Adaptation

Jay has been home for a while now, giving me time to continue work on the first draft of my 2013 novel (80,000 words now!).

A few days after he’d been home I was trying to get out to the cabin (a little room a stone’s throw from our front porch) to start my work for the day. He kept starting conversations, and suggesting things, and thinking out-loud, and as much as I wanted to enjoy this part of him, I had a sense of urgency about getting out and getting to work.

God alone knows when I’ll have this many uninterrupted hours again!

All of a sudden Jay got this cute, confused look on his face and said, “I have no idea why I’m talking so much.”

I laughed.

“Welcome to my world,” I said. “You’ve wondered how a self-described introvert [me] can talk so much– now you know. You’ve been away from your slow-and-steady bleed-off of words. Your only-connecting adult is present (trying to leave) and you have to get the words all out while you can.”

It made me think about how we do (and don’t) adapt.

How we change as our environment changes.

Since leaving my old church at the end of May, I have been looking for a new “home base” to build relationship in, and it’s a tricky slog. You see, I’m really not interested in the company of adults-in-general, or strictly “adult conversation.”

When I want “company” (only rarely) children are as satisfying to me as adults, and I’ve already got three of those at home. When I want conversation, I want a particular kind, or I’m not that interested in talking.

This (in certain company) leaves me feeling selfish: Oh look, she needs something *special.* She’s not willing to adapt.

But the reality is I’m adapting all-day every-day (You think getting x-much done in a day comes naturally?!), so when it comes time to relax, yeah I want it to be on my terms– that’s sort of the point.

So I don’t have any answers yet.

I’ve proposed a writing “small group” at my folks’ church with the idea of learning if there are any “kindred spirits” to come out of the woodwork. That would be one way to know if Journey is a good fit for us.

I have good friends who aren’t writers (which is cool in its own way, because that means all the awesome stuff they say is mine ;) to quote), but they are still idea people. They are still the ones I can talk at a mile a minute or listen to with intensity and neither of us glazes over.

There is intense admiration in these relationships. We end our time together feeling refreshed and connected and looking forward to the next visit, even if it’s a month out, and honestly that’s what I’m still looking for.

Fears Connect Us

Image courtesy of Jesse Therrien via stock.xchng

Image courtesy of Jesse Therrien via stock.xchng

I’ve thought sometimes about teaching writing, mainly because it comes easier to me than to most people I know (in contrast to the famous quote).

I am not above or apart from wanting to to be affirmed by my culture, and being a part of a culture that affirms through salary, I’m keen to see my abilities contribute to my income, whether or not I need that money to live.

One of the common writing prompts (believe it or not) is Write what scares you.

This may come as a surprise to non-writers, or not-yet-writers but it is very reasonable advice.

The ultimate goal of writing is shared-consciousness.

Image courtesy of nh313066 via stock.xchng

Image courtesy of nh313066 via stock.xchng

Yes, really: The goal the goal of most print is to make the thoughts of the writer the thoughts of the reader.

Fear is deeply rooted in us, and is a commonality among all healthy (and even most unhealthy) minds.

By writing about what we fear, we invite others to see us, and to be known, even if the reader is someone we will never meet, because there will be that person whose fear matches mine, and maybe they’ve never found the words for it, so it’s remained a shadow.

Or maybe they had the words, but they felt so alone in this place that the words were only a reminder of their isolation and shame.

In this latter case, the writer, whom they’ve never met, shows the reader s/he’s not the only person who is broken in this way, and that crack in the world’s armor might let in a chink of light and offer freedom.

Because, especially as a believer, our goal is to not remain afraid.

Image courtsy of Belovodchenko Anton via stock.xchng

Image courtsy of Belovodchenko Anton via stock.xchng

What am I Afraid of?
The question popped into my head, and an answer jumped to meet it:

I am afraid of loving imperfection.

Among my many contradictions are

a) I am good at loving, and
b) I am good at seeing.

On my good and healthy days, I am glad for this combination, because b without a would probably make me a jerk.

On my weak or confused days I worry that observers will assume a means the absence of b, and since both parts are important to the way I see myself, I wrestle with how I do both, even while I wonder how to care less what any observers may interpret.

