En Route

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It was a day like many others — crisp air, bright sun, and an after-school schedule that needed to be planned with the precision of a Navy SEALs team if it have any chance of success.

It hadn’t, and so it didn’t.

We were en route to a soccer game, except that we couldn’t seem to get ourselves en route.  The kids were in the van, and we were ready to go.  Mostly.  I kept running back into the house to get things I’d forgotten – lawn chair, snacks, arctic-rated jacket and boots.

We even made it to the end of the driveway once, until the OCD voices wondered if I’d left my hair straightener on.

Finally we were on our way.  I looked out the window and noticed a flock of Canada Geese flying north. North? In fall? Thinking out loud I said, “Why would those guys be heading NORTH at this time of year?”

The quick and only half-amused reply from the back seat was, “Maybe their MOM forgot something… “  Heh.

Okay, a little background here.   One – my kids make me laugh, so much. They’re so clever.  Those kinds of cracks, while generally at my expense, speak love to me.

B – I’m pretty good at some things: I can name a lot of 80’s rock songs in less than 5 seconds. I can power nap in 11 minutes.   And while I don’t really like cooking, I make a pretty amazing peach pie.

iii – In a lot of the non-essentials (aka not pie), I’m pretty scatterbrained and disorganized.  I forget things.  I’m not a great planner.  I don’t put any of this on my resume, of course…

I fly by the seat of my pants. When people talk about events in the far-distant future (ie later that week), I find myself not even listening.  Because what would I do with that kind of unrelated information?

So what happens when you throw my kind of personality together with the kind of personality who plans?  Someone who plans and organizes and just seems to be more comfortable that way?

When you put these personalities together, there can be, ummm…. tension.

For most of my life, I thought that there was really only one way to do things. That there is always a right way and a wrong way. That all conflicts must have a winner and a loser.  That everything is black and white.

I’ve gotten (ahem) older, and life has happened, and I’ve gotten to know more people — people who are different from me.  And as I hear their stories, it seems that very few things (if any) are black and white.

I think I’m finally getting to the age where I know enough to know that I don’t know very much.  Too often it’s been the opposite.

I’m not saying there aren’t certainties.  But I am saying that I’m pretty sure I now have way less of them than I used to.  Especially regarding a path I’ve never walked. Or a pain I’ve never felt.  I’ve been wrong about this often enough that I’m starting to get the picture.

Before I had kids, I could look at a child and quickly diagnose any parenting failure.  Bad behaviour in the grocery store?  If these folks would just take their child by the hand, look them in the eye and gently but firmly say, “We do not write our names in spray-cheese before we’ve paid for it.”

The list of things I used to be an expert on is extensive.  (see Appendix A)  Ha.

Or maybe I’ve take a hard and clear stance on something my whole life.  And then a friend or family member is smack dab in the middle of it, and the answers don’t seem so simple anymore.

I have my own experiences.  And those are, in many ways, the only things I really know.  And they are valuable — to me and to others.  Just like others’ are to me, if I am willing to listen.

I like reading memoirs, hearing people’s stories.  We see their path, and we think, “That must be the right path.  That’s the right way to do it.”  But that was their path.  And it may have included many side roads, stumbles and rising again.  Some of which may even have been needed.

We connect to people who are real. Maybe connection is more valuable than finding a single right way.  Somehow we all need to walk our own path.  It’s how we grow, and it’s how we help others grow.

We can create space for that.  Maybe this is a good space to start.

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Experience [ikˈspirēəns] (verb)

I’m a bit of a kitchen gadget minimalist.  (Also a bit of a cooking minimalist.)  If a big bowl and spoon was good enough for my mom — it’s good enough for me.  And why would I spend hundreds of dollars on Upperware when it’s much less painful to bear the loss of a misplaced margarine container lid, or an ice cream pail that got left on the stove.

You only need two good knives — a chef’s knife and a paring knife.  Why would I spend money on a cleaver unless I’m filming a B-rated slasher pic.

But something opened my mind a little last week.  While everyone is raving about their Smart Pots (or whatever they’re called), I have just barely discovered the heaven that is a food processor.

