Archive for category Inspiration
Last week, after I wrote a post that referred to my own elbow-throwing, competitive propensities, a woman who skates by the name of Molotov approached me on my Facebook Page, Running from Hell with El, to see if I was interested in sponsoring a growing derby league, Portland Renegade Roller Derby. We started talking, and this Q&A is what resulted. Oh, and my answer is yes, hell yes I want to help support this league of hardy souls!
El: I just think roller derby is the coolest, most fascinating thing!
Molotov: It is pretty great. And seeing how it can bring a community of women together is kinda amazing too. My league is a renegade league, which means we broke off from a bigger league here in our town.
El: Ahhh–I was wondering what the renegade meant. I mean, I see renegade and I automatically smile!
Molotov: It was too big and micro managed and became for profit and lost a lot of its community feel. What they are doing is great for a lot of people, but we just wanted something different. So it thus has became a lot of hard work starting a league and team from the ground up!
El: Grinning. How long have you been playing roller derby (is “playing” the right word?)?
Molotov: I’ve been skating most of my life, but only have been skating derby since November.
El: So it’s called “skating” derby?
Molotov: Most of our coaches and base teammates have been playing for four to six years. It’s called “bouting.” Once I made the mistake of calling it a “game” the first time I went to a bout. And I was very embarrassed.
El: LOL–I can imagine.
Molotov: But we say skate usually.
Molotov: Just roller skating and blading.
El: This is fascinating! And you were a runner before?
Molotov: Yes, since I was 18. I still want to run again. I haven’t really since last June.
El: I don’t think we ever lose that desire. Did you suffer an injury?
Molotov: I have anemia and it was too much. I was getting out of breath and really sick. My 7 year old beat me in the last 5k we did together.
El: Shaking head–that’s rough.
Molotov: So I knew something must be wrong then.
El: Yes for sure. How did you find derby?
Molotov: I wanted to play derby for a long time. My kids and I watched Whip It back when it came out.
El: That was awesome!
Molotov: My best friend is involved in another derby group in our town.
El: That’s the main league right?
Molotov: she has been skating with them for years and still not on a team. I went with her to a bout a couple of years ago and met the person who is now the ringleader of our group.
El: The ringleader–is that the league commissioner of the renegade league?
Molotov: Yes, our president. I just call her ringleader to be silly.
El: LOL! What does roller derby do for you?
Molotov: I always wanted to do derby, but always thought it was too expensive, too much time, I didn’t deserve to spend then time on myself, etc etc. I was in a very unpleasant marriage up until just a few years ago and never would have been doing this if I was still married.
El: I’m so glad you’re out of that marriage hun! I was talking about derby tonight with my husband, and he grinned at me.
“You know Cutie, if you were younger . . .”
” . . . Yep. I’d do it for sure! Nothing more fun than throwing elbows and hitting people, lol.” I replied.
does that sound familiar?
Molotov: Lol! Totally.
El: Grinning. I thought so!
Molotov: We have people of all ages.
El: What’s the range?
Molotov: 23-43, currently.
El: How old are you, if you don’t mind my asking?
Molotov: I’m 32.
El: Oh you’re just a kid!
Molotov: Ugh–wish I felt like just a kid.
El: Are you kidding me? 32?! You’re in your athletic prime!
Molotov: So I met this crazy, fun, positive, happy gal at a bout. Her name is Julie Locktress and a year later (last November) she invited me to be part of what we are calling the Renegade movement. At first I thought I was too weak and tired to even skate because of my anemia. I hadn’t ran since June or May. I hadn’t been on skates in two years, since I had taken a fall and hurt my tailbone. But I was depressed and anxious and needed a cause for myself other then just raising my kids and carting them around to their sporting events and working 50 hours a week to keep a roof over their heads I don’t get any child support from their father and am basically on my own.
El: Oh man–50 hours a week and no child support? And hun, we all need something greater than ourselves, you know?
Molotov: Yes, exactly. So I figured at least I could help with the admin part of it.
Molotov: But then I started taking derby classes and I went broke and ate Top rRmen and oatmeal packets for lunch to buy skates and gear
El: that is *awesome* good on you!
