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Legends of... that fall.
Grief
Praise and Endorsements for Beauty and the Bitch: Grace for the Worst in Me
On Breaking Bad, Boxer, and Beauty in Dry Bones
What is Beautiful?

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Jan's Blog

Legends of... that fall.

Today is my two year anniversary.  Today I remember and honor the fall that broke five of my ribs, two in two places (breaks, not fractures).  And I remember that I am still alive.
 
Now forgive me if you have heard this story too many times.  I just need to tell it again, because the fall changed me.  It may sound trite, but the reality is:  I am not the same since this accident. 
 
Place your hands gently on your ribcage.  Now breathe.  Imagine those ribs broken, and imagine the broken bones moving with every breath.  Ever since the weather has become warmer this year, my body has remembered those labored breaths.  It was a glorious Spring day, that day I decided to wash windows.  I had a few hours before appointments, and I enjoy washing windows.  This particular window is dang high (the top of the pine tree gives you an idea of the height).
 
See that top corner?  I was reaching up there to clean.  My foot slipped.  I descended thirteen feet below that window, falling sideways, with the full force of my body crashing into the corner of an extremely heavy/solid coffee table.  Or perhaps a better way to say it is - the corner of this heavy coffee table crashed inside my body.
 
Human words do not capture the pain. 
 
It took a moment, then the pain was so severe that I went into shock.  I could not breathe.  I crawled (like a baby in slow motion) along the floor, hoping to get near my phone, which I saw was on the couch.  The reach for that phone was.. unbearable.  If you ask him, Steve will describe for you what it was like to hear a faint whisper on the phone, "Come... home."  Click.  He came home.  The rest is a foggy dream including several days in the hospital on the trauma floor, downloaded with the strongest (and most glorious at the time) opiates.  Then slowly waking up to life at home for a few months, sleeping upright, avoiding coughing at all costs (impossible), sneezing and laughing.
 
My gratitude swells as I realize what could have happened.
 
See that granite and stone mantle (the photo was taken looking straight up from the place of impact)...?  My head came, literally, within an inch of that stone.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Within an inch.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
In the gospels we are told of how evil taunted Jesus, prodding him to fall just to prove the psalm that says that angels will raise us up "lest he strike his foot against a stone."  I'm grateful that Jesus did not take the bait ("do not put the Lord your God to the test") because I have met countless people who have experienced much worse than a slipped foot on rocks.  How do you tell a woman whose father raped her when she was young that God promises for her to be unharmed?  What do you tell a man who limps from being the victim of a violent crime?  No, this world is way too unsafe, too terribly capricious to depend on the pablum of a false faith, a faith that promises magical, sterile tranquility. I do not need God to prove his love by giving me a pain-free life.   I know better. Actually, I learned better, as the cocoon of my healing from this accident became a deep and intimate time with God alone. 
 
Yet, at the same time, with everything in me, I know I was saved from death that day.  I know it on a very deep level.  I was kept from hitting my head on that granite.  We shudder when we look at the trajectory of the fall, and what it could have meant for me, how mysteriously something did intervene to keep me from the rock.
 
I celebrate this anniversary, because I can.
 
 

Grief

The following is a post for Red Tent Living.  The request was to write something about grief:
 
                                                      *********
 
 
I am tired of people dying.   I am weary of losing those I love. 
 
My friend and mentor, Brent, died in a rock climbing accident fifteen years ago, and I am still caught off guard every once in a while when I hear him laugh in my ear when I am trying too hard to be helpful  to people.
 
My brother Dick died of esophageal cancer eight years ago, and I still see his wry smile out of the corner of my eye, especially when I work a pun into a dinner conversation.
 
My mom Mary died five years ago after sixty seven years of marriage to my father.  A few weeks ago, without thinking, I picked up the phone to call her.  I couldn’t believe I had done it, but such is the ingrained desire to hear her sweet curiosity and the simple musings about the day.
 
I had a miscarriage.
 
My nephew Ryan died suddenly last December, and I ache as afternoon light gets low and we trek into the holidays; sometimes doubling over in pain for my sister and the hemorrhage in her mother’s heart.
 
My sweet canine companion of thirteen years, Cito, died a noble death last January.  Her form tracks me on trails.
 
My father-in-law Roland died a few weeks ago from aggressive cancer we did not know he had, so this time the invitation is to walk into the waters of grief on behalf of my Steve’s kind heart as he grieves all who his father was, and was not, to him.  Steve’s loss is familiar, but I have no way of predicting how  his waters will swell and roll.
 
Such is grief.  Capricious, unpredictable, comforting and honoring, rending, exhausting.  It has a mind of its own, deciding to crash in unannounced in the middle of a baby shower, on a hike, in the middle of a business interaction or in the frozen food aisle; choosing to come quietly like a whisper in the hollow hours of early morning.  There is no field manual for this stuff.  It is different for everyone.
 
And for those of us who have tasted the goodness of God in the land of the living as we’ve known Jesus’ love, it is the stuff of our hope.  Death is the doorway we are meant to hate, but a doorway none the less.  A doorway taking us into brilliance, unencumbered creativity, splendid laughter, shameless relationship, the choicest meats and finest wine.  If we listen carefully to our hearts, we know it to be true.  And we know it with pristine clarity when we grieve.   We do not grieve as those who have no hope – but I am convinced that the presence of hope makes grieving more potent.  I want to be with my brother and my dog; but even more I want to be where they are, in that place, seeing them in fullness. I can’t wait to be full myself, because Jesus knows I tire of being cranky and impatient.  I want to know what it is like to be certain of my belovedness.
 
For everyone, grief is the invitation to savor the sanctity of every moment of this precious life.
 
