Thursday, May 1, 2014

My poetry chapbook is now on sale!

 
 
Preorders for my poetry chapbook are now available
 

 
 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

you know I do


First Peter, bold and emphatic, slices off an ear, and hours later fear has caught him by the throat
and he denies and denies and denies. Peter denied Jesus but was outside the temple, waiting.
Afraid and waiting, then cursing and denying.

I do not know him!

Yes. I know the same crowing. It startles the souls.

I am afraid.

I make people afraid.

She had been bent double for eighteen years and was unable to stand up straight.

They assume she has done something wrong to have yet receive her healing. So they will shut her away. Keep her quiet. Her suffering makes them ask. Makes them doubt. Certainly she has done something to be cursed! There must be an answer because they do not believe in a God who would allow a daughter to suffer for so long! There must be unrepented sin! Witchcraft! Blasphemy!

Will God allow us to suffer for as long as she has?

She needs correction. Criticism. Set her straight so we do not have to ask the same questions she is asking! Asking! Asking!

I was bold and emphatic once, then fear caught me by the throat. I have journeyed into this darkness that will not shut me away, though I want to be hidden. That will not quiet me, though I long to be stilled. If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.

All around me voices are crying He is risen! He is risen, indeed!

...the same power that rose Christ Jesus from the dead...

But I have yet to rise from the darkness. It is not the darkness of a tomb. It is the darkness of the question no one wants to ask for fear of the rooster crowing, and yet I ask it, again and again and again.

And He who has not forsaken me asks, do you love me? do you love me? do you love me?

Yes. Yes. Even in the darkness, yes, Lord, you know I do.















Tuesday, April 8, 2014

hello. i am a screw-up, married to a screw-up.


 One of the beautiful and miserable aspects of walking with Jesus is knowing you are completely and utterly loved, while also knowing you are a complete and utter screw-up. Sure, you can gain a good deal of knowledge and growth over the years walking with Him, but as soon as even the slightest bit of pride enters into your stride, you find yourself tripping over your own feet, saying, "Shit! What was I thinking? I really need Jesus to guide me in this life!"

 For whatever blessed reason, Jesus has really made sure that my husband and I stay in a place of needing Him, or better stated: a place of utter and complete writhing in desperation for Him, our faces smashed and bleeding on the cement.

 My early life before marriage was kind of typical. I spent my first eleven years in the suburbs of Pennsylvania, close to extended family members and had a close-knit group of friends. We attended a local church, I sang in the choir, and I adored Jesus. Then, my family was suddenly uprooted and dropped down into the hell flames of Boca Raton, Florida, and everything changed. The culture in Boca was nothing like what I had known. The school was four times the size of my previous school, there were clicks, rich people, poor people, diverse cultures, and teachers had no time or interest in the lives of their students.

 Within six years of living in Boca, I was drinking, doing drugs and having sex. I had been beaten, raped, abused and molested. I believed God existed, but I also believed I had let Him down too much, was too far gone and trapped in a lifestyle I could not change.

 At eighteen, I moved away to Tallahassee, Florida to attend college, and during a couple of years I found myself overwhelmed by God's wooing. I found a wonderful church, made Christian friends
and a year later I met my husband-to-be. Jeremy was 19. He had grown up in a Christian home, and the church he had attended was what you might call legalistic. From an early age he realized there was no one in his church he could relate to, plus being bullied and smacked around by older kids in children's church didn't exactly give him the impression that Christianity was a religion about love.

 So he found his group, as all children do, and it was with the broken boys, the ones he would grow up with and drink and smoke pot together. He eventually got a DUI. Then he moved away to college and roomed with a rich cocaine dealer. Coke became Jeremy's drug of choice. He did so much one night he looked in the mirror and could see his heart beating in his chest. So Jeremy prayed, drove back home, high, on the highway, to his parent's house, knowing he needed Jesus.

 Jeremy was just a good six or so months into his walk with Jesus when we met, and we married three months later, got pregnant three weeks later --and during that time a strange physical problem I had had on-and-off for the past year, decided to kick in and never leave. We had a beautiful baby boy three days before I turned 22, and six months later, Jeremy was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

 We had no idea what the hell we were going to do, or why Jesus gave us these great things along with such horrible ones.

 I would have to write a very long memoir to contain the crazy story that God has taken us through over these 19 years, but the proof of Jesus working in our lives is undeniable, although it has (and continues to) hurt like hell.