In one of my conflicted moments I told my mom, “I know I’m doing the right thing by loving on [name], I don’t know what to say to [those other Christians] who seem to be focusing on that person’s sin.”

Unspoken, perhaps unconscious, in this confession was the fear that my insight, if not my godliness, would be called into question. And my mom’s matter-of-fact rebuttal deflated all my related anxiety:

“If you are rejected for being a friend of sinners, you are in good company.”

Imperfect Company
What a moment’s contemplation showed me was that my fear of loving the imperfect is a fear of being imperfect.

Both my mom and the latest doctor I saw (just this spring, and no, she couldn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. {groan}) scoff at that word, perfect.

Both of them said (verbatim!) “Wouldn’t that be BORING?!”

And both times I was speechless, because I wonder how they can really think that.

NO it wouldn’t be boring! I could finally relax.

Yeah, fine. Analyze the snot out of that last sentence.

I don’t genuinely expect perfection from anyone, even myself (anymore), but I’ve never seen that acceptance of imperfection as a reason to stop striving. Who pushes for less-then perfect?

And that’s where I started to make sense of this fear. (If you didn’t make the jump with me, no worries, just start here:)

My fear of others’ imperfection is my fear of having even more of a gap to fill.

50% x 50% = 25%

Even further from 100%!

Now I see more clearly: I am imagining the work I have left.

By aligning with someone else I take on their weakness, become responsible for it. More is added to the to-do list that I must make happen on my limited strength.

storm

Image courtesy of Mateusz Stachowski via stock.xchng

This is why the imperfect is so frightening: not because I expect more of them (because I know that wouldn’t be fair) but somehow I still expect more of me. 

I know well enough the amount of effort I expend in not-sinking. Add to that somebody else’s something I have to keep afloat, and I cry out It is more than I can bear! How can you ask me to do the impossible?

And sometimes in the storm I hear, You already are.

And sometimes I hear that I’m carrying more than I need to.

God does not depend on human exhaustion

to accomplish his will.

God often gives us strength beyond our natural resources to accomplish his will. If we are out of strength, that could be a sign we’re working on something that isn’t our assignment.

How do I stop being afraid? Maybe by letting go of a burden too big for me to carry.

I must choose a place where my limits are a gift, the means that allow me to rest.

And how do I find that place? Two questions help:

  1. What can I do?
  2. What can I keep on doing?

What I can do is boggling and mind-blowing and amazing.

And what you can do, too.

But that awesomeness is not necessarily sustainable.  What I can do is no longer the primary question, unless it is a special situation with a defined beginning and end.

What is more applicable is Question-2.

It is treating each day as if it’s my forever.

Image courtesy of Janusz Gawron via stock.xchng

Image courtesy of Janusz Gawron via stock.xchng

Am I living in such a way, that if nothing ever changed, I would be able to continue? Would I be able to be happy, and have something to share with the people closest to me? The people I love?

We are all imperfect.

We all fear.

And somehow it is through that fear and that imperfection that we are drawn together.

I don’t know if I will ever actually teach writing, but I know I’m learning. And the cool thing to me, is that the more I learn about writing, the better I get at living imperfectly, and being less-afraid.

The Tutor’s Daughter (Reading Notes)

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Five out of five stars.

(Hmmm, I’ll have to make a legend for the ratings scale.)

This is the second book I’ve read of Julie Klassen’s, and, in the (Christian, historical) romance genre, both novels encased pounding hearts and clasped hands in a well-shaped story with a bit of mystery and much of my favorite (the list of 13) elements of romance.

I enjoyed the twist of having the male, rather than the female, lead being the strong(er) person of faith.

(Granted I’m not a voracious romance-reader, but I’ve only seen it a couple of times before. There are also Christian stories where both parties are believers, and I like those, fine, too.)

I always get cringe-y when (just) the woman endures through externally foolish roadblocks and converts/wins the desirable man in the end. Not the message I want any woman I value to take home.

In this case you have the man doing what he can, witnessing-wise, with an awkwardness than can either interrupt the story-dream as you read, or else be seen as an accurate reflection of the real-life awkwardness than can go with sharing your faith with someone you love.

