact ... the answer. I snag on life, and that is how I notice where I am

I exist, but I am not the one in front of my eyes, and if I try to look it is not myself but a fragmented shadow of every angry voice I've ever heard, hissing and whispering accusations. Sifting the shadow from the mirror is impossible, improbable, difficult. I am trapped by the past when I look within.

It is best to open my eyes and simply be ... who this is ... where this is ... not swallowed up in an idea of me that is no longer present. Maybe it isn't merely this form or these ideas and interpretations ... maybe I am this experience of living?

I ask my friends, "Who am I?"

--and they reflect my presence in a myriad of mirrored gazes, warped and smooth, shadowed and bright. They struggle and live and rejoice and grieve and lean and hold and speak and whisper and wrap in silence.

They darken their answer with words too pleasant to believe, so I close my eyes before they arrive. Still, I cannot see myself, only an effect (a ripple of passage left in time) of God at work, I think.... Because they smile and say how grateful they are, though I know they are the gift to me. 

From which direction does this light come? 

They do not know the beauty I see in them. When I tell them who they are, they do not believe. They scoff and wonder at the blindness in my eyes. 

We are the same. 

"How difficult can it be to accept the reflection I offer?" they say. 

Here--hold this understanding with a sense of the absurd--I cannot tell them what I won't allow them to tell me. We both lean forward with the same irritation, that our meanings are emptied by unbelief. 

"Thank you for being who you are," we say.

And it is important for them to know, to believe, to understand. The words come back again and again.

So, now I believe their impossibly lovely reflection. What else can I do, if I would request the same of them? 

"You are a gift, my treasure, my friend. I learn from you ... because of who you are."

Only God can make sense of that reality ... and he is everywhere, breathing the existence of friendship into our spirits. We weave the vapor of his intentional presence into our tangible lives through time and everyone we meet ... when we are aware enough to see. A friend within all friends, beyond knowing.

I ask God, "Who am I?"

--and he answers, "I love you. I am with you. Fear not." 

And while that wasn't the question, it becomes all the answer I need.

I am the one God loves. 

----

This article is written in response to the writing prompt at:



Click through to read a variety of perspectives on the topic -->


Monday, November 11, 2013

I have a voice and I will weep


I've been holding this close because the words tore their way out of me when I realized again that my story is not the only one. I have a voice. So many don't. Today it feels important to let the screams be heard, somehow. I only have words. Will they be heard? I don't know.

Fleeing self-contained certainty -2- Perspective in Motion

As I wrote, I realized that these construction materials are more about attitude toward knowledge than "things to do" ... which seems appropriate. Let's take a look at another of my church-building frameworks.

Perspective in Motion

History is full of pervasive perspectives, all skewed by human limitations. This shapes the relational complexity that comes with different individuals and groups seeing the world through different filters.

I have filters, too. I can't help it. They come from my experiences, what I have learned, what I have seen ... and I like to think some of it is a gift from the source of true insight. Yet, I try to test the gifts, too.

We use God, politics, family, culture, science, etc. to assert our positions. All are useful frames through which to view the world, but none should confine us ... even our views of God ... for who has seen him fully? We are all blind, resting small hands upon the elephant from where we stand and confidently proclaiming it is a tree, a snake, a wall, a rope....

I think God designed the Scriptures so they would make us curious without eliminating the necessity of searching this vast being, in person, to answer our questions. The written word cannot replace the speaker of Words that breathe our frame, mind, and spirit.

Growing up, far too many people saw me through the frame of a "missionary kid" and implied I must therefore be somehow holier, better behaved, set apart, complete. I was always living up to or destroying their presuppositions, and the process gave me a great disrespect for titles and labels. I wasn't myself to them, but a stereotype. They couldn't see me. Too many weren't aware enough to ask the questions that would have allowed them to come to a more accurate view of who I was, because they thought they already knew.

I see myself doing this at times. "This is what I know of you and I will respond in that light."

I've done it to Hawk, as we get to know each other ... guessing who he is based on what I've seen so far. He may have received more trust than he deserves, because I admire what I know of him. I'm waiting to find out, but it seems good to me to give others room to be their best selves.

I wonder if this is intimidating to him, and remind myself that it's important to let him know that I want him to break my frames, to be who he is and challenge me to know him and accept him as he is. He seems to understand, so far, yet I still have to stay aware and eliminate the frames, myself, also.

