(Un)Gratitude

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This post is part of the UNCO synchro blog. You can read other posts from the series here.

I talk a lot about gratitude on this blog (see these), and this is the season of gratitude, thanksgiving being a few days a way and all. But we have been given this challenge with UNCO to think about “ungraditude.” I know it’s not a word, but go with it…

I was thinking about all the things I’m ungrateful for and there is a long list this year. But here’s what all the things really come down to… I’m ungrateful for brokenness, for my ability to cause another pain, and for another to cause me pain.

Once upon a time someone hurt someone else, in some way, some how. We call this sin. (If you want to read more about my thoughts on sin, I wrote about it in The Four Letter Word) Like every person I have been hurt, and I have caused hurt. I have bullied and struggled, I have projected and manipulated to get what I wanted, I have been dumped on, projected on to, hurt in countless ways. Some forgivable, some I need God to forgive.

I am ungrateful for all of it.

I love community, I love relationship, I love interaction and people and connection. I hate the way we hurt each other. I hate that I may expect something from you and you from me and we might disappoint. I hate that your shit and my shit might collide and we have to navigate the shit blinded by our own pain. I hate that you might die on me, or quit on me, or worse, leave me just because. I’m afraid of leaving you for no good reason or quitting on you or dying on you. I hate that in my attempt to help I might end up hurting you.

This is the risk we run. This is the risk to being in relationship, the ability to be hurt or cause pain. Because we’re imperfect, sinful, fallen (whatever that means) creatures. Why is not a useful question here, how may be…

Self Awareness is key, sure, absolutely. Knowing my triggers and how I have been hurt, vital. Knowing when I am spoiling for a fight or in need of something and having the ability to ask for what I need. Quite helpful in relationship. However, even when I am able to ask that doesn’t mean you will automatically be able to provide, and I need to be okay with that too.

Because God only knows when I am going to say something mundane that will trigger someone else. Or vice versa. We mean well as people, we really do, but we hurt each other.

A few weeks ago in Youth Group we were discussing things we were ungrateful for. They had great answers: war, pollution, bullying, suicide… but, like most of us, they wanted to fix it fairly quickly. The most echoed thought was “we need to have the bad days so we can appreciate the good.” And this seemed to be an acceptable thought, by the youth and the youth leaders. I pushed a little, but really, this is not just acceptable, this is preferred in our world. It’s how we justify the hurt.

I don’t need the hurt justified. I don’t need bad days to appreciate the good. I hate bad days, they cause me and the people around me pain and I am just ungrateful for them. I’m ungrateful for the brokenness that causes them and the sinful cycles we are all stuck in and project on each other because of them.

This is where I usually fix it and wrap it all in a bow, somehow turn it into being grateful, but not today, not with this post, I will however end with this:

God, I am ungrateful for the bad days, ungrateful for the sin that pulls me from you. Ungrateful for the shit that life creates and my ability to hurt and be hurt. I am ungrateful for it all. Heal our broken hearts, heal my pain. Amen.

When Healing Hurts

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My first child was born by emergency c-section after 22 hours of labor. My body was exhausted and shutting down. Days later I had an infection in the incision site. It took 3 months of a nurse’s daily attention and another 3-6 months of weekly then monthly attention for my wound to heal. Everyday the nurse would come, I would cry, sometimes because of the pain, sometimes because of the annoyance, sometimes because I just needed to cry.

She would reassure me that I was making progress, that healing took time, that I was doing well. She would even try to show me, measuring the area. “You’re healing,” she would say, “you are.” When it first happened I asked the doctor how long I would have to do this. He was smart enough to lie. “A week?” I asked, “two?” “Maybe a little longer,” he said.

The process took almost 9 months. 3 days to create, 9 months to heal.

Yesterday I had a difficult therapy session. I have a gaping wound in my heart and I’ve done such a good job covering it up that there are some who forget that it’s there.

Like me.

I’m back in that exam room asking how long it’s going to take to heal. I’m naive enough to think it’ll be sooner than later.

Healing takes time, and it hurts. I like to think of healing as such a nice word, we even have services of “Healing and Wholeness” but it is painful. Maybe not as painful as getting the wound, but it’s harder and more difficult. Getting the wound is like ripping off the band-aide, no matter how long it took to get it, it happens and your body can’t feel all the feels at the same time so adrenaline kicks in. When you heal the adrenaline subsides and you feel the pain from the inside out. It’s numbing at times, sharp and stabbing at others and annoying as hell.

If I lay here and don’t move it doesn’t hurt. But that only lasts so long because eventually you have to move and the longer you wait, the more painful it is.

When will I learn, I wondered yesterday, that stuffing down the pain actually takes more work, more energy than simply dealing with the pain?

The pain finds a way out, no matter how hard I try. I get upset at stupid things, or project my anger onto something or someone else. The wound is still there no matter how well I triage it. Allowing myself space to be angry or sad or whatever it is I’m feeling is actually healing, I am healing. But it’s going to take a long, long time. And the process sucks.

Slow Motion

My new favorite band is Phox. I was introduced to them a few months ago, and I’ll admit it, I can’t get enough. Some days, I have days where my eccentricities come out, and the playlist jumps around, other days, I listen to one song over and over until I get sick of it. This is the case today with Phox’s “Slow Motion.” Stop reading and watch the video, then play it again as you come back to the blog and finish reading. Go ahead… I’ll wait.

