Story Sessions, Story 101

I’m participating in this online group/course/journey right now, called Story 101 with Story Sessions. The course lasts for eight weeks, if I remember correctly, so I’ll be blogging more than I have been as I work on responding to and engaging with the materials and other participants. The blogs I’ve posted already this week, A Reflection on Silence and Permission Granted, are in response to the course. So, there’s the context for the sudden uptick in blogging.

“What is ONE THING you’ve learned about yourself and your voice this past week? What inspires you and pushes you deeper to write?” Elora Nicole, author/founder of Story 101

I’ve learned that my voice is coming through authentically. You may read something as “tepid,” as one of my feedback partners shared, or as “holding back.” Those things are true. Here’s the thing that’s very much okay: they’re also authentically me. My voice is coming through. Sometimes, I’m tepid (lukewarm, noncommittal, unenthusiastic). Sometimes, I’m holding back. I’m a lot of things, just like you, whoever you are, reading this.

If you read advice on how to start a “successful” blog, it presumes from the get-go that success means building a readership and making money. The Wizard-of-Oz-like collective “they” will tell you that you need to focus on a niche, that you need to write specifically, that you need to market yourself. I’m not discounting that as truth, if your definition of blogging success is building a readership and making money. I’m also not judging you if that’s what your blog is geared toward! You do you.

What does success look like to me in relation to blogging? I’m not blogging to make money at this point. I have no advertisements, nothing to generate income. I’m blogging for the sake of self-expression, for sharing my journey, for dealing with issues, for encouraging myself and others, for reflecting on things that I might otherwise bottle up. I’m successful when I’m speaking my truth, when I’m learning new things, when I’m writing beauty and light, when I’m writing at all. My success isn’t based on likes or follows or comments. My success, my validation, is in the writing itself.

I’m not writing to be liked. I’m writing to write. I’m writing to be heard. I’m writing to get some of the inside stuff on the outside. I’m writing because I love words. I’m writing to confront and challenge myself.

What inspires me and pushes me deeper? Talking with my therapist pushes me to confront my feelings and my behaviors. Sometimes, inspiration comes from conversation with friends or a quote or a book or a movie or a program at work. This past year, I feel like I’ve been nurturing a desire for wellness and developing an understanding of what wellness looks like for me. Desiring wellness inspires me to face myself, to engage rather than to disengage, to acknowledge rather than avoid.

I’ve always wanted to go deeper into things, to understand, to know. I mean, everything except for my own feelings, which really hit home for me in that homework, that Reflection on Silence. As I wrote that, I was using 750words.com, at Elora’s suggestion. I don’t care about word count in my blog posts, frankly. I care about saying what comes up, what I feel like I need to say, to acknowledge, to set free, regardless of word count. But having this goal of 750 words for that post forced me to reflect and go deeper than I had in 250 or 500 words. It pushed me to that acknowledgment of how much I really, really don’t like having feelings and it became a jumping-off point for diving into the why and the symptoms/effects of the wanting-to-not-feel.

At some point in my formative years, I worked to be stoically calm, to not react to anything, to keep my emotions to myself. But time passed and I shifted to a false ideal of stoicism as an absence of emotion. I wanted not to have feelings at all, I wanted to be impervious to feeling, to be unaffected. It’s ironic, in the way that Alanis Morissette sings the word, not in the way that ironic is itself defined, that stoicism as a philosophy was about the reason behind emotions and about managing emotions, not about not feeling them at all.

I haven’t written fiction in years. I feel like there is fiction in me and I used to long to write it. But what I’m coming to grips with this week is this realization: I will not be able to write fiction until I connect to my feelings and stay connected. Because fiction requires passion, it requires birthing, it requires life. And feelings are part of life, whether or not I like having them.

Permission Granted

I fail.
I succeed.
I use all my dynamics.
I shout and weep and mourn and whisper.
I speak my truth.
I befriend my doubt.
I choose faith.
I am bold.
I have secrets.
I grieve.
I celebrate.
I am purposeful.
I am aimless.
I say no.
I say yes.
I decide.
I write.
I backspace.
I save drafts.
I hit publish.
I face myself with grace.
I treat myself with kindness.
I endure.
I persevere.
I forgive me.
I live the questions.
I grow.