Recently, I’ve been trying to eat cleaner, which means more vegetables.  Not a fan.  But I am a fan of soup.  Let’s be clear, I like eating soup — I don’t like making soup.  So. Much. Chopping.

DAYS of chopping turned into minutes of putting veggies through the slicer.  It did everything — carrots, onions, celery — even the potatoes.  Why do potatoes have to be in chunks, I says…  They can be in slices.  This was my tiny effort at sticking it to the man…

I didn’t know it could be like this.  My eyes are opened.   I can never go back.

It’s like that with a lot of things, once we’ve experienced them.

Much has been left out the experience part of my faith.  And maybe that’s unavoidable.  We’re asked to believe what they tell us, and for the most part ignore any kind of inner experience.  And heaven forbid we entertain any thought of mysticism.

Richard Rohr writes, “Now don’t let the word ‘mystic’ scare you.  It simply means one who has moved from mere belief systems or belonging systems to actual inner experience.  All spiritual traditions at their mature levels agree that such a movement is possible, desirable, and even available to everyone.”

Sometimes I think that religion not only didn’t teach us to think for ourselves, it specifically taught us to NOT think for ourselves.

I remember being in study groups, and we’d talk about why this or that bad thing happened, and it was neatly summed up as, “God broke my leg so that I could be a support for someone else who broke their leg.”

My petty, but practical (and horrified) little mind thought, “Well wouldn’t it just be simpler if the OTHER person didn’t break their leg either?”  Is it possible that maybe one shouldn’t be carrying three baskets of laundry down the stairs at a time?

Going through something hard and/or humbling can awaken a sense of compassion within us, for sure.  But isn’t that more of a handy by-product than a means to an end?  God is with us in our hardships (self-made or other), and through that we learn how to be with each other.

Fear-based motivation seems so damaging, and yet no one seemed to question it.  It just felt like, “If you go down this path, God will turn his back.  AT BEST.” 

There’s no room for conscious choice in that space — there’s only the wild flailing of panic.  There’s not much inner transformation — there’s only the desperate race towards outward propriety.

I once prayed, “God, what if this is as good as it gets?”  You know what came back?  A sense of, “I know.. It’ll be okay.”  I felt it.  I knew it.  It changed something for me.  In a big way.

What if we believed that God stuck by us, in our mess and confusion.  Didn’t turn His back.  Didn’t even look away.  Possibly rolled His eyes, saying, “I think this might end badly, but I’ll be here…”

Wouldn’t that affect how we cling to things?

Anne Lamott writes about the thorn in Paul’s side… “We don’t know if Paul was ever healed of his affliction.  I do know that being told I could keep my awfulness made holding on to it much less attractive…”   This is where real transformation can start.

As parents, we want our kids to be able to think for themselves.  We don’t want to be in constant battle about them launching their Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle off the roof.  But we might not replace it when it breaks.  And if we’re really on top of our game, we won’t nag them to death or give them the stink eye.  As parents, we’re seldom on top of our game.  But you know — in hindsight.

In the end, do we want our kids to live their lives based on fear of our disapproval?  Yes, of course we do.  I mean, no — no we don’t.

What if God isn’t hanging around with a giant smoting stick?  What if He’s more like a parent saying, “You won’t, CAN’T, be out of my grace.  I will never love you less.  Do your best.  The chips will fall how they do, and I will be with you.”

When I catch a glimpse of this is when I can finally think.  And isn’t that what we want for our kids?  To be able to think for themselves.  Trust their experiences.  Is God a more controlling and ego-centered parent than I am?

It’s one of those things, that once you see it you can’t unsee it.  And it has more impact in your life than anything anyone has ever told you to believe.

Or anything we’ve told ourselves to believe.  It takes some vulnerability to start to trust in your experience.  And there are pitfalls.  But maybe this is the path to wisdom.

Small Town

It was one of those moments that is marked in history.  A moment where other events are identified as as either before this moment, or after.  Our oldest child had purchased his first cell phone.  My inaugural text to him went something like this:

Me: Congrats on your new phone!! Now I can text you and know where you are ALL THE TIME!!

