D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

Filtering by Tag: anxiety

day 4

In the planning committee meeting for my life, they forget to tell me that i would never be fully comfortable again. In my own neighborhood I long for a calm and sunny coffeeshop where I can stare dreamily out the window and write. But when I drive 20 minutes into town to find such a spot, I am shocked by the prices and the homogeneity of the faces, I am overwhelmed by how much I am supposed to tip and how much small talk I am supposed to make with the barista. At school, at church, at coffee shops, the prickle of not belonging remains, wherever I go.  

In the planning committee for my life they forgot to tell me that when you let other people's lives shape you, you can't settle for anything less than good news for all. And since I can't really find that anywhere, I decide to simply drink my coffee, grateful that I am not satisfied. 

 

 

On Running Well

A few weeks ago, I ran a half marathon. I didn’t do too badly, either (10:40 miles, for those who wonder about such things). 

If you had told me a few years ago that I would run for 13.1 miles, that I would run for over two hours straight, I would have just laughed and laughed. Me? The non-competitive, doughy, un-athletic girl who has never ran more than a single lap without wanting to die in her entire life? Um, I don’t think so. 

But then life happens. I had a baby five years ago and the only way to get some peace and quiet was to strap her into a stroller and walk briskly. I started breaking into a very slow form of jogging every now and again, and soon enough, I found I could run a mile. And then, slowly, slowly, I could run two. And I started to discover that there was this way to get out of the house and get into my head and benefit my body all at the same time. And best of all—it was free! Feet slowly pounding the pavement, I worked through my thoughts and saw patterns emerging or new puzzles forming or interesting ideas just wouldn’t wander away and I started to get to know myself a little bit better. The years of doing doing doing, of school and crappy jobs and getting married and then new motherhood had made me lose myself, a bit. Running became a way to reclaim a small space, just for me and my thoughts. Although it didn’t feel like the prayer I was used to, it also became a way to notice what God was up to, all around me.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that right around the time I started running, I started writing in earnest. 

Although I run consistently, I have never been fast, or terribly in shape, or very committed to schedules and training. So signing up to run a half marathon was scary for me. But the past year has taught me a lot about overcoming, about kicking anxiety to the curb, about not giving up and giving into fear. I found a half marathon that looked nice. Easy. There were many pictures on the website of overweight women dressed in pink tutus. The course was flat, along a gorgeous river. There was brunch at the end. This will be perfect I thought. A fantastic empowering experience, surrounded by others just like myself, with cinnamon rolls galore to eat at the end.

The training went ok. I slowly started to run farther than I thought I could. A few miles into my long runs, when I knew I had a few more miles to go, I would be tempted to quit. I would tell my legs you’ve got this. You’ve trained for this. You can do this. It was a little counseling sesh for me, each time. It felt pretty good. At the end, I would feel tired, but accomplished. Sometimes I would remind myself: hey, remember how you almost died but didn’t? How you barely could leave your room for months because you were so worried something bad would happen to your baby? How you stopped driving for awhile? Remember when you moved across the country, how you wrote a book, how you are always putting yourself in a position as an outsider among outsiders? I tried to remind myself of the good and the bad, to recognize how it all has affected me and yet—here I still am. Pounding my feet into the pavement. Expecting something different. Doing new, harder things than I would have thought possible. Hoping that it will work out. 

Leaning into faith, undergirded by showing up and putting in the work. There is a reason writers love to talk about running. The metaphors practically write themselves. 

