Archive | April, 2010

In Memoriam

27 Apr

I am in the process of marketing and preparing to facilitate a twelve hour seminar called “Mental Health First Aid.” MHFA is a curriculum sponsored by the National Council for Community Mental Health in Washington D.C. The program originated in Australia and is now being taught all over the world. It is designed to teach the general public how to identify and respond to a developing mental health crisis or issue and to help individuals get the professional help they might need. It also strives to de-stigmatize mental illness. The curriculum is being taught to teachers, parents, pastors, policeman, students and the public at large with the hope that the program will eventually become as common as CPR and First Aid. The aim of the program is to save and improve the quality of people’s lives.

Now I’m a therapist so presenting on issues of psychosis, depression, anxiety, substance abuse and eating disorders is not anything new. But what makes this program unique for me is that it is for the general public. I am not teaching clinicians perse and that takes it out of the realm of the institution of psychiatric care and into the realm where mental illness lives – in our communities amongst our family and friends. I know this world very well having had a mother complete suicide and a father destroy his law career with drug abuse. 

Moving towards presenting this workshop has been an interesting emotional process for me. It falls in the month of Mother’s day and right after the anniversary of my dad’s death. I also have a story about my mom’s death being published soon in a book called “Think Outside the Cell.” (Mental illness resulted in my mom being incarcerated – thus the connection to material centering on inmate’s experiences and those of their families).

To get the workshop off the ground has required phone calls and emails, equipment checks and food orders. A press release and photo copying. At a time when I’m overloaded with work and school. The process has reminded me of the planning for my mom’s memorial service. When I got the call from the police and suddenly found myself flying solo dealing with death arrangements. I had to talk to the mortuary, ID the body and sign death certificates. Talk to the church and arrange a memorial service. Call relatives, pick songs, draft programs, coordinate family members’ flight itineraries and order flowers. Yes, friends helped me enormously. But it was my gig. I put on a party for my mom. To honor my mom.

And Mental Health First Aid is my gig. It is one way to honor my mom. It is a way to go public. And a way to educate the public and to save lives. Before there needs to be a memorial service for someone else’s mom.

*If interested in attending, post to the blog and your email address will come to me.

Blind But Now I See

25 Apr

While sitting in class today discussing the nuances of the historical Jesus juxtaposed with representations of him found in the Gospels, the evolution of the church and contemporary culture, I was struck when the professor broke from his scholarly stance and said that in the end, no matter how much one splits hairs over what did or didn’t happen, what Jesus did or didn’t say, affirmation of Jesus’ resurrection for him comes down to personal testimony. Speaking and referring to his own reality (versus someone else’s), he remarked, “For me, I know Jesus Christ resurrected because I was blind and now I see. I was a boy from a broken, alcoholic and abusive home. I entered a church and discovered something beyond my imagination – the kindness I saw wasn’t of humanity – it came from God. For God works through humanity. I saw there was a different way and this way was through God’s redemptive grace.”

To someone who has not experienced this phenomenon, this might sound totally bizarre and terribly naive but at the end of the day, I agree that no amount of scholarly discourse (as important as it is) can convey the truth of Christ so much as the experience of love through Christ. For I know exactly what this man was saying because I too experienced it when suddenly, after years of dabbling in many world religions including Christianity, I suddenly felt broken open by Christ’s love. Quoting Camus, “In the heart of winter, I found an invincible summer.” Something pierced through the boundaries around my heart while He picked me up from off the ground and took me in His arms. I wasn’t the same afterwards. 

Because of the intensity of my experience, I feel no need to defend it. However, I do not feel it is my place to tell someone else what to think, feel or believe, particularly when it comes to perceptions of God. I have no idea of how God works in individual lives other than mine but feel He loves us all – no matter what religious creed, race, gender or sexual orientation. I can only speak my testimony and in that, perhaps someone else will also be touched with the same gift of grace, relief and love that transforms the ugliness in the world into hope and faith for something beyond it. But this is such a complex, mysterious process, I don’t know if it is my place to evangelize other than through what I can say about my experience. At this point, all I know is that I was blind and now I see. And although I still feel pain and struggle, my vision is in technicolor. And that is a miracle worth celebrating and devoting my life to.

Grief Cometh In The Morning

20 Apr

There is psalm that says “joy cometh in the morning” and thankfully, after bouts of grief we usually do get a respite. But for those of us well acquainted with grief, sometimes “grief cometh in the morning” too. Profound grief becomes part of the landscape of our lives – distinct and tangible and not something that can be easily bull dozed or blasted away. I was reminded of this as I felt grief materialize this morning – creeping up on me like a dog following me home from a walk. Eventually, I had to acknowledge its presence. 

Grief is never what I would call pleasant and rarely is it convenient. It grinds everything to a halt like when a subway car breaks down.

Last night I was reading a book where the author recounted the story of finding a homeless man dead in front of his non-profit agency. He spoke of the sad irony of this. As I read, I felt a jab of pain in my stomach as I made the connection between what I was reading and my own life. As I made the connection that my mom was also found dead on a street. So I pushed the pain down. But not really for the feelings are always there. In the jaw. In the shoulders. In the hips. Emotional pain turning to physical pain until the breath releases it from the anguish of suppression.

So will the public remember this aspect of grief long after the news reports of Chelsea King and Amber Dubois’ deaths have stopped running on the nightly news? Do we as a society understand grief or prefer to get caught in the surface level of it? For as I sit in my grief, knowing I’ll deal with my mom’s suicide for the rest of my life, I realize the parents of those girls will be dealing with the homicides of their daughters for the rest of theirs. Grief will be part of their internal landscape. Written on their bodies. And for that I am sorry. 

