stand off

 
“Why so downcast , O my soul?
Put your hope in God.”

But what if you don’t trust him? Or even believe in him?

Are you a very sensitive person? Well, I suppose I am picturing a particular sort of sensitivity, i.e., do you sometimes watch the news or think about the evil or suffering in the world and get completely overwhelmed? Absorb it like a sponge until you are heavy sodden and incapacitated?

Some people see the problems in the world, and leap into action helping however way they can. But when some people look they just see an insurmountable mound of need and pain in the world. They are stymied into paralysis like a deer caught in headlights. They look for a warm pile of puppies to burrow under while they wait it out. Because they cannot do everything, they do nothing.

I am a puppy pile burrower.
Kittens also work.

 Once I had neither and used my husband Chris.



At times, I am overwhelmed by the need in the world.
This makes me feel guilty for what I have. Or at least, it makes me feel unjustified for voicing any need.  This is not all bad.

At other times, I am overcome with anger because of the evil and injustice in the world.
Angry at God. Angry at the idea that He is good. Angry at the idea that any god could exist and allow such evil.

Now maybe this is just me…
But there are times when I have found myself in a standoff with God, on behalf of the people suffering.

A mental standoff. A one-sided standoff.

I have seen evil or suffering, such as a friend losing a child, and I have drawn a line in the sand, daring God to allow one more terrible thing to happen…mentally telling him that if he does, then I will…I will…well, I don’t know what I will. But I have erected a wall between us nonetheless. I understand that feeling. It makes sense to me.

What if the evil happened to you personally? Okay, that’s a million times more complicated. But maybe, just maybe the issue is the same.

Because here’s what I’m afraid of:

I am afraid that some people will never even try to see God because of the evil in the world.

I am afraid of this, because I know that feeling. That feeling is pretty powerful.

When you feel like that, it appears that God is doing (at best) nothing to prevent the evil in the world, or (at worst) causing it. Or, a third option, that he is nonexistent.

And when all of these questions can’t be answered, if you are in a standoff, you miss having any questions answered.

Questions like: is there a creator at all? Someone who made me as a unique individual?  Is there something bigger than me and what I see going on?  Do I have value and a purpose?

We really want to know the answers to the "evil" questions before we take the risk to find out the other "personal" questions.  We want every answer before we wade in at all.  I think I know why we are afraid to reverse the order; it's completely counterintuitive.  It seems scary or even ridiculous, but maybe it is worth the risk.

Here’s the thing…

No one has asked us to take that stand against God on their behalf.  It is hard to tell what it even accomplishes.  In my worst times of anger and confusion at evil in the world, I finally just started saying (out from under the puppies), “God, if you are real and if you are good, you need to show me. I don’t have much to go on.”
 
Slowly, slowly he did begin to show me.

I guess there’s a certain amount of faith already involved in my addressing him. But it's how it happened, and I can only tell my story. However, I believe that anyone who asks that question sincerely and patiently (and maybe a little desperately) will get an answer.

Then again, what do I know?
I know kitten piles are way scratchier than puppy ones.
But they're both more cuddly than Chris' pointy elbows.
 

weaving us together into a freaky human afghan

One of my closest friends grew up in a town miles away from me,
but for our entire lives we each had the phone number XXX-0126.
We didn't know this of course until we met in our 20s.
And how did that topic even come up?
But it's weird right?
Your phone number was a big deal back then.  We had landlines.  No caller ID.
No "contacts" memorized by our phones.
You had to memorize numbers.
They mattered.
So meeting a person who ends up being one of the people you click BEST with in your adult life,
and then hearing that her life prior to you was an 0126-life...that's heavy stuff for an 80s child.

There are a lot of these "coincidences" in the world though, you know?
Why?
Well, you know I have a theory.  I always have a theory and a hunch...


look how I tried to draw head scratching
and it looks like she's giving you the finger


I think it is very hard to love.
I think it very easy to isolate ourselves.
But loving is good for us.  The one, real, true good without which we cannot live.
I have a hunch that these strange coincidences exist to pull us into relationship with others.
Help pull us out of isolation as gently as possible with a wink and nudge.