 

//

 

I ran a half marathon a few weeks ago. I ran it with my friend Lindsey, who has also had her fair share of troubles and disappointments in her young life. It was a beautiful morning, slightly cold but sunny. I noticed, however, that everyone lining up at the starting gate seemed like actual, well, runners. Long, lean legs. Men with severe faces and aerodynamic sunglasses. Short shorts and energy gels and fanny packs and t-shirts declaring they had run entire marathons before. I started to feel nervous. Wasn’t this supposed to be a slow-lady-empowering-brunch race? We started running, and it became clear that no, it wasn’t. And so began the next 2.5 hours of my life of getting passed by people, feeling slower and stupider with every mile. Still, I trudged along, ticking the miles off in my head, listening to a blend of empowering pop music (“Magic” by b.o.b. and Hamilton featuring prominently), trying to be content within my limitations. I thought about running as a way to combat anxiety, as a way to show my five year old daughter that women are strong, as a way of creating more space for myself and my body in the world. But my the end of the race, these empowering thoughts had left me. I was too tired to keep running, but to walk the last mile or so would have taken forever. So I just went on.

At the finish line, my family was there—my husband and my two kids and my parents and my sister. They cheered for me and I got that last burst of speed and made it across. I sat down in the grass and thought about throwing up. I did not feel empowered. I did not feel proud of my accomplishments. I felt happy to see my family, but overall I just felt very tired, and like nothing much at all had changed. I was still chubby, still slightly sad, still anxious about things both big and small.  I thought: I’m still just me.

 

//

 

I have only gone running a few times in the past 2 weeks. It doesn’t come easy. It feels like I have gone back to square one. But it has been sunny and I know it is good for me, so I go. Even though I don’t look like one, I am a runner. Even though I’m not very fast, I can run a long ways. Even though I never expected this for my life, I have two kids and live surrounded on all sides by immigrants and people experiencing poverty, I teach English to people to try and help make their lives better in any small way I can, I wrote a book and soon it will be going out into the world for good and for ill. My life keeps changing, I keep being surrounded by the saddest stories I have ever heard and yet am asked to imagine miracles taking place. “Holding on grimly,” writes Walter Brueggmann, “is an act of atheism.” Ol’ Brueggie is right. Both letting go and taking wild leaps of faith seem to characterize myself these days.

A few months ago I got an email asking if I would like to come and be a part of a writing conference, they were asking me if I would like to speak about something in relation to faith and writing. It seemed so ludicrous to me. Did they know that I slept on a mattress on the floor, that we didn’t have enough money to buy curtains, that I woke up sad most days and unable to do much more than keep everyone in my immediate family alive and clothed and fed? I said yes, but inside felt fraudulent. I never imagined these extremes for myself. I never realized what a hard thing it would be to bounce between being microscopically small in real life, and in plumping myself up big to send words out to a bigger audience. If you had told me, years ago, how mundane and hard real life would be, punctuated occasionally by big grand adventures, I would have stared at you, uncomprehendingly. 

Now, all I can do is laugh and laugh. And that, in its own way, feels like a gift I have not earned.

 

//

 

 We can do hard things is a sort of mantra I hear tossed out a lot, usually towards and from women, urging us to be strong, to overcome, to empower. It’s the type of sentiment I assumed would carry me through running a stupidly long distance, a sentiment I have clung to in hospitals and waiting rooms, in the dark cold hours of a sleepless morning, the dull hopeless moments of the sun setting down on another night. 

Did I do a hard thing, when I ran that half marathon? I talked about it with my friend Lindsey later. We ran a race, that was all. We did it, we felt really sore afterwards, I’m not sure either of us are going to do it again. Lindsey said something that stuck with me. I’ve done a lot of hard things in my life she said. And running that race wasn’t one of them

When the past few years of your life have been hard, perhaps running along a river with a bunch of other (privileged) people who could afford to pay the entrance fee, had the time to train, bought new shoes with adequate arch support isn’t the most telling indicator of your spiritual and emotional health. It was a thing I did, and now it is over. I learned a few things, like that I am much more competitive than I give myself credit for. That when I do something, I want to do it well. That I can change, and be different, than who I thought I would be at 32. I am a teensy bit driven. I am a teensy bit ambitious. I got mad when all of those other runners passed me, when I thought I would just be thrilled to the point of tears at even making it across the finish line.