Kid:   Yeah. And you can see that I’ve read it, and that I’m ignoring you!!

Phooey.

Well that’s no problem. What my kids don’t know, is that moms have their own tracking system. And it dates back further than cell phones.  Yes kids, there was a time before cell phones.

When I was that age I didn’t have a mobile phone.  I didn’t even have a cordless phone.  I had a party line — and it’s not nearly as fun as it sounds.  The extent of my electronics was a Sony Walkman with blue foam headphones that was usually blasting the Footloose soundtrack or something by Duran Duran. But that didn’t stop my mom from knowing where I was. Or at least where I was not.

Somehow I thought I could get away with the age-old sleepover trick.  I told my mom I was at my friend’s place for night. She told her mom she was at mine. In fact we were both at another friend’s whose parents weren’t home at all.  As was about half our grade. All 6 of us. In a town of about 500.

We actually believed we’d get away with this.

We didn’t.  Our moms happened to run into each other, caught each other up on the shenanigans, and groundings ensued.  It was still worth it. *looks down and mutters under breath*

In 1985 John Cougar Mellencamp released a song called “Small Town”, and half of North America could relate.  The story goes that he wrote it hunkered down in the laundry room of his house, while they had company.  I guess you receive the words when they come to you.  And good thing he did — almost everyone over the age of 30 can still recognize it at the first chord.

He writes with an awareness of his small town mindset, or culture.  “All my friends are so small town..”  And he writes with contentment and fondness, “.. my bed is in a small town. Oh, that’s good enough for me..”

I’ve lived in or near a small town my whole life.  I’ve lived in this small town my whole life.  Some of us left, and created lives somewhere else.  Some of us left for a time, but found our way back.  And some, like me, just kind of stayed put.

I wonder why it’s different for each of us.  Sometimes I think it has less to do with love (or not) of small towns, than it does with who we are.  Some of us seemed born to fly, and seek out new things.  Some of us wanted an escape.  Some of us just never felt the pull.

I’ve never lived anywhere else.  I’ve never had a yearning to.  I’m not someone who has a big travel bug either.  I’m just kind of okay where I am.

Maybe it would be the same if I’d grown up in a city.  Maybe I would have stayed put there, and loved it.  I mean, I’d have to work-from-home, because traffic would bring out all kinds of ugly in me.  When I want to drive somewhere, I want to move.  Pronto.

I love living in a small town — the quiet, the familiarity, the way the mayor shows up to BBQ at the annual bike race.  But maybe that’s less about small town life and more about my non-need to set forth geographically.

Because for everything that I love about small towns, there are things I don’t always love.  Like when you’re miserable, or furious, or at some version of rock bottom, and you’d do anything for some anonymity.  But then you really need ice cream, and there’s no way you’ll make it to the freezer section and back without running into at least 10 people you know.  Most of which already know your business and will either get up in it (at worst), or give you the sympathetic head-bob (at best).

But sometimes you drag yourself to the store, hood on tight and hiding behind the weekly flyer like you’re in a bad spy movie.  And despite your best efforts, someone stops you to say ‘Hey…’  And they mean it.  Somehow you can always feel when they mean it.

And that’s when it feels like a hug.  A hug with space to breathe.  And I’m still happy this is home.

 

Bullet Journal – An Exercise in Facing Life

I think we all have a bit of perfectionism in us, it just comes out in different areas.  It shows up in our houses, or our bodies, or our children’s behaviour.  Some of us struggle in really useful areas like underwear rotation, or sock bunchiness.

It’s not all bad.  There are many times where that urge to do things absolutely perfectly is an appropriate and necessary thing.  If you’re having brain surgery, you’re gonna want that doctor to be a bit of a perfectionist.  The last thing you want your surgeon to be thinking is, “Meh. Close enough.”  This goes for your accountant, too.

But a lot of the time perfectionism is not so stellar.  It keeps us small, uncreative, unfree, and not nearly as safe as we think.  Anne Lamott says, “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people.”

