Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Intentionally Placed

It's snowing outside - or at least it feels like it. Our faucets are all running a little bit to prevent them from freezing. And my heart? It feels full, but small, then contracts. And my eyes? They don't stop tearing up and then crying. I push my fingers through my hair and I breathe out deeply and I wonder, why? Why the crashing? Why the feeling of no and yet too many feelings?

On account of the weather I have been taking the bus instead of driving. I forgot how much I enjoyed public transportation. More than not my experiences with trimet have been good but those few bad ones usually deter me.

One of the things I like most is that you have to slow down your day to fit in a bus ride. And while you are on the bus, often standing in my case, you get to watch the city go by. I live in a magnificent city. A deaf man gave me his seat yesterday. So today I gave my seat away - though less elegantly. I thought of all the little things that people do that are kind - even though it took me 2 hours to get home in 23 degree weather - I appreciated the reality of life.

I wonder if everyone has really experienced the world of public transportation. I think in the life of a car driver we forget about the people who don't have that luxury - or in the case of many people in Portland, who choose not to drive. I don't know. It gave me a greater respect for others. It is not easy scheduling your life and having it at the mercy of others - even though really we all experience that, most of us just don't feel it. I think if someone hasn't experienced this (or similar things) that they need to take away some of the luxuries and break down their barriers - or how will they ever understand or embrace beyond themselves?

How is this relevant? Well, I felt so peaceful today, like I was sharing in something. I know I have often written of my belief in our need for community and I feel like in the absence of one in my life, the feeling of community amongst strangers was pretty significant.

And yet with the people I love I am distant. I do not write the friends I want to write, I do not call my father, I am sharp on the phone with my mother and I am, lately, stingy with my heart to Kyle. I have been very anxious about life, having all kinds of existential crises surrounding death and both the inevitability of it and the fear of its sting capturing me or someone I love at any moment. Irrational? Probably, but it is only a piece.

It is not why I am crying. I am crying because something feels apart. I've said before, this time of year is hard. It is now when I miss parts of my old life. My different life. It is also when I have made my worst decisions. So when I experience the anxieties I am currently carrying I fear that there is any truth to them. And what if there is?

And yet I still don't know if that (fear/anxieties)is why I am crying. I tend to hold the tears in and it seems it has been long enough. So I need to cry. I need to fill this hole and I need to let my eyes flood into pools.

I need to exist, be thankful, be true and know that this is not all there is - this day, that twinkling tree, that anxiety, that fear, this love, the goodness of strangers - that these are all pieces and I am intentionally placed exactly where I am meant to be in something so much bigger.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Madeleine L'engle wrote, "Deepest communion with God is beyond words, on the other side of silence." In my small understanding of monastic life, of people who walk in constant or deep and daily prayer, in the life of Jesus, and many more, a theme that is present in each, is that of silence.

Silence before God. Silence with God. And having faith when God is, or feels, silent. I think that is part of the "other side of silence," God is beyond our scope of understanding and in our finite perceptions, while God remains ever present, we remain restless wanting a booming voice. When we sit in darkness we want tangibles - God doesn't work in tangibles, well not most of the time.

Yes here it will sound obsessive . . . but the season finale (season 1) of Joan of Arcadia is entitled, "Silence" and much of the episode walks through these spiritual awakenings, these understandings of death and life's consequences and for Joan, of trust and silence.

God says to have faith in the silence but when He is silent she doesn't know what to do. So she pushes Him away. She tells Him to leave. She claims she does not believe in Him, that He is not real. And this is made worse by people around her not believing her, not seeing that her experiences with God were not hallucinations but true manifestations of God in her daily life.

How many times have I had the conversation with God where I tell Him I don't believe in Him or tell Him to go away? I remember clearly crying out to God and begging Him to leave me. There is a metaphor in the episode that I will surely state incorrectly but it went something like this: Believing in God is like getting into a pool. You put your toes in to test it and then your feet and then you get to the point where you are wading in the water. But then the water seems scary or the temperature feels off so you step out of the water, but even when you are out, the water is still there. It always is.

I am not good at it and I resist it, but I try to sit in silence. Sometimes in the muck of life where I know the darkness feels darkest and I just need to be there and wait. And I have to know, know in my gut, in my heart that God is sitting there with me, in the muck, in the darkness and that it may be silent, but I'm not alone.

Madeleine L'Engle also wrote the following, and it is how I feel too:

"I will have nothing to do with a God who cares only occasionally. I need a God who is with us always, everywhere, in the deepest depths as well as the highest heights. It is when things go wrong, when good things do not happen, when our prayers seem to have been lost, that God is most present. We do not need the sheltering wings when things go smoothly. We are closest to God in the darkness, stumbling along blindly."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Joan of Arcadia's God - and mine too

The semester has come to a close and I have learned so much. Much about clinical work but more about humanity. More about the spirit, about relationships, about hope and faith. More about the construction and deconstruction of how we embrace, or exclude, the world and the people in it - as well as the one who created it.