 But here’s the other thing I learned: I didn’t feel the glow of empowerment overwhelm me at the end, I wasn’t overcome with my own resilience, I didn’t glory in the pride of my accomplishment. Because deep down I knew I could do it. I had kicked my anxiety to the curb a long time ago, and now I am just in the business of managing it. Of course I did a hard thing. I, like so many in our world, so many who live next door to me, live a hard life. And yet we keep showing up for it, day after day after day.

 

 

 

 

 

//

 

 

 

 

PSSSST if you are at the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids this week, PLEASE say hi to me! I will be the one with short, very fake blonde hair wearing serious I AM A WRITER glasses (Warby Parks, naturally). I will be doing a session on Thursday at 4:30PM with Chris Hoke and Dennis Covington on “Portraiture and Power: On Representing the Lives of Others.” I perceive this session to be very interesting and chock-full of questions! I am also very pleased it will be moderated by the one and only Jeff Chu. 

 

I’ll also be on a Saturday AM panel (bright and EARLY at 8:30) with a bunch of the greats (John Wilson, Rachel Marie Stone, Chris Smith, and Richard Kauffman) talking about “The Art and Craft of the Book Review.” If you come to this one I will know you love me bc it is so dang early.

 

Looking forward to seeing at least a few of you there!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Brutally Honest Christmas Card

Edited on 12/13

When I wrote this post with my regular (small) audience in mind, I had no idea it would resonate with so many. My intent was not at all to ask for help for ourselves, but rather just to engage in the practice of radical vulnerability. Thank you all who have reached out to ask if you could donate to our family financially. Since there are so many others struggling (and with far fewer safety nets) we ask that if you feel moved, to donate to a reputable refugee resettlement agency, such as World Relief

 

Hello! Greetings from the Mayfields. This was our hardest year ever, and we still haven't recovered!

In the past year we:

Left our mission organization. I experienced a traumatizing pregnancy and birth and nearly died. Our baby was born a month early and had to be hospitalized for several scary days at 6 weeks old. We moved across the country and said goodbye to amazing friends and jobs. We put our daughter through a hell of a lot of transition. Our baby never did learn to sleep very good.  Our van broke down never to be resurrected. We moved to the outer edges of Portland, a food-and-culture desert. We moved into a cramped, loud, chaotic apartment complex. Our upstairs neighbors drove their car into my daughter's bedroom. My husband got a job but it is taking forever to get back on our feet financially. Every month we hope that this time we won't qualify for food stamps, but it hasn't happened yet. My anxiety got so bad my body decided to get depressed in order to "fix things." I wrestled with my book manuscript, but it's hard to edit when you are sad and aren't sleeping and have little people to care for. We became very isolated, partly on purpose, partly because we didn't have the energy to reach out to old friends.

 

It was the year of hard things. Temper tantrums, anxiety disorders, strange fevers, panic attacks, shut-down souls. We have been in survival mode since April, we are shocked that we are still not out. We grit our teeth as we agonize over every purchase, every stomp from above that keeps us up at night, as we stick close to our apartment complex due to lack of money and a baby who doesn't like to be out too long. Solidarity, solidarity, solidarity. It doesn't really help.

 

But the other day we came home after being at my parent's house for a few days (they were fixing my daughter's wall, due to the aforementioned car) and as we walked in I said I missed this place. Just a tiny, pleasant, normal thought. It felt like our place. It didn't feel like a huge mistake. I wasn't resentful, or despondent. I missed our apartment. That was a pretty big deal. 

And I do, I see glimmers of our new normal. I cut all my hair off. Neighbors dropped by Afghan food and we ate it standing up in my kitchen, wanting to cry with how good it tasted, how lovely it felt. My husband wears ties and listens to problems from people on a wide spectrum of mental health and resources. The baby giggles at everyone, baring his dimples. My daughter taught herself to read this year, she is friends with blonde boys named Lucas and black-haired boys named Mohammed, and now she gets to spend every holiday with cherished cousins and grandparents who dote on her. I'm going to start an English class in January. My baby is going to start crawling. We are going to have a savings account again. We are going to have to keep learning to be generous, vulnerable, hopeful, grateful. We might go to church more Sundays than not.

