Sunday, May 31, 2015

What I'm Learning about Emotional Pain

So, my counselor assigned me some reading in the form of Chris Thurman's The Lies We Believe. Chapter after chapter, I found myself highly annoyed by it...not because I didn't agree with Thurman's points, but because I did; I agreed with everything he wrote and didn't find his words very insightful.

I thought: if this guy (my counselor) thinks I'm going to pay him a million dollars to have book club over this stupid book, he's got another thing coming. I kept reading, though, because I'm a rule follower from way back.

Also and just for the record, I would never actually say that to my counselor because 1) I have a really hard time saying mean things to anyone who doesn't live in my house and therefore must almost always write my mean words down, and 2) pretty much every time my counselor looks at me, I cry.

But anyway. It took about forever, but I ran up on a statement in Thurman's book with which I strongly disagreed. (Finally! And, in the end, how much can a person learn from someone who thinks just like him or her?)  The statement with which I disagreed is this: "Emotional pain is good."

Now, let me tell you something: I'm an expert on emotional pain. Honestly, I can't remember the last time I was devoid of it. And it hurts. I hurt. So I was very curious to know from where this doctor (with whom I'd agreed so completely up to this point) was coming.

This is the analogy he drew (only not in this format, which I love because hello! I used to teach English):

emotional pain : internal problem :: smoke alarm : fire

So according to Thurman, emotional pain (like anger, depression, or anxiety) is good because it alerts us to the presence of an internal problem in the same way a smoke alarm alerts us to fire.

I like this concept a lot, and it has me asking questions like: 1) If I believed (prior to reading The Lies We Believe) that emotional pain was bad, why was I holding onto it? 2) Have I been so fixated on my emotional pain that I haven't been putting in the hard work of identifying my internal problem(s)? 3) Is it really possible to live a life free of emotional pain?

What do you think?

Friday, May 29, 2015

My Profound Experience in Nebraska

I traveled to Nebraska, recently, to attend and photograph an event for writers, bloggers, artists, and entrepreneurs called Jumping Tandem: The Retreat. I'd never been to Nebraska. I'd never gathered with online friends in that way. Since my youngest child had been born, I'd never been away from my husband and all my children.

I'd known for a year--ever since Deidra Riggs had put out an open call for volunteers--that Jumping Tandem was for me. When I'd realized the cost of airfare, I'd almost backed out, but Deidra had agreed to take my photography in trade for the rest. The cheapest (but still expensive) ticket had me flying in a day early and out a day late. "Stay with us!" Deidra had said. "We'll pick you up!"

Who does that?!? Deidra and Harry Riggs, I guess. And the thing is: I needed that. I needed someone(s) to believe in me--to want me--that much. I held the promise of retreat close to my heart for an entire year: praying about it, blogging toward it on the retreat site.

I was scraping the bottom of the barrel, flying into Nebraska. My grandma was dying, but that was the least of it, really.

At the risk of oversharing, Jim and I are working with our third marriage counselor, and a couple weeks before the retreat, the three of us had decided to interrupt couple sessions so I could work with the counselor one-on-one. I'd been feeling as if I were at the edge of my seat all the time. Or at the edge of the world. I'd been sleeping plenty, but I hadn't been able to relax inwardly (constant fight-or-flight mode), and I'd been more emotionally disregulated than I'd ever been in my life. The counselor and I had been flirting with diagnoses. I'd been wrestling with big questions. The biggest may have been: who am I going to be on the other side of this? Am I even going to be able to recognize myself?

Poor Deidra and Harry.

No, but I never lost the sense that Jumping Tandem was for me. I felt a little overstimulated, meeting so many people face-to-face who were, in my mind, as good as (if not better than) famous. I felt a little strange, too, being seen without my babies and just as Brandee. But I realized a complete absence of both competition and pressure in terms of photography, and every interaction and word (spoken and sung) at the event seemed appointed. I cried (leaked tears) quite a bit. The retreat was amazing and ended with my feeling as loved and accepted as I'd ever felt in my life. Deidra sent me back to to Riggs home, still weepy, with Harry.

Harry Riggs is a pastor, and he was more than equipped to listen to and advise me in my fairly fragile state. I apologized at one point, and he said: "No, I'm good! If you're open and receiving this, I'm good!" And I was. Open, receiving.

