Monday, October 19, 2015

on seeing hell

I sat in the bank parking lot with my children as a man stormed from the ATM. A cloud of fury rumbled in his every step, anger fumed out of every unkind word that he yelled at the child by the car, at the woman inside it. A cyclone of brokenness  just 10 feet away. I turned up the music so my kids wouldn't hear the wealth of vocabulary. I kept my face still, but my soul ached over the slamming of doors and the way they hurled despair at each other like knives glistening in the afternoon light. 

One door wouldn't close properly, so the man stomped out to close it and he continued to berate her for daring to need more than the $60 he gave her last week. The child never spoke, but he wouldn't have been heard. The engine took two turns of the key to start. As they roared away, the exhaust muffling the battle of words, I felt heavy in the seat of our old car. It's not beautiful or terribly clean and we are hopeful for the day we get to replace it with something larger, but it's our and it runs. Really though, what does a steel machine matter? 

Someone wrote a book and dared to question the wide spread understanding of heaven and hell. An all-out assault was launched at his daring ideas, but if you ask me, I might agree with him.  Do we dare to see that hell is now, right here on this earth, every breathing moment of  existence for far too many people.  Would you dare it look for it?  It won’t be hard to find.

Check the eyes first, that’s a good start.  Outer shells of humanity strutting and fretting about the stage, like Shakespeare wrote so long ago, drudging through the rise and fall of the sun.  Shells so empty from the soul sucking despair of their realities, can it even be called a life?

I sat in my car, my kids being so noisy and happy. My husband walked out the doors and got inside.  I told him what I had witnessed. 

The sea of troubles is great, the quaking world is ripe with terror and despair, but Jesus said that the Kingdom of heaven is here. I don’t think it matters if we really understand what that fully means, but I don't think the religious people liked that either.  I don’t think it’s about doctrine or theories, but I think it’s simple. The light that pierces the darkness, every single time. 

So much of what I hear from the church world feels like chaos and noise, except for the part that brings hope and feeds the hungry and comforts the broken. The part were we come alongside the weary and say, let's walk together. The part were we remember what kind of kingdom we are hoping to build. The part where we take the little bits of the Kingdom of heaven we've been given and do something about it, instead of just holding out for the rest.

Because yes, if you dare to look, hell is all around us, but so is the kingdom. It glows and sings and radiates and dazzles.   Do you see it? Do you feel it too?

It's a mad and quaking world. Romans reads that creation is groaning, and oh how loud it echoes throughout the land, roaring from the deeply broken souls. And if we listen closely, a voice is asking, what shall we do about all this hell?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The battle and the great exhale

The end of the school day. Some days are full of interest and wild electric brain activity and some feel like a battle against an army three times larger than my own. 

Sure, our lives are just one continuous cycle of changes and adjustments since the beginning of the summer when we packed up our home to live with family for a while to find a new home and live there for a bit, only to have major water damage and renovations and then move into a hotel for another undetermined amount of time. So, we eat breakfast someone else makes and receive clean towels each day, but whoa, I vaguely remember the beginning of this year that was a creative explosion. in a house we loved. Everything felt normal and familiar. 

North Carolina. Iowa. Missouri.

June, July, August, September, October. 

My little one now leaps out of my arms to trot after the big kids. She bounces with pride. Her face is alight with pride and mischief each time we almost reach the hotel room ,when she will, of course, run the opposite way as fast as her little legs will go, as soon as the door opens. 

This weekend we had to move everything from the lower level to the upstairs for the repairs, so we’re half moved out again, five weeks later.

All the while, the education of young minds must continue, so we gather around the table to learn.  I’m taking longer to start these days, because I need more coffee and prayers for reinforcements. Strength for this day. Patience when I am a record skipping on repeat and when writing letters is impossible and addition is torture. 

The other day, my husband called the minute we finished our work. I almost couldn’t speak for the fact that I wanted to fall to the ground in defeat.  But, that day we overcame struggles and frustrations and deposited important lessons to the bank of these little ones who are growing to be adults.  That’s the thing we’re trying to do here, right.  It’s a long, slow race.

I did collapse to floor that day and while I was there thinking how dirty the carpet might be, I realized that is was not at all defeat. NO. It’s quite the opposite.  The day was a raging success, because we overcame.  It was not magical or picturesque by any means, more grueling and bloody—minus the blood,  I think.  But, damn it, we did it. We did it together and we lived.  So, this week and for all the days to follow, I will claim victory in my great exhales.

Victory is not the absence of struggle, in fact, what would victory be with a fierce challenge?  We set out to learn and be kind and work hard and that’s what we’re doing.

Yes, life is laced with magic, so we suck the marrow from those glorious bits, but if there is one thing I know, all the good stuff is won when the battle is hard and we keep at it. 

Perhaps this season of life will extract the wanderer out of me, I doubt it though. Maybe we’ll be back home in time to pull out the holiday decorations and bake up a storm.  We’ll savor all the scents and cozy feelings.  And we’ll exhale a great battle of a season from our lungs, just in time to face whatever lingers around the corner.—because life is that way, I’m pretty sure.

So, exhale and fall to the floor.  Hide under the blankets.  Pray all the prayers and drink all the coffee.  We’re doing it, friends.

I’m going to learn so ninja moves from my son, I might need them.


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Introducing: Bandersnatch

Oh, how I believe in the written word, in story, and in the beauty of creation.  That these stories we live day in and day out are connected to a greater story, one beyond our understanding.  Today, I have the privilege of  introducing a guest into this little space and after you read her words, make your way to the bookstore to pick up her new brand new book.  There are voices of light and truth in the midst of the roaring and rumbling sea of madness, one of those belongs to Erika Morrison.



