dear friend who is up late, online, and searching for answers

I was never a chat room sort of gal — which is a shame because if I had been, I might’ve found someone to talk to late at night when the quiet house amplified the voices in my head. Instead, I searched endlessly for answers.

I still search, but with less desperation and mainly when I’m worried about my own health issues. I nearly always regret those sorts of searches…not super helpful for inducing sleep…my mind always goes to the worst and the internet freely offers it.

Anyway, I ask a lot of questions in real life now — about things I never would have years ago:

Is this normal?

What would you do?

How can I know for sure?

What if he doesn’t?

What if it’s true?

The answers aren’t always reassuring, but they’re offered by people who know me and care. People don’t always have the right answer either. But I care less now about getting the exact right answer than I do about having someone who will listen to my fears and not dismiss them as silly or faithless.

One real life – around the corner – in your kitchen – on the phone – friend is worth more than a thousand far away. That’s a proverb of sorts.

Trouble is, she’s not always awake when you are. And sometimes, there are things you don’t even dare to ask her…

Who did we ask before Google? Oh yeah, Jeeves…but who before that? I know my answer: Nobody. I kept the hardest questions to myself and they weighed heavy on my heart and mind and kept me awake for hours into the night.

I remember the first time I searched for Tramadol forums online. My first search, more than a decade ago, yielded sellers with ridiculous pages packed with search words. You had to hunt for a page that offered actual help and conversation — maybe you’ve experienced that, too. What I found eventually were conversations that held the beginnings of warnings about the power of this prescription drug. Even people breaking free from heroin recounted near-death experiences of withdrawal from Tramadol. Page after page was filled with harrowing stories of this new drug. I found nothing at all to encourage me.

There’s exponentially more information online now, and experts to chat with at all hours…but I think, more than anything, we just want to know we’re not alone: Someone like me has been through what I’m going through and she survived.

I wonder, dear friend who is up late, online, and searching for answers if that’s what you want, too? Maybe underneath the impulse to click and scroll for facts and knowledge, what you really want to know is: is it going to be okay?

And you know, just like I do, nobody has that answer. Not really. But you click, and scroll, and read and repeat til you are exhausted enough to finally sleep.

* * * * *

Two weeks ago, I was writing the story of our life together — Dave’s and mine — going back a long way. It was almost our 24th anniversary and that, combined with a revived passion to get the whole story down on paper made me feel especially reflective. Our story spans decades now: years of migraine headaches, years of addiction, years of recovery…years and years of feeling alone in suffering and in shame.

Right now, maybe all your deepest questions are unanswered — unspoken. Maybe you only see despair, discouragement, darkness.

I think so many times it’s only in the looking back that you really see.

We sang a song at church the other day, and it hit me all at once and nearly knocked me down. I got home and opened my notebook and across the page where I’d meticulously graphed the details of our history together — all the unspoken troubles behind the smiling faces in a gazillion photographs from 24 years– I wrote this line:

Never once did we ever walk alone.

Oh friend, I know that’s not the answer you came looking for, but it’s probably the most true and honest answer I can give. Whatever it is, however lonely it feels, you aren’t walking by yourself. Not really. Not ever.

Whether it’s worry rendering you sleepless, or fear, or anger, or hurt, or grief, or confusion — whatever it is, whatever you are suffering, God is with you even when it doesn’t feel like He’s answering your questions.

My prayer for you tonight is rest. And peace that passes understanding. Someday, you will look down from a mountain, not up from this valley, but you need strength for the journey. He provides for you, even in your sleep. *

Here’s a song for you — a lullaby — to remind you: you’re not alone.

Deb's signature for blog

 

 

 *Psalm 127:2 It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors;
For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.

distraction and the discipline of presence

When my children were little, I noticed an interesting behavior pattern. If we started the day with TV, it was difficult to get them to take interest in anything else — including each other — for the rest of the day.

I hated this, because it meant I had to be on my A-game for the first hour after they woke up because asking and needing began the moment their eyes opened.

It was so very, very tempting to hush and soothe them with Little Bear while I changed diapers and got sippy cups — and it meant I could probably close my eyes for just a few more minutes and snuggle with whichever of the four climbed into my lap while the rest stayed contentedly mesmerized.

When the weather was good, the extra eyes-half-open doze through a few episodes wasn’t too detrimental to the flow of the day. They could always be diverted by dirt.

But if it was rainy, which of course it was 99% of the first year we lived in Tacoma, well, Game Over. It was either let them watch a video or referee endless fights over Lego pieces, Hotwheels, gummy fruits, and all the “he said I couldn’t do its” they could dole out (apparently, this is the worst thing brothers can say to each other; it either turns into a dare or a brawl).