 With regret I can tell you that it wasn't until our son was about 15 that Jeremy and I stopped having screaming fights. Ugly, cursing fights were a norm in our home. In 2006, Jeremy's father died and Jeremy's drinking became the worst it had ever been. Then, in 2007, after my father killed himself in our front yard, we sought the help of a Christian marriage counselor, and Jeremy and I learned (finally!) how to communicate honestly, without yelling. Our fighting slowly decreased, and now it is extremely rare --so much so our son noticed and made the point to tell us a few years ago.

 Never mind the large amounts of past hurts Jeremy and I have brought along with us into our marriage (separate counselors are there for that), the tragic loss of our fathers, our being hurt by many Christians, or our financial struggles, for there remains two huge problems in our lives: for me, it is this untreatable, chronic condition that has, from the get-go, made me suicidal (I was hospitalized twice before my son was 3). For Jeremy, it's been the struggle of wanting to withdraw, and who can blame him? There's my debilitating disorder and depression he has no real power to heal (although he sacrifices every day to help me) and during the past couple of years he injured his lower back, so now he has daily pain, plus his blood sugar levels are a constant battle. At the end of the day, he just wants to retreat and watch YouTube videos of guitarists rocking out while he eats a bowl of cereal.

 Neither one of us has the best ingredients for a "happy marriage", but we have been there for each other, even when it has seemed the other has not. Even when we complain about one another. Even when we avoid each other. Even when we are fearful to be honest with the other, but eventually are.

 We could have thrown the towel in a million times, but even so, we have continued to keep Jesus as our hope. Otherwise, why would we continue to pray, to study His word, to seek counsel, to pray for one another, to even take chances to confide our pain in Christian friends, despite the dozens of times we have been injured by doing so?

Overall, Jeremy and I have learned there are two important ingredients to apply every day to sustain our secure, fumbling marriage, and the first is to say "I love you" as often as possible, and the second is to say, "I'm sorry you're not feeling well, is there anything I can do to help?"
In the end, isn't that where we find Jesus: loving and caring for us, utterly and completely, as screwed-up as we are?





Thursday, April 3, 2014

swinging from joy to despair, and back again

 
 For twenty years I have heard the long list, the opinions, the sermons, the pat answers. I have read hundreds of books, prayed the prayers and fasted. I have stood on God's promises. I have had the laying on of hands. I have performed spiritual warfare. Rebuked demons and called on angels. I have believed, and I have doubted.

 Last year more than thirty of my friends and family fasted and prayed for me for a month. And yet here I remain, a pendulum swinging from feeling safe, normal and hopeful, to the other extreme: shaking with anxiety, crying, hopeless, desperate thoughts raging in my head, and all due to suffering. SUFFERING. For twenty years.

 If you know my story, you know the extensive lists of physicians, specialists, and therapists available in the medical community that I have sought. You know the many expensive procedures, nerve blocks and medications I have tried and the handful I am on. You also know the extreme measures I have gone to, from having an injection in the most sensitive of areas, to having my brain zapped --and both treatments were unsuccessful.

 I still try, with what is left in me, to hold out hope. I still cry and plead with God every day. Every. single. day. I attend a weekly bible study with great friends, I see a Christian counselor, and most precious to me is the love and support from my husband, and the sweet, tender heart of my son. I continue to seek Him, but after twenty years of swinging week to week from one extreme to the other... it is difficult to believe there is an end in sight.

 I look back ten years ago, when I was thirty, still young enough and still na├»ve enough to believe in the goodness of God, to believe that the medical community would study PGAD and come up with a cure. It is difficult for me to have faith in either of them now.

 I have to admit, I look around at the lives of many believers I have known over these twenty years  who have endured, and continue to endure, great trials and suffering, and I see the same hopelessness, weariness, anything but this "victorious life" we were taught we'd have. We have put our energy and faith into God and His word, only to continue in our personal pain, see our loved ones suffer and die, for great sorrow to wear us down. I know all the responses Christians make concerning this. I have been told that even though I cannot recognize it, I actually am walking in victory, I mean, God has sustained me for 20 years, right? He hasn't let me give up yet! I should feel privileged that He has chosen me to suffer, because my suffering has comforted others, and I should recognize His hand working in my life, and be grateful for all that He has taught me through suffering. As much as these statements may be true, my current response is: Well, isn't that just great?