 

But perhaps the most significant thing is that Jesus is no longer an abstract person, a walking theology, a list of do's and dont's to me. This is the year I recognized him as my battered, bruised brother, and I see how he never once left my side. 

 

Every year I think now this year, this is the year I finally *get* Advent. The sadness, the waiting, the longing for all things to be made new. And every year I do understand it a little bit better. This does not show any sign of stopping.

It's been our hardest year yet my husband said. He paused for a minute. But our kids sure are great. We don't have the energy to pretend we are OK, because we aren't really. But the light around us remains, we take our mercies as we get them, we see a new year just around the corner. Maybe, just maybe, this one will be a little bit easier. 

 

 

 

 

 

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About Guns

I am in the WIC office, there to answer some questions and get my vouchers from the government for free food—the milk, the cheese, the cereal. The woman is pleasant and professional, she coos over my fat little baby and tests the iron in my blood. I don’t drink or smoke or eat all that unhealthily, and I answer questions in a conciliatory manner. Five years ago I was in this same office with my firstborn, I remember it all—the dingy gray walls, the posters with fruits and vegetables arranged in a rainbow. As the woman gives me the informational packet, she rattles off what I can and cannot get—yes to tuna, no to those fancy-ass organic eggs—and then she gets to the juice page. She purses her lips and pauses. I interrupt her, eager to please—Oh, we don’t drink juice in our home. She is visibly relieved, and nods her head approvingly. We share a smile of those in-the-know. She finishes entering up all of my information in the computer, and I bounce my son on my knee. It’s just so crazy, she says, more to herself than to me. Years ago we used to be worried about people being vitamin C deficient, so we put juice on the vouchers. Now we know that in the long run, giving your kids juice is so much more harmful than any residual vitamin benefits might be. It just causes so many problems, it’s just so contradictory. She looks at me and shrugs. But, you know. We are a government program. And the juice lobby is pretty powerful.

I leave the office, my vouchers clutched in my hand. I didn’t know, until just now. I keep my baby's teeth free from the sugary juices, and I feel good inside. But there are so many others, caught up in a game of making money off of the most vulnerable in our society. Women, Infants, and Children. We are nothing compared to those that whisper in the ears of the powerful. We drink our juice, and it sure does go down easy.

//

I always try and think of cheerful and yet accurate ways to describe my neighborhood. I never know if I am hearing gunshots or fireworks I tell people brightly, my anecdote tightly crafted. My neighborhood is under-resourced, pre-gentrification, “diverse”, post-urban. I want people to know something about me because of where I live. I am tough yet hopeful. Sometimes it’s actually both. Gunshots and fireworks, I mean.

One day I was putting my daughter to bed. I was pregnant with my son. I am patting her back and I hear gunshots, loud. It does not really sound like fireworks at all, it sounds like it is right outside of my window. In the end, I never know how close it is, if it happened in my front yard or in the back alley. It is all so disorienting to me. I am not afraid, probably because I did not see the gun, I did not see the person holding it, and myself have never been at the business end of a revolver.

One time, we called the police on a neighbor. He had been in a downward spiral for a while and there was a lot of drug activity, a lot of shouting, women wandering the hallways wearing nothing but an open trench coat, extremely lost. The screaming got so loud that grown men stood frozen in the stairwells, the shouts bringing back memories that made us all long for quiet. We called the police because at that time we didn’t know any better. The police showed up and they had guns that looked fake—so large and so black in such bulky yet long shapes. They waved them everywhere, running down the hallways, my daughter asleep behind paper thin walls. They screamed at us to get on the floor. Our neighbor barricaded himself and his guests inside, refusing to let anyone leave. There was a lot of pounding and shouting. And then, he left with them. The police questioned my husband, because he was the one who called. They were very unkind. Why do you live here? One asked, but it was not in a curious tone of voice. We reported him, we did not appreciate his attitude. We now knew why nobody else had called the police, preferring to walk quickly and quietly into their own apartments and to shut their doors.

