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.

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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Your Hands

Dear God, 

Your Hands moved

Dust and mud

Caked together

To form us.

Oceans, trees, mountains–

A word sufficed.

But humanity needed

Your hands.

 

How have you seen God’s hands in your life?

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Clay

We are the clay people.

Dirt shod.

Dirt worked.

Dirt returned.

We are the clay people.

Wretched weak,

Formed of dust,

God’s hand-sculpted art.

We are the clay people.

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Remembering to Smile

Saturday night, alone in bed, before 11pm. Officially, this makes me old. Unofficially, it makes me far wiser

Picture courtesy of Mark Askins

because I could no longer keep my eyes open.

With one child off at her mother’s and husband and child at camp, I enjoyed the quiet. I made dinner for just me. I drank one glass or two of 3 buck Chuck and serenaded my dogs with an alto’s version of Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On (my dogs are rueing the day when Twitter brought up Titanic’s return to the big screen). I read. I controlled the remote.

But even after good days, we’re grow weary.

The soft evening rain, the groans of an evening storm rising, my body worn out. But a good tired. The kind of tired from plotting and planning and brunching with a friend and colleague. The kind of tired where the body aches for rest, but the mind whizzes from idea to idea like hummingbirds in May. Slowly, I quieted my thoughts. Ideas flew to paper, and night’s power almost won. Sleep comes in soft easy steps.

Before I turned out the light, it happened. Deep down, bubbling up like champagne, the warming glow of face and mouth and teeth–A smile! A real smile, radiant and full, showing only God all of my crooked teeth. I can’t remember when I smiled last. For so long, I forced a tight lip grin, smiled when it was expected, even laughing felt forced for too long.

Life’s stress does that. I carry the heavy load  I should never have to bear. They force my smile into grimness, sadness, and I let them, those worries and cares and burdens. Until I forget how to smile. For real. Not forced or faked.

Slowly, I smile again. Full of crooked teeth upward and God sees. Maybe, tomorrow, I shall smile again too.

 

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Trust Falls and Trust Fails

Hello Friday! Hello, not sounding like a helium infused chipmunk!

Many Fridays on my blog, I participate in Lisa-Jo’s Five Minute Friday. The rules are simple:

  1. Write for 5 minutes-ish(close enough to count is fine).
  2. No Editing, Over-thinking, or the like…JUST WRITE.
  3. Comment on another 5 Minute Friday post.

Today’s prompt: TRUST

 

Start:

The carpeted gym, the myriad of awkward teenagers, the overenthusiastic leaders–there is really nothing like church youth group. Every summer, we shuffled into the youth room to endure another round of group activities, a devotional, and maybe if we were lucky snacks. One of the worst activities every invented by our youth leaders was the trust fall. All of the teens lined up to catch the willing victim, but I never could conjure up enough courage to try it.

Then, the leader likened the fall to trusting God. Somehow, he (always a male because women couldn’t teach a both guys and girls) would praise those who attempted the trust fall and would show how it proved their trust in God. Sitting with my friends, I felt like the oddball, the one who couldn’t do the activity, and it showed I couldn’t trust God either.In youth group, trusting God sounded easy like brushing my teeth or getting dressed, but it has never been easy for me.

Even now, I struggle to trust people whom I can see, hug, share my life let alone trust God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit whom I can’t see. Too often, I have trusted people, only to be disappointed, frustrated, and humiliated. I have endured people lying about me, slandering me, and simply ignoring my need for their friendship. It is a dark road that many times I have traveled alone. Now, I’m used to being alone, to enduring alone. Along the way, I built up walls so that I wouldn’t be hurt again, so I wouldn’t be tempted to trust anyone ever.

But I couldn’t live like this. Despite being strong, I needed to trust, to relearn how to trust people, to trust God. How could I fully love my spouse or kids if I couldn’t trust them? So I opened my heart to trust them. Once I began slowly removing the brick walls around me, I learned to allow others to help bear the oppressive weight of life, its uplifting joys. It is a slow process, even now, I struggle with trusting that God is good, that Jesus does love me, that the Holy Spirit does hear my prayers. But the process is a start, and I trust that I will find its end.

