Love and light

Love and light

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Another excerpt from a letter to a friend…

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The root of so much that has so long been so broken in my own self is not that I rarely expend much time or energy in my own direction, it’s that as much as I deeply love so many, I just don’t have a place to love myself. I mean, surely I’m no longer knocking on death’s door begging to be let in (as I did for twelve years), but I also know that I’m not “fixed” and that this is the piece of myself that is far from “recovered,” and is the root of every ugly thing. It’s one of the horrendous things in that’s in The Hall Closet [a reference to My Heart: Christ’s Home], but you know that.
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But the thing is, my brain is just…broken. I only apply this standard to myself, but I absolutely equate “utility” and “worth.” I can argue the theological and ontological and everything else logical arguments for why that isn’t a valid perspective…for anyone else. I can’t make any of it stick for me. And it’s not just the absence of self-love, it’s the presence of self-loathing. And like I said…I can parse through the head knowledge beautifully, but I can’t make it stick on the soul level.

I can’t fix that, because in that case the problem is within. Only God can fix that one.

There’s a lot more to all of this on a lot of levels. I hear your words — as I have heard your words on multiple occasions — about me taking care of me. I don’t know how to do that, I just don’t. I don’t even know enough to know the pieces I’m missing to try to figure out what that would even look like without being off-balance.

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I generally love without expectation — e.g., I am not your friend because I’m trying to earn your love or friendship (I am your friend because I just love you). And I don’t work that way because I’ve spent too much time around miserable people who do. If a person appreciates my love or kindness, and expresses that appreciation in love or kindness in return, I am happy…but I am not happy BECAUSE they were kind to me, I am happy because they were able to receive my love. And even then it’s not on a level of “I am an acceptable person because my love was found to be acceptable by this person,” no. I am happy because the person I love was blessed by the love I intended to bless them. And it isn’t that I somehow did well for sending that love, but merely joy that love itself (not my part in it) “won” and my friend was blessed. When I play with my dear baby niece, my goal is to engage her (and if possible, delight her because it’s so sweet when she laughs). It’s not about my aim to be perceived to be delightful, it’s about spreading love and joy. I am still going to love her if she doesn’t delight in my presence.

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You know it makes me sad that there are people in my life whom I love dearly but who cannot receive or accept my love. It took a long time to get to the place of realizing that their reaction didn’t change the reality of who I am — I am not less because they cannot receive my love or love me. But that doesn’t stop me from weeping (often to God). Yes, I am sad that they do not love me and cannot receive my love, but only a little — because I know this isn’t how life was meant to be, broken families are not part of God’s best plan. What sets me to weeping and prayer is that love isn’t winning the day.

That’s really it.

Because I am a broken person, I see my brokenness, and I do not just not love what is broken within me, I hate it. And I absolutely live with (and live by) this question: “How can I live this day to bless others?” I’m still the same parts beautiful and wretchedly broken I was before I woke up and before I decided to be proactive about loving others, but whether love is accepted or reciprocated, love itself makes the world a less-broken place.

And isn’t that, essentially, one pretty big take-home point of the gospel?

I do take time to take care of me a little, and I don’t derive self-worth or merit or acceptance from my love and service. I just happen to have a cazy-huge servant’s heart. I really do love Merton’s metaphor of a crystal:

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When a ray of light strikes a crystal, it gives a new quality to the crystal. And when God’s infinitely disinterested love plays upon a human soul, the same kind of thing takes place. And that is the life called sanctifying grace.

The soul of a man, left to its own natural level, is a potentially lucid crystal left in darkness. It is perfect in its own nature, but it lacks something it can only receive from outside and above itself. But when the light shines in it, it becomes in a manner transformed into light and seems to lose its nature in the splendor of a higher nature, the nature of the light that is in it.

So the natural goodness of man, his capacity for love which must always be in some sense selfish if it remains in the natural order, becomes transfigured and transformed when the Love of God shines in it. What happens when a man loses himself completely in the Divine Life within him? This perfection is only for those who are called the saints — for those rather who are the saints and who live in the light of God alone.

— Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain

Even before I read all of the various brilliant things Merton had to say on the subject, I felt that the best reflection of who God is through me is in my love and service of others. I love to love and I serve to serve because I am grateful that I CAN love and that I CAN serve. I seriously scrutinize anything that detracts from that, even if that “something” happens to be me.

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Vanities

Vanities

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The artist’s caption on “Healing in New Light,” by Imaculate Heart High School student Katie Ganz, reads as follows: “We all bear scars, whether they are from childhood accidents, surgeries, or even from self-inflicted injuries.  From these scars, no matter what their source is, we learn.  Scars are a sign of healing: new skin covers the wound and protects it from future harm.  The scars in my piece are from self-harm.  They show suffering, while also symbolizing healing and new life.  The water, both in the hands and on the scars, represents healing and the washing away of pain.  My piece symbolizes new life, healing, and rising from pain and suffering, as Jesus did when he was resurrected.”

The image of the scars, the hands offering the rosary — which could represent prayer, but which also contains a crucifix — combined with the water stopped me in my tracks as I walked through the cathedral student art galleries; it’s a powerful symbol regardless of whether or not the viewer is Roman Catholic.  The power of this image haunts me on a level that only one who understands it intimately can be haunted. — VKS

“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity…I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.” — Ecclesiastes 1:2, 14

I’ve not stopped thinking, but my health still really isn’t quite what it ought to be this week, so it’s been a lot of “resting quietly” as my body has finally allowed me to sleep for more than an hour or so at a stretch (thus there were some days when I was too exhausted to do much else).  Sleep can be a grace, but only dreamless sleep, for sleep is the place my mind goes where all of the unspeakable evils it works so hard to block all day (to keep me sane and functional) no longer have a conscious “block” to keep them in-check.  It’s not always or every day, but nightmares can certainly play a bold part in making my attempts at sleep anything but restful.  It’s my body at war with itself and the devil; illness and roaches don’t help.

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There is living, there is thriving, there is merely existing. Life is a rich and beautiful thing, precious and not to be wasted. We are not called to muddle through, we are called to live.

I am not living, this is something else.

There may be a difference between “resting” and “losing days,” but in many ways they seem the same. I can’t get the days I’ve slept through back, and no one was blessed for them, not even me. I can’t answer for them, only that if we who are human are composed of both “soul” and “dust,” it was my “dust” that failed.

I’m Type-A. Type-As don’t take failure well…nor easily.

Things were in a lull for awhile, but the promise of aid has faded before my ability to work has been regained. Not that I was particularly desirable as an employee before the accident, but presenting a newly more broken version of myself as a candidate for employment is not a winning plan. There are thousands of applicants out there for the entry-level stuff I’m fully-qualified to apply for — no one in this job market needs to extend a single bit of grace to accomodate me, there are only to many behind me happy to fill the spot without exception. I am a number, not a name.

At least I’m not “just a number” to God.

I am fully-capable to do better things, but the requirement of a four-year degree keeps me barred from much. I am gifted, yes, but what in the world good to me are gifts I’m not allowed to use?

The neighborhood was on lockdown again the other night — three-and-a-half hours of helicopter patrol, cop cars galore. Not sure what happened or if they ever found who they were looking for. The key problem is again. I am very blessed to have a place to be, but when there seems to be no place safe in that place, it doesn’t always seem like a blessing. Roaches don’t help, they are the vilest sort of company. Guinea pigs do help, but it is dangerous to pin so much hope and love on such dear little fragile creatures.

Hard news seems — once again — to be coming from every quarter. I pray much for those I love, and God does hear my prayers, but my poor petitions seem so small compared to the very great and dire needs, the profound physical and spiritual brokenness, of those I so dearly love. My cranky Calvinist self holds no belief to the intercession of the saints (Christ alone is our intercessor), but that does not make me shy in the least to fall down and weep at the feet of St. Monica when I’m at the cathedral (as a bonus, she is standing next to Francis and Clare of Assisi). Monica in real life would understand the prayerful tears shed for those I love — tears for wandering souls, broken spirits, broken relationships, broken bodies. Francis would understand the kind of crazy love that can make loving others in the name of Christ seem like an insane proposition.

Friday afternoon I did, in-fact, retreat to that place in the Cathedral downtown, but I was so completely drained I couldn’t think, pray, or have an emotional response. I could just “be”…and no more.