We have different types of friendships and relationships.
I tell my children never to be quick to choose one best friend or limit their friend circle.
Different friends scratch different itches (weird sounding, sorry.  sort of gross even).

Don't you have friends with a past similar to yours?
Or a similar personality?
Or sense of humor?
About one person, you both think, "OH!  You're weird in that same way I'm weird.  Yay.  Welcome home, freaky."
With another person you agree "Everyone else thinks this topic is too bleak and dark to talk about, but we can, okay?"
Or maybe another person and you have the same weak spots or fears, so you know when you hear a certain topic on the news (i.e., Twitter), you should call her immediately and see whether she too is in full flail mode.

Past sufferings bring you close to people more than anything.
You hear someone describe the shittiest year of their life and you think, "That was exactly like MY shittiest year...or two!  In fact, everything is shitty right NOW.  Awesome!"

Common ongoing struggles link you.  You can go without speaking to someone for awhile, but when that recurring problem you share rears its head again, they pop into your mind.  You know you can call them, and they'll understand.

Sometimes the weird hard stuff pulls us out of our caves.  Sometimes it's clever unusual stuff.  Either way, it weaves us together as part of a larger family, knits us together as work of art... a human afghan, if you will. 

Human afghan...hmmm....
Is anyone else thinking of Silence of the Lambs now?  Let's stop that immediately. 
How 'bout a tapestry - better?
Okay that.



soul book (intro)



Welcome to your booklet of encouragement.


But wait - maybe you do not need it. 


Maybe you are extremely well-adjusted and *copus mentis. 


If so, congratulations.  You must be a very pleasant human.


But even the most well-adjusted feel burdened and frustrated from time to time. 




I believe that people behave differently when they feel better - physically or emotionally.  I have a very sciencey hunch that if every person truly understood their value, the world would be a different place.  I don't mean the world would be perfect.  But I have noticed that the more burdened, wretched and worthless I feel, the more burdened, wretchedly and worthlessly I behave.  And that has a ripple effect in the world.  Likewise, the lighter and less wretched I feel, the more I enjoy my life and the people around me.  That too has a ripple effect.




Lately, everything I read seems to address this themethe idea of our value and place in the world.  I wish you could read the path of words I read recently and feel lighter and less burdened.  Of course everyone thinks that, dont they?  We say, “Hey you, go read this book!  And that poem!  And this essay! Then bing bang bam, your life will change! 


But really, who has time for life-changing, you know?  It can be a real ass ache. 


People are busy.  Besides, Some people would rather read, gather and glean their own information.



But not everyone.


And not all the time.


Sometimes we need a spoon-feeder or a personal gleaner.


Especially if we are having a hard dayor weekor decade. 


I like to glean. 


I like to spoon-feed.  And Im good at it. 


I have really long arms, and I almost never spill.


I like to read the bulk of information, boil it down to the core message, slap a poorly drawn cartoon on it, and feed it to you.


But only with consent.


So, may I?




*copus mentis is in the thesaurus next to well-adjusted


(soul book) just general soul crushingness



Once upon a time, I may or may not have kicked a hole in the wall of our brand new house, then covered it up by gluing an outlet cover over it, then covered that up by gluing on childproof plugs.  And I didn't tell anyone.


For a long time, my secret fear was that Chris would decide to vacuum, try to plug in the cord, the wall would collapse, he'd fall into the hole, and I'd find him up to his armpit in the wall yelling, "How the hell did the home inspector not catch this?!"

It was stressful. 

Secrets are stressful.  Sometimes it is a secret about something shameful we have done.  Other times, it is a secret that someone has done something terrible to us and we just cannot get over it.  Even other times it might be that we just think we are abnormally depressed or weird or angry or crazy.
 




from Love in the Ruins by Walker Percy
 

There is so much power in the secretiveness of it.  It gets in your mind and defeats you.  You feel isolated and different.  There is nothing more powerful and defeating than feeling "other."
 