Molotov: And I’ve been working ferociously to get better and stronger and raise awareness and get sponsors and skaters. I got in touch with a friend I had not seen for 10 years and now she is going to skate with us. And she brought another girl, who also brought a friend and so on and so on.
Molotov: So we have a mix of new skaters and older experienced skaters. we are from all walks of life
El: Like what careers?
Molotov: One is a Native American and she is a licensed Drug and alcohol counselor.
Locktress is a hairdresser.
Molotov: We have a waitress/model, a graduate student, a nurse, a logistics worker/liberal arts major.
El: A nurse!? LOL!
El: And what’s your 50-hour week job?
Molotov: I work in shipping/receiving/inventory control for a laser test equipment company. I was a full time student too up until a couple of years ago . . . I’m hoping to get back to school one day.
El: (nodding) I hear ya.
Molotov: Yes . . . no time to be sad or feel sorry for myself. When I am not busy that is when I start to fade. So I work hard, love hard, play hard.
El: Seriously I get that. And don’t think too hard or too much (that’s my problem lol).
Molotov: Mine too.
Molotov: I wanted to be a philosophy major.
El: And that’s where sports and competition help me. Who is your favorite philosopher?
El: Loved War and Peace. Why Tolstoy?
Molotov: His writings on women and love really speak to me for some reason. I like a lot of the less known ones too… like Karl Marx. Economics and philosophy are very closely related.
El: So as a philosopher, what does derby signify to you?
Molotov: Oh wow . . . that is very deep . . .
El: that’s where I abide lol!
Molotov: I suppose it lies in the theory that we must make today count . . . and each moment . . . and I want to inspire and help others the way that I have been inspired and helped by so many. If I had know that my life could be as good as it is now, I would have chosen a different path very long ago. But it matters not now, because here I am and I am what I do with it. I got a tattoo on my back a year ago that reads ” take the pieces and build them up to the sky” its a line from my favorite song and summarizes the journey of my life.
Molotov: It’s a most beautiful song . . .
El: Biffy Clyro?
Molotov: YES. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0q2iXlsKNA
El: Listening now. OMG if I were building a soundtrack for Ripple this would be in it. It’s profoundly moving to me, in ways I can hardly explain. There’s a scene in Ripple when Phoebe, the rape victim, is falling apart, but her friend talks to her, helps hold her together, and this song, it could be playing.
Molotov: I’ve had a lot of people who have helped hold me together . . . so yes.
El: Same here. This song, the one tattooed on your back–is this what derby kind of means to you?
Molotov: I think what derby means to me . . . is a dream that I had given up on coming true. And an exciting journey just beginning. One I am so honored and proud to be a part of.
El: That makes me so happy to hear, almost happy tears, you know? Because we should all find those dreams and take part in those journeys.
Molotov: It’s easy to find excuses not to follow our dreams. The hard part is doing what we really want.
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I’m thinking too much, too fast, too much, too fast. Damnit. What if it’s a really really bad idea to self-publish Ripple? Should I have kissed many more asses? Why didn’t I kiss more asses? Who do I ask to do my advance reviews? Is it any good? I know it’s good. But there are millions of would-be writers out there. Am I just like the rest of them? Am I really a loser? A wanna-be, would be, could be but can never will never be?
Should I go back and try to be nice to the people I’ve been ignoring? What about all of the pages that I’ve not been talking to because I’m talking to other pages and writers? Should I be trying harder? Should I be on my knees groveling, or at least gladhanding? I have stopped interacting with so many pages and blogs and it’s all a kaleidoscopic mishmash of should-dos and can’t and won’ts and I have no fucking clue how to sort it all out. Why do I have to be the one to handle this?
The real question is why do I need to be the adult here? I don’t feel like an adult. I don’t feel like I’m in control. Not I. Or not me, depending on how the rest of the sentence goes . . . no. Not I. Funny. I never really studied grammar that much or even wanted to learn it. I was above the rules but the real truth is that I always sensed, nay feared, that the rules were above me.
