Lenten Practice

Yeah! Lent is here again!

That’s not sarcastic joy. I really do love Lent. More specifically, I heartily embrace the opportunity for intentional spiritual discipline. I like to take up a practice for these 40 days, something that will stretch me, something that disrupts my settled routine. This year, I will practice expanding my comfort zone. Each day I will do one thing that I’d rather not do, thank-you. And, (deep breath) I’ll blog about my experience of the process once a week.

This is my Day One. This. Stating my intention.

Because whatever would you think of me if you knew that I am not cool and calm in every situation? Oh, the consequences if I am not perfect! The future of the planet depends on me. The world will come to an end if I say I will do something for 40 days and something comes up and I miss a day. And if my reflections are not Pulitzer-worthy, oh, the chaos that would ensue!

Here’s to an adventurous lenten season.

What, if anything are you planning as a lenten practice?

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Gifts of The Cranky Lady

This snippet of conversation took place after celebrating communion while on retreat this fall:

“This is good bread!” “It’s fantastic!” “Oh, my word.”

“Where did you get the bread?”
“From the cranky lady at the market.”

In response to the quizzical look, I explained. There’s a woman who sells her bread at the market. She often has a steady stream of customers. She offers about a dozen different varieties. I have only been a few times, and each time I go, I have questions. I want to know about the bread I’m getting. Every time I’ve been there, the woman seems to be in a bad mood. She frowns when I ask her my questions, and hastily answers them. I don’t feel warm-fuzzies during these encounters. So, in my mind I dubbed her The Cranky Lady.

Her bread is fantastic. That’s why I return. There was another baker, across town, who was more personable, but she no longer has her shop. I wanted to get bread from her, because communion is a special moment. I figure it is better to have bread baked and offered in joy. I debated whether or not to go to the Cranky Lady for the elements. Would my experience of this person who supplied the bread colour my experience of communion? I would much rather receive from someone I got along withcabin communion (brighter) better.

I needn’t have worried. Our celebration was made holy with prayer and story and blessing. A friend recently reminded me that communion is not complete without everyone there. Welcoming those (or the gifts of those) I am at odds with is not really about grace. (Because it’s not really about me or what I offer.) Welcoming the Other at the table is necessary for wholeness, because the community is incomplete without their presence, their voice, their story.

So, yes, it is good and fitting that we would accept and bless the gifts of the Cranky Lady. Her delicious bread enhanced our experience of the sacred meal. And who knows, maybe she’s not really cranky at all. Maybe she’s one of those people whose face of concentration looks cranky. Maybe this is her being focused and staying on top of things.

And, it’s helpful to remember, some days I am The Cranky Lady offering my gifts.

Mary

Scan

I am not amused.

 

When I was 6 years old, I played Mary in the parish Christmas pageant.

This was not by choice. I did not want to be Mary.

I wanted to be the little drummer boy. He got to play the drum. Mary didn’t do anything; she just stood there, holding the dumb doll.

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For most of my life, this is how I’ve thought about Mary.  She was for me one acted upon, not one who acts. She was the one who gave up her power too quickly, was too eager to obey. Mary was special because she was a Good Girl. I could be special, too, if I was gentle and kind and pure. That didn’t work for me so well. I was very good at being Good, but it didn’t feed my soul. Pageant Mary was not someone I wanted to be like.

Thankfully, there is more to Mary than was in that childhood pageant.

Mary was a co-creator with God. She was fully involved in the process. (If you want to know how involved, ask your mother.) Mary bore the Holy, nurtured the Holy, pushed the Holy into the world. She was not passive in her pregnancy or her giving birth.

Today, Mary calls me into action. Like her, I am called to be pregnant with the Holy. That which God would bring into the world through me, I have a responsibility to nurture, to bear, to birth. Thank God I have more to do than just stand there.

Maybe I’ll even play the drum.

In Memoriam

Candle Light Vigil - Pride Week 2006

Today is International Transgender Day of Remembrance. It is a day for communities to remember those transgendered persons, or those perceived to be not “fit in” with gender norms who have been murdered. Again this year, there are too many have died. You can read through this year’s list here. Today, and over the next few days, communities around the world will gather in remembrance, to celebrate, to mourn, to pray.