I’ve taken up Bullet Journalling.  A Bullet Journal starts as a blank notebook, and evolves into anything you want.  It is a day-planner, journal, list keeper, to-do place, habit-tracker, goal setter, doodling page — in one place.  The list is Pinterestingly endless.  It is for people who love paper and markers.  It is artistry for the non-artsy.  It helps me keep things a *cough* bit more together.  The act of drawing and writing is therapy on many levels.

But there is a catch.  Permanent.  Markers.  This isn’t your computer — there is no un-do button. Kinda like, you know… your life.

For the month of January, I went on a nutritional re-set (which is a whole nuther story).  So I decided to draw an inspirational page for it.  It started out as words, then a circle, then another circle — and at some point it became a mandala.  It contained symbols of nature, and hearts to represent clean eating and care for self.  I thought it was pretty — except for the words.  You don’t put words smack dab in the middle of a mandala.

But there they were.  On the page.  And I loved that page.  I loved how it looked and I loved the time I’d spent on it.  I love the methodical repetition of mandalas — drawing or coloring them is a meditation.  It was beautiful.  Except for the damn words.   *Enter Queen Elsa…*

There was a Sharpie involved, so what were my options here?  I could rip out the page and start over — but I would always know there was a page missing.  I could paste a different piece of paper over it.  That might be a good option for certain things — like the time I drew a whole calendar, but started on the wrong day of the week. *insert Yosemite Sam – ricken, fricken, fracken…*

So I decided it would stay.  As is.

And I thought about life, and how I tend to not plan things too far down the road.  Sometimes this is helpful, but often not so much.  Choices I’ve made have had fallout that I didn’t see coming.  Maybe I should have, but I didn’t.

And when you’re faced with this, it can be overwhelming.  Facing your choices can be a hard place to be.  I’ve started to get better at being in that space — aka facing reality instead of running from it.  I didn’t choose to face reality.  I went down that road kicking and screaming.  But it was either that, or be destroyed by my running gear — addiction, pretense, pain-numbers et al.

I don’t really know the right way to face fallout, except maybe to start by looking at it as honestly as you can.  Blame and excuses don’t really provide the absolution that we search for.

In reality, even your brain surgeon has made a lot of mistakes, and this is why they practice on (you know), silent patients.  Not so for the rest of us.  As per The Tragically Hip, “No dress rehearsal.  This is our life… “

When I look at the mandala I see the words I wrote, and I don’t love that they’re there.  At all.  I’m not really the kind of person who says, “I love the mistakes and trials of my life — they’ve made me who I am.”  This is probably a thing.  Somewhere.  In an alternate dimension.

But I think that I need to continue to face the mistakes and trials and fallout, and stop pretending they don’t exist.  This isn’t some sagey wisdom on my part.  This comes from having exhausted all other options.

It seems that it’s typically an either/or.  You either see the beauty of your life or you see the wreckage.  In reality, it’s all one picture.  But it’s only during very quiet times I am able to catch a glimpse of the hard things alongside the beauty.  And sit with them.

To stay present at both is tricky.  I wonder if it gets easier.

 

Big Love

Christmas of 2017 brought a cold snap of Laura Ingalls Wilder proportions.  I considered burning some cow dung for extra heat, but didn’t have any on hand.

After taking a few days off of running for frivolities and sleeping in, I was happy to get back to it.  As with any other year, Christmas brought my usual flirtation with a chocolate induced coma, and unhealthy dependence on stretchy pants.

I was undaunted by the -27 degree temps.  Cold weather running is not new to me, and I’ve picked up a few tips over the years.  For example, when you’re done — if you haven’t trimmed your nose hairs recently, you’re gonna want to let your balaclava thaw out a bit before peeling it off your face.

I’m not naturally competitive, and I don’t really like doing hard things.  I don’t love being cold.  I don’t love getting out of a cozy bed.   I don’t really love the running part of running.