There. That’s the truth. Icky ugly truth. I play this whole act, this “Your rules not mine” rebel act long and hard but you know what I’m hiding? This deep fear that if I play by the same rules, throw the football on the same exact field with the precise dimensions and markings that all other writers obey, everyone will find out (who is everyone) that my writing just isn’t good enough.
That’s my icky ugly inner fear. It’s fucking debilitating. Should I stop cussing? Just an aside, but is it? Last night I made this poster, and I consciously went with the word “ass” as in “work your ass off,” because it was authentic. But I also know that a lot of my inspirational friends won’t share anything that has a cuss word in it, and while 10,820 fans is plenty, every new fan equals a potential reader. Then again, my freakin’ name has a curse word in it, so does that make me ineligible for being shared by the goody two-shoes of pages?
Not that there’s anything wrong with goody-goodies. Oh my gosh. Part of me wants to be a good girl and part of me wants to be a badass and those two sides of me will forever lay siege to one another! Right?
And should I put one space or two after a period? Am I the only old-school holdover who still goes with two spaces? I like two spaces, not one, but I don’t wanna stand out, stick out, or run alone.
Or do I?
As far as the cussing thing, my characters cuss, and so do I but I’m also a born-again Christian and I need those fans—the moral majority (giggle) too. I need as many fans and readers as I can get because hell, I’m trying to sell books, right? But what’s the point of selling anything if I have to change who I am to make a sale? How boring, stupid, phony, cruddy, pointless . . . is it to change who you are just to make a few extra bucks?
Speaking of a few bucks, what the hell am I doing self-publishing Ripple? Seriously, what the hell am I doing? Did I decide to ignore the traditional publishing houses for a reason other than I’ve been telling everyone? Was it simply because I was scared Ripple wasn’t good enough? Did I think that the rejection of everything that I am and want to be would be so awfully soul-crushing that I couldn’t chance it? God help me if I have to face the exact same pain that every other writer faces.
Yep. Maybe it always comes back to God. And needing His help. I’m scared, and I’m about to jump off a big limb that’s hanging over a muddy bank and into these swirling waters, and as much as I love crazy adventures and especially swirling waters, I’m so afraid that I’ll smash into unseen rocks and end up all bloodied and concussed and broken-hearted.
This is one of those times I wish I could call my mom. But I can’t and I won’t but I will . . .
I’m in a crowded room and my family’s there, waiting, and I’m holding my breath. I see my brother. He’ carrying this biological terror inside him, this virus that he’s going to unleash on the world, so I take a deep breath and slip out the back door. I end up in a bathroom, and there’s no toilet paper on any of the dispensers, so I dig under the sink and grab a handful of rolls, which I’m handing to several strangers. And then I hear my name, and it’s my husband screaming for me. Come help me, El, so I go to him, and he’s fallen in this shallow pool with tiles on the bottom.
I hesitate. I’m scared. Then I see blood dripping from his mouth and eye, and I leap in there and grab him. I lead him by the elbow to the infirmary. But then I must leave. I’m the only one who knows how to stop the virus. The secret is orange juice. The scene changes, and I’m sitting in the back of a car watching a long line of cars queued up for gas, trying to get the courage up to run inside and buy orange juice. I must buy it, and save myself, and then save everyone else. But first I gotta get out of the car.
It’s 9:45 AM. I zip up my red running jacket and tap my Nike sportsband. It’s 38 degrees, so I’m wearing shorts but once I get a mile under my belt, I’ll be warm enough. My body is tired but my mind is not. As I jog along, slow and steady, my thoughts flit and fly about and I let them be without trying to control what comes into mind. I don’t have any agenda when I run today. I just run.
My run follows the trail along Burke Lake. Light brown leaves hang from tall pen oaks above me, and many more leaves obscure the soft dirt underfoot. It smells like burnt wood and mold and dirt and lake water, which for me is what Heaven must smell like.
Last night, I stayed up until three AM working on draft two of I Run. It occurs to me now that I once ran to keep from drowning under the sea of troubles I then was facing. There was something almost superhuman in the miles I covered, but even as I ran and ran from my pain, I ran my body almost into ruin. I smile, gently, thinking of the odyssey of healing and faith I was on, and thank God I don’t have to run like that anymore.