TV was a buffer. A babysitter. A break. I’m not knocking it. I might owe some of my sanity to my children’s two-year-old vhs/dvd obsessions, which were, in order: 101 Dalmations, Toy Story 2The Iron Giant, and Finding Nemo. (My kids watched Finding Nemo a lot…lucky me, baby #4 turned out to be a terrible sleeper.)

What I’ve discovered, however, is that if we repeatedly soothe our kids with video in all its forms when they are small, they are very likely to soothe themselves with it when they are older.

When my oldest ones became teenagers, “Turn off the TV!” was my delightfully judgmental greeting to them the minute I walked in the door from work. I say it often. I say it to myself.

Train up a child…

A few generations of us have been doing this for a very long time now. Watching numbs us to exercise, chores, homework.  We turn on the TV for background noise, for something to talk about when the conversation lags.

And if we’ve been distracting ourselves, numbing ourselves, soothing ourselves for most of our lives with TV, Netflix, whatever, it’s just second nature to need it to unwind, to avoid loneliness, to avoid sorrow. Just like in the toddler years, distraction can be a welcome relief.

But if you’re anything like me, maybe it’s become a problem.

A few years ago, like practically everyone I know, I picked up the habit of scrolling through my smart phone if I woke up in the night and couldn’t sleep. Just a warmer and cozier way to do what I’d done since 1995 when the Internet made Craigslist my new best friend.

And streaming Netflix?

I streamed five seasons of Madmen in the wee hours of the morning for three weeks before my daughter went to college. Don’t judge me for it. I judge myself. Madmen had all the “charm” of midnight in a 70’s bowling alley — smoky, boozy, sexy. Way, way too much depravity for me. But, I do have a weakness for the well-written drama, and I was a copywriter on the creative team of a marketing agency, and Peggy’s copywriting woes in season 3… well, I could relate.

Distraction. I wanted distraction and entertainment so I didn’t have to feel all the feelings of letting go.

A few months later, a dear friend and I began to talk and read about giving God space in our minds and hearts and how sometimes that means feeling the feelings we’ve tried to numb and asking God to heal hurt and being patient while He does and not trying continuously to pour on our own temporary anesthetic. To ask God to awaken us to the present, to live in the present, and to take it as it is. To be okay being uncomfortable. To be attentive to our lives.

This is an exercise — a prayer — I have to come back to again and again because numbing is my default.

Awareness of God’s presence. A prayer I would BE present in my own life.  That days would not be for “getting through” but for real, active living.

And it’s a prayer best prayed the moment I wake up. A simple word: presence.

Because if I start the day catching up on the latest Downton Abbey, and then remember that when I asked a friend “what are we all going to do when this is over” his response was “Poldark,” I will have to check it out. And what do you know, the whole first season is free on Amazon Prime…

Game. Over.

(“Wow! Mom did all of our laundry! Thank you so much, mom!” Say the teenagers, usually required to do own laundry. Who knew we had a whole Poldark season’s worth of dirty clothes?)

* * * * *

Don’t you envy people who live off the grid? Don’t you think, “If I could just toss all my electronics in a landfill I’d be happier”?

I kind of do.

But I wonder…

Would we just fill our minds with something else? With novels? With nature? (Sign. Me. Up.)

I think we would.

Because the adversary is bent on distraction, and it would still take discipline to open my eyes and see.

I need that discipline.

* * * * *

P.S. If Pixar’s Wall-E (oh the irony) was too subtle a critique on distraction, consider reading Neil Postman’s book, written in 1985, entitled Amusing Ourselves to DeathTo be honest, it’s too much for me and makes me feel trapped in the Matrix. I prefer Walden because it just seems easier to flee. But that’s not 21st century reality. Somehow, we have to reclaim our lives from distraction right where we are.

Here’s a little taste of Neil (remember, this was written long before we could carry our entertainment in the palm of our hands):

“The number of hours the average American watches TV has remained steady, at about four and a half hours a day, every day (by age sixty-five, a person will have spent twelve uninterrupted years in front of the TV).”

“…No medium is excessively dangerous if its users understand what its dangers are… This is an instance in which the asking of the questions is sufficient. To ask is to break the spell.”

“It is not necessary to conceal anything from a public insensible to contradiction and narcotized by technological diversions.”

“People will come to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.”
― Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, 1985

good enough

 

Last year.

Last year, we settled into our first home, bought after many, many years of trying to fix the past. Out of the woods and into the sunshine.

Last year, I said goodbye to a regular paycheck, venturing out on my own. Learning trust again. Finding unexpected blessings.

Last year, we finally gave a kid his Christmas wish of eight years: a dog. He earned the money and we said yes.

Last year, we renewed and strengthened some friendships and said yes as often as possible to being with them. Our home. Your home. Church.

