Tag Archives: death

Bare Ash. Finally, and Again.

I haven’t written in a long time. You know, the name of this blog is “Bare Ash”, but I don’t think I’ve been very Bare. I think I’ve covered myself up with many things. Most of what I’ve written here has been about some concept outside of myself. Fertility charting, political issues, religious issues. All of those things are good things to be talking about, sure. But if I’m being really honest with myself, writing about things OUTSIDE is easier than writing about what’s going on INSIDE. And writing about things OUTSIDE is not why I started writing in the first place.

Outside is easy. I can point my finger so easily at you. And you. And you. I can look out and see all of you hypocrites messing up. I can look out and criticize racism and bad religion.

But this past week, my insides came pouring out. And I want to tell you about it. I want to be bare.

I don’t think it was a coincidence that so much happened in my insides during Holy Week, the week leading up to Resurrection Sunday. Last week, Palm Sunday, I was refreshed by a really great church service where the pastor talked about spring cleaning. It’s a tradition during Holy Week to deep clean your house, in an act of preparing a way for New Life to enter. The act is meant to help us open our hearts to God’s spring cleaning. The pastor explained that we all have racism and bad religion and hypocrisy inside of us. He pointed out, gently (that’s crucial in a pastor), a fact we’ve all known – it’s easier to throw stones than to notice our own sin. But that’s what Jesus asks us to do. I thought, yeah, I want that. Let’s do some spring cleaning.

Wednesday, Eric & I had a fight about who knows what. It was just a normal marriage communication breakdown, but it sent me reeling. I couldn’t go sleep next to him. So, I stayed up and journaled. The only words that came out onto the page were dark, horrible things that I felt about myself. Bad wife. Absent friend. Spiritually blah. Addicted to TV and my phone. Busy. Unkind. Closed off. Isolated. I was so broken inside. So full of death. Worthlessness. Hopelessness. My insides were showing, and they stunk.

I went to my counselor the next day. Maundy Thursday. The day Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. I told her about the journaling. And I cried for the full hour session, unable to really explain how horrible I felt. She explained that the death inside of me has a name: depression. She strongly suggested that my struggle can be helped with a physical change. That while the cognitive therapy we’ve done, trying to change some of the thought patterns & beliefs inside of me, will continue to be crucial, the depression may not ever be fully treated without a biological change. She had me call my doctor to set up an appointment to be prescribed with some kind of antidepressant. Making that call seriously took a full year of therapy. I’m the type of person that doesn’t go to the doctor for medicine until I’ve spent 4 sleepless nights coughing up a lung. I’m the type of person that does everything in my own power to fix whatever’s wrong with me, because I caused the problem somehow. If I’m sick, it’s because I didn’t wash my hands enough. If I’m depressed, it’s because I haven’t been exercising, I haven’t been reading good books, I haven’t been healthy enough… I believe I don’t deserve help if I caused the problem. I should fix it myself. I should be able to fix it myself. My counselor says most of the things I believe are actually things that depression has convinced me of. I haven’t had the doctor’s appointment yet. I have about a million apprehensions about being “prescribed”. Maybe I’ll write on that another time. It’s notable to explain, for the purpose of this blog, that the really yucky nasty stuff inside of me is a holistic nastiness. I’m about to tell you about some of the resurrection I experienced this Easter, but it’s important to note (for myself and for those of us struggling with depression) that this disorder is not just an issue that can be solved spiritually. Depression can be treated holistically, with medicine, cognitive therapy & maybe spirituality, whatever that means for each of us. I’m still working on embracing all of those components of treatment. But, for now, I’m going to tell you about the good stuff that happened spiritually, aware that my depression hasn’t been fully treated… yet.

Good Friday, I had a bunch of work to do. So, I felt fine. Busy. Distracted. On Saturday, I had another breakdown. I couldn’t function without crying. Eric & I sat down to make some videos for a client, and he noted that I looked miserable. I screamed and cried and finally calmed down enough to explain that I FEEL MISERABLE. I feel like a bad wife… a bad musician… I felt like everything I do is bad. I told him to tell me it wasn’t true. To remind me who he fell in love with. Because I’ve forgotten. In the course of this breakdown, and him telling me more about who I am and why he loves me, I realized something really important… I REALLY don’t remember the good parts of who I am. I could only think of terrible things to write in my journal and terrible things to think about myself because that’s all I’ve really noticed for a while. Depression does that. But life circumstances do that, too. The choices I’ve made in response to hurt has done that. And I started to ask, “Why are my walls so high? Why is my heart so hard?