An old man wearing gloves nods at me, and I wish him a good morning. I need to go to WalMart on my way home from this run because we’re out of laundry detergent. It’s not the worst task I’ve ever faced it, but I’d rather be outside running past the birdwatchers clutching binoculars than negotiating the blue aisles of a discount store. I sigh, and allow a small half-smile, because I’m happy now.
But when I ran fifty, seventy, even ninety miles a week, as I did in the pages of I Run, I wasn’t so happy. It was never enough to be average, or good enough, or middle of the pack. It wasn’t enough to run 15-20 miles a week, or get Bs in school, or less than excellent reviews as a young lawyer. If I wasn’t perfect, I wasn’t enough. I needed that external proof of my own value; I needed it like a woman needs oxygen, because I did not have my own source of self-value. I knew not the unconditional love that God’s grace provides.
An Oriental woman runs past me in the other direction, and we smile at one another. Fast or slow, tall or short, we’re all runners, and we’re in this together somehow, even if we never see one another again. I used to be afraid to be like everyone else, “in it together with them,” because without trophies or a high enough salary or a low enough average running pace, I would be left with just me, my essence, my very being, and that could not possibly be enough. After all, how could anyone love just me, without a good reason why?
I check my watch. I’ve run 2.5 miles, and it’s a good time to turn. A five-mile run is nothing heroic, and that’s okay. I don’t need to be a hero. I’m healed now, healed from so many things, including this sick sense that I have to accomplish anything to earn the title of being lovable.
Because that is what I am. You see, I’m just like you and the next man or woman. God loves us all, just the way we are. I smile again. He loves me. And as I head back in the other direction toward my Mazda, I think about picking up the orange juice. Today is my day to be like everyone else, and if that includes making a trip to a discount store, then I’ll face it with a smile.
When I opened my daughter’s door to tuck her in for bed, I caught a glimpse of a 9-year old flashing a toy light sabre at incoming storm troopers. Naturally I grabbed the other light sabre and joined her in her valiant fight. We were victorious.
I’ve written as of late about some serious topics, including my daughter’s bullying at school. We received news from the school that leaves me feeling cautiously optimistic, and I wanted to pass that optimism along to you, dear readers.
But this isn’t a post about that. It’s about my kids and me, or my daughter and me. And it’s about the kind of parent I try to be. I don’t try for “best in class” because it’s not about that. Good parenting is not about competing with other mothers or about trying to fulfill anyone else’s notion of what constitutes a good mother.
Speaking of “notions of what constitutes a good mother,” I don’t bake lemon bars, knit fancy scarves, volunteer at school, or in any way fulfill the traditional 1950’s-era definition of what makes a mother. Nothing against moms who do, but I don’t wear dainty skirts, keep a particularly neat house or even get the bills paid on time. Christmas decorations may or may not come down after the first of January, beds may or may not be made up each day (and never with those super-neat “hospital corners”) and we may or may not arrive at soccer practice on time.
Children receive hugs, often and pretty much on demand. Homework is always checked, and reading lists are assigned. Questions, even hard, icky ones, like “what does incest mean, Mom?” get answered. Balls are thrown, sometimes over the roof and into the backyard and back again. God is spoken of every day, with or without the exact scripture referenced, but always with reverence and love. And miles are walked, run and swam together, side by side, hand in hand, with a finish line that stretches ever onward.
At approximately 9:30 a.m. tomorrow, Thanksgiving morning, my daughter and I will reach an actual finish line. We’re running a 10K Turkey Trot race together. It will be her first of no doubt many 10K races, and the fourth or fifth race we will have run together. She and I will feel the glow of achievement and a small glimpse of glory. We’ll eat our bananas and don our medals and grin at one another, speaking of the next race, the next finish line, beckoning from some distant horizon. And together we will head, over one finish line, ever onward, always moving forward, with gratitude for this and every second, minute and finish line we pass.
Dear Readers . . . I don’t usually ask questions at the end of my posts, but I’m wondering–what do you do well as a mother or father?
I paced back and forth in front of my son’s first grade classroom, waiting for his teacher to finish talking to another child’s parents. My husband tries to come to as many parent-teacher conferences as work permits, but I’d scheduled this one for 10 A.M. on Election Day, so I was going into the breach solo. And while I didn’t want to feel scared and worried and a little sick to my stomach, I did.