Some dialogue from the novel Goodbye for Now by Laurie Frankel, captures this:
 
“To love is to lose. It’s just that simple. Maybe not today but someday. It is the inevitable condition of humanity. Some sadness has no remedy. Some sadness you can’t make better.”
 
“But then why isn’t everyone walking around miserable all the time?”
 
“Because ice cream still tastes good. And sunny and seventy-five is still a lovely day. And funny movies make you laugh, and work is sometimes fulfilling, and a beer with a friend is nice. And other people love you, too.  [Death] has been around since time immemorial. You’ve run up against it. And there’s no getting around or over it. You stop and build your life right there at the base of that wall. But it’s okay. That’s where everyone else is too. Everyone else is either there or on their way. There is no other side, but there’s plenty of space there to build a life and plenty of company. Welcome to the wall.”
 
Death really is the ‘grand leveler.’  There is no getting around it.  And as much as I hate death, I really do love the heightened sense of life that comes in and around it.  There is nothing as piercing as the days and hours around death. If you’ve had the privilege of walking with someone you love up to that corridor, you know what it is to watch them struggling like an emerging butterfly in a chrysalis to make it through to the other side, to let go, to allow death to carry them into Life.  We just don’t want to say goodbye to the ice cream, laughter and movies.  We just can’t imagine strongly enough that what waits for us – who waits for us – will make our greatest pleasures here seem like a shadow, a vapor, a dream in the mist.

Praise and Endorsements for Beauty and the Bitch: Grace for the Worst in Me

Promotion (especially self-promotion) is dissonant for me... but not enough to keep me from being thrilled with the thoughts and responses to the book!  Especially by so many for whom I have such great respect.  I love that these folks have read the book and took the time to endorse it! 
 
                                                          ******* 
 
"Every failure of love, cruel word, broken loyalty, withdrawal of care arises from the war within.   We live out the war of our divided self and the debris casts a shadow over every relationship.  Jan Proett has lovingly and graciously allowed us to enter her world to see not only the harm but the hope.  The more we tell the truth about our war the more the healing our heart is open to receive.  And the hope is always the beauty we have been made to be in the light of the true beauty of Jesus.  Beauty and the Bitch pushes the envelope of language and invites us to consider the depths of what inflicts not only a woman's heart but a man's as well.  I winch with the B-word and how it may be used by a man against a woman or by a woman with cavalier contempt.  Jan is a courageous woman to name her inner war with that word, and she is aware as I am that it is never the prerogative of any man, ever, no matter the depths of sin, to use that word against his wife or any other woman.  May your reading invite you to the face of beauty you are and the one you are to become."   
 
     ~Dan B. Allender Ph.D.
       Professor of Counseling Psychology and Founding President
       The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology   
 
"Jan's words will heal and minister life to the broken places for so many women. Instead of resorting to armour or performance, Jan encourages us to embrace the dignity and identity found in Christ. It's an honest and timely book for many women." 
      ~ Sarah Bessey, author of Jesus Feminist.   
 
There is Life found in Jan’s words.  Light and life.  Fearless truth.  Vulnerable honesty.  Soaring hope. Fiery love.  The kind that changes a person in the way one longs to be changed. I have been seen and not rejected but understood.  Not only have I been understood but I’ve been invited to see myself, my life, my way  through the eyes of Love. The invitation extended in “Beauty and the Bitch” is to not turn our face away from ourselves but to take a fearless look.  A grace-filled look.  A look that we are safe to take because we do it while securely held in the embrace of our loving God who has already shamelessly, flagrantly decreed that we are beautiful.   In this stunning work, Jan shares intimately her journey, her failings, her pain, her story– and the steady restoring presence of Love throughout.  It is overflowing with wisdom and hope; winsomely, brilliantly and honestly written. Read it.  Take the risk.  Choose to come more alive.  Awaken. Increasingly come out of hiding and be found by the One who has always been pursuing you. 
 
     ~ Stasi Eldredge, author of Captivating and Becoming Myself.  
 
 
The title of this book obviously grabbed my attention. But I'm so grateful I didn't stop with the cover for what oozes from the chapters and paragraphs and lines and words is very good news, and heaven knows we need more of that. Author Jan Meyers Proett practices midwifery here. By confessionally sharing the pangs of her own story Jan encourages the birth of something in you and me: beauty - not as the world defines but as God desires. This process is not pretty, but the world doesn't need more pretty. The world needs more beautiful.  Thank you, Jan. 
 
      ~ John Blase, author of Know When To Hold 'Em and All is Grace (with Brennan Manning for Brennan’s memoir)  
 
 

On Breaking Bad, Boxer, and Beauty in Dry Bones

 
On Breaking Bad, Boxer, and Beauty in Dry Bones
 
The word ‘beauty’ is weary; limping along from overuse, and disappointed from being misunderstood (grant me the anthropomorphism – I’m convinced the poor word is actually suffering).
 
But beauty is the only word to describe something that caught me off guard, not long after my nephew Ryan died suddenly from an overdose of heroin and methamphetamine.  Indulge me in the story?...
 
Many of us watch the destruction that can come from the angel-like experience of drugs on Breaking Bad. But Ryan was a brilliant young man with a broken heart and unnamed pain – he, in actuality, found drugs from dealers in Albuquerque.  Those drugs took his joy.  Those Albuquerque drugs took his life.  Let me know if Hank Shrader is able to prosecute Walter White – our family needs to know.
 
