Monthly Archives: April 2010
So, I’m only about halfway done with Lit by Mary Karr, but I just had to take a break from my voracious inhaling of this book to tell you how much (and why) I like it. Karr’s story (which includes just about every kind of trauma you can think of) is raw, and her voice is rawer still. She’s a blood and guts writer and she’s not afraid to tell the truth in it’s most difficult forms. I find her brand of writing brave. I feel punched in the gut as I’m reading because this kind of truth-telling is challenging and it leaves you breathless and even a little charged.
In a culture of “if it looks good it is good,” getting gritty and grisly is often discomforting, yet the truth is always the thing that sets us free. Always. I feel brazened when I read this book, like I just took a shot of liquid courage, and I might just be able to say things and write about things even more honestly and even more openly.
I facilitated a writing workshop on Wednesday night — basically two and half hours on all the many ways I have felt stuck as a writer and what has helped at least a little bit — and I was reminded of how writing can help us get to the veiled truth in our lives, how writing into our memories and our stirrings (though we often don’t know how to make sense of them) will uncover a jewel if we are honest and diligent in the process.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Mary Karr is first and foremost a poet, so her language is otherworldly at times, haunting and melodic. She is at once a white trash Texan (self-proclaimed) and a refined artist. You see why her writing works.
This post is about Mary Karr and her soul-satisfying memoir. But I guess it’s also about an insatiable place in me that is hungry for truth and art and courage, a place in me that wants to see people who are telling the truth and surviving. People who are, with a poet’s pen, coaxing us toward health and wholeness in a way that is sly and slant (taken from Emily Dickinson who was recently quoted by my crush Eugene Peterson, “Tell all the truth/But tell it slant”), inviting each of us into process, reflection, and participation.
That is a true and rare gift.
Earlier this year, I did a video interview with Craig Spinks of www.recycleyourfaith.com. Craig and his wife, Sara, are traveling around the country (they’ve been on the road 7 months!) capturing all kinds of stories of faith. They want to tell the stories that cause people to question easy answers, challenge neat conclusions, and invite discussion. My video, “The Woman at the Mosque,” is featured on the homepage this week. Check it out!
My dear friend Elaine Hamilton also has a video on the site. Hers echoes some of the topics in her amazing book, Church on the Couch, namely how we can experience deeper authenticity in the church. Be sure to watch her interview, “Embracing the Mess,” as well.
I’d love to hear any comments you have on either my video or Elaine’s.
I spent Friday and Saturday with the most amazing group of women from a church up in Bakersfield. The two-day retreat was themed around Found Art, and we talked about discovering beauty in foreign places, experiencing God in foreign places, and caring for our souls in foreign places.
I once heard Gordon McDonald say, “Never underestimate the amount of blood in the pews.” This weekend was a reminder of the deep pain of our world and of the walking wounded. I talked to so many women who are journeying through unthinkable pain. Divorce. Death. Illness. Financial Ruin. Infidelity. Trauma. The wounds were raw and real.
My hope was that the words of Ecclesiastes brought comfort: “He is making all things beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in our hearts, yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Doesn’t that say it all? We have a sense that our lives have an eternal purpose, that the things we’re going through have a larger, spiritual significance, that beauty might somehow materialize, and yet we cannot quite figure out exactly what he’s doing from beginning to end. We must believe despite our unbelief. So hard to do when you’re in the middle of a wilderness exile.
Back at my church on Sunday, our post-college/career pastor, Andy Kelly, was giving the message on the subject of pornography. Ugghhh. No one likes to talk about these things. Especially at church. Messy. Uncomfortable. Inconvenient. Phrases like erotic fantasy and compulsive masturbation don’t mix well with my Starbucks coffee and my comfort zone. In addition, I felt like my mind was numb from the fatigue of the speaking and of really doing my best to stay present with the women at the retreat.
But I was reminded, through the transformational truth that Andy shared (a truth that transcended the subject of pornography), that even as our lives are ensnared by any number of unhealthy behaviors, relationships, ways of thinking, ways of being, woundedness, and brokenness, that God deeply loves us. His invitation is one of intimacy and healing and freedom.
