Category: grace

July 25th 2014 / 12 comments

Little by little I have been turning my manuscript over.

Over to an editor and a copy editor. Over to a designer and a printer. Over to my family who lets me share their story in order that I might more fully share mine. Over to friends whose grace, humor and compassion ebb through the stories that fill the pages. I turn it over.

I have been in the public arena for long enough that I know what comes next. Scrutiny, opinions, criticism, praise and litmus tests by those in the industry who want to predict whether I have created a product that is commercially viable or not. It’s not personal, it’s business. And if I had any business acumen I am quite sure I would run a company the same way. In any case, I have learned over the years that I cannot let the praise or criticism sway me. I must continue to be who I am and do what I am compelled to do. That’s the best gift I can offer.

So when an industry person recently commented to their colleagues that in their opinion, my manuscript felt like, “Wow, my life is really hard,” there were no hard feelings. It is their opinion and they are completely entitled to it. Not having spoken to the person personally- or even knowing them for that matter- I can’t say for certain why that is the only thing they walked away with. But I do know that the conversation that followed prompted that particular group of people to reach out to me and ask if I would consider revising the end of my story to make it a little more palatable by giving my story more “resolution” and giving the reader a few more “benefits” “take away points” or “inspiration.”

They said their intention wasn’t to coerce a watered down, trite or cheesy ending.  Just less of the Wow- life is really hard business and more of the Wow-God’s gonna fix it!  business.  A little less tension. A little less reality. A little more inspiration.

And hear me: I believe God is a healer and a fixer. He has healed and fixed before and God will heal and fix again. I think you and I are always, ever invited to the table to be made well. But I believe many things aren’t physically restored- the way we hope they will be- this side of heaven. Not because God is withholding healing from us, but because it’s a broken place we live in and for every ounce of beauty we encounter, there is suffering- remnants of evil among us. The hard reality of life is that some things, this side of heaven, remain broken. Still, there are many brave people among us who daily choose to live in the tension of being a person of FAITH and HOPE whether their earthly situations are ever fully restored or not. They live in that hope because they know this isn’t the end of the story; the story already has its ending and it is magnificent.

So I’ve thought a lot about the industry people sitting around their table here in Nashville. Discussing whether my manuscript might be made into a more inspirational book, debating whether readers really want to read a book laced with humor, love, insane life stories and yes, tension in the not-yet-arrived happily-ever-after. Wondering whether they could market a “no solutions” book from a Christian. Wondering whether my story shouldn’t end a little more happily-ever-after versus the way it currently ends, all Isaiah 43ish. But on my best days, Isaiah 43 is all I’ve got.

“But now, this is what the Lord says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned.”

That is all I need from the gospel. Emmanuel is with me. That is enough.

My grandpa passed away last night and gosh did I adore him. I can’t think of a major event in my life that he wasn’t there to witness. He and Grandma made the drive from Mississippi to Texas to be with my sisters and I more times than I can count. I can’t think of a time I said good-bye where he didn’t say, “Okay baby I love you.”  I don’t know what life is like without a loud, funny, brilliant, kind, arguing-with-the-TV Grandpa. He has fought for his life the past six months as his legs slowly became infected, then his blood became infected, then his lungs filled with fluid…then life support, his Priest, last rites and leaving earth for eternity with his daughters holding his hands.

We do a whole lot of living and dying between life and death. This is the tension in our humanity. And the great tension of our faith.

This week alone we celebrated with friends whose baby lived when she was supposed to die and mourned with those whose children did not make it. We told our 5-year-old that she was going to her second funeral in four months. I went to the asthma doctor, the psychiatrist and the dermatologist; places for those of us who are not yet whole. We picked carpet, waited on a house appraisal, had two picnics, went swimming and gathered at the table to cry with a friend who found out devastating family secrets. This week alone planes were shot down, children were herded like animals into filthy holding cells on our American borders and entire people groups continue to bomb and devour each other…

and I haven’t had a chance to respond to the well-meaning, industry people sitting around the table here in Nashville who wonder if I might make my manuscript a little less, “life is so hard, ” but the answer is no.

The answer is no BECAUSE IT IS.