It had predictable character types (orderly blustocking, carefree second son) that were not diminished by the predictable roles they filled. Relationships between women were neither all good nor all bad, and genuine friendships– of different sorts– were well-portrayed.

One of the things that troubles me in some of the novels I’ve attempted to read, is how the author seems to go out of his/her way to isolate the characters, or put them through hell.  That can work, and it can look like trying too hard.

This was a refreshing example of healthy relationships not getting in the way of creating a good story.

I’m deciding that romances like these are my “cozies.”

A friend of mine once pointed out to me there are two different kinds (there may be more) of mysteries, and by extension books in general: cozies– that people read when they want to relax/center/calm down and — lacking a more precise word– thrillers, designed to excite/energize/key up a reader.

This was a helpful distinction for me, because it helps me when I am looking for a read to know what my purpose is. When I can nail down my purpose for reading (escape, emotional connection, stimulate the imagination, get energized, be affirmed in my perception of– or desire for– reality), I am more likely to be satisfied by my choice.

In this case I was very satisfied. The world created was genuine, motivations and goals were believable, and my connection to the characters drew me back to the story (so important in a long book) and let me disappear and recharge in the midst of a stressful time.

As a bonus, something (I will need to pay better attention in the future, so I can say exactly what and when) was toe-curlingly fun, and I laughed out-loud more than once.

Add to that I guessed wrong at least three times (even with the “predictable” types).

So after two solid wins, Julie Klassen is officially one of my go-to authors.  And this is now a new experience for me– finding an author who a) already has a number of books I haven’t read (but now want to) and b) who is still writing the type of books that pleased me in the first place.

Limits and Love

I’m not sure how much I’ve written about it here, but one of my serious quests over the last few years is about naming (and to a certain extent accepting) my limits.

There is a fine balance between what we can do, what we should do, and what we want or need to do.

Last month– the month of November– I didn’t write much.

That is, I didn’t process much via journal or blog writing.

I did write my 50,000 words of Sherlockian Daze, and fell in love with a whole new cast of characters.

I also had my limits tested, and my will challenged.

The day after Jay left for his month in Antarctica, I was already past the half-way mark on my 50,000-word goal.

I should say a few things here:

  • At some point this summer Jay made the connection that when I said “our work is not equal” I wasn’t talking about value. I was talking about him getting to spend hours and hours of his life (almost daily) on something he enjoys and is good at.
  • He made the connection that the crowd-control, housework, homeschooling and the myriad of details that fill my life (while he is doing work he loves) is nothing close to “enjoyable” for me, and with a couple notable exceptions, something I’m only marginally “good at.”
    • I’m speaking here of the list above: people are not on that list. Just the grunt-work of making life liveable for a group of people.
  • Jay’s trip was up in the air because of the gov’t freeze, so I found out about 10 days before he left about his departure date. [Cue Amy's standard non-freak-out that involves a lot of focused breathing, book-buying, and vitamin-checking.]
  • In a spurt of insightful generosity, Jay pulled his details together in time to stay home and manage the house and kids on November 1, so I could write all day. November 1 I wrote 10,352 words.
    • The 10,000-word day is sort of my generic “professional writer” benchmark, mainly due to this book. (Which I recommend: along with quality content it only takes an hour or two to read– which is also why I recommend it.) So crossing the 10K mark on the first was a big-huge deal to me.
      • She writes “full time” with her kiddo in daycare, which is sort of how I define full-time: someone else watching your kids so you can focus on something else.
  • I tracked my words per hour in a spreadsheet, so I saw that my 10K day was built in hours of 1,000- 1,200 word hours. So when Jay left and my life became exponentially more complex, I maintained my sense of professionalism and good will by producing at the same rate, but in smaller chunks. Chunks more like half an hour to an hour than whole days of application.

On that day after Jay left, I still had a mathematically doable goal of finishing the entire first draft (not just the 50,000 words) by the end of the month. I was half an hour (and a respectable 556 words) into my 2-hour writing block when a got a phone call from a young mom who asked if I could keep her baby “for about a week.”