In the words of Peter, where else would we go, Lord?
I’ll close this post with the familiar hymn I read to the women at the retreat. When we are wandering through those foreign places—without bearings, without familiarity—how often we need the reminder that he is our eternal home.
O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.
Under the shadow of Thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is Thine arm alone,
And our defense is sure.
Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting Thou art God,
To endless years the same.
A thousand ages in Thy sight
Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.
O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.
Thought you might like to read a column I wrote recently for a military wesbite, www.wivesoffaith.org, on the subject of loneliness. Enjoy.
“Know and Be Known”
When my husband Steve and I moved to Bahrain, literally days after we were married, I was all of a sudden transported to a world where I knew no one. And because Steve and I had dated seven weeks before getting engaged and then spent the better part of our engagement apart (me in San Diego; Steve in the Middle East), you could safely say that Steve and I didn’t even totally know each other.
During those first few weeks in Bahrain, I spent long hours decompressing from the hectic pace of my western world and embracing the landscape of my new life. I would pull open the heavy green drapes in the master bedroom of our Persian Gulf-facing flat, and I would stare out at the whipping water and just let the peace of it all seep into my soul. At a time in my life when I should have felt the most alone, and I was truly alone, I didn’t feel lonely at all.
One year later, when Steve and I returned back to San Diego, back to my hometown, I was excited to be returning to a place that was familiar and comfortable to me. Immediately, I was blindsided by how much had changed in just one short year. I assumed re-entry into my former job and former relationships and former church would be somewhat seamless, and I was devastated when I realized how much I had changed and how much “home” had changed in my absence. At a time in my life when I should have felt the most surrounded and known, all I felt was utter isolation.
Loneliness is a strange condition, having less to do with the state of our surroundings and more to do with the state of our souls. Thus, confusing and counter-intuitive. Over and over again, I have learned this lesson.
I’ve been a mother now for just over a year. My introduction to motherhood came in a double-dose with the arrival of boy/girl twins. Certain days, the better days, are an adventure. Other days, the lonelier ones, cause me to feel as though I am death spiraling toward an irrecoverable soul oblivion.
Here is one thing that has helped immeasurably:
I meet with a group of eight women every week. Some are married. Some are single. Some with kids. Some without. The common denominator in the group is simply the desire to know and be known. Somehow this shared pursuit binds us together beautifully, mutually supporting and being supported.
Every meeting, we each spend a chunk of time updating the others on the state of our souls. Though rarely comfortable to engage in this level of authenticity, this practice of truth-telling has become essential to my survival. One of our group members reminded me recently that, “when we share our burdens with others, the weight is divided among the hearers and we are left with so much less to carry.”
The most powerful part of the evening—and this never ceases to amaze me—comes directly after each woman shares. The entire group looks at the woman who has just opened up her soul and says in unison, “We see you. We hear you. We love you.”
A sure antidote to the ache of isolation is the awareness that someone sees me, for loneliness breeds whenever I begin to feel misunderstood, taken for granted, overlooked, invisible, or just plain useless.
Each week, my group of women puts words to the message God is forever whispering to me throughout my day. “Leeana, I see you. I hear you. I love you.” They have become his eyes, his ears, and his heart to me.
On the days when I am tempted to run headlong into my own head and begin spinning scenarios of personal invisibility and irrelevance, I send an email to my group. Just the simple act of reaching out allows these women the opportunity to reach in, and the load begins to lighten the minute I press send.
Loneliness has so much more to do with believing the lies of “you’re not worth it,” “you don’t matter,” and “you’re on your own” than it has to do with the number of people on your speed dial. On the days—and they will come—when you’re feeling that the lies may very well overcome the truth, practice the courageous disciplines of opening up, reaching out, and letting in. Small miracles are surely forthcoming.
Exciting to see the first chapter of Found Art featured on Crosswalk.com today! Watch for the cover image on the scrolling ad on the left side of the homepage!! Click on it to read the entire first chapter, “Uprooting.” Feel free and forward on to others who might want to read an excerpt.
I mentioned earlier in the week that I returned from the Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing with a suitcase full of books. On that subject, I thought it might be fun to share book lists.