A Reflection on Silence

Silence is a friend and an enemy. I find comfort and camaraderie in silence, yet I also find chaos and void in silence. Silence is like a carnival fun house filled with crazy mirrors. It can show you what you most or least want to see, distort or refine you, shrink or enlarge you, warp or clarify you.

My brain never seems to be silent, which, I suppose, is a good thing since it’s a pretty solid indicator that I’m alive. I wish I could turn off the thinking sometimes. I’m a very analytical person. I prefer thought over emotion. I will sooner think about thinking about emotions than I will engage in feeling emotions. I’ve done myself a disservice in working so hard to silence my emotions, and I find it difficult to reengage with them.

My noisy brain is happy to circumvent my feeble attempts to reconnect with feelings. My nosy brain will mind other people’s business, solve any number of problems, dive into anyone’s story other than my own, rather than answering that question that therapists must have coded in their DNA, “And how do you feel about that?”

Give me the guillotine or solitary confinement or hard labor, but don’t make me talk about my feelings. Let’s talk facts or figures or feminism or fantasy or family or anything but the other F word. I’ll take silence for $1000, Alex.

Sounds thicken the air around us — the sound of the air conditioner, the laptop cooling fan, my fingers clicking away at the keyboard. The cacophony of the crowd at the restaurant, the din of silverware against dishes, the background “music,” the traffic outdoors. The sounds of the weather, the ticking clock, the birds tweeting, the carbonation bubbles in a can of soda (or can of pop, if you prefer).

I wonder what it would be like to sit in the anechoic chamber, in 99.99% silence, with only the sounds of my own body. The articles read as though it is a when, not if, you will begin hallucinating in the chamber. Supposedly, the person who has made it the longest was in for 45 minutes. Nearly pure silence is such an unnatural concept that our minds can’t sustain the reality of it for long, I suppose.

“And how do you feel about that?”

Silence is the space between the notes, a time to count the rests.

Silence feels like a room that I ought to be able to enter, a temple, a place of reverence and peace and stillness. Perhaps I need more meditation or a peace labyrinth or something to help unlock the room.

Silence is absence, the voices that are long gone, the hands and hearts and hugs that are missing.

Silence is an opportunity to listen.

Silence is a cage, a prison, a library.

Silence is freedom.

Silence is expectation, sorrow, hope, regret.

Silence is quiet.

Silence is loud.

Silence is possibility.

Silence is uncomfortable.

Silence is a child’s blanket.

Silence is terrifying.

Silence is beautiful.

Silence is all this and more, and less.

Though I’m not prone to talking a great deal very often, (other than at work where it’s a job requirement) I’ve though about going on silent retreats or having periods of silence scheduled into my life. I’m enchanted by the vow of silence that some religious orders take up. Would being prohibited from speaking calm the inner voice, soothe the inner chaos? Would I better hear the voices of those speaking to me? Would I find greater faith, a more solid foundation, a stronger sense of things unseen? If I were silent, could I avoid more feelings? Ah, that’s probably the truth of it. This idealization of silence is just one more attempt to escape feeling.

“And how do you feel about that?”

I feel like feelings are the worst. Feelings are unmanageable. Feelings don’t respond to logic. Feelings are threatening, unsafe, frightening.

I have this mistaken concept of stoicism as absence of emotion, and it’s a false ideal that I long for. I trap myself in this pattern of denial, of working to avoid feelings altogether. It’s a Sisyphean task. It’s self-defeating.

I don’t think silence is the solution. Words. I guess words are probably the answer. Words to express feelings…ugh. To put words to the things I’d rather keep silent, to give voice to the feelings I try so hard to lock away. To speak of the things that I’d rather keep hidden, to reveal instead of conceal. To acknowledge rather than ignore.

“And how do you feel about that?”

I’ll have to get back to you on that.

Depression is…

I’m writing this just for me, but if you’re reading it, well, I hope you get something out of it. I’m writing to process and to persevere. It might not be pretty, it might not be profound, it might not be pleasant. It is what it is.

Sometimes, it feels like Depression is winning. But I remind myself that I’m working not to think, write, or speak about Depression in adversarial terms, winning, losing, battling, fighting, affliction, oppression, suffering. Depression can be and maybe just is all those things. I’m not denying that.

In pursuing a life of wellness, it’s important for me to accept Depression as part of my reality. Maybe that sentence causes some sort of reaction in you, some belligerence or denial. For me, it’s about accepting that it’s a brain disorder; it’s chemistry or neurons or something biological that fires differently in my brain than it would in someone without the same disorder. It’s about accepting that I need to learn to manage Depression and making the choice to manage Depression.

