Thursday, December 23, 2010

I'll Meet You in the Field

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there.” ~Jalal ad-Din Rumi

Somehow I know that it's there in that field that I'll find the Tree of Life that Adam and Eve felt "driven away from." The "good" and the "bad" sorting system will collapse and it will just To imagine the sort of love and connections we could have without that sorting system governing us is stunning. THAT, to me, would be "heaven." To not need to have sorting words in our vocabulary but to instead show ourselves as we truly are and see the beautiful truth of everyone else. And then to simply love one another. That would be home.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

On a Sunday in '81

Red velvety pew seats that aren't as soft as they look
11 o'clock sun hesitantly shining through dirty stained glass windows
Heads all around me - curly, grey, short, long, brown, straight, blonde - bowed.
Pastor's soft but loud voice in the microphone murmurs
Then lifts and falls
Falls and then lifts

And then
Like a transistor radio my four-year-old ears suddenly tune in words and phrases
"...cast into burning hell"
"...a place prepared for the devil and his angels"
"...eternal separation from God"
"...those who are saved will be ushered into glory"
"...they will be with God"
Some words fall to the ground, incomprehensible
Others stick to the lobes of my brain
Where cement is quickly poured
Grey matter will eventually learn to skip agiley over those spots without even looking down

Many more words later
Many more pages later
Many more wordless cries later
Many more appeals through ragged sobs later
Many shouts into empty rooms later
Many more thoughts locked away before they can become words later...

A door opens
Fingers pick at lobes grown around cemented old words
They dig deep
Pain in core of my being
Blood - so much blood
And then the cement is finally removed - all but a crusty film
And I am broken
So broken

Bandage up, or try to
And then the angry voices
A few sad voices
They are angry about my bandaged wound
Or more accurately, bloody pieces of cement cast aside
You can't do that, they say
But it's done, I say
There's no putting that back
That's done
That's over
That's through
They leave - for now
And then
Aching, crawling, relentless pain
I can hear my own groaning in my ears
It's your own fault, they say over their shoulders
They keep walking

Pain knocks me over
I fall in the discarded shards of broken, bloody cement
That cut my knees
That try to enter through my hands
But I roll away
Into the shadows
My own voice in my ears -
Someday wounds will heal (whispered)
Someday wounds will heal? (voice breaks into splinters as it falls like a glass into a sink)
Someday wounds will heal
And then?
Learning to think around and through
Scar tissue

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Why I'm Never Making Another To-Do List Ever Again

I hate "to-do"Lists.

I always have.

And yet I make them.

I always have.

I guess I just keep thinking that one day I will check every last thing off that list. And when I imagine how that will feel...well it goes something like this....

One day I will get up, ready to rock, my to-do list in hand, and will one by one, check every single task off the list. When I've checked off the last task and my work is done, I will feel a sense of accomplishment and the license to put my feet up, breathe in the sweet scent of cleaning supplies filling the house, have a slice of the delicious freshly-baked chocolate cake that of course popped out of the oven exactly on cue, the moment I finished my "to-do's." And which I can eat without guilt since I of course ran 6 miles that day. was on my to-do list. I will push my perfectly-styled hair out of my face, since of course showering and primping was part of my to-do list, right after that run. I will take a sip of my coffee. And I will just. Breathe.

This is the kind of idiotic, idealistic and impossible thinking that prompts me make to-do lists that I never DO. And you don't have to tell me this all adds up my being a "type A"/obsessive compulsive nutcase. I'm well aware.

What always happens is I check a few off and then the sheer number of things still remaining overwhelms me and I end up rebelling against my own to-do list! Then I feel like I'm a loser at everything: Loser Mama, Loser Friend, Loser Writer, Loser Blogger, Loser Editor, Loser Ship-You-the-Stuff-You-Ordered-From-Me, etc. I feel frustrated with myself and can't even feel good about the stuff I DID get done.

It's really awful. Except that I really like writing with my favorite Sharpie Extra Fine pens. Like...a lot.

But anyway...
I think I get LESS done when I have an exhaustive to-do list with dozens of items than if I just get through the day doing what I can, when I can.

So today I tried something new.

Instead of writing tons of tasks I am quite aware need doing and would do, without the to-do list (dishes, countertops, moving laundry through, picking up the morning mess the kids left behind, etc.), I wrote down names.

