Walking each other home: Book review of Stitches by Anne Lamott

IMG_2539970996080 “My time is limited. I’m dyingyou know. Not that anybody cares.”

Sigh.

It is one of those conversations where I catch myself with one hand on the receiver and one hand on the ground so that the Earth’s trajectory – and her self pity – doesn’t send me hurling into space.

“Are you going to die today?”

“Well, no.”

“Good. I love you.”

“I love you too.”

It’s been almost four years since I first met Anne Lamott in Traveling Mercies. A lot has happened in those four years and in that time, I have read every non-fiction book she has written. I find that how I receive her books is very much contingent on where I am at when I read them. What jumps out at me today, might be entirely different tomorrow.

ultimately, we are just walking each other home. – Ram Dass

The main alcoholic in my life is dying Not today, or tomorrow, but soon. They have a year maybe two at the most left.I think they need to live with me so that I can help and they think they need to stay exactly where they are (over 1, 000 miles away.) They want to die the same way they live: On their terms.

I think that stinks, but nobody asked me.

I can either spend what is left of their life arguing with them, or I can see them for who they are, a child of God, and allow them the dignity of making their own choices.

Stitches is full of Anne’s trademark dry humor, subtle wisdom, and gentle heart. It’s almost poetic in its writing style and it’s soft-spoken much like Anne’s actual speaking voice. Rather than hammer at you, she almost whispers. Stitches is like a sacred conversation between old friends.

Anne writes and speaks with gentle authority and with the wisdom of a woman who has been there, done that, and lived to tell about it. Whether it’s as the overly sensitive child who learned the freedom that comes from choosing to see what is really going on, the woman who is walking her husband home after 40 years, the best friend who grieves, the mother with a mentally ill son, or the teacher who doesn’t give up – Anne teaches us that life is a miracle, the sun continues to rise with or without our permission, that we are not rags, and that if we hold hands, we can stand against the wind.

I don’t know what season you are in. For me, I’m in the thick of chapter two – The Overly Sensitive Child. Perhaps you are facing life without your mate, a sick or wayward child, the loss of a best friend or a community tragedy much like what hit Moore Oklahoma this year. And maybe you are wondering how to stitch your life back together.

Maybe, like me you need to hear that it’s okay to let other people in , that beauty has meaning, we can take our own turn and that we are not rags. Whatever season you are in, or what you may need to hear, Stitches is a book that has something for everyone. I give it 5 stars.

You can get your copy at Amazon.com

DISCLOSURE AGREEMENT: While I do at times receive free copies of books in exchange for honest reviews, no goods or services were received in exchange for this review. I purchased the book myself via Amazon and enjoyed it so much that I wanted to tell my readers about it.

Pondering Peace

Luke 2:19 “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

Have you ever been so blown away by God that all you could do was ponder? If I were to sum up my feelings and my heart over the past week, that would be it. I’m treasuring all that I have seen and pondering those things in my heart right now.

Now there is a word you don’t hear much, PONDER. What does ponder mean?

According to the Merriam/Webster Dictionary

transitive verb
1
: to weigh in the mind : appraise <pondered their chances of success>
2
: to think about : reflect on <pondered the events of the day>
intransitive verb
: to think or consider especially quietly, soberly, and deeply
 I made a decision recently that has a few people in an uproar. Only a handful of those closest to my heart and inner circle know about this decision. I know that I am following God and that he is not a God of division and I am trusting that he will find a way.
Please forgive me for choosing to keep it close to my heart for the time being. I’ve actually been writing on it at great lengths in private and yet it’s not coming together. I do know why now. It’s not coming together because I’ve been trying to testify to myself rather than of God. I’m defending and not proclaiming. I’m stuck in worry when I should be resting in hope.
When the fullness of time comes and only once He gives me the words, I will testify to Him.
Luke 2113 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.

Entertaining Angels, God with Skin On

Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2

It is important to have friends you can be 100% yourself with. I have those. We try our best to be there for each other whenever we are needed. Life happens sometimes though and our friends are not always available. Those are the moments I take to God. Sometimes he sends me someone, and sometimes it’s just us. He must have known I needed an angel this week.