 I am with St Teresa of Avila who cried out,“God, if this is the way you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them!”

I do not have an answer or happy ending to this blog. I am simply stating, again, where I am: swinging from joy to despair, week-to-week, praying Psalm 13 again and again... and still not receiving an answer.

 

Psalm 13

1O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
How long will you look the other way?
2 How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
with sorrow in my heart every day?
How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

3 Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!
Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.
4 Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, "We have defeated him!"
Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.

5 But I trust in your unfailing love.
I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
6 I will sing to the Lord
because he is good to me.





Saturday, March 22, 2014

my dirty, ugly prayers



Sometimes when I pray, I call God names. Ugly names. I mean, I really tear into Him with curse words and insults. I am usually suffering, angry, and at my wits end when I pray this way. I tell Him I am giving up, that He's a bleeping son of a bleep. That I hate Him. That if He wants me to be different, to have faith, to trust Him, to not suffer, to not always resort to suicidal thoughts, then HE is going to have to bleeping do something about it, because I am no Job! I am not able to say "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised." Oh, hell no! I am all, "Hey Lord, you've taken away so much from me, you bleeeeep!"

Your jaw may have dropped open by now, but listen: I am honest with my Father and my Lord and Savior, and make no apologies for it. These "dirty, ugly" thoughts are in my heart anyway, so none of it surprises Him. He always hears me out, cursing and all, and I love Him for it. Many times, and I mean many many times, after my "dirty, ugly" prayers, God surprises me. Sometimes it's within an hour, or a day or week. Suddenly I'll have strength where I had none, or my symptoms decrease, or I am able to wake before sunset! It's crazy. He's crazy! After cursing Him out, God responds to me with love! Maybe that's because He is love, maybe it's because He truly sees how naked and weak and desperate I am. Many times I have even given Him ultimatums, which I have always been taught is a big no-no. "No drawing lines in the sand with God." Well, I don't draw lines, I dig huge, bleeping trenches and say, "IT'S ALL YOU, GOD! IT IS YOUR TURN TO DO SOMETHING, YOU BIG BLEEPING JERK!"

For years I was taught from the pulpit or from legalistic Christians that God is scary. Don't piss Him off. Be on your best behavior. Hide your true feelings from Him. Be polite and humble and self-degrading when you pray, or else He's gonna getcha!

The Father God I have come to know sees me, His small and weak and angry daughter, cursing at Him while digging what I think is a trench, which He sees like the moat a child digs around a sand castle. He smiles kindly at me, steps over the moat, and says, "Let me show you my love, little one."

This reminds me of something quite impressive in a book I am reading (and highly recommend) called Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality and Morality by Richard Beck. In the book, Beck focuses on the psychology of disgust, and how this has and continues to effect the church. It's so deep and fascinating I could write about it all night, but in keeping with my "dirty, ugly" prayer, I want to offer an illustration the author uses that blew my mind:

"If I am to touch... some feces to your cheeseburger the cheeseburger gets ruined, permanently... Importantly, the cheeseburger doesn't make the feces suddenly scrumptious. When the pure and the polluted come into contact the pollutant is the more powerful force. The negative dominates the positive. Negativity dominance has important missional implications for the church. For example, notice how negativity dominance is at work in Matthew 9. The Pharisees never once consider the fact that the contact between Jesus and the sinners might have a purifying, redemptive, and cleansing effect upon the sinners. Why not? The logic of contamination simply doesn't work that way. The logic of contamination has the power of the negative dominating over the positive. Jesus doesn't purify the sinners. The sinners make Jesus unclean. ...What is striking about the gospel accounts is how Jesus reverses negativity dominance. Jesus is, to coin a term, positivity dominance. Contact with Jesus purifies." (Bold emphasis mine)

I understand that Beck is not talking about prayer here, but when I read this I understood why I never feel guilty after I pray my dirty, ugly, curse-word laden, degrading-God's-very-character prayers, and the reason is because I am like the sinners, coming into contact with Holiness Himself! My words do not offend or hurt God, in fact, He is able to understand exactly where they are coming from and why I am saying them, and He responds to me, saying, "Yes, I completely understand why you are saying these things. You are in My presence, and it is here that I change, purify, redeem and cleanse you." In really weird layman's terms: The cheeseburger touching the feces actually turns the feces into something scrumptious.

Now I know some of you may be citing James 3:8 -10, "But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way."

