Archive for category Spirituality

Health Update and Request for Ripple Reviews

Hello friends. I hope the sun is shining on your Saturday with as much light and brilliance as it is shining on mine. It’s been an overwhelming week for me and for my family. We spent the greater part of the week in specialists’ offices and holding my son tight as we search for answers. While we still don’t have a diagnosis for what’s causing our son’s high blood pressure, our hopes our high and our faith is firm. We will find a cause and then a cure. In the meantime, I thank God every morning for another day, for me, for him, for all of us.

Your prayers and kind thoughts mean more to me than I can adequately express here. Please keep lifting my family up, and please know just how much we appreciate it. Truly, we are so grateful for your love and support.

As you may or may not know, Ripple’s planned release date is Monday, 1/21. I thought about delaying it, but right now, working is keeping me sane and helping me get my mind off my worries. With my family behind me, I’m going ahead and releasing Ripple on time. It’s true to my nature and true to what the characters in this novel would do were they in my shoes. No matter the circumstances, life must be lived, rather than set aside. And in living, and working, we can find relief from our difficulties.

Front and Back Cover

To those of you who were kind enough to advance read Ripple, I would be so very grateful if you could write an honest review on Amazon and/orGoodreads. And I do mean honest, with the gentle caveat that the more stars you give it, the more likely it is to end up in the hands of other readers.

I’d also like to send out a huge thank-you to Renée Schuls-Jacobson, who sent me a note late last night and single-handedly turned my Amazon blurb into a much better end product. My name may be on the title, but the writing of this first novel has been one I could not have done alone.

Here are the links to Amazon and Goodreads.

Amazon

Goodreads

And finally, to buy an autographed copy of Ripple, I think you can click on this link: Buy Autographed Copy of Ripple

And again, thank you all so very much for your support, and especially for your prayers and kind thoughts concerning my son.

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28 Comments

The Stigma of Connecting Mental Illness and Violence

I’ve been quiet since Friday.  The Connecticut tragedy incited a PTSD reactive response, and to keep myself safe, I pretty much shut down my online presence.  Everything I read, whether it was pleas for better gun control or essays on the prevalence of mental illness in the psyche of your typical mass murderer, sent me spiraling into a place I find difficult to describe.

Even worse, I’m having a manic episode, or I was having it right up until yesterday.  I don’t like talking about my own mental illness.  I’m ashamed of it.  But I try to have courage and talk about it because I hope that by speaking out, I can educate others and help other people who are mentally ill.

This country needs to be willing to look at mental health issues even when there isn’t a tragedy.  We need to attend to it when the small defeats and victories of friends and neighbors take place around us day in and day out.  And for the love of all things good, we need to be really, really careful when something tragic occurs.  Before we blame mental illness or gun control laws or try to assign blame to anyone or any single condition, we’d better take our time to research all the issues and get the answers right.

I’ve read a lot of articles, or to be honest, skimmed the ones that were too painful, that blamed the shooting on mental illness.  Every time I read something like that, I cringe.  The mentally ill are not more likely to commit acts of violence; in fact, they are much more likely to be the victims of violence.  As painful and scary as it is for me to seek help when I’m feeling ill, it’s tenfold times more painful and scary to get the help I need in a charged atmosphere of blame-storming for a heinous mass murder.

As S.E. Smith wrote:

As always in cases of rampage violence, mental illness has been dragged into the mix, and I’ve been watching the Internet for the last three days with a growing sense of both deja vu and horror. None of the things being said are new — all of them are in fact very bone-achingly familiar — and all of them are extremely unhelpful, dangerous and counterproductive.

The American Psychiatric Association states that the vast majority of people who commit violent crimes do not suffer from mental illness.

Substance abuse is a much bigger risk factor for violent behavior; in people with untreated mental illness (a shockingly large number due to the difficulty involved in accessing services), drug abuse is a confounding factor in acts of violence in many cases, not the underlying mental illness. Socioeconomic status, age, gender and history of violence are also more significant indicators of the risk of violence.

You’re more likely to be hit by lightning than to be injured by someone who suffers from schizophrenia.