Ryan and I were close. There was a sweet affection between us born in his childhood.  He called me his ‘second mother.’  I write in the book about what happened immediately after his death:
 
“The words “Ryan is dead” tumbled like an avalanche of heavy stone into my center, crushing it. My nephew Ryan’s face, his essence, was immediately before the eyes of my spirit, scenes from his life flickering past in rapid succession, landing on a walk I had with him by the Rio Grande in warm winter sun just three weeks prior. I envisioned my sister’s eyes, and I crumpled to the floor. I will not describe the words pouring from my sister’s heart. They are sacred words, words of passionate affection, longing, and knowledge of her son. They cascaded from a heart shattered like glass. And I cannot describe the words that rose up in me to meet her words. Our cry rose to heaven, with him. The holiday party Steve and I were about to host, the feast, the preparation, the pleasure, vanished into a fog. The room was swallowed up in shock. The warming oven, the bubbling cider, stopped. It did not dare move. Ryan was gone, and the rest of the world went silent.
 
Ryan’s face was all I could see. I saw his wry three year-old face, certain even then of his attire, down to his choice of socks. I saw the slight tilt of his head, as his twenty-five year-old penetrating gaze quietly inquired of me, curious about Steve’s software, my counseling work, our family. I felt his creative soul, saw his paintings, heard his writing. I saw the familiar, familial pain deep in his eyes, the cost of bearing a sensitive spirit in a harsh world. I saw his glimmering smile. How handsome.”
 
(Jan Meyers Proett (2013-07-15).Beauty and the Bitch: Grace for the Worst in Me (Kindle Locations 1559-1562).Bondfire Books. Kindle Edition.)
 
Many (truly) beautiful things happened for our family in the midst of that horror. If someone you love has been snatched away, you understand the beauty that is a mystery too great for telling.   But today I want to try – I want to tell you about a man named Boxer.
 
Four weeks after Ryan died, in the heavy fog of grief, I realized that I had something on my calendar.  A Saturday had been set aside for a tour given to all the volunteers for an organization called Dry Bones – folks who befriend and assist homeless youth in Denver.  I was brought into the goodness of what these folks do when they asked me to counsel some of the girls who had been brought into prostitution.  The tour was to give all volunteers a clearer glimpse into the underworld underneath Denver.  I had been anxious to take this tour; I wanted to understand a bit more of the stories of the girls (14 – 22) with whom I’d have the privilege of being.  My step-daughter Sarah and I had planned to take this tour together, as she has deep heart for those forgotten in this world.  Sarah loved Ryan – a lot.  In our shared grief-born weariness, we decided to stick to the plan.
 
So we went.
 
The tour began on the 16th Street Mall, by Jos E Banks, jewelers, and restaurants.  We then began, over three hours, to slowly descend.  The Dry Bones guys asked us to pay close attention to the architecture, and how things changed each time we went down a ramp or a flight of stairs. Slowly the world changed.  Somehow we were under the city we all know and love, in a world rarely seen and acknowledged.  There are close to 12,000 folks without homes who live on Denver streets, estimates are that 6,000 of them are teenagers (kids who have fled abusive homes, completed the foster system with nowhere to go, etc.).  This was their world.  A world where mattresses are crammed into spaces beneath railroad tracks (meaning the trains run ten feet above their heads all night long); a world of homemade families, a tight camaraderie of courage- and a world filled with bottles and needles.   
 
Okay, so you are still listening for what is beautiful.  Hang in there – it is coming.
 
The tour ended in one of the largest tunnels under the city.  Our Dry Bones friends went ahead of us to check to make sure we would not be interrupting anyone’s ‘home.’  The glare of low winter light hung just at the end of the tunnel, just enough light to reflect on the wrappers and discarded needles strewn around my feet.  My gaze fell on a dollop of fresh blood, just near my feet, the vibrancy of life still in its clear red gleam.
 
My head started to spin.  Ryan. All I could think about was Ryan.  Sarah grabbed my hand, tears in her eyes. 
 
Suddenly the outline of a man, not in our group, unexpectedly appeared at the end of the tunnel.  Anyone at the end of a tunnel is going to look angelic.  He was outlined in light, and he seemed earnest.  He rested one forearm on the top of the tunnel, and held his hand to his forehead.  The Dry Bones guys explained, “This is Boxer, and he has something he wants to say to us.”  Boxer shifted slightly, cleared his throat and began what I can only describe as a guttural soliloquy to the horrific beauty of life on the streets. 
 
“My name is Boxer, and I am a heroin addict.  Where you are standing is our place.”  He was not chiding; he just wanted us to know.  “I want you to know that each and every one of us that has been in this space knows exactly what they are doing.  We’re not bad people.  Some of us have just given up.  This place has been a place where we have found God by the enjoyment of being together.  Some really bad things have happened here.  I have found a few of my friends dead in here…”
 
Then Boxer did something - and I am convinced that what he did, he did for me without knowing.  “I want to ask if we could hold hands and say a prayer together.  None of us who have given up would ever make it if God didn’t find us.  God came and found me, and now I am working to know our Lord.  I would like to say a prayer to honor those who have died from heroin.”  Once again I was light-headed.  Did he just say that? 
 
It all happened so fast.  I knew going in to the day that my eyes would be opened.  To what, I did not know.  I did know that I liked the group that was taking me there – to the streets – because their ethic is so strongly one of respect, to break down the us/them mentality that somehow those without homes ‘need me’ or that somehow I won’t be given to or need them just as much.  They were taking me in to these tunnels to show me how low some of us are forced to go because ‘up there’ does not welcome us, and we don’t have the heart or healing or resources to get ‘up there.’   To remind me of how low we all go. 
 