//

When I was in high school, I was in a play. It was loosely based off of the Kip Kinkle school shooting—in Thurston, Oregon--where that sweet-faced boy with the bowl cut went and stopped the hearts of four people with the bullets of a gun. I played the shooter’s girlfriend, who breaks up with him for another boy. The play ends with all of the characters—a best friend, a teacher, a rival—standing on stage dressed in white. When we are shot, we each take our right hand, full of ketchup, and plaster it over our hearts before crumpling to the ground. We gave a several performances at our high school and then did a mini-tour of a few other places. I can still remember lying on the worn-out stage, breathing heavily, the smell of tomatoes and vinegar upsetting my stomach, the loud silence of an audience shocked and excited by the drama of it all. We held Q and A’s after the performance, but I don’t remember much of what we talked about. It was so horrible, so horrible, we would have told anyone. These kinds of shootings have got to stop. We really thought we were making a difference, our eyes sober and clear, our hands full of ketchup. The shooter was lonely, he felt wronged by the world. If you are sad, talk to someone. If you are sad, don’t shoot anyone. In my own heart, I knew what the answer was. It was love, always love. If you loved all the people, then nothing bad would ever happen. I didn’t know that there were so many more factors, so many more unseen forces, all pulling us in the same direction.

//

My husband grew up in Roseburg, Oregon. A mill town, small and sleepy with hints of generational poverty hovering everywhere. He took swimming lessons at Umpqua Community College. A shooter walked in there today and killed 10 people, and injured more. I imagine my husband as a small boy—brown eyes and hair bleached blonde by the southern Oregon sun—paddling underwater, carefree.

We live several hours from there, now. Our landlord is a real character, small and fidgety, dressed professionally but with eyes that dart all around. The rumor is that when he first showed up a year or two ago he wore a bulletproof vest and went door to door, evicting all of the tenants engaged in illegal and violent activity. I don’t know if it’s true but there is a stillness to where we live now; families, mostly immigrants and refugees, push strollers through the parking lot. I went for a walk this afternoon and there was a young boy on a pink bike, pedaling furiously. In the back of his shirt he had a long plastic assault rifle delicately tucked.

//

I have been a bit depressed, these past few months. I went and saw a counselor for the first time the other day. She looked at me and she was so calm. You have a lot of anxiety, she told me. Yes, it was true. Things had happened in the past few months: I almost died in childbirth, my son got very sick, I moved across the country, I changed jobs. Our brains always want to solve a problem, my counselor told me. Your brain wants to solve the problem of you being anxious. This was why I was depressed, why the future felt like one long horrible event to be endured, why I found no joy or pleasure in my current situation or in thinking of what would come next. Buckle down and survive, was the answer to my existential questions. Suicidal tendencies can be the same. The brain just wants to solve the problems of sadness and misery. It’s not a good solution, but the brain never made those promises. It just fixes the problem.

Death is your trigger said my counselor, and I knew it was true. I lived in neighborhoods where thirteen year old boys were shot and killed in front of the community center. I worked within refugee communities where the stories of trauma piled on top of one another. Everyone had dead babies, starving relatives, stories of rape and war and famine. Sometimes it felt like everyone I knew had stared down the barrel of a gun. And sometimes I would log into my Facebook, and scroll past the posts. The ones about second amendment rights and tyrannical governments and yellow-bellied liberals. I thought about how protected the people who own guns are, and I thought about the rest of us. The women, the infants, the children. How we are just pawns in a game that was started long before we were born. That there were lobbies, ears being twisted, mouths moving fast, to keep our rights free.


It doesn’t matter that it isn’t good for us, it doesn’t matter that it is the most vulnerable that pay the highest price. We have rights, is the thing. And besides, it probably won’t ever happen again.

 

 

 

re-entry shock

This is a picture of me in our new apartment, taken maybe a week after we moved in. Today on facebook I was asking people to weigh in on a few pictures I had taken to be my new real-life-author headshots. The one everyone liked best was the one where I was smiling, where I looked very cute and accessible (it should be noted that last week in a fit of emotions I went and got all of my hair cut off). They are pretty great pictures, and I am sure you will see the official one here soon enough.

