Tag Archives: honesty

The Naming of Seasons

photo credit: IMG_3445 via photopin (license)
photo credit: IMG_3445 via photopin (license)

It’s fall now, officially, even though the trees are still mostly green and the afternoons have been muggy and I haven’t been able to put the shorts away yet or wear my cute new hat.

I can feel it coming though. The cottonwood leaves are curling, yellowing just a bit at the edges, dropping here and there onto the ground. There is a maple tree over on 147th with leaves that are so luminous and red and orange that you could almost forget that they’re in the process of dying.

Hoards of ducks settle into the pond every evening now. Our next-door neighbor puts corn out for them, and they waddle up from the water to eat it. They are insatiable in their hunger, growing fatter, getting ready.

Autumn, according to the Internet, is a fairly new word. It didn’t appear in English until the late 14th century, and it wasn’t until the 17th century that we started saying fall.

There was, of course, the recognition of harvest time – all that gathering, all that celebration and bounty – but not for the rest of it. Not for that slow, stunning silencing of the world. There was no English word for that season when the turtles burrow deep into the bottom of the pond, and when the fat-cheeked chipmunks eat sunflower seeds straight out of my sons’ hands.

There was no word for the sharp, cold beauty of all this loss. For that slow descent back into darkness. For the piles of brown leaves that we jump and play in until they disappear into dust.

Imagine.

*

It’s been a hard week for me for a thousand tiny little reasons – none of which are actually very good.

Things that Healthy Summer Addie would be able to brush off and let go are annihilating Autumn Addie. I am crying into my lobster bake at Stella’s, telling my husband that no one even likes me! I am reading too much into emails, losing my ability to focus and motivate, spending a lot of time curled into the fetal position on the couch, watching Grey’s.

And it’s not great. It’s not particularly fun for anyone involved (including my long-suffering husband, cracking lobster tails across the table, assuring me that They do, sweetie. I promise they like you).

But also – it’s okay. Because I know what this is. It’s just the depression talking again.

*

One of the best gifts that I’ve ever gotten was a name for this thing in me that keeps rearing up in my life no matter how I try to wrestle it back. 

The doctor diagnosed me eight years ago – clinical depression – and I spent a long time trying to make that label untrue. I took the drugs and I went to therapy and I got the light box and I bought special essential oils that are supposed to help with that sort of thing.

I still do all of those things, but I’m beginning to understand that though it doesn’t have to define me, this word matters. I need this name. It gives this darkness that I feel so acutely a set of boundaries. It recognizes all that complex emptiness and distills it down to one word. It frees me to live through it and to live past it. It gives me a framework to understand what is happening to me and to move forward.

It allows me to say to myself as I lie in bed at night, numb and empty and fearful and sad: This is not the truest thing. This is only the depression. Go back to sleep.

*

The etymology of the word autumn is vague, best as I can tell, but one scholar suggested that it could be understood as the “drying-up season,” and the Old Irish word for it means, literally, “under winter.”

In the suburbs, people are emptying out their pools and pulling in their grills and buying Campbell’s Tomato Soup in bulk. Last 80-degree day, we say to one another as we glance at the Weather app on our phones. Fall’s really coming.

And when we say fall, when we say autumn, we’re talking about the whole thing: the ducks and the chipmunks and the pumpkin carving and the harvest celebrations. We’re talking about dark mornings and cold feet and apple pies. About the beauty of transition…and also the cold, harsh jolt of it. All of it is true, all of it simmered down like cider to one, bare, single word. Autumn.

What I’m trying to say is that it’s fall now, officially. Pull your hat down over your ears and breathe deep. Let the beauty and the pain blow over you like the cold breeze.

Say the word. Autumn. Name it for what it is – one short season in the sprawling arc of time.

Drink your pumpkin spice latte. Be grateful and empty, gathered and dried-out. And then, let it go.

Why I’m Coming Back to Blogging

Why I'm Blogging

Last Monday morning, I dropped my youngest off at a friend’s house, went over to my favorite coffee shop, and finished the second major revision of my book.

