Where Fear Has No Home

I thought I knew how to come and go as I pleased.

To load up the car, drive the tree-lined drive to two lane roads toward the behemoth interstates. I don’t. Or at least didn’ until I forced myself to do so this Memorial Day weekend. In March, I bought my ticket to a writing retreat in which I knew only the other attendees by their avatars on Twitter, years of blog posts, and that awkward moment when I friended a few of them on Facebook and hoped that they accepted. They did. IMG_0134

For three months, I scrolled through the #RRforWriters tweets and mapped out travel plans from the safety of my desk surrounded by all of crazy but comforting knick-knacks(doesn’t every writer have a Jane Austen action figure with a mini-poseable Shakespeare kneeling at her feet?).

But then the day before I was to fly out of RDU toward Michigan, I felt the old panic rising upward, fear tingling away whispering this was a bad idea. I’m an introvert. I’m fairly certain if Dante wrote about the circles of Hell for introverts meeting new people that one has only known through the internet would be in there somewhere. My mind grasped for excuses to stay where I was comfortable. Where I could be safely at home.

Home on five acres surrounded by pine trees, towering dead oaks, and blackberry vines. Where I can click the red circle on my browser to get rid of unnecessary blogger drama, to escape to my porch where I notoriously overwater my petunias, to tend my herbs–sage, thyme, lavender, rosemary. Where I feel both trapped and secure, where I have the power to keep all who’ve hurt me away.

Sometimes, we confuse what is supposedly stable, safe, and secure with what lurks beneath in the shadows. Our fear. 

Perhaps, fear doesn’t always look like the bogeyman under our beds. For me, fear wears Sunday dress clothes and carries a Bible, sits in the pew next to me, and waits until I offend to unleash its fury. These emotional scars came from those who claim to love the same Jesus I do, and yet, there are such deep hurts that I’m not sure will ever fully heal. Being around other believers causes me to panic, but the only I way I know to deal with this terror is to silence myself, push others far away. I’ve spent years bouncing from church to church, stayed seated when the old panic bubbled up, kept other believers far away so I could lick my wounds. Now, emotional callouses, hard and numb.

Fear took away my ability to be in community with other believers because I let it.

But I signed up for a Christian writing retreat anyway. Out of sheer bravery, doubtful.  Over-confidence in my own abilities, more likely. How hard could it be to sip some wine, talk about writing, meander about during free time writing poetry, endure the spirituality portion? Again, I tried to keep other believers at distance, walls built up from years of brick laying, plaster the everything’s okay smile on, no one would know the difference. Except for the Holy Spirit. And probably, everyone there.

During Vespers, we sat in silence. Sometimes, we stared at the flicking of the candle flame. In the silence, I felt these simple words–love, peace, and seen. While I had never been to Michigan before or this retreat center, this place became a new kind of home. Where I was loved, where I was seen, where I could break down the emotional walls for a much needed period of rest.

 

 

wash here

Poet Prayers

wash here. i crowd last night’s dinner

plates, cups, spoons coated in grease and leftover chicken

down deep in the soapsuds like a baptismal font.

between the scrub, rinse, dry–

silence eats into the back corners,

recites all of the caked mess life spattered

all over my heart, or worse, i did to myself.

i need to be clean too. with feeble words

heart murmurs, stir up the old woman lies

dunk them in the purifying water–

come out forgiven, new.

 

This month, we will begin a series of poems on grace. I’m looking forward to spending time contemplating this idea in poetry.

On Dreams and Effed Up Theology

For the past four months, I’ve begged God for a dreamless sleep.

Sometimes, I crawl between the chocolate sheets, and sleep crashes into me. Darkness, rest, morning. But some nights, sleep isn’t so kind. Perhaps, it was the Valentine’s Day energy still buzzing from dinner and wine and an the horrific assault of too many perfumes and colognes all in one place. Or too much television, electric stories blinking on and off the screen, my mind worn down to its barest, rawest place. Sleep should have been easy–slip off into that good night. Morning and dog walks and routine. It wasn’t.

Dreams have a way of fettering out all the mess locked away during conscious moments.

