Thursday, May 12, 2022

Thoughts on these times- discipline, idealogy, fear, our places in each other's lives

I wrote this in my journal last June, almost a year ago, and yet I came across it today and realized the same things are circling around in my mind again in light of all the things happening in the world in in our country and in my own life today.  Are you thinking about any of these things? What is circling in your head while you go about your day?

My disorder is also my gift. I must take both in the same hand. My attention that focuses so deep within and causes me to block out everything around me allows me to think and contemplate deeply. It also causes me not to listen- and I miss important things: the lives happening around me, the words of the people I love, the words of teachers and preachers. 

I am tired from staying up too late reading Madeleine L’Engles “Love Letters.” Within it I see so many of the themes that I have seen in so many of her other books, the thoughts that framed her life and soul, presented and explored in new ways.

Freedom within discipline, framework, structure. The sonnet, the fugue, the dedicated practice of four notes on one’s instrument for several hours developing the ability to pour life and passion into one’s music. The discipline of the convent, the commitment to vows. The filling of one’s self with self so that one has no room for God. Unbounded freedom and no structure or discipline leading to self-destruction, or insufferable blandness. The bearing of suffering that is unbearable. The necessity of joy, the joy of joy, yet that cannot be real and deep and true without sadness. 


And here we wheel around in this selfish world that exalts self-direction and self-satisfaction over any kind of discipline of giving up of self without personal gain. The idea of submission of self to any other human or vow, foregoing one’s own freedom and pleasure to take a path that will only lead to crucifixion of the self- is trampled underfoot as a stifling and undesirable and backwards. Not simply rejected, but actively fought against, in terrible fear of a dystopian world where such submission is forced upon others, not authentically chosen in freedom. 


This fear is legitimate- we have seen it in play again and again through history, where corrupt power does not ask, but demands and forces submission to its ideology, an ideology for others to be bent to, but not practiced by those who preach it, who use the freedom of power to indulge every desire that those they rule over are not allowed. And yet, the tenets of this ideology may be good and a blessing to those who practice them- freely. It is when they are forced, required, and disobedience punished, that they become tenets of death to those subjugated under them.


There seems to be a particular kind of personality that is both drawn to rules and drawn to insist others obey them as well. In a forced ideology environment, they function as the police, and no infraction of the rules is too small. They derive their personal value from living to the letter of the law and seeing that others do too. They desire recognition of their work from their leader, whomever they serve, or from God. 


I see crows high in the leafy green trees of the forest from where I sit writing, hopping from branch to branch conversing with each other, and I think of those who sit in literal prison cells or metaphorical ones in a place that is not free, wishing they were wild birds that can fly where they please and do what they wish without the smothering rules that bind them unwillingly.


Humans wish to have the freedom to choose their master, to choose their ideology, and this is a freedom that God has clearly allowed us. And yet we must have some structure as a society, some agreement to prevent some humans from committing acts of evil on others. In our society today we seem to define evil as an act against another person or their property without their consent to that act.


I watched a video yesterday that a friend sent me on an atheist’s view of the morality of abortion. Their argument for the legality of abortion fits precisely within the consent framework- a woman did not give her consent for this baby to grow in her body, and so she has a right to kill it. But there is no voice for the child in this equation. Where is the balance, and can we find it?


This is where my journal ended for that day. I'd love to hear your contemplations these days, but given the sensitive nature of a debate that is ripping the fabric of our society apart and the deep personal experiences that others reading this may have, please be kind. Let's refrain from smug one-liners that you might see in a meme or on a posterboard at a protest and be real, and stand in the uncomfortable place together where there are no pat answers and nothing is black and white.


Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Peak autumn in Carolinia

There's a moss-covered stone wall near the intersection of Rosemary and Hillsborough and I am sitting on it. Early November is the time of autumn glory for Chapel Hill. All overhead is crimson and golden against the backdrop of deep cloudless blue sky. Jacket weather in the shade, basking weather in the sun. Crisp, cool air, smells of fallen oak and maple leaves, and I just saw a squirrel run by with a whole cluster of green hickory nuts popping out of its mouth like a giant green beard and mustaches. I was surprised to pass an osage orange tree on my way to this spot, something I haven't seen in many years and not since I moved to the south. Osage oranges resemble grapefruit-sized green brains, and these bright green brains were strewn liberally on the moss and grass under the tree. 