I have been working on my second book obsessively since I got home from Armenia in March —  every day, working through paragraphs, restructuring sections on card stock using Post-Its, crossing out and underlining and inking big green questions on my draft: What are you really trying to say here?

Writing. Deleting. Writing. Deleting. Getting a refill of coffee. Deleting, deleting, deleting. Yes, Pandora, I AM still listening.

Writing in this way doesn’t allow much space for the very different work of writing blog posts — at least for me. At least now — with small kids still around most of the time, still needing so much from me, still climbing on my shoulders while I sit at the kitchen table, writing.

So I let myself off the hook for the last several months. For most of the year actually. I wrote a post here and there, but mostly, I let myself be pulled under into the depths of this new work.

But on Monday morning, I finished that second major draft. Hopefully the next batch of edits will be smaller, simpler. Hopefully the deep underwater work of this story has been completed.

I closed my computer and brought my empty coffee cup to the counter. I wanted to tell someone, but the baristas were all in the back, and the counter was empty. The two old farmers who have coffee next to me every morning weren’t there, and neither was my pastor friend, Rick. So I just grabbed my stuff, slung my purse over my shoulder, and quietly made my way back into the world.

*

I gave myself a week away from my computer. I cleaned and went to IKEA. I learned to use a drill, re-did my kids’ new shared room, and made Liam’s old bedroom into (gasp) my office. (We’ll see how long this lasts, but I’m beyond excited. I’ve never had an office.)

I had a last-day-of-school water fight with my family, spent a few days at the beach, washed the windows, and read novels on the deck. I closed my eyes and paid attention to the summer breeze and watched the baby ducks trek up, single-file, to eat seed from our bird feeder. I went to sleep early and slept in as late as the boys would let me and didn’t worry about wasting writing time.

I sat in a sand chair at the edge of the Lake George, and I let myself brainstorm essays I might want to write, new writing projects I might want to pursue, new blog posts I might want to share.

It was a good week.

*

The first post I read when I logged back into the Internets yesterday morning was an insightful article by Amy Julia Becker at Christianity Today about “Why Bloggers are Calling it Quits.”

Becker’s points were solid and familiar. I too, struggle with what she calls “tyranny of the present” and the pressure to “to remain beholden to the constant information cycle of blogging and tweeting and posting photos online.”

I get that. There is nothing that stresses me out quite like a Major Cultural Event and the sudden, intense response of the blogosphere — a thousand megaphones shouting at me from my Facebook newsfeed, demanding my outrage. It makes me feel like a failure when Facebook reminds me that I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve never figured out, really, how to be “awesome” on social media, and that stresses me out.

And yet, at the same time, the blog world is still where I get my favorite book recommendations, my favorite recipes, my best IKEA hack ideas.

The Faith and Life blogs that I read regularly have a way of helping me to orient my heart around what matters. Where else but the blogosphere can you read something called “Go Forth and Be a  Little Jacked Up” by Glennon at Momastery? Where else can I read along as  Micha gently processes spirituality and motherhood and as Leigh works through life transitions for herself…and for all of us who find ourselves in transit?

Where else can I get glimpses of insight into things that I don’t understand…but want to?

I click over to Humans of New York and read the small, enormous stories of regular people. I read Emily Freeman and find permission to be unremarkable. I read Brené Brown and find permission to be vulnerable.

Where else is there such a powerful reader/writer connection — a conversation, a call to interaction, a buffet of topics and ideas and thoughts and insights? It’s an invitation into the living, breathing, fighting, wild, loud, raucous international family of humanity. It’s the coolest thing.

Listen — I believe in the long works. The memoirs and novels and essays and collections. I am passionate about them…and I’m a mom in her Tired Thirties, so I barely use the word “passionate” to describe anything in my life.

I just finished that second draft of that second book, and I am grateful for the time I spent away from the Internet, letting my mind orbit around the  questions I was asking, letting the words and sentences stretch long into places that I didn’t think I was going. I love writing books. I hope that I will continue to write them (although I’m about ready to take a break from memoirs, because holy smokes.)

But also, I love the experience of blogging. I never thought I would, but I do.