Yes. Names. Four names to be exact.

Two were friends. One was a writer I'm working with. One was my 4-year-old.

All four people were people with needs I specifically wanted to address today. I could have made a list of individual tasks related to those names that would have overwhelmed and probably shut me down. But somehow four names on a paper, all four whom I like a great deal, felt do-able. I hoped.

And it worked!

It kind of surprised me! There were unexpected phone calls, interruptions I hadn't anticipated, additional tasks I'd not counted on that presented themselves, pink applesauce I hadn't planned on finding smashed into my rug, but I took them in stride because they didn't block me from dealing with the four people on my list.

I texted one friend. I emailed the other friend and then worked on some art stuff she and I are collaborating on. I talked to the writer on the phone, re-read some writing he did and then emailed him some follow-up thoughts. And I purposely spent time just sitting and scratching my son's back, listening to him talk about Thomas the Train and who has "passenger cars" versus who doesn't.

And I feel...strangely peaceful.

My hair is not done. I never put make-up on. But I didn't go anywhere and James thinks it's cute when my hair is all crazy! I didn't push "enough" laundry through. But there are four people who I loved, connected with, took care of, reached out to, helped, encouraged and gave my best.

And it feels so great. And I'm going to keep doing this, as long as it continues to work. No more To-Do lists for me! I'm going to make People Lists.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

What My Grief & Benjamin Button Have in Common

I was talking to a friend who is going through a very painful time…her whole life is seemingly turning upside down…and inside out. Tears flowed down my cheeks as I listened to her heart breaking.

I’ve been thinking about where my tears came from. I don’t always cry when others share their pain, even when I am close to them. I realized that as she described the dreams that are lying in shards around her feet, she was speaking words that have come out of my mouth, too. And some that haven’t.

After listening to her talk about the depth of her pain, I began thinking about how much I hope she can accept whatever the shape her pain takes and not to worry if she is "grieving right."

The image that came into my mind was of a newborn baby, all swaddled up. The shape of her pain. No matter how ugly, deformed, loud, demanding, fussy or weak a baby is, there is something in us that rushes forth, without our even having to tell ourselves to do so, and cradles a baby. Babies are innocent, helpless and simply NEED. They don’t have anything to give back. And yet, we would protect and comfort a baby, whether it was our baby or someone else's, whether it had years of life ahead or mere moments.

As I imagined my friend’s grief as a little life, in need of love and nurturance, I had to ask myself why I didn’t feel a similar compassion for the shape my own grief has taken. In my own life, even when I’m in the darkest of places, I tend to care far more about what I'm "supposed to" do, how it's "supposed to" be, instead of simply “tending to” myself with the compassion I feel toward my friend today. Why is that?

Months ago I saw “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and I remember when they showed the baby’s face I felt simultaneous disgust and compassion, right along with the woman in the film who would later become his “mother.” She couldn’t help herself.

When I approach my own grief and pull the blanket back from around its face, I see a monster that I’d rather drop off on a doorstep the way Benjamin’s father did in the movie. My grief shouldn’t be here, my mind tells me. My grief has no place here. It’s my fault that I feel the loss that I feel. If I hadn’t made the choices I made I wouldn’t have the burden of this ugly, misshapen grief to carry around my life.

After all, my grief is illegitimate. It shames me every time it fills my heart and mind. Every time the feelings of loss, sadness or pain come, there is the inevitable shame right behind them. If I show this grief to someone else, to try and receive some empathy or comfort, I am met with more judgment, more rejection and more shame. So I hide it.

This ugly child that is my grief was one born out of sin, I’m told. I fucked up and this is the illegitimate result of my mistakes. Basically I’m told, I deserve this pain. I deserve this grief. This grief is what I GET for sinning. It doesn’t matter why I sinned. It doesn’t matter how bad the pain was or what had been done to me. It doesn’t matter. The point is, I sinned. That’s what matters, everyone seems to think.

It seems that if my grief had been born out of something besides my sin, I’d have the right to the comfort, empathy and compassion of others I long for. I’d be held. I’d be patted. I’d be hugged. I’d be kissed. I’d be fawned over. I’d be loved. “I’m so sorry you are going through this pain,” they’d say, softly, concerned that even the tone of their voice would go even a little way to ease my pain.

