Archive | December, 2009

As The Year Ends

30 Dec

Last New Years Day, on a whim, I started this blog. I remember nervously staring at the wordpress home page wondering if I’d be able to figure out how to set up a template and register my blog name. Miraculously, the site was easy to navigate and within an hour or so, I was up and running. I hadn’t wasted the day trying to get stuff working only to experience the frustration of technological defeat. 

For me, the blog took courage. I’d been told by CAMFT that if therapists have a blog, they have to keep it somewhat anonymous if it is personal vs. educational in nature. This is because clients having access to their providers’ inner lives pushes the boundaries of the therapeutic relationship. I felt pangs of guilt. Was I violating any rules? 

What I discovered in this process was a weird dialect between the extreme pleasure of communication and contact with readership and simultaneous shame and guilt for putting myself out there – almost as if I was doing something “dirty.” As I explored this, I realized that somewhere in my early years being in my authentic self must have had a highly negative consequence – punishment? rejection? violation? I don’t know. But I do know that expression and exposure produces an edge of pleasure and shame for me and consequently, a type of hyper-vigilance. (Of course FaceBook then puts me way over the edge). 

But the blog became a gift – a gift of new friendships, validation and community with others. I wouldn’t trade that for all the tea in China. It is also helping me develop my artistic voice and what I want to say in the future, possibly in book form. Best yet, it was good for me to have a blog of my own, instead of just posting on everyone else’s which in hindsight I realized was me wanting to use MY voice too. Instead of just following, I wanted a platform of my own. 

So, as one year ends and another begins – Happy New Years everyone. Here’s to living dangerously and creatively! It is well worth the risk. May 2010 be wonderful and outrageous.

29 Dec

 

 

 

Is It Really That Complicated?

27 Dec

I just saw “It’s Complicated.” I expected to laugh hysterically and instead found myself feeling very sad throughout the movie. Yes, the cast is stellar and there are definitely some funny moments – but underneath it – I saw the landscape of contemporary relationships and found it tragic. 

The movie portrays a divorced couple (Dame Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin) who suddenly begin to rendez-vous, despite the fact that the husband is remarried. Yes, the passion between them sparks up again after all these years and the illicit is always so attractive. As I watched this play out, I thought how convincing modern media is, influencing us that if it feels good, it must be good. Who cares if this might hurt anyone?  Or ourselves. Or our children… In a flash, Meryl Streep’s character is swept up again in her ex-husband’s charm, never minding the fact that he shattered her life when after twenty years of marriage he screws around with a younger woman and dumps her. THANKFULLY, the movie takes a turn and shines a flashlight on all of these things instead of staying on the surface level, glamorizing adultery.

Movies like this make my skin crawl because more and more I’m seeing how lost we really are. I see how much we miss the mark from the love, stability and intimacy we desperately crave. And it makes me sad. 

There are reasons why my generation is choosing not to marry and why the divorce rate has sky rocketed. We fear getting hurt in an age of non-commitment or live in denial of our own patterns and behaviors. 

And it is a jungle out there. 

I think part of the problem is that instead of turning to God for guidance in relationships, we instead turn to ourselves thinking we have all the answers. Thinking we know it all. When in fact, we can be sorely misguided about what is what. 

I know that when I didn’t put God first in romance and sexuality, all I got was complications. My own complex inner life, my lusts, my f—- up conditioning – that in the end led to nowhere but heartache and disappointment. Is it really that complicated? Yes. But if we turn to God, no. He helps us navigate the terrain. He helps keep us straight.

This movie reminded me of how much we need God. Not because we’re all bad people and sinners who are going to burn in hell but because we are people YEARNING so deeply for true love, true companionship, true family and true community.

Make Your Own Traditions

25 Dec

One of my happiest Christmas memories is one in which I can literarily feel myself back into the situation. I was in fifth or sixth grade and my dad and I were in Wisconsin visiting his parents. Our dog, Boomer, half German Shepherd and half Old English Sheepdog had flown with us and we’d had many days of excitement leading up until Christmas. My dad had taken me ice skating on Lake Mendota and I’d been given skates of my own (white boots vs. the ugly brown you get when you rent), my grandma and I had baked cookies and we’d done loads of shopping along State street, the heart of the capitol and University.

But now it was post- Christmas morning hype and instead of the let down I was familiar with feeling over the years, I had an increased sense of peace. Specifically, someone had given me “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte and I remember snuggling up on the couch reading it – Boomer on the floor next to me, my dad watching football, my grandmother knitting and watching football and my grandfather alternating between reading, snoozing and watching football. And I felt so content. I think my dad and I had gone running that morning too in the freezing cold which added to the zoned out euphoria. 