I used to be a foster parent (of elementary-age kids, before I had two babies of my own) so I knew a few questions to ask, and a week seemed overly optimistic for resolution, but I said I’d talk to Jay.

Jay way still somewhere between Fairbanks and New Zealand, completely unavailable.

Normally my gap MO in such cases is to talk to my mom or dad, but they had left town that morning, and were also unavailable. So I called my IRL Christian/writer/mama friend (do you know how hard it is to get all five of those elements in one person?!) Afiya to have *somebody* who knew my situation to help think things out.

I don’t usually call (phones are not my friend), so she started by asking what was up.

This is why I needed my own pet in the midst of a busy life.

“Do you remember the last time I called when Jay was traveling? I was asking your opinion about adopting a little dog without his go-ahead, because I wasn’t sure it would still be around by the time he got home.”

“Oh sure,” she said. “Did you ever find a dog you both like?”

“No, we ended up getting two cats instead, but that’s not why I’m calling. Today I’m calling about a baby.”

“Oh, Amy, Amy, Amy…”

It was Afiya who pointed out I should ask the kids, enlist their participation because there was no way I could add a baby to my life as it is.

So I spoke with them (“Are you in? Because I’m not doing this by myself: God didn’t design a baby to be raised by one person all alone.”), they jumped at the idea, and that night I was doing baby laundry, watching babywearing videos on YouTube, and introducing my kids to the Dunstan Baby Language DVDs.

Over the last month my kids have impressed me again and again with their attentiveness and problem-solving skills as we’ve integrated this baby into our family.

It is unknown how long he will be with us, and I am thrilled to be writing this the morning after his second night of a big sleep-through (8p.m. to 6a.m.). Writing has emerged once again as a necessity, not a luxury, so with his stay stretching out I’m learning how to reintegrate writing even when we don’t particularly have a schedule. Since I don’t do schedules. Because they require too much energy in ratio to the benefits they proport to offer.

And, no, we don’t plan to adopt him, we’re just giving him a safe place to live while his forever-home stabilizes. Please don’t ask how we’re going to deal with “being attached” or the kids’ “being attached” or what we think we’ll do when he goes.

Odds are we’ll be sad. Odds are we’ll have a very real mixture of grief and relief, but fact is, there’s no way to “prepare” emotionally for a loss other than an unhealthy disengagement, which would damage baby as well as us.

I like how C.S. Lewis wrote about it:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

When I was 17, I considered a 6-month after-graduation job in another country. I actively considered what it would mean to fall in love with people and a community that I didn’t expect I’d visit again (non-traveler that I am). I quickly reached the “wrap [your heart] up tight” conclusion when I heard two words, almost as if from the voice of God.

Love lavishly.

It was my job, I felt him saying about me, to pour out the love I’d been given, the love I was full of. It was his job to keep my heart whole enough to keep loving.

 

I’ve learned a lot about love since I was 17, and I have learned more about actively protecting my heart, and defending myself in a useful way, but none of those things is really about limiting love. They’re about choosing how I’ll live, and accepting that people won’t always understand my love, or the way I express it.

One of my lessons is that the outward expression of my love (be that gifts, or listening or service, etc.) isn’t just about what I can do. That is too great a burden. It is about what I can keep on doing.

A one-time gift, or a series of large gifts, adequately spread out to allow me to recharge, is not showing greater love than the small bits that happen every day.

By making choices based on a pattern of sustainable giving, I am allowed consistency (one of my high values) and I am spared the choice or angst of having to decide with each “opportunity” to be stretched, can I endure *this* right now?

It is tied to my recent study of self esteem. My favorite summary of good self esteem has two parts.

  • The ability to trust your own mind.
  • The assurance you are worthy (or capable) of happiness.

By practicing these two halves, I am more-able to set meaningful limits in the relationships I have, and build a sustainable life that isn’t about running from crisis to crisis (mine or anyone else’s), putting out fires.

I used to think that if I was living life right, I could “work ahead” enough to coast for a while. I could push, then rest, push than rest. I wanted that rest so badly I pushed really really hard. But there’s always more to do, and there is a point we need to take the rest.