And yet if you believe the stories and anecdotes widely published this weekend, you will do what people typically do: you will stay the hell away from mentally ill people.  Each time a tragic event like the one in Connecticut occurs and mental illness is raised as a proximate cause, people pull away even more from the mentally ill.  In other words, the very stigma associated with mental illness intensifies, and those of us who most need love, compassion and support receive even less.mentalillnessstigma

I’m one of the lucky ones.  I get the treatment and the care and the compassion that so many of my ill brethren do not receive.  Most people don’t even know that I’m ill.  You see, I know the warning signs.  In the case of manic episodes, my mind starts racing.  Creative thoughts pile onto creative thoughts, and then it gets faster and faster and I can’t stop working won’t stop working don’t want to stop working and it’s amazing the things I can get done . . . but I feel an overload, an imbalance, a systems shutdown approaching.  But like a jet plane hurtling through the air on cruise control, I cannot switch directions, not even when I know exactly how it’s going to end: nose down in the mountainside.

Crashing hurts, and it makes no sense to an outsider, but with time and medication and therapy, I’ve gotten much better at engineering less destructive crash landings.  The most important thing I do is to radio ahead to the tower, or tell a few friends that I’m losing altitude too fast, and that I am, frankly, feeling ill.  In other words, despite the stigma that attaches to my illness, I reach out for the help I need.

I was on the phone this morning with one of my best friends, and she just sort of sat with me.  She told me that she loved me no matter what, and that she wasn’t going anywhere, and that my illness didn’t make her not want to be my friend.  In fact, a few of my friends called me.  They won’t let me fall through the cracks, and when I crash land, they’re there to pick up the pieces.

That’s what grieves me about so many of the articles I tried so hard not to read this weekend.  For every one that begged for compassion, three more confused mental illness with violent propensities.  And you know what this does?  It rains down shame, ugly, dark sickly-familiar shame on those of us who suffer from mental illness.  As gut-wrenchingly difficult as it is to seek treatment, this sort of fear-mongering makes it that much harder for people like me to seek help.

It takes courage to seek help, and it takes courage to admit you’re ill.  Fallacious arguments that connect mental illness to violent propensities make it even harder.  Please have compassion and use discernment when you address issues of mental illness.  After all, you never know who could be affected by the words you use.

 

 

 

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It’s Okay to Be Like Everyone Else: A Five-Miler

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.

I wake up, shivering.  It’s 6:55 AM and it’s time to get the kids off to school.  I make a mental note to buy orange juice.

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.

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The Mendacity of a Zero Tolerance Bullying Policy

Here is what’s going down in my daughter’s life . . . to protect the privacy of all participants, I’m using initials instead of names, and in some cases have switched initials up.

Dear School Board Rep. MM:

Re: bullying of MEF

I am attaching the e-mail I sent to the principal at TCES. My daughter, MEF, a 4th grader in Ms. GB’s class, has been subjected to bullying all year, which has now culminated in assault. We are considering contacting the police and we certainly will do the same if another hand is laid on my daughter. One of the children involved in the assault has been harassing MEF since second grade. At that point, Ms. Principal S switched my daughter into a different class. In this case, that will not be a satisfactory resolution.

TCES has a so-called zero tolerance bullying policy, which as far as I can tell simply protects the strong from serious repercussions. Given the increase of teenage and even pre teenager suicide that results from bullying, I am very concerned that the school isn’t doing more. While my daughter is not as of yet demonstrating signs of depression, she is showing an increasing desperation and sense of isolation. To date, she has tried to stand up to the children who have been hurting her, and somehow this has led her teacher to argue that MEF gives out almost as well as she gets. I find this more frightening than laughable.

Regards,

ELF___________

 From: ELF
Subject: bullying
Date: November 15, 2012 4:04:51 PM EST
CC. Principal S

Hello GB:

As we mentioned during our Parent-Teacher Conference earlier this month, we are concerned about KZ’s bullying of MEF. This has been occurring all year and today, it culminated with my daughter racing off the bus in tears. Apparently at recess, MEF was sitting alone and playing a game. Three boys (AK L, DG and KZ) marched over and spat at her (which they also did yesterday). One of them ran up and called her a “Guana [sic] Pig” and “Ninja Pig” and when two girls tried to intervene, KZ pushed MEF, causing her to fall down. AK kept calling MEF these nasty names; then DG shoved and pushed MEF into playground equipment. MEF tried to chase them away, and they screamed, “Leave foul beast.” At some point, AK said, “I hope your little ‘sister’ dies” (referring sarcastically to my son TJF, who tried to stand up for his sister during recess yesterday). At some point during this, MEF called KZ a “stupid idiot.”

At the end of this, KZ told MEF that she’d better not tell on him, or else he would tell on her and say that she was bullying him. This, of all the things I’ve heard from MEF, disgusts me the most. She admits to calling KZ a “stupid idiot” only after she was shoved, pushed, called epithets, struck, made fun of and basically tortured.