But this…this ugly grief…this grief that is my own fault…it is my just punishment. I must endure it, and how dare I complain.

Not only that, this grief is the kind I should learn to keep to myself. No one wants to hear about it. In fact, I should pretend not to feel it. When it threatens to swallow me up, I should choke it down. I should eat it until I am sick, and only spit out the bones when no one is watching. How dare I offend the sensibilities of others by allowing them to see this hideous spawn of my sinful acts?

No, I do not love or accept the shape of my grief. How can I, when no one else does? There is no lap for me to sob on. There are no arms to hold me up when the grief knocks me to the floor. There are no ears to hear the ragged sobs.

So I pick up my ugly, squalling, illegitimate grief and cover it. I want to smother it, but then I know it would live on inside of me. So I wrap it up, put a finger in its mouth to soothe its screams, hold it close and sneak quickly and silently into the night.

Friday, December 10, 2010

What makes you feel loved? Besides gifts of cash and comments about your smokin' hot body?

I was having a conversation with a friend and I found myself trying to explain the difference between "knowing" I am loved (like..."I know my therapist loves me because she doesn't cancel my sessions and only occasionally suggests that I might try coming only once per week and see how it goes") and "feeling" loved ("You know I can sometimes have a potty-mouth and use more toilet paper than anyone you have ever known or heard of, but you still love me").

It got me thinking. The differences aren't simply shades of intellectual understanding. I can actually pin-point behaviors and actions that, when someone points them in my direction, make me FEEL loved. This is mostly g-rated, so please don't treat this as an exhaustive list:

Some things that make me feel loved:

-Having some of my "responsibilities" lifted off my sore shoulders and taken care of for me. Stuff like, "No, no, no...STOP RIGHT THERE...drop that sponge and remove yourself from this kitchen IMMEDIATELY. And get the hell out of here and take this glass of Muscato wine with you! Acutally, take the bottle! And when I come in the studio to check on you, half that bottle better be gone, young lady!" That's just an example, of course.

-Back/neck rubs. I have a lot of discomfort and carry tension there. I'm a 33-year-old woman with one of those ugly blue heating pads lying around my house like old people have. This is serious. I'm contemplating the purchase of Epsom Salts.

-When someone says, "This reminded me of you," especially when it's something I didn't know anyone else knew I liked/would appreciate. A beautiful diamond necklace. Anything from the "Victorian Trading Co." catalog, especially that one thing on page 10. The entire season of The Office on DVD. A case of that nectar of the gods, Peppermint Mocha Coffee Mate creamer.That kind of thing.
-Compliments. Stuff like, "You're the hottest woman in the whole world" or "I'm aghast at the sheer genius of your deep, pentrating and fucking-awesome prose." You know...simple, sincere stuff, from the heart. (o.k. I guess it's not totally a g-rated list...sorry)
-Little reminders someone is thinking about me...a simple text, an email, link to a special song on youtube, notes, large cash gifts, etc.
-Surprises. Not like a surprise party! I don't like those. In fact, I might run out crying if you try to give me one. But a pre-planned evening that I don't know about, a surprise trip, a gift I don't know about or a dress picked out with me in mind (maybe at, say...Black and White Market...if anyone wants to know).
But know what all that means to me?

-The other person wants to know me and when they find something new about me, they mirror it back to me verbally (feeling SEEN).
-The other person knows all of me, including my mistakes, and they look past them to the real me they know me to be (in practice: they don't define me by my mistakes)

-They "rush toward me," leaving the "half-way point" way behind, even when I am in so much pain that all I can do is curl up in a ball. They "come and get me."

-They delight in my personal growth. They don't freak out when I change. They want for me to be an authentic person MORE than they want me to make them feel a certain way or agree with them.

-When I am in pain or experiencing some other strong emotion, the other person is visibly "moved" and can't help but respond and/or take action. This means I don't feel like my feelings (pain, passion, sadness, joy, etc.) happen in a vacuum. I am SEEN, and because I am SEEN, the other is MOVED. And they make sure I know it.
So how about you? What makes you feel loved?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

"I Want To Be Seen with a Fresh Pair of Eyes"


"'Cause I want to be seen
With a fresh pair of eyes
The single white tree
In a black hood of disguise

I want, I want to be seen
With a fresh pair of eyes
The single, the single white tree
In a black hood of disguise

I miss God, I miss God
I miss God, I miss God"


Why does this touch something so deep? The Christians who love me might be hoping "I miss God" means I'm coming back into the fold (knowing smile/wink/the "I'm sorry!" look on my face) but alas, that's not it at all. Sorry guys. :)

So why does this strike something so deep inside of me. Well, I think, after some reflection it means:

I miss...

something I don't know if I've ever felt before, yet somehow I know what it is.