As a tangible example, take a moment to contrast a photograph, to video, to real life interaction. If you hit freeze-frame and leave it there, will you know the rest of the story? If you only have one camera angle, do you know what is going on off-screen? Too often, we treat our understanding of people and God in this way.

It is my own fault if I don't ask the questions that challenge my mental photograph of someone. It is my own fault if I do not move past that series of compiled frames of a first, second, third,... one hundred and twenty seventh impression into the growing, living, moving perspective of interaction.

There is incredible value in an ever-changing existence, and people can be both better and worse than I see at first. If I don't see you as you are woven through time, then I have missed you almost entirely. I may know, but it is never all there is to know. A view of anyone that always stays the same is a figment of the imagination, even when I am looking at God. Because even if God really doesn't change, I do.

If knowing a single person means I must allow my eyes to follow them as they live past any preconceived limitations or temporary observations applied, then how in all this ever-moving universe is anyone capable of containing God and the relationship between us and the universe within such a rigid constraint as our ability to comprehend? If we cannot even step back enough to view his entire artwork, then how can anyone imagine they contain a full impression of him ... and how he relates to everything?

God is vast, therefore knowing him must be far more complex than knowing a person. It feels dangerous sometimes, but I'm comforted by the thought. If I could keep him in-frame, then would he be God?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Fleeing self-contained certainty -1- Testing for Truth

I'm sick of the organized church ... not because it's all bad, but because so many tend to protect the negatives out of fear that the whole thing will collapse if we illuminate and eradicate them.

I'm so tired of knowing,... of thinking I should have everything figured out,... of thinking anyone has it all figured out for ... who knows? You? Me? All people everywhere?

Denomination or the lack thereof means nothing. God is in his Church, whether they self-identify or not. And if you wear a man-made label, it's not going to help anything. Why do we cling to them so? It may be we have no idea how it all works.

I might attend a church group or visit the buildings, but it's not going to be to devotedly adhere to the doctrines ... even though I might listen to and appreciate some of them. When I attend it's to build relationships and learn from experience. That's it.

Sorry, but I don't trust the food anyone cooks in that holy smokin' kitchen without putting it through testing for poison ... and even my own thoughts are suspect. I figure God can manage this core mistrust of the history of human perceptions and interactions, even though it's often uncomfortable and leads me outside social circles.

I can't speak for everyone, so I'll just tell you about the Church I'm hoping to live. Or rather, I'll show you some of the construction materials that seem to be most useful as I move forward.

It is what it is ... a work in process. Let's start with:

Testing for Truth

I think there is only individual perspective available to any of us. Reality is only approachable through our perceptions, but thankfully we can gather data from each other to help. On the other hand, while I can learn from other perspectives, they will not become my own until experience reveals that view to me somehow.

Thankfully, I can hold what I do not understand, which gives me the chance to study it further. My perceptions must be trained to recognize the quality of what I encounter. It's all very complicated ... or simple. I'm not sure which.

It took me a long time to see that all observations were merely tools with which I could interact and experiment in life. Hypotheses to test. Ideas to study. Everything about my mind and body is meant to process life and offer me layers of information to which I then have the opportunity to react. Feedback is inevitable, though it helps to pay attention, and I've learned one glimpse is never a complete picture.

I live neither in a painting without the ability to enter the details nor suspended over a glass lens so I can only access microscopic detail. There is a broad horizon and a wide universe spreading out from where I stand, and I am free to focus and follow where each perception takes me, looking to understand the designer of it all.

Others may see from an angle that will alert to potential danger where I would only see smooth paths. At the same time, I am very likely to see a genuine way forward that nobody else can find. Because, you know, it's my life path ... designed for me as I am guided by God's work in my life.... Yes, I know that can sound ridiculous, especially when you think I'm either a nutcase for believing in God or a deceived infidel who can't see the clear portrait of God you've suspended right in front of my nose.

Since I'm going to believe in God, he's definitely the original substructure, heart, soul, inventor, and artist of the universe. If this is all some dream, then it is God's dream, and I'm going to search for him in it. And I'm sorry, but a God who can be destroyed and deceived and manipulated and thwarted ... just doesn't seem that impressive. I grew up watching people protect God from attackers (often each other). And now? I think if he can't handle it and still remain himself, then why the title?  God says he is solid like bedrock, so when things shake he's not the one who will fall.