Maybe, it’s just mine. But between night and morning, I remember standing on my front porch. Thankfully, fully clothed. Sitting next to me, my Ginger dog, the first birthday present my husband ever gave me, lay on her giant green dog bed, tail wagging and alive. And then, she bolts. Head bounding, legs springing like Tigger, but she runs farther and farther away. For moment, she turns her head back toward me, still standing on the porch calling for her, and  she disappears into the blackberry thicket and pine trees. Gone. IMG_0396

In my dream, she’s alive and vibrant. In the waking world, she’s been dead for four months. The day before my 31st birthday to be exact.

I wake up sobbing into my pillow, a guilt ridden mess. I can hear my other two dogs squirming in their crate ready to go outside, but I’m not ready to face the empty space where Ginger should be. But isn’t. Through the curtains, sunlight streams down on the kitchen floor, and the skies cold and clear blue. But I see only darkness, everything tightly closed up. I feel the bitter hand of self-abuse grasp my heart, and I allow it to whisper guilty lies–“if you hadn’t been selfish, Ginger would still be here.” Or another variation, “if you were normal and asked for stuff, Ginger would still be here.” The guilt and self-shaming kept telling me, “your fault, your fault, your fault” like drums banging out Taps.

Even now, I can’t write about Ginger without sobbing and feeling the searing hot guilt all over.

Days like these that I drop f-bombs into my prayers and desperately whisper apologies because my version of God looks more like a vindictive chain smoking whore than loving being. Growing up, God  took things away from us if we loved something besides Him. And I don’t want him to take away my other two dogs because for a long time I felt certain that he stole Ginger from me like a pissed off toddler who can’t play with his favorite toy.

I lived with this view of God for most of my life, and it plunges me back into the black hole of shame and guilt. There is no lightness or love  or kindness in this vindictive deity. Just shame and fear and despair. I imagine I hear God saying, “well, it’s your fault, bitch, deal with it.”

That’s some fucked up theology to live with everyday.

But then I pray for a miracle, and it snows in the South after sunny and 60’s. Maybe, you think I’m crazy for seeing a few pure white snowflakes and miraculous, but they were. Slowly, the light is coming back, and God doesn’t look so angry or bitter or vengeful. I can sort through all the self-imposed shame and be free. Truly free.

I Am From

I am from…

I am from the infinite horizon, all the way to the blurry ends of this world and the next.

I am from the solar system, a yellow dwarf star, bright gold always.

I am from the third planet from the center, breathing blues and greens.

I am from the now and the past and the future.

I am from Eve and her daughters, sisters, mothers all.

I am from the West, the First World, the Privileged, the Outspoken.

I am from Erin Go Bragh and God Save the Queen and Hail to the Chief.

I am from the land of  biscuits and greens and grits, y’all’s and supper bells.

I am from the hands planting rosemary, thyme, and lavender.

I am from the garlic and oil–a marriage in the skillet.

I am from the church suppers and chicken dinners and potlucks for every occasion.

I am from the orange church pew, mildewing effigy to the evangelical 70’s, KJV thumped and thumper.

I am from the small voiced child reciting John 3:16 to a dark chapel.

I am from the Sunday School parties, Scripture memory awards, the Bible drills.

I am from children’s choir, blasting my off-key praises.

I am from the poor family in a rich church, the pitied, the unpopular.

I am from the hand-me-downs, the thrifted clothes, the badges of status and worth.

I am from the question askers, the doubters, the antagonist of all the just believers.

I am from the girl silenced, oppressed,  heavy-hearted, shamed by God’s well-intentioned people.

I am from the feminist rising up who dared said: ENOUGH!

I am from a new song, a new day, a new era when women speak and are heard.

I am from my sisters, my mothers, my fellow truth seekers, my Jesus women.

I am from my body, neither object or commodity.

I am from my strength, my voice, my ability to shout.

I am from South, the United States, North America.

I am from the water world, land and air meeting and living.

I am from these planets and sun and moons.

I am from the cosmos, without end stretching beyond all that

I am from….

to my next church

sit down three rows

from the back, on the left,’

maybe, i look lost

unfamiliar with your church dialect–

but i know.

i remember all the words

to the doxology, lord’s prayer

amazing grace–they eat a hole

in my cynical heart.

i watch you circle around

like buzzards looking

at this new carcass

sitting in your blueredgreen pews.

this heart beats

to slow rhythm of hope–

here is where:

i can lick my church wounds clean,

i can be healed again,

i can be.