How well do I manage Depression?
Sometimes better than others. It’s shitty, sometimes really, really shitty.

How do I manage Depression?
Therapy, mindfulness, writing, meditation, distraction, affirmation, art, prayer, friendship, silence, weeping, talking to myself, surviving…to name a few. I finally called around to a few psychiatrists that my therapist says have some kind of training with disordered eating to explore some options for medication. Medication didn’t go well for me last time I tried it many years ago, but I am not the same person I was then, and I hope to find a psychiatrist that I can stand to work with. I’ve been seeing the same therapist for a year now, and I plan to keep on going back because it’s helpful. Sometimes it’s annoying and challenging and painful and terrible, but it’s still helpful.

In general, and especially while I’m having this craptastic week, I’m trying to re-frame my Depression, to encounter it, to experience it, to let it be. I’m trying to live and breathe through it, and so far I’m still here. It still feels pretty shitty, but it’s okay. And the way I feel today is not the way I felt yesterday or the day before that or the beginning of the week. Even though it’s been a shitty week and there was definitely a drastic swing or two into the deeper Depression, I also know that just my ability to recognize it means that I’m making progress in managing it. I’m able to remain conscious to Depression rather than being blindly engulfed.

Depression is just my dance partner, and, yeah, I hate dancing, but on we go, dancing through life however we can. So, that’s something.

#FaithFeminisms: Valued, loved, worthy, chosen

I’m fortunate to follow some amazing people on Twitter, and this week, many of my favorites, who frequently inspire and challenge me, are holding a dialogue called #FaithFeminisms. To read more, check out www.faithfeminisms.com. Below is my contribution, at least the draft that I chose to complete and publish. Thanks for dropping by!

Disclaimers: I don’t know everything about first-wave, second-wave, third-wave feminism, etc. I’m not deeply educated about all its history and every feminist ever. I haven’t read “Jesus Feminist” yet. Feminism is both personal and collective, just like faith. Feminism is not a united, defined, clear worldview that agrees on detailed tenets. Feminism is not misogyny. Feminism is not a movement for the superiority of women.

What is feminism and how does it relate to faith? My views, i.e., claimers, ha, are my own.

Wrestling with my faith was one of many things creating a miry clay that I’ve found myself sucked into time and again. That soul-dimming stuff is full of negative body image, apathy, cynicism, purity culture, messages that women are less than, privilege that oppresses.

I’ve found feminism to be a lifeline and a saving grace. Feminism is an integral tool in freeing myself from that miry clay. Feminism is also a framework that not only tolerates but *embraces* wrestling with my faith. Rather than casting a judgmental eye on all my doubts, feminism has been a saving grace, in that it welcomes my critical thinking and invites me into deeper relationship, deeper understanding. Feminism reminds me that there is room to live in the tension of not having all the answers.

Feminism challenges me to fight for justice. Feminism not only challenges me to it, but empowers me to speak up. Feminism tells me to use my voice, flawed and unfinished, to speak up, and it gives me a host of feminists to learn from and engage with.

If you substitute Jesus for the word feminist anywhere above, I believe the meaning holds. I’m not suggesting that feminism=Jesus or that feminism is my religion. There is no distance though between my feminism and my faith. My feminism and my faith are stronger together than either on its own.

I’ve wrestled with my faith to many breaking points over the years, and I’ll keep on wrestling. I find belief in God to be inescapable, no matter how hard I try to escape it. But I find the working out of that belief, the choice of faith, the theological development of it is empowered by feminism, which recognizes the humanity of all, the equality of all, the value of all, and desires justice for all in a way that I believe God values and desires.

Feminism means I can deeply question patriarchy, the entire foundation of most world religions. Feminism reminds me to check my privilege. Feminism allows me to see the harm that the church often does to the oppressed, to see the church as oppressor, and to say this is not right.

Faith means that I can question everything, and still I choose to believe. Faith reminds me to pray for the oppressed. Faith allows me to say this is not right, but this is not the end.