Life is hard. All hard? No. All bad? No. All suffering? No. But hard? Absolutely. And for some people- cruelly hard.

If we acknowledge that life is laced with beauty, joy and celebrations without acknowledging that life is also complicated, confusing and often times painful beyond words,  then we are deceiving ourselves and shortchanging the depths of what it is to be fully human- people of joy and sorrow. We also miss a beautiful connection with God that is most often found in the unknowing, unraveling and unbecoming moments of our journeys.

Truth is- life is short on answers, long on grace. Short on neat bows, long on unraveling. Short on happily-ever-afters, long on God showing up in raging rivers and scorching fires. Short on perfectly curated plans, long on re-dreaming and re-building and re-dreaming and re-building. Short on “Life is perfect!” and long “Life is really hard right now.”

What I am learning along the way is this: My life is short on “God will intervene and fix it” and long on “God will be with me as I walk through it.”

Might you get to the end of my book and think life is hard? I sure hope so. To deny the frailty and pain of our condition as humans is to also deny the beautiful scope of our redemptive existence. Robert Benson says that in heaven there may well be no grace or mercy because all will be well and whole- there will be no need for grace and mercy.*

But here? Now?

We laugh, we celebrate, we dance, we cheer each other on, we gather at the table and we most fully experience God’s rich gifts of companionship, grace, peace, mercy, community, selflessness, bravery, random acts of kindness and deep abiding love for one another because it is hard.

Our stories are the stories of grace and mercy because we are people who live in the tension of earth and eternity.

And to me— that is inspiration enough.

 

 

Between the Dreaming and the Coming True: The Road Home to God
(one of the most influential books I have ever read)

 

 


March 8th 2014 / 11 comments

I totally failed at life yesterday.

I stepped in dog poop, my book manuscript was officially rejected from a publishing house, I cussed and hollered at an invading army of ants in my kitchen as if they could understand me, I lusted over everybody else’s life, and narrated (in my mind) a citizens revolt and takeover of the Department of Motor Vehicles. I may have, in my mind, also killed off some of Jesus’ family-lineage in a coup takeover too. I blame that on Margaret Feinberg.

Margaret’s books have been life-giving to me, but more so, the way she lives her life and treats people at events has awed me from afar. Her faith is rich and welcoming. And it seems to spill out and fall on everyone she touches. But I blame this entire story on her.

Well, some of it anyways.

It all started at the Department of Motor Vehicle. The birthplace of every negative connotation that surrounds the word bureaucracy. All I wanted was to become an official citizen of the State of Tennessee and leave with my peace and sanity intact. I walked into that DMV fully armed. I had every form of identification they could possibly want from me, a granola bar, soothing music, headphones and my Margaret Feinberg 40 Day Lent Challenge loaded and ready to read on YouVersion. Margaret invited some friends and I to join her in reading the entire New Testament during lent. And by ‘invited’ I mean ‘she doesn’t know me and invited millions of us.’  But hey- I took it as a personal invitation from the Lord and Margs. She lets me call her that.

Lent is often associated with what we give up. But giving up something during lent isn’t actually the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal of lent is giving something up in order that we might take something else on.  And that something else we take on is the special invitation to join believers in Christ all around the world in a season of preparing our hearts to deeply abide in, remember, reflect and react to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So Margs says this year, in order to reflect on the life of Christ in a unique way, she is sitting down each day to read the redemptive narrative that is the New Testament. And she is reading the entire narrative in 40 days and I can join her. And I say thanks M-Feiny (another name she lets me call her). I’d love to join you. And I am a day late to the lent party, but I go to the Department of Motor Vehicle with every intention of catching up by reading the first 14 chapters of the book of Matthew. Reading the redemptive narrative of Jesus on my iPhone while I wait in the long DMV line to get my license. A duel lenten challenge of sorts.

Oh the DMV. Oh. Oh. Oh.

