Friendship (n.): a grace from God to reflect his love and to learn to sing

Friendship (n.): a grace from God to reflect his love and to learn to sing

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Sunday, 28 April, 2013

Thank God for the beautiful blessing of friends, for as we are all made in the image of God, we all reflect the light of his love in different and beautiful ways.  While none of us loves as perfectly as God, he gives us friends who will compliment us in our own flat sides and challenge us with loving them despite their flat sides.

The love of friendship is one way to “practice” for the great and perfect love of heaven.  It’s also really fun to meet people we can look forward to keeping company with as we sing his praises.  Friendship in this life helps us to learn to listen and sing well with those we love in this life so we will be well-rehearsed to sing most beautifully for God in eternity. — VKS

Grace Abounding

Grace Abounding

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I haven’t forgotten my Ignatian journey, but that journey has led me to a careful examination and contemplation of the lives of various individuals, Joshua among them.  As I’ve walked through a careful meditative study of Joshua’s life (and what God thought about Joshua and the promises made to Joshua by God), it has taken me through Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy in a couple days (yes, I am crazy like that).  What strikes me though, is the details of the various sins I’ve committed in my own life punishable by death.  There was a question in our study group tonight that asked how we reacted to the idea that God thinks we are “a keeper”?  My response is that the measure of God’s grace and mercy required for that to be true sends me to my knees and often flat on my face before the throne of God.

Good Friday is coming, but Maundy Thursday first.  The intertwining of Easter and Passover cannot be missed.  It is Christ’s blood on my doorpost.  I don’t deserve that.

I saw this earlier and it gives me chills (there is no appropriate response but love and gratitude):

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A letter to a friend

A letter to a friend

A letter to a friend, somewhat edited to remove various contextual details. It occurred to me as I re-read what I wrote that there could be something within edifying to others, for in most things the introspections are specific to me and not to us, per se. Soli Deo Gloria.

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Pine Mountain storm looking over the Lockwood Valley from Pine Mountain Summit, 30 SEP 2010

My Dear Friend,

There is much to be said for a Sunday afternoon nap, but I woke up this afternoon absolutely beside myself in a puddle of tears that seemed to be the collective emotional response of many weeks or months of being far too brave about far too much while being entirely discouraged about everything else.

Everything…else.

I come from very dark places, and there are dark days when those places I won’t let myself go do whisper to me from those dark corners of the world where God’s light is not easily found…I don’t REALLY think I belong in the light, do I?  No, I’m not sure I’m any more comfortable in the light than the roaches that have completely taken over my life, but God says I belong in the light whether I think I do or not.  That is my “Sunday School” answer, but there are six other hellishly in the week NOT Sunday.
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I was going to say that some of what tempts me is a lot darker than envy, which is true, but then I was reminded that envy has it’s grip on me too…just in a completely different area, regarding something I’ve — essentially — been required to give up.

I don’t know if I will ever be trustworthy to be given it back, truly God only knows.

Because cars are easy — no one is going to question your sanity, your humanity, and your wholeness as a human being for lack of a [specific very fun sports car]  (and if they do, question theirs).  [Many in my world] are so materialistic I’ve been all but innoculated against greed for what their greed has cost me in my life.  Truly, whatever it is in this world, whatever “thing” I have, if you can give me a compelling reason why you need it more than I do, it’s yours.  Envy is, of course, in lock-step with setting up idols.  Better your idols be things than relationships.  Because a life lived in battle with God and self over relationships can look a very lot…like mine.

And there is nothing in this world that sounds sane about my extended 2011 conversation with  God over why the answer to  the long-time prayer for a conventional life was not necessarily “no” for always, but is clearly “no” for now.  There is a lot “to” that conversation, and there were certainly conditions and terms on both sides (not an ultimatum per se, but more along the lines of an explanation for why things need to be the way they are as they are, instead of the way I would wish them).  School, actually, is part of it…so there really was no possible sane emotional reaction to the idea that — after wrestling for a year to give up pursuit of the possibility of children of my own issue — any thought of any life BUT solitude was just automatically extended for no good reason by a block to getting to school.  The dream, the plan, the vision was stair-steps.  That’s not a dream deferred, that’s a door resolutely shut and locked.

And [yet I watch one friend] in a place so dark that she’s basically given up on her own life and family.  The darkness of her mental illness and war with God rules (and attempts to destroy) the house and everyone in it.  Watching what this is doing to [her family] is wearing me down.  Only God can fix this.

