Raw Edges and Strong Cores

At some point in May, I had the idea for this post, but tabled it. I had other ideas to pursue and  knew I would eventually get around to writing it. Then, June happened and with it the return of all four kiddos being home each and everyday. The first week, I tried to write, but didn’t make it to the laptop until late at night. I figured I would take a break and let the summer be what it was going to be. Maybe I would even pursue that niggling idea of vlogging that was in the back of my brain.

Then, after a month, every single day felt like drudgery and stress resonated inside of me. At the end of the day, I would feel this incompleteness even though I had done many things. I knew that my writing, my voice, was too pent up, but I didn’t want to sit down to do it. I told myself that I was simply waiting for the children to return to school. This didn’t last long as an excuse, because soon it was apparent that I needed to write – something, anything. Yet, I held off, knowing that the inevitable writing also brings about the inevitable bleeding. Cathartic bleeding it is, but bleeding none the less.

So here I am, sitting, ready to bleed before you.

Raw Edges

I was trying to be healthy, slicing the fruits and vegetables early in the week, prepping healthy meals and snacks.

It was drudgery.

Why didn’t The Man create vegetables pre-sliced? I mean, fruit I don’t mind slicing, because it is enticing to the palate. But vegetables? No, those are no fun. As I moved from cauliflower to carrots, I reminded myself of how awful the baby carrots are and that the real thing is so much better and tastier.

It was utter drudgery.

I watched as I peeled the damn things and tried to remember the advice about everyday tasks given by Thomas Moore. If you look deep enough, sit still enough with them, then you can peel back their mundaneness into significance by seeing the metaphor, the imagery of soulfulness.

“Mumbo-jumbo.” I thought to myself sardonically. “Be more zen.” I then chastised myself.

Okay, so what could peeling carrots stand for in the soulful life. I ruminated peel after peel.

Carrots don’t have thick skin or rinds. They are firm from the inside out. Strong, if you will. Strong and ugly. I mean, we don’t have to peel a carrot in order to eat it, but it will never stop looking (or tasting) much like dirt if we don’t. I wonder if the strong among us don’t taste like dirt until something or someone comes along that sloughs off the ugliness.

“Hmmm. Not a bad little metaphor.” I smiled to myself. “What else?”

I sat with it. I wasn’t coming up with anything else at all. Yet, as I sloughed off layer after layer of the carrots, getting rid of the dirt divets and knotty elements, I felt less drudgery. In fact, something cathartic was taking place, something similar to how I feel when I write.

Strong Cores

A shedding of the dirt of life, smoothing of rough edges – that’s what was happening.

Yes, this was very similar to writing for me. Underneath everything, I find in myself strength when writing.

And so, as I return to writing early (before the summer ends). I remember carrots and that sitting down at this page is not all bleeding, but rather exfoliation. A scrubbing, unburdening, cleansing act of the soul to reveal my strong core.

Candidly,

Ash

The Shape of Emptiness

When was the first time you felt empty? When did you notice a void in your life? I think these attributes – emptiness, meaninglessness, void – they can be feelings too. I remember the first time I felt meaningless. I had gotten in trouble for something and was sent to my room. I felt so badly that I took a belt down in my closet and tried to hit myself with it. I want to say that this memory was about the age of eight, but I fear it may have been even younger.

Emptiness came later. I was in at least eighth grade. I sat desperately reading  my Bible, devotional journals. I was looking to God to fill a hole in my heart. I wish my faith, my devotion had filled that hole, but there was a problem with that pursuit.

The hole wasn’t God-shaped.

There is a saying I’ve heard at some point in my life (not sure when or where). It goes, “Everyone has a God-shaped hole inside of them.” Perhaps that is why I devoted so much time and energy to pursuing him early on.

I thought God would fix me.

Now, in my head, I hear an angelic chorus singing, “God didn’t fix you, because you didn’t need fixing.” Okay, not an actual chorus, but it is what I imagine a good Christian would say or think while reading this story. I really wish that they would be right – that I don’t need fixing. I really do.

Some Things Remain Broken

If there is anything that I have learned from adulthood, then it is that some things can’t be repaired. I have seen it with our son’s autism, my mental health and our finances. I imagine a lot of people would simply say that I’ve lost hope. I don’t think that is true, because, believe me, I really dream of waking up to my son’s words and songs. I dream of a year in which depression does not affect me 330 days out of 365. I dream of a world in which we have a home to live in with a mortgage we are able to pay.