Too often, these conferences hadn’t gone well in the past. At the very first one, when Ben was still in preschool, his teacher glared at me with this serious, disapproving look. “You know, you’d better get a handle on this sooner than later, when there’s still time. Otherwise, he’s going to end up in jail.”
I glanced at my husband in shock. “Jail?” I gasped.
“Jail,” she repeated. “At this rate, with this much oppositional behavior, this much anger, jail.”
In case you’re wondering, we switched preschools after that.
Things got worse before they got better. When Ben was in kindergarten, I would jump when the phone rang. If it wasn’t the school calling, I breathed a sigh of relief. When I visited Ben at school for lunch, his classmates told me that my dear son was “bad.” As I have written here, this hurt like hell. I felt powerless and not a little clueless. The last thing I wanted to turn to was the medicine cabinet.
But we did it anyway, both for our son’s sake, and for our own. The payoff was not immediate because we had him on too low of a dose: 10 mg of Metadate, which is a generic form of Ritalin. But once we got the dosage right (20 mg), the turnaround was immediate.
And yet, as I stood in front of Mrs. X, I wasn’t sure. It had been about three weeks since we’d increased Ben’s dose, and we hadn’t heard from her except for one phone call, which I received the day after we increased Ben’s dose. It had been a really weird call. Mrs. X called for the sole reason of telling me that Ben had behaved well all day. Was this an anomaly, or a new beginning for our troubled six-year old?
Before I even sat down in front of Mrs. X, I knew the answer was the latter: Ben had gotten a fresh start. A redo, a do-over. “You know, I’ve been looking forward to this meeting,” beamed Mrs. X. “It’s been like night and day, like a sun rising, ever since you made the brave step of getting him the help he needed.”
“Really?” I couldn’t breathe so I tried to sit down without smashing my knees into the tiny table in front of me. I’m clumsy like that.
“Yes. Really. The transformation has been the biggest one I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot of AD/HD kids. Sometimes the meds help a little. Sometimes a lot. In his case, he’s gone from . . .” Mrs. X paused to find a tactful way to say it. “Well, from struggling, to being helpful, and attentive, and funny and . . . oh so kind. I mean, he was always sweet and affectionate, but my gosh. Now he gives me flowers, tells me how much he loves me—“
—“He’s always been so affectionate and sweet,” I murmured, my heart hurting.
She nodded. “The great thing is that you made this change for him early in the year. So his classmates won’t always remember him getting in trouble. I mean, they all struggled to figure out the rules in the beginning, so he didn’t stick out as much in their minds. And now he’s getting along with his classmates. He’s funny and well-liked and . . .” Her voice trailed off and she smiled at me.
Some decisions, when viewed from hindsight, seem obvious. Other ones seem divinely inspired, like small miracles. But the decision to medicate our son was more like a Hail-Mary pass thrown into a swirling gust of wind: a combination of savvy quarterbacking, divine guidance and a tad of blind luck all in one.
Between soccer games, we all ended up in the kitchen. With a bottle of water in one hand, I leaned against the countertop, watching as my husband ate a “Muffeletta” sandwich we’d bought yesterday from The Italian Store in Arlington, Virginia.
Our middle child, Travis James Farris, Jr., or “Jim,” sat facing my husband. “Dad, when I write ‘Junior’ after my name, it makes me proud to have your name.” Jim’s voice, still high pitched, echoed against the red walls in our kitchen, and I smiled.
Before I could say anything, my husband set his Muffeletta down and wiped his hands on his paper towel. “Well, son, I’m very proud to share my name with such a great kid. I don’t think I’ve told you today just how awesome you are.”
I glanced at Travis, who was once again grasping his “manwich,” and nodded at the clock. He sighed; I sighed; and we started to check shin pads, cleats, water bottles and soccer balls. Fifteen arguments, three Facebook status updates, four missed calls and an entire box of obliterated Munchkin donuts later, I sat in my husband’s big, striped fabric chair in the kitchen, typing up some research notes about angels on my silver Macbook Pro. My youngest child whizzed around me, and we played our “I love you game.”