But it made me think of this picture, which my husband took without me paying any attention. It is a picture of how I really am these days, nothing posed about it. My husband loves this picture but he was afraid that when I saw it I would find things to dislike about myself, that I would let the truth and beauty of it wash over me. He was nervous to show it to me but when I laid eyes on it I loved it immediately.  I love it, I love that chubby, squishy baby and his beautiful, sad mama. I feel such a tenderness for them both.

// 

A few months before we moved back to Portland my husband and I were discussing how difficult it would be, the transitions and all of that. We were discussing all of the upcoming changes for us, what it would be like to return home after three years away. I was very stubborn. I am never going to re-enter Portland I told him. I just flat-out refuse. Whenever we came home to visit, to see family or support raise or whatever, people would always remark on how quickly the time had passed. It's been three years already? Wow!  And we would smile and nod because for us, those three years were as slow and rough as a stalagmite forming, the drip drip drips of us changing and hardening into new creations.

We've been changed, is the thing. Trauma has carved deep grooves in our foreheads and brain hemispheres and the blood vessels in our bodies. Love has stretched us wider than we thought possible. We are quicker to believe stories of oppression and injustice from people who look nothing like us. We are less knowledgeable than we were before, which sounds like a negative but it could have been the best thing to ever happen to us. 

We aren't humble but we have been made low. We picked a place to live in Portland where we could sit in proximity to the outer rim of the American Dream, the place where people get caught in the vortex of spinning after safety and security and a roof over their heads. The kids play soccer at night and I hear them laughing in so many different languages. They peer into my living room when I least expect it. Men in underwear lounge in doorways and smoke cigarettes, women push strollers and bags of groceries from the store many miles away. I am one hundred blocks away from the Bible College where I met my husband, where our journey started almost a decade ago. But I could be in another country for how different it is out here, in what always felt like it was a no-mans-land, when it turns out it will now be my land, too.

But what is new to me is the depression like a fever, clouding my future days with the sheen of gray. The anxiety whispering in my ear as my baby lays heavy in my arms yet he feels too light for this earth. The feelings of intensely missing who I used to be, that naive little darling do-gooder. What is new to me is the realization that I can never go back to the girl who used to live here. She is gone, and the one who has replaced her is so fragile. The e-mails and the texts have piled up, friends and church buddies and acquaintances wanting to connect, but I don't know what to say. Just trying to keep my two kids alive and fed while my husband works to to be able to pay rent next month have exhausted all of my energies. I have nothing left, but I sit inside my apartment and hear the possibilities outside. When, oh when, will I be able to go out and join?

//

It is only now, a month and change after we have been back, that I count the cost of us going to Minneapolis. The pearls we have cast aside in search of that one, great, big, luminous one. Coming back was just another step in that direction, in search of the kingdom, ears to the ground. It feels very costly. In terms of money, yeah, but also friendships and mental health. 

I still don't really know any of my neighbors. We smile shyly, sometimes. I feel comfortable just looking at the headscarves and the children playing soccer, but everyone pretty much keeps to themselves. I get it, I am tired too, although once a week or so I get the itch--I could easily teach an ESOL class once a week. Should I volunteer at the homework club? Should we organize a Thanksgiving meal? And my kind, sane husband is quick to gently tap me on the shoulder. You have a baby and you are writing a book and maybe you should see a counselor and besides none of our refugee friends have ever liked your turkey

It's true, they never did like it. But still, they would eat it, because they loved us. And this is the hope that we have. We need that love now. We are the ones in need. My hands and feet are as still as I have ever seen them, but my Spirit is alive, vibrant, quick to discern, confident in a love that I am not terribly good at earning at present. We are in shock, is all. We have gotten very bad at pretending these days. I hope you will forgive us. We are struggling to re-enter, but the truth is that we can't. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

mercy > sacrifice

there's nothing like spending time with family and your closest IRL friends to shine a light on the murky depths in your heart. there's nothing like rest, of sitting down with no screens in sight, of walking on a foggy beach, running in the pale oregon sun, listening/reading/soaking in the good stuff, the words that will lodge tight and remind you of truths you knew as a child but somehow shoved to the side.