Thirty minutes turned into sixty minutes. Sixty minutes into ninety. Ninety to one-hundred and twenty.  The super pregnant lady who was there with her 3-year-old daughter was uncomfortable, antsy and making sure the agents knew how much discomfort she was in: grunts, holding her belly, and switching butt cheeks to sit on. The 93 year-old-woman who could barely walk was stomping her cane. One man, who was told that he needed to wait outside the building with another fifty people who were in front of him in the line, began to yell “Come on bro. You know this ain’t right for nobody in here. NO. NO I’M NOT YELLING BRO but there is a pregnant woman and senior adult lady who ain’t been seen in over two hours bro and you acting like you can’t even hear us. Like you won’t even look us in the eyes bro. COME ON BRO be cool.”

Still, the supervisor kicked him outside to wait and threatened to call the police.

One hundred and twenty minutes turned into one hundred and eighty minutes. That’s three hours, y’all. My original number in line was spot nine and after three entire hours, I had only moved up to spot number six. Bureau-craaaazzzzzzy taken to an extreme new low.

I made it to the Beatitudes.

Except that’s a total lie. A total lie.

I made it to Amon.

Matthew Chapter 1. Verse 10.

That’s as much Bible reading as I got done at the DMV, Margs. I totally failed.

Amon. That rang a bell. I think people hated him. I googled him and it was as I suspected. Some say say he burned the Torah and let spider webs cover the alter. Others say he was just like his dad, sacrificing children at alters of fire and leading out in witchcraft and sorcery. Others say he was lustful, idolatrous and just plain mean. So mean, in fact, that two short years into his kingdom his servants rallied a revolt, started a coup and took him out in a bloody assassination.

And I am NOT ONE TO BE DRAMATIC BUT…

But I’m telling you…

The supervisor at the DMV LOOKED JUST LIKE AMON.

And everyone in that room started to line up in the lineage of Jesus Christ himself. I saw it in front of my very eyes. There were at least two prostitutes. Two or three kings rolling up in their Land Rovers. Lots of ordinary, everyday faithful types. A shepherd boy (under the custody of department of child services) who wants to fly planes in the Air Force. A few Ruth’s taking care of their elderly mother-in-law’s. One sweet lady who was fanning herself in a corner, God love her, and kept saying for all to hear (including King Amon) “Looorrrrd help me to accept the things I CAN NOT change and courage to change what I can.”

And then there was Amon and his cronies.

Those of us who were nearing the four hour mark of DMV hell-dom began to fraternize. We knew each other’s names and the last four digits of each other’s phone numbers. Those were our call numbers when in line. We cheered when people’s numbers were finally called. Audibly. Cheered, hooted and hollered. I would’ve handed out cupcakes and princess crowns if I had them. We knew where each person was moving from and how long it would take them to get back to their home state. We figured we might just have to move back to where we came from if the State of Tennessee couldn’t figure out a way to give us a new drivers license by the end of the day.

We tried to help translate for our non-English friends, tried calming our tyrannical friends down and made seats available for the elderly and pregnant. And finally, at hour four, I suggested to our friends that we find ole’ Amon and tell him, respectfully: We will be seen now. And we found him. And we were immediately seen. A huge oversight, he assured us. And the revolt was averted. And we passed out comment cards and pens to everyone in the building and I launched my own twitter campaign to try and track down whoever was in charge of that building and swore I would run for public office and reform the DMV system. And we left with our own newly formed anarchy of friends, most of us angry to the bone and completely aware that the DMV beat us.

So yesterday, MFeiny, I failed at day one of Lent. But Lent is the preparation of the soul. And if my soul were fully prepared to celebrate the most holy season of the year, I suppose I wouldn’t need the 40-Day challenge or the act of laying things down and taking things up in order to get myself out of the way. As it stands, I need a lot more soul work. Don’t we all?

Grateful I still have 30-something days. 
And a lifetime.


January 31st 2014 / 13 comments

“I bet you didn’t know I carried a gun,” a man I loved once told me.

Moments before, he shut the door behind me. Unexpectedly. The rest of the building was dark and we were alone. Many times I had come before, but never to this room and never with the door shutting behind me. There was no need to be in this room. We had never come here before, but I followed. I would follow him anywhere.

He pulled the small, silver revolver from out of his sleeve as if it had been taped and hiding. Waiting.

