Saturday, June 20, 2015

Depression, My Grumpy Teacher

Earnest prayer doesn't always make it better.
Sometimes it seems to "make it worse."
Truly seeking God's will for your life... well, sometimes that means realizing & embracing that he has a cross he fully intends for you to bear. And when God intends for you to bear a cross, there is no amount of squirming and running that can get you out from under it.

I think my cross is anxiety & depression.
I honestly don't know if I'll ever be free. At least for this season of my life, it is my constant companion. Sometimes it's so quiet that I forget it's there... and then some little stressor (a bad night sleep, a long week, a bad conversation, a highly publicized crime, one too many fits from my babies) and all of a sudden the sneaky voice of depression becomes a wail so loud it drowns everything else out.

I was reading a book written in the 1500s on the subject of prayer.... the author specifically said, "If a sister struggles with 'melancholy' solitary meditation might not be good for her. If someone starts to wilt under this discipline, give them a job and get them active and around people."

I found this SO comforting... because it is yet another example of how depression is not some new fangled issue first world problem. I'm not a wuss. I'm tough as nails because I'm pretty sure this curse would have run a lesser person under the ground by now.

Sometimes I think God is using depression to protect me from myself.
My default mode is "Dream Big! Do Do Do! Go Go Go! Achieve, Accomplish, Create!" But ever since Depression+Anxiety, when I begin to shift into this aggressive gear, I am suddenly crippled by the brokenness in my spirit.
It keeps me low.
It keeps me humble.
It keeps me so small....

Which keeps me focused on my children... cherishing each quiet moment, each stupid game. Or not cherishing the zillionth scream fest, dirty diaper, stolen snack... but being present with it. Not distracted. Engaged. Engaging. Otherwise I'd be a million miles away dreaming up dreams!

It seems like that would be better....

But this is my cross...

And when I pray deeply, the Lord makes it clear that the cross remains heavy on my shoulders.


Today I felt these quiet words slip in and stay: "Because the highest aim of this world is not to make this world more my home. More friendly. More safe. More comfortable for me. The highest aim of this world is to bring me face to face with a reckoning that it is not my home. The world is good, but it is not perfect. It is beautiful, but it is not bliss. It is strong, but it is broken. This is my journey, but it is not my home."

Monday, June 15, 2015

An Open Letter to High Schoolers

You have been fed a lie.

You have been asked to conform to a version of Christianity that more closely resembles Elizabethan Victorianism than anything actually found in the Bible.

You have been pressured, more than any Christian adults, to live a life of religiosity... not of grace. Not under Jesus' love and sacrifice for you, but under your own power.

What does a Christian look like? What are you told?

Don't drink. Don't party. Read your Bible. Every day. Listen to the right music. Go to youth group. Go to church. Tell people about Jesus at school. Go to college to be a witness to the world. Be an example by living above the standards of others. When you want a boyfriend or girlfriend, just be satisfied in Jesus... (what even is that?). And don't get me started on sex.

Christian adults put more pressure on high schoolers to live by the rules than they would ever place on themselves... definitely more pressure than they would place on any other adult they were trying to evangelize/convert/witness to.

Christian adults preach a message of salvation by faith alone... in a grace so big and good that it meets you where you are... not a salvation that says, "Congratulations, now you get to work harder." No. A salvation that says, "You're free."

Except apparently that doesn't apply to people under the age of 18. They need Jesus AND ___, ____, ___.

And then these Christian adults wonder why the high school student goes to college and "looses their faith." They blame the liberal and godless university. They don't realize that they themselves are to blame... for setting up a salvation based on how good you are, how hard you work, how well you follow the rules, how thoroughly you stand higher than the rest.
Does that sound like a relationship to you? Not one you'd want to be in.

You are the youngest brothers and sisters of the faith... so why are you held to the highest standard?

Why do adult Christians show more care for conforming you actions (to a standard higher than even they will adopt), than to shaping your heart with a higher love?

I'm sorry.
Sorry for the pressure.
Sorry for the lie that Jesus needs you to do it all.
Sorry for the picture of a relationship with Jesus that looks like slavery.
Brothers and sisters, he did it all. So. You. Can. Be. Free.

We have made you tired, frustrated, weary of Christ before you ever had a chance to fall in love with him.

Grace is for you too.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

So High Above My Station

The years we give to motherhood are not the ones we have wasted.

These years are not the pause button--the unfortunate interim or interruption--on our more significant life of personal development or professional success.

These years are the peak. Not the valley. The highest of heavenly callings.

My firstborn child was so hard. The first two years of his life were pure struggle for me. They dragged me into dark places and then kicked me while I was down. But towards the end of those two years, I had finally begun to begrudgingly accept my position as God's best wish for me. For me this meant that I stopped struggling and pushing so hard to be "A mom AND _____." I stopped wrestling to pull some other significant roll out of my life as a buffer or accessory to my roll as a mother.

As I began to uncurl my fists on my pride (which wanted me to be MORE than "just" a mom) and surrender, I felt rather proud of myself for this courageous act.

I patted myself on the back for my humility.

