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

The Little Engine that Couldn’t

I don’t exactly know what happened in my life to make me so sensitive to other’s opinions and feelings. Maybe I was just hardwired that way? Or was it programming?

I’ve often leaned towards programming. Biblical verses come to mind specifically. “He (God) must increase. I must decrease.” and “Let nothing be done of selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” Then, there is the story of the Good Samaritan who helps an injured man on the side of the road, while others simply pass him by, which totally villainizes the two men who wanted nothing to do with the injured man.

The other day, I was sorting through our board books to see what we had, because, with a paper-shredding son with autism and an almost 2-year-old, there is no such thing as too many board books. I stumbled upon my favorite story from childhood – “The Little Engine that Could.” Of course, this needed to be read to all children within the vicinity so I began out loud with my best narrative voice. As my three youngest children gathered round I felt that small glow in my heart that reading brings. (Is it just me or is reading to your child not one of the best things ever?!?! Okay, I know. It’s probably just me.)

Of course, as the story unfolded, I realized that the story was really only a repeat of the good Samaritan story from the Bible. Mortified, I listened to myself characterize the weary and dreadful voice of the old engine, who will not stop to help. My heart sunk further as I listened to my haughty version of the busy, strong engine turning down the opportunity to help the broken engine. Finally, the spry, naïve voice of the Little Engine that Could emerged on the scene. The hero of the story takes up the cause of the broken engine, regardless of practicality and with sheer will muscles the heavy load over the mountain.

“How wonderful.” I say dryly.

And what’s not to love? The underdog saves the day. The ugly, unlikeable characters fates are untold so that we may use our magnificent imaginations to prescribe their (likely) tumultuous futures. All of the good little children on the other side of the mountain get their toys and candy and all manner of spoils.

Here’s the thing.

Each of those engines had his own story too. Perhaps the old engine was weary from hauling his lifetime engine partner to his engine-grave. Yes, I know that sounds far fetched, but let’s humanize theses engines for a minute. Let’s say the old engine is an older women who has cared for her husband through 20 years of dementia, only to bury him that very morning. Should she really stop to help yet another person? Could she even carry their burden 10 feet, let alone up a mountain?

I don’t know. Only she does.

And the busy, strong engine – what if she or he was on their way to other children, not necessarily good or bad, but downtrodden and without hope? Perhaps this engine isn’t bringing the spoils of toys and candy, but rather simple food and water. Should this strong and hurried really stop to facilitate the export of toys and candy? What about the other children, not necessarily good or bad, who live over in the next valley and are starving? What about them? I mean, at the end of the story, the children who receive the toys and candy didn’t seem to be particularly hurting for shelter and food.

Then, there is the broken down engine who needs help. Perhaps he is a wonderful engine that is just having a bad day, but also, quite possibly, he didn’t fill up his gas tank before leaving. Not only that, but it isn’t even his first offense. In fact, what if this particular engine is on the verge of decommission, because of his lack of responsibility? Or maybe he is just having a bad day. Who knows?

Not me, that’s who. Only he knows if he did his best.

Lastly, the engine that could! Should he really take on a load that he is unsure he can carry? Yes, risk  and strong-will are important, but so is wisdom. Perhaps conventional wisdom would tell him to go for help instead of risking the load of wonders for the good little children.

I don’t know, but this story is full of striking metaphors – spoken and unspoken.

What is the point of my long diatribe?

There is a time for risk and fortitude of spirit, as well as a time for asking for help. There is a time to admit we make mistakes. There is a time to say we are too weary to help. There is a time for helping those in the greatest need AND a time for helping those with less need. There is a time for befriending and time for instructing for improvement – and those don’t need to be mutually exclusive.

There is a time for everything.

Helping ourselves and helping others, knowing the difference and what is needed in each moment – those are the lessons I want my children to have.

So perhaps I’ll write a story about “The Little Engine who Called for Help” and “The Weary Engine would Couldn’t” and “The Strong Engine who Stayed on Task.” These stories could be read alongside “The Little Engine that Could”.

Perhaps the world will be a better place once all the little engines are represented. Perhaps the children of the world, neither good or bad, will choose their path wisely.

Perhaps, we can teach our children well. Perhaps, our children can teach us too.

 

 

 

The Soul as a Bridge

For several years, I have been reading a book that I love. I read it and re-read it. I return to it moments of despair and confusion. “Care of the Soul” by Thomas Moore is probably, hands down, my favorite book there is. I always get something new out of it.

He talks about what Soul is and how we can nurture it. Yet, I can never seem to find a concrete definition for what he thinks it is. I think that is intentional on his part. He doesn’t want there to be a definition for soul, because it isn’t something with boundaries. It is whatever we think and feel and know it to be. We can find in anything – a leaf, a friend, a job, a past-time, a place, a meal… There is no limit to this thing called Soul.

{I like that.}

But among his writings on Soul, I have not found this particular idea that I have right now.

Soul, as a bridge.

Recently, I have had so many thoughts and ideas about my mind and my heart. They are so very different and, in some ways, they seem fractured. If the two could be a complete circle, then mine have divided into hemispheres. I feel a struggle, an urge, to draw them back together. I want to reconcile them, but they have their own agendas. I wouldn’t say they are at war exactly. That idea seems extreme. Yet, the emotional fallout and turmoil? That feels somewhat reminiscent of war to me. Rather, it is much like the time following war.

Soldiers return home to find they are welcome or unwelcome. While they were gone, time was passing, but in their minds, while sitting at the battle front, the idea of home was standing still. Home became a refuge in their minds. They grasped it and held on for dear life as a coping mechanism for all the turmoil in front of them. All the while their home was evolving and changing, designing itself to be a world without them.

The is the disconnection I feel between my heart and my mind. My mind has been off fighting battles only to return and find that my heart has a much different landscape than it did before. The two had once loved each other – inseparable, a perfect circle. Now, they awkwardly fumble to co-exist, dancing side-by-side.

Somehow, there needs to be a bridge where they can meet and sort it out. I think that bridge is Soul. My soul speaks the language of both entities. It is the common ground. Yet, it is a weak muscle I have rarely exercised in my life. Like a small child, it desperately wants to reunite its parents, but has no idea how.

My soul needs to grow, to mature. It must be tended, pruned, prodded and watered. What does this process look like and how can use this muscle to pull the various hemispheres into alignment?

My soul is the place where both things can be true. It is the place where logic and feeling meet. It is both/and. Contradicting elements can dwell without harm. Yet, I wonder how.

My mind holds fiercely to hardwiring from my youth. I cannot let it go. My soul says this is acceptable, instead of infantile.

My heart evolves and expands to hold all of the differences and dynamics I have seen in life. My soul says this is peaceful and loving, instead of false and devoid of absolute-truth.

My mind believes there is a god. My heart says he cannot be or he is cruel. These two things, they stand on the bridge of my soul, side-by-side. Both/And.

A beautiful scene – two post-war lovers.