I do not want to hear what I heard earlier this year: that “boys will be boys.” No. You have a zero tolerance bullying policy. Let’s go ahead and see that policy in force.

Let me be clear: this is a clear pattern of bullying. We have spoken with you regarding DG, Ms. Principal S. In second grade, we switched MEF to a different class after he sexually harassed her. I don’t want him to ever lay a hand on my daughter again and I don’t know how else to make this clear. And Ms. GB, this is at least the fourth time I’ve raised the issue of bullying, either in writing or in person, this year. MEF loves being in Ms. GB’s class. At this point, if anyone is moved, it must be the perpetrators and not the victim.

I would appreciate if this e-mail is forwarded to the parents of all involved children. And Husband and I request an action plan.

Regards,

ELF
___________________

Mr. Vice Principal PBJ:

Thank you for calling me earlier. I’ve received the rest of the story.

MEF just got home from school and told me she was afraid to answer your question about pushing. To your “leading question” of, “Do you think it’s okay that you pushed the boys,” she didn’t answer what she was really thinking. At that point, she’d given up. It isn’t polite to argue with adults, mom.  What she said to me was, “I was trying to protect myself from them. I wouldn’t survive if I didn’t fight back. Especially when they’re spitting at me and calling me bad words. But I didn’t bother telling Mr. PBJ that because he didn’t want to hear it. They don’t really care. Why can’t you just transfer me to a different school, anyway?”

At school today, Ms. GB caught AK and KZ (I think) while they were spitting at MEF. (to MEF’s tremendous relief, Ms. GB gave them a serious rebuke). AK was also bragging that he’d lied and told you that MEF had hit AK (which is nonsense). AK thinks it’s hilarious that he’s pulled one over on you and has somehow convinced you that MEF has bullied THEM. I refer, as exhibit 1, to MEF’s near-perfect behavior record. Seriously. Go ask all her prior teachers.

Oh, and one other thing MEF did not tell you: she has tried to defend herself physically in the past. One day she hit KZ, in the stomach, at recess when he was bullying her. He laughed at her and called her a “weakling.” I fear that she will try to protect herself and will suffer harm at the hands of these boys, who are much bigger, stronger and heavier than her.

What’s happening here is a small, sweet kid is trying, really, really hard to take matters into her own hands. She is trying to create a safe space for herself. When she tried to do that and enjoy some peace, the boys invaded her space (a situation that seemed laughable to you because it involved a make-believe “command center”), spat at her, called her a PIG . . . and then she’s in trouble for pushing them? This is nonsense. Unlike some of the kids in her class, she is not a violent kid, but she’s trying to do her best “to survive,” as she put it. If you don’t act soon, someone is going to get hurt. Please work with me to keep my child safe. I am not satisfied with your response.

Regards,

ELF

On Nov 16, 2012, at 4:54 PM, PBJ wrote:

Good Afternoon ELF,

I am sorry that MEF has the perception that we do not care about what she said because we do.  As I said on the phone, our goal is to make TCES an inviting, safe space for all of our children.   We have begun taking steps to address the concerns we uncovered today and will continue to do so.   I would be happy talk with you further about this either on the phone, or, if you prefer, we can meet next week.  Please let me know how you would like to proceed.  I expect I will be here for at least another thirty minutes, if you would like me to call you tonight please let me know.

PBJ

We won’t stop.

ELF      Date:   November 16, 2012 5:01:24 PM EST

To:       PBJ

I’m far too upset–in tears– to speak to anyone more tonight.

____________

I wasn’t exaggerating. Before I’d typed this, I’d asked all three children to go outside for 15 minutes.  So I could cry.  I needed to break down, feel weak, feel this, for just 15 minutes.  Then I got my shit together, which really only happened when my husband walked across the threshold.

After I took a run, I calmed down and got back on the computer.  A friend of mine sent me a note last night.  She told me a pretty haunting story about a bully named KZ (the same KZ) who tortured one of her son’s friends so badly last year that the child transferred to another school. Yep.  The victim transferred to another school.  My friend added that she heaved a sigh of relief when finding that KZ was not in her child’s class this year. “My son is happy again.”

KZ has chosen another victim: my daughter. His parents don’t or won’t intervene. Meanwhile, the school has erected a smattering of anti-bullying signs around the hallways—the same hallways KZ prowls, searching for victims. 