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those secrets

let your secrets

dance around you

like the click-clack

of typewriter keys.

push those

words, images, feelings

(the ones creeping into

the shadowland,

hissing in the dark,

whispering your doom)

out into the copper glow

of daylight.

let everyone see

your failed excuses,

your fucked-up-ness.

this is where you find

your strength to

go on.

 

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in this dust

 in this dust…

i write a name, another…

scribbling deep grooves into

dirt  with wrongs,

with reasons not to throw

the stones—

so why are you still holding those rocks?

in this dust…

i smoothed your face,

sculpted eyes and fingers

filled your nose

to the brim with breath.

this clay, this mud, this earth–

don’t you remember

you came from this?

in this dust…

lay down your stones

drop them one by one

till your hands are empty

and you are free.

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These Quiet Mornings

I wake this morning aching grateful. Morning comes, and I greet it leash in hand. The dew grass spit as we trampled down the knee stalks, the water splashing between my toes and out my shoes.I watch my dogs put noses to the ground, waddle off into the higher grass, spring back, jump up to my nose and lick it. I pet their heads and call them by name. We meander back to the house. Door open; wet paws slip on the hardwoods.

There is joy in the morning, these quiet mornings.

Coffee sputters and gurgles. I stand and wait and wait and wait. Favorite mug, a touch of cream, breathe in morning’s smell. One child up already makes breakfast. Perhaps, I shall write a bit before the burden of the day begins anew. In those stolen bits, I burrow away in my writing corner, my desk to give life to my thoughts. I need this ritual of writing in the morning. Before the email blares its siren song, before the “I can’t take another minute of you” bicker begins, before the demands of video games and television and whinings all crash-land in my living room. Now, I write before the day steals my morning from me.

There is joy in the morning, these quiet mornings.

Today, deep in the South’s wet blanket humid summer, it’s easy to allow day to rob me of this morning. I never wake without a list of things to do, hardships breaking my resolve. In short, my mornings aren’t always grateful, sunshine-filled gloriousness. I have bad days, but isn’t this what grace is for? Don’t we all have days when the bed throws us into a world ready for a new victim? But mornings do come again for me, and I embrace this morning with grace.

There is joy in the morning, these quiet mornings.

 

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On Grace and Story Salvation

“Glory be to God for dappled things–For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow…”

Morning rises early. Dogs bark, paw at the crate “wake you sleeper”, be ready for this day. Some mornings, I mush through the tall grass, dogs wagging around me, and I miss all of the world’s messy beauty. But some days, I walk in quietness. Above my head, the red-orange morning filters down, shines upon the dew, sparkles out upon the hay and grapevines, trickles into the crevices of this poet’s heart so the only appropriate response is poetry. I write out the morning’s lines, its images filling my heart.

I wonder if anyone ever reads my few poems here. Sometimes, the storm clouds roll in and trample down my thoughts. This act, so futile, pushes me toward giving up and settling for the rat race of hasty words. But poetry eats out my soul, and I must write to save my life. Poetry bleeds me dry of myself. This is grace; this is saving me.

For rose moles all stipple upon trout that swim; Fresh-firecoal chestnut falls; finches wings; Landscape plotted and pieced–fold, fallow,and plough, and all trades, their gear and tackle and trim…”

Five hours east, we drive past dunes and sea oats, watch the wind whip the sand into wraiths billowing across the main artery for these islands. The sky darkens back to the west where we were, but we drive onward. Our destination, the sea. High tide leaps upon the shore, and the wind sprays our faces with salt water to purify us. I fight to keep my sundress down, avoid the Marilyn Monroe moment,  watch the sunlight retreat behind the thunderheads. I breathe deep, and I remember what it is like to be alive, to be myself. I had quite forgotten.

We watched the sun drown itself in the sound, never quite waking up in time for sunrise. I sat in the shade as others climbed up Hatteras lighthouse. I leaned over the ferry’s rail to have the ocean steal a kiss. Running to the breakers, we floated on top of the waves until the sea, now just perfect, let us ride it. I couldn’t resist this siren song. The sand wedged deep everywhere. The undertow pulling out the water, then its sudden rush back. The joy of being on top of the wave, gliding into shore. The desperate prayers that I don’t lose my swimsuit bottoms after riding a wave much too big, much too sloppily. The make-shift ties and adjustments to do it all again. This is grace; this is saving me.