These days I often search out the people who disagree with my strongest opinions, because if my foundation isn't shaken, then how will I know whether I stand on sand or stone? It's helpful to share alternate insights, so long as they are offered as an addition to what is already seen, rather than tearing out anyone's eyes and attempting to replace them with my own. And it's nobody else's problem if I choose not to see things their way.

Anything that does fall out from under me isn't God. If I think it has fallen and then find it still there ... well, that's my flawed perceptions at work, isn't it? I often fuse ideas that don't actually belong together. I think God will work within my limitations and still manage to educate me. I'll just live like his presence is true to see whether he really works that way, test, and experience life to learn.

A problem I have faced is the tendency to shore up what has already fallen. If my views can't weather a storm, then I want to know it ... and now ... so I can find something more stable before the next storm. Also, so I can protect myself and others from abuse. I'm beginning to think abuse is actually the indicator of whether shoring-up of fallen ideas is going on.

For years I slowly smothered in shored-up sinking sand, crushed beneath the perspective others pressed upon me. I could feel the danger, but thought I must be wrong because "everyone" said I was. I no longer wish to rely on such group-applied "truth" while fearing to make mistakes or be different.

I do think a multitude of counselors is a good thing. However, others' eyes are not my protection or my stability. They have only perspective and contrast to offer, and it's likely as flawed as my own, though not always in the same places.

So I test of the quality of my multitude. Is my view never strongly challenged ... enough to make me seriously question and perhaps even discard what I believe? Do they all agree with each other continuously? Do they attack anyone who disagrees instead of conversing? If I answer yes to these questions, then I've headed into dangerous territory by selecting that multitude from cliques, conformers, or sycophants. 

What I see today may fall apart tomorrow ... but I wouldn't reach tomorrow's vision without seeing as I do today. However it feels to lose what breaks ... it's worth it to be further along.

I'm okay with not knowing all the truth, as long as I get to learn more every day.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Pride vs. Seeing 3- Searching for the Church

Start with part 1  "When humility is destructive" and part 2 "How I left him and the church left me"

I walked out the door determined to find another church to attend. I wouldn't be so un-spiritual as to fail in attendance because of this, I thought, not realizing that this was merely parroting the ideas ingrained in me for so long.

Another "thing people do to prove they know God." Oh, the weight of living up to expectations! I was still wondering how to impress them, and they certainly expected me to attend somewhere even if they couldn't see fit to accept me themselves.

Some of my friends found me to give unexpected hugs and express shocked grief over the leaderships' choice. Others tried desperately to change my mind, fearful that I might accidentally destroy my relationship with God by following through. I even received a threatening, accusatory letter from a woman who I had always deeply admired for her sweet nature. I wasn't sure which of us was more surprised by the new insight into the other's character, but her words were like wildly flailing knives in my heart.

-

My parents had given me a home to escape to, and they also kindly went with me to check out various churches. Each congregation had its own flavor, but they were all the same basic recipe.

My heart cracked further every time we walked through a new door. Sermon after sermon highlighted some element of the widespread mentality within the church. True Christians act like this ... or that ... no matter what, OR ELSE God would judge or condemn or destroy. I thought God didn't need to have much to do with this process, since the church had it well in hand.

A plastic smile became my guard against the all-too-cheerful greetings and questions. Genuine people looking for someone to convert to the faith? Could they make me like them? Would I join their community and become one of them? What was hidden behind these social niceties? Had this woman been abused earlier that morning? Had this man screamed at his wife in anger only hours before?

I told them the truth when they asked why I was visiting their church; that I was looking for a new place to worship after being asked to leave my prior church. It was interesting to watch their expressions go blank. Perhaps it was a bit cruel of me to shock them, but I didn't want to pretend to be a wonderful, plastic Christian. If they were going to despise me, they might as well just do it up front instead of coming at me from behind, later.

Eventually I settled for a large congregation where I could show up or not, without being noticed. I would find individuals and make friends, I thought. I'd be okay.

Only I wasn't okay.

Every preached word of misplaced judgement, negating each mention of love, and blocking potential understanding (words that had once slipped past as if I were mist) savaged my heart. How could anyone accept this angry, misaligned god who stood in threatening posture over the people, demanding they be content?

When the preacher actually said, "Jesus died so God could love us again," I stopped trying to attend, finally realizing why some very faithful people that I've admired don't go to church. I was spending all my time in services sorting through cluttered theological positions, all the while dripping blood all over their nice, clean, spiritual spaces. And nobody could possibly notice unless I stood in the midst of the congregation and purposely proclaimed my situation, loudly, to make sure they knew.