(Granted, I’ve never been one for writing about stuff that is newsworthy or relevant. I’ve had very few posts go “viral.” I don’t touch “hot-button issues” with a six foot pole. But still.)

It turns out that I actually like being a Blogger. Who would have thought.

*

There is a verse in the Bible about how God is working, all the time, in us. About how, in light of that, we should continue working out our salvation. (Philippians 2:12).

I don’t really know what that means, but I think this is where I do that.

This is where I take hold of the edges of my ever-changing faith and hang on tight.

This is where I write it out, where I find people who get it, where I feel less alone, where — sometimes — I even feel God in that way that we always hope we will. Where, when I don’t feel God, I can still find a way to engage, to move forward, to write toward the wholeness I so desperately want.

And I hope, somehow, that this blog does some of that for you too.

Anyway — all this to say, I’m back. It seems a little like I’m walking back into a room that everyone else is leaving. But I’m back anyway.

Talk to me.

The Duggars, Rock Hudson, and the Courage to Change the Narrative

people magazine

We have a three-and-a-half hour trip home from our girl’s weekend in Iowa, so I buy a People magazine off the rack in Walmart. “You can read this to me while I drive,” I say to Barb, knowing that she shares my guilty pleasure of celebrity gossip. “Perfect,” she says.

The magazine cover story is a “Duggar Exclusive” about Jill and Derick Dillard’s brand new baby. On the centerfold, the young couple stare adoringly at each other over their sleeping baby. “We took on everything that happened during our labor with prayer,” Jill said. “We could feel that God was with us.”

Jill and Derick’s birth story is the topic of the article, and I almost choke on my Diet Coke when Barb reads that after Jill’s water broke, she “managed to get some sleep, get in a morning appointment with the chiropractor — ‘I wanted to get aligned before birth’ — indulge in a couple’s pedicure alongside Derick and take a two-and-a-half mile walk to get labor going.”

“How do you get a pedicure while you’re having contractions?” I ask, trying to envision it. “Wouldn’t it be hard to keep your feet still?”

“You’ll love this,” Barb says, and then reads that “to distract his wife, Derick played spiritual songs the couple both love and read Bible verses and inspirational sayings.”

“What, like Footprints in the Sand?” I ask.

“And ‘God won’t give you more than you can handle,” Barb adds.

She reads on about the home birth relocated to the hospital (a meconium sighting a clear sign from God that they needed to go in, according to Michelle Duggar), and a divine leading toward a C-section. (“We were grateful for God showing us what to do in time.”) The final quote, near a photo of Jill swaddling her new baby says, “We have such love and support around us. God answered my prayers.”

Barb puts down the magazine and sighs. “But what does that mean for other people — whose babies don’t make it?” It’s a valid question — especially for Barb, whose twelve-year-old son died suddenly from an undetectable viral strain this past September.

“I need to take a break before we read anymore,” she said. “Digest.” We’re quiet for a while, listening to the mellow song pumping out of my iPod into the car, looking out the windows at the slate-gray of the April sky.

I think about the first-married daughter of the 19-Kids-and-Counting-famous Duggars. I don’t doubt their sincerity and love — this sweet young couple with their brand new baby. And who knows? Maybe it did go exactly like that. Maybe the “inspirational sayings” really did calm Jill down in labor; maybe her cries of pain were laced with prayer and gratitude, and maybe they did feel God’s leading and presence every single step of the way.

But the story doesn’t leave me feeling encouraged or hopeful or less alone. At best, it makes me feel cynical and suspicious; at worst, spiritually inferior — too earthy and combustible to respond to life’s pain with that kind of shiny-eyed faith.

*

The second People Exclusive of the magazine is “The Untold Story of Rock Hudson’s Final Days.”  I knew that Rock Hudson was gay but had somehow forgotten the fact that he had died of AIDS until Barb begins to read the story aloud.