Oh yes, I hope.

Yet, I would be stupid not to prepare for a future in which my son needs full-time care. Facts are facts. If he hasn’t spoken by the age of nine, then things aren’t looking good for independent living. My depression? They say that the first time you have a season of depression that you should remain on medication for at least a year. The second bout of depression should be met with 3-5 years of medication. The third time? You should remain on medication for life. They also classify your depression as MAJOR and a legit DISORDER. I qualify for lifetime medication. I.E. This is thing is MAJOR and DISORDERED.

Some things remain broken. My friend has a dead plant in the landscaping at her new house. Initially, she thought to pull the ugly sucker out and replace it with something pretty. Then, she texted me a picture of it and said, “I’m keeping it”. You see, for her (and me) the dead plant reminds us that ugly and beautiful coexist, pain and joy coexist. Perhaps broken and whole can coexist too.

Sitting with Emptiness

In my life, I’m learning to sit with emptiness. You see, I’ve realized that I’ve been trying to fill it for years and years. I’ve tried relationships, careers and jobs, schooling, children, religion, success, popularity, leadership, etc. The truth is that I’ve been trying to fill the empty space with a square puzzle piece.

I’m guessing my emptiness is upwards of a dodecahedron. That’s the largest 3D shape I can recall.

**Excuse me, I just looked up the spelling for dodecahedron and discovered it is actually a polyhedron. Are polyhedrons different than 3D shapes? What is a polyhedron? More than one face, my search tells me. Well, I’ve concluded that most, if not all, 3D shapes are polyhedrons. Geometry has never been my strong suit. Is this geometry? God, I hope so. End digression.**

You can’t fill your emptiness until you understand it, know its dimensions. In order to know those things, you can’t be trying to solve for ‘X’ or running back and forth with objects to randomly fill the space. You have to stop. Be present.

Experience emptiness.

And all I have to say about experiencing emptiness is this….

Damn it! Pain is coming, confusion is coming. This is going to hurt like hell!

Panic aside…

Pain is a teacher. Confusion isn’t a crucifix. And Hell was made for rebels.

Candidly,

Ash

P.S. I wrote this post while listening to “Hold On” by Sarah McLachlan.

 

Paul, from the Mental Ward

It’s Thursday so I’m throwing back. This is a piece I wrote last summer when a friend asked for prayer. She had a former student who was thinking about suicide and was not sure how to respond or who to tell. Mostly, more than the logistics, she also felt uncomfortable.

Suicidal thoughts are uncomfortable – whether they are yours or not. They are also some of the most common thoughts. So common that many people don’t even know when they are having them or that they even hear people say them without being alarmed. Perhaps the scariest thing about a suicidal thought is the connotation of the word suicidal.

I had a very religious upbringing and so I am constantly reminded of things I’ve read in the Bible. When my friend shared her concerns and fears, these are the things which came to my mind. I hope they help people understand that even in the great light of Christian faith, death or suicide were contemplations of many who lived and were revered in the Bible.

Paul, from the Mental Ward

I grew up in highly religious environment. I spent parts of 9th grade discussing speaking in tongues and whether people went to heaven after dying by suicide. Except we didn’t use phrases like death by suicide. We used the phrase committed suicide, as in committed sin and damned to hell regardless of whatever that Jesus guy said.

I said {religious} not spiritual.

(Don’t get me wrong. I grew up in highly spiritual environment too, which is why I still **believe-ish** today.)

After having a plan to end my life and not enacting it and going to the mental hospital and entering intensive therapy for weeks and now years and tons of medication changes and what feels like ten years of emotional growth crammed into two…I can honestly say one thing.

I still struggle.

Weekly, the times I think about taking my life are more than I can count on both hands. Nothing is fixed. Nothing is healed.

And if committing suicide is a sin, then what is thinking about it?

I have sat in a dozen church pews and been told that even looking or thinking about another woman is adultery for married men. They don’t say much about women looking at other men. {religion}.

So what of my daily contemplations? What of the day my life almost ended?