Finish.

There I Said It….

Roller Coaster - Speed Mouse #2photo © 2006 Stéfan Le Dû | more info (via: Wylio)
I wish certain weeks came with warning labels like “SMOOTH SAILING” or “EMOTIONAL ROLLER COASTER HELL.” Something to give me the heads up, but this week’s warning label about many an emotional wreck waiting to happen didn’t come. It never does.

On Wednesday, I headed up to Raleigh to for a job interview. Stressful, yes, driving in the city traffic, utter hell on earth. During the trip, I prayed for God to give me wisdom, to enlighten my path, to show me all the good things that He had for me. In church, the pastor has repeatedly focused on God’s unlimited resources, how we need only ask for God to do grand things to meet our needs. When I got the phone call concerning the job interview, I was cautiously hopeful. I didn’t want to get my hopes up because I’m so tired of being utterly disappointed. But I left the interview emotionally worn out, bruised and beaten, asking myself why. Everyone assured me that God had something better, not to lose hope, but I sat alone on my bed, choking back the tears of hopelessness. I realized how right Emily Dickinson was when she wrote “hope is the thing with feathers.” My last bit of hope flew away.

For the first time in months, the waves of doubt hit full force.

Sitting on my couch, I let the words escape from my mouth. Unchecked, unguarded, but always alive and well inside my mind—what if God doesn’t exist? What if in this grand cosmos their isn’t a loving God who thinks about our needs? There I said it. I gave life to gnawing thoughts I had about God and his goodness. Overpowered by their freedom, the questions wouldn’t stay on the mental shelves, nicely put away. In fact, the doubts exploded into questions of fairness, materials needs not being met, all of the stress of months of fruitless applications and job interviews, all of this precious time wasted. And for what? Following all sorts of rules, being excluded for personal choices, I see a waste of time.

Perhaps, this is the kind of doubt that Tennyson describes: “there lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in all the creeds.”

At this point, I was interrupted from the blog post by a phone call…which showed me that God does have a sense of humor. Driving home from the gym, I sent up a half ass prayer about needing to hear about a job. And by half ass, it was the typical selfish, “God, I need this or I won’t believer in You like ever” prayer. Again proving, how super spiritual I’m not.

Sitting at my laptop, writing about doubts and God’s not being fair and being unemployed, I get phone call and invitation to interview for a teaching position. While this doesn’t fully cause all of my doubts to vanish or questions to be answered, I’m stuck by the irony.

Question: When have you been struck by the irony of God or the just irony of the everyday situations?

Grief, Believing, and Questions

Death…..a passage, a gateway, the ceasing of life, entering the presence of God, we use many terms to describe this passage from our breathing existence to the stillness of all living functions. Death.

I am reminded of the words of the British poet John Donne in his Holy Sonnets,

DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and souls delivery.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, warre, and sickness dwell,
And poppie, or charms can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell’st thou then;
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

For those who have died, death has little value; it has lost its cache–no longer as Hamlet describes it “the undiscovered country.” Death stings only those who are alive and remaining to piece together the hole left when someone passes into eternity. Grief begins. http://www.flickr.com/photos/jimmediaart/421076209/

This past week, my adorable stepkids began experiencing the grieving process when their maternal grandfather passed away. There have been tears, questions, more tears, the desire to see pictures, talk about the memories of flea market trips–the need to communicate their grief.

One question always comes up: Will we see grandpop in heaven? While this opened a discussion of heaven and the way to get there, my husband nor I could give an emphatic “yes” answer to their question. I struggle with giving them a false sense of hope since church attendance and good deeds are not always indicative of someone’s spiritual state. We answered that we truly hope so….I think that is the best answer for now.

Questions to ponder: How do you explain death, the afterlife to child? How does our culture give a false or a true impression of the afterlife?