She reads about the slow decline of the handsome, Hollywood leading man of the 50’s and 60’s. His illness was marked by secrecy and shame in a world where AIDS was a little-understood disease that “stoked homophobia and terrified the public.” When Hudson was diagnosed, little was known about AIDS and there was nothing for him to do but slowly succumb to the disease. I listen to Barb read the accounts of friends and doctors and co-workers, and though I only glance at the pictures from the driver’s seat, I can see a certain sadness about Rock Hudson’s eyes.

Dr. Gottlieb, the immunologist who identified AIDS and who worked closely with Hudson, is quoted extensively in the article. Barb reads his recollections to me while edge through Minneapolis traffic and back toward the Northern suburbs where we live. “I spoke to Rock. He was lying down. I said, ‘The press wants information on your condition. Should I tell them you have AIDS?” and he said. ‘Yes, if you think it will do some good.’”

I was only two years old in 1985, so I can’t imagine the fear, the paranoia, the stigma of AIDS. The loneliness. I suppose it would have gotten out — that Rock Hudson died of AIDS — whether he publicly confessed to it or not. But there is something about the fact that he did that gives me a chill up my spine. He gave up a persona, a beloved public identity, his rights to privacy — and in doing so, he was the first voice in a changing narrative about AIDS.

“It’s the pivotal event of the country’s consciousness of the HIV epidemic,” Gottlieb said. “He showed tremendous courage and allowed his diagnosis to change the face of AIDS.”

And it’s no “inspirational quote” of the Duggar variety…but it inspires me all the more for that.

*

I have been absent from this blog lately for a lot of reasons, but the preeminent one is that I’m trying to finish the next round of edits on my second book. There are lots of changes to be made, but the biggest ones have to do with honesty and authenticity. Am I telling the whole truth here? Or am I just playing with filters, trying to make myself look better than I really am?

And Lord, it is so much easier to give the golden, gilded answer — the one that paints me in a prettier light. Just because I managed to be honest in my first book does not make it easier to expose my flaws now — especially as they feel more unfinished, unconquered and unreasonable.

I’d be lying if I said I’m not tempted to make myself the victim or the heroine — anything but the broken mess that I am.

I want you to like me. I want you to love me. I don’t want you to think I’m unstable or ungrateful or selfish or self-destructive. I don’t particularly want to show you how much wine I can drink if I’m not careful, how toxic my inner-monologue can be, how much I yell at my kids.

Deep down, I want to look wise and lovely, like someone who has come out the other side of things feeling blessed and together. Someone sings Jesus Loves Me to her children while playing Legos for hours and hours. Someone who, when stressed, says a prayer and makes a warm mug of lemon water.

But even more than that, I want to change the narrative. I believe that we can only become the transformative community that we’re meant to be when we stop pretending that we have it all together. When we get brave enough to show our broken pieces. When we get brave enough to say “Me too.”

I wonder how it would have felt if Jill Dillard had said. “There were times during labor when I did not trust God. When I was afraid that he would let me down. When I wanted to take Derick’s inspirational quotes and shove them up his ass.”

I’m not trying to crucify the Duggar/Dillards — truly, I’m not. But still, I can’t help but wonder what it would have done to the narrative of trust and performance and God’s grace to admit that they failed in the process and in the pain…but that God does not. God does not. God does not.

Maybe it would have made someone feel less alone. Less stigmatized for their failure. Less terrified of their own lack of faith.

On the cover of People magazine, the Jill Dillard grins at the camera, while in the corner, a black-and-white-toned Rock Hudson gazes off into the distance, and the truth is that we’re all telling our stories the best we can.

May we find the grace to show our un-posed, un-smiling, un-airbrushed hearts.

May we change this world’s most destructive narratives one candid, courageous word at a time.

This is How We Survive the Winter

winter

This is how I survive winter:

I run on the treadmill in the basement until the sweat runs down my face and the endorphins kick into my slogging bloodstream and make me feel temporarily euphoric. I make kale smoothies and put heavy lotion on my hands and binge-watch Hallmark movies and, if it’s not too cold, walk the dog around the block.

I survive the winter with extra Vitamin D pills prescribed by my doctor, which I pick up at the pharmacy along with my antidepressants. I use a special light box for a half hour every morning. I cut back on Diet Coke in case aspartame really does contribute to depression like they say. I try to drink more water.