But I did not see it coming.  Sarah and I were given the gift of honoring Ryan on this day - the gift of remembering the one who I loved so deeply, one for whom there are a hundred irreconcilable questions, one for whom my heart hemorrhaged for frustrated vision for his life. There was a sacred acknowledgment of the evil behind the angel drug, the drug that without question brings a false taste of the divine to those who gather in the tunnel without loved ones, without family.   I wanted to scream, “But Ryan did not die here in this filthy tunnel!  His death may be from the same drug, but he did not die here.” 
 
But my protest got washed away with Boxer's message.  He was sad that drugs had taken his friends’ lives.  Well, I was sad, too.  It wasn’t about the tunnel, or a nice warm apartment.  It was about all of our hearts, and those ‘giving up’ places in which we don’t know what to do.  It was about how we get trapped, get caught, taken by something for which there is no margin for error.
 
It was unexpected communion; one I could not have thought up in a million years. And yes, it was beautiful. Beautiful – a word resurrected, new flesh on its bones.  And truly, resurrection is the only beauty that matters.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

What is Beautiful?

 
Between the new book and being part of an event next month called Brave Beauty, my mind has been filled with thoughts about beauty.  I adore the subject, partly because I spend a lot of my days plowing around in the underbelly of lives in the counseling office, and party because I love how unpredictable beauty is.  For example, I could never have predicted the laughter waiting for me after a long counseling day, when I witnessed a squirrel jump on – no, JUMP ON – one of our chickens.  This ambush was one of the most hilarious things I have ever seen.  That fuzzy-tailed scoundrel rode that bird like he was in a rodeo until the poor traumatized fowl could shake him off.  It was beautiful.
 
Beauty is one of the most mysterious and misunderstood realities in life.  Of course it is - beauty entices our hearts back, and beyond.  It beckons us back to the original intent (which invites us to grieve what  is missing), and beyond to a place which transcends the mess.  Simon Weil was dead on when she wrote that beauty and affliction are the two things which can pierce our hearts.  It is what loneliness, a turquoise Lazuli Bunting bird, and Hatch Blue Corn Chile Enchiladas all have in common:  they consistently draw me to life.    Beauty pierces us as much as everything that invades beauty – both invite us to a level of courage we never knew we had. 
 
Beautiful courage is seen in a woman who carries the secret shame of touch from an uncle, who tends to her garden but also fights legislatively for the rights of those caught in slavery.  It can be found in a woman who has left evangelical culture, holding a deep sorrow for the pressure she found there when she knows it was to offer her abundant life. Equally it is seen in the woman who chooses to join a church because she wants to understand the bible better - she just wants to know God.  It shows up in a woman who is discovering the healing that comes from blessing every part of her body, thanking it for all it has suffered and experienced. And in the woman who laughs uproariously during a good movie, playfully slapping her embarrassed son.  It is in a tired mother of three who climbs into bed next to a man with whom she holds piercing disappointment, who climbs out the next morning to greet the sunrise with sun salutations in solidarity with her tender ache.  In the woman who schemes a special getaway for her husband. The woman who holds her tongue.  The woman who speaks her mind. 
 
Beautiful choices and brave living are as unique as fingerprints – but we recognize them if we have an eye for them; if we cast off our judgments of another woman’s path and turn with kindness in acknowledgment of all we don’t know of her; if we turn with kindness toward our own frailty. 
 
As I wrote recently in the new book:
 
"Beauty shows up in a family tradition, a spontaneous song on a quiet morning in bed, or when we laugh at the sight of a hummingbird’s bomber-like descent only to come to rest on a spindle of a blossom. It appears as we feel the elbow of the Spirit in our ribs as we catch ourselves in our most practiced prideful arrogance. It tips its hand as we weep sweet tears when we remember an exquisite grace granted to us during a lonely time. Beauty is different for everyone. It also lingers in the bottle-filled room when a woman allows herself to admit the alcohol is not big enough to hold her heart, or as a friend said recently, “I’m just out of stuff that works.” It pushes its way through the pulse of techno-music and comes to rest in the thoughts of the girl who realizes that the guy’s thrusting toward her on the dance floor was more about her body and fantasy than it was about a genuine curiosity about who she is. She drives home alone, aching but beautiful."
 
It goes on to say:
 
“I have tried hard to be beautiful. I’ve tried to talk myself into the truth that I am beautiful. I have tried to rouse my heart, to cheer lead myself toward something good. May I say it again? It doesn’t work. My beauty— the original glory placed in me like a fingerprint— has to be restored. As we will explore, there’s much at war within you— many things that combat the glory of God. Our beauty has been ignored, mocked, violated, manipulated, and harmed. And in turn, we betray our own beauty— we attempt to erase, diminish and even abuse our own beauty. You can’t change your heart through sheer will. We must allow the original image to be unveiled, allow the original glory to rise, again and again.Thankfully the image of God within you refuses to ever be completely erased,and thankfully the stunning grace of God when you are brutal with yourself and those you love never dies. True beauty comes and finds us and laughs that we were looking the other way.”
 
Jan Meyers Proett (2013-07-15). Beauty and the Bitch: Grace for the Worst in Me (Kindle Locations 130-137). Bondfire Books. Kindle Edition.
 
When do you feel most beautiful?  We (my publisher and I) are going to gather responses to that question so that we can all see the myriad ways beauty shows up in our complicated, difficult, precious lives.  Be thinking about it.  We’ll gather the responses the week of September 16!
 

Endorsements and Praise for the Book

Promotion (especially self-promotion) is dissonant for me... but not enough to keep me from being thrilled with the thoughts and responses to the book!  Especially by so many for whom I have such great respect.  I love that these folks have read the book and took the time to endorse it!  
 