Feminism enhances, builds, and strengthens my faith. Faith with feminism brings me to a deeper encounter with God, a more meaningful relationship with Jesus. Faith with feminism empowers me to be renewed in mind, to not conform to this world, to fight for the least of these. Faith with feminism is a growing thirst for reconciliation, for justice, for mercy, for humility, for love, for peace. Faith with feminism steeps me in the truths that I am valued, loved, worthy, and chosen. By the way, so are you. In all our privilege or lack thereof, in our gender identities, in our oppression or as oppressors, in our race, in our splendid, messy humanity, I believe we are each valued, loved, worthy, and chosen.

Wellness Over Wallowing

The day was going well enough. Nothing bad happened. I worked. I read a book. I actually left my phone in airport mode and away from my desk almost my entire workday. Sometime in the late afternoon or early evening, I realized that a depressive mood was sneaking up on me. So, I started to ask myself, why? Why is depression gaining the upper hand at this moment? What triggered this?

This was a light bulb moment in four parts, if you will.

(Credit: Flickr @ Bernt Rostad http://www.flickr.com/photos/brostad/ Creative Commons License)

(Credit: Flickr @ Bernt Rostad http://www.flickr.com/photos/brostad/ Creative Commons License)

First, I recognized the depression before it became overwhelming. That’s an achievement worth acknowledging for me. Usually it’s days or weeks or months down the road when I realize I’ve been overwhelmed by the depression, that it’s ruling my life again. When I’m overwhelmed, the second part doesn’t happen. It just feels like the air is sucked out of the room, the light is gone, the turbulence is all there is.

Second, I consciously recognized that something or some things had triggered the rise in depression and I sought to figure out what that was, either internally and/or externally.

Third, even though I didn’t identify the exact trigger, I acknowledged several things that could be the possible triggers today.

Finally, I didn’t judge myself as failing to identify whatever the exact trigger/s was/were. Instead, I learned that asking the question was enough to stifle the depressive mood, to prevent it from taking a firmer grasp. As I took the time to sift through some of the possible answers, it centered me back into awareness, into mindfulness. Questioning myself, inventorying the possibilities moved me to a different place. It allowed me to acknowledge the crappy feeling, to accept that it was present for a reason, and to choose not to be overwhelmed.

Wellness doesn’t need to be perfect for it to be good and lovely and worthwhile.

So, tonight I’m awarding myself a bunch of points that mean don’t mean anything except that I’m working at it, I’m managing my encounter with depression, I’m learning and using emotional and coping skills, and I’m choosing wellness over wallowing.

For that matter, while I’m awarding points, even if they don’t mean anything, here’s like a thousand of them for you just for dropping by! Thank you!

Vacation Intentions

I’m on day two of a 12-day vacation. Usually my primary plan for vacation is to read, read, read. I LOVE READING. I spent some time setting 9 intentions for my vacation, including reading, of course.

1. Don’t check work e-mail.
2. Blog regularly.
3. Limit time spent on social media.
4. Read a lot. Many, many books.
5. Read “Intuitive Eating.” Work on practicing IE.
6. Remain mindful.
7. Invest in relationships.
8. Try new things/experience wonder.
9. Keep spending under control.

Intentions without action aren’t very meaningful, so I these are ways I have acted or will act to live out these intentions.

1. Don’t check work e-mail.
I’ve deleted the bookmarks to work e-mail from my phone. When I feel the impulse to check work e-mail, I’ll check something fun, like Buzzfeed, instead.
2. Blog regularly.
It’s a bit circular, but setting the intention is a start. I’ll work to write to completion rather than saving tons of different drafts. When I’m feeling uninspired, I’ll either finish an existing draft or use a writing prompt and set a time limit. (So far, so good!)
3. Limit time spent on social media.
Put the iPhone out of reach for long periods each day. Don’t worry about keeping up with everything. Set it to Airport Mode and Do Not Disturb for parts of each day.
4. Read a lot. Many, many books.
I have a giant bag of books with me and my Kindle, so I don’t imagine this one will be hard for me.
5. Read “Intuitive Eating.” Work on practicing IE.
This is my therapy homework. I do know the basic principles of IE, but I haven’t read the book, so I’m going to work through it during vacation. I continue to develop a healthy relationship with food, to stop relating guilt/shame to eating.
6. Remain mindful.
Focus on the moment at hand, the task at hand, existing in my body, breathing. Meditate. Turn off background noise. Listen.
7. Invest in relationships.
I went to a bridal shower today for a friend from college, thrown by another friend from college, and fellowshipped with them and other friends. I had dinner with my little bro and my mom yesterday. Mom and I visited friends this afternoon for a while. Most of the time will be spent with my mom and my mama Mary, who is our best good friend, one could say.
8. Try new things/experience wonder.
Eat new foods, go different places, read new-to-me authors. 
I’ll probably go see a band that’s amazing on Monday. They always bring the wonder. And Cirque du Soleil on Tuesday, which always inspires wonder.
9. Keep spending under control.
I moved the rent money over to my savings account already, so that’s safe. I’ll work to be aware of how I’m spending before I spend, to think deliberately about whether it’s something I need, want, what the value is, whether the money could be better spent elsewhere, and whether it will make more room or less room in my life. If I feel like I need a boost of minimalist encouragement, I’ll visit Joshua Becker’s Becoming Minimalist blog (or twitter feed).