But all those things — sleeping in, staying warm — are Small Loves.  They’re nice, but they’re not my Big Love.  Being alone outside in the wintry darkness, or a cool summer morning, the exhilaration —  that’s my Big Love.  And foregoing the Small Loves is possible when you’ve experienced your Big Love.

Any parent knows about Big Love.  No parent loves spending the night with their toddler’s foot in their face, but we take them in when they’re frightened.  And I don’t care what you’ve seen on Pinterest, NO parent loves hosting birthday parties.  If anyone tries to tell you any different, they are lying.  The mess, the cost, the noise, other people’s children.  NOPE.  But we do it.  And we’d do it again happily (ish) because Big Love is in the photo of your child, all smiles, friends gathered around as they blow out their candles.  I mean, it’s filed away somewhere for that scrapbook you never got done, but still.

We spend a lot of our lives white knuckling, trying to fit our square peg selves into round holes.  White knuckling works for a time, and sometimes we do need it for a season.  But I’m pretty sure it can’t be sustained indefinitely.

Not in faith.  Much of my spiritual life was based on the sheer will of trying to be good, to perform.  And it ended up with me hating almost everything and everyone, especially myself.  I didn’t (and still don’t) fully understand that God’s love — Big Love — isn’t about a white-knuckled grip on performance.

Some of us seem to have a better idea of what our Big Loves are.  Some of us have had our Big Loves covered by layers and layers of stuff — social pressures, religious control, and the armors that we developed for ourselves.  Armours meant to protect, but also obscured our view of God and the world.

I don’t seem to be able to control the timing of Big Love — or the revelation of it.  I want it now, all of it.  I feel like it mostly comes to me in glimpses.  But a glimpse of something is enough to experience it, and keep going in that direction.

Sobriety came to me one day after a thousand tries where it didn’t.  I don’t know why it happened that time, but now sobriety is one of my Big Loves.  It’s not that I never feel like getting thouroughly stewed — I do.  But a small voice tells me that it’s not what I want.  Not truly.

I’m starting to trust my wants.  I think.  Our truest desires might also be what God desires in us.  Richard Rohr writes, “We have heard the phrase so often that we don’t get the existential shock of what ‘created in the image and likeness of God‘ is saying about us.  If this is true — and I believe it is — our family of origin is divine.  We were created by a loving God to be love in the world.  Our core is original blessing, not original sin.  Our starting point is ‘very good‘ and surely not ‘total depravity‘ or ‘sinners in the hands of an angry god.‘  All the good theology in the world cannot make up for a basically negative anthropology.

Sometimes our Big Loves are revealed to us in places we weren’t even looking.  Sometimes we need to trust our thirst for our Big Love and keep pursuing it, knowing that it’s in there somewhere.  This isn’t a white knuckled grip on it — but a steady, gentle, fall-down-and-get-back-up quest.  And sometimes we need to quietly let it go, trusting that if it is a Big Love, God will reveal it.

Once we’ve seen our Big Love, it can’t be unseen.  And it can’t easily be taken away once it has entered our space.

 

 

Get Off Of My Cloud

A few weeks ago at Lifetree Cafe, we were asked to think of a thing from our childhood that was meaningful to us. I’d never been much for dolls or stuffed animals as a kid. I did remember this toy bear that was in my bedroom. It had these creepy glass eyes that almost glowed. The fur was rough and wild looking and it was actually pretty terrifying at night. Thanks, Mom.

One fall after harvest was over, the hired guy (who we will call Don) came to the house to say his farewells. I was probably five years old. Before he left, he gave me two 8-track tapes – Rumours by Fleetwood Mac, and Hot Rocks by the Rolling Stones. They weren’t the original tapes – they were copies – pirated with the technology of the day.

We had one of those large wooden cabinet stereos with a record player, radio and 8-track deck. I played those tapes over and over and over. It was either that, or my Read-Along Disney 45’s, where Tinker Bell would tell us when to turn the page – like this. You’re hearing it now, aren’t you.

But mostly it was the Stones and Fleetwood Mac. Over the years I’ve bought those albums on cassette, CD and digital.