First, Phox should be your new favorite band too. Second, there’s an amazing clarinet solo and dance party- Who does that?!? Unreal. Third, there isn’t anything about this song that doesn’t fit my mood today and my life right now. There is no doubt that I’m moving in slow motion, and given my personality, it’s my first instinct to see that as a bad thing. But it’s not. I’m slowing down I’m feeling the feels, I’m moving out of survival and into a new normal. I’m not there yet, but it’s a slow movement toward those things. The hard part is that the world seems to be moving around me going at hyper-speed.

The majority of the video is spent with her at a party, and while others seem to be carefree, she carries a weight. That weight is sustained throughout the video. Sometimes she is alone in her melancholy, other times, she seems to be joined by the rest of the band. But even when joined their weight is individual (all facing one direction or away from each other), it is not shared as the joy and laughter seem to be.

This really struck home to me. It is easy to share in joy, and joy is contagious. I even smiled at the dance party because it looks fun, people are having fun. It even makes me want to hate hipsters less (okay… maybe not). But what about melancholy? It’s lonely. Others can “be there” with you, others can accompany you, but really you are alone with the weight, the hurt, the anxiety. It’s important not to rush the process out, but it’s not like joy.

Last night I spent a few hours in prayer. I allowed myself to feel all the feels, feel the weight that was on me, feel my heart break for those whom I love in similar situations, let my heart break for where I am in life, that I have to integrate the dark and the light of life and understand that this is a continuous challenge, but a necessary and healthy one. I asked myself, as I often do in these kind of prayers where it hurts. I mean physically, where does it hurt?

I’ve been asking myself this question for years. It started with a clergy coach who was teaching me to be a “non-anxious presence” during meetings. She told me to locate in my physical body where the tension was manifesting itself, when I could release that tension physically, then I could also mentally release the tension. It helped.

A few years later I read a poem by Rabia of Basra (c. 717-801) a Sufi poet. She said this:

“Show me where it hurts, God said, and every cell in my body burst into tears before His tender eyes.”

So when I hurt, I now ask myself this from God, “Show me where it hurts.” I just observe, try not to judge. Last night the pain struck directly to my heart and I mean in my heart. Yes, my chest but on the left side of my body, there is actually an ache in my heart, it’s not on the right side. Locating where the pain is physically manifesting itself allows me to feel and experience the sorrow that is beyond tears. For the cells of my body are crying out. The pain doesn’t immediately disappear, but it’s a way to live in the midst of the fog. In the midst of the slow motion that my life is moving in, while everything around me seems to be moving forward.

If you too are moving in slow motion or know someone who is this practice is worth a try. After some time experiencing the pain physically it will be time to release it, but not internalize it. Today, as I went through the rite of the Sacrament of Communion at the local hospital and I read these words from Jesus:

 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” – Matthew 11:28-30

My experience of God is this, when God asks me where it hurts and I can allow the pain to be exchanged between us in prayer, the burden lessens. I don’t know how, I don’t know why, but it does. This is my hope and my peace.

Vulnerability begets Vulnerability

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I wrote a post last fall on the importance of kindness. My little advice on how to be kind, you may find it here. I don’t often talk a lot about kindness since I grew up in the south and the “nice” portion of that often meant sweeping truths under the rug, backstabbing, and the like. Call it a trigger word, whatever. Also my personality has always a little “cruel to be kind” in it, it’s the rebel in me.

I tend to use words like – grace, mercy, love – these imply so much more than kindness or “being nice”. I wear my heart on my sleeve, there was a time in my life that I could not pretend to hide if I did not like you, I could not contain the feelings, mostly because I was so emotionally broken.

These days I am emotionally broken in a different way. Through years of therapy and spiritual discernment I am emotionally healthy, yet, with separation and divorce, loss and grief, I am emotionally raw. Over the last few weeks, as my news has become public, I have struggled to keep my emotions at bay, yet, I have been met with grace, mercy, and love. 

Yesterday I returned to church for the first time since going public with the news of the separation. I was vulnerable. I have been vulnerable and my congregation responded to vulnerability beautifully, with vulnerability. They not only met me in it but became vulnerable themselves.

Because vulnerability begets vulnerability. Honesty begets honesty, love begets love, mercy, grace, and so on. It has not been easy for them, for anyone who knows and cares for my family, but it is not about ease, it is about authentic relationship. 

There were many reasons I needed to keep the troubles in my marriage a secret from “the world”. I do not think that was the wrong choice, I talked to whom I needed to, I sought help, and I lived in genuine hope of reconciliation. But this choice left my community and many of my relationships in the dark about what was happening in my life. They are not mad, it’s not about that, but it has reminded me that we are masters at putting on a happy face for the world and hiding, masking what is really going on inside of us.

Since the news has gone public in my community people’s stories are coming out of the woodwork, not just of past struggles but of complications in life that, usually by choice, they are keeping secret until the time is right.

So be kind. Or better yet, treat others with grace and mercy and love. Because we are broken people who are masters at hiding our pain.