Understanding why these things are important to me will help me act on the intentions. Why are these things important to me? What is it that I find valuable, meaningful, enjoyable, etc., about these intentions?

1. Don’t check work e-mail.
It’s important to me to take care of myself, to protect my time away from work by spending it on non-work things and trusting that all is as well as usual at work while I’m vacating and all will be fine once I return.
2. Blog regularly.
I’m more emotionally in touch and less restless when I blog on a regular basis. It feels good to write.
3. Limit time spent on social media.
Particularly during vacation, I want to stay engaged with the present, real-life happening around me more than I’m in touch with whatever’s being shared on social media. I still want to encourage people and keep in touch with what I can, but I don’t want time online to overwhelm time offline.
4. Read a lot. Many, many books.
Did I mention I love reading? Reading transports, transcends, transmutes. It’s so powerful. Some of my happiest memories are of books.
5. Read “Intuitive Eating.” Work on practicing IE.
I value my therapist’s recommendations. I’ve found her to be insightful and helpful. I have seen the benefit of listening and acting on it over the last year and this has been on the to-do list for a while, so it’s time to follow through. I know that what’s in the book will be of benefit to me.
6. Remain mindful.
I enjoy life more when I am mindful. Practicing mindfulness grounds me.
7. Invest in relationships.
People matter to me. Friendships matter to me. Connecting on a meaningful, authentic level matters to me.
8. Try new things/experience wonder.
Adventure and whimsy are awesome and I want more of them.
9. Keep spending under control.
I want to learn from lessons in the past and live as though I have done so, so it’s important to me to make different decisions than I have before and to manage money wisely.

Most importantly, above and through all of these things, my goal is to love myself, to appreciate my body, to treat myself with kindness, and to empower others to do the same

What are your intentions for your vacation? What are your intentions for the coming week? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

A picture of a smiling, dark-haired woman, wearing a blue dress, accented by a multicolored necklace, looking to the right; another person's hands are in frame, one pointing left of frame and the other on the woman in blue's shoulder.

“Action” shot from bridal shower

 

 

Why I’m a Body Image Activist (Answering the Clarion Call to Myself)

There are two F words I’m going to claim in this post that might be dangerous to claim. Why? Because I’ve seen the hate and trolling and abuse directed at those who’ve claimed both or either of these F words themselves, those who’ve refused to live their lives in the two-dimensional world of the Internet hiding behind anonymity. No, they’ve boldly proclaimed who they are. I don’t want to be hated or trolled or abused, but it’s time for me to step up and I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. Whatever the potential backlash, it’s worth it to empower myself and hopefully others by acknowledging my truth and rejecting shame.

What are the two F words? Feminism and fat.

I’m fat. I’m a fat woman. I’m a fat feminist.

Picture of me, a fat woman, taking a selfie in a mirror, text overlay reads "I refuse to hate my body. My body is good. My body is valid."

What’s a post without a picture?

I’ve been fat for all of my adult life. It may shock some people to read that “fat” F word. I’m not denigrating myself. Fat is only an adjective, nothing more. I won’t allow it anymore power over me than being an adjective. In the past, I’ve lived in the harm that can do, and I’m not doing that anymore. I’m stepping out of the shadows, off of the sidelines, and engaging in the work and message of spreading positive body image while embracing, developing, and strengthening my own positive, healthy body image. I’ve been journeying into being a body image activist this past year or so. There are people who’ve been body image activists for ages and ages and their work is awesome. I’m not entering this space unaware of those who have paved the way, nor am I unappreciative of that paving, nor am I trying to one-up the work that’s already been done. I’m intentionally adding my voice as a member of the chorus.