He preys on the sweet kids. The ones who wear glasses, or are a little bit unique, or aren’t surrounded by a posse at all times. And he’ll keep on hunting until the school stops him. You know what sort of thing happens when the school bureaucrats don’t act?  Kids take their own lives, or they bring a gun into school and . . . well.  Columbine.

What do we do?  I’ve prayed on this a lot.  I’ve prayed for the Holy Spirit to fill me; I’ve asked Him for peace and love and I’m still praying, and pretty damn confused.  I know one thing for sure.  I will not go along with the blanket of secrecy that the school uses to shroud the misdeeds of out of control students.  I will fight, and I will not stop until my daughter is safe. So help me God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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61 Comments

When Truth does not Mirror Belief

In light of something rather unpleasant going down in my professional life, I wrote the following last night on my FB Page:

I’m thinking tonight about integrity, which is telling the truth to yourself, and honesty, or telling the truth to other people. When a person has both qualities, and a willingness to do their best in all their endeavors, you’ve got the sort of person we all like to call “a keeper.” I strive to be that sort of person, and while I may fail at it sometimes, I sure do give my all.

Truth can mirror belief;
belief, truth.

This was my very indirect way of addressing a suggestion that I did not fulfill a professional commitment.  What I wanted to say is: hell yes, of course I kept my word.  But the question unasked is how do I address what someone believes about me, and whether I should care enough to even try?

One of my close friends has written both in her blog and her Facebook Page about this subject in the context of testifying in court against an abuser while she was in elementary school. She was warned that no one would believe her.  Later, when contemplating the issue as an adult, Deb Bryan wrote:

Whose belief matters? As some of you know, I am fond of saying, “Your belief is irrelevant.” That’s not totally true.

If you are irrelevant to me, your belief is irrelevant to me. The way that you make yourself irrelevant to me is to show yourself not thoughtless–for aren’t we all, at times?–but consideredly untruthful, intentionally ignorant of plain facts or malicious. See https://www.facebook.com/yourclosetmonster, Wednesday, November 14, 2012.

From a personal standpoint, I too have wrestled with the issue of figuring out whose belief matters. I was sexually abused as a child, and my family did not—does not– believe me.  Does this matter?  It used to matter, but at some point frankly, their belief became irrelevant.

At some point next year, I’ll publish my memoirs and perhaps a shit storm will follow.  Let me be painfully honest: one of my worst nightmares is that I’ll be speaking to a crowd and my mom and dad will rise from the back row and start screaming at me.  If they find out about the book (and I hope they don’t), my birth family will attack, decry and further disown me.  “Elaine the pain is still insane,” which has been the party line for decades, will serve as the foundation for their response.

And you know what?  I don’t care.  Because they’re irrelevant to me now. At least, that’s the state of mind I’m reaching for, and if I haven’t reached it yet, that doesn’t mean I can’t or won’t.

That brings me back to the painful professional circumstance I find myself in. Last night, I fell asleep thinking, what do I do?  I didn’t sleep well. I dreamed that my family was beating me up again. I have these PTSD dreams every night, and when the alarm clock buzzed, I felt my ribs to see if they still hurt.  They didn’t.  And as soon as I realized that I wasn’t stuck in some horror-fantasy, I realized that only I am responsible for who and what matters to me.

By not carrying their misbegotten beliefs on my shoulders, they can no longer rain blows either mental or physical down on me. They are irrelevant, and since irrelevant, their beliefs are too.

God’s grace.

As far as my professional reputation, I have no control over what others think about me.  As scary as it may seem, people are going to believe what they want to believe.  Some of the stuff said and written about me may well be malicious, without factual basis, and easily proven false.  Despite all of that, some may believe the worst about me.

And you know what?  That’s alright.  Their belief is irrelevant because it doesn’t change who or what I am.

There’s a final piece in this puzzle, and of course it’s the most important piece.  The true arbiter of all matters controversial is God.  He is the only one I need answer to, and there’s an amazing feeling of peace that comes with that.  Call it what you will—I call it grace.  With God’s grace, whatever belief others hold about me truly is irrelevant.

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42 Comments

My Faith: Why I Cannot Do Otherwise

I wrote the following last week . . .
_______________

I’ve been thinking about my presence on Facebook. As my page has gotten bigger, I’ve met more and more lovely people. Unfortunately, a few folks have said some unkind, sarcastic or even abusive things on my page. It got so bad the other night that I thought about changing the way I talk to you. Maybe, I thought, I should try harder to build an audience of potential readers by developing more of a persona. Maybe I should not be so raw and real all the time. Those of you who’ve been around for awhile know the good, the bad, and for sure the crazy about me. If I’m struggling, I talk about it.