All my healing and growing was happening elsewhere, in a Church without walls or time-limits, within long, spiritual conversations with friends and strangers, and a constant flow of excellent blogs and books. I felt more interlinked with God than ever before, even without the local church structure. In fact, the church structure seemed more and more contrived, false, and fake the longer I searched for the reality. A lot of the love didn't seem so loving. It was very one-size-fits ... anyone who can squeeze between the restrictions.

I decided to live Church instead of looking for a box with that label to stand in.

Still, I wondered where I might find a church group that looked like Christ? Out among the wounded. Healing. Restorative. Welcoming. Kind. Protective of the abused. Standing in vocal and active rejection against pharisaic traditions and self-interested leaders.

The love shone in individuals within churches, but not in the overall teaching and atmosphere. I found it in individuals outside churches, too, as I constantly looked for that you-shall-know-them-by recognition.

Not all of them call themselves Christian, yet most seem to question God directly whether they believe or not. All seem clear about their imperfections and failings, yet focused primarily on simply doing what they can for others in spite of their limitations. Those I've found tend to be personal, awake, interested in life, non-judgmental, real ... exceptionally real.

I keep refining my vision of what Church should look like, then questioning whether I am living that way myself. It is so easy to want others to live this way toward me and the world around us without looking at my own actions and interactions.

Perhaps all I can do is be the Church I want to join and appreciate any good I find, wherever it may be.

-

Starting next Monday I'll be posting a series on Fleeing Self-Contained Certainty, where I examine my observations and the tools I have been given to be/come the Church ... well, those I've discovered already.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Pride vs. Seeing 2- How I left him and the church left me.

Continued from "When humility is destructive."

In the end, I received the push I needed to get past my worry over whether my pride was the primary problem in our relationship.

The one thing I asked from God in the dark of night ... tangible proof or a way of escape. I wanted confirmation that X was either truly transformed or what he was really up to on the inside. I wanted to know whether I could really trust his word after so many years of deception.

I struggled with "my pride" even as I accidentally (and then intentionally) read incriminating emails between him and two other women. Then came the day he returned home after "just going to a movie" ... for a quick 2nd shower and an immediate, unprecedented half-load of laundry containing the clothing he had worn. Earlier, he had failed to delete his girlfriend's response to the evening's date invitation, and the only thing I felt was relief.

It was the "way of escape" I had asked for, and even if I really was proud, I could take this demonstration of his deceit for what it was. This wasn't just my imagination. Surely the church would finally see how he had lied to them. They would see this as the one permissible reason for divorce (which they had thrown in my face the year before) and stop forcing me to stay. Right?

I moved out the next day, feeling as though I must rush into action or someone would forcibly stop me ... again.

-

It was a shock when the leadership tried to make me go back. My father, X, and I were called before the pastors (and a token wife, who I had requested be present so I wouldn't be the only woman in the room.)

*"If you had just waited, we might have said it was okay, but you can't do this by yourself."

"We do think it doesn't look good to meet up with a woman behind your back, but he says they're just friends. Why don't you give him the benefit of the doubt? We can help you work through this."

"We looked over this summary of your marriage problems that you say shows his pattern of behavior, and we see that you're still talking about things that happened years ago, before your first counselor met with you. You forgave him already, so you can't bring it up again. Besides, didn't you cheat on him six years ago? Isn't this hypocritical?" (That particular confession and what I learned from the experience is its own story. I'll share it later.)

"Why were you reading his email? Do you think it would be okay for me to read my wife's private correspondence? That's invasion of privacy!" I silently wondered why he was so concerned about a normal investigation that anyone who is suspicious of their spouse's integrity would definitely pursue, especially when I was expected to manage some of his email correspondence anyway. Wouldn't his wife's correspondence just reassure him she isn't cheating?

"You're challenging our authority, and we can't let you do that since it would be condoning sin in the congregation."

"Nearly a third of the women in the church think they have abusive marriages. What if they all decided to get divorced, ...then what? You're setting a bad example!" They actually admitted this, as if so many destructive relationships wearing the facade of marriage was something that should be maintained.

"If you won't obey us, we'll have to let everyone know you're no longer welcome. You won't be permitted to participate in services or ministries."

I looked into their tense faces and realized something.

They were afraid! Losing control of me was a threat to them, somehow.

I had resources few women in that local church would ever have access to ... an entire lifetime of theological research and training; and relationships in the church that extended around the world, across a broad spectrum of denominations. I knew by experience that this small group was merely a strand in the fabric of the worldwide church, which is, itself, only a shred of the Church past, present, and future.