Among the towns of the south, Chapel Hill feels the most like the places of the Mid-Atlantic and New England where I grew up and went to college. The buildings of the UNC campus and surrounding environs are old, and I like old very much. I grew up in a home dating from 1830 or so on a street with even older homes in a town founded sometime in the 1700s.  Ivy, moss, tall trees with thick trunks, old decorative hardware on doors and drafty windows, creaking wood floors and the smell of wood smoke on a chilly morning are the comforting feelings of home.

There are two crows in one of the tall golden maples across the street, high on the very top branches, surveying, watching, calling to other crows at the tops of other trees that I can't see. Crows really are the watchmen of the animal world. Other species of birds understand crow calls, as do the furry, four-footed creatures. When crows sound a warning, other birds take up the alarm and pass it along, diving into dense bushes where larger birds of prey cannot reach them, or up high out of the reach of a fox or cat. Squirrels chatter in a great chorus and the predator slinking along below knows they've been had. 


I'm here in this spot completely by chance. As I left a friend's house this morning, I spontaneously decided to take a walk in the beautiful morning instead of getting in my car and going straight to the grocery store. My life is so full of worries and stresses these days, with people close to me spending far too much time in medical sorts of places or at home in bed in pain. Wandering and looking, being present among sun-dappled reddening shrubs and clusters of delicate, lacy brown flowers leftover from summer, breathing deeply of a kind of air that only seems to exist on sunny cool days in autumn… I can't remember when I did this last, but I'm glad I'm here.

These moments are a gift from my Shepherd who leads me beside still waters and makes me lie down in green pastures. He knows sheep can't go running around at top speed navigating mucky bogs and foggy moors for very long. I'm thankful for this rest and beauty that He has carved out for me. I'm memorizing and imprinting images and sounds and smells into my brain to be drawn upon later. This burnished hydrangea pouring over the stone wall ahead of me, drenched in light, the brick walls of the church beyond, the lichen-covered thick arms of an oak that clearly sprouted long before the Civil War, the ringing sounds of hammers and 2x4s being knocked against each other somewhere nearby, bluejay calling, cardinal pairs talking to each other, cars going by and even a few still-living insects humming in grass… I'm downloading everything so I can come back here when I'm forced to sit waiting somewhere, indoors, in a place I don't want to be.


It worked. As I finish writing this I am now sitting in my favorite chair at home, late at night, but the details of the time I spent walking and looking and lying on the wall and smelling and listening- I have it all right here clear and sharp and sparkling when I close my eyes.










Friday, June 4, 2021

On the necessity of eating light

There are reasons why I am continually drawn back to certain creators of art, music, and the written word. C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L'Engle, Johann Sebastian Bach. The great painters of the Hudson River School, the Dutch Masters. They weave with the eternal Light of the universe. They reach out and take my face and turn my gaze from the things in front of me, vying for all my attention, to the things farther out that wait patiently and do not demand or coerce. Light, that invites me in and I forget to think of me. Instead my soul and inner being are connected to eternal and invisible things, which become visible as the eyes of my heart are transformed. It is also in this place that darkness is revealed. The Light halts at walls inside me that I do not even know exist, and says "what is this?"  

 I must wash dishes and make dinner and call the insurance company and go shopping, as well as daily take on greater tasks of mentoring my children and intervening in sibling fury, reading books aloud and playing games or taking walks and pulling weeds together. And there are the not-musts of mindlessly scrolling through my phone and other habits that compel me to idly think only of small things. I need the Weaver and Master of Light to intrude into my daily thoughts, and this is why I try to start my day with the words of the ancients shot through with the Holy Spirit in that collection of writings we know as the Bible. I forget, again and again, the existence of the Light, and I must make room for it. We are spiritual beings and yet constantly forget that we need spiritual food or our souls whither away and we are left only with a shriveled, confining daily existence.   