I started watching Joan of Arcadia and while I recall that while it was on the air it caused some controversy over its presentation of a more general God, what I see is the message of the God I know. The God in the show says that the system is perfect - and they show how one choice, an action, an acceptance of a little direction or calling, has a significant impact on so many lives and how even the person who makes that choice is deeply effected.

If ever there were an existential television program here it is. Perhaps this is why I take my theoretical orientation to be existential. It is so often misinterpreted as something soul-less - but for me it is the most meaningful approach to life (and therapy). It recognizes our deepest cries, the reality of our souls, hearts, minds and our needs. It is not a lonely belief system.

I think the need for a collective experience and understanding of life is essential to the understanding of any human relationship. I believe, and continue to learn in every book I read or relationship I see, that human interactions need to be reciprocal. Two of the books I read this term explained that in order to experience true individuation one must know that they need the other. That relationship with the other is like, or best understood, like the example of the Triune God. The Trinity is an example of the most perfect relational experience - each has an individual identity, but each exists with the other. All three have room for the other within them, but uniqueness within themselves as well.

That may sound convoluted, but it is hard to articulate all the thoughts in my head into a coherent blog right now.

Lately I have been sad. It is one of those sadnesses that does not seem to have an obvious cause. This time of year has always been difficult for me - ever since I was a teen. Call it seasonal affect disorder or an existential crisis, or just a hard time for me, but this year is one of the "easiest" in a long time. No extreme changes or shifts in myself. However I am also cognizant of how risky this time of year is for me and my mental health so I try to stay on top of that as best I can.

Anyhow, this time of year is bittersweet. I love the holidays but I feel a deep, deep sorrow. As I was recently told though, pain is part of it - not in those exact words, but comforting words nonetheless.

What I experience watching Joan of Arcadia's "God" and hearing last weekend's This American Life about the "Church of Inclusion" or Frank Schaeffer's interview on Fresh Air (NPR, Terry Gross) reminds me of why I have faith. When asked about why he didn't give up on his faith Schaeffer responded that if he wanted to, or even when he did, that he would talk to God first, for whatever reason. He also said that what brought him back, more or less, was finding liturgical guidance - stories that are not new or led by hot new pastor's the congregrations (in my words) worship and follow rather than following Christ (that could be a loaded statement but it is not meant to be) - but I hear that. I long for tradition, for history. I long for that in my faith, in my relationships and in my humanity.

I get lost in concepts, words, a scary and dangerour world. I get lost in loneliness and my own cold hearted actions. I get lost and lost - but occassionally I get found. Tonight on "Death Be Not Whatever" the episode ends with a Ben Harper song that sort of speaks my heart tonight (since it is unclear in this labyrinthine of a blog).

So much sorrow and pain
Still I will not live in vain
Like good questions never asked
Is wisdom wasted on the past
Only by the grace of God go I
Go I

I am blessed
I am blessed
I am blessed to be a witness

Thursday, October 30, 2008


The more I study the integration of faith and psychology the more fascinated I am by the polarities and yet similarities that exist within the fields.

In many churches there remains a stigma to mental illness, or even just mental health. This feels like an outdated statement, if that makes sense. But it feels that way because I am most familiar with contemporary churches - like Evergreen here in Portland, a church I briefly attended. It is a church filled with grace, love and a lot of clinicians. It was odd to sit in a round table style church in a pub (okay those in and of themselves should be considered odd but really aren't) and to hear people respond to Bob (the pastor) with sentences like, "I was processing this . . ." There is an integration of the two in that church. A respect I feel for the fact that mental illness is very real and not some sort of demonic plague. It is a painful experience that many people struggle with.

In other churches there seems to remain the feeling that mental illness should merely be surrendered to God and His healing powers will, well, do just that. How long did I wish that God would take away my depression? He didn't. It is my responsibility to respond to an illness and decide how to care for it. Lest I never escape its' power.

Mental illness all but destroyed me and my faith. It took from me some of the most precious things. Did I allow it to do so? No. I didn't know how to stop it. I can't completely blame that illness for big things that happened no more than I can blame God for not "saving me from them." But I can be cognizant that both played significant roles in the direction my life took. I am not the same person I was in 2005. My faith is not the same. My illness is not the same.

Thus back to the polarities. I held some very black and white views - I still agree with some but many I have had to let go of in order to experience healing. Many a healthy and a toxic church do not provide space for such things.

