One More Chance

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This last week I spent a lot of time going over intake referrals for the drug rehab I work at. One of them touched my heart and honestly I want to bring this girl in. I know she’s a brat. I know she can be angry and violent. She probably spits and cusses and is basically messed up. If we brought her in she would probably hate us for doing it, would fight us.  I want her anyway.

When I read about what she’s been through I don’t blame her for being angry. It breaks my heart to read about her hanging with older men who ‘comfort’ her, the only comfort she’s known aside from her drugs. It breaks my heart to read about her isolation, her hopelessness, her fatalism.

I want to bring her in to a place of safety where she can discover how truly loveable and wonderful she is. I want to see her explore her creativity, her leadership, her tenderness, all that she is. I want her to learn to value who she is. I want all of that.

Truth is, she might be beyond what we can do at this facility. We have had kids there before who were too tough, too hurting, for us to deal with. There have been times when it seemed like nothing we could do would convince some of these kids that they were safe, that they had value and worth, that we cared,  that they were beloved children of God. There have been times we failed.

I want to try anyway. I want to give her a chance and if she does come we’ll practice patience, and offer silent prayers, and set boundaries to keep her safe. We will laugh with her and play games. We will listen and hold her truth sacred. And I don’t care if she comes in blowing her emotional snot all over; kids who have been deeply and truly hurt often do. I just want her to have a chance and I know, from what I’ve read, she doesn’t have a lot of chances left.

I don’t have any easy answers. There is a lot of brokenness in the world and it seems to hit the most vulnerable among us especially hard. I take courage in the fact that there are places like this rehab and that they are staffed with truly caring, skilled, and talented individuals. Today I feel especially blessed to be able to be a part of this. This, to me, is what ministry is all about.

(photo unrelated)

lighting a candle

candleLately I have been sitting through worship with my eyes closed. I want to shut out the personalities of the people preaching, speaking, reading the text. I want to hear the words alone and be challenged. I want to be shaped and changed by what I hear. I want to walk out of church feeling as if something is at work in me and nothing will ever be the same again. I want to be scared and excited. I want to not know what is coming next but know that something is coming.

It’s a tall order, too tall for any of my friends to bear the weight of. So I close my eyes and I listen. I listen for God to speak through them, through the music, through the prayers. I listen in the silence and I listen in the voices of those around me. And I wait. I wait a lot and I wait often because this sort of thing happens in its own time.

Soon I’ll gather with friends and we’ll talk about worship and prayer stations and the lenten journey, the Easter arrival and the continuation of the journey. I want to be able to help people have the experience that I long for. I want to help them access this life changing, transforming, Word and be changed. Tall order but we’ll gather and we’ll talk about this. We’ll put forth our best efforts to create a worship experience that will invite people to deepen their relationship with God and with each other. We will try to draw people into a community where it is safe for them to show up completely and wholly. We believe that as we encounter the other we are also encountering God.

My heart aches to be of service, to be connected within a community of grace and love. It is my dearest wish that I might participate in helping to create a community of deep hospitality. Even as I recognize my limitations and the shortcomings in my abilities I trust that God will use me, will use this community and that somehow, perhaps in ways we cannot see, God will work through us during this time and the Divine will touch the lives of those who are seeking. This is my prayer,

Revisiting the Past

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Have you ever re-visited a place of trauma? This morning I returned to a place where I was pushed, unintentionally I hope, to the very brink, to a place where I had to constantly remind myself that life was worth living and I wasn’t a horrible, toxic, inherently unlikeable person. It was a place which had been overwhelming to me, a place where I felt powerless.

 

If you’ve ever done this, returned to such a place, you know the heart squeezing panic that sets in. You know how every cell of your body screams “Run!” as you intentionally walk forward.  You know how just being there can be an act of courage even if all the people who hurt you are long gone. If you’ve done this you know the dissonance of entering a place where life wasn’t safe and knowing that today it is.

 

Remember Sarah from the movie Labyrinth? “Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child that you have stolen. For my will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom is as great…You have no power over me.” Her’s was a hero’s journey as is the journey of everyone who overcomes a painful past. Learning to say, “you have no power over me,” and really believing it, knowing it inside of yourself, is a journey. It seems to me that often the child that is stolen is a piece of ourselves. It is hope. It is joy. It is wonder. Reclaiming that, from whatever has stolen it, is always worth the journey. 

 

I went back today, just briefly, and I walked through the doors of a place that had brought incredible pain into my life. I didn’t cry. I started to, but then I felt everything shift as I saw the place from a new perspective. I realized how much smaller it was than I remembered. I saw all the flaws, the disarray, the clutter. I realized that everything had changed because I had changed.  I realized that I was stronger and more capable than I had thought possible. 