Then I heard this song (embedded below)... and one simple line wrecked me.

"You have raised me up so high above my station."

It left me sobbing in the parking lot of Whole Foods with the goodness of truth.

My highest "sacrifice" is merely a yielding to God's best Birthday Present.

And when we really understand that (even though it may take many struggles and many years before we do) we will learn to cherish the difficulty with a weird sweetness... a sweetness that is not manufactured or willed up or at all trite or trivializing of the pain. It is merely a Something Stronger that consumes weak-heartedness like an amoeba that eats germs for lunch. Then pain does not make us shrivel; it causes us to flourish... even in the living moment while we may being curling up to cry. Even in that moment of broken heartedness, there is a life/light/lightness that suffuses the heart in the middle of struggle.

You leave the roll of victim behind and become a beautiful wounded healer.


I've taken a few days off from writing and thinking so that I could read and listen.

It is difficult to have your brain in a posture/position of listening while also thinking/talking. I often need to power down my thinker and acquire wisdom... then spend several weeks writing and thinking it all through.

This week has yielded an abundance of riches through listening. One thought--in the crowd of good truths--is emerging victorious... so I'll start there:

Motherhood is the new Monasticism.

Thomas Merton says, "The monk is a Christian who has responded to a special call from God, and has withdrawn from the more active concerns of a worldly life." It strikes me that you make a similar intentional commitment when you choose to dedicate your life to bearing and raising your children.

I could have given myself to so many other endeavors. I could have done work that would have earned me an identity ("This is Blair. She's a designer."), praise and affirmation from others ("I saw your project. You do good work."), an easily recognizable and quantifiable sense of success, a public and visible legacy built and measured by output, creation, and connections.

Instead, I've been called (with many of my other sisters in the world) into an invisible life of endless servanthood. (I can't say I chose it... it chose my and dragged me down kicking and screaming.) I've been given the task of doing the lowest work by the world's/society's math: Wiping butts, cooking meals, cleaning toilets, kneeling to scrub floors, waking in the night to tend patients who are virtually the equivalent of angry quadriplegics who don't speak English. And charged to do it all with a sense of thankfulness, compassion, and deep love. Every day. Every night. Without a break... ever. "On call" 100% of the time without ever a moment that you can--with full confidence--expect privacy, quiet, or relief from responsibility.

Is there any other job out there with such a high set of demands?
Is there any other job which requires all of you in this way?
Is there any other job which, though it asks so much, gives back so little?

We cannot view motherhood as a job... or we will quit.  We must view it as a calling. God has called us out of the world (with its measures for success and it's metrics for merit) and into the silent trenches of service.

Considering that, is there any other job that more fully resembles a monastic life than that of Motherhood?

So, ask yourself... What dignifies, enriches, and empowers the monastic calling?

Prayer. A life of prayer. The "prayer of the heart."

This too transforms, dignifies, and radically empowers the calling of motherhood. This lowest, highest, position.

When I understand my position as a calling, my life becomes an act of prayer at the highest order... an act of surrender to God.

I'll close with this quote for you to ponder today:

"If is it true that the deepest prayer at its nub is a perpetual surrender to God, then all meditation and specific acts of prayer might be seen as preparations and purifications to ready us for this never-ending yielding." -- Contemplative Prayer, forward by Douglas V. Steere.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Let It Go

UUGH!  I needed this today....

It's always when you're genuinely pissed off, indignant, insulted, annoyed... when you want to explain yourself, spell it out, let the other person know just how wrong they are.... that's when this becomes the unwanted (BUT DEEPLY NEEDED) reality.

Let it go...

Release the feelings...

Stop rehearsing what you'd say if given the chance... (This is the hardest for me! I love to defend myself and explain my position.)

Rest in peace...

Exercise a kind and tender heart...

Forgive the wrongs done or thought or said about you.

So hard. But being obedient to this discipline feels better than the good feeling of righteous indignation. (And, let's be real, righteous indignation feels good!)

The science of malice shows the negative effect it has on our bodies. Holding stress. The build up of aggressive hormone response. Tension in the shoulders and jaw. Rising blood pressure.

Let it go. It's good for you.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A Diary of Private Prayer

My very first attempt at video.... miiiiight be a disaster. Let's see if it works!

I found this book at the thrift store for $0.25!  There is a morning and evening prayer for each day. I'm reading the simple prayers after breakfast and before bed. The discipline and rhythm is anchoring. It isn't necessary to fret is nothing really "speaks to you", because there's always another prayer coming. And if something does speak to you, no matter how small, you do't have to dig for more out of it... just rest in that little bit of truth... because there's always another prayer coming.

It takes the nervous energy out of prayer and "quiet times" (as Christians like to call them).

(It's easier to digest with the words right in front of you... so I'll put the script below.)

(OK... yeah.... as far as I can tell on my end, this isn't working at all. Sigh. NEXT TIME!!!)

Lord of my life, whose law I long to keep, whose fellowship I love to enjoy, and to whose service I would long to be loyal, I kneel before you as your send me out to the work of another day.