More than just taking the rest, which I believe *is* critical, I think some of us also need to work the rest into our daily living.

There will always be people “worse off” than me, and for a long time, I was not able to feel peace in my plenty because of that. But there will also be people better off than me, some because of their hard work and some because of good luck.

I can only live the life I have, and I have proven over and over again that I have plenty to think about without adding to the complexity of my world.

Life is complicated. Love hurts. Limits mean we don’t have to deal with all of everything at once.

Limits are a gift.

It’s Almost Time!

NaNoWriMo 2013 is going to be a new experience for me, for a couple reasons.

1. I have made a serious effort over the course of the month to create an outline to work from.

Not just an outline, but a sense of character, place, drama, trauma and core identities.

You see, much of the bear that revising Lindorm has been might have been averted with a bit more planning. Not just an A-happens, B-happens, C-happens (I did have a set of (digital) cards that made me feel ready but I didn’t look at after day-3). I needed to understand the internal workings of these imaginary people if they were going to be understood in the real world.

Of course, some of that trouble was not knowing myself at the time, my own core hurts and needs, and since one’s first protagonist is usually one’s self, this resulted in a lot of blind writing.  I kept being told Linnea is interesting/engaging/unique, but I had to take other people’s word for it.

So now I try to have things like a moral premise, and a midpoint reversal.

And I can name my genre, which surprised me, but is beginning to make more sense (considering my personal spread on the F-T spectrum). This story is a Mystery-Romance (or a Romance-Mystery. They’re both main genres, so I’m not sure before I write it which element is going to come out “on top”).

2. The novel I’m writing is not based on a folk or fairytale– modernized or not. A departure from all my other stories.

This story is an indulgence of all the popular-story elements I have collected over the years.  All the stuff that I gape at, and consider gutsy (and frankly, something like Twilight seems so self-indulgent it would take a lot of nerve for me to write something like that), or even outrageous, I continue to see authors who just GO for it and pull it off.

Shameless.

Like in Waking Rose where you have ninjas (NINJAS!) and you totally buy the ninja-fight at the end. That took guts (along with the unbelievably outrageous villain– I mean really? Black market organs?) and just unashamedly diving in and rolling with the story premise, it all. works.

This year’s story capitalizes on the current popularity of the BBC Sherlock, in a storyworld where Cumberbatch and Freeman lookalikes have been hired for a Teen-Sherlock spinoff.

Only, because they were hired for their appearances, none of the actors is particularly like the character he plays on the show.

Sherlock’s actor is more like Freeman’s Watson in temperament, and when he meets the girl who will eventually play Lestrade’s kid sister, he has no problem seeing her as the more “Sherlockian” of their pair.

So the novel is a layering of the story being told for television, trying to find a missing girl, and the “real world” mystery of exposing a group responsible for human trafficking, before those criminals decide to destroy the evidence. (And there’s your ticking clock.)

NaNoWriMo: 30 days to write 50,000 words on a new piece of fiction.

I’ve been writing a post each day through the month of October. All about getting Ready for NaNoWriMo.

It was a person at the Fairbanks NaNo Meet & Greet yesterday who noted:

“”NaNo itself is going to seem like a break to you after posting all through October: 30 days of work that doesn’t have to be cleaned up for public consumption.”

Yum. I’m looking forward to that. :)

Made to be Loved

Image courtesy of Andreas Krappweis via stock.xchng

Image courtesy of Andreas Krappweis via stock.xchng

I had a very unsettling experience this weekend that I’m just gonna go out on a limb and call a spiritual attack.

Over the last month and a half, I’ve had the privilege of sitting in on a peer/lay-led women’s bible study group. No set curriculum, instead, each woman signs up to teach on something that is important to her. They meet 2nd and 4th Fridays of each month (in case any local folks want to join us) and have been a haven of openness and challenging ideas.

Rather my perfect storm. In a good way.

Friday night, as I left, everyone made sure to hug me before I was gone, and two of the women, along their polite “we’re glad you’re coming”s added, “You have so much to add. Your breadth of knowledge is really impressive. You really are very smart.”