What I just finished reading
The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr — I heard Mary Karr interviewed at the Calvin Festival and she is a spunky spitfire. I loved her instantly. As I was reading this book, a memoir of the early years of her traumatic childhood, I could not believe the detail of her memory and I was hoping someone would ask her about at the Festival. Someone did. I think she might have a photographic memory, though she didn’t get that specific with terms. She said that one of the side effects of PTSD is a very vivid sense of your most traumatizing memories. Maybe that explains it. The book is painful, poignant, and her voice is unforgettable. I’m 50 pages into Lit now (her 3rd memoir about coming to faith), and I’m sure I’ll go back and read Cherry (her 2nd memoir in the “series”) when I’ve finished Lit.
Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert — Don’t you feel for a woman who wrote the most celebrated book in the history of mankind only to have to turn around and produce another one? OK, you’re right, she is a gazillionaire and Julia Roberts is playing her in the upcoming movie based on her book, so maybe we shouldn’t feel too sorry for her. Nonetheless, in this book, I can sense her angst. I feel you, Liz. The blank page is the great equalizer. The book annoyed and angered me at points (as did EPL), but I also found her vulnerability endearing in places. Her final conclusions about marriage (which I won’t ruin the thing by telling you) were challenging and gave me a lot to think about. All in all, worth reading.
The Awakening by Kate Chopin — A slim novella that I first read my sophomore year of college, I have always felt cosmically connected to this work and re-reading it was no different. Chopin’s Edna Pontellier seems to be living some of the very things I’m interested in and thinking about right now, maybe even some of the same things I’m living. I find the story enormously tragic and yet familiar. Haunting.
What I’m reading right now
Lit by Mary Karr — So far, soooooo good. Again, unmatched voice.
The May Queen: Women on Life, Love, Work, and Pulling It All Together in Your 30s — This collection of essays, including one from Jennifer Weiner, has been on my shelf for at least a couple years, but I just recently picked it up. I like how you can absorb it in bite-sized chunks as well as the collection of different voices and different stories.
What I’m reading after I’m done with what I’m reading right now
Imperfect Birds by Anne Lamott — Though better known for her non-fiction (in most circles anyway), this is Lamott’s first novel in a long time telling the continued story of her characters from Rosie. I read Rosie, and loved it. Can’t wait for this one. But I hope, for all our sakes, she keeps writing non-fiction. We still need your essays, Anne!!!
The Help by Kathryn Stockett — My mom is engrossed in this novel right now, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. The story is very reminiscent of the way my mom was raised in her own Southern home, and I know I will better understand her history by reading this book.
A Syllable of Water: Twenty Writers of Faith Reflect on Their Art — Another collection of essays. This is one I picked up at the Festival, and I can’t wait to read it. Contributors include Luci Shaw, Philip Yancey, Richard Foster, and Eugene Peterson. I love little more than reading about writers who talk about writing. Honestly, I could read about writing eternally.
Same Kind of Different as Me: A Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them Together by Ron Hall and Denver Moore with Lynn Vincent — Heard great things about this one. Can’t wait to get into it.
Great with Child: On Becoming a Mother by Debra Rienstra — Also picked this one up at the Festival. The author is a professor at Calvin College. Motherhood is a subject I’m interested in, and I’m equally interested in how others are writing about their experiences.
Your turn . . . what are you reading? Cough it up!
I’ve just returned from five days in Grand Rapids, Michigan, at the Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing, an incredible amalgamation of scholars, poets, artists, pastors, editors and writers.
I attended the bi-annual conference in 2008, just a few months after I signed a book contract with Zondervan and just a few days before I found out I was pregnant. A precarious place in my personal history. I attended the conference that year with my mom (as I did this year) and I listened to Phyllis Tickle and Kathleen Norris and others and I was challenged by their long careers of careful thinking and believing and writing. I returned home and poured myself into the early drafts of Found Art, and I called upon those voices when I had to persevere through the long days of rewriting and editing.