Echo similar sentiments with what [another person I love dearly] has been given and blessed with…and watching everyone’s mental illness curse that as well.

In all cases prayer seems so inadequate.

I am firmly disquiet in the knowledge that those I love –some already gone…forever — are in separation from God…  And you almost lost me this morning in the same moment you wavered a bit yourself on the question (well, not a question) of eternal condemnation (I notice these things, sorry, and I was among the closest in proximity).  If the question is whether I love people as Christ loves them, yes.  I’m not even sure where God keeps all my prayers and tears…some great otherworldly ocean perhaps.
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The dark side comes that I truly love others FAR more than I love myself.  I am quite certain I do not “deserve” or “merit” any of the grace or mercy that has been given to me.  But I am the girl who jumps in-front of snakes and would happily give away anything to those who need it more.

Grace and mercy are non-transferable.

I have met so many darkly broken and shattered people in my life — many of whom touch my life daily — that maybe you can see how it would be that I would give up everything for the sake of not merely those I love who are close to me, but for the strangers I meet even briefly who so desperately need, want, long for and seek (in all the wrong places) the love and peace I have in Christ.  The dark truth is that lack of peace for the love of these broken people erodes my own peace.  By no means do I hold for a moment  the idea of the intercession of the saints, but you better believe I recognize St. Monica as a kindred spirit in all this mess that is my life: to keep praying forever and NEVER give up on those you love.

I hope it goes without saying that part of my praying forever and NEVER giving up is praying for those you love too…because, I do.

And it was a hellish week that found me standing before God on Friday completely empty (my rather dark take on my dark week to be found here).  I’m still pretty empty, most days I just feel so lost.  Every day I feel very “done,” so completely drained as if I have nothing left to give, while at the same time so achingly desperate to serve God I’m all but inconsolable.  I feel so…useless.  I have so many gifts and so much to give I’ve been cut off from giving and using, it’s horrible.  It’s like the opposite of apathy — please, God, use me…I don’t feel like a blessing to anybody.  All I have right now are words, are my mere words enough?  I won’t lie that I feel good to help people in the world, but I feel good to have been useful to God that he could somehow use me, not because I’m stuck on myself and get off on an ego trip over it.
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I didn’t bless a single person on Friday.

Bless YOU my friend, and bless you for being my friend.  I think maybe you “get” where I come from and how I see the world better than many, but I’ve known that well for the past year.  I do cherish you my friend, know that…but also know that I am desperately ever-mindful to keep perspective to not…over…cherish you (and so many I love).  Because the truth (perhaps unfortunate…perhaps a guised blessing) about loving all we love so dearly in this world, is there is not a single one of us — no matter how close or how intimate the connection, be it friend…relative…spouse…or even child — who truly “belongs” to another: we are only stewards, custodians, and beloved recipients of love for each other in a clouded reflection of Christ’s love for us.  For the unfortunate element is the “not yours” element of it…which is arguably also the blessing in disguise, for “not yours” also absolves us of bearing the full weight of responsibility of and for those we love (though, as I’ve previously mentioned here, I’m crazy enough to think I’d want to sign on that line).  And as for that, the truth is that most days heaven is more than I can handle because my focus isn’t so much on looking forward to promised glory as it is looking around at those I love so desperately without any such hope…to the point that there have been moments of doubt as to whether I can handle heaven at all for the sorrow of those I love so desperately who are “missing” from the roll call of the saints.  If one were to go categorically with respect to mortal sins, I’m as absolutely and unquestionably ( and irredeemably) damned as any can be.  Hence putting down ecumenical roots in Camp Calvin, well part of the reason anyway.  I’ve argued through the argument of how God isn’t God and Christ isn’t Christ if one can fall out of salvation.  But I have no delusions why I deserve grace or mercy any more — or less — than so many I love so dearly.

And it was good to see [your husband] this morning, though it did NOT seem the thing to say: “I don’t really KNOW you, but please know you’re always in my prayers” (it’s true though).

I miss you my friend as I treasure your company.  We should do something sometime, don’t care what, my treat even.  Your call, your terms.  Let me know.  I’m very free.
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Blessings for your week my dear friend.  Yes, valleys are hard, but at the very least know that the crazy and frantically-waving creature of questionable sanity with the Bohemian hair waving down from the far hillside of yours (when she gets a rare break from being in the dark pit of her own) is cheering you on with as much love as any human can give.  Hugs to you sister, hang in there, and know that you’re loved and you’re in my prayers.