                                                       *******
 
"Every failure of love, cruel word, broken loyalty, withdrawal of care arises from the war within.   We live out the war of our divided self and the debris casts a shadow over every relationship.  Jan Proett has lovingly and graciously allowed us to enter her world to see not only the harm but the hope.  The more we tell the truth about our war the more the healing our heart is open to receive.  And the hope is always the beauty we have been made to be in the light of the true beauty of Jesus.  Beauty and the Bitch pushes the envelope of language and invites us to consider the depths of what inflicts not only a woman's heart but a man's as well.  I winch with the B-word and how it may be used by a man against a woman or by a woman with cavalier contempt.  Jan is a courageous woman to name her inner war with that word, and she is aware as I am that it is never the prerogative of any man, ever, no matter the depths of sin, to use that word against his wife or any other woman.  May your reading invite you to the face of beauty you are and the one you are to become."   
 
~Dan B. Allender Ph.D.
Professor of Counseling Psychology and Founding President
The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology 
 
 
"Jan's words will heal and minister life to the broken places for so many women. Instead of resorting to armour or performance, Jan encourages us to embrace the dignity and identity found in Christ. It's an honest and timely book for many women."
 
~ Sarah Bessey, author of Jesus Feminist.
 
 
 
There is Life found in Jan’s words.  Light and life.  Fearless truth.  Vulnerable honesty.  Soaring hope. Fiery love.  The kind that changes a person in the way one longs to be changed. I have been seen and not rejected but understood.  Not only have I been understood but I’ve been invited to see myself, my life, my way  through the eyes of Love.
 
The invitation extended in “Beauty and the Bitch” is to not turn our face away from ourselves but to take a fearless look.  A grace-filled look.  A look that we are safe to take because we do it while securely held in the embrace of our loving God who has already shamelessly, flagrantly decreed that we are beautiful.   In this stunning work, Jan shares intimately her journey, her failings, her pain, her story– and the steady restoring presence of Love throughout.  It is overflowing with wisdom and hope; winsomely, brilliantly and honestly written. Read it.  Take the risk.  Choose to come more alive.  Awaken. Increasingly come out of hiding and be found by the One who has always been pursuing you. 
~ Stasi Eldredge, author of Captivating and Becoming Myself.
 
 
The title of this book obviously grabbed my attention. But I'm so grateful I didn't stop with the cover for what oozes from the chapters and paragraphs and lines and words is very good news, and heaven knows we need more of that. Author Jan Meyers Proett practices midwifery here. By confessionally sharing the pangs of her own story Jan encourages the birth of something in you and me: beauty - not as the world defines but as God desires. This process is not pretty, but the world doesn't need more pretty. The world needs more beautiful. 
 
Thank you, Jan.
 
~ John Blase, author of Know When To Hold 'Em and All is Grace (with Brennan Manning for Brennan’s memoir)
 
 
 

It is all in a name...

 
The act of naming anything is a sacred endeavor –a baby, a company, a pet, a town, a book.  Though I (and those I trust) wrestled with the name of the Beauty and the Bitch:  Finding Grace for the Worst in me, its title came to rest as the only thing accurate enough to display the wonder that we are never able to fully erase, eradicate or hide the beauty of God, no matter how hard, cold, mean or dismissive we may become. This baby’s true name is Beauty, after all.  The bitch in me or anyone else simply mars the beauty.
 
Because language means everything, I’d like to offer some thoughts around the title of the book.
 
1.      The word has been hi-jacked.  The word bitch in its unadulterated form, in its pristine meaning, is preciousas it is the moniker given to various female animals as they care for and tend to their young.  When you envision a little den of foxes with babies nestled up to their mother to nurse,I am guessing that the word bitch doesn’t even come to your mind - such is the regrettable abduction of language.  The word has new meanings now in the cultural vernacular – and we all know the majority of the meanings are derogatory. Very sad, but true.
 
 
 
2.      The word ‘bitch’ is a word that we should only use about ourselves, and not to describe anyone else.  Compare a wife saying “You don’t have balls” to “My love, I know you have more courage than you are displaying .”  The first is not merely disrespectful; it is a contemptuous attempt to make a man feel small.  Similarly, when a man (or another woman for that matter) says, “You are a bitch” - it is never okay, in any cultural situation, and regardless of the transgression. It crosses the line.  Compare the contempt with a loving invitation, “My love, your attitude and behavior are abrasive(or cold) (or sullen) (or mean) (or manipulative), and I don’t think you want to be thought of in that way.”  What a gorgeous alternative.  The person can even say, “Please – I don’t think you want to sound so bitchy” and those words would not have the same shameful impact because they specify the behavior or attitude, and not the woman herself. 
 
 
 
It is the proclamation of “This is who you ARE” which crosses the line into diminishment and harm. Anyone who works in the realm of domestic violence can trace abuse back to this kind of shaming. 
 
 
 
I can call myself a bitch.  But even then it must not cross the line into self-condemnation.  It can be said in honest self- assessment, but it must not become banter.  It is too precise of a word to be used frivolously.  When I am a bitch, there is no other word for it, and I use it to call a spade a spade.  But if I toss the word around as though it is a word to be played with, I fall into the trap of coarse jesting and talk that just isn’t helpful.
 