Fort his new day, I give you humble thanks: for its gladness and its brightness: for its long hours waiting to be filled with joyous and helpful labour: for its open doors of possibility: for its hope of new beginnings. Quicken in my heart, I beg you, the desire to avail myself richly of this day's opportunity. Let me no break faith with any of yesterday's promises, nor leave unprepared any of yesterday's wrongs. Let me see no follow traveller in distress and pass by on the other side. Let me leave no height of duty behind me unattempted, nor any evil habit unsalted. Where deed of mine can help to make this world a better place for men to live in, where word of mine can cheer a despondent heart or brace a weak will, where prayer of mine can serve the extension of Christ's Kingdom, there let me do and speak and pray.

This day, O Lord--
give me courtesy:
give me meekness of bearing with decision of character:
give me long-suffering:
give me charity:
give me chastity:
give me sincerity of speech:
give me diligence in my allowed task.

O God, who in the fullness of time did raise up our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to enlighten our hearts with the knowledge of your love, grant me the grace to be worthy of his name. Amen.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Postures in Prayer

What I'm writing here sounds so simple... but if we think precisely and seriously about it, I think we can be touched in a quite wonderful way.

Prayer is both contemplative (mind) & active (body).
If we get a good hold on this simple concept, we will be well on our way to a revitalized life of prayer.

If the mind is working alone in prayer, distraction and weariness set in quickly.
When you engage the body (through a physical posture of prayer or through a physical object that anchors you like beads or a picture or an object, for example) the mind endures much longer in it's pursuit of prayer. (Yoga is the extreme example of this... the idea being, if you can meditate standing on your head then imagine how well you will be able to meditate sitting comfortable on your bum!) 

I don't know of any strong contemplative traditions (in any religion) that exists without a set of recommendations for how to engage the body.

In my experience, Protestants tend to be squeamish about engaging the body in prayer. (After all, Jesus said, "When you pray, don't be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get." (Mat 6:5)  
"Bow your head and close your eyes" was once a well-accepted posture, but I have seen even this--in modern protestant churches--being shied away from. It is seen as possibly being "just for show" and therefore avoided.
The concept of personal freedom---"what's right for me"---has so penetrated our church culture that modern Christians are commonly uncomfortable employing their bodies in a discipline of submission unless they feel "stirred" by some strong spirit to do so. Therefore, they miss the benefits of simple disciplined prayer while waiting for the hurricane.

I think it is fundamental that we get away from the idea that postures of prayer are "just for show." Where the body leads, the mind will follow. (This has been repeatedly documented by science. See here. And here.)  It may also stand to reason, based on what we know of neuroplasticity, that when the mind is weak in one area it can be strengthened by engaging the body to aid the mind.

So what does this mean for a practice of prayer?

That postures of prayer should see a revival. 
Some traditions bow, some kneel, some sit cross-legged.  Some clasp their hands, some place palms together, some place palms in the lap or on the knees facing up, some spread & raise the hands open... the list could go on and on. 
You can even make your prayer posture mobile. (Watch these for examples: Jewish Prayer, Orthodox Prayer Postures/Prostrations)

Why not try some of these out? 
See how God may use a step of faith taken with your body. 

I'm going to give it shot in a more intentional way through the week.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Prayer Without Words

We're Wild Inside

There are no killers here.
Advanced and advancing, the global climate 
has cooled to your merits and your claws
are no longer an asset, dear. 
You have domesticated the wild animal of my body.
Urban serenity asks nicely: Beautiful Beast, leave
your teeth at home and stoop your head
and lap milk. 
And we will all survive.

We live in a world where almost everyone is medicated.
Isn't that a weird thought. 
Almost everyone we meet and interact with on a daily basis presents a chemically altered version of themselves. (This is documented by social science data, if you're curious.)

I was watching a documentary about lions... the papa lion was coming home... the mama lions thought he was a bad guy... they got all buzzed and hopped up on aggression to defend the cubs... then they realized their mistake; this was no rouge! this was their guy... but the raw adrenaline was still pumping! They had to let the rippling energy out. They screamed and boxed and wrestled each other until the wild emotions passed out of their bodies. Only then they could lay calm again in the sun. 

Our world makes no room for that wildness. It gives no outlet. So we drug ourselves to deal with the animal anxiety and aggression. 

Ugh! It just doesn't sit right with me... but I guess it's better than a world at war.

I have had medicated seasons in the past few years. It's been a god-send, but I've always been restless and unsettled with it. It curbs the restless, roaring, pacing animal of my inner life. It takes me off the knife's edge. My natural state is one of constant yearning and leaning into life. I am addicted to "Possibility" because I find it exhilarating! It's like leaning into the sea wind and imagining you can fly.

Medication softens me. At some points I have said, "It makes me more myself" but perhaps the truth is, it makes me an easier version of myself.

I don't know if I want to be the wild lioness.
She's exhausting to live with... she's soft, but she has claws and if you're not constantly paying attention to her, she will slash you.
But I don't know if I'm comfortable being the domesticated lioness. She seems to be untruthful in a way... a shadow of herself.

I know which version of me works better in the world I live in.
But I wonder if the world might gain more from the unsoftened life?