I don’t know when the shift happened for me, but some point after becoming an adult (maybe it was even after the depression, but at some point) my desire for affirmation and validation shifted from “You’re beautiful” (which I used to need very much, and still now is nice) to “You’re smart,” or “I admire you.”

Deeply affected, I thanked them for their compliment/kindness and headed home with an unnameable something broiling in my body.

It only got worse through Saturday. I was busy most of the day, so it kept to a low level, almost unnoticeable. But in the evening, when I was able to sit with myself, I felt that I was experiencing something utterly new to me.

All the emotions that I recognize have been in circulation since before I can remember their beginning. This was new. It was uncomfortable.

I sat and wrote a stream-of-consciousness essay to get a grip.

Image courtesy of Nithya Ramanujam via stock.xchng

“To allow hope into the heart is to open oneself to bitter disappointment.” (Line that made me pause in my current read, Heart’s Blood, and shift to writing.)

I told Jay tonight that I felt a new emotion. The first time I can remember feeling something new and undefined. The roots of everything else are deeper than memory.

It feels like a head cold, but with an extra ball of wax in my throat, and a layer of pond muck in my lungs.

It feels like a numb terror, like I’d be afraid if I had any more energy. Like I want to run, but know it is exactly the wrong thing to do, as if I am facing a bear.

And maybe the right thing is to treat it like a bear presence. Back away slowly, keep my eyes on it, and find a secure tree to climb. Dropping to play dead would be a last resort, but not out of the question.

And what’s so traumatic (you may rightly ask)?

I’m making friends.

(And now the tears are running down my cheeks and I’m blocking out the list of other reasons I’m raw enough to notice this new feeling.)

It hit me like a huge wet towel that I now have something to lose. And the awareness is everything I described above.

I’m having to engage all of my mind not to run away and hide.

I want to be hopeful, and I fear having a named hope that can be lost.

We talk about vulnerability, and “taking off the mask,” but what if the underneath is just more of the same? The other 90% of what people handle okay at the 10% level?

That’s what leaves me breathless.

This morning during prayer-time I thought about how Satan’s big lies include not just “You are unloved,” but also “You are unlovable.”

Image courtesy of Pontus Edenberg via stock.xchng

Image courtesy of Pontus Edenberg via stock.xchng

I am enough of an empiricist that I can reject that first lie as literally untrue, but because “loveable” holds more connotations than simply able-to-be-loved, (holding an implication of sweet, adorable, inherent attractiveness) hearing “unlovable” was not so plainly a lie.

Having experienced rejection a bunch, I knew there was a lot of stuff about me that just turned people off (notice there I said people, not some people. That was a flag). And so, knowing this “honest” stuff about myself, I moderated most of the “you’re amazing” comments from random people who don’t know me well, straining them through the hyperbole filter.

I know real love, though, and genuine acceptance. Each time it enters my world I’m gobsmacked. I like it, sure, but I hold loosely, treating it like a timid, wild thing, feeling honored that it has paused to trust me, to share it’s presence.

Having these individuals in my life didn’t disprove the lie (“I am unlovable.”), the lie (feeling true) only made their love and acceptance seem that much more amazing. It proved their awesomeness: they were exceptions to some fundamental law of nature.

The change Friday night was that this wasn’t just an individual I’d “clicked” with, that I carefully read, or opened to, or exchanged with. This was a whole group. This was “making friends.” Not just “finding a friend.”

Like I said, it created all. sorts. of emotional turmoil in me. But I think it also shattered a paradigm– exposing sharp edges that cut, and made me bleed– and birthed a new paradigm. Because (here comes the question):

What is the tipping point?

These people who love me are extraordinary. Their love is real, I’ve trusted that a long time, but I also saw it as a fluke.

I wrote out those two lies and stared at them a while. Taken naked, they are so easily seen.

Image courtesy of Sarah Lewis via stock.xchng

When do I quit calling those who love me the exception to the rule, and agree, yes, I am loveable?

And what I believe God impressed on me this morning is that, while their love is a gift: precious, wild, even rare in its uniqueness, it is not a fluke. It is God’s plan in action.

Because.

