Thursday, February 25, 2010

iMac Trouble

Hey lovies,

My iMac needs repairing, and I have to send it out the the Apple hospital. I'll be back in a week or two. Until then...

Pax et Bonum!
mair-francis

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sheets and Blankets

Sometimes, when I know my children are stretched taut with their own very real troubles, I give them a pass on school. We call it a personal day. I don't care if they're in elementary school, when they need it, I grant it. Even little people need a personal day to rest a bit, collect themselves, and shore up to face the next day.

I'm taking a personal day today.

Yes, there's work to be done, marketing stuff, bio stuff and, God help me, an author photo--and you know how I feel about those! There's a proposal to finish, and housework that needs attending to, and I was prepared to do it all today, until I picked up the book I told you about not long ago, SistahFaith: Real Stories of Pain, Truth, and Triumph, and decided to stop hiding from my own life, and read it.

I have four stories in this powerful anthology (most of them appeared on this blog when a book deal was still a sparkle in my eye). Some of the contributors are my friends, one is my beloved sibling and big sister extraordinaire, Carly. As I read I nodded, cried, smiled, affirmed, and related, and Lord, have mercy, I remembered. By the time I'd read three of the four of mine, I had come undone. With my voice still broken from sobbing I called my brother, and though I'd said it before, I thanked him for saving my life, getting me out of Washington D.C. before Raphael (not his real name) killed me. We didn't talk long, but I needed to say it again.

Who are the people who spread their cloak around you and covered you when you were most vulnerable? Who were the souls on your personal underground railroad who made haste to steal you away to freedom in the night? Maybe some are long gone from your life, or even from this world. Pour their names out of your mouth like a libation. Give thanks for them, and after you've done that, take a moment to remember those who are still bound, even if that person is you. And pray once again.

On this chilly Monday during Lent, I am sitting in my version of sackcloth and ashes: I'm in the bed, in sheets and blankets.  I am remembering the girl who loved a boy, the naked pregnant lady in the yard, and the skinny little wisp of me who sliced a razor blade into the tender flesh of her wrists because for a moment, I didn't think I could bear another aching moment. And you know what is so surprising? What may even qualify as a miracle? I'm not hungry. I'm not running into the kitchen to keep that woman down. She's here in bed with me, staring at me with her mournful eyes, and I'm going to lie with her, hold her close, kiss her on the top of her head and whisper into her hair, "There, there. I've got you."

Most of Lent is about a cross that looms so much heavier than our own, and the innocent man who was God who hung on it. And rightfully so. 

Some of Lent is about the crosses that we shoulder right now: our obsessions; our mental illnesses; our eating disorders; our secret shame and sorrow. But make no mistake about it, some of the crosses Lent gives us pause to revisit are the ones we've staked in the ground of our pasts. These crosses say, "Something perished here, something precious and important, and we remember."

When memories so painful they spear you like giant icicles freezing your soft soul innards, it's okay to take a personal day, pull the sheets and blankets of mourning over you, rest a bit, collect yourself, and shore yourself up for tomorrow.

It's okay, every now and then.

mair

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Prayer, and an Invitation

So, I go to confession on Ash Wednesday, right? And I spill it all, especially about the eating disorder thing. And the soul work Fr. Normal gives me to do is to pray for you! Well, you don't have to ask me twice to pray for my lovies, so here my dear ones, is a prayer for all of you who are dealing with addictions of any kind.

Beloved,

We we really hunger for what is often not food. Our longing is for comfort, for a respite for our aches, and we are all in want of love. But food is not love. Alcohol is not comfort. Overwork does not take our aches away. We still feel afraid. Some of us cannot sleep. Beloved, often what we are trying to blunt is the very thing that makes us human. Our addictions, which may very well have once served as the defenses that protected us from great harm, are now the harm. Free us, O kind One.

The Velveteen Rabbit was wise enough to tell us that love makes us real, no matter how shabby and worn we appear. Beloved, give us permission, deep down in our souls, to be less than perfect. Most of us are addicted to something. Help us to be honest. Honesty is real, but in all our honesty and our reality, help us to see ourselves and one another with the soft eyes of grace.