But I’m about so much more than my struggles. I’m about joy and persevering and romantic ideals and kindness and seeking the good. After all, if I’m running from Hell, I’m heading towards Heaven, right?

But heck, I thought, maybe I need to view this as a business. I should conduct more giveaways and promotions and use my influence to make a dollar . . .um no. Hell no. I honestly believe my writing will sell on its own, without me wasting my time and your time with whine-beg-sellathons.

Then, I thought, maybe I should put on some armor and stop talking about my personal issues so much. Maybe it’s time to put on another one of my many personas. But you know what? I’m done with armor, personas and masks. I don’t have the desire or energy to hide behind some fake persona. I’m daring to write and live in my own clothes, using my own words, and I refuse to compromise.

When I thought about it, I realized that some people just aren’t going to like me. And you know what? I like being liked, but at what price? I mean, should I change how I act just so more people will like me? No. I must take heart, respect myself and do my best with the gifts, talents and imperfections that God has given me. And if some people don’t like the authentic me, then that’s okay. Really—it’s okay.

I’m grateful for those of you who enjoy following my stuff. I’m also grateful to those people who gave me a shot and decided I wasn’t their cup of tea. Sometimes I learn the most from the times I’ve failed or, in this case, from the people who have not stayed with me. I’ve learned that I can’t change what I do or how I act to keep from failing or to convince someone not to leave me.  I’m going to keep being E. L. Farris (hey I love going third person lol). I will keep doing my best as a writer and as a human being. That’s all any of us can do.

_________

The thing is, I’ve been thinking about a lot more than my presence on Facebook lately. I never thought I’d be a born-again Christian. Seriously, I never thought I’d say the words. I never thought it. I’m a woman of reason–really, I am. But I have always been profoundly religious, too.

I grew up in a family where there was much religion but almost no faith.  More than faith, religion or even reason, there was confusion and noise and anger. Amid all of that, I searched for Him, but when I walked around studying the Bible alone, they laughed at me. Called me a wanna-be Saint, a pretender, a phony, and an idiot.

My birth family calls themselves Catholic but refuse to submit to the sacrament of Confession, or Reconciliation. I left the Catholic flock but since then, I did try to return. I fell on my knees and confessed my sins to a priest . . . I even confessed the sins done unto me. Despite the best efforts of that priest, the Catholic church would not take me back unless I recanted my marriage in a Protestant church. I could not do this, and so they cast me out.

That made me want to give up on religion. I didn’t, but I wanted to.

I kept searching.

I have no idea what’s really the right religion for everyone else. Each one of us needs to find his or her own road, and wherever it leads you, I hope that God’s love will be with you. Always. All I know is that God never gave up on me, even when I wanted to give up on finding Him.

I’ve been searching for so long. I’ve been searching for so freakin’ long, and every time I was close, real close, something or someone knocked me off the road I was on. But He never left me.

What pains me today, and I’ll be honest with you–the pain of rejection cuts way too deep still–is that I will lose friends. I think I may have already lost some. It hurts. It hurts that even as I will not judge where they walk or what road they’re on, they will hear the words “Born-Again” and slam the door shut on me. I’ve lost so much in this life. I don’t want to lose anymore or anyone.

It hurts. Because I cannot do otherwise. I cannot choose between friends and my faith. It simply is no choice. I’m quoting Martin Luther, by the way. When he attached his Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences to the Church Door in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517, he explained, with an anguish I can all too well understand, that he could not do otherwise. Here are his words:

Unless I am convinced by Scripture or clear reasoning that I am in error – for popes and councils have often erred and contradicted themselves – I cannot recant, for I am subject to the Scriptures I have quoted; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. It is unsafe and dangerous to do anything against one’s conscience. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. So help me God. Amen.

Like Luther, I stand where I stand. I am impelled to state my faith. It will sadden–it does sadden– me if I lose friends because of this, but this is my faith. I cannot apologize for it. I should not–must not–apologize it. My conscience requires otherwise. As Martin Luther said, so help me God.

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56 Comments

4 Soccer Games, 17 Library Books, 6 Donuts, 4 Slurpees . . .

Three kids, four soccer games, seventeen library books, six donuts, four Slurpees . . . such is the first equation that best describes the math of our Autumn Saturday.

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.

 

 

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Service, Talents, Self and God

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.

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I Hear Him and I Surrender

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.

El: okay.

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.

El: man.

 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.

 

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Guest Post: With God’s Love I’ll Be Okay

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.

 

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