Generally speaking though both faith and the wonders of therapy and psychopharmicological intervention have significant powers to heal a person. Or in many (most) cases send them in the direction of healing. Healing is a lot of work. For me faith has been a lot of work - in the sense that I have struggled with the fact that I will probably never fit into the place that I once did in the church. I miss the church, I miss mission trips and youth group. I miss the community.

My mental health, my ability to have healthy relationships is probably better than it has ever been. I sometimes think of the many friends and relationships that I lost or damaged along the way. How many times was I terrified to put trust in people or myself? How many times did I claim that difference in "levels" of faith, or certain beliefs could keep me from loving someone, or rather being in-love with someone? How many times did I fear that if someone really knew me - especially my spells - that could not possibly love me.

These struggles have not completely subsided, well in love they have but that only recently and in friendships they remain. Kyle and I have walked through so much of that and I know the path is not at all complete or well paved for the future. With friends I remain longing for spiritual connection - for avenues to have calm and non-challenging conversations. Like the ones I used to have with, for example, my friend Kristie. Just talks of the wonder of God.

That is a trail away from the original topic.

What remains on that is this. Once while at First Pres. Burbank one of the women in the church, Roberta (or was it Nancy Cobb? well they were in a women's group together) asked: If a person were to come in to the church in the middle of service and walk straight to the front sobbing, how would we respond?

If a woman with a mental illness walked in suffering, would we call her crazy in our heads and then try to help her find treatment? Would we try to exercise those demons? I image the first.

Would we see the power of both the need for support in the mental health and faith communities for holistic healing? I hope so.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Humility Come My Way . . .

Aa chip on my should is not okay. Being mean to friends is not okay. I struggle sometimes with embracing the reality that there are HUGE triggers in my life and that it is the process of how I respond more than the feeling beneath that matters. I need to process and settle the thoughts and feelings I have.

Doesn't it say somewhere about being slow to speak? Like I should think first or something?

I need to do this. So badly. I have become a cannon of reactivity. This is not the person I desire to be. I am okay with messy but not mean. My roots run deep by they are not made with spikes - I put those there.

So humility has come my way. It took an ativan and an hour of therapy, a conversation with both my mother and sister to truly calm me down.

Now I have sought redemption and forgiveness. Now I have let myself remember why I do the things I do, feel the things I feel and why I want to be in this field. Pain can equal progress.

This sounds illogical I realize, or random at least. But in my head and heart it makes sense.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Spiritual Identity

I have been in my class, Spiritual Identity, for 2 days now. We have spent a lot of time in discussion about poetry, writings, identity, personas, mandalas. We have listened to Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen. We have heard our wonderfully intelligent professor pontificate on life and faith and share stories of spirituality and questioning. We have journaled on topics of spiritual authority, identity, absense of God, the spiritual shadow and response to the readings of Annie Dillard, Theophane the Monk and others. We have sculpted our spiritual shadows from clay and painted our spiritual personas. And we have had small group discussions with other's about their secrets, doubts and loves - to the extent that they would share.

In painting my persona I learned something about myself. Since I stopped going to church, I lost my, for the most part, spiritual persona. My real and pretend selves began to integrate. Who I pretended to be merged with who I am and I couldn’t pretend any more. So in creating a painting of my persona I was no longer that box that is pretty and together but am rather a painting that is a picture left incomplete. A work in progress.

I always wanted to seem together, like a pretty gift box with the box in place. I also wanted to seem creative and interesting so perhaps there might be multiple colors on one side. But I ended up painting this frame with mountains, trees, the sun and a heart all that run off in to white - into open space waiting for completion.

In the past two and a half years I unraveled all that I knew to be "me" and all that I had wanted people to see. I lost the hidden self and became a mess. Chaos everywhere. Kyle told me at coffee once that messy was okay sometimes, he wrote it on a post-it and stuck it on my computer. I slowly let that seep in to my mind and as I was aided in rebuilding my life the fake chipped away.

I want to be a woman of integrity, but that definition is no longer what I thought it was. Now it is not about being "right" but about being authentic and honest. I still struggle and keep a lot to myself or my close friends - but I am living more out loud than I used to.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Messiness of Faith and the Beauty of Uncertainty

I am Certain it is OK to be Uncertain.

I have been learning to sit within ambiguity - this is a process that I am not at all fond of. It is uncomfortable and to me often feels like sitting in wet sand that occassionally starts to sink. But what I have been learning, especially of late, that it is ok to not be certain, in fact sometimes it is absolutely necessary.

So much as I needed to learn that sometimes, in life, messiness if okay I am also learning that in faith there is also a lot of mess and a lot of beauty, thus the Beautiful Messiness of Faith is born.
In this blog I will write some reflections on the books and stories I am reading - as well as the way it has an impact on my heart, mind and life.

I hope to hear your stories too.