“In July of 2000, when my husband and I got married, I was the ripe old age of nineteen and he was a seasoned twenty-four. Six months later I found out there was a baby in my belly, not on purpose. Then shortly after, another baby got in my belly not on purpose; then even less shortly after another baby got in my belly not on purpose.

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking: somebody needs to check the date on her birth control! But I promise you that nothing short of a medieval chastity belt with a rusted-shut lock could keep this Fertile Myrtle from getting pregnant. I don’t even trust the vasectomy my . . . never mind, I digress.

When our last boy was born in the left leg of my husband’s pajama pants (I should probably mention I was wearing them) while we rode the elevator up to the labor and delivery floor of Yale-New Haven Hospital, I had just birthed my third baby in three years. I’ll go ahead and do the math for you. I was twenty- three years young with a three-year-old wrapped around my thighs, a sixteen-month-old in one arm, a newborn in the other, and a godforsaken look of “Help!” writ across my face.

It was about this time that, as mentioned in the previous chapter, our marriage dove headlong into mess, we lost our income for too long to hang onto our home, and we experienced religious restlessness and a whole heap of other life challenges. Those early years redefined my own terms for what it meant to be drowning in the lifeblood leaking from every pore on my body. My internal equipment just wasn’t mature and qualified enough for my external reality, a reality that was demanding more of me than I could bear

What happened to me is what some psychologists call an identity crisis, a term coined in the early 1950s by Erik Erikson to refer to a state of confusion and unhappiness over one’s sense of self. If anyone had thought to ask me “Who are you?” in my good and lucid moments—which were few and far between—I could’ve answered with just about nothing.

I don’t know if you’ve ever felt the pain of not knowing who you are or if you feel that pain right now, but what can easily happen in that place of ache is that you start looking at other people, extracting the qualities you like about them, and injecting those qualities into your person as a substitute for what you don’t understand about yourself.

This is no bueno and that was what I did. In my naiveté, I saw the people around me as more inherently gifted than I was, so I decided that self-fulfillment meant adopting their God-given gifts as my own. I looked at this person’s way of socializing and that person’s version of hospitality and another person’s artistic expression and began mimicking their nuances. Before I knew any better, I had squeezed my shape into several different ill-fitting molds at once, while cramming my own personhood into a tiny, overlooked corner in the nether regions of my body.

What I didn’t realize at the time was how devastated my spirit would become under the influence of everyone else’s borrowed qualities. Other people’s gifts and character traits are designed to enhance, enrich, and complement our own, but never act as substitute for them.

A healthy sense of self-identity seemed to be a luxury I didn’t have the currency for . . .”

(Excerpt from Erika Morrison’s book, Bandersnatch: An Invitation to Explore Your Unconventional Soul.)


The cardinals make it look so easy. The honeybees make it look so easy. The catfish and the black crow, the dairy cow and the cactus plant, all make being created appear effortless. They arise from the earth, do their beautiful, exclusive thing and die having fulfilled their fate.

None of nature seems to struggle to know who they are or what to do with themselves.

But humanity is the exception to nature’s rule because we’re individualized within our breed. We’re told by our mamas and mentors that--like snowflakes--no two of us are the same and that we each have a special purpose and part to play within the great Body of God.

(If your mama never told you this, consider yourself informed: YOU--your original cells and skin-print, guts and ingenuity--will never ever incarnate again. Do you believe it?)

So we struggle and seek and bald our knees asking variations of discovery-type questions (Who am I? Why am I here?) and if we’re semi-smart and moderately equipped we pay attention just enough to wake up piecemeal over years to the knowledge of our vital, indigenous selves.

And yet . . . even for all our wrestling and wondering, there are certain, abundant factors stacked against our waking up. We feel and fight the low ceiling of man made definitions, systems and institutions; we fight status quo, culture conformity, herd mentalities and more often than not, “The original shimmering self gets buried so deep that most of us end up hardly living out of it at all. Instead we live out of all our other selves, which we are constantly putting on and taking off like coats and hats against the world’s weather.” ~Frederick Buechner

So, let me ask you. Do you know something--anything--of your true, original, shimmering self?

I don’t mean: Coffee Drinker, Jesus Lover, Crossfitter, Writer, Wife, Mama.

Those are your interests and investments.

I do mean: Who are you undressed and naked of the things that tell you who you are?

Who are you before you became a Jesus lover or mother or husband?

Who are you without your church, your hobbies, your performances and projects?

I’m not talking about your confidence in saying, “I am a child of God”, either. What I am asking a quarter-dozen different ways is this: within the framework of being a child of God, what part of God do you represent? Do you know where you begin and where you end? Do you know the here-to-here of your uniqueness? Do you know, as John Duns Scotus puts it, your unusual, individual “thisness”?

I can’t resolve this question for you, I can only ask you if you’re interested.

(Are you interested . . . ?)

Without being formulaic and without offering one-size-fits-all “how-to” steps, Bandersnatch: An Invitation to Explore Your Unconventional Soul is support material for your soul odyssey; a kind of field guide designed to come alongside the moment of your unfurling.

Come with me? And I will go with you and who will care and who will lecture if you wander around a little bit every day to look for your own and only God-given glow?

If you’re interested, you can order wherever books and eBooks are sold.

Or, if you’d like to read the first three chapters and just see if Bandersnatch is something for such a time as the hour you’re in, click HERE.

All my love,