Well, not literally, I don’t think anyway. I can say one thing, they did not come in the neatly wrapped package I usually prefer (ie well known to me and female.) They are part of a group I am in and I believe they use a nom de plume. People I trust know them and therefore I talk to them on occasion. 

Don’t get me wrong, I know that blind trust is a sin and we don’t discuss anything deep or too revealing – safety rules and all – but we do talk sometimes, mostly about comedy, sometimes about faith. I like the whole no preconceived expectations aspect of that and I enjoy talking with them. They know more than I and I love surrounding myself with people further down the path. It’s how I grow.

I also set boundaries because they appear to be male. I’m not above temptation and will not replace things I should tell my husband with a stranger. There is no lure in that for me. I’m in ministry to serve God. Even so, I am fully aware of my own potential pitfalls and watch for those slopes.  The fact that He (meaning God) can even use me astounds me sometimes. I don’t want to mess that up.

I find it interesting how willing we are to let down our masks with strangers, more so than with friends. While I reveal a lot here for you, I do strive to keep the private out of the personal. I only share that which I think might benefit someone else because we are not alone in our daily struggles. Some things are universal. While it is true there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, not everything is everyone’s business nor do I wish to glamorize sin.

I’m a sinner saved by Grace, through faith. No more. No less.

Even so, I caught myself telling him things I don’t typically share with people in my comedy group. Like how I wasn’t raised in a church. I don’t talk about that. Must have needed to.

 I caught myself wanting to know who they really were and even tried to trick them at one point. The Holy Spirit tweaked me on that one and I apologized.  I finally gave up the ghost.  I believe that God puts people in our lives for a reason. This weekend I needed a prayer partner. I was genuinely upset about something and had requested prayer for a person. I failed to explain that I was on the ceiling myself over the situation but somehow talking with them calmed me down.

Ministry can do that. So many people are hurting in this world and I’ve yet to find a channel or way to listen to their hurt without drowning in it myself. I never want to become so cold-hearted that I feel nothing when someone shares pain. Even so, balance is good.

 I needed someone to talk to and this person was there and I appreciate that.

Truth is, knowing me, as much as I’d like to believe I’d be fully myself I’d probably try to impress them with my brilliance or baffle them with my BS and neither sounds satisfying. 

God gave me an ear to listen, and heart to hear and prayers when I needed them most.

Not knowing who he really is, keeps God’s face ever before me. — And for that, I am thankful.

“I will not wish thee riches nor the glow of greatness, but that wherever thou go, some weary heart shall gladden at thy smile, or shadowed life know sunshine for awhile. And so thy path shall be a track of light, like angels‘ footsteps passing through” — Words on a church wall in Upwaltham England

Fears Erased Daily

No clue where this is but I want one. Molly posted it on Facebook today. Wouldn't it be cool if we could write our fears on a chalkboard and then erase them? Can you imagine how empowering that would be?

I’m looking through a different mirror today, one that isn’t my own necessarily. I discovered that someone I care about is afraid of me. Shocked and more than slightly concerned, I wonder how I missed that.

They have me on a pedestal that I don’t belong on and when I expressed displeasure over a specific action I watched them go through an internal meltdown that I cannot control. Man that was painful to watch. You can see the brain turning and the lies manifest in a physical crumbling of the body and a tearing up of the eyes and you can’t stop it.

They are convinced because I expressed disappointment in an action that we can no longer be friends.

Every fiber of my being wants to wrap my arms around that wound that lies to their soul and love them.  I’d do it except that it’s not my place really. I’m not invited.

Fear is an awesome captor and a devil of liar. Fear whispers – “See they don’t love you, they think you are a horrible person and failure as a friend. You don’t deserve that. Send them away, I’ll keep you company, I won’t share your secrets. I won’t wound you like she did.” Think of Golum from Lord of the Rings, do you remember his evil alter ego? If I could paint you a word picture to describe what fear looks like angry, it would be that.

I know, because I’ve been there.