I annoyed the crap out of Don all summer. I liked ‘helping’ my dad on the farm, and I followed Don around a lot. And I talked a lot. There’s a chance I may have even been a bit smart-assy a lot. I was an early bloomer that way. And on several occasions he may have even yelled at me to get lost.

Me. A defenseless child (cackle). Hence, the 8-tracks may have been borne of a guilty conscience. I win, ha!

I tried to decide why this was the meaningful thing from my childhood – aside from the fact that Fleetwood Mac and the Rolling Stones are awesome.

All that summer, I thought Don hated me. When he left, he smiled, said goodbye and gave me the tapes – and it didn’t feel like he hated me anymore. It kinda felt like he might have even liked me a little. Never mind that a collection of Rolling Stones songs was not especially age appropriate for a five-year-old.   In those days we didn’t read so much into it when Kindergarteners were bopping around the house singing Let’s Spend the Night Together, or about running for the shelter of her Mother’s Little Helper.  Whoops!

I don’t think Don really hated me. I think it will have been a pain having a kid underfoot when you just kinda want to get your job done — and not accidentally bale them. But all reality aside, my reality felt a lot better when I didn’t feel hated.

I don’t know if this is why I loved these tapes so much. Probably not. Probably just because Stevie Nicks, that’s why.

What hasn’t changed much is how I feel when I think someone doesn’t like me. Or doesn’t approve of me. Or doesn’t accept me. Or doesn’t love me.

A while back, I posted something on Facebook about caring too much about what others think. The thread was sincere and thoughtful, and many comments stood out to me, such as:

“We think of these things in such harsh terms, like if I experience disapproval it will be a catastrophe. But in reality, with or without someone’s approval, there is no catastrophe… just a difference of opinion. Unless you are intentionally causing harm or destruction, what other people think of you really is none of your business. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy to just let that go, but it is a huge contributor to personal happiness and peace and therefore worth working towards.”

Amen.

Relationships have different levels of vulnerability.   A sideways glance in the grocery store, or a snub at church does not have the same effect that a wound from someone close to us does. Don’t get me wrong – those snubs and glances do their damage if we let them. But they are something to work at letting go.

My counsellor once told me that love and pain are two sides of the same coin. That as long as we are willing to love, we will experience pain. I think this is true.

Rachel Held Evans writes, “What each of us longs for most is to be fully known, and fully loved.” Unconditional love. We throw that idea around a lot. But I don’t know that it’s even possible on this side of heaven. You know.. the whole human thing.

And while I think it is true, that we do long for this, I think it’s also true that for many of us the risks are too high. The hurt has been too great. It really is just easier to keep people at a distance. Keep some walls up. Throw a few anti-tank barriers onto the beach, just to be on the safe side.

To be known involves vulnerability. To be fully known involves a shit-ton of vulnerability and doesn’t come with any guarantees. Which hardly seems fair.

And to be honest, it doesn’t really seem worth it. Until you catch a glimpse of what it could mean to be fully known and fully loved. It’s hard enough to believe this is possible with God, never mind another person. We know we’re fully known by God, like with the omniscience and all. But do we embrace that? Let ourselves be real, trusting in the fully loved part?

It’s a lot to ask of (or promise to) another human being, especially when, in our truest, rawest selves, we’re really not sure it even exists.

I think sometimes we catch a glimpse of it in Divinity, and it draws us to seek it out in our people and relationships. And sometimes we catch a glimpse of it in the divinity of our people, and it draws us to seek it out in our Maker.

I don’t know which comes first. I don’t know that it matters. I know that the greater the vulnerability, the deeper the knowing. And the greater the hurt. We are human, and we will hurt each other. Perfection is too much to ask of anyone.

But if we allow each other to reveal ourselves safely – and also challenge ourselves to be okay with being misunderstood – perfection is no longer the goal.

I think it might be worth it, but I also think it’s the hardest $%&# thing ever.

Well THAT Didn’t Work – A Memoir

So I accidentally started smoking. It was dumb. It lasted a month.

I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had a cigarette. It had been a really, really long time. I quit, like, 20 years ago. Mostly. For the most part. It takes a really, really long time to stop craving.  But I couldn’t remember the last time I’d even had a craving.