Much love in-Christ,

Val

P.S. — Eleanor was a very special little pig, and Wentworth is her only child.  He was always the most special little pig: I was there when he was born, I taught him and Eleanor how to nurse, and I have been almost his whole world since he was three weeks old (when he was separated from Eleanor without a friend or sibling in the world).  Annie is a very special pig because her tiny baby self was trying to get out of the cage at the pet store to get to me when every other guinea pig and rabbit in the place was hiding.  She is not like any other sow I’ve ever had because even though she is within days of having pups (I will be separating her from Wentworth tonight), she is still DESPERATE to be held and touched and cuddled.  Annie has never been alone a day in her life, this may not go well.  I may be quietly and desperately heartbroken on a dark level not easily understood by many for childless solitude (yet immersed in so many beloved children doubly labeled “NOT YOURS!!!”), but you better believe that there are many children in this world less loved and less blessed by the parents in their lives than these already-loved baby pigs already are by me.  That’s a horrible thing to think and say, but my prayer for all children is that they never in their life for a moment doubt that they are loved.  I have not been given children, but if even small guinea pigs are what has been trusted to my love and care, with everything I have to give, I will honor that until death do we part (and Eleanor had the most heartbreakingly beautiful death yet).  And hey, you may or may not be super gifted at visiting folks, but that’s one of the things I love best (and miss terribly), and though it takes me to the razor’s edge of perceived sanity in the minds of many, I don’t draw a line between my commitment to the people and the creatures in my care.  Tonight?  Care is going to be noisy and traumatic.

Bless you my friend, in all things.  I love you. — VKS

Little “fishys” and lost souls

A post on Facebook from the Public Health Education department (a department that shared offices in the county building where I once worked for a couple of different county departments) put up a link to an article this morning reminding me that it is “Eating Disorders Awareness Week.”

Thus sayeth Val: Be Aware.

Seriously.  Be aware.

I don’t know if there is a “ribbon” for Eating Disorders.  Maybe there should be, maybe not.  I know cancer survivors who cling fiercely to their respective ribbons.  I suppose it is their right.  Personally though, I’ve always paused to wonder what clinging to a ribbon really means.  Maybe I’m just dense on this one, but wouldn’t being able to wake up in the morning and know the day and live life be reminder enough that one is a survivor?  And what does being “a survivor” really mean anyway?  Are you promoting your own strength or thanking God for his grace and mercy?  By no means would I dare discount anyone, but…the more I think about it, the more I agree with the idea that the two components of a human life are “dust” (the earthly, mortal, part) and “soul.”  Our dust has little strength of its own against the creative forces of life and death.  Seriously.  I’m a survivor too…but I take no credit for it. Soli Deo Gloria — to God alone be the glory.

Cancer ravages the body before it steals your life.  Eating disorders steal your mind and your soul before they ravage what is left of your body.  It’s no way to live, and it is an incredibly painful way to die — by torture and assassination of the soul.

All eating disorders work similarly, but anorexia nervosa is the one I’ve seen up-close, a devil I know well — I will thus frame my awareness in terms of and with reference to anorexia nervosa.  Anorexia is not about food — it never was about food, it will never be about food.  The food issues are merely an outward manifestation of a much deeper problem.  As the body wastes for lack of food, it is only following in the footsteps of a soul dying for lack of love on the deepest level.

The soul goes first.

It’s not about food, it’s not about being thin, it’s about self-control being run off-the-rails in the direction of self-destruction.  There is an evil element to that which defies description.  The most basic truth is that where there is a VAST space left in a person’s life (usually “girl’s life” in the case of anorexia nervosa) , great darkness moves in and takes over.

What anorexia nervosa does to the mind, soul, and body (in that order) is among the closest things in life I’ve ever witnessed that could arguably be classed as “demon possession.”  The audio and video feed of every failing and inadequacy you’ve ever experienced in your life (anyone who is not a narcissist has this) never shuts off and eventually takes over.  I say we all have this?  We do, but honest perspective and love can usually shut it off.  Anorexia comes where that love is absent, moves in, and whispers that it will keep you safe from everything in the world that can hurt you — your strength against the weakness of hunger will help build your strength against the pain, emotions, people, and situations that are trying to destroy you.  You need it, trust it — don’t be weak and let the hunger, the emotions, the pain win.

It’s all a lie, but it comes in a very pretty culturally-endorsed package — if “thin” is beautiful and “exercise” makes you “healthy,” why not worship on that altar?  The air-brushed and drug-soaked fashion and celebrity universe seems to support it, why not?