The last couple of years have been a little tricky. After graduating college 3 years ago, I decided to stay in Worcester and dedicate myself to a church community that I really, really loved. It turned out (as it always does) that the community was much more broken than I thought (as they always are, THEY ARE PEOPLE!!!). After all of my college friends moved to different places, many people in the church community started moving and leaving, too. In the course of 6 months, the closest friends I had all lived in 5 different corners of the world. Some people got really mad at me for dating Eric. Some people got really mad at the church for a million different things. Everyone was pretty upset and broken and hurting, and a lot changed. I walked in with an open and bare heart, and REALLY quickly covered up. Hardened up. Began protecting myself. Building walls. Those years culminated with us leaving the church and the community 6 months ago. In those 6 months, my walls haven’t gotten STRONG and IMPENETRABLE. I have successfully and somewhat purposefully isolated myself, in the hopes that being alone means I’ll never be left, never be disappointed, never be so broken by broken people again.

During this year’s Lent, I think I heard 5 different sermons or talks about forgiveness and soft-heartedness. That was annoying.

Spring cleaning is annoying. I mean, who really wants to get down on their hands and knees and scrape the dirt from the corners of the house? I certainly don’t.

Like I said, the voices inside of me speaking death are the voices of depression. However, I have to admit, I’ve certainly not starved them. I’ve fed them with my isolation. I’ve fed them in their safe, dark place and encouraged them to believe that other people are bad and painful and mean and don’t trust them and stay way and stay alone and stay hurt… I’ve learned that depression gets louder when we are all alone. Depression really likes when we have no other voices getting in. I gave it the stage. I gave it a megaphone and silenced everyone else trying to get in.

This Saturday, I was overwhelmed with death. I stayed up late the night before Easter watching The History Channel’s The Bible miniseries. Right around midnight, a (very white) Jesus was nailed to the cross and screamed at God. I screamed at God. I felt that bloody, deathly cross inside of my own heart. I felt the nails piercing through me, with each horrible belief I’ve held about myself. Bad wife. Horrible friend. Worthless. Hopeless. Jesus was nailed to the cross. He felt it. He knew. He knows what it is to be human in this deathly, violent world. And he screamed at God. Why have you forsaken me? Why have you let death win? WHERE ARE YOU?

And then he rose from the dead.

He rose from the dead.

The story wasn’t over.

All day Sunday, I heard again and again that HE IS ALIVE. I felt again and again this LIVING JESUS, full of love and hope and knowing, alive in my heart where the death was overtaking me. Fighting for me. Dwelling deep inside this soft heart that still lies somewhere beneath the walls I’ve built. Reminding me that it was never destroyed, it’s only been covered up. He was inviting me to uncover it. To cry and cry and cry, and bleed and let it hurt and let it be revealed. Showing me that I was made in His image. Generous and open and funny and kind and honest and GOOD. He said, “That’s who you are. That’s who I love. That’s who Eric loves. And YOU are not lost. YOU are just covered up. Come out, come out, come out… Arise, my darling…”

I don’t know why my depression can’t die. I don’t know why there is still pain in the world when Jesus claimed to defeat death. I don’t really get that. I keep believing that if I just believe harder, that he will take it all away. But it doesn’t seem to work that way. At least not for me. And not for 99.9% of people who struggle with depression. So, don’t ever tell someone struggling with depression that they should just pray harder. Believe me, they have. I don’t know why there is a Friday. But somehow, I got to Sunday this weekend.

I felt resurrected this particular Sunday. And I believe in that power. I see that there is death inside of me, but I also believe there is LIFE living in me. I can FEEL it. I can feel the shades being ripped open, and the dust being swept out of this bitter winter. I can feel my heart coming out of its dark hiding, bleeding and beating and wanting to be more honest and open.

Bareness is terribly scary. But there’s this blog, and I called it bare ash. So, I’d like it to be a place where I can be actually bare. I’d like to let my heart bleed and beat here. I think maybe writing about depression and pain and resurrection and the brutiful (as Glennon Doyle Melton, my favorite blogger, calls it) will help me deal with it. I think that’s a really big part of who I am. An honest, open writer and artist. And I think I have to keep remembering that. Writing helps me remember where my soft heart is located, even if it seems and feels so tightly locked away. And I wonder if it will help other people deal with the same things, too. I hope so.

Here I am. Bare Ash. Finally, and again. Thanks be to God.

For the Love of L’Esperance

Life has this determined way of dragging us forward, kicking and screaming. Every time I feel like I can take in a breath of fresh peace, something interrupts it more quickly than it came. Like a brand new punch to the gut.

Just two days ago, my husband & I stood over the lowering casket of the fourth person in the L’Esperance family to die in 11 months. Eric’s cousin was only 26 when he passed away tragically and unexpectedly. I nervously avoided his eyes after I hung up the phone with his hysterical mother, who just lost a nephew for the second time in a year. I held him in my arms as he collapsed in tears, when I told him the dark-haired boy who has the same eyebrows as him was gone. He was gone. Those are the only words my mother-in-law could muster, and I’ll never forget hearing them. “He’s gone.” Those words were all I heard. And I never want to say them to Eric again.