Looking back, I know the Lord used Harry, in those moments, to confirm the words that other wise men had spoken into my life prior to my leaving Virginia. My mind swam as he referred to the same Bible verse (John 8:32) my counselor had spoken to me days before, also when Harry spoke the word "differentiate," which I'd chosen--following a meeting with another pastor-friend--as my word for the year. We ended the conversation with Harry's advising that I was going to have to enter a dark place to find healing. We both thought (in agreement with my counselor) we knew who was in that dark place. I just shook my head and cried. Harry said something like: "Don't barge in there until you're ready." We talked about how I might slip in more gently and through a back door. Then Harry left to do his pastor thing elsewhere.


Kim Hyland knocked on the door of the Riggs home. She'd led a session at the retreat, but I'd been elsewhere. We hadn't met, officially, and I didn't really know her from the blogosphere. She'd planned to stay with another family, but there had been an emergency, and Deidra, being Deidra, had said: "Stay with us!"

I opened the door for Kim. A storm was brewing behind her, and she has unruly (beautiful, but rowdy) hair...also, at once, the softest and most controlled voice and the kindest and boldest eyes. I couldn't determine if I were in the opening chapter of A Wrinkle in Time or Mary Poppins, but I knew something was about to happen. I did know. I felt it.

Kim settled in a living-room chair across from me and became, in an instant, the person for whom I'd been waiting. She was fearless and absolutely ready to go wherever I wanted to take her. I can't say how we got so quickly to where we went except for in the Lord, and it might have been unsettling if not for the aroma of the Holy Spirit.

Kim spoke three specific messages into my spirit, and one of them unlocked my breath. It wasn't until later that night that I realized I was breathing differently and with more depth, but I knew why; I knew absolutely which of Kim's words had brought healing. I wondered if the change would last through the night. It did, and I've been breathing fine ever since. When, at the airport, I told Deidra's sister Karen about my experience, she asked how long it had been since I'd breathed well. I hadn't considered until that moment, but I knew the answer immediately: almost 3.5 years.

I'd been panting for 3.5 years.

Karen got on her flight: the same one I'd been hoping to take, but there wasn't an empty seat for me. I was alone at the gate. I took out my phone, placed a call, and entered inadvertently (while still in Nebraska!) the dark place of Harry's and my conversation...except, the person in there wasn't the one I'd expected to find. Nor was the person my husband.

I'm just thankful I'd been prepared, that I could breathe through it. I just breathed. Right through it.

Kim Hyland, alone before the cross on the morning of the day I met her.

***You can view the rest of my photos from Jumping Tandem: The Retreat, here.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Exposed: A Poem

I was naked and did not know
until I knew. Now I wonder
if I were like Eve--naked only
before God, who knew but
did not care, and my husband,
who (naked himself) knew
no more than I did, or didn't--
or if I were like the emperor
in the Hans Christian Andersen
fairy tale. Did everyone know
what I didn't? All the townsfolk?
The smallest, even, of children?

Sunday, May 24, 2015

White Flag: A Poem for My Children

There may come a moment in your lives
when you realize: most people love you
in proportion to how comfortable you
make them feel, which may or may not
be love at all. You may start to see that
it was never about you (the person at
the center of your center) but, instead,
about how obedient you were...or quiet
(shhh)...accommodating, pleasant, loyal.
In other words, it was always just about
your giving something, or everything, and
your not asking for too much, or anything,

            especially repentance.

You may wake up one morning and see:
the truest love you've ever experienced
is that which you disregarded or (worse)
destroyed. You may start to realize you
had it all backwards, and even as regret
and shame wash over, the world will say:
"You've always made your own decisions;
own them and the consequences, too!"
You may insist that all you knew is what
you knew, what they taught you, but the
world will just shrug and hope there's a
name for what's wrong with you, a way to

            explain it (you) all away.

I'd like to tell you how it will all turn out,
but I just woke up this morning and arrived.
I just. Woke up. If it ever happens to you (if
you can forgive me in that moment), find me.
Make a white flag of this page and remind me.
Make a white flag of this page. Remind me.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Grandma in Glory: A Poem

Absent from the body, present with the Lord,
and I just can't help imagining, Grandma,
what it was like for you to be one minute here
and the next minute there: just suddenly there,
on a pathway in Glory. I'll bet your mouth
fell open a little as, standing stock-still, you
glanced about: what in the...then you knew.
You realized. You looked down at your shoes,
your dress, your hands. Your hands! They look
like they did eighty years ago! You lifted one
to your hair, pulled a strand across your face:
dark. Then in the distance you saw...Daniel?
You squinted from habit, but your young eyes
see fine: it's really him! And you hesitated for a
trembly moment like an animal just released,
then pulled off your heels and broke into a run,
your legs nimble as a doe's, no knee pain at all.