 
 
3.      I have, of course, paid close attention to various contexts where the word is used, and – wow - it has been a cultural education.   For example, in the show Breaking Bad, the culture of suburban Albuquerque and the culture of gangs and street drugs collide.  In the suburban culture, the word connotes a hard, cold or whining and complaining woman. In the street culture, the word is bandied about almost as a term of endearment – a rusted form of ‘hey, buddy.’ It is used so often by Jesse, one of the main characters, it almost disappears into the haze of his desperation as a young man; the conflict he feels as he produces Crystal Meth.  He uses the word a lot, and uses it to address just about any person of any importance in his life.  It is a fraternal word, one that seems to say, “We are both bitches to the world (we are the lowly and degraded ones), but we are together.”   It is simply a common greeting on the streets.   For some young women I know who have lived on the streets for some time in Denver, the same is true – it is a part of their vernacular. It is a term of endearment, a collegial, ‘you’re in the group' expression of speech.
 
 
4.      And then there are the ways the word is used in the book Beauty and the Bitch:  Finding Grace for the Worst in Me.   I write from three categories – fear and control, pride, and addiction.  These three tendencies shroud beauty, and make us into someone who manifests the contemporary moniker of bitch:  cold, complaining, sullen, defensive, harsh,inaccessible, guarded, and braced.    
 
 
The good news:  Beauty trumps bitch - in language, and in our hearts.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Here she is.

 
 
 
 
Here she is.
 
I was thrilled when I received the artwork back from Charles Peters, who designed the cover for Beauty and the Bitch:  Finding Grace for the Worst in Me.  The design captures well the secondary message of the book.  There is a tenacious hardness inside of us – a bracing that shrouds the powerful life we can offer – and it disappears when we let go and relax.  Check out the woman’s face.  She has a stunning and majestic jawline, exquisite skin, full and pouty lips, eyes that could be brilliant if they weren’t … well, inflicting the damage of dismissal.  Her posture says it all:  I wince to be in your presence; I disdain having to participate in relationship with you, I am above you, I am inaccessible, I am cold as ice.  I am in control.
 
But if we could crawl inside her heart, in the deepest place where her story is held, we would find whispers of the primary message of the book:  the beauty of God cannot be destroyed.   Embedded in the place where God’s fingerprint resides is the indestructible longing for the beauty of God to show itself.  Even in our most intractable and hardened state, this beauty rises without apology, and consistently knocks on our stubborn door to be let out.   As it says in the book:
 
    “Beauty shows up in a family tradition, a spontaneous song on a quiet morning in bed, or when we laugh at the sight of a hummingbird’s bomber-like descent only to come to rest on a spindle of a blossom.  It appears as we feel the elbow of the Spirit in our ribs as we catch ourselves in our most practiced prideful arrogance. It tips its hand as we weep sweet tears when we remember an exquisite grace granted to us during a lonely time.  It is different for everyone.
 
    It also lingers in the bottle filled room when a woman allows herself to admit the alcohol is not big enough to hold her heart, or as a friend said recently, “I’m just out of stuff that works.” It pushes its way through the pulse of techno-music and comes to rest in the thoughts of the girl who realizes that the guy’s thrusting toward her on the dance floor was more about her body and fantasy than it was about a genuine curiosity about who she is. She drives home alone - aching but beautiful.”
 
 
The fingerprint of God – the merciful, elegant, strong, fierce, wise, warm, inviting, welcoming, comforting image of God was held in the person of Eve (the original Eve, before the descent into suspicion and control).  We carry her, and the memory of her ways and her essence, in the deepest place within us.  No matter how much our beauty has been maligned, assaulted, ignored or violated – no matter how much we have hidden our loveliness or tried to shut it down – the original design of God refuses to be erased.  Again, from the book:
 
     “Our genetic heritage comes seeping out – we may have never visited, but our hearts have rehearsed the stories of our homeland countless times without even realizing it.  Even if we live in the heart of the city, or have a life dedicated to the slums, our hearts are beckoned back to Eden beauty even by a lonely butterfly landing on a trash can.”
 
      
Envision for a moment how the face of the woman on the cover might change if she risked letting go of her own control - if she listened to her deepest heart?  Imagine her posture, her stature, her eyes, as they were originally intended.  What does your face look like today?  What is your posture?  How is the beauty of God rising in you today?
 
 
 
 

Addiction: The Passion Killer

When resignation comes and whispers the message, “This is all there is.  There will never be anything more than this for you” – that is the moment we are most prone to flee into our addictions. 
 
 
In Beauty and the Bitch:  Finding Grace for the Worst in Me, we explore three major ways in which we shroud the beauty of an open heart :  Control, Pride and Addiction.  Here is an excerpt from the chapter on addiction:
 
 
 
"We kill desire by finding M&Ms and consuming forty of them without really tasting one.  We shut down our hearts by downing an entire six pack of microbrew alone, rather than enjoying one or two bottles slowly, with a friend, over an honest conversation. We take flight into an obsessive relationship, believing that without the person’s presence or affirmation, we will die.  We hoard a man’s compliments like a secret stash of manna.  We appear free of addiction, but are steeped in it as we have a long conversation over lunch with a friend -   the entire time discussing another woman’s marriage, ’out of concern’ for her – gossip addiction sanctified.  We turn our face from our true desire and  find a few solitary hours with porn – either actual websites, or three of the latest InStyle or Vogue – or even better, Men’sHealth - magazines. Rather than trying on a new outfit and purchasing but one piece of the ensemble - dreaming of the time we can complete the package –we max out the credit card and buy all the new styles of the season at once.  We commit ourselves to three volunteer activities when we really only have a heart for one, and might not even have time for that. We watch The Bachelor, or read through a morning liturgy – mindlessly. Most women I know are too busy to even fantasize about having an affair, but the overextended calendar can serve a similar purpose.  Goodness, often it is an affair – a tryst with adrenalin or work.  Of course sometimes the drive to success is truly out of necessity to provide and sometimes a love of career -  but sometimes we fight an enemy that isn’t even there. Often our successes come from a detached willingness to carry a weight far too big for our shoulders, especially when carried along with the management of a home and family.  Same can be said for how often we dive in to too much church activity, to feel the strokes from a church culture which lauds overextended women.
 