Does the fact that I took the time to take myself out of my life — with the intent to go “be” quietly in a place where I went to seek God’s presence — “count,” even though I was too tired to function when I got there? Normally I would have found a quiet corner for a nap before prayer, but there isn’t one in a place like that.

In my day-to-day life, there isn’t a quiet, well-rested corner for God anywhere. In my day-to-day life, there isn’t a quiet, well-rested corner for me either. I love life, I just don’t happen to love my life.

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Broad Museum of Contemporary Art, LACMA. 21 May 2012

I feel like a horrible person to have argued against my friend about this, but I did…she commented on a dripping-with-discouragement social networking status the other night:

“Remember your gifts, Val. You have much to offer. Healing will come, then you’ll reach out again. Maybe God has granted you the gift of time to gather your thoughts and count your blessings. You are a bright, intelligent woman with insights many people twice your age don’t possess. People love and support you. Keeping you in my prayers every night my friend.”

And while she is right on many levels, I still feel like — on some level — it isn’t quite that simple. My reply to her was:

“You can’t eat time my friend, and as I have had many long years of forced solitude, “time” really wasn’t something I needed. I have spent most of the last seven years in solitary confinement. “Time to gather my thoughts” is kind of like telling someone in Seattle that they need more rain. All of this is also serving to cut me off from ministry, and that is certainly not from God. I understand your point, but those insights only serve to further alienate me from people. Every day I say the way I am I become more irredeemably odd and alienated from people. Bless you for your prayers my friend. If you have any prayer requests, send them in a private message or e-mail if you wish.”

I also added as a bit of post-script:

(And what good are gifts I’m cut off from using????)

I have yet to find a satisfactory answer to that one, because it’s been bugging me for a long time.

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St. Val the Eccentric with a very dead bear at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, MLK Jr. Day 2009

In-case you were wondering? In-case it was not already clear? This is the blog of “St. Val the ECCENTRIC,” not the blog of “St. Val the Socially-Acceptable.” Irredeemably odd, unfortunately intelligent on levels that make people back away slowly. I was recently accused of a tendency to “irritate people without realizing you’re irritating.” No, I was not brought up on a planet without social cues, I know, but my sanity and your civility very often depends on me pretending I don’t. If I didn’t know, I’d probably never shut up actually. My “silent mode” exists because I know.

But sitting home reading mystic theologians and learning yet more when I arguably already know too much for anyone’s good in the first place?

And gifts I can’t use really are no use.

I sometimes feel like the author of Ecclesiasties, that all is just…vanities.

It was a dark and frustrating week with little promise and less hope. I had a picture in my mind, that what this feels like is that day when a ride was supposed to pick me up and is really, really, really late…with no explanation.

Still here, God…scars, prayers, and all…still here, waiting…

Treasure what is precious, desire what is best

Treasure what is precious, desire what is best

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Travertine leaf fossils, The Getty Museum (external walls), Los Angeles, CA (taken May 2012)

“This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.”

— one of the “Riddles in the Dark” from The Hobbit by J.R.R.. Tolkien

When I was a girl, perhaps five or six, a book came in one of the boxes of mysterious oddments from my father’s mother, or perhaps it was received among my Christmas gifts that year.  Honestly, I am not certain.  It was an odd sort of book — fantasy stories, mostly about children, with seemingly no particular significant origin.  These were not collected tales from an author or place, they were just…stories.  As I am more widely read now, these stories remind me somewhat of George MacDonald’s work.  It was a hardcover volume, illustrated in color.  The book itself — along with too many others — eventually ended up at the local Friends of the Library bookstore in a particularly traumatic move.  I remember little of this book but the vague outline of one particular tale:

There was a girl who somehow came upon an enchanted ball of silver string (I believe there was an odd old woman or a witch involved).  What the girl discovered about her magical ball of string was that if she pulled the loose end, it caused an instantaneous and enchanted passage of time: a tug for a moment, a pull for a span.

The ball could not be rewound.

The girl began to use this string in small — and later large — ways to affect the passage of time: first to avoid small unpleasantries and waiting, later to grow up more quickly.