Fear lies. Whenever we are afraid of someone and they offer the slightest criticism, fear tells us they are wounding our soul and questioning our value to breathe air. And so we breathe deep, we stand tall and we make fits – and like three-year old children we attack the person who dares question us and we find safety under a mask of emotional violence. And then, just like that, we run away and hide our wounded selves.

Fear is selfish. It demands attention and hates to be ignored. It doesn’t want what’s best for you it  needs attention to flourish. Left ignored it dies.

Fear is afraid of light. Why? Because light heals the broken and musty places of our inner being. If I take away her fear or in any way try to diminish it,  uninvited, I rob her of growth.

I try to remember those mentors in my life who walk with me and love me through fear and think about what they do that I might do the same. Only I got nothin. Then, after seeing three posts on fear just this very morning my answer came. Those I invited in did embrace that wounded part of me.  I have to be willing to be vulnerable. I have to be willing to say out loud the lies fear whispers to my brain. And for those times when fear held me captive, those I did not invite in, let me go with love and peace.

I’m not invited. I do not cause her fear, I cannot control it, nor can I cure it.

And so, I love her and I wish her well. And I know, that like me – she will find her way in this crazy thing we call life.

My Back Porch, A Blanket and a Fire to Keep me Warm

Cover of "Laughing in the Dark: A Comedia...
Cover via Amazon

I made a reference yesterday about the year I lost it. Those of you who’ve known me for a while know what I’m talking about, but for the rest let me fill you in a little. Life got crazy from 2003-2004 and while trying to handle everything on my own, I eventually snapped. You might say I went through an 18 month season of sifting, pruning, and deep grief. Some of it was my own making, and some of it was not. Whatever label you want to put on that season, the end result was the same, I was diagnosed with clinical depression in June of 2004. My depression was so deep that I spent the next 12 months in what I call an emotional black out. I functioned, but as my friends would say, “the lights were on, but ain’t nobody home.”

I’m not sure when I snapped exactly. The downward spiral began in 2003. Within roughly 14 months from March of 2003 to May of 2004, I ruptured my ACL,  buried 10 of my closest friends, lost the only school my kids had ever known, among other more personal issues I won’t bore you with here, and I erroneously believed the “cure” for my grief was to take on more responsibility. Pretty arrogant hunh?

By the time my brain and denial collided, I had already spent months sitting on my back porch every night. I’ll never forget being wrapped in a blanket, chain-smoking, and staring into the blankness,  for hours at time. In the morning, I’d wake up, pull up my bootstraps and drive to work across town.  As soon as work ended, I would go back on the porch and shut down.

When I finally did see a doctor, I was pretty deep and he was ready to put me in the hospital. This is how depression lied to me, I was blaming someone for mine. A few someones actually and my response to my doctor was “I’ll be jacked if I’m going to give him the satisfaction of putting me in the nut house. I’m stronger than he is.” As if I was the center of some evil plot to drive me insane. Depression lies to us, big time. For some strange reason my doctor didn’t force the issue and we settled out-patient therapy instead.

My pride and ego got in the way from allowing myself to be hospitalized. I should have listened to my doctor — I would have recovered much more quickly.

The good news though, is I did recover. I spent three plus years in therapy, both group and private, and on medication. I learned how to be more authentic and honest with my thoughts and feelings and I learned what to watch for in case it happens again. In my case, I have not needed meds for roughly three years, but if I ever spiral again I’ll be on them for life.

Several of my friends and acquaintances have experienced depression in their lives.  I met Chonda Pierce during my downward spiral. She is a sweetheart and she writes about her own experiences in Laughing In The Dark.  There is a blogger on my page, Pastor Todd Peppercorn (You can see him listed under Pastor Blogs). He writes When I Trust My Dark Road and I read him from time to time.

I could rattle off a few more names of people I like who have been through depression, but I hope you get my point. While I was never suicidal, a lot of my friends who experienced depression were. I lost a friend to depression ten years ago, and that breaks my heart. Depression kills.

 It was during this dark season that I did in my old blogs and threw away a lot of my writings. I did that because I believed at the time that I’d never be a writer or speaker or of any worth to God or anyone else ever again.

Wow was I wrong.