All things counter, original, spare, strange; Whatever is fickle, freckled(who know’s how?) With swift, slow, sweet, sour; adazzle, dim…

In my hands, I hold vine ripe tomatoes, coffee mugs, purple ink pens, books like dear friends.I need to hold on to things for a moment. The world, the one I’ve known, loved, built and mothered changes soon. I hate this change. I cry and lament and beg  God whom may or may not give a damn. I pray for vindication, for peace, for my heart to heal from two years burden carrying. Peace trickles in slowly like a leaky faucet, and I try to loosen it but can’t. I rest in snatches of the gospels and Psalms and poets and novels. I spin worlds on the page, stories for the asking. I drink wine and cuss and laugh. I steal time midday to drink coffee and eat cupcakes and write furiously. Once in awhile, I know I’m not so alone. There, I find my hope and my peace.

This is grace, and this is saving me.

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise Him.”

 (Pied Beauty Gerard Manley Hopkins)

Today, I’m linking up with Sarah Bessey and her syncroblog “What is saving me right now.” Join us here.

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10 Books-a-Week: Faith

This week, my blogging friend Sarah Bessey will be sharing her bookshelves with us. And I love the idea of lists, of books, of books and lists together.

 

Yesterday, she gave her books of faith books that have moved her forward in her spiritual journey. Today, I shall share mine.

  1.  The Bible: I suppose it should be a given since it is MY primary faith text, but for years, I satisfied myself with what others said about this book. I no longer let scholars or those who can give me lengthy dissertations in Greek origins form my entire opinion. I read and search for myself, and this has changed my thinking.
  2. C.S. Lewis Til We Have Faces: The myth of Psyche and the strangling love of her sister Orual. I adore Lewis’s retelling, his emphasis on the growth of love from selfish love to a purer love.
  3. L.E. Maxwell Embraced by the CrossThe entire book focuses on the cross and its relationship to Christ, to us, to others.  Written by a Canadian(extra points from Sarah Bessery who is Canadian herself), he delves with grace into Scripture. Beautiful writing, enough said.
  4. Christine de Pizan The Treasure of the City of Ladies: I first read this book in a graduate seminar Feminist Rhetoric and Pedagogy(no, not all feminist courses deviate from faith or even the Christian faith. In fact, feminism brought me back to Jesus). Pizan wrote several conduct manuals for women, men, knights. And served on the king of France’s court. And supported her family without a husband. And did ALL of this in Medieval France. She is considered to be the world’s first professional woman writer. In this book, she guides women in how to behave. She emphasizes that women should love their husbands, their maid servants and the poor. This is the treasure of ladies. Of course, her instructions for harlots should not be missed either.
  5. C.S. Lewis The Great Divorce: After reading Love Wins, I read this book. Lewis discusses the idea of hell and purgatory that challenges how I perceive what these two places could be. I’m not sure that I would fully embrace this whole construction, but it made me think more closely about my faith in the afterlife.
  6. Rachel Held Evans Evolving in Monkey Town: When I read this book, I felt like she had written about my life except I grew up in Lynchburg, VA not Dayton, TN (another center for the religious right). She expresses beautifully the struggles of growing up fully engulfed in faith and asking questions about our faith. I can’t wait for her next book coming out in October.
  7. Anne Jackson Permission to Speak Freely: I love the whole premise of this book…what would you say in church if you could speak freely? I haven’t figured what I would say out yet, but the book is beautifully written and worth reading.
  8. Lauren Winner Girl Meets God: The first spiritual memoir that I ever read. I love Winner’s writing style, her faith. It felt like a breath of fresh air for one choking on the bitter tonic of conservative evangelicalism.
  9. T.S. Eliot Complete Poems and Plays: Of course, a poet must have a book of poetry. I love reading Eliot because I can see how his faith strengthens throughout his poetry. I adore Ash Wednesday.
  10. Anne Lamott Traveling Mercies (not pictured because I don’t own a copy. If anyone is feeling generous, I would love one): After reading Bird by Bird, I picked up Traveling Mercies. She approaches faith and Jesus from a completely opposite point of view and writes about her journey so candidly. I also have several more of her books on faith too…just waiting for the time to read them.

What books have changed your faith? Share in the comments!

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