I. was. made. to. be. loved.

Becoming a Writer (Reading Notes)

This is the second time I’ve seen this title (*On* Becoming a writer) on a blog, and both times I thought (admit I hoped) it was Becoming a Writer, by Dorthea Brand.  That book is over 30 years old now (aka, there are really cheap used copies on Amazon), but as it was first published in 1934, I was astonished that it was the first book I remember reading (in my early days of imbibing writing books) that said things I didn’t remember getting from school.

Dorthea’s was the first place I read about morning pages, and the only place where a confident, experienced writer suggested, ‘Now, look back at what you’ve written in those pages. This is a clue to the type of writer you naturally are.’

It was my first touch of self-knowing, not as indulgence, but as a path to greater joy and effectiveness in your work.

My Voice

I had a sudden memory this morning.

Four months ago, when I still hoped I might be able to find a place I belonged in my old church, I visited Saturday night mass at the Catholic church down the road.

(That might sound contradictory, but work with me here.)

Image © Patrizio Martorana

Image © Patrizio Martorana

During the years I was depressed and my mind burdened by more than it could carry, I found tremendous relief in attending midweek mass.  The church was 10 minutes down the road (a big deal now that I lived outside of town), and the priest has a heavy, heavy accent.

He grew up in India, investigated “all the faiths” and chose Catholicism. He met Mother Theresa. Doesn’t eat food that isn’t fresh and says that’s why he’s never been sick in the seven years since he came to Alaska.

Very interesting man. Wonderful smile.

We did St. Raphael’s VBS a few years back, and I got to learn the meaning of a parish. The idea of people worshiping together that also live near one another.

After the last day one of our new friends invited us to join them at a local park, and they got to talking about the “new” priest, and how hard is was to understand him sometimes.  I don’t know if I realized at first I was defending him, but I shared that one of my favorite aspects of visiting the church was feeling of foreignness.

That is, I imagined what it must have been like for new believers to try and understand a non-native speaker communicate a comforting but unfamiliar ritual. It all held great significance to me.

I can’t explain the warmth I felt when the other mother said, “Wow. That actually makes me like him more.”

~ ~ ~

Feeling a great deal of turmoil this spring, feeling isolated, I remembered the community and comfort St. Raphael’s had offered in the past, so I slipped into Saturday Evening Mass and soaked.

The second week I attended (the memory that struck me and made me want to tell this story), one of the women Cantors (song leaders) was an older soprano. And she had my voice.

That is, I recognized the way she sang.

There are different qualities and sounds of Soprano. I have my likes and dislikes, and my voice can be in either of those categories depending on the work I want it to do. But she was a mirror.  For the first time, maybe ever, I got to hear what I sounded like, not from a speaker, a recording or in my own head, but eight feet from the instrument itself.

Twice I nearly cried.

Now I know what people mean when they say I can sing.

I am not perfect, but I’m good, especially in the range and type of music suited to the voice. I have a good instrument, and if I’m not thoughtful in the way I use it, I can tear myself down.

And this makes me think so much about the rest of me. My gifts, my inclinations, my duties and delights.

~ ~ ~

I once was in a really foul mood, and verbally attacking myself (speaking the truth, I called it then). God somehow got my attention and gently asked if I would speak to my dear friend Jana that way.

Instantly my mind replayed all the abuse, and my imagination showed me pouring it over this gentle-spirited, loving individual. I sobbed, horrified that I might be capable of such a thing, how I’d never want to hurt someone like that.

It was as if God was asking, How are you different from her? Why treat one of my daughters this way?

I heard my voice in a new way.

And I made a change.

When Words Become Abusive

Image courtesy of Linden Laserna via stock.xchng

Image courtesy of Linden Laserna via stock.xchng

I put the words “verbal abuse” in the keyword search engine for my local library, and one of the titles it brought back was a grammar [correction] guide.

That made for a great joke on Facebook, but no one asked why I was researching that topic (in fairness, I research a lot of random stuff as a novelist).

One of my skills is what I call “instant extrapolation,” the power to see A and reach G very quickly. I am very sensitive to attitudes and approaches to life and theology that grow into gross misrepresentations of God and his character.

But you see that word, sensitive?