I started. “I love you more than all the leaves in the backyard.”
Ben’e eyes lit up as I spoke. Before I finished, he danced in front of me. “I love you more than all the trees in America.”
“Sun, moon, stars.”
He grinned, all dimples showing, and yelled, “Mom I love you more than anything, even God.”
I smiled back at him, and put a hand on his shoulder. “Not more than God. You must love Him most.” I paused mid-negotiation long enough to mix a smile into my sober response. “How about except God?”
“Oh, okay, except God.” He hopped around again. “And I won’t let anyone hurt you.” My six-year old, 48-pound boy grinned at me while he sipped his Slurpee. “And if anyone tries to hurt you, I will protect you. If someone comes at you with a knife, I will hit them, or cut their head off!”
“Um . . .”
Ben jumped up and added, “Look at the picture I drew for you, Mom! It has pink hearts on it, and me, and you.”
I glanced over at the drawing of two blue-colored people holding hands on a scrap of wrinkled white paper. Admittedly, I was a little relieved to see that there were no weapons mixed in with the pink hearts that circled the blue-colored sketch of mother and son. I knew, just as my husband knew–just as my entire family knows–what it means to feel loved, and my soul rang out with laughter and with light.
Last week, as part of my ongoing spiritual journey, I embarked on a systematic rereading of the New Testament. I took a break from reading Mark and read Deb Bryan’s post about learning compassion from a woman who massaged the head of an old lady whose skull was covered with lesions. I mentioned to Deb that this reminded me of Jesus touching lepers in books Matthew and Mark and that I’d struggled with the same sort of aversion to illness because it taps into my fears of mortality.
Also this morning, a dear friend posted this on my wall:
When you have done all you can, Jesus will do what you can’t.
And she added that “certain things seem like they are for you.” I took from this that all I need to do is my best—to keep my head down, and God will take care of the rest.
Then I got on the phone with my coach, and I admitted that my fear of failure is paralyzing me. I’ve been comparing myself too much to other writers, just like I used to when I was a lawyer. Some of these comparisons serve me well. I need to establish what my market is, for example, in order to package and sell my book to agents. She asked me if there was something—anything—I could do to help me with the pain this causes and very quietly, I replied, “I’m trying to put it in God’s hands. The answer lies in God. In my faith. I can’t get my worth from how many books I sell or how much money I make.”
What does this mean? I need to realize, as Coach Carrie said, that God loves me no matter what, and I need to accept His love. Also, I need to realize that my writing comes in part from Him, or as I read in another blog post today, God is in some respects my muse.
Here is what the writer, Rev. Danny Crosby says:
[There is] a creative process that begins and ends beyond the individual; it speaks of an alchemy of brain, experience and wisdom that adds up to more than the individual who created the work; it speaks of a greater mystery.
Crosby goes on to explore how artists create. Are we inspired by a muse? Why is it that so often, some of our best ideas come to us while we’re sleeping? How much of what we create is truly ours—how much of it comes from our own minds, and how much of it comes from God?
There is something divine occurring in the process; there is something at work here that calls the creation out of the individual; there is something going on here that is more than self, that cannot be controlled. I know myself that some weeks I am so full of ideas that they are seemingly bursting out of my ears and yet other weeks the well is dry. Some days I am completely blocked then suddenly, as if something had just whispered in my ears, the idea just comes bursting out of me and I start writing again. Could this be God? Is God controlling this?
I ask the same questions all the time. Sometimes I wake up after having written a piece late at night, and I stare at the keyboard and cannot remember typing the words I see in front of me. I reread a passage I’ve written the next day and find gem-like clarity and it looks and feels both familiar and yet completely new to me. It’s like running into someone in a bar, and they look familiar but you’re not sure if you’ve seen them before—that’s how I feel when I come to one of those passages that seems divinely written.
I don’t know what God has to do with it all. Often I dream up things that I later write about. Dialogue and plot twists come to me when I sleep. And as I walk this earth, things I see, hear, smell or touch stimulate ideas, feelings and even memories, and all of this feeds me. It becomes a part of me and a part of what I write. And sometimes I suspect that God places some of these voices, thoughts, visions, and even apparitions into my path in the hopes it will lead me where he wants me to go, both as a woman and as an artist.