If you are interested in joining in, events are posted here.

Why It’s Not Stupid

This writing is a response to my friend Luke’s post. He got so much right – that depression is not something we can magic away, that even our best attempts to overcome it may or may not work, that listening, being with, is one of the best ways a person can accompany another. My friend Luke was wrong I disagree with My friend Luke in this moment. He he named that it’s hard for people to talk about being depressed and then made this statement:

“So posting anything that says ‘If you’re hurting, please talk to someone about it. I’m here.’ And then giving a number to call is just plain stupid. It’s beyond stupid.”¹

It’s not stupid. The best thing anyone can do, whether they experience depression or accompany those who do, or both, is to keep reaching out.

Those hotline numbers, they do get used. Posting them on facebook, our contemporary public square, where a person doesn’t have to go searching to find it, that’s not stupid. That’s brilliant. Making it known that there are people out there willing to listen, and you’re one of them, that’s compassion. Guiding a person who feels utterly alone and isolated to potential connection, someone who might understand, that’s offering hope. So, no. Giving a number is not stupid. Stating that you are available to talk is not stupid. It may feel totally inadequate. I get that. It’s not hard to feel inadequate in the face of depression.

Here’s the truth of it: Depression is a hard space to be in, both for the ones experiencing it and the ones who sit with them. It’s hard for the depressed person because it is life drained of enjoyment and energy, or it is life agitated. It’s hard because this is happening Again, damn it! It’s hard because everyone else has it together, what’s wrong with me? It’s hard because will power doesn’t cut it, because praying feels empty, because we are powerless. It’s hard sitting with one with melancholy because someone we care about is hurting, and they’re not saying very much, even though we are here. It’s hard because we know them to be interesting and worthy and strong, and they are not able to know that for themselves. It’s hard because it reminds us of our own vulnerabilities and because we are powerless.

I’ve lived with depression for over 20 years, and 9 of those years were also marked with thoughts of suicide. I’m one of the fortunate ones. Along the line there was a moment, a clicking into place, a flipping of a switch, and I suddenly knew that things could be gotten through. Suicide is no longer an option for me. Not everybody gets that. I still live with the condition of depression. I still have days I want to hide under my covers, and some days I do.

That room 2000 feet underground. That’s a tempting place to stay. The walls whisper “Stay. It’s a scary world out there, and cold. You’re safe here. Let me take care of you. Don’t waste too much of your precious energy. Stay.”

I have learned that talking helps me to move back out of that room. When I’m deep in a funk, one of the best things I can do is pick up the telephone and talk with a friend. And it can be hard. I don’t want to be a burden or a buzzkill. I don’t want to intrude. I don’t know where to begin. It’s taken some healing and growing along life’s way for me to be able to reach out. It used to be a person had to ask me how I was doing three times before I would share anything. Now, I am healthier with my communication. I have come to trust select people who have earned the right to hear my sacred story. Now, when I’m stuck with where to begin, I start with: “I’m not doing well…” or “I’m in a funk…” or “It’s hard for me to say this…” It is a gift to have people in my life who are able to be present with me.

Sometimes, even as one with firsthand experience, my attempts to connect with a person experiencing depression fail, and I don’t feel up to the task. I remind myself that’s okay. That my role is not to rescue. My role is to do my best to connect with the other person as a fellow human being. My role is to keep reaching out. Very often connection happens not from anything I say, but from how well I listen. From not trying to fix or cheerlead. From being able to agree that it sucks right now.

The things that are most helpful are surprisingly simple, and you may not be aware of the effects of your actions. It has happened to me on both sides. I became friends with a girl in 7th grade at a time in her life when she was seeing very little hope. She shared with me that next year that our friendship gave her enough hope to consider again that life might be worth living and she was worthy of it. I had no idea until she told me. In college, on a particularly difficult night, my friend Claire was honest that my sharing that I was considering suicide was too much for her to carry, and would I promise to talk to the Chaplain in the morning. (I did, and I kept that promise.) That same night Gretchen prayed for me as I lay in bed. I never did tell either of them how those things helped me on my journey. (If either of you are reading this, thank-you.) Friendship. Honesty. Blessing. Presence. Simple ways of caring. These can make the difference.

