Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Standing on the Outside

There was a time when the words came easily, and there was relief in writing. My emotions spilled onto the page and I felt cleansed by the release. Now there is only frustration - words seem empty and meaningless. There are so many thoughts racing around inside my head that I can no longer express them. I want to stand somewhere far removed from everyone and scream until my throat is raw. I want to feel free to relinquish control and be in the moment; to grieve, to mourn, to hurt. I am tired of being strong. I am tired of being calm. I am tired of smiling when I want to cry, of speaking softly when I want to shout, and of staying the course when I want to run away.

If only I could find words to express these feelings... But everything I write seems stilted and feels worthless. Years ago, I wrote a small collection of poems that brought out some of my emptiness and relieved the pressure when it became too great. I feel inarticulate and inadequate against the weight that seems to be crushing me and words are not helping... I can't explain why that matters so much. Maybe it's because through all these years of silence, the written word has been my only constant; I have been able to count on this medium for expressing the things I simply could not bring myself to say.

Ten years ago, I wrote the following poem, and I think it speaks for me now, just as it did then...


I don't care what you do to me
As long as you do something
Anything, just make me feel
Burn me -- freeze me -- hit me
Call me names, make me cry
I'm dead inside -- I'm hollow
I'm a shell carved from ice
Thin brittle skin wrapped around
A fragile core of nothing
Hold me -- hurt me -- hate me
Love me -- use me -- break me
Just touch me. Please.
Make me feel.

I'm so tired of feeling disconnected, of feeling separated. I want to belong in my life but I am still standing on the edges, watching. I am disengaged. Somewhere inside I want the things other people want - a home, security, a stable marriage, but I can never feel as if I deserve them. And so I settle for pieces of life and tell myself that it doesn't matter; it's okay if I come home hurting and lonely and there's no one here to lean on. I convince myself that I don't need anyone, because - let's face it - it isn't safe to need anyone, is it? Because it's when you begin to depend on someone that they are able to let you down. I tell myself that I don't need to be loved for who I am, just as I am. No human can provide that anyway, right? It's better to accept that I'm always going to fall short. Because if I open up that longing and I stare it in the face, then I must find a way to live around that hurt, the pain of knowing that I'm never going to be good enough for someone to look at me, my past, and my reality, and accept the person I am now. No, it's easier to be the person in the poem, so desperate to find connection that it doesn't matter what kind of connection it is. But what message am I sending to my children when I settle for less than I want? What am I teaching them about their own self-worth? Are they going to wake up twenty years from now and realize that they've become their mother, someone who needs to be loved so badly that she's willing to give up her dreams of a loving, stable marriage where both partners are always there for each other? Are they going to become the kind of women who say, "Love me, use me, break me", as long as they have someone in their lives? Even if that someone is a good and wonderful person...just not the kind of person who can make a lasting commitment?

I am so tired of feeling empty, of being hollow. Of believing that I am not worth someone else's love and commitment. This is what abuse does to you - it leaves you standing on the outside of your own life, wishing you could enter in and live, but unable to break through the veil and really reach for what it is you need, with complete faith that you deserve it. Instead, you feel inadequate, unworthy of the better things life offers.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Receiving the Mark

On Ash Wednesday the Christian world begins its wilderness journey with Christ in commemoration of his forty days in the desert. At my church, the Sanctuary is quiet as we come forward in long, solemn lines to receive the ashes. Before me, I hear the ministers whisper about how we are all made of dust and must therefore return to dust – exhorting us to repent and believe what the Gospels have taught us. I pray the prayer of contrition, confess my sins before God. I stand with the rest, my forehead bare, waiting. Knowing that the season of Lent begins in that moment, when the minister’s finger draws the midnight-black cross on my skin, marking me as a follower of Jesus, as one who stands in solidarity with the Son of Man in his long suffering, his work for human-kind, and his violent death on a rough piece of wood. In addition to the imposition of the ashes, we are to think and pray and choose something to give up, or some discipline to adopt to mark the forty-day journey through the wilderness.

If you make a sacrifice, it must be meaningful. It must be something that comes between you and Christ. Something that ties you to this world and keeps you from focusing on Kingdom-business. Some give up meat. Some give up liquor. Some give up sex. Some give up coffee, or cigarettes, or chocolate. Somehow, I cannot imagine coming to God’s altar and laying down coffee or cookies. It must be meaningful. It must be something that I can hardly bear to part with, something without which I cannot imagine my life.

But honestly, there is nothing I have or want that seems good enough. I wait with the others and I remember how I stood before the church and read the words of the Fifty-first Psalm earlier in the evening. There is no acceptable sacrifice except hearts that are broken, and spirits that are crushed. God wants to make all things new. He wants to enter empty vessels and fill them. I receive the Mark of Christ, the Body and the Blood of Christ, and then I go to the altar and I pray in the words of the Psalmist from so long ago –

Create in me a clean heart, O God; renew a steadfast spirit within me… Restore me to the joy of your salvation, and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Hide your face from my sins and do not count them against me. Create in me a clean heart.

I came away feeling emptied, ready for whatever the journey brings. I am here, Lord; we can walk together.

Receiving The Mark

Stark and acrid
The bitter smell of ashes
I feel the oil and grit against my skin on the tip of his finger
“Remember – all are from dust and to dust all return.
Repent, and believe the Gospel.”

For a short while I carry the cross
I am branded
Everyone can see my sorrow
In solidarity with Christ, I embark upon my own Wilderness Road
Forty days – a drop of water in the deep sea.

A narrow path
through the heart of the wood
the air is dark and close
if there are temptations they do not matter
nothing can touch me – nothing can reach me.
I am armored
not by belief -- not by faith
but by my pain and my scars and my shame
I am set apart, distanced from the world

What will you give up? they ask
Chocolate – coffee – wine
But it is no hardship to give
Harder to receive
To receive love
To receive warmth
To receive forgiveness
Even from God

Especially from God.

He whispers in the darkness
There is no sacrifice you can give me
Nothing you have that I want
Instead receive –
Receive my love
Receive my word
Receive my Spirit
Receive life.

But how can I take what you give?
I am not worth this
Can never be what you want
Can never be innocent
Can never be worthy.

Create in me a clean heart O God
The words rolled off my tongue
But rooted themselves in my soul
The only sacrifice that is worthy
Is my broken spirit

Take it, then
Make of it what you will
Until you make me new
Make all things new –
I will walk this Wilderness Road
Branded -- wearing my sorrow on my skin
Carrying the cross.