 

I know that today I am the only one who holds on to these memories. Others have moved on. Even as I hear the Monty Python chorus yelling, “Get on with it!” in my head, I know I still have a little healing to do. I still feel a nauseating adrenaline rush just being there. I still feel vulnerable. I still get scared and I know I have to face my fears, to lean into them and see what they have to teach me. I know that I still need to say the words aloud, “I am a daughter of the King, a beloved child of God, and you have no power over me.” I didn’t say these words today though. Today I just got out of there as fast as I could. Plenty of time for heroics another day. 

Common Ground

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We have only just gotten over the presidential election. It was harsh and full of unhealthy, unhelpful comments and political adds. So many of us were happy to see that time go! Yet, here we go again with divisiveness about gun control. We have gun rights advocates yelling that liberals want to take their guns away and disempower them, leave them vulnerable, or maybe it’s nazi’s that are doing this. The name calling begins. We have those who advocate gun control or restriction yelling that these tea partier conservatives don’t care about our children and besides, their logic is so bad, they’re, well, stupid. Again with the name calling.

Where is our common ground? Isn’t it true that all of us fear loss of safety, loss of control? Isn’t it true that all of us want our children to be safe? The values that all of us want to sustain, to support, involve the care and safety of ourselves, our neighbors, our children; they involve freedom from oppression and freedom from fear and loss of choice. We know, because we’ve been there, that when we start name calling and yelling that we don’t hear each other well. We know that when we begin from a place of fear that we don’t hear each other well.

I am dreading the intensification of this debate. I don’t want to hear people stigmatizing others and calling names. I grew up around guns in an area where having a gun or pistol handy was a safety issue, there were too many rattlesnakes and other predators. We kept firearms handy, always. I had firearm safety hammered into me as a preschooler. I knew that the firearms kept me safe when they were in the hands of my parents but there was never any thought of pointing one at another person. I have enjoyed doing some mounted shooting and target shooting but could I ever point a gun at a person and pull the trigger?

Who are these people who are willing to pull a trigger when facing another human being? Lt. Col. Dave Grossman wrote a book, On Killing, about the ability of people to pull that trigger. My belief in our common humanity was affirmed when he discussed that most people cannot, will not pull that trigger. He wrote about the willingness of good men to go to war and face a rain of bullets and how they still could not bring themselves to kill. He wrote about the excessive efforts that the military goes to in order to overcome this.  Our world is full of courageous, good hearted, caring and compassionate people.

Those few people who are willing to inflict such great harm, such pain as we have recently seen in mass shootings are aberrations. They are our modern day monsters; those who strike fear into our hearts and drive us into reactionary debates and we do not know who these people are until they act. We live in uncertainty and it makes sense that we want to do something about this. It makes sense that our emotions are involved and we feel very deeply about this. More than anything we want to know that our loved ones are safe. Some of us believe that we must meet force with force in order to maintain this safety; some of us believe that we must limit the ability of all people to enact such harm in order to be safe. We all suffer from a deep desire to believe that these things cannot happen to us, to our loved ones, that somehow we would do something different and avoid this pain. We want to assert our control. This is common ground.

So as we begin this debate, this process, I would hope that we can remember that we all want the same thing even if how we approach this is different. I would hope that we can stop calling each other names and acknowledge our common humanity. We all face horrific loss, we all feel helpless when faced with mass shootings. More than anything we want to keep our loved ones safe, we want children, and students to be safe. I would hope that we would go beneath the rhetoric and address our common values, our common humanity.  I would hope that we can go beyond our fears and understand that we have much more in common than that which separates us. I hope that we can reach beyond our fears and see the common humanity that unites us.

Facing Demons

480px-Animate_Tree_Demons_largeAll my demons live in my own head. I know that many people understand evil as something personified, as something exterior to ourselves, but this is not how I experience my own struggles. Last year I was seeing a counselor and one of the techniques she used with me was to personify aspects of myself. It seems so weird at first to speak to part of oneself, such as that part of me that is still the child feeling lost and alone, still seeking rescue and comfort, in the third person. Margaret, my counselor, thought it would help me to have compassion for myself and not be so hard on myself if I did this. Certainly I judge myself harder than I would ever judge someone else so perhaps she is right.

She taught me to identify two streams of thought running through my head. One says I am a beloved child of God, worthy and cherished, that I have something worthwhile to contribute, that my life has purpose and meaning. The other tells me that I am nothing and no one really wants me around, that there is something wrong with me. These are my demons. These are the voices of abusers and hurtful people in my past and whose voices live on inside my head. When I am healthy and strong I do battle with these thoughts. I argue with them (some of you may be thinking, hmmm, cognitive behavioral work, yes, thank you, you psychologically informed people you, that’s exactly what it is!). When I’m hurting or alone it can be hard not to join in, to think, “ha, they were right, no one will ever love me, no one wants to hear my stories,” etc, to fall into bitterness. You know those voices I’m sure. The ones that tell you that you are not OK, that you need to be thinner, smarter, kinder, more beautiful. These voices are pervasive.