That is the feeling I try to recapture every year and I feel so grateful and blessed that in the last number of years, I have had my moments of REST. Domesticity. And family during the holidays. But it has required me to actively make conscious decisions how I spend the holidays. And it has required me to make my own traditions as the Honda commercial says. 

You see over the years, as a single person with parents deceased and relatives scattered over the states, I have had to create what Christmas looks like in my home. I get many invites places and that is AWESOME but I quickly discovered that if I said yes to all of them, I would have none of that snuggle up and stay at home feeling that I had in the scene described above. So, I balance my time with attending my invites to connect with community but then also honor my time with my own family – which as dumb as it sounds – two cats and me is family. Is my home. And it is blessed.

Yesterday after surfing with my neighbor, I enjoyed just putzing with the cats until time to be with people again in the evening. And I’m so grateful that I realize one isn’t the loneliest number. It’s simply that. A number. Neither good nor bad. All of us, young and old, single or coupled get the most out of the holiday when we make our own traditions and truly embrace them.

From Exile Into Community

20 Dec

One of the most striking things in the Gospels to me is that for some of the people whom Jesus healed, more occurred than their physical condition being rectified. Some were restored to community as a result of physical healing. We see this in the case of the leper and that of the bleeding woman. Previously condemned to life in exile, they are now free to live in community. 

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about community – what it is, why we need it and how we find it. In today’s world we no longer deny menstruating women access to daily society,  nor do we establish lepers’ colonies. But we have our modern day equivalents. We push away the homeless, the mentally ill, those deeply grieving, the elderly, soldiers returning scarred from war, not to mention those living in poverty, abuse or prison. Even when suffering from ailments less profound than these, now more than ever people live deprived of community. Which is insane because people are mammals. We are designed for group living. In fact, if an infant is not held and comforted by human contact, s/he will die.

I wonder how many of us are suffering in exile – needing to be restored to community. I know for myself, grief created its own form of exile. Growing up an only child in an alcoholic home, I felt isolated and different than others. This feeling and condition heightened as more events occurred that every day people often couldn’t relate to. I see this form of exile in those I work with – those stuck in a psychiatric hospital for various reasons. I see it most acutely in some of the children who would rather stay in the hospital than be discharged because the staff provides more of a sense of belonging than their families do. And this saddens me.

So for school, I’m starting to read “Acts” – the book in the bible that depicts the forming of the Christian community after Jesus’ death and how the church developed. And I resonate with this longing not just for community but for spiritual community. And I’m grateful for finding a church that lets me be a part of something. But I also find it amazing that I still walk up to the church sometimes afraid that I somehow won’t belong. That I’m somehow not a part. How good it is that Jesus healed others. Reached out and TOUCHED them – those untouchable – and let them back into society so that they could live. In contact. In connection. In community.

The Smartest Thing I Did…

17 Dec

I did a few smart things this year – leaving a structured job that wasn’t working for me and going back to school to name a few. But if I had to name the smartest thing I did this year, I’d have to say it was learning to surf. I’ll tell you why. 

My entire life I’ve always been around people who surfed but it never dawned on me to take it up myself. I don’t know why – I swim almost daily and I love the ocean. I guess I just thought it was something that people did if they grew up doing it or if they had buddies who did it. I didn’t think I could do it because I didn’t fit either category. I didn’t grow up surfing and none of my close friends surfed. 

But one day I watched a father teaching his little boy to surf and I thought – that’s it. I’m going to learn too. And I put “learning to surf” on my New Years resolution list. By August, I realized I hadn’t met my resolution and that if I didn’t hop to it, I wouldn’t do it because I wanted to learn when the weather was warm. 

I’ve written a fair amount about learning to surf on this blog so I won’t repeat myself here but I will say why it was the smartest thing I’ve done this year. 1) it gets me out of my *&&^%% head and into my body. 2) It makes me laugh; 3) It’s helped me make new friends; 4) I’ve proven to myself that I can do something outdoorsy without having a boyfriend, SUV or posse of friends who all do stuff together; 5) it’s cheaper than skiing; 6) for someone practicing celibacy, it’s the closest thing I know to having sex without a human being involved.  

I feel so grateful for learning to surf because it keeps me in touch with being alive. With my child-self. With my humanity. With God. 

Hands down. It was the smartest thing I did this year.

“It Is Finished…”

12 Dec

It seems a little sacrilegious to title a blog post after the final words Jesus utters on the cross (as portrayed in the Gospel of John) but having just spent the week comparing and contrasting various pericopes, this phrase keeps ringing in my head. “It is finished.” What seems blasphemous to me is that I’m thinking of this sentence in conjunction with finals being done instead of in the context of the Gospels but then again, I’ve been thinking about the Gospels all week so maybe at this point, all my thoughts are merging – the sacred and the profane. 