Only too quickly, however, the impatient girl found herself a very old woman at the end of her life…holding a very small length of silver string…facing death.

The girl woke up and found she had been dreaming  (to her great relief), but forevermore considered time a much more precious commodity.

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Footprints in the sand, Carpenteria, CA, 8 SEP 2010

Could we all but be so wise.

In America our society tries to both escape death by attempting to eternally cling to the spectral shadow of youth…while also avoiding life by running at a break-neck frantic pace — without rest — in pursuit of “progress.” Time affects us all, and death is the great equalizer. After love and life, time is the next most precious gift we have in this life.

Time cannot be bought…sold…or stopped.

I have held four beloved guinea pigs in my arms as they breathed their last breath (most recently, of course, my beloved Eleanor…Wentworth’s sweet mama). The story was that after a prolonged (but gradual) terminal illness — with baby Annie as her beloved friend — Eleanor was actively dying the Tuesday morning after Thanksgiving. I could not get out of my stupid shift at work. I helped her drink some water when I came home at lunch, and miraculously (by greater grace than can be quantified), I found her barely clinging to life when I came home that day. I helped her drink more water, wrapped her in a towel, and held her on my chest.

We both fell asleep that afternoon; only I woke up.

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Eleanor Wigglewhiskers, 12 MAY 2010

Time is precious…

fleeting…

measured in breaths…

in sunrises and sunsets…

in grains of sand…

in waves on the shore.

It cannot be bottled, nor saved…

nor kept, nor held —

only savored, cherished, remembered…or else merely regretted for its passing.

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Carpenteria Beach Sunset, 8 SEP 2013

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Me and Eliza, 11 JAN 2013

Thus far, 2013 has been a rough year. A friend of mine remarked yesterday morning:

“Wish you could wake up in 2014…it’s got to be better.”

My reply to her was:

“No guarantees to that. My Lord and my God is good and sovereign. Against all odds he has still preserved a place for me in this world. His providence brings hope worth anchoring my life on. But there is this — the question of St. John of the Cross — if life with God and Christ comes with NO blessings, is who God is still enough to merit faith in him? (*Hint* — the answer is “Yes,” but a person can’t “own” that from a theoretical perspective. Sometimes the path to heaven neans you have to pass through hell first.)

My friend meant well, I know she did — and I love her well — but even such a well-meant statement given in love and sympathy is downright horrifying when considered from an eternal perspective.

Would I really rather sleep through the next 9.5 months of my life?!?!?!?!

My precious, beloved baby niece is now eight weeks old. In developmental terms, the first year of life encompasses a lot. Infants come into the world as scrunchy little grublings — a novelty for their tiny perfection, but on the whole not very engaging little creatures; by a year old they are well on their way to being their own unique little people — shreiking, squeaking, playing, engaging with the world, expressing opinions.

To sleep through 2013, I would miss all of that my friend.

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Annie Wigglewhiskers, 31 JAN 2013

My beloved little Annie is expecting pups. She and Wentworth are the two nicest guinea pigs I’ve ever had in my life — not a trouble-making bone in either of their bodies (Eleanor, on the other hand, was an absolute imp of a pig!).

Have you ever seen a baby guinea pig? They are about the cutest baby anything on the planet — like most herbivorous herd animals, they are born “ready to go” — all feet and ears and fluff. Eyes open, ears open, alert, they begin to explore their world from the moment they are born. Every day I watch Annie change as we wait together. She’s never had babies before, she doesn’t know what exactly is going on. There is nothing in this world more amazing than new life, and these little expected friends are already beloved.

A second generation of beloved tiny friends? I wouldn’t miss raising those little ones for anything in the world.

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Pine Mountain Thunderstorm, 30 SEP 2010

And as for so many I love? None of us are getting any younger, and the future is never certain. Last night I watched a man nearly run down by a car ten feet in-front of me, as I crossed in the same intersection from the opposite corner. I’ve had many close calls, and several instances where I was spared from certain death. I’ve lost dear friends who were not old and still had much living to do. That any of us will live to greet the following morning is neither known nor certain. Every moment of every day in this life is a dear and precious gift. Time cannot be bottled, nor saved…nor kept, nor held — only savored, cherished, remembered…or else merely regretted for its passing.