All I know is that if God is using me as a channel, then He will be pleased by what I write. Or if my work represents the deepest, best part of my soul, then He will be pleased with what I create. Or if my work serves him and serves others, or helps them, then He will be pleased. And in the final analysis, that’s all that really, really matters.
As I was contemplating all of this, Deb sent me a blog post from My Shoegaze Faith titled, “The Sound of Generosity.” It’s based on Mark 10:35-45. This chapter tells the story of how all the apostles were arguing for the right to die with Jesus. The apostles argued about who could be the best martyr. Who could suffer the most? Who, in other words, could be the most generous?
The blogger, an Episcopal Priest, wrote the following:
If we listen . . . we hear the sound of Jesus pleading with His disciples to be humble, not to be great. The greatness they all . . . doesn’t come to us because we gamed the system or we tried really hard to earn it.
The mistake all of the disciples make is that they are all jockeying for position, trying to order themselves and figure this out. They are still stuck in the last argument over who is the greatest [servant].
When Jesus says, “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant” I no longer hear Jesus ordering anybody, but compelling everyone. If you are to follow me, then you must be a servant. If we are all striving to be servants, then there are no masters.
So what does this mean for me? I keep worrying that my writing won’t be good enough. And if it isn’t good enough, then I’m a failure. If I’m a failure, then I deserve to be punished, and if I deserve to be punished, then at least I should issue the punishment. I can feel a certain weird pride in the depth of my suffering, and I can control my fate, my destiny, even if by controlling it I simply go about the process of destroying myself. Control and destroy rather than surrender to the natural order, to the world, to how the world will take my stuff . . . to God.
Doesn’t God love me no matter what I write? Doesn’t He play some role in what I’m doing? Doesn’t He want me to do something special? Oh no, I don’t mean I’m more special than anyone else. He loves all his children the same; He loves me no more and no less than He loves everyone else. But in writing, I am using the gifts He’s given me, and if I try hard, I can use these gifts to help the world become better. I can be a servant. I can choose to create according to the best inside of me, which is what He has created.
I don’t need to figure out if I’m the best of his servants, no more than I need to prove that I’m the best of writers. It doesn’t matter and in fact, He doesn’t want me to spend all of my time worrying about it. It’s not for me to say and it doesn’t matter how well received my writing is. All that matters is that I do the best I can with the gifts given to me. I’m not even sure if everything I write is supposed to be about Him. I think not. I think I’m supposed to do my best with my talents, and in doing so, with the caveat of course that my work can’t go against His main teachings, I will fulfill my human potential. And THAT pleases Him.
This is an excerpt from my final chapter from I Run: Running from Hell with El
Many people have asked me, often with great exasperation, what I was running away from. For years, friends told me to stop. Over and over and over again, people told me to rest, to stand still, to stop. But I was too scared. I was scared of myself, of the demons that danced and pranced inside me. I was scared of dying, perhaps by my own hand. I was scared I’d end up in Hell. I was scared of my past. I was scared of facing my pain. I was scared I wouldn’t survive whatever I saw when I finally faced it—all of it.
And I’m still scared. I’m fucking terrified. Really, I am. I’m at this crossroads, and I gotta decide which way to turn—which path to take. If I keep running away from my pain, something really bad is going to happen to me. I don’t know what that is, and in the past, I’d just keep running for miles and miles, one day, one horizon, one sunset fading into the next, until my legs could carry me no farther. I’d follow one path, then turn down another one, hoping that I could drink in the adventure of it all and find my way back home someday.
I don’t like to give up. It feels like surrender. And surrendering means making myself vulnerable. All my life, I’ve gritted my teeth and refused to stop moving. God tried to get my attention more than ten years ago. The seizures almost killed me. And I heard Him loud and clear. I had given up on Him and then, all of a sudden, well, I needed Him. I realized how much I loved being alive, and every night before I fell asleep, I thanked Him for another day, and begged Him to let me see the morning light.