I knew he loved me and he would only ever protect me. I knew that. It was all I had ever known. But something was different. The tone of his voice. The wild, gone look in his eyes. My heart began to race. The mutterings of days long gone. The brief musings on finality. My legs felt like led. How much he loved me. My mind gripped into a mantra. Nothing bad is going to happen. Nothing bad is going to happen. But the way he took out each bullet, rolling it in his fingers and putting it back into the chamber. It felt imminent. God please make it stop. Please make it stop God. Please make it stop. The click of the chamber as it closed shut. Oh God. The click of his eyes as the monster left him and he himself seemed startled back into reality. The click in my mind, my body frozen in terror. 

My heart raced for days. For years. I was never again the same.

I told my dad before I got married. When I was all grown up and the fear had done its damage.

Five minutes in the 8th grade changed me forever.

 

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
I share my story freely because there are so many people who deal with mental illness and there are so few of us with mental illness who are willing, or capable, of talking about it. If one person feels more human and validated in their experiences through my words- it is a victory. If one family member or friend is better able to understand a person in their life with a mental illness because I talk about mine- it is a victory.

I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and ADHD, and when they are both firing at once, I have panic attacks.

Forget what you’ve seen in the movies about a stereotypical person with OCD who washes their hands one hundred times or an angsty, dramatic teenager battling depression or the hyper-active speaker who tries to look cool by running around on stage like an idiot and blaming it on his “ADD.” Images that are conjured up through the lens of a stereotype are often not helpful.

Mental illness manifests itself in many, many ways.

And it kills.

Just this week a friend was at my house when she received a call that a family member had committed suicide.  Just this week my dad, a Chaplain in the military, learned of his first confirmed suicide of the year within his ranks. To be clear, not all mental illness leads to suicide. And not all suicide is because of an underlying mental illness. But in the same way that a diabetic eating sugar and not taking their insulin will ultimately kill them, having a mental illness and leaning into its triggers while not taking medicine and staying in therapy will kill a person with mental illness.

So we have to address mental illness because suicide rates are high. But also, as a society, we have to address mental illness because acting as though it were not a real disease only perpetuates a culture of people who are quietly suffering, often without knowledge or access to life-saving and life-giving treatments and therapies. And that’s not boding well for us.

If our lives are on a trajectory of wholeness and redemption, both in our spirits and our bodies, we must make room for the wholeness of the mind as well. To seek healing for the body and for the spirit, but refuse to seek healing for the mind is high treason against yourself.

Misconceptions
Mental illness runs deep in the veins of my extended family. I have seen small traces of obsessive compulsive disorder, ADHD and anxiety attacks in myself, my entire life. But nothing that ever warranted medication or counseling. If mental illness runs in your family, it doesn’t hurt to take stock of yourself. To be aware that it might be there and that something traumatic or life-changing or just time itself might bring it to the surface would be wise. I believe the incident I described above led to the full maturation of my obsessive compulsive disorder. It may have been in my blood and in my brain at birth, but it was his bullets that triggered the disease that has since run wild in my mind.

My OCD comes in the form of obsessive thought patterns that I cannot get rid of. Sometimes, no amount of prayer, scripture recitation or singing of worship songs takes the thoughts away. Sometimes, no amount of medicine or therapy make them go away either. They are not thoughts based on reality or truth. They are often, for me, questions without answers. And questions and questions and questions and questions. My psychiatrist says I latch on to moments where good people change on a dime and suddenly do something evil. He says deep down somewhere my mind is trying to answer how that can happen. To make sense of it. Because that one time a man I loved counted his bullets and shut the door behind us and had the power to kill me if he wanted to. And an uncontrolled reel plays out in my head. Trying to make sense of the senseless. And sometimes its a reel of threats that won’t stop. The obsessive compulsive disorder, for me, is a condition that allows my brain to imagine and think things that are not real… and I can’t stop the thoughts. Someone is in the house. Or the person at the stop light next to me is going to shoot me. Or Annie is dying. It plays out. My last breath. Her last breath. The fight with the intruder. The feel of the knife. The click of the gun. The click of the gun. The click of the gun. I hear it a million times in a row.

And then I snap out of it. I realize thirty minutes later that I have sat in a terrifying stupor, my body waiting to be attacked, losing grip with reality- not living.