In a situation so completely devoid of answers or closure, we discovered a strange and profound peace as we took a flower from the top of the wood. And it wasn’t that kind of peace that comes with a cliche. No, this didn’t happen for a reason. Everything probably wasn’t going to be okay, especially not right now. It doesn’t help that God has another “angel in heaven.” And it doesn’t bring back your cousin, son, brother, and friend to know that he’s now “at peace with the Lord.”

These are just the things people say. But the things people say don’t bring the peace that passes all understanding. The things people say are trying to grasp for understanding, and no matter how hard we try to grapple with death, I don’t really think we can fully get it. But then there’s God. One of my favorite things about God, and one of the reasons I keep coming back to Him, is this physical, life-changing manifestation of His peace. As our brains, and the people around us, keep chatting-chatting-chatting, coming up with reasons, justifying, excusing… God is ever so quiet. His love physically surrounds us as holy water falls from our eyes. When we shake our heads and say, “I don’t understand,” He so rarely says, “Let me explain,” but instead holds us and whispers, “I know.” God’s peace doesn’t always make us feel better. Often, it allows the walls to come crumbling down, and lets us feel deeper. It doesn’t always help and I find it so rarely explains a single thing. God’s peace is quiet and tender. It is only and always Love.

I had such a strong sense of that love and peace surrounding my husband and our family this weekend. If you have a large, spiritual family (but let me assure you, there’s no way it’s as large or as spiritual as the L’Esperances), you know the true meaning of communion. God lives in and moves through the hearts of every cousin, every aunt and uncle, every little child running for a basketball. He feeds you with more food than you can handle, as He asks you again through your mom’s voice, “DID YOU GET ENOUGH TO EAT!?” There is laughter, and there is peace that passes this attempt at understanding exactly how we got here, and our why-oh-why-oh-why-oh-why’s are hushed hiccups in our hearts, as we experience the joy of the people who look and feel and talk like us.

I didn’t grow up with a huge family. Fortunately, that means we attend fewer funerals for my side. Unfortunately, though, I think I missed out on a lot. At Steve’s funeral, his sister Laura delivered the eulogy. Like most perfect eulogies, hers made us all sob and crack up in the same shortened breath. Laura remembered well, as did my sniffling husband next to me, all of the skateboarding, dress-up, and sleepovers they shared as kids. Sometimes, there were so many people in the swimming pool, it lost half its water. Sometimes, they had to put kids in sleeping bags in the kitchen and the hallways. Sometimes, they fit 14 people into a camper, sleeping the little ones vertically like sardines.

Mary-Ann and Paul L’Esperance, Eric’s grandparents, had 15 children. Devout French Catholics. This meant he and his 3 siblings grew up with 28 aunts & uncles, and 55 cousins. Now many of his first cousins have their own kids, so the L’Esperance family is easily pushing (or has passed?) 100 members these days. I think if anyone stopped and tried to count, they’d be overwhelmed. There are at least 3 pregnant women at every event, 5 brand new blue-eyed babies, a few people engaged or newly married, and a few that are over-the-moon proud to be new aunts, uncles, or grandparents. I’ve never in my entire life known love to multiply… and multiply… and multiply some more… the way it does in my new life with them.

When we found out Steve died, we went straight to his parents’ house. We drove so nervously through the town Eric and all of his aunts & uncles grew up in, thinking we’d be alone with his grieving aunt & uncle and really have no idea what to say. Next time I’m afraid of being alone in that family, I need to remember to talk my only-child self off the ledge, and say, “Are you kidding? You couldn’t be alone if you tried. Not even if you wanted to be.” We arrived at the house next to the church, the same house Eric spent many summer nights, and heard sobbing from the street. Aunts, uncles, cousins, friends. Weeping. Laughing. Talking. Apologizing. Explaining. Listening. Praying. Communing.

If you are doubtful about God, or His love for you, you should spend a day with the L’Esperance family. You may find, for the first time in your life, that love and peace can somehow abound in tragedy and misunderstanding. You may find that in all of your questions, you are not met with answers, but you are given a place to rest. You may just find that God won’t explain Himself with justifications and cliches, but He feeds you and gives you a place to call Home. You may find yourself baptized, or married, into a Family. And you may understand that in a whole new way, like I have.

I pray we’d all discover God’s heart in the same way my new family has introduced me to it. I’m learning through them that God is not always easy. Life will not stop punching us in the gut, but somehow, we can come and experience that peace that we just can’t explain. As we’re crumpled up on the floor with all of our questions and grief, love can come surround us in the form of 100 hugs from people with your husband’s eyebrows.