And yet I kept running away. I waged war against myself; I plotted my own downfall; and I teetered on the edge of living and dying. He was patient with me. He gave me three beautiful children and they loved me. Through them, I felt the first glint of self-love. Because of them, I fought . . . I hung on. I tried to find my way through the darkness inside; I tried to live a good life but I kept running away from my past. I remained a stranger and too often, an enemy to myself and thus to Him.
The bus collided with our SUV and my life as I knew it ended. I knew He kept me alive that night for a reason. I felt His grace inside me as I screamed with a mother’s fierce love, “NO!! Don’t hurt my children!!” For once, I stood still for a little while. And I felt a pain unlike anything I had ever felt before. I ran to Him; sobbing, I collapsed in front of a priest and confessed not just my sins, but the sins others had done to me. I tried to find my way to Him through my childhood Catholic faith, but the church would not have me as I was—the Catholic church rejected my Protestant marriage.
I staggered and fled again. I was trying to find my way but I managed to get lost again. I ran and I ran and I couldn’t stop running this time because I was running to stay alive. You see, I was running back through my past. I was running right through the gates of Hell and the only way to get through Hell is to keep moving until you’re safe again.
It took me two years of intense therapy to get out of there alive.
This year, for Lent, my therapist ordered me to stop hurting myself—to stop even wanting to hurt myself. I couldn’t do this alone. I needed God’s help. He filled me with His light and I turned that light on the demons, real or metaphorical I do not know, that were lodged inside me. I don’t care how this sounds. All I know is that after two decades of wanting to hurt myself, of sometimes hurting myself, I stopped. I didn’t overcome this on my own. I worked hard that day to channel light and goodness and most of all, God’s will. You see, He helped me do it.
Since this day, this miraculous day, I haven’t wanted to hurt myself. And yet, I still wasn’t listening very well either. And He kept trying to reach me. He sent friends to talk to me, friends who told me they carried His message. It’s true. I sort of listened, but I also kept running, but slower. Not as far. And every so often, I would pause, look around, and listen. I started to read the Bible again. I started to listen when He talked to me, and I’ve been trying to figure out what He wants me to do.
Then He spoke to my friend. This is part of what He told her:
A: He says you are running from Him, too…and stop it sooner rather than later.
A: Run to Him, not away…Run to Him…
El: I hear Him. Chills are running up and down my spine.
A: Then listen…be kinder to yourself and trust Him to get you through the process. You cannot hear Him when you are constantly going 100 miles an hour. And your body won’t hold out if you do not slow down. He will get your attention, and He will slow you down. It’s entirely your choice which way it goes.
El: Wow–is this Him or you–the tough love thing?
A: Him. I just type it.
A: Once He wants your attention, He will stop at nothing to get it but it is done out of LOVE—not sickness like all of the past people because he is not a people…He is God! And if He has to inflict pain to heal, He will do that—with love.
El: I hear.
A: It is easier if you surrender…but I know that is hard for you.
… … …
I do have a choice, apparently. I can listen to Him, or I can keep running. If I keep running, and don’t listen, I’m going to get injured, again. And it ain’t going to be pretty. The thing is, some people I love very much depend on me. And if I can’t get my shit together for myself, I can do it for them.
I wasn’t 100% sure what I was running to when I started writing this book, but now I know. I knew I was running away from Hell but I didn’t quite grasp where I was supposed to go. But now He has spoken and I’m listening. No more running away. My safety lies in Him and deep inside of me–that place we all have if we can get very, very still, and hear Him. I hear Him. I’m on my way. I’m on my way home.
Most mornings start like this morning: I wake from dreams where I’m stuck in the past. In these dreams, I’m trying to run, talk, plead or beg my way out of a remembered time or place, real or symbolic, from childhood. My childhood, as captured in my dreams, is a prison my mind, my past, and my family once put me in. I try everything to escape, but the only way out of that hell is by turning my eyes to the morning light . . .
To read the rest of today’s blog post, please go visit me at The Monster in Your Closet, where I’m guest posting for my dear friend Deb Bryan.
By the way, I’m really, really excited to be over at Deb’s virtual home. She’s like a sister to me. So really, please click HERE to read today’s blog post.