I know that this time of year is dangerous for me. I am prone here, more than any other time, to give in to the pull of depression. So instead, I listen to the thump of my feet against the treadmill and feel the end of my ponytail brush against my shoulder blades. I hold my two beautiful sons close and look long at their faces…and this is how I survive the winter.

flash cards

Today we rode the bus up into the mountains of Amasia where it is still very much winter. I wore two pairs of socks and my snow boots, and still my toes went cold as I walked with our group up steep slopes toward small homes there.

I could not stop staring at the mothers. They were my age. Had we grown up in the same town, we would have gone to high school together. I suppose I should have expected this, but the last time I was on a trip like this, I was seventeen. The last time I stood in front of families like these, motherhood was worlds away, and the women seemed positively old. Today they seem young, young, young. Too young for the hard life they are living.

The second woman we met, Margarita, had fire in her eyes and a missing front tooth and two boys almost the same ages as my own. When we walked into the house, a nature program was showing on the tiny box-television in the corner, and it almost took my breath away, because this is what my boys would be watching too, if they were here. On the wall, there were flash cards carefully arranged in a row, and I thought instantly of the Word Bird full of “sight words” stuck to the wall of my own house in Minnesota.

This is how she survives the winter:

She shovels wood or cow chips into the furnace to warm the room, and then she hunkers down in it with her family. She hauls in the water and warms it on the stove. Then she rolls dough and flips it onto the oven one piece at a time until she has ninety pieces of traditional Armenian bread, which she’ll keep in the back room in a large green pot and use sparingly throughout the week. She’ll holler at her boys to stay out of that room, because the snow is growing wet and heavy on the roof and the whole thing could cave at any moment.

The lambs in the pen outside her house — these will help her survive, as will the work her husband did last summer, collecting grass from the nearby hills for hay. She hangs the wash on the line to dry in the cold; she rations out the last of the canned fruit and vegetables, refuses to cry over the ones that have gone sour. She hangs lace curtains over the cracked window panes and watches as they brush up against the crumbling concrete, letting in the light.

She holds her two beautiful sons close and looks long at their faces, and this is how she survives the winter.

margarita

Here is the temptation of the cross-cultural experience. Here is the cliched, obvious, immediate response:

Look how small my problems are in light of their BIG GIGANTIC PROBLEMS! Look how much I have! I should feel lucky! I should be more grateful!

Compare, contrast.

“Real” hardships versus “first world problems.”

Them and us and guilt, guilt, guilt.

And while it’s an understandable response, I don’t think it’s a helpful one. Not for the strong, beautiful woman in the house with the lace curtains. Not for the strong suburban woman who keeps getting on that treadmill every long winter day.

Instead of comparing, let’s just admit it out loud to ourselves and each other: winter is hard.

The snow stretches into the distance and your toes grow numb in your boots, and we’re all just trying to keep walking. Just trying to make it through.

In the middle room of Margarita’s house, her oldest son, Tigran sits down to do his homework. She reaches across the table to help as we watch. She lets us take photos of her son as he bends over his words, a deep scar on his head visible just above his ear. She lets us see the broken windows, the laundry hanging, the sheep in the pen, the places they sleep. She takes us to the back room with the caving roof and shows us her last two cans of wild pears.

And I think as we follow her that this is how we survive winter: we let each other in.

We choose to open up the rooms of our hearts with all of their struggles and issues and to allow ourselves to be seen. And also, we choose to take a step into the unfamiliar rooms of others’ lives and to sit quietly, listen, take it all in, bear witness.

We huddle together around the stove, surrounded by the endless hills of white. We pass the bread, slice the cheese, wait it out together.

details

Today, two of the members of our team were so moved by the stories of these families, that they chose to sponsor a child right there, on the spot. (My family sponsored a child before I came, and I’ll get to meet him tomorrow.)

If you’re on the fence, I can tell you right now — it makes a difference. And there is so much need. I’ll tell you more about it as the week goes on, but in the meantime, click here to learn more or to find a child to sponsor.

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