The Art of Surrender

13 Apr

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of surrender – what it means physically, spiritually and creatively. It seems I’m not the only one. A number of people I know are wrestling with this issue as well.

Animals and children seem to have surrender down pat. One look at my cats konked out on the couch informs me they have no problem letting go, the same as kids who in a game of make believe master being present, fully surrendered to their joy.

I understand a fair bit about surrender of the body. I know how the breath allows the muscles to soften; how a smile relaxes the face and laughter releases built up tension. I also know the more an artist (or athlete for that matter) becomes one with the act of creating instead of striving for a result, the more aesthetic and authentic the expression.

But what does it mean to surrender spiritually? 

Turns out is isn’t quite what I thought. For many years, I thought to surrender spiritually was to “let go and let God.” To not only trust Him explicitly but also to be relaxed and in balance. 

I realize the concept of balance is a sham. It’s impossible. As humans, we’re always vacillating between poles of tension like a teeter-toter. While it’s important to strive for balance, we never 100% arrive at it. Instead we juggle the dimensions of reason and emotion, rest and activity, order and chaos as expertly as we can but knowing that sometimes a ball will fall and we’ll have to pick up and start all over again.

But how do we find a sense of ease as we navigate the road between surrender and will? And how do we listen to God’s call to duty in our lives without getting too freaked out? How do we do what we need to do, meeting challenges and sustaining growth while also trusting that He will not let us fall flat on our faces from either failure or exhaustion or both? 

I was talking with a good friend of mine the other night about this for both of us have a tendency to be a little agro. That’s our terminology for being a little over-zealous and intense in our passions and expectations of ourselves. Discipline isn’t really our problem yet sometimes because we’re this way, we don’t completely rise to our full potential (or God’s calling) out of fear, depletion or procrastination.  

I know for a fact that God is calling me to stretch myself – to be a disciple – which requires discipline. But I also know God doesn’t want me to be agro or to have a nervous break down in the process. He wants me to marry surrender with action; to embody his Source moment by moment whether that is the demands of work tasks or in the slower rhythms of domestic life and quiet time. But I haven’t quite figured this one out yet. Because ultimately, my faith isn’t mature enough yet. I don’t know how to fall at His feet or to breathe in ecstasy when I’m scared, over-worked or multi-tasking.

This is an art form and I the apprentice. He the Master.

Risen From the Dead

3 Apr

I am up at a hideously early hour partly because I need to be up early today but mostly because my psyche awakens me when I’m in process. So at 4:00 am this morning – I opened my eyes and thought of death and resurrection. I thought of Jesus’ empty tomb and my mother’s memorial service. I thought of the fact that I will be in Easter services this morning and that in years past my mother took me to Easter services, along with making me Easter baskets and attiring me in pretty dresses for the occasion.

I suppose it makes complete sense that I would have an image of a tomb seared upon my brain first thing this morning. The mind catalogues the daily images it records, filtering through them and yesterday in service rehearsals I saw a film 3x that pans in on a tomb and watched women dance at the tomb 7+ times. I also did Mary’s voice in the film and then join the women in the dance. So, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to track the flow of my thoughts. Yet nonetheless, I’m surprised at how palpable death and resurrection feel to me this morning. 

For anyone who has lost a parent or significant loved one, we know that grief is a weird animal – coming and going at odd and unexpected intervals. And so this morning, I felt a deep twinge of sadness thinking of my mother’s love for me and the care she took to select Nancy Drew books for my Easter baskets and little gadgets that she’d knew I’d love. She almost always would include something religious in my basket – a cross necklace or a prayer book. 

Oddly, in my odd logic, I equate my mom’s suicide with Christ’s death and resurrection. Christ laid down his life so that others could live. My mom, knowing her mental illness was literally my cross – my burden – partly took her life so that I could finally be free. Her death wish – written to me – was that I be released from the toll of her depression and mental illness and that she too have relief.

On Good Friday, my pastor said, “It’s odd that Good Friday is called ‘good’ yet it is because we know the rest of the story. We know that Christ resurrects and we know that he died in an extravagant act of love for us.” Bizarrely, I feel similarly about my mom’s death. It wasn’t “good” yet I know the rest of the story. When people hear that my mom committed suicide, they think it’s awful and yes – it was awful. And when I let myself go there, thinking about how she died and the amount of tragedy building up to it, the grief is so intense I collapse under the weight of it . But, the flip side of this is that I know the rest of the story. In the very depth of my cells, I know she resurrects. I know Christ was there to meet her on the other side taking her burdens. For did he not say, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30.

And has not my life utterly transformed since her death and since my finding Christ? For I too have died and have resurrected. Nothing in my life is the same since finding Jesus. This sounds so cliche – so ludicrous and yet is so profound and so glorious. My life has transformed from the inner chaos and torture of fear, anger, anxiety, resentment and grief to one of hope and joy. True, much of this transformation has occurred because I no longer have the burden of either of my parents’ issues and mental illnesses and because I have done my time. I have paid my dues. But verily I say to you – I am not the same because of Christ. I have hope where there was only darkness. 

So on this Easter morning, I contemplate death and resurrection on many different levels and I rejoice. Yes, everything is different.

Lise’s Art

1 Apr

A colleague of mine photographed a bunch of my artwork done over the last twenty some odd years so that I could archive it. I’d thought I’d share a few images and write more about the role of art in my life later.