Sunday, April 11, 2021

The Bitter Cup We All Drink

 I’m not going to give you anything on the subject of the existence of suffering and evil that many thinkers before me haven’t already doled out. But maybe you haven’t read their books. And maybe you are new to suffering… the intense kind that rips your heart out when someone you love dies or is diagnosed with a terminal illness. And even if you are old to suffering… when these things come there is always a new reckoning, no matter how much wisdom you gained in the last round. Suffering makes us forget anything but pain in the moment, and makes the involuntary “Why?” of anger, grief, and fury bubble to the surface, shouting at the universe, God, anyone. 


I don’t have the answer to “why,” except a confidence that one day that question will be answered to a depth of satisfaction and understanding that we can’t imagine right now with our limited human brains.


Here’s what I do have: I can’t imagine any goodness, realness, or depth in this current life we live without suffering. It’s horrible, and wrong, and I’m not saying any of the genocide, slavery or cancer is justifiable. But it’s the reality we find ourselves in. And there is the strange correlation that for those who have let suffering mold them, there is an increase of compassionate, loving character that I’ve never seen manifested in those who have barely been brushed by loss, injustice, or illness. 


“Those who have let suffering mold them…” is key here- we all know those who have become bitter, twisted and angry people after the brutality of suffering. Suffering itself can shape us to be either better people or worse… the very worst inflict suffering on others as a result of their experiences.


Let’s say you’ve just experienced a brutal blow and you are trying to make sense of it. You are reaching out and grasping in the dark for any kind of handhold. Who will you seek out? A person who is blithely enjoying the good life, who seems to have escaped grief and hardship as of yet? Or the person who has been in your shoes and will sit silently while you pour out your anger and grief… but the compassion in their eyes and experience in their nodding head tells you they are right there with you? And, which of those two people do you want to be one day?


The people I find myself drawn to when my world is turned upside down are those who have drunk deeply from the bitter cup. They’ve lost children, or seen them take a path of addiction. They’ve had cancer, been widowed, cared for a loved one through a long, painful terminal illness. They grew up abused, they’ve personally experienced persecution and injustice for their religion or the color of their skin or being a despised minority or poor. They’ve seen their country ripped apart by war and lived as refugees. Or they made terrible life choices that destroyed their families, and have come out the other side. Or lived with mental illness or other disability. I could go on and on.


I don’t WANT that stuff to happen to me. But it has, and it will.. That’s the life I find myself in. There is absolutely no way to escape the reality of suffering. The only way forward is directly through. 


Not everyone who has come through the fiery furnace of trial is a Christian. But I am. And the people that I admire most and want to walk alongside are. We don’t have a satisfactory answer (yet) to the question of “How can a God who is good allow evil and suffering and injustice?” Nonetheless the story of God’s response to suffering still astonishes me: he didn’t make it stop, but he entered into it himself. He didn’t stand off afar just watching, he actually made himself a baby human body to grow up in and completely, willingly, experience every kind of suffering and injustice, to the point of horrific, totally unjustified execution. 


He is the one who has been completely positively formed by suffering- the one with the compassion in his eyes and nodding head of understanding, who did not save himself from experiencing it when he could have stopped it at any point. He did not inflict vengeance on his enemies, he loved them. Loved them so much he actually died to rescue them from the self-centered, self-righteous, unjust, cruel people they were. It says in St. Paul’s letter to the church in Rome: “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-7). Yes. While we were committing the worst unspeakable acts and atrocities against the best and most loving man to ever walk the earth, he willingly looked at us as beloved lost children in need of rescuing, and let us kill him. Surely, if Jesus himself saw the need to experience the deepest depths of human suffering, there is purpose in ours.