 
Staying Alive to Desire
 
Madeleine L’Engle wrote,   "When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability... To be alive is to be vulnerable."  Leaving our addictions means we will feel naked.  It feels crazy to give up our addictive covers – especially those the bitch inside of us holds on to with bleeding fingernails.   But our forays into anything that numbs or overindulges are attempts to mitigate our ache, to create for ourselves a space where there is no disappointment, loss or aloneness.  We refuse to bend under the weight of the fall, and feel, along with Eve, “you will have an unmet aloneness in every arena ofgiving life, and you will have a fierce demand to be certain of your husband’s desire for you, and way with you, but you will be disappointed and as he is his own person (my paraphrase of Gen 3:14-16).”   Oh, no – we will not suffer like Eve, we say.  Our addictions are our attempt to rise above the fall; to answer the dilemma ourselves. Rather than admit our vulnerability in our loneliness and our lack ofcontrol - rather than allow the fall to draw our hearts to our true safety inthe heart of God - we refuse and create our own shield of defense. 
 
 
Now, before this is  misinterpreted as too complimentarian, conservative or old school – please know I could  write a parallel paragraph about Adam – that he would do anything to avoid the futility of life, or the shame of exposure, so he grabs the fig leaf of competence or blame shifting.  It isn’t that our heritage with Eve carries any more misaligned power than a man’s heritage with Adam.  We both have to learn to bend, humble ourselves, and admit our need.  Our needs just look different, that’s all –at least a smidgen - but that smidgen is significant.  And therefore our addictions tend to have a male/female flavor to them.  If you scan through your addictive tendencies, I am guessing they have a relational ache at their core.  If a man does the same,there is likely a longing for impact at the core.  For both men and women - our addictions create a world where we don’t have to ask, seek or knock; we don’t have to come with a child’s heart and desire; we don’t have to wait; we don’t have to suffer.  Women tend to suffer just a bit more in the loneliness department; men tend to suffer a bit more as they feel the impact of futility and pressure.  These are not static, rigid categories; but they are fluid realities which I have seen fleshed out in my work with people, across cultures. There is great power in casting off our respective fig leaves (sounds downright arousing, doesn’t it?).  Actually, it is quite sensual ,because it us the allows us to receive God’s covering of our shame; and then the power to love, equally.  I love how Sarah Bessey puts it, “We submit to each other and because we follow Him, we both practice playing second fiddle.”  Vulnerability and mutual submission are great– albeit risky – aphrodisiacs. 
 
 
By way of contrast, the world of addiction, we create reality as we want it. We are tempted to say that it doesn’t work, but the reality is, most addictions are effective – for a while. If you don’t want to feel the longing for motherhood when you’ve been trying to get pregnant for months, chronic TV watching will work for a while to get you out of the dilemma of desire.  If you are weary of hoping for the job you really want, several fast food stops is a great help.  If you are longing for a deeper relationship with your daughter and she is intractable, there are plenty of prescription drugs available through the internet to assuage the ache.  But most importantly, if you don’t want the energy of real love to be stirred in you, choose your addiction du jour.. it is a sure passion killer."
 
We're getting excited about the release of the book, which will be available mid-July through all major book vendors.  Stay tuned...
 
 

Nothing Gold Can Stay

 
Another enormous and unyielding fire.   As precious terrain is consumed, I’m waiting to hear whether or not the house of dear friends is still standing midst the capriciousness of the jumping flames. 
 
Meanwhile, our dog Indy is over in the corner on his big dog pillow with cold compresses wrapped around his swollen joints and neck.  He is immobile, whimpering and in pain because that is what occurs when a rattlesnake strikes you.  He is in the 5% of prairie rattlesnake bite victims who suffer severe repercussions. The snake was striking at my ankle when we were hiking, and Indy happened to cross the path and took the strike for me.  Indy is an inadvertent hero, now suffering onmy behalf.  Thank you, buddy.
 
And here I am, writing with my mouth stuffed with gauze from some unexpected oral surgery.  I now have a socket where there once was a tooth, and if it were more visible I would feel like a hillbilly.  An extreme leap, perhaps, but that gives you a sense of my weary battle.  
 
These are the ‘light and momentary’ trials, according to Paul…?  I guess if the barometer is persecution and shipwrecks.  Light compared to being trafficked from West Africa to Amsterdam in the sex trade, maybe. Momentary compared to living in the trash heaps surrounding Manila.  My dog and my teeth are nothing in light of blackened trees and destroyed homes, but when added in the mix these ‘along theway’ things make the eternal weight of glory seem pretty far off.   Being on pain medication at the moment is helpful (and as I write this, could prove quite entertaining) - these light and momentary things have been adding up, and my courage has been growing thin; my gratitude and wonder caught in thebalance. 
 
Times like these tempt us to wander back to the ‘good old days,’ to the seasons of our lives we hold as golden seasons; the seasons when aromas were sweet, laughter easy and there was a sense of ease and  goodness in life.  I say ‘tempt’ because when we are weary, we often don’t wander to the memories with our hearts open, we are not looking for reminders of God’s goodness.  Rather we go there with a sense of fantasy – “if only I could recreate the thing that stirred my heart so deeply.”  We go there having already falsely concluded that there won’t be gold in our present, or our future, so our foray into gold is bitter; it stings.
 