Before I took medicine, met with counselors and practiced spiritual disciplines that could help break me out of the cycle- I would have these episodes on a near daily basis. I had no idea I could live without having these episodes. I thought everyone had them. Imagine the joy when a doctor finally looked me in the eyes and told me I was sick and no amount of saying “Fear not I am the Lord your God” and fierce prayer would make it go away. I needed medicine. I needed coping mechanisms. I needed support. I needed to fight a disease.

If you or someone you love suffers from depression, anxiety, bi-polar, panic attacks or other mental illnesses- remind yourself daily- you are fighting a disease. And if you would fight cancer with prayer and chemo then why fight a mental illness any differently? It is not a matter of the mentally ill just “choosing” to have better thoughts any more than it is for the cancer patient “choosing” to have healthier cells in their bodies. It is a grave misconception to assume a mental disease can be prayed away or fixed by working out, doing yoga or simply focusing on happy words! As a child of God, I live a fearless life. As a child of obsessive compulsive disorder, sometimes disease-induced fear wrecks my brain. That however has no bearing on my spiritual life or the way I pursue Jesus and live wild, free and fearless. My spiritual life and my disease are separate. I cope with my disease and pray for healing from God in the same way a person with cancer begs for healing and prays for strength and endurance. It is not as simple as mind over matter.

And perhaps that’s the most damaging thing that we can do for those around us suffering from some form of mental illness. Deduce it to a choice being made by that person- as if anyone wants to be depressed, or fixated on their own death or riddled with paralyzing anxiety. The best thing we can do to begin to address mental illness in our society is to label it for what it truly is: a disease. If we do not assume that it is someone’s fault for acquiring pancreatic cancer, then we should not assume it is someone’s fault for acquiring depression. If we do not suggest to a patient with heart disease that they pray away their illness, then we should not suggest to a person with obsessive compulsive disorder that they pray away their OCD.

The sooner we begin to treat mental illness as a common disease, the sooner people like me can realize they indeed have a disease and can begin a journey towards healing and wholeness.

Healing
I no longer live with debilitating episodes on a daily basis. They still come on occasion, reminding me of the lifeless place I used to live in. Reminding me how sick I used to be and how much better I am now. Like a type one diabetic- I was born with this disease, one day it triggered and it will be with me until the day I die. So I mange it the way one manages their sugar and insulin. I take my medicine. I recognize that my tendency to cycle through episodes is higher during seasons of stress, so I avoid triggers (like reading the news or watching violent movies), I up my level of exercise, ask my family and friends to check on me, start visiting a counselor on a weekly basis to help me process and take my medicine. And still the episodes come. But they are fewer and farther between. And at the end of the day- I know the click will come- and the monster will go away. I know it is temporary. I know it is not my fault. I know it is not a result of me being weak or broken or somehow less-than; as if my emotional, passionate composition as a human is the only reason I suffer from this sickness. I call it a sickness. I look it in the eyes and let it know that I will fight it. I will fight like hell against it in order to live a full, free, fearless life.

And then I talk about it. I talk about it, not because it consumes me anymore, but because it used to consume me. And no one knew or understood. And my sweet husband so much wanted to help me but didn’t know how. But now we know. And so we speak. We tell you that you are not alone. That there is hope. That there is healing. That there is a way to live with mental illness- fully live- and not be a slave to it. We know now that it is a disease and should be treated as such. We know now that what I was living with every day was not “normal.”  We know now that there is a road- a long road worth traveling to new life. And we pray that by opening up about this rampant family of elusive diseases that we begin to change the tone of the dialogue and conversation, that we dispel some unhelpful myths and misconceptions and that we empower others to not live in fear or shame, in judgement of what they do not understand or in hopelessness.

There is hope. Always. Everything rides on hope now.

“For some people, psychological health is a birthright. For many others, like Abraham Lincoln, it is the realization of great labor.”
-Lincoln’s Melancholy by Joshua Shenk

Further thoughts: http://www.jennysimmons.com/2013/04/09/simplifying-war/

For help finding a counselor and tons of resources: http://www.aacc.net/