Suffering can make our souls ugly or beautiful. Since I find I have no choice except to live on this planet where suffering is a given in this life, the path that Jesus already walked before me in accepting suffering and letting it do its work in me is the path I want to walk. The worst strategy is trying to run away from suffering. As a diagnosed sufferer of several mental disorders, I’ve learned painfully that the guaranteed way to make them as bad as possible is to stick my heels in the ground and either refuse to acknowledge they are there (out of shame and fear of judgement and stigma) or attempt to force them to go away with sheer mental willpower or the lure of giving into compulsions (OCD) that only reinforce the cycle. Alcohol and drug abuse mitigate suffering but come with a terrible cost. All the self-destructive behaviors I can think of come from trying to do anything except face the pain and accept it, whether its cause is internal or an external event or relationship. 


Jesus still bears his scars as living proof of what he went through to rescue us from ourselves. I look back at the years of my life when it felt that one thing after another slammed me to the ground, stripping me raw. Losing our twins. Family suicides. Loved ones dealing with their own pain in extremely damaging ways. My experience losing my mind and being hospitalized. I have experienced incredible healing from these traumas, they don’t haunt me anymore, and while I never want such things to happen, I would never trade the priceless work Jesus has done in me to make my roots in him deeper and surer, and the promises of completed life in him, more and more tangible in the distance ahead of me. 


My Oma, an extremely quiet and humble woman of faith, lived to almost 93. I had the great privilege of sitting at her bedside at the very end, new life growing inside me while her body ebbed away. If you’ve sat at a bedside like this, you know it is a strange time of waiting and wondering, dreading and wanting the suffering of your loved one to be over. One afternoon I was sitting praying, and in my mind I could see angels in the room, her body young and vibrant again. Suddenly she lifted herself up saying “I see angels!” and her face was flooded with joy and glory. She took my hand on one side and my mother’s on the other and lifted them up, grasping them in a sign of victory, looking ahead of us into something we could not see. When she lay back down she lapsed into sleep and did not wake again in this life. I will never forget that moment.  Suffering was past, and joy was ahead. One day, it will all be worth it.


Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2


Ursula Lorenz, 1919-2012
Thanks to my mother for taking this beautiful picture.


Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Advent and Battle, Mourning and Celebration

Most of us don’t know what it is like to live in a walled city in the mountains in a time of chaos, before guns and bombs, when all sorts of manual weapons and war machinery were in use. Imagine we live in a weak city, and our army is not very strong. Our walls are not thick. And we begin to hear rumors of a horde. A cruel, merciless horde, building an empire for a monstrous tyrant. Everywhere they go, they conquer. They commit unspeakable atrocities, raping, looting, ripping open pregnant women and throwing their infants over the city walls to smash on the rocks below. Then they burn the conquered city, and whoever is left alive is led away in chains, to be slaves to these cruel masters, seemingly utterly devoid of any humanity.


We cower in fear. We know there is no salvation. We are doomed, and the end will be horrible. The rumors grow until a bloody, ragged survivor staggers over the mountain path and in his last breaths, tells us that the horde is three days march away, and they are coming.


We weep and mourn as we send out our small army of terrified warriors against this horde of ten thousands, knowing we shall never see them again, and we wait, in fear, praying. For days, there is nothing but silence, terror, fasting, and mourning. 


Finally, on the third day, a figure appears on the mountain ridge, running swiftly. The horns blow and the gates are opened, and in he comes. And he is not bloody, or ragged. His face is all shining and smiles and he is laughing and panting so hard he can barely get the words out: “We are saved!” In the whole city bells begin to ring and there are joyful shouts and people flooding the streets and giddy astonishment. People are hugging each other and showering gold coins and confetti off of balconies. That evening, our armies return. Every man. Exultant, victorious, singing, breaking ranks as their mothers and fathers and wives and children run to them, sobbing for joy and relief. 


People flock to the city temple with sacrifices of thanksgiving. The air is full of merriment, laughing, affection, spontaneous hugs and kisses and dancing.The king opens his storehouses of food and wine and the entire city is invited to a feast of celebration. Everyone gathers in the great hall, rich and poor, lowly and important. The warriors are all given seats of honor with the king, wearing garlands on their heads.  Platter after platter of every kind of royal food appears and everyone eats their fill and the wine flows freely. 