I want to empower other people to overcome body image issues and the only way to do that is to empower myself, to claim myself, to inhabit my body proudly, to reject the shame that culture has heaped on me for years. I believe that no one should live in shame because of their body or any aspect of their physical appearance, whatever size, weight, shape, whether differently abled, male, female, trans, race, etc. We deserve to inhabit our bodies without being inhibited by shame. Bodies should not be made taboo, should not be terrorized by cultural ideals or other people’s opinions.

I’m fat, I’m okay, and whatever size you are, you’re okay, too. I understand now and espouse that all bodies are good bodies, all bodies are valid bodies. My body is good, my body is valid. During this part of my journey, I’ve been seeing a therapist on a regular basis, one whom I trust, respect, and am comfortable with, and it has made a powerful difference.

Months ago, I started seeking out and reading fat positive, size positive, body image activist blogs to understand my experience through others’ experience. They’ve been writing and working in this space for years, and they articulate things in powerful, honest, ballsy, amazing ways. They’ve been ridiculed and hated and judged and trolled in heinous, awful, cruel, hateful ways. They are defenders of the downtrodden, of the shamed, of the broken, of the hopeless, of all kinds of people, of all sizes. They are fierce feminists, independent thinkers, and they all have very unique, strong voices. Here are links to a couple of the blogs that I’ve read most often:
www.bodylovewellness.com
www.danceswithfat.com
www.fatheffalump.com
www.fatchicksings.com
The Fat Chick belongs to/is the work of Jeanette DePatie, who lives in SoCal and holds a free exercise class three times a week. Jeanette has been a great friend and support as well as an inspiration during this part of my journey.

Simultaneously, I’ve been on a journey from misunderstanding feminism and releasing preconceived notions I had to coming into my identity as a feminist and continuing my education about what that means.

I’ve only really been active on Twitter since February or March of this year. Before that, I had an account that I barely used. When I got a new phone in February (thanks, brother!), I discovered the appeal of Twitter (and Pinterest and many, many, many apps). This past week on Twitter has been its own education in feminism in the wake of the UCSB Isla Vista tragedy and the Yes ALL Women hashtag (the hashtag originator asks that it not be used any longer, so the non-hashtagging here is purposeful). It’s been a fascinating, maddening, sad, awesome, tragic, terrifying, powerful discussion.

On the heels of that, there’s been an effort to trend the hashtag, #WhyImaBodyImageActivist, inspired/based on a video of the same name by Melissa A. Fabello (@fyeahmfabello), which was inspired/based on a Why I’m a Feminist video. It was great to participate in the hashtag and to share in, read, favorite, and RT reasons and experiences that led people across a wide spectrum of life experiences to claim their identity as body image activists. Here are mine:

I’m still on my journey. I am powerful, capable, strong. I am healthier than ever, mentally, physically, spiritually. I realize that some people will take issue with being fat, feminist, and a believer embracing both of those F words. Here’s what I have to say to that: My body is a temple of God, the God who created me, who loves me as-is, who accepts me unconditionally. God didn’t put a weight or size restriction on my identity, and I’m not going to be held back by such meaninglessness any longer.

“[God] has made everything beautiful in its time. [God] has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
Ecclesiastes 3:11

A Benediction:
May you know today that your body is good, your body is valid, your body is amazing. You aren’t obligated to hate your body anymore. You don’t have to be ashamed of your body anymore. You are free to love your body and to accept yourself as the miracle you are. May you be empowered to always speak words of kindness to yourself, to value the body you’re in. May you be empowered to help others to do the same.

*I moderate all comments, so if it ain’t fit for reading, it’ll be deleted.*

On grief, a lament

“Even in laughter, the heart may ache, and joy may end in grief.”
Proverbs 14:13

I have been overtaken by seasons of grief, and the present is no exception. Though I’m also in a season of healing, of developing resiliency, of learning, of overcoming, still grief abides.

I have tried to understand grief, to wrap my mind around it. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross studied grief and classified five stages: shock, denial, bargaining, anger, acceptance. The stages aren’t linear; they may be cyclical, they may be an avalanche, they may be long seasons.

“It’s not the news we were hoping for.”

My attempts to make sense out of grief are also efforts to sterilize it, to keep it at arm’s length. But as is said, “the heart won’t be denied.”

Grief rages.
Grief aches.
Grief wounds.
Grief consumes.