Because it is a lie.

I once heard a speaker remark that a person with anorexia is the kind of person who, if she resolved to drink eight glasses of water a day, will stay up until midnight to drink eight glasses of water in the last ten minutes of the day if she forgot just because she resolved to do it.  Not everyone suffering from anorexia nervosa is a Type-A personality, but if there is a Type-A personality suffering from an eating disorder, I won’t even bat an eye to leave any wiggle room for possible speculation: 100% of those individuals are battling anorexia, it’s the only one that appeals to a tidy, methodical, meticulous nature.

And that’s the cruellest part — the type of person who gravitates toward anorexia nervosa is typically an extremely intelligent, capable young woman with a lot of talent, potential, and often leadership ability.  Were their heads on straight for self-perception and self-care, these are women who could justly and capably rule the world.  Anorexia nervosa snuffs out the best and the brightest by design.

I don’t know if there is a patron saint for those suffering from eating disorders.  Mary Magdalene, however, comes to mind as a potentially just and beautiful choice.  She was healed by Christ from seven demons.  It doesn’t say much more than that about the nature of the situation, but here was a woman who we got to quietly follow through various little snippet accounts in the Bible as a person who did not forget what Christ’s compassion, love, and healing did for her and meant to her life.  She followed Christ’s body to the grave.  She was given the beautiful gift of being the first person to know of Christ’s resurrection.

Stop.  Just stop.  Stop and think about that for a minute.  This was no random thing, there are no coincidences.  This was not her good luck — one lesson to learn in  the Bible is that God doesn’t work in terms of “luck.”  Just stop and consider that of all the people Christ loved who loved Christ, he picked Mary Magdalene to be the first one to encounter his resurrected self.  That’s huge.  Not Peter, not John, not his mother…Mary Magdalene.  If you want an argument for “least” being “greatest,” there’s one.  Now, there is a lot of weird mythology around Mary Magdalene (I believe none of it, and neither should you).  The three explicit references were that she was healed from seven demons, she was present at the crucifixion and followed the body to the grave, and she was the first person to learn of the resurrection.  That is what we know.  What we also know is that this is a woman who understood — and never forgot — how much Christ’s compssion and healing had restored her to life.  She loved Jesus of Nazareth and became his disciple.  She was favored with the honor to be the first to experience the wonder and joy of the resurrection.  That’s huge.  This is a woman who got up every day with the knowledge that Christ was the one who gave her both life and hope.

I can’t think of a better person to flesh out the hope of a life healed from something like anorexia nervosa.

But while we’re on the topics of saints, I need to make one thing absolutely clear: anorexia mirabilis is made-up and garbage.  There is no “holy” absence of hunger, but anorexia nervosa can actually phisiologically re-wire a person’s brain to “turn off” hunger.  There is a sub-class of ascetic saints who suffered from this “holy” disease with some pretty disturbing behaviors and outcomes.  There is no starving yourself to death for the glory of God, it just doesn’t work that way.  I have no love for the veneration of these particular saints (Catherine of Siena among them).  I cannot venerate the faith of anyone willing to worship at the altar of death.

If you’re reading this and looking for answers, maybe you’ve found them and maybe not.

Maybe you’re the one who is suffering, maybe it’s someone you know…or maybe you’re just one of the wonderful friends God has blessed me with in my life who makes it a joy to get out of bed in the morning.

I have a friend who is one of my confessors and prayer partners, she is custodian of a very large piece of my soul and I love her very much.  I was praying for her and for her family as I was waking up this morning.  She is a grandmother and has another grandchild on the way.  I was praying for this little one a prayer that is the best prayer for all children — that they may live a life where they always know (and never, ever, ever doubt) that they are loved.  If I am praying for your children or grandchildren, that’s one of the things I’m praying.

The alternative is — quite literally — a living hell.

If you or someone you know needs help, please…do something.  Praying is good, but this kills and destroys in horrendous ways.  Please get help.

I’m just a pilgrim, but I’ve battled my own Apollyon, as it were.  Survivor?  Yes.  Recovered?  Yes.  Perfect?  No.  Loved?  Without question.  I am not a therapist, I am not qualified in any professional capacity, just a pilgrim.  But I also happen to know that the fishy site is one of the most praise-worthy and amazing places on the web for resources.  They have support boards there too, it’s wonderful.  The site is well-run and well-moderated.  The fishy site is the real deal (though by no means a substitution for help in real life).  For more information:

http://www.somethingfishy.org