We hear so often that we need to surround ourselves with positive people. Those who shine the light of love on me are my companions in this struggle. Together we fight to shine the light of love on all those around us. My counselor was right though, it helps to recognize that this is a fight, that there are things, whether they are memories, thought patterns, abusers, just things, that we must fight against if we are to embrace the light of love. I want to distance myself from these thought patterns that are so quick to resonate with perceived rejection, that anticipate rejection and withdrawal and that do not see me as worthy of being loved.

I have thought,though, wouldn’t it be fun to write a screen play with all my demons personified……

The light comes up on a small congregation gathered around the communion table. The pastor is speaking the welcome to the table, inviting the congregation to join in prayer. It is a small but gracious community.

As they take hands to form a circle our hero reaches out to take the hand next to her and is surprised to find it slimy and dripping in goo. As the rest of the congregation continues unknowing she looks up to see Shame, oily and slimy, dressed all in black, standing next to her,

Hero: What are you doing here! You don’t belong here!

Shame: You didn’t think I’d let you come alone did you? (He leers)

Hero: But…you don’t belong here, this is my church, my home congregation. You can’t come in here!

Guilt oozes across the chancel steps to join the circle, taking its place on the other side of our hero.

Guilt speaking to Shame: Typical of her, wanting to leave us out, as if we weren’t a part of her, as if we weren’t always with her.

Hero, objecting strenuously as the rest of the congregation continues unaware: But they love me here! I belong here!

Shame: You don’t belong here! If they really knew you,

Guilt: knew what you’d done, what you’ve been,

Hero: but I haven’t! I haven’t done anything terrible!

Shame addressing Guilt: Listen to her protest, (shakes his head sadly)

well, you get the idea. There is a common story of a Native elder who tells his grandson that two wolves are fighting inside him, one that is kind and loving, that is strong and courageous, one that is fearful, filled with anger and hatred. The grandson asks him, which one will win and his grandfather responds, “the one you feed.” Like this grandchild I too get to choose whether to feed my fears or to trust in the love and the light that I have been told birthed me and continues to live in me. A light that I sometimes feel, that I see and hear and feel in my friends and in the depth of prayer and meditation.

My demons live in my head and they take shape in the media, in misspoken and ill thought words and actions of others, in painful memories, but I do not have to surrender to them. I can face them and see them for the darkness they are, a darkness that cannot withstand the light of love. I hold in my heart the loving and gracious communities where I have been embraced by the light of this love and then I take courage, then I open my heart to those around me and I know that this light cannot be overcome.

Finding Gratitude

There is little that is deep or spiritual in my life right now. I am living month to month hoping to stay afloat. Soon I will start a full time job and that will ease this anxiety but for now it is a tight and tenuous situation. There is little that is deep or thoughtful in needing to heat the house, needing to keep food on the table, needing to keep a roof over our heads. The best I can do right now is to be OK with things as they are; to not want more or feel the pangs of envy but to accept that this is where God wants me and how God wants me.

It would be easy to slip into envy and ingratitude. One of my part time jobs over the last four years has involved house/dog sitting for friends who are traveling.  It would be easy to compare myself and my situation unfavorably to the people I sit for. They are in stable, loving relationships. They have homes, pets, gardens, deep tubs to bathe in, TV’s to watch, meaningful work. I have none of these things. Sometimes it feels as if I will never have these things. Perhaps I won’t. So my practice these days is gratitude. It is to trust that there is a purpose in my being stripped down of all unnecessary things, that God is preparing me for something, will use me somehow. I hope that there is something to be gained from this period of waiting and emptiness. I remind myself that I have freedom and am unencumbered. I hope it is a preparing.

We all have our hero’s journey to make. Sometimes it is necessary on that journey to be stripped bare and exposed, to have the accumulations of years removed so that one can be remade. I hope that is what is happening. I don’t know that everyone has to go through an un-making, a stripping on their way to wholeness but it appears to be my path. Certainly as extraneous stuff is removed I find myself increasingly aware of the beauty, the grace, the gifts that do surround me.

sunrise

I am so deeply grateful today to have a house with a fine woodstove, to have a half cord of wood in the backyard, to live in Bend, this incredible winter wonderland, to be healthy and strong, to have family and be able to be with them, to have friends who care about me and support me, who see the good in me when I can’t. And I am grateful for those friends and acquaintances who invite me into their homes to sit for a while, to keep their things safe and play with their dogs. Someday perhaps I too will live like that, not today, but perhaps someday. In the meantime I am grateful for their trust and support and for the chance to slip into another world for a little while.  In the meantime I want to enjoy this process and not let anything slip by unappreciated. I have too often in the past taken things for granted and only appreciated gifts received in hindsight. I don’t have anything great or glorious happening in my life right now. I am not studying deep thinkers or participating in great projects. I’m just trying to make ends meet and on the way stay aware and stay grateful.