“Admitting” sensitivity in some environments is tantamount to saying your awareness is not representative and may, therefore, be written off.  “Most people are fine,” the math seems to say. “This is just a random data point. Doesn’t matter.” She doesn’t matter.

Having removed myself from an environment that contained mental and emotional abuse, I am already feeling stronger, but I have continued to wrestle with the language to articulate what I walked away from, and I struggle with the question of grace.

That is, I really don’t expect people to be perfect (I am too aware of my own imperfection), so how do I make the distinction between carelessness, or foolishness, and abuse?

I came across a set of words recently that was a huge help in this process.

A few years back there was a huge on-line exchange between some pretty big names in the Christian world, including The Gospel Coalition, Rachel Held Evens and others.

This post includes the relevant links, but also the illustration of that point that has become so important to me.

Words are my gift, but (as much as I joke about it) reading minds isn’t.

I will do my best to be not-unkind, but I cannot control my own ignorance.  I don’t know what I don’t know, so I assume I will hurt people at times. I wondered if this made me an abuser.

The people who hurt me are still at least acting clueless, so I couldn’t figure out the distinctions.

Then this post. She says many meaningful and relevant things, but summed up my own pain and frustration in these words:

My issue is that a violation has occurred and no one will so much as even own it. My issue is that I am hearing almost the exact same words in the exact same mentality and attitude that were spoken to me when I was personally violated and spiritually abused: “I didn’t mean for it to be offensive, so if you’re offended, you’re wrong.”

It made me think of a (disappointingly common) scenario in my own household.

One child will be waving a stick, or throwing a rock, or swinging a toy around like David’s sling, and it will “impact” a sibling who was equally oblivious to the activity as the perpetrator was of the other child’s presence.

I have witnessed the wounder trying to prevent the hurt child from coming to a parent, and, failing at that, accompany the child to loudly protest innocence, even as tears roll over a rising welt on the wounded child’s cheek.

“I didn’t mean to hurt!” is the unchanging refrain, as if intent will absolve them of the effects of reality.

“The fact is, you did,” I always say. “What you meant doesn’t matter any more. You owe him/her an apology.”

This is the missing piece.

This is how I keep from becoming those I used to fear. I acknowledge hurt. I acknowledge ignorance. I acknowledge there is more than I understand, and that a person is worth my compassion, not my condescension.

Brother, if your sister tells you it hurts, it just hurts. If your sister tells you it wounded her, it just wounded her. And all any of this condescension and evasion of responsibility is doing is showing her that your need to be right is worth attempting to argue her out of her violation.

Jamie Finch from The Fig Tree

Ten Tasks for Healing from Trauma (Wyn Magazine)

Oh, and I forgot to mention, here’s another entry at Wyn Magazine– my review of a book I think everyone (seriously. everyone.) should read. If you are blessed enough not to have experienced trauma yourself, this is a terrifically focused (aka short) survey of very important concepts that doubtless affect someone you know.

Jasmin Lee Cori (MS, LPC) has provided a tremendous resource with her book, Healing From Trauma: A Survivor’s Guide to Understanding Your Symptoms and Reclaiming Your Life.

TRAUMA is an enormous topic, about which countless words have been written. The beauty of Cori’s book is how she distills the massive topic and its many relevant areas to their solid core. I never felt like anything I read was “fluff” or more explanation than a particular topic needed to get the concept across.

On the one hand I was thankful. I already felt like I was behind when I started the book because I am one of those women who did not recognize the trauma until after the fact. At other times I was annoyed, because I’d barely wrapped my mind around one idea when she set it down and moved to the next one.

Overall I believe Cori took the right approach: by introducing us to “industry standard” terms, she provides the means (vocabulary) to research any individual area further on our own.

In chapter five, The Journey of Healing, Cori has a list titled, “The Tasks of Healing.” These suggest a cluster of areas to strengthen that is supplemented with more detail throughout the rest of the book. These elements do not have to happen in order, but I found it helpful to see them untangled enough to lay out in a single line.

The headings are hers, and the summaries are mine, from the notes I took as I read the book.

(Read the list and more in the whole book review at Wyn Magazine.)