I’m bringing this up today because a friend of mine posted a plea on her Facebook page — she said “You’re too blessed to be depressed is bs. Don’t say that to anyone. Ever. Please.” She’s right. It’s not true and it’s not helpful. Depression is real. It’s not self-pity. Depression hurts. It debilitates and it lies.

A local pastor and part-time mentor is seeking in patient treatment for his depression and burn out. While my heart hurts for him and his family, I admire his humility and his willingness to seek treatment. 

I do know that while I was depressed I sought God in the things of God, in myself, other people, and my work. In seeking him in the wrong places, I missed him along the way. It was only after I fell apart that I found his healing and his Grace. Today I know the hope and the healing that comes on the other side. I pray the same for for anyone else suffering today.

 I found my voice, my courage and my king in my dark night — getting help is not a sign of weakness, it’s sign of strength.

Thank you for letting me share.

Next.

Modern Evangelism: Your Church Sucks, Come to ours instead

I am a sword carrying idiot. I’ve been known to wrecklessly wield my good intentions at people and not only cut their ears off, but their heads as well.  This blog post is as much about me as it is THEM.

 

Remember when there used to be ethics in advertising? There was a day when companies would spend their ad dollars on themselves without ever once mentioning the competition. I miss those days. I could be wrong, but I think Burger King was the first nationally known company to advertise against someone else. That someone else being McDonalds.  It was only a matter of time before everyone followed suit and today some companies go so far trashing the competition that the only name I remember from the commercial is the other brand. Yeah that’s effective.

Politicians do the same thing. They spend their advertising budget slandering their opponent without ever saying what they themselves stand for.

What saddens me is churches and some pastors are following the same path. Not just in my LCMS world either. Follow Twitter for a while and you’ll see what I mean – pastor’s world-wide trashing other pastors and churches for being different.

You’re going to hell and I’m not and let me tell you why. – ooh love me some piety. With an opening like that, I don’t even want to be in the same room as you, much less be stuck with you for eternity.

The emergent church this.

The liturgical church that.

This conference is horrible and ours is much Godlier – wanna know why? No not anymore, I send my kids to that and you just accused me of being ungodly for doing so. Besides – the horse you’re riding on is so high, I can’t hear all the way down here in the gutter you act like I live in.

Marketing 101 says “Don’t waste precious resources (dollars and time) talking about someone else’s brand. Talk about your own.

Every worthwhile communication skills book I’ve ever read tells me not to start with you statements. You statements are confrontational and achieve nothing more than putting the other person in a defensive position. People don’t hear anything past a slam; it’s ineffective and childish. You’ve just told me I’m an idiot, bad parent, ungodly, whatever for supporting X and you want me to listen to you? Fat chance bub.

Insulting me – which is what happens with you statements, doesn’t make you look better in my eyes, it makes you look like, well… a donkey.

Imagine if we spoke to our spouses or kids like that? You never take out the trash. You’re lazy why can’t you keep the house looking the way I like it? You never listen to me. You… you… you…

Problem is, the real issue is rarely about you and really about me — I have a need that is going unmet and I while I may not be intentionally blaming you for it, I’m going to defend it even if it means cutting your head off. You statements breed rebellion or worse – little deaths of esteem, trust, respect and maybe even the relationship.

The only thing that can heal that is the supernatural touch of Christ.

Remember Peter and the night in the garden? He cut off the ear of a Roman soldier sent to take Christ to Pilate.

John 18: 1When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was an olive grove, and he and his disciples went into it.

 2Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. 3So Judas came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.

 4Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”

 5″Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.

   “I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) 6When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.

 7Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?”
      And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.”

 8″I told you that I am he,” Jesus answered. “If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” 9This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”[a]

 10Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)

 11Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

The Gospel of Luke Chapter 22 states this as well: 

47While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, 48but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”

 49When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” 50And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.

 51But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.

Poor Peter – just hours before this little skirmish he told Jesus he was ready to follow him to prison and even death. But Jesus knew better. Peter was passionate to be sure and his passion was actually a stumbling block for the progression of the church and the Gospel. Peter wound up being humbled through incredible failure – he denied knowing Jesus three times.