I want...

"to be seen with a fresh pair of eyes."

Which means...I think...

seeing myself in a way I never have.

Which can be summarized in one word:


I don't know (when I'm honest)....

If that's because I am not "enough" or because I can't see myself.

There. I said it. And not because I want a response. In fact, comments are closed on this one.

You see, if I've learned anything, it's that depending on the opinion of someone else...the approval of someone give me value

Perhaps that sounds like it comes from a jaded, callous heart.

That's because it does. But the real me...the one that KNOWS...knows that it's not just that.

My knowing says there's a deeper truth there, under the pain.

Somehow I got to age 33 (o.k. almost 34) with the mistaken belief that I need to be seen, understood and then loved by someone else in order to be "enough." I have walked around thinking that until someone really sees ME, really GETS ME, and looks at me, warts and all, and says, "Cheryl, you are are everything I have ever wanted...," that I'm...well....NOT enough. If you want to read about how MUCH I've wanted this, you can find it here, here and here.

That so doesn't work.

I could write a book (and probably will) about how I figured this out. But you probably already know the story, because really, when we look at it deep enough, beyond the unique details of one person's life, it's a very HUMAN story.

That story is simply this:

I am more than other people say that I am.

And...this one's the hardest to really "get:"

I am more than I say that I am.

That's where the "Fresh Pair of Eyes" comes in.

A friend sent me a link to this absolutely amazing video that simply must be watched, and watched to the very end. 

Here's the big "a-ha" moment for me in this: 
"When we work from a place that says, 'I am enough,' we stop screaming and we start listening." (Brene Brown)

For me that means that maybe, just maybe, if I can stop looking to others to define my value, I can "un-curl" out of the little ball of pain I've been in for so long, I can really SEE me. And maybe...just maybe...see myself as "enough."

And today I realize...<Tears> I realize....

That what I really long for is not someone else to tell me I am enough, but to really believe I am enough. I can't wait any longer to hear someone else say that. And what if they change their minds? There's the rub. So I realize it's going to have be my own voice saying, "You are enough." And somehow I'm going to have to learn to believe it.

I'm so not there.

Normally I wouldn't write about this if I didn't have this down. But hey...I'm trying some new stuff.

So I guess what I really want...

underneath all the pain...

Is not to "be seen by a fresh pair of eyes,"

But to see MYSELF with a fresh pair of eyes.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Put down the pooper scooper: I'm not shit and you aren't, either!

I was interacting with Ron Hollenbach on Twitter and in my effort to explain why I take issue with this post by Fleming Rutledge about Advent, I ended up realizing something pretty big for me.

Fleming Rutledge wrote, "When a culture of impunity is present human beings become bestial toward one another~that’s not an opinion; that’s a fact." She goes on to say, "Imagine a world without judgment. That’s impunity," and to basically imply that without impunity we'd all be doing atrocious acts of violence.

I just don't buy it. As I was trying to put this into words, I ended up tweeting,

"The problem is not our hearts; Our hearts are the solution."

And then I had that sensation that you get when you have one of those rare but wonderful "a-ha!" moments. The heavens open up. The hallelujah chorus. Rays of sunshine. The whole nine yards.

O.k. so maybe your thought is, "Duh..."

Or maybe it just feels so freaking-super-duper-significant in my funny little mind because of its uniquely goofy wiring and idiosyncrasies. And genius, of course. haha.

But either way, it's really, really BIG for me!

See...I grew up thinking...hang comes a caveat... 

(not because anyone intended to teach me this...I need to preface these "I grew up" statements because I am fully aware my own kids will grow up and say, "I grew up..." and I will say, "What the HELL??? That's the opposite of what I was saying, you dodo-head!" or something along those lines)

I grew up thinking that without Jesus' death, which covered over my sins and allowed him to come into my life in the form of the Holy Spirit, I was pretty much...well...SHIT. To put it simply.