The day I found myself in the mental hospital, I had been a Christian for 20 years, 8 months and 17 days. I spent the majority of that time trying to get rid of suicidal thoughts. Honestly, that desire, to have pure thoughts, to be without sin? It was one of the largest driving factors in my suicidal ideation. You see, the more I tried to get rid of the thought, the more often it came.

My therapist spent weeks of daily therapy repeating, “It’s just a thought. You don’t have to believe it.” I’ve spent years trying to believe him.

I do believe him. Daily, I believe him and believe that thoughts are just that. Just thoughts. Not sins. Not murder. Not suicide.

Just thoughts.

It’s been over a year and then some. And I’d like to tell you about a man who, like me {and many, many, many of us}, was torn between two desires – to live or to die. And he didn’t know which was best. He truly thought dying was better, but living meant more, was worth more.

Living was harder. It was a sacrifice.

Dying was easy. Beneficial.

His name was the Apostle Paul.

And he didn’t hide his thoughts or his desires. He wrote about them openly.

They don’t have power, unless you give them it.

For me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more…So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me.” Philippians 1:21-23

Death is an end to pain and it is easy. As humans, we face pains that seem too great for us. Death sometimes feels the only answer. Pain never goes away. It abates and come again, whether it is physical or emotional, it never passes forever. It is part of life.

But Paul was convinced of something. He was convinced that he would go on living.

And that he was not alone.

We are in this struggle together. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am in the midst of it.”  Philippians 1:30

And as I finish writing about this Paul, from the mental ward, who lived in prison and chains {literal and metaphorical}, I have two desires that are different.

I desire that the church hear suicidal thoughts and that we struggle together.

Suicidal ideation is common and exacerbated by being hidden away.

When we say that we want to die, please know that we mostly mean we want {pain, fear, insert emotion here} to end.

Please help us remember that there is more to life.

Please help us remember {together} we can struggle.

I have been and am convinced to live… by the giant {together} that was my group therapy experience.

What if I had been convinced to live by the giant {together} of a church?

How beautiful.

Candidly,

Ash

No One is Alone

Last week was a rough week. We’re struggling. It’s nothing new, but it feels new to say it here so very frequently. Maybe new isn’t the correct word. Maybe “uncomfortable” is the word I am looking for. I am used to handing out my struggles in snippets and side stories, not in full disclosure. This “Candid” blog thing is really different. I mean, I’ve written about my struggles before – that is not new at all. I guess sharing my struggles this frequently is uncomfortable, challenging in a different way.

I have to be honest with myself.

Really, “Candidly Ash” is probably just a message to myself to keep it real and in greater frequency than before.

Back to the struggling…

Friday night my husband and I sat on our bed. The covers have marker spots and spill spots from various children, despite incessant washing. I fingered at a new mark – mascara? Who knows. I said words to him about the futility of life. Running on an empty tank. It honestly reminded me a little bit of that song “Going the Distance” by Cake (follow the link to listen). In the song, a man is racing for a something he yearns for, except the race is actually over and no one is watching. Sometimes we race, not for an audience, but for ourselves and the people we love. No one sees it; no one commends us. On and on we go. That song by Cake is honestly a stellar piece of poetry in my opinion. Too bad they made it a song. Ha!

I’m digressing. Back to the talking to my husband.

Somewhere in the discussion, I talked about waiting for things to get better and that maybe I would just set a deadline and if things weren’t better by then….Well, maybe that would be the time to end it all. You know, suicide. It was silent then, as I buried my face apathetically into a pillow. I couldn’t even cry.

Then, he whispered, “Please don’t leave me.”

And I cried at the sound of his desperate words. I don’t have a date or deadline and I’m not leaving him anytime soon. No plans, no actions. Just thoughts.

Then, after our really solid crying, we moved onto the portion of the evening in which we distract ourselves with TV.

It’s probably my favorite part of the day, because we always watch *something* together. We aren’t really one of those couples who do separate things in the evening. Like we always come back from the ugliness of the day by staring at Netflix. Precious Netflix.

Of course, we decided that since it was the weekend a movie would be good and so we ended up watching a Denzel Washington movie that the XBOX was offering up for free. It was called “The Book of Eli”. I’m not really into spoiling movies for people so here is a one sentence synopsis. A man defends the last copy of the Bible post-apocalypse. Pretty interesting concept and Denzel is, as always, superb.