I read this yesterday.  It got under my skin in the best way.  The character Dr. More has been committed to a psychiatric ward (as a patient) because of terrors and anxieties and depressions he cannot understand or conquer.  His doctor friend Max is doing rounds with some interns, and they stop at Dr. More's bedside:

 

 

Okay, obviously I am not saying that this is the way to treat mental health...if only it were that easy.  However, the powerful part is that Dr. More's problem is mostly that he feels so "other" than the rest of the world.  Everyone seems to be going about their business, and he doesn't care about his "business" at all.  He can't "get with it," you know?  And the contrast between himself and the people around him was paralyzing him.

When Max gives it a name, the overwhelmingness is zapped.  The fear is gone.  Someone looked into his eyes and said, "Yeah well, shit happens."
(I wish he'd said that exactly; that would have been hilarious).

And that helped him heal.

I'll give you a personal example:
One reason the ghost outlet HAUNTED me was that we were in our new house.  I cried with relief when we left our condo, because it was filled with holes in the walls.  It was like a shrine to my temper.  I had thrown shoes, tossed adirondices over the balcony (that is plural for adirondack chairs), thrown hairbrushes, broken picture frames...I was kind of a maniac, people.

Anyway, I had been to counseling, gotten off my make-you-crazy-birth-control-pills, and worked through things with my very understanding and steady-as-the-day-is-long-husband.  I was finished with those shenanigans.

I was so done, that I felt God had symbolically and graciously given me a fresh start and fresh walls.

Until.
Until I kicked that damn hole in the wall the first month we lived there.
The horror.  The secret.

I will give you an example from a different perspective.  Your friend has something terrible happen to them...I have had friends who have really suffered.  People close to me have lost children, lost parents too young, been abused by people they trusted, and the list goes on . . . well, you know.  You have those friends.  Maybe you even are those friends.

I have been with them sometimes when they finally admit that they are furious that these things have happened.  Or people have told them that "everything happens for a reason," but they can't wrap their mind around that.  And the fact that people expect them to believe it, makes them so mad and confused.  And they feel guilty about it.  So now we have the people who have suffered, also feeling angry and guilty. And even though they've dealt with their first secret (the loss), they have a whole new secret to bear:  that they can't deal with the loss "right."






Sometimes, I have shared one of my own losses or failures or hole-kickings with someone, and their answer was, "Of course you're angry!  I'd be furious!"

or "Oh, lots of people feel like doing that."  It gave me freedom to acknowledge the anger and move toward healing. They were not approving the action necessarily, but they understood it.

Once I confessed a hole-kicking type incident to my pastor, I was repenting and gnashing teeth and rending garments, and finally he said (almost rolling his eyes), "Well, let's not act like it was worse than it was."  I almost laughed.  It was the best possible thing someone could have said to me at that time.

When things are inside, they seem so big, so insurmountable.  But when you finally mention it to someone, and they acknowledge you are normal, or at least only normal amounts of crazy . . . well, that can work wonders.

I'm not sure what my point is.  I just read this passage, and thought, "Yes, Walker Percy, you're right.  That is love."  Maybe we can't get past things until a friend tells us that it's okay we're not past it.

Or that "Yes, Pam, lots of people have holes in their walls.  Not just the mafia, Honey."

(If you're concerned, Chris never fell into the wall.  He found the outlet years later and repaired it.  By then, he already knew I was only normal-crazy, so it was no big deal).

__________________________________________________________________________

 


 
So, I’m wondering does anything haunt you from your past?  Anything looming like a giant dead hamster you can’t see past?  (By the way, I’ve done worse things than kick holes, if that makes you feel better.  For example I drew a hamster that looks like a potato).

 Have you dealt with it?  Does it affect how you see yourself?  Your “value” in your own eyes?  Do you think you could separate it from the rest of your identity?  Say, if we were scientifical types and were in a lab, and you were a solution in a beaker.  Say your life was a solution of your soul and all of your experiences, can you picture distilling the solution and separating out that part that taints the idea of your own worth?

Actually experiences and suffering (that we experienced or even caused for others) are something we’d never want to forget.  They make us who we are today.  We even relate to other people and help them in irreplaceable ways because of our past.  HOWEVER, if we JUST focus on the way it taints or skews the value you see in your own soul…just that warping…that’s what I think should be distilled away.

 Maybe it would help you to write about it here.

Then maybe mail it back to me, so I can post it on Facebook?