Reaching out is not stupid. We are created for connection, to be in relationship with one another along this journey of life.

To those who are experiencing depression: Know that you are not alone. There are many who have been there too. More than you know, and some you wouldn’t expect. Please talk to someone. If they don’t “get it,” it’s not a reflection of your worth. They aren’t able to be present to you. Talk to someone else. Keep reaching out.

To those not experiencing depression, educate yourself (see resources below). There are some specific things to do that are helpful when someone you know is thinking of suicide. Let people know you are available. Practice the simple things – friendship, honesty, blessing, presence. Practice these with everyone. Without knowing it, your actings and your beings may make the difference. Keep reaching out.

Resources
National Suicide Prevention Hotline
1.800.273.TALK (8255) OR http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
Veterans Crisis Line 1.800.273.8255 ext. 1 OR http://www.veteranscrisisline.net OR text 838255
For Youth – http://www.youmatter.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Stories of those who have been there – http://attemptsurvivors.com/

Warning Signs & Helpful Responses- http://www.afsp.org/preventing-suicide/risk-factors-and-warning-signs

¹Living documents are fun. I wrote this in response to Luke’s original wording, which he has since changed. I have made changes to my wording as well, to be more clear with my language.

“Never place a period…”

Writing every day this Lent got me thinking about stories – what they are and how they shape us. Most days the writing was a fun challenge; some days the creation involved wrestling. The hardest for me to write was Day 32:

There was no hope, really. Five years on, she still stuck her finger down her throat and he still “forgot” his anger management classes. They existed together, broken, neither knowing how to heal.

Questions of ethics invited me to wrestle. Here I began a story telling the reader there is no hope, and continued to offer a glimpse into the lives of two stuck and suffering people. It was a story of abuses. I didn’t really believe there was no hope. Was I prepared to put a story out there I did not believe? Was I prepared to put a story out there that was simply about pain and suffering? Are there stories not to tell? If so, what are the criteria? How far does my responsibility to the reader go as a writer?

One thing I have learned working in the mental health field is this: the stories we tell ourselves shape who we are. Because stories shape who we are and who we will become, I believe we have an ethical obligation to be intentional about which stories we tell and how we tell them.

I read a book recently which I responded to with fierce anger. The main characters begin stuck in despair, remain stuck, have opportunities to get unstuck, and return to being stuck. No movement. No growth. No insight into navigating this journey of life. I was angry because I expect from stories something that will enrich or aid my own journey. Something I can digest and that will provide nourishment. It is difficult to journey when fed on despair. Maybe that’s why it can be difficult to listen to someone who is depressed. The satisfying nourishment of hope can be hard to hear or find. I find it easier and more satisfying to counsel someone who is invested in the project of healing and is open to receiving hope. There seems to be something in me, and perhaps all of us, that cannot abide a hopeless story, that knows hope is an essential protein – something we cannot manufacture ourselves, but need to receive through our stories.

There are hard stories in our world, stories of betrayal, of violation, of rampant injustice. Stories of impossible pain and endless suffering. This is a hard world we live in; strife and sorrow our hosts. These stories need to be told in order to affect change. Honesty is the traction for growth. It is the traction for positive change, but not the only thing necessary for it. The book I read was honest in that some people live lives stuck and never get unstuck. Knowing that fact isn’t tremendously helpful. The story ended with a period: no movement. end of story. done. There wasn’t left the possibility of another chapter, of change, of hope. Growth requires being open to the possibility of something different. It requires the humility of the comma¹. It requires acknowledging the story is not truly over, that the author has not written all. I felt able to post my Day 32 story only because I included the suggestion that change might be possible, that they are not at the end of their story. It’s not the case that healing is impossible for them, simply that they do not yet know how to travel there.

I don’t know if there are any stories not to tell. Maybe there are. So far I’ve come to this: the stories worth putting my time and energy and self into are stories with hope. And hope is this: being honest about what is, and trusting that is not all there is.

 

¹The period/ comma language I borrowed from what Gracie Allen once wrote: “Never place a period where God has placed a comma.”