Later that night, at the 3:00 AM hour, I woke up and on a slight whim decided to read my Bible. I literally read for an hour, just randomly paging to different spots. After coming across multiple spots where the Bible lists genealogies (so annoying) I turned over to Job and read how God decided Satan could basically lambaste Job with suffering. In fact, God even partakes in the lambasting.

Job responds and his friends respond and there is a lot of dramatic monologue by various parties. Of course, Job’s script is the best and some day I vow to make a video just quoting Job, because its fabulously honest and ugly and beautiful. Honestly, it is hard for me to narrow down my favorite parts, but I’ll try.

I would rather be strangled – rather die than suffer like this. I hate my life and don’t want to go on living.

Job 7:15-16, NLT

Yeah, I’ve been there. I’ve felt that. I feel that.

I find it extremely comforting and ridiculously morbid that I enjoy reading other people’s suicidal thoughts. Yet, I think that is precisely  what I need and what other people need. It is why I write my own thoughts here.

No one is alone.

I may think I’m the only one running on fumes. I may not want to go on.

But I’m not the only one.

Candidly,

Ash

P.S. Songs enter my mind all of the freaking time. When I typed “No one is alone.” I thought of this song from “Into the Woods” and when I wrote “But I’m not the only one” I heard John Lennon singing “Imagine.” I think my brain is just a giant song database, honestly. Ha!

 

The Chrysalis of Doubt

She was so eloquent and passionate, but I just absolutely, at my core, disagreed. She was almost there; she had part of the truth. She was talking about doubt and how the Shiny, Happy People at churches don’t want us to talk about it. No, not just talk. They don’t even want us to whisper about it.

She said it was dangerous to hide this topic within ourselves. Yes, I agree. Hiding is rarely the answer. Then, she said doubt was the enemy and I cringed. She said there was ]’a war being waged over our belief and that doubt was the enemy. I just couldn’t get  on board. I couldn’t be moved from my foundation. War waging is rarely the answer.

You see, I have doubts and it makes people really uncomfortable around me. I either become a pariah or a project. Pariahs are avoided, unfriended, unfollowed and forgotten. Projects are prayed about and worked on. Neither of those roles is a comfortable one for me, but I’ve decided something recently.

I’m willing to be around people who are uncomfortable with me. I scare people sometimes. I talk about suicide, depression, darkness, pain, fear, ugliness. There are very few boxes here and they are not wrapped in pretty bows and paper. They are tattered boxes, used and crinkly.

They are perfect for playing in, I’ve noticed.

Doubt is a Friend

One of my favorite people that I’ve never met says, “The opposite of faith is certainty.” I think the favorite person might be Brene Brown or it might be Anne Lamott – not really sure. Regardless, it is a fabulous point. If you are certain of something, then how are you having faith?

In the lifecycle of faith, doubt is the chrysalis. In the cocoon of doubt, we can be fully ourselves – angry, fearful, tearful, sad, frightened, confused and absolutely breathtaking. It is the cocoon that people watch with bated breath, wondering what will emerge.

I personally imagine that I emerge an ugly, hideous moth. Ha! I am okay with this now. Moths are infinitely more useful than butterflies. Moths are pollinators just like butterflies and actually account for more of the pollinating action than butterflies. Go figure!

The other thing I love about moths is that they are largely nocturnal. You see them and are annoyed at how they flock to the porch light, I am sure. Yet, I have learned to love darkness. It is my home. There is beauty in darkness, just as there is beauty in the light. There is the darkness that brings solace, that brings rest and dreams. The darkness of caressing couples too. It is not entirely bad, as one might think.

Yes, I am a moth. In my cocoon of doubt, I have stopped fighting. This is only part of the process – to wonder, to guess, to be intrigued. Perhaps it is even the best part. I don’t really know if I will settle on “God exists” or “God is a myth” or ”

God is not concerned with me”. I sort of like being here – in this possibility. I can be all things to all people and connected to all people too. I understand those who believe wholeheartedly, because I have been in that phase of the lifecycle. I understand those who don’t believe, because I have been there too. And I even understand those who believe He is unconcerned, because I am sort of there right now.