everyone has already said it, but i will reiterate: it's hard to be truthful on the internet. the levels of complexity here are fierce. i desire authenticity, and privacy. i want to share the deep parts of my life while never betraying the confidences of my neighbors and context and location. i want to process, i want to empower, i want to stir all the pots and but mostly i want to tie up everything in a neat little bow.

this is not how life is, however. so, here i am to say:

lately, it has been hard to drive. this is how i know my anxiety is getting to a place where it is maybe out-of-control, when the thought of driving paralyzes me, when i make excuses and walk or bike or (when frostbite is a real and pressing concern) have others drive me or simply stay at home. i am white-knuckled behind the wheel, the fear always a river running through it, illogical and senseless and frustrating. i am pulling, pulling, pulling on my bootstraps, and this is just one of many areas where daily pep talks are needed just to get myself out the door. the other day i charted a map in my mind of how my dislike of driving has turned to annoyance, then loathing, and now dread. in the chart in my mind, the fears just went up, up, up. i realized, in that moment, that if i continue on this path, there will come a day--perhaps next month, perhaps next year, or even the next decade, when i will be physically incapable of driving.

writing that down is hard, as i want my life to be all about going and obeying God, not fearfully staying in my apartment because it is the only place where i feel i have control, where i can keep everybody safe. and i am quick to point out that i am still doing a lot, i am still going out and saving the world, i am still busy and productive and i have all my little rags of righteousness clutched in my hand. but the question remains: how long can i hold on?

my anxiety, like many i suppose, is partly due to me and it is partly due to a battle being waged that i don't quite have the eyes to see. oppressions take many forms, both systematic and spiritual, and you can't seem to fight one without fighting the other. and for me, much of my fighting seems to stem from two competing thoughts swimming around in my brain, two slippery eels which propel me forward into places both good and bad alike, and they are these:

 

1. that i am invaluable to the world, that without me the work of the kingdom will stop, all of these beautiful people will be lost, that it is all contingent on me and my small determined shoulders, the entire weight of the world.

 

and

 

2. that unless i do all the things, God won't ever love me.

 

 

 

and i really, really need him to love me.

 

//

 

it's hard to hate the lies, to root them our of your life for good, when they have taken you to where you need to go. i tell other people "don't do anything out of guilt" and yet guilt is the backbone for much of my life, what i wouldn't wish for others i gladly accept for myself. there are so many things i love about my life, adore even, and then there are other aspects--the nagging thought that i could always do more, more, more, the sense of worthlessness if the tangibles are taken away, the hysterical sense that nobody is doing enough--that i could surely do without.

i was mentioning this to a counselor not too long back, rolling out my litany of questions i have about my life, should i be doing more or less, tossing out that word that we in the business so often misuse--what is sustainable? i told this counselor about one of my dreams, moving into the high rises where i teach, taking it to the next level. there are many reasons why moving into this place would be amazing, beneficial, and life-giving. there are many reasons why it would also cause my anxiety to skyrocket, how it would grind down me and my little family,  how many things about our life would get harder. but doesn't that make it the best option?

the counselor nodded her head, listened. and then she said something that shocked me.

you could move in there, she said, that is a choice you could make. and you would be a beautiful flame, a fire burning bright for God. and like the brightest flames, you would not last for very long.

but, she said, tapping into my truest, basest desire:

 

 

you would be very beautiful while you were burning out.