Yes. I was shit. And there I was all stinky and nasty and needing to be picked up with a pooper-scooper and flung straight into...well...HELL.

But Jesus strong-armed the pooper-scooper out of God's hands, calmed him down (he really despises poop, you know, and was always itching to pitch me and all the other shit in the place he specifically, intentionally designed for shit since the beginning of know...he made us...then made a place to torture us...totally logical) and threw himself on the cross. When he died there, then came back to life, now God looked at me and Or at least less stinky poop. Depends on the particular brand of theology you subscribe to. But anyway, I wasn't just plain old poop anymore.


And oh, that's a big "if." IF...I agreed with God, "Yes, God, I am stinky shit and I deserved to be thrown into hell, but thank you for sending Jesus to wrestle the pooper-scooper out of your hands and die on the cross so that you could get those awesome rose-colored glasses you wear now when you look at me."

You see, depending on what church it was, what pastor it was, or how well my ears had been cleaned (you never know where these ideas come from), I vacillated between thinking that God super-glued those rose-colored glasses on his face OR that I had been reconstituted from stinky shit into something different...pretty flowers, let's say. It was usually a funny melding of the two.

Either way, I was stinky shit without God. Either way, I was on the way to hell with all the other stinky shit, until Jesus saved me. And either way, now, on this side of agreeing to all the right things, I'm going to heaven when I die and I'm now capable of maybe possibly doing some good because now God is in me in the form of the Holy Spirit.

But here's the problem I've always had with this idea. That means, if you aren't a Christian, YOU, my lovely bloggy friend, are stinky shit. It's easy to think Sadaam Hussein is stinky shit or the guys raping women in Zimbabwe in the Advent post I am reacting to are stinky shit. But what about....your friend? Your spouse? The lovely, caring man at the nursing home who doesn't have to visit your elderly mother every day, but does anyway...who it turns out is Buddhist? The sweetest angel of a kindergarten teacher who it turns out is an atheist? And what do you do when Stinky-Shit-Atheist-Lady is nicer than you? Or what do you do when you find out your pastor was molesting little boys?

So this has been a really big problem for me. I just don't buy that we are all "desperately wicked," "evil" bastards that, given the opportunity, if no one were watching, would rape, kill, steal, maim and destroy everyone else.

But then people get raped, killed, stolen from, maimed and destroyed by people who it is way easier to just agree are "Stinky Shit." It's much more convenient to believe that if they just accepted the free gift of salvation through Jesus, they would stop being Stinky Shit. It's a lot easier to think that their problem is being HUMAN.

But I'm human. And I don't rape or kill. Guess what? I just checked really thoroughly in my heart and...surprise! I don't even WANT to rape or kill! And here's the inconvenient truth...brace yourself...

I'm not a Christian.

So what to do now?

I'm being all snarky and sarcastic, but now I'm going to stop, sit down and let the tears flow.

Yes. Tears.

How many years did I waste not feeling good enough? How many years did I waste feeling guilty because I clearly wasn't fully surrendered to Jesus if I wanted to make out with my boyfriend? How many years did I spend begging God to take all of me and reconstitute every little cell of me, no matter how long it took, or how painful it was, into who he wanted me to be?

My chest aches thinking about it. Why?

Because I was already who he wanted me to be.

Oh my that hurts.

So today, when I was finally able to say,

"The problem is not our hearts; Our hearts are the solution,"

It felt AMAZING. There it was. All simple and shiny and right.

The truth. What I've been trying to say. What my knowing inside has whispered my whole life.

It's not a removing of my shittiness.
It's not a reconstituting of my humanity.
It's not a covering up of God's eyes so he doesn't see the reality of my shittiness.
It's not a big giant holy fix-up job.

It's a looking into our hearts and finding...oh my goodness...LOVE.

It's looking into our hearts and NOT finding nasty black shit all over. It doesn't mean that we're perfect. It just means the "answer" is that our hearts are good, and the solution to EVERYTHING is already there.

It's a falling back into. It's a laying back in. It's a turning my head toward what I always desired anyway.

It's a, "It was there all along!"
It's a, "I knew it."
It's a, "I've always known it."

And then I can turn to YOU, because I know you are not stinky shit at all, I can look deep into your eyes and I can say,

"You are good. You are very, very good."