Over the years, grief has filled my dance card and I’ve never been one for dancing. Grief doesn’t wait for an invitation; it is no respecter of persons.

A dear friend received devastating news that cancer has returned and spread. That news reverberates to all who are part of his community. The grief is palpable.

This news throws into sharp relief this tension we live in, we are alive, we will one day die. Now in these shadowlands, we straddle the time we have and the time we don’t.

Some use past tense, perhaps subconsciously, perhaps fully aware, and I think, no, he is not past tense.

He and his family now dwell in this tension, this muddling of tenses, past, present, future, absent. How can we possibly reconcile these?

My soul echoes the refrain of poet Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that good night,” crying out “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” My denial weighs heavy on my heart; my anger beats in my chest as though it could burst.

Ever before me is a path that leads to depression, a path I have stumbled down many times. Grief and its manifestations could lead me there again and probably will. But not today.

I could seek solace in the oblivion of disordered eating, replacing the utter discomfort and rending of grief with the so familiar strains of guilt and shame over food. But not today.

I could bottle up my emotions and try to convince myself I feel nothing. I could fill my time with busy-ness to distract me from how awful the reality is. I could press play from one episode to the next to escape the feelings that I would rather not face. But not today.

I am not new to grief, and yet grief is new each time it strikes. Grief is a DJ, spinning all its past iterations in with this newest; all the grieving of the past is remixed into this new song of grief.

Today, I feel. Today, I grieve.

I grieve for my friend, for his wife, his son, his grandchildren, for community.

I grieve the past griefs anew.

Today, I am searching for those nail-scarred hands and feet, that broken body. Today, I am resting on promises that I’m not always certain of. Today, I am railing against cancer.

I am double-minded, many-minded, a doubter struggling, a child lost, a daughter forlorn. I lament, but I am not hopeless. Not today. “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope…”

Lamentations 3:19-26 (translation: The Voice)”Grievous thoughts of affliction and wandering plagued my mind—great bitterness and gall. Grieving, my soul thinks back; these thoughts cripple, and I sink down. Gaining hope, I remember and wait for this thought: How enduring is God’s loyal love; the Eternal has inexhaustible compassion. Here they are, every morning, new! Your faithfulness, God, is as broad as the day. Have courage, for the Eternal is all that I will need. My soul boasts, “Hope in God; just wait.” It is good. The Eternal One is good to those who expect Him, to those who seek Him wholeheartedly. It is good to wait quietly for the Eternal to make things right again.”

Analogy, Metaphor, Simile and Overcoming

I don’t know about you, but I have trouble with the distinctions between analogy, metaphor, and simile. And though I hate to kick off a post with disappointment, I’m really not writing about how to distinguish between them. Here’s an excellent Copyblogger post that might help sort you out.

Mr. Hopper’s ninth-grade English class is where I first remember learning about analogy, metaphor, and simile. I probably still have some handwritten sheets of my own amateurish examples from that class. Once I was formally introduced to these comparative forms, I obsessively “saw” them everywhere for a while. Everything was a metaphor for God, for teenage life, for meaninglessness, for depression, for relationships, etc. It was almost certainly very annoying to anyone around me.

Over time, I forgot about using the power of metaphor in my life. It came up now and then. I mean, you read “I am the vine, you are the branches,” and there it is. You sing “You are the Potter, I am the clay,” boom. Maybe it was attending a conference whose theme was essentially the analogy “your life is a story, you the narrator and protagonist” is what did the trick.

We are inundated by metaphor, analogy, simile, in television shows, in movies, in bedtime books, in poetry, perhaps nowhere more ubiquitously than in advertisements. Yet it’s easy to lose sight of what comparisons are being made, how those relationships, those parallels are being wielded, often to manipulate.

Rather than remaining inundated and blind, I’m reclaiming the sight and awareness this trinity has to offer as I live a better story. It’s exciting to see the parallels and relationships again, to gain new understanding, and to find new questions, too.

Ocean PoolI spent too many moments treading water, keeping my head mostly above the surface, forgetting that I can move to the side of the pool and climb right out. Depression has, over and over, fooled me into making a rip-current-filled ocean out of a swimming pool. Dry land is within easy reach; it only feels like a million miles. The pool’s edge is a few pages, a few words, a few moments away. I’m so glad to be out of that water. Here’s to clearing out the lungs and breathing freely again.