 

 

 

//

the desire to be beautiful is deep within me, which has led me to places that are somewhat close to being extinguished. and i wrestle with this too, because currently in my life i am in a place of smoldering, a sputtering candle, tossed and turned by the winds of the world and the darkness in my own soul. but i think you already know where i am going with this, that it is these half-burnt out flames that Jesus most likes to use.

where my bruised reeds at? he says, looking for the walking wounded, the bent-over men and women, the smoldering wicks. where are my people who don't even know up from down anymore, who can no more suss out what is sustainable than they can solve the problems of the world? where are my people at, he says, the ones who are beating back addictions, dysfunctions, lies that slink in and out around our ears? those are my people, he says, the ones i will not break. they are the ones i will not snuff out.

i used to think there were only two options for life: burning bright into the dying of the light, or sitting quietly to the side, snuffed out by the cares of life. now i am seeing all the middle places, the flickering candles, the fragile ones, the ones keeping vigil, praying, fasting, singing songs of truth, teaching, believing, creating.

but of course everything about Jesus is so upside-down, so the third way, eschewing the false dichotomies we create in order to love or loathe ourselves. he chooses the half-burnt out, the emptied, the white-knuckled. because it is for us, the ones who have tried so very hard to get both God and the whole damn world to love us based on merit, to whom the burden of following a radical servant-king seems light in comparison.

i don't know how to end this right, i still want to say i am healed, i am loved, and everything is fine. but the truth is that right now i feel caught in a middle of a brush fire, all of my precious sacrifices going up in flames. and there, on the horizon, on the char-streaked hills, i see a glimpse of my future, being formed even now. i see a flickering candle, instead of a flame. i see a bruised reed, instead of a sunflower. and i see mercy, mercy, mercy, growing in the hardest heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

eye twitch

First things: my new column is up. Extremely inspired by the Mike Daisy/Invisible Children debate, I decided to go ahead and look my own savior complex square in the eye. I am learning lots of things over here. God never ceases to surprise me. This is the week of giving up stress, no? So I went to a cabin in the woods with two girlfriends over the weekend. It was very cabin-y. We warmed ourselves with a wood stove. It rained. We drank coffee and watched a large, muddy brown river roll by. We took some slow jogs. We ate a lot of food. We watched Mad Men. We, all three of us, read the Hunger Games (Team Peeta 4 Life!). We had feisty and interesting conversations.

While all of the above does not necessarily sound spiritual, it was all very restful. I am unused to cabin vacations. I am used to planning tons of adventures into what little time you have off and it isn't a successful trip unless you come home exhausted from all the fun. Cabin time is different. You don't actually do anything.

I liked it. It was perfect for some times of quiet, relaxation, prayer, and reflection.

But, of course, it wasn't perfect. I am doomed, doomed I tell you when it comes to vacays. When I left on Saturday night, the baby was fine. That night, she got really sick. The next two days were filled with phone calls from the husband telling me the latest temperatures (104!) and me getting very very anxious. Like, developing-an-eye-twitch anxious.

It really was ridiculous. There was nothing I could do. The baby was surrounded by people who were watching her and taking care of her. I tried to relax but the anxiety was always there. The horrible thoughts ranged from what if the fever gets higher to my baby only wants me when she is sick to ohmygosh what if she dies in the middle of the night. Crazy thoughts, right? I think all moms get them, and it really sucks when they do.

Me and the girls stayed up late talking and then I went to bed. But I couldn't sleep, because of the aforementioned thoughts. So I got out the Common Prayer book and read the Compline prayer. I am hardly ever up late enough to warrant it, but there I was. And it was lovely. It was the perfect prayer for those who are up in the middle of the night, due to fear or anxiety or sadness. And I started to really get why liturgical prayer can be so important. Sometimes, you don't know what to say. You don't even know what you need  at 12 o clock at night, when your baby is really sick and you are so far away. But saints have been praying for many years before, and they will be praying after you as well. I joined in the prayers, and they comforted me.

I came home last night and the baby woke up feeling much better and happy to see me.

 

These rhythms and streams of the contemplative life don't come easy. But the more your life revolves around following God, the more it seems you are going to need a lot of prayer. So I am happy to be trying in my little way to be in a place where it natural and normal to live and breathe in the language of common prayers.

 

 

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