I’m a former Shaolin Swordsman. I know how heavy swords are and how to properly wield them. The laws of physical science also prove that Peter wasn’t going for the guard’s ear. He was wielding that sword perpendicular to the ground and going for his head. Fortunately the soldier ducked.

How does that apply to today’s world? Well meaning (I hope) and passionate people – people like you and like me – are wielding verbal swords at each other – intending I believe to defend Christ – only we mess it up and cut each other’s ears and heads off with you statements and arrogant piety, and Christ has to intervene and tell us to stop.

My passion for truth can be a stumbling block for many – and it takes the hand of Christ to heal the ears I’ve cut off in my life.

My actions in my life have also denied Christ a time or two. My sword has probably turned more people off than on when it comes to the Christian faith.

I “get” Peter. I understand his love, his wellmeaningness and his passion. I used to carry his sword with me and wielded it any chance I got, confusing those who disagreed with me, with the enemy. Maybe that is why I kinda like some of these younger missionaries I see passionately supporting their stand. They are in the Gethsemane season of life – praying lest they fall into temptation – defending Jesus with all their soul and might – thinking they know what lies ahead, but they really don’t. Not yet. They are living on the dark side of the resurrection if you will. And what I mean by that, is they see the Law – Jesus having to suffer and die for our sins – and they have not lived long enough yet to see the Gospel – The Ressurected Christ, the grace and mercy bestowed upon our lives. They’re not there yet.

They too will be humbled and they too will be restored – just like Peter and the rest of us sword carrying idiots – and soon enough they will learn how to fish again.

Who is the swordsman in your life? Is it you? Or is it someone else. How do you deal with swords that come your way?

This blog post written by Deana O’Hara for Redemption’s Heart. All rights reserved. July 16, 2010

“We Found a Mass.”

 There are words a woman wants to hear and words a woman doesn’t.  “We found a mass,” definitely falls into the does not want to hear category. And yet, those are the very words my husband and I heard at Southcrest Hospital on Easter Morning.

My family and I had planned on spending Easter with my Dad. Instead we wound up leaving church early because I had gotten very ill, very suddenly.  My plan was to ride it out and hope the feeling passed and when it didn’t, I let Jeff take me to the hospital.

I didn’t want to go to the Hospital. I wanted to be home serving Easter dinner. I’d spent all day Saturday cooking for both the people at Ablaze who’d helped with our Egg Hunt, and for our family on Sunday. I hadn’t finished cleaning everything up yet and I wanted to be at home cleaning that up before my Dad came over.  My son was home from college for the weekend, I wanted to be with him, enjoying our time together. I didn’t want to be tired, and in an emergency room waiting on test results.

I’ve been having strange symptoms for a few months now. Mood swings, stomach pain, horrible monthly cycles, and my Dr and I had concluded that I was in early menopause. The thought that maybe I’m depressed had crossed my mind as well, even though it didn’t really seem to fit everything else. Secretly, I was afraid I was going crazy.

The good news is:

I’m not depressed — I really am tired from all the blood loss and whatnot.

I’m not crazy.

I’m not in menopause.

The not-so-great news is, I have a mass in my uterus that is 5x8x10 cm. (about the size of a small orange perhaps.) that is causing all these erratic symptoms.

An unwelcome intruder has been the cause of my distress.

I talk to my regular doctor today and we’ll get the appropriate referrals to a gynecologist. I’ve already self diagnosed this puppy as a fibroid. Those are simple to fix and are not uncommon in women my age.

Even more important than my self diagnosis and stupid jokes I’ve been telling for a day now about errant Easter Eggs, is the phone message I received this morning. A beloved friend called via phone tree and spoke about Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord. Plans not to harm you, but for a future and a hope.”

God has a plan for me, and for my family, and for you my readers. His plans are always better than mine.

My plan, was to be in church, have dinner with my family, and just enjoy the day. His plan involved my getting so sick I had to go to the hospital. Without my getting sick, I wouldn’t know about the mass and wouldn’t be receiving proper medical treatment. His hand is on this, on my family, and on me — praying you see His hand on your day as well.

This post written by Deana O’Hara for Redemption’s Heart. All rights reserved.