This year…

I’m excited to start a new year and am setting out to reach some long time goals. Thankful for the people beside me who are doing the same.

Dropping some weights along the way, and some of this post shared here is exactly what I needed to start this January 1.

Perfectionism is a torment. And I don’t know if you’re battling it too, but it wreaks havoc in my personal and creative life.

Never good enough. For all sorts of messy reasons.

Perfectionism is a thief of joy. Joy, my one word for 2016. I love one word. Invite was my word for 2015 and it did wonders. Opened doors.

Time to step through them.

Going to put more of me out there this year. Going to take walks. Going to publish things I’ve written – online or otherwise. Going to believe in good enough.

Starting here.

“Sometimes you have to accept that you’ll never be acceptable enough for some people. And whether you accept that as their issue or yours — is up to you.” -Ann Voskamp

when love is built on countless failures

Sometimes, when your love has endured through terrible things, you are amazed to find that you could ever bicker over something as trivial as pancakes.

But suddenly, there you are irrationally irritated, both of you. And off you go to the bedroom to “discuss” in loud whispers behind closed doors, leaving the kids in buttery, syrupy wonderment.

Soon a “you always” and a “you never” and a “you are” invade the conversation and someone just needs to end it, because it’s heading to absurdity, so when a boy knocks to ask about chores, you do. No resolution, just full stop.

But the mood is set. And so, she scrubs the shower with the guilty determination of Lady Macbeth, and he cuts down every offensive overgrown shock of grass, and the boys snap-to without complaint because none of them wants that directed at them, and it’s not til much later that you realize the why of it.

The why? She had too much coffee — maybe — before eating anything of substance, consumed by a story and a wish to see the world again. He started the day too early, to watch a soccer game with his boy who is spending a season on the sidelines, broken, and as much as they love to watch together it’s not the same as watching him, and disappointment permeates as his team loses just the very minute she is pouring the pancakes. And so, a simple, “Is this egg for me?” receives a sharp “I just made them. They’re not for anyone in particular.” And he wonders aloud at her rather than quietly conversing in vague metaphors.  Things must be sorted out, hashed out, resolved — now.

But the why remains dormant as the flurry of words takes on tone and expectation and below the flurry lies an unseen, unsaid ache.

These troublesome talking overs and unders and not hearing, knowing, loving perfectly, these are bits of rock and weed that surface no matter how many rocks, weeds you sift from your soil. No matter how well you till your garden, no matter how many rocks have been removed. Remnants of a curse. By the sweat of your brow. Two who are one and yet not — and at times it feels like the ground is opening between you.

But knocking has pulled you away from the abyss. And the work is gift. Here is something that can be made right. Soap scum is no mystery, grass does not ask to be understood.

And yet, there is romance. Even in a Saturday morning spat. Because your love has weathered so much more than pancakes and eggs. Rocks, weeds and thorns are momentary light afflictions, and you will laugh soon — later, over lunch — surprised how sometimes a game and a book can stir sensitive souls. And you know your longing for perfect understanding, perfect peace is merely deep desire to re-enter The Garden where she was once bone of your bones and flesh of your flesh, she, once so perfectly known he had no need for words.

We have laughter. And we have smart, sharp children who interrupt the absurd and are beautiful and daily reminders that our faults, our many grievous faults, can somehow be redeemed and blessed. And we know the silly, selfish spats will come again because we are not in The Garden. We are he and she in imperfection. And she drives the car til the tank is empty, and he breaks a sweat when it dips below half. And he likes to be there early, and she wishes people still determined time by the sun. She’ll snap, he’ll be too lenient, she’ll spend too much, he’ll punish the wrong kid, she’ll be needlessly strict because he suddenly seems to have no boundaries, she’ll swear, and he may even put a hole in the wall. Or she will.

And the truth, the romance, is that we are always learning to make allowance for each other’s faults…and it is glorious to overlook them. 

“No long-term marriage is made easily, and there have been times when I’ve been so angry or so hurt that I thought my love would never recover. And then, in the midst of near despair, something has happened beneath the surface. A bright little flashing fish of hope has flicked silver fins and the water is bright and suddenly I am returned to a state of love again — til next time. I’ve learned that there will always be a next time, and that I will submerge in darkness and misery, but that I won’t stay submerged. And each time something has been learned under the waters; something has been gained; and a new kind of love has grown. The best I can ask for is that this love, which has been built on countless failures, will continue to grow. I can say no more than that this is mystery, and gift, and that somehow or other, through grace, our failures can be redeemed and blessed.”

Madeleine L’Engle
The Irrational Season

Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense. Proverbs 19:11

Make allowance for each other’s faults… Colossians 3:13a