They called that wider perspective "pride" because it was the only way to prevent others from looking closer, and I had believed them ... because ... you know .... it's PRIDE! We all have some.

But pride is neither the ability to see what others wish you hadn't noticed, nor is it refusing to lie about your beliefs when others demand it of you.

I was done with pretending to agree with things I had long considered to be supposition. I wanted to test what I understood to be true by walking in it. No more lying, "faking it till I make it," or conforming to their outer rendition of faith to make these men happy. If this was pride, so be it. I'd display my pride and learn from the consequences.

I also had external support they couldn't touch. The leadership's threat to cease financial support of my parents' ministry if they helped me didn't phase my parents for even a moment. (At that point the manipulation tactics became very, very clear.)

We discovered the amount of reputable church leaders, missionaries, and ministers who sent messages of encouragement directly, or via my parents, in support of my choice outnumbered the entire local church leadership, including the Sunday school teachers and group leaders who didn't have any say in the process anyway. It was my own personal miracle, because I needed every single one of those supportive messages to fight the years of lies (unfounded theological certainty) I had believed so I could walk forward to face the questions I'd been avoiding for so long.

I ache for the women who don't have what I had. How they can escape those lies is beyond me. Everything in their social circle works like the layers of sharpened fences, guards, and walls around a prison yard. They may see the sky, but freedom will only come through deep wounds and great determination. In addition, they are told that to do so is to escape from "freedom" into the prison of the "world." When even family and friends encourage these lies, it's amazing anyone is capable of acting against the pressure and pain.

In the end, I knew I had tried to fulfill every one of the leadership recommendations for many, many years, but the enduring fruit of such compliance was a distorted soul, bound by suffering, desire for escape, and suicidal depression. At last I chose to be judged for actually doing something that had a valid source in my own perceptions instead of multiplying the pain of warping my beliefs by facing judgement for failing to live up to that shaky, external standard.

Usually the character qualities I was exhibiting are called discernment and integrity,... though I was too fragile to think of anything other than sticking to the truth as I saw it, while hoping I wasn't destroying the universe.

Pride was there too, wishing they'd trip and fall into their own trap so they could face it for real instead of theorizing at me. Humility acknowledged I couldn't possibly be right about everything, but that it was worth finding out what would happen. Wisdom whispered that something had to change.

I changed the one element I could control. Myself.

They insisted on giving me time to change my mind, but their words and actions demonstrated so clearly that this wasn't an effort to understand the situation better, but to make me comply. "Don't make us do this to you!" they said, repeatedly.

I had been informed that various members were speaking out in my defense, questioning the leadership's decision. It seems this side-effect was more widespread than the leadership had expected, but the laity's efforts to protect me generated additional pressure and manipulation from the leadership. In the end, I wished they had just left it alone ... even though it did feel reassuring to know that not everyone supported those choices.

"Don't fellowship with our women any longer," one of them told me, as I waited for my children at a church program. "We can't be seen to tolerate you sharing your ideas, since you are in rebellion against us. It would give people the wrong idea." I stared at him, stunned, but unable to put words to the sense of injustice I felt in that moment. If this was their authority, then I'd let them exert it, I decided. After that, I didn't try to enter the doors except for necessity. (X continued attending with the children on weekends, which creates a dilemma each time I drop them off to join their friends at church events.)

The church leadership embraced X because he was willing to submit to them and take me back, and sent me away in disgrace for rejecting their authority on the point of whether I should return in the first place. It was their belief. Their choice. Their right (if you look at it from a legal standpoint) since they manage the property.

I was finally free ... and in so much pain that it wasn't possible to feel it. Stunned. Numb. Relieved.

"I'm already used to this treatment," I thought, "So it doesn't affect me as much as it might someone who hadn't build up some endurance." And then I realized, "That's really sad." They had done nothing to me that I hadn't already been dealing with for years within my marriage, and being cast out of the church wasn't half as bad as most of what I'd endured from X.

Even now, I wonder why it took me so many, many years to see how the church played a vital role in supporting the evil treatment I had suffered for so long. This changed my view of the church in a far more significant way than I realized at the time.


Continued in "Searching for the Church" (This link won't be active until 10/28/13 at 3am central.)

*All quotes in this article are from memory, and therefore the phrasing may be flawed, though the meaning remains as I understood at the time.