This year, Luci Shaw and Parker Palmer and Mary Karr and Eugene Peterson (did I mention I have a crush on him?) and Scott Russell Sanders all gave me a collective shot in the arm to keep writing, keep asking the most difficult questions, keep probing, and above all, keep a firm grip on the immensity of the sacred. In other words, never allow my writing to be a vehicle for my lofty and unbending knowledge or conclusions but instead a vehicle for my personal discovery and the discovery of human experience. As we write from the place of investigation, we begin “working with hands larger than our own,” to borrow a phrase from Luci Shaw. Beautiful, huh.
Also this year, I sat at a table and signed my book, a moment I would have thought impossible during certain days of this whole journey. I tried to reflect on where I’ve been even as the question of where I’m going looms.
I’ve returned with a suitcase full of books . . . more on that later this week. In the meantime, let me know if something has grounded, inspired, or challenged you recently. I’d love to hear about it.
I’m inviting ways to more fully participate in my life. To that end, I got a good idea. (I tend to be very fond of my good ideas. To the point that I become obsessively committed to them and, possibly even, become a bit of an impulsive activator.) So, last week I ordered eight silver clutches/wristlets online in an attempt to find the perfect little purse that would hold all my essentials, fit nicely into my diaper bag, and work well for day or night. The purse would not only hold my keys, glasses, gum, credit card, ID, and lip gloss, it would hold my attempts at a lean-and-mean life, so organized and trimmed down that I would be envied for my ability to live chicly and simply.
Exit stage left my bulging bag of gum wrappers, receipts, pounds of change, thirteen (yes I counted) lip colorers of all descriptions, mail, and six (yes I counted) pens. Mindless hoarding. Not only is all that nonsense in my purse, but I’m willingly carrying it around all day with two almost-thirty pound children and a diaper bag.
Stop the insanity! Wake up! Exercise your options! Get creative! Think!
I received all eight clutches, lined them up on the floor in the living room, removed each one from the plastic. Steve and my mom looked on, advising and questioning, roles they are very fond of. All this while we watched WVU get stomped by Duke. So sad, Mountaineers.
I chose the one I had liked most online, and felt that $19.50 was a modest price for something that is sure to revolutionize my life.
One day into it, the purse is spot on. I can’t cram a whole lot of crap into it, so it requires me to decide what I really need, and part with the rest. Purging is not an intuitive skill for me, so I’m practicing. Trying to get better at the editing process. Trying to participate more fully—make conscious choices—in life instead of just hoarding and numbing. The silver purse is a start. A good start.
Other noticings on the same theme . . .
Last week I facilitated a writing workshop at the Soul Care House, and just loved every single second of it. I cried when I talked about the gifts that writing has offered me, and I urged us all to embrace the whimsy and the work of paying attention to life and of getting down our thoughts and perspectives. I left feeling as though the time had been so much more for me than for the attendees, like a real shot in the arm to keep going and to remember how much the craft of writing matters. How much participating matters. “Writing helps me feel alive,” I wrote in response to a prompt I offered, “confronting the best and worst parts of myself.” A long loving look at the real.
My friend Mel sent me a link to a darling carved wooden sign – READ – from etsy that she thought I’d like, which I very much did. She mentioned in the email that she would love to be able to make something like this but, she says, “I am no woodworker.” Loved that line. Something about her words reminds me to embrace the truth, which is often more obvious than we give it credit for being. Additionally, truth is always so freeing.
Purse is out of control. Soul is dead. Buy a clutch and start typing! Wake up! You are not a woodworker. You are a writer. Get to work!
At church yesterday, Easter Sunday, I stood in line in the women’s restroom and hugged so many of the women that came in and out while I was waiting. I loved that feeling, of knowing and being known, of being at a place that is home to me, of being awake enough to receive and give love.
After church, we put the babies down for a long midday nap (Yes!!! Both children are successfully taking one nap simultaneously. Victory!!!), and then we went to friends’ for an early dinner. We sat outside on their lawn, eating honey-baked ham off their solid wood dining table the boys had moved outside. Breeze. Sun. Rope swing. Trees. Music. Parmesan risotto. Egg hunt. Fresh berries. Absolute delight. Present and participating with slim silver purse by my side.
I am no woodworker.
Life, and life more abundant.