All week long I whined about the stress of finals on Face Book, which also makes me feel guilty, as going to school is a privilege. It’s a gift from God to be able to study and to be on a scholarship. And historically, I like to study and feel relatively competent in my intellectual skills. Why then was this such a big deal? Big enough to broadcast it to distant friends on Face Book? 

You know I’m not really certain. Albeit, the program is demanding and I currently have some excellent teachers who don’t want people coasting through. But I’m not a “coaster” kind of person. So just what has been the challenge? Is it that that the material is such new terrain to me and requires a ton of background knowledge in history, theology and language? Is it that I’m forty and that early alzheimer’s is setting in? Or, is it that I’m working while going to school? While these are all definitely factors, I think it is bigger than that. For some reason, the stakes feel higher with this degree than my first masters and the sense of the unknown looms deeper. This is bringing me to an encounter with God whereas psychology led me to an encounter with the self and other. But God? That is so terrifying, amazing, scary and wonderful.

So, no. I’m not really finished. I have so long to go. Whether I only do this year of school or finish out the entire degree. There is so much to learn – to know – to be humbled about – when it comes to learning about God and developing a relationship with Him both intellectually and spiritually.  

But how I look forward to reading the Gospels for fun! It will be a whole new experience after tearing them apart thematically, historically and structurally and after decoding some of its phrases in Greek. How nice to just read and be with God!

Have Seen a Great Light

7 Dec

When I lived in New York City in my late twenties, I experienced something that can only be categorized as the dark night of the soul. I was engaged in an intense form of experiential therapy that brought up a level of existential pain so deep I thought I’d sink in quick sand and never surface again. That I endured it without drugs, acting out, or a hospitalization of some sort or other, is a true miracle of God and maybe a sign that I’m actually pretty resilient and strong. But it was pretty rough.

As we know with war veterans, post-traumatic stress disorder often manifests itself with hyper-vigilance and hyper-sensitivity. Trauma survivors can be highly sensitive to noise, crowds and sensory overload. During this period when I was raw from my own trauma healing, my nerves often couldn’t take the insanity that is NYC – cars honking, people shoving and crowding in the subway and pedestrians moving as fast as marathon runners on the sidewalks. To save myself from having meltdowns in the middle of the big apple, churches became a refuge for in NYC, churches stay open throughout the day instead of locking up when services aren’t being held. There were a few particularly beautiful churches on the upper west side that I would pop into. There I would sit quietly in a pew while I watched people pray, walk the stations of the cross and light candles. It was deeply healing and sometimes I would cry.

At the time, I didn’t have a relationship with Jesus Christ so I would stare up at the cross and ponder what I knew of him from childhood Catechism. I had never understood the crucifixion, but suddenly, at that particular juncture in my life, I had an idea. I was at a point when I faced the realization that life hadn’t dealt me the best cards. They’d dealt me some very good ones; but some crummy ones too. And yet I felt life calling me to surrender and love despite what I didn’t get and what I couldn’t have. I was being asked to take up a cross. To suffer and somehow find a smile. I instinctually knew that if my bitterness congealed to hatred (which it was slowly moving towards), my heart would petrify and I would become as lonely, lost and ugly as the Wicked Witch of the West. I also knew that if I really loved the person my heart loved, I had to love unconditionally – love and not expect anything in return. Let someone else have the person I loved most dearly in the world. Somehow with a smile on my face; with grace through my tears. And somehow that was the first time I began to think and become curious about Jesus. Because Jesus suffered and didn’t retaliate. Didn’t rage. But loved more deeply. A love that was profound.

That I have darkness within me to the depth that I do mind boggles me sometimes given that I was a “good girl” child. And to this day, have far more good in me than bad. But the “good girl” was a mask; a parental expectation and a childhood eagerness to please. Underneath that, is deep hurt, rage and woundedness. A hurt animal primed to lash out and snarl. Because I know that place in myself intimately, it allows me to work with others who have it too. People often far more damaged and under spiritual attack than I can fathom. Most days, I don’t feel this place within myself. I have a pretty bright spirit and disposition but when I do, it’s bad.

So in this season of light and dark – it would make sense that I’m suddenly acutely aware of both. Cycling through the dark- and then just when I think I can’t take it anymore, I feel God as the only Light and presence who can redeem me.

When I look out at the night and see Christmas lights, I am reminded that the woman in darkness has seen a Great Light. Seen a great light.