It is important to note that this verse is about cursing fellow humans, and that kind of cursing can be defined as degrading another person or wishing evil upon them. I have found, that more often than not, degrading someone is done without using what our culture has deemed "curse words." There is no such thing as a "curse word" --but that's a blog for another time.

The verses from James is a reflection of what Jesus says in Matthew 5:22 "...whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ will be in danger of the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of Gehenna." When translated, "Raca" means "Good for nothing." Note these degrading words do not contain "curse words." Jesus knows that when we insult or degrade one another in any form, it does emotional damage. Jesus, on the other hand, cannot be emotionally damaged. Let me emphasis again, God already knows what is in our hearts! We are not fooling Him by using polite language.

Now, I'm not advocating for everyone to start using curse words in their prayers, and I understand that our culture and the church has claimed certain words to be "unclean" and some people would feel it is inappropriate, if not a sin, to include "curse words" in their prayers. What I am hoping for, if you get anything out of this blog, is that you can be utterly honest with God.

I readily admit that I am screwed-up and have issues, just like everyone else, but I have seen --and continue to see-- that when all of our stinking bleep is strewn out before the throne of God, He is not shocked, surprised or offended, and our crazily compassionate God will always respond to us with love, and even call us, each, "My beloved child." That is who our God is.

I will leave you with Psalm 88, a beautiful, ticked-off, doubting, desperate and blaming God for all my troubles song:


I Cry Out Day and Night Before You

A Song. A Psalm of the Sons of Korah. To the choirmaster: according to Mahalath Leannoth. A Maskil[a] of Heman the Ezrahite.

O Lord, God of my salvation;
    I cry out day and night before you.
Let my prayer come before you;
    incline your ear to my cry!
For my soul is full of troubles,
    and my life draws near to Sheol.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
    I am a man who has no strength,
like one set loose among the dead,
    like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
    for they are cut off from your hand.
You have put me in the depths of the pit,
    in the regions dark and deep.
Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
    and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah
You have caused my companions to shun me;
    you have made me a horror[b] to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
    my eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call upon you, O Lord;
    I spread out my hands to you.
10 Do you work wonders for the dead?
    Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah
11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
    or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
12 Are your wonders known in the darkness,
    or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
13 But I, O Lord, cry to you;
    in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 O Lord, why do you cast my soul away?
    Why do you hide your face from me?
15 Afflicted and close to death from my youth up,
    I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.[c]
16 Your wrath has swept over me;
    your dreadful assaults destroy me.
17 They surround me like a flood all day long;
    they close in on me together.
18 You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;
    my companions have become darkness.[d]





Friday, January 24, 2014

So anyway, my poetry manuscript is GOING TO BE PUBLISHED!


Yeah, it's no biggie. I've only been waiting for this since I was fifteen years old.

I've only submitted manuscripts of my poetry to publishers about half a dozen times within the past 25 years, but the closest I've ever come was receiving an "Honorable Mention" in a chapbook contest that was about six years ago, but it came without publishing. Of course I was thankful for the nod of encouragement, so the following year I submitted to yet another contest and did not receive anything but a rejection letter. After that, I wasn't able to go through the work and frustration again, so I stuck to just writing poems, figuring it wasn't God's will for me to have a chapbook. Ever.

I can't remember how it came about, but sometime last year, I found out that Finishing Line Press was holding a chapbook contest. I went to their website and was excited to read that even if your manuscript didn't place, it would be considered for publication. I knew about Finishing Line Press because many talented poets I know have had their chapbooks published by them. Even though the possibility of being rejected again was huge, I figured, why the hell not? It's not like I'm busy with anything, and this will give me something creative to do besides playing Scrabble on Facebook.

In case you are not familiar with the term, Writer's Digest defines a chapbook as "a small collection of poetry, generally no more than 40 pages, that often centers on a specific theme... It’s typically saddle-stitched (like a pamphlet or magazine) and is a format well suited to smaller print-runs." It's how most poets start out: a few chapbooks, and if you're good, then eventually a full length collection is published.

The work of putting my manuscript together for the contest was as much thrilling as it was depressing. I read through files, years of poetry, and in the end, I found only 30 poems that were maybe, just possibly worthy of being in a collection. So I edited and edited, cut, scrapped and rearranged words and stanzas like a collage of photographs.