After every stomach is completely satisfied, it is time for the music. The king’s bard stands up with his harp and walks to the front of the room, tunes up his instrument, and announces that he has composed a new song worthy of the occasion.Silences falls and the bard begins to sing:


How beautiful upon the mountains

Are the feet of him who brings glad tidings

Announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation!

Saying to Zion, “Your God is KING!”


Hark! Your watchmen raise a cry,

Together they shout for joy

For they see, directly before their eyes, 

The Lord restoring Zion.


Break out together in song,

O ruins of Jerusalem!

For the LORD comforts his people,

He redeems Jerusalem.


The LORD has bared his holy arm

In the sight of all the nations;

All the ends of the earth will behold

The salvation of our God.


The bard tells the story of the battle, the doomed battle, in which all hope was lost, and our warriors stood up bravely to meet their death as the horde of cruelty advanced upon them. And suddenly in the east, as the sun rose, the blast of a war horn was heard, and all across the horizon a shimmering army appeared, hundreds of thousands strong, galloping closer and closer. The mighty horde turns to fight, and as they see what is approaching, begin to break ranks and run west, north, south, any direction they can. Our warriors yell in triumph and begin pursuit, as the great shining army joins them and together they wipe out the entire horde. Not one is left. The horde is vanquished, forever and ever, they will not rise again.


This is our story. This is the story that the oppressed Israelites waited for, longed for, to see fulfilled with their own eyes. This is the story that began as a poor, virgin teenage mother gave birth among animals, with her faithful husband next to her, cheering her on, catching the baby, cutting the cord, cleaning him and wrapping him and and putting him to his mother’s breast, laying him on straw in a manger and watching him in awe while his mother, exhausted, slept. The baby that would grow up and come to the rescue, vanquish the horde, and rule his people with justice, restoring all things, and conquer death itself, forever. Shepherds knocking and crowding in, bowing down, telling stories of skies tearing open and angels singing and sending them to find this baby, and pay him homage as king.


This is the story that is not yet finished, and as Christmas approaches we live over and over again all the aspects of this story: hopeless, depressed, fearful, trapped in darkness, we wait for the light: the prison door opening, the news of our rescue at hand. The hand pulling us out into glorious day and freedom and restoration. The waiting and watching and hoping for the return of the King to complete what He has begun, to put all things right, forever.


Already, and not yet. Already we are saved, and the work of restoration has begun, but not finished. Our souls journey toward wholeness and healing right in the midst of the darkness of the present age, hand in hand with our Shepherd, who is invisible to our physical senses, but visible to our inner self, always there, always comforting, always leading and guiding and restoring. This season of Advent and the celebration of Christmas are the living images of this story of waiting and hoping, of being rescued and healed, made whole, right in mind and body, and all the earth and peoples of the earth along with us.


May this story penetrate to the very depths of your soul this Advent and Christmas, and sustain you ever after.


Art Credits:

Soldiers who don't know themselves
Gerelkhuu Ganbold 2013


The Sermon of Saint John the Baptist
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Pieter Brueghel the Younger 1566








Saturday, December 5, 2020

Wind

Wind blowing loudly against the window of a cold bright morning

Straight from the sea, over white sand and through the laundry line

Sheets billowing, secured by pins placed by scoured red hands


Wind crashing through wild treetops on a dark February night

Hideous moanings and cracking wood

Falling trees and covers pulled over the head to silence the sounds


Wind pushing and rolling over a flock of pecking birds in a field of stubble

Rising and landing, rising and landing

they find their food where the wind takes them


Wind herding clouds of sheep against the blue

Scuttling leaves and squirrels hunched in the crook of a branch

A tight ball of fur and tail waiting and dozing while the blow passes by


Wind breaking, tearing down the tall and mighty, 

Cleaning and disturbing stale, settled things, 

Unstoppable, having its way wherever it goes


Sinking dreams and treasures 

Clearing away the sands of time, exposing, revealing

Ancient ways and means forgotten, old, becoming new.