 

 




 

 

human machinery


it's time you knew:  i'm a mechanical engineer.
i don't usually like people to know.  it intimidates them
especially the english majors.
but here, look i'll show you:


i drew a machine for you.
and it's fairly obvious that i understand the inner workings of pistons and what not.
okay, tuck this away in the back of your brain for a moment.  i'll be right back to it.

do you ever feel overwhelmed by your lack in certain areas?
lack of ability?  failing in one area (okay 6 areas of your life) over and over again?
no noticeable improvement or growth at certain tasks?
you see people who seem to excel with gifts or strengths you wish you had.
like this drawing for example.  some of you are struck with a deep deep covetousness right now, because YOU cannot draw and understand machinery like me.  don't worry you are not alone.

thomas merton, my monk buddy says,
"if we live our lives for others, we will gradually discover that no one expects us to be 'as gods.'  we will see that we are human like everyone else,
that we all have weaknesses and deficiencies, and that these limitations of ours play an important role in all our lives. 
it is because of them that we need others and others need us."

i think, "but that doesn't feel good, thomas."
i don't know what to do besides try, try, try to "get fixed."  granted, it never quite happens, and i spend most of life frustrated.  but being let "off the hook?"  well, that seems almost sacrilegious.
besides what if some of my "deficiencies" are big ones, that hurt others?
it's a quandary, i tell you.

"on the hook" and "off the hook" are things i understand.
recently i realized that often if anyone says, "i want to talk to you about something," i assume i'm about to be corrected or disciplined.
that seems unhealthy.
why do i assume that?
is my conscience that unclean? 
i think it's more that -- well, for one, i'm being pretty self-focused--but two, in my mind I'm always guilty of something, and i'm always on the hook.  legitimately too.  i screw up a LOT every single day.



i think God is all about the hook too.  however, i think His focus is on letting us off the hook.
freedom.
but we try to keep hanging ourselves back up on the hook.
i don't think He's tricky and trying to make things complicated.
i think He's just like, "Get off the hook already.  Stay off the hook.  The rest will work out, Honey."

so for the big and little deficiencies, we're off the hook.
and as for the frustrating weaknesses,
merton says "we are not all weak in the same spots, and so we supplement and complete one another, each one making up in himself for the lack in another."


(this is really good enough to post twice)


and when i see this in my mind, we're like one big human machine of pistons and arms moving up and down, popping out peppermints or something.
oh?  you couldn't tell those were peppermints?  don't feel bad.  probably you just went to a liberal arts college.  you have other gifts, i'm sure.

but in this machine i picture metal arms and joints, some pushing up with force, some easing down passively, then reversing...taking turns, up and down.
and as humans, we're sometimes actively doing what we are strong in, and other times, passively coasting while the other people are moving with strength where they're gifted.  all at the same time.
working.
together. 

you can feel it in marriage, friendships, working relationships, parenting, dating...
but the main thing is that you feel it in relationship.
communion with others.
you don't feel it so much when alone.
which is the point, i guess.

[insert your own perfect wrap up sentence here]








"The Whistler" by Mary Oliver

All of a sudden she began to whistle. By all of a sudden
I mean that for more than thirty years she had not
whistled. 

It was thrilling. At first I wondered, who was
in the house, what stranger? 

I was upstairs reading, and
she was downstairs. 

As from the throat of a wild and
cheerful bird, not caught but visiting, 

the sounds warbled and slid and doubled back and larked and soared.

Finally I said, Is that you? Is that you whistling? Yes, she
said. I used to whistle, a long time ago. Now I see I can
still whistle.
And cadence after cadence she strolled
through the house, whistling.

I know her so well, I think. I thought. Elbow and an-
kle. Mood and desire. Anguish and frolic. Anger too.
And the devotions.
And for all that, do we even begin
to know each other? Who is this I’ve been living with
for thirty years?

This clear, dark, lovely whistler?





(I can't whistle. So I guess this will happen with Chris' second wife).


"once there was a man
who wrote a symphony based entirely
on the arrangement of birds on the power lines outside;
it's called somifying...to sing any object into place." 


[poem by cole swensen]

i like to think that maybe this how we find our place in the world...
that humans aren't puppeted and placed as much as sung and beckoned to our spots.