All I can say to myself and those who find doubt in themselves is “Good, you are growing, maturing.” If in this lifecycle, you choose to believe or not believe, just remember that cycles repeat and next time you might choose something else. Nothing is forever. Today, I doubt. Tomorrow I might believe. The weight of today and tomorrow is more profound, more enriching when we are honest.

Truth is an evolution. My favorite words.

Candidly,

Ash

 

Unboxing a Deity

I’ve written in some of the posts about my faith in God. I try not to think about what people will *think* of my faith or lack of it, that is. It’s hard to separate our beliefs from the people around us, our relationships. How do I connect with someone who knew me as a Jesus-freak, cross wearing non-swearer?

I swear pretty damn good now. (Sometimes even in front of the children) I think I still love Jesus. He always appealed to me – loving and attending to the small, forgotten, less fortunate. The cross, however, makes me cringe, if I’m completely honest. Maybe I don’t care to know a god who uses his son’s blood to wipe away the ugliness of humanity. Maybe I want a god who doesn’t require me to be perfect in order to spend eternity with him or her. Maybe I’d like to know a god who loves me sin and all, no human sacrifice necessary.

It makes me wonder if all of the shame I feel for existing, doesn’t have a relationship with being raised to believe that I had sin nature – that in and of myself, I will do wrong. I mean, I hardly believe I’m perfect or that anyone is perfect. But born to sin? I think not. I’ve held too many perfect, innocent babies in my arms to believe that the *sin* quotient plays into things from the start.

If I were to sum up a lot of what has been happening in my heart spiritually, I would say it is a deep need to reconcile what I have believed with what I do believe now. It comes down to writing what I feel to be true in my soul. I think it is good to explore these thing, write them down, scribble them out, change…

I feel that God is real and benevolent and even God instead of god. I feel that Jesus is worth following and that others are probably worth following too. I’m partial to Jesus though. Maybe its because I was raised that way or because my heart simply remembers Him from the many moments in childhood – moments of pain, in which words from the Bible were the only comfort I found. Jesus knew I was depressed long before I did. I’m certain of that.

I also feel that God isn’t discriminatory. If He or She knows good and evil, then He/She knows how grey the lines between the two can be. I think maybe God is more okay with uncertainty than we think. Maybe God could care less about the holiness of our lives and more about whether we are searching for a spiritual path in the midst of the rubble. Maybe the journey is truly more important than the destination.

Destination – how I hate this part. Heaven. Hell. I remember people in church saying things like “The worst part of hell is that we would be separated from God.”

I’ve been to hell. Maybe not that metaphorical or literal place, but I have definitely been places without God. Many times of my own choosing and many times at no fault of my own.

People (and the Bible) say that God will never forsake us. I wonder what that word “forsake” meant in its original language, because I have felt forsaken and, I think, I have actually been forsaken. Then, that thought alone brings me in a circle. If God is benevolent then how have felt forsaken so very often. Then, another thought, we choose what we feel…and other bull shit. (Not really  bull shit, but sometimes I don’t want to analyze my thinking and choose the necessary thought and then feel the way the thought tells me to feel. Sometimes I just want to be good and angry!)

It felt like God was gone, whether he was or wasn’t. I perceived him as gone, absent. It fucking hurt. It still hurts.

I could do this circling all day long. I can reason and weave my way through a web of contradiction to an evolved truth.

But it may not be functional for tomorrow or a week from now. If walk the spiraling staircase of my belief and faith every single day, then I may not get anything else done. Maybe this, all of this back and forth about God or god and benevolence, maybe its simply a distraction.

I’m distracted from the present moment in which it felt good to say to a benevolent deity, “I know you see me. Please help me.” I think and say things like that all of the time. Perhaps they will never go away. Perhaps its hard-wired into me.

Perhaps it matters very little whether God or god exists or that he is good or wise. Perhaps all that matters is that the breath I take as I say those words centers me, reminds me that maybe, just maybe, all is not lost. Help can be found. I am seen. I am heard. I am not alone.

Perhaps it is what my best friend and I call “both/and”. I may be by myself AND I am not alone. I may not believe God is real and I still pray. BOTH can be true AND I can sit with the contradiction. Both/And.

I am not lost and I am not found. I am simply present.

Candidly,

Ash