Life in this world is to short and too precious to live with regrets.

Life and time are dearly precious, but love is the single greatest gift in all creation. Do you know it? Do those you love know you know it? Do those you love know you love them? Seriously. Those you hold dear and love — all of them — do they know without question that they are loved? Do they know without question they are loved by you???

It’s a valid question, though perhaps a disturbing one: Do you say “I love you” enough — and mean it unquestionably — such that there can be no room for doubt in the minds of those you love that they are loved?

It’s not that hard (unless you don’t mean it). If a loved one suddenly comes to mind, pray for them, and drop a very quick line or two of love and encouragement in their direction (not that complicated, don’t overthink this…). Most of us have camera phones, if you see something fun or beautiful that someone you love would particularly enjoy, send the moment along.

Because the truth is, the greatest cost to you will be a few moments of your time.

There are likely a few among my own close friends reading this with a wry smile at this point.

The truth is, “just because” is the most wonderful, beautiful, important reason in the world to love and bless someone. Let the sun never set on your anger, truly, but just as important? Never part company with those you love lest your parting words be that you love them — you never know if or when you may ever meet them again (and life in this world is too short and to precious to live with regrets).

I wouldn’t be a good friend to opt-out of the chance to love, bless, encourage, share wonder, and pray for all those I love (especially if I am opting-out of 9.5 months of life for the expressly selfish purpose of potentially avoiding personal suffering — that’s inexcusably shallow!).

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Sylmar hill walk, 8 MAR 2013, Santa Monica Mountains

Whether I am a good disciple or not I will leave for Christ to work out, but it does not follow for a good disciple to be one self-seeking comfort for one’s own sake in a way that divorces herself from life, love and all humanity. I simply love life — and love my Lord and my God — too much to ever wish such a thing. And if my friend only meant that by my sleeping my life away, that she wished it so that I may be further protected from suffering and harm? I remind that to be so-protected from harm not only means I will be unable to experience pain and suffering in my slumber…but that I will be unable to experience all the joy and love possible in this life as well.

In the First Week of his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius of Loyola wrote:

“Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.

And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created.

From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it.

For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created.”

Now, my friend’s wish for me had two clauses…the second part being that the reason for sleeping until 2014 would be because “it’s got to be better.”

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Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, 12 MAR 2013

Does it? I’m not sure that’s actually true. I’m not signing up for a lifetime of masochistic asceticism, but “being comfortable” isn’t on the list of promises associated with being a faithful disciple of Christ. The Bible has a lot to say about suffering, we are also promised comfort for our afflictions, and we are promised glory both in heaven and when Christ comes again…but there are no promises that following Christ will be a comfortable journey. To be clear, I’m not seeking suffering, but I also do not seek (nor do I explicitly prefer) a life of insulated apathetic comfort.

Because like it or not, life is under no obligation to “get better,” and God is under no obligation to “make things better” in accordance with our particular requests. However? My Lord and my God is a good God, a loving God, a merciful God, a gracious God — a God who keeps his promises. If I strive to live my life prayerful that my desires be in alignment with God’s will for my life, “better” becomes completely beside the point because living life in alignment with God’s will is already “best.”

And can anything I wish for myself possibly be greater than what God wills for me?

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Wildwood Park, 12 SEP 2010, Thousand Oaks, CA

Q. 1. What is your only comfort, in life and in death?

A. That I belong — body and soul, in life and in death — not to myself, but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who at the cost of his own blood has fully paid for all of my sins and has completely freed me from the dominion of the devil; that he protects me so well that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that everything must fit his purpose for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

— The Heidelberg Catechism

By no means would I ever say I don’t want life to get better — I absolutely do — but I also believe life is only worth living when you can find God in all things (sometimes a stretch, but always possible). “Life always getting better” didn’t make the list for “only comfort, in life and in death,” but God’s love, mercy, sovereignty, and providence did.