When I finally had everything printed out and ready to mail, I prayed. I said something like this, "Lord, I know writing poetry is a gift that You have given me, and some of my poems have been very good, but I know that most people entering this contest are far more talented than I am. So, I've decided to leave the end result up to you, and since I will most likely be rejected, please help me to not get too depressed when I get the 'thanks, but no thanks' results."

Months went by, and I mean so many months that I actually forgot about the contest -well, that could  have a little to do with all the drugs I am on- but then, on the afternoon of January 12th, I woke up, had my chai tea and talked with the Big Guy, and got around to checking my e-mail and there was something from Finishing Line Press, with the subject reading, "CHAPBOOK ACCEPTANCE: water unto light". A few days later I got this in the mail:



Ever since, I have had moments of elation, anxiety, frustration, fear, joy, anger and just plain freaking-the-hell-out -but that emotional struggle I will cover in my next blog. In the meanwhile, please thank God with me, because He is the one who has made this happen! YAAAAH!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

expect more errors (a late new year post)


As I began to write this entry, a little window popped up on my computer screen that read something like, "Error: Possible problem with your *allgreek2me file. Expect more errors."

I had to smile, because "Expect more errors" has been a significant part of what God has been trying to teach me this past year of 2013. Come to think of it, it wouldn't be a bad idea if I were to have that line tattooed on the back of my hand for an excruciating five or six hours in every color available until the truth and pain and dye mixed with my blood, traveled up to my skull, and inscribed itself deep in my brain. Then, maybe I'd no longer be surprised when errors occur in my life, because, for some strange reason, I continue to be taken aback when something goes terribly wrong.

Take today, for instance: it was supposed to be a good day, and by today I mean yesterday (I live in the world of nocturnals). The night before (which would be your morning) I planned on going to bed early, just like I plan to do every night, but once again, I tragically failed. You'd think changing a sleeping schedule wouldn't be so hard, but it's extremely complicated, trust me. Some people have judged me as being irresponsible because of my sleeping routine, but it's not like I'm up partying or anything, I just have issues in nearly every part of my human being, and late nights are a symptom of the sickness.

Whenever I try to change my strange sleeping symptom --or any of my other unusual symptoms-- my deep down "error" resists with all it's got. It goes something like this: I take my sleeping medication a few hours before I normally do, hoping I might actually be able to wake up before sunset, but hell no, that little pill gives me the middle finger while sliding all the way down my throat. I can almost hear it laughing, "Ain't gonna happen, loser!" Then, I end up staying awake until dawn, 'til sleep finally finds me.

When I do wake up, and I mean like every time, it is always with pain. Lots of pain. (Jeez this is a happy blog!) So every afternoon or early evening when I wake, I get up, take three different prescription pills (two for pain, plus one muscle relaxer) then I go back into my bed and wait 20 minutes until some of the pain has faded and I can moan my way down the hall.

Last night and today, I attempted my useless approach to normalcy once again: I was going to go to bed before dawn, wake up before 4pm, and get out of the house to have a lovely dinner-and-a-movie with my husband, because, you see, we haven't even gone out to celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary, which was on November 19th, 2013!

But this is life with chronic disorders and pain, which I might be able to accept, if it weren't for the times when I have a couple of days with minimal pain or bother, and the thought occurs, "Hey, I am getting better! I may just be an almost-nearly-normal-girl now!" Oh, but give it a day or two, and  HOLY HELL that damn rug gets pulled out from under me and I'm right back to Heather's-depressing-life-as-a-near-shut-in with my ass on the same old pain-relief cushion, with the same old heating pad, sitting at the same computer, going to the same websites while the television is on some boring channel, like Home and Garden, and my husband is kindly waiting on me. There's usually a dog snuggled beside me though, which is nice.

Over this past year, I have been seeing a true-Godsend-of-a-Christian-counselor, and with her, God has helped me to see that even in this chronic-disorder-almost-useless-life: I am blessed. I am seriously blessed. I can't list the hundreds of ways, but my favorite are my bend-over-backwards, loving husband, my sweet and delightful son, our wonderful dogs and pretty house, my dear supportive mom, my friends, and how all of our needs are always provided for. For no particular reason, God continues to shower His love upon my family and I.

For this coming year of 2014, one of my main prayers is that God will help me to not freak out or become disheartened when those windows of error pop up in my life, but instead, learn to say "God, you are good. You are in control, and even with all these errors, I am still blessed. Thank you."