It had been a day. A very, very bad day. I was feeling all the feels and fears that had been dammed up, plus a few extra. I had no idea of what to even do with myself.

And then, only a few feet away… Someone was outside having a cigarette. And I thought to myself, “I can make this alllllll go away.” Which makes literally no sense. Are you afraid of your life? Here, have a cigarette. It’s obvious. I’m surprised it’s not more highly recommended.

Happily (and to my dread), it went down pretty smooth. At least I didn’t have to suffer the indignity of hacking up a lung, like a 13-year old trying to look cool in front of the cooler kids.

I was a 44-year old, and dang it if I wasn’t going to look cool… Drat.  I’m not saying I’m proud of it.

Well, days later when I perched on the ledge of another episode, I went out and bought a pack.  And away we went.   By the way… Do you know that cigarettes cost twenty dollars?  A PACK?   Tuh-WEN-ty.

It was supposed to be just the one, but you know… And then a funny thing happened.  I had a lot of trouble breathing. It was affecting my running. THIS IS A PROBLEM FOR ME.

I kept thinking, “This is so unfair. People smoke for years, and I go for two weeks and I’m in trouble?”

It was just as well.   I hadn’t wanted to make it a lifestyle.  As if anyone does, ha. I couldn’t afford it, I didn’t want to smell like it. All the reasons.  Plus, really it wasn’t calming or curing my anxiety or sadness. Go figure.

But I was still a little perplexed as to why I had so much trouble breathing, so quickly. Are my lungs really in such bad shape, that they put up a huge fight after a few cigarettes? NO WAY am I gonna hit Google up to look for a cause of THAT. 

Unless maybe I just wasn’t used to it. Most of my life has been spent stuffing feelings – beneath food, alcohol, etc.  I just didn’t feel.  I could shut that off like a faucet, or so I thought. People talk about how they deal with their feelings. I couldn’t see why anyone would want to feel discomfort. Especially if you could just… not.

There is a line in the movie, The Fault In Our Stars, “That’s the thing about pain.. it demands to be felt.”

It not only demands it. It will have its way. Maybe not today. But eventually. And when that day comes, it seems to come pretty hard.  Anita Johnston writes, “When a woman becomes more and more aware of feelings she has blocked, when she allows herself to feel the full force of her anger, sadness, or loneliness, it may seem to her as though she is getting worse because she is feeling worse. She may not realize that she is simply feeling more.

This is become clear to me in the last year or so, as drinking rose to a dangerous level, and my situation changed so that the only two options were to keep numbing – and probably die. Or start to feel – and possibly not die. I wasn’t actually sure.

I eventually managed to choose the path that seemed less deathy — one confused, uncertain step at a time.

But it is hard and overwhelming work. Granted, there is much going on that is just plain hard. But every day, it seems I notice ways in which I don’t face things. So once in a while I make eye contact with the thing – and accept what it is – no matter how much I wish it was different. And know that the start of anything begins with honesty, no matter how not pretty it feels.

Last week Philip Yancey posted a quote by Anne Lamott. If you ever come across these two authors expressing the same thought, you can know it’s golden. “My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God. If you say to God, ‘I am exhausted and depressed beyond words, and I don’t like You at all right now, and I recoil from most people who believe in You,’ that might be the most honest thing you’ve ever said… … It would almost bring tears to my eyes, tears of pride in you, for the courage it takes to get real-really real. It would make me want to sit next to you at the dinner table.”

Sooooo… Am I saying the shortness of breath was because I wasn’t used to feeling that way? That I really didn’t give smoking a chance? NO. Smoking is bad. This is a terrible analogy, really.

But it is what happened. And I’m grateful that I couldn’t breathe. I’m grateful that I felt it. To be honest, I don’t know if I would have quit if I hadn’t faced the reality that I needed to make a choice.

I could either hang on to this thing, pretending it was helping, when somewhere I knew it was hurting me.  Or… I could put it down and run. Not so I could run away – but so I could be free.