I can live with that. — VKS

Trying to “be still”

Trying to “be still”

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One early memory verse in my Christian life was: “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

I cannot underscore enough how much I am totally dismal at “be still.”  And yet?  I have been sick four times in the past three-and-a-half months, plus I was stuck in bed being very quiet for a full month with a broken shoulder that is still mending.  One dear friend once said something to the effect that I live life to the fullest better than anyone else she knows.  I love life, and I love life from having faced death so often for so long.  I love God, and I live to serve him with gratitude, love, compassion, creativity, imagination…and dynamic (fiercely dynamic) energy.  Soli Deo Gloria are great words to live by and to build life on.  Sometimes I serve quietly, but I’m nothing if not a force of nature (even if that force of nature manifests as a presence of peace).

All of which — for good or for ill (probably ill) — leads me to draw lines and equate my utility with my worth.  Thus, because I’ve spent better than two-thirds of 2013 stuck in bed?  I’m going nuts.

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Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, taken 12 MAR 2013, Los Angeles, California

I was actually supposed to begin my upper-division requirements for a degree in Theological Studies (to finish undergrad to prep for seminary) at an amazing (and prestigious) university in Los Angeles a couple of months ago — but, of course, the accident messed up everything, and unless I can find a cosigner for the private loans to cover living expenses (almost everything else is covered) I’ll be stuck out of school (but perpetually knocking on that door) for years until I can build enough credit to qualify for loans myself.  This is the most frustrating thing that has ever happened to me, and feels like absolute failure given how many doors I watched God swing wide to bring me to that place.  I’m not giving up, but I can’t fix this.

I read, I write, I try to keep in-touch.  I pray, I encourage.  I do what I can from afar.  It is really hard to feel “useful” or “needed” with one arm, or when helping me requires so much from those I love.

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Sylmar hill walk, 8 MAR 2013, Santa Monica Mountains

Cold weather, poor health, limited funds for “fun” transportation has kept me off the Metro and home more than out in the world, but I can’t help but think that every day I don’t get out of bed or don’t walk out my door is a day wasted for the Lord’s service, that somehow I am missing divine appointments by cutting myself off from humanity.  There is so much need and so many broken people in the city…surely  even the smallest kindness to acknowledge the forgotten and marginalized makes a difference in the balance of eternity for all involved — what can I say about the days I keep my bright smile indoors?

All I have is my words, are my words enough?

So this week it is the flu…and I’ve cleared my schedule and quarantined myself from friends, relatives, church family until at least next Wednesday.  My immunity at this point is shot to hell, and all I can do is “be”…and be quiet…and pray…and read.  In lucid moments I write.  I barely sleep.  I’ve been drowning myself in juice and Vitamin C in a desperate attempt to flush my ravaged system and clear my head.  I honestly don’t remember the last time an illness hit me so hard instantaneously.  I joke that when I am sick I’m a “germ factory,” but this is “germ factory” on the level of a germ warfare machine (impressive, but to no good end!).

Enough is enough.

I was blessed for a season to be called as a hospice volunteer to visit hospice patients (as I have faced death I do not fear it, so hospice is actually a very good fit for me in a lot of ways).  My longest-lived patient had severe dementia and congestive heart failure — he was dying by inches, and he was dying by inches nearly alone.  I remember one of his more lucid afternoons he commented how hard it was to be a blob.

I’m not a blob, but I definitely have days when I feel like one.

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Sylmar hill walk, 8 MAR 2013, Santa Monica Mountains

I have a window, a window that overlooks an alley and the street.  There is an auto body shop across the street.  People pass, children pass, dogs pass, cars and trucks pass.  I’ve memorized the trees and rejoice when pigeons fly close.  I have the guinea pigs.  Most days this is my world, confined to a 7’×9′ store room with no TV, no radio, no movies…just books and the internet…and God…and my thoughts.

The husband of someone I know from church asked me last Sunday how in the world I know so much [about the Bible and theology], did I study it at university?  I blurted out what is — basically — the truth: that I’ve spent much of my life in solitary confinement reading and writing too much.

I’m there again.  If St. Val wasn’t eccentric enough to begin with, she’s certainly moreso now.

So much is swirling about what to do with myself, with my life, how to manage, how to get by, what’s next…

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Sylmar hill walk, 8 MAR 2013, Santa Monica Mountains

I only wish I knew…but for now the only thing in the world I can do?

Be…still…

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