Saturday, November 21, 2020

My handpicked resources about OCD!

 I love sharing about OCD and anxiety and helping others who are just beginning their journey realizing they have it. Recently I've gotten so many inquiries about it that I thought it would be helpful to share some of the best resources I've come across that have helped me.

Books

Jeffrey Schwarts, MD, is the MAN. He has years of research and clinical experience under his belt at the UCLA clinic. Book #1 is so helpful for OCD, and Book #2 uses the research from OCD to help people with anxious/hard/repetitive thoughts that might not be OCD, but also respond very well to the treatment he developed for OCD.

1. Brain Lock: Free Yourself from OCD, by Jeffrey Schwartz.  

2. You Are Not Your Brain, by Jeffrey Schwartz.

Instagram

Yes, Instagram. Here's why I love using Insta as part of my OCD therapy. There are some amazing therapists that specialize in OCD, anxiety, and body-repetitive disorders, all of which I have. And they have Insta accounts! They share information and tips in bite-size, easy-to-digest bites. They have live discussions. They have online workshops, and classes! Online counseling sessions! Doing a run through my feed every day actually really helps me stay on track, learn new things, and keep me focused on remembering to do my therapy and talk truth to my thinking patterns. I also have ADHD/Scatterbrain, so these constant reminders help a lot. Here's some of my favorite accounts:

laurenmcmeikan

atparentingsurvival

theocdstories

ourocdjourney

mindonfire_ocd

life_without_anxiety

kimberleyquinlan

Oh, and then there's ME of course: kirstiemacleod Sometimes I post about OCD and anxiety, but I have a million other interests and love for photography, so my posts could be about anything totally random on any given day. Okay, maybe my dogs steal the show 98% of the time, cuz gosh, I love those beasts. I'll throw in a plug for pets as OCD therapy. Burying my head in a dog tummy when I feel totally overwhelmed starts calming down instantly. They just love me, unconditionally, period. They don't care what crazy thoughts are zooming around in my brain, they are much more interested in whether I have a hot dog to share.

Oh! I also have a YouTube Channel. I did a bunch of videos this summer on OCD to answer questions I get a lot. Also, if you look at the tags at the bottom of this post, you can easily find the other posts I've done on this topic.

For Christians with OCD

OCD and Christianity has been incredibly helpful for dealing with OCD in my personal faith journey with OCD. OCD latches on to your deepest moral values and things you passionately care about, so of course it's going to have a heyday with your religion! This site has encouraged me so very much and enabled me to make some serious breakthroughs in the areas where OCD likes to pretend it's God. It really does. OCD sets itself up on the throne of your thinking and until you know better, it's going to act like God and try to convince you that it IS God. It's going to tell you all sorts of false things about what God is like and how He feels about you. OCD can be a guilt-inducing taskmaster like none other. But once you begin to realize that God and OCD are NOT the same, wowsa! My faith has deepened and strengthened and I've become so much surer and more joyful in Jesus' unconditional love for me. He knows all about my OCD and the frankly awful, horrific thoughts that plague my brain sometimes, and He doesn't judge me for them, He has compassion on me. He has led me to such beautiful wide, open, free places where OCD can't come, and I can lie down by quiet waters and feed in green pastures. 

OCD manifests itself in very interesting ways across ALL religions. If you are a practicing Jew with OCD reading this, I bet you really struggle with all things kosher, and what you can and can't do on the Sabbath (restful? ha!). Muslim? Probably wishing halal didn't exist because you just can't get it right. Wherever there are rules, OCD takes them to the extreme and makes you think you have to obey them exactly, perfectly, or some doom will result. And your vision of who God is tends to get twisted into a harsh taskmaster who really, really cares that you follow His rules to a T, OR ELSE. Sometimes I wonder if the worst manifestations of religion come from people with OCD who never realized it. 

If I think of more things, I will continue to add them on this page in the future. Good luck on your journey, my friends. Have compassion on yourself. Be kind to yourself. Laugh, yes, laugh at your OCD and learn to recognize how very silly it is if you can step outside of it for a moment. Love to you all!