My life has had many golden moments.  Here are a few:
 
* Staring quiet, breathless, as an array of animals around awatering hole in a remote portion of Kruger Park in South Africa (kudu,waterbok, zebra, monkeys, hippopotamus) dispersed in a mad flurry as a male lion crested the hill.  He slowly,majestically, singularly sauntered to the water to partake of his royal drink ,and then he wandered to the top of the hill, settled into a comfortable spot,and enjoyed a slight breeze in his gorgeous mane as he looked over his – truly his – kingdom. 
 
* Reveling in the enchantment of the reception after my marriage to Steve, a party held in what would be our home.  The backyard was dotted with round tables covered with white umbrellas, acoustic flamenco guitar music floated throughthe air by our friend Ramon Bermudez, an artist from Santa Fe.  Grilled salmon and steak, ample wine, genuine laughter and lingering conversations in the shade of cedar and cottonwood - well into the evening.  The end of the day found me in my wedding dress, holding a hose, watering down the garden before our trip.  It was perfect.  The shining star of a man had been brought tome, and I to him, and it was a taste of the kingdom, as weddings should be.
 
So am I saying I shouldn’t cultivate thoughts about such precious times?  Oh, I must.  We all must. We have to remember the magic ofthose times that whisper that there is something more beautiful than destruction,or even dental pain, vet bills and groceries. If we want to thrive, we have to return to the gold.  But it is what we go after -what we are looking for inour venture there - that either leads us to deeper life, or resignation.  And resignation is a powerful force.
 
Resignation was a topic of conversation during another sweet, golden season in my late twenties and early thirties.  Those were the early days of my counseling career, and I was loving – loving –watching God’s intense desire to restore people, and myself along the way.  And I loved working alongside my friend, mentor and colleague, Brent Curtis. Brent died in 1998, and when he did, the world lost a brilliant man, a truly golden man, a true and noble man - a man with the dustiest of rare, clayfeet.  Brent was part sage, part curmudgeon, part hobbit, part Ernest Hemingway. He was my crusty friend; my cowboy coffee pot sitting-on-the-fire too-longfriend.  I said at his funeral that hewas a cross between Clint Eastwood and a homeless person.  He lived predominantly free from so many things that bind our hearts, but he knew resignation like the back of his chapped hand. 
 
 I used to muse to myself that Brent’s cynicism was unnecessary. He would often come straggling in to the counseling office, proclaimingthat he was now ready (now ready for the 10 time) to go work at Target, because this fight for peoples’ hearts was too hard; just not worth the cost.  I laughed along with him, and understood – at least I thought I understood. In fact I did understand, as even in my young career I felt the immenseprice-tag of enlisting in this war.  But I, of course, did not understand - not the way a few more decades of life invite you to understand. As I write this Iam now but a few years shy of Brent’s age when he died.  Now I understand, friend.  I will put my application in tomorrow; maybe Walmart for me, as it is closer to our house.
 
Brent wrote this in his book The Sacred Romance (co-authored with John Eldredge).  The ‘Haunting’ he refers to is simply allthat stirs our heart to remember there is always more gold to be found.
 
"At one time or another, though,most of us forget the Haunting, or try to; for it often threatens to cripple us, leaving us bent over and unable to deal with the everyday things that life requires to be done.  We all, to some extent, take that shining something in us that felt magical and passionate as children, that something that later swirled amid the confusion of sexual passion and our longing for heart intimacy – we take it and push it through the loneliness, ache, and turmoil of life – through various stages of disconnection and hardness to another abiding place:  a kind of resignation.  There is something inside of us that says, “This is the way it is. I had better learn to deal with it.” " 
 
Thankfully Brent did not allow the war with resignation to win, and because of it, he is a central golden character in my story. When I was dating Steve, it was sweet to know that, though Brent would not meet Steve, he would have loved him.  It was a golden endorsement.
 
So I’m tuning in to my resignation today.  “This is the way it is” is my temptation as I sit here on this smoke filled day,along with our invalid dog.  And it is no surprise that it is here that I’m tempted to give my heart away to familiar, lesser things – despair, anxiety, and the accompanying addictions to Facebook,or worry – or simply the foray into the belief that ‘if only I could get back there.’ Fools gold.
 
But if I tune in with more acuity, if I listen more carefully, there is a deeper beauty.  Once we tune into our resignation - recognize its presence and gently push it aside – then the tenacious whisper of the real, indestructible golden place rises.  It isa longing for the truest of places; it whispers that this is not, in fact, all there is. 
 
And what the longing points to is not far off.  The true gold – the kingdom of God - is very near and accessible.  We have a propensity to believe the kingdom is far away – ‘out there’ – ‘coming by and by.’  That is true in that one day there will be no more destruction, malaise, or loss of heart. But when the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?” Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.(Luke 17:21,22)."
 
The true gold is in us, among us. It showed up as my dear friend, who is waiting on word about her burning neighborhood and her home said, “It really is okay.  It is just a house.”  Her heart is held by the deeper beauty – she knows she is loved – her words hold the kingdom. Steve just brought me a Jamba  Juice to comfort me in my surgery healing, and as he did, the true gold lingered.  Our daughters made a special trip out of their busy lives, just to come and pet and reassure Indy.  Is this the kingdom?  Yes.
 
Robert Frost’s words,“Nothing gold can stay” were penned out of deep disappointment, and he was onto something.  But he wasn’t on to enough. He was forgetting the gold of golds, the sheer gold of love – the only indestructible thing that carries the heart of God directly into my weary, smoldering resignation. 
 
 
                                                                     **********
 
 
 
The next blog will be about addictions, because that is where our resignation inevitably leads. A chapter in Beauty and the Bitch:  Grace forthe Worst in Me is devoted to addiction, so we’ll splash around it in abit.
 
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