Have mercy on us, good and patient God. Please teach us to be merciful to ourselves and one another. Give us the serenity to accept what we absolutely cannot change. Our bodies, as they are this very moment, are something we cannot change--not in this instant. Oh, we may feed them less, or exercise them more. We can color parts of them, and groom others, but what we have in this wee bit of time is what we have. Some of us are sick. Some of us are heavy. Some of us have curly hair we wish we was straight, and straight hair we wish was curly. And while we can take measures to change this--our hair will still sprout out of our heads straight, or curly. And some of us will not have hair grow at all! Dear God, I bring you our diseases, and lay them at your feet. Some of us will not be cured in this life, but that doesn't mean we can't be well. Help us to accept what we cannot change. But what we can, give us the courage the change. And as you know, Beloved, we don't always know the difference. Will you give us the wisdom to discern between the two? And Lord, will you heal us? I will leave it up to you how you will do that, because you are God, and I am just your servant.

Give us your grace, in the precious name of your Son, Jesus. Amen.

Now, lovies, I want to offer you an invitation--take me by the hand, and let's keep going to our Beloved God together. I don't just mean in prayer. All recovery is a journey into the arms of God. No matter what your longing, and especially if you try to fill those deep soul hungers with food, walk with me. I don't care what your drug of choice is, I'll be praying, and listening, and trying to help.

Okay?

mair-francis

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Whoops!

I've had a very busy day, and little time on the computer. Now, after 10 p.m., I have quite the migraine. Do join me on Monday for the prayers I promised. I'll be praying especially for those with addictions, and I want to be fully present praying for you, lovies. Meanwhile, have a beautiful Sunday, and we'll pick up right where we left off today on Monday.

And just to hold you, my Facebook and Twitter quotable Lent quote for today:

"Since all of us are weighed down by sin and its consequences, fasting is proposed to us as an instrument to restore friendship with God." -- Pope Benedict

Blessings!
mair

Friday, February 19, 2010

Happy Are Those...

This morning I woke up feeling happy for no good reason. Of course, as you can see by my previous post, I'm thinking about crosses: the one Christ bore on our behalf and the ones he gives to us. We suffer. We die to self, and our flesh, but amid all this sacrifice, I never want to lose sight of what a privilege it is to serve the Lord. In Small Surrenders, my Lenten devotional this year, yesterday I read about embracing our trials and sufferings. This is difficult for me, as my response to being told I may have a vocation to suffer reveals. But there are days of amazing grace that come to me for no good reason but the fact that God loves me. On those days, in my weakness and utter dependence on God, he shares with me his strength and ability to do his will, and I in turn give him the weight of my crosses. This is a conscious choice lovies, and in doing so I choose what Emilie Griffin calls "a certain lightness of heart." She writes:


"When we choose the way of Jesus we are opting for happiness. Just one simple line in the Psalms seems to say it all: Happy are those... whose hope in in the Lord their God. If we don't follow the way of the wicked, if we avoid the attitudes of sinners, if we don't hang out with the insolent, then we will have a kind of inward happiness that keeps us going. The Psalms make a further comparison: the good person is like a tree planted near running water, yielding fruit, whose leaves never fade or fall."


The fact is, crosses give way to resurrection and new life. Wouldn't it be marvelous, lovies, if we embraced spiritual disciplines in this penitential season, and tasted the sweet and luscious fruit they bear in our lives. God's fruit is good! Taste and see it! The spiritual disciplines are designed to make us those happy people who trust in the Lord our God.


When I was a girl, we used to sing praise songs in the Pentecostal church I went to. One of the songs the old folks sang was, "This joy that I have, the world can give it to me. The world can't give it, and the world can't take it away." So as you drag that cross you bear around, no matter what it may be, don't forget that Jesus said, "These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world."


I can see the empty tomb at the end of this Lenten journey. It's far away, and still a little fuzzy, but I know it's there, and just for today, the thought of it strengthens me.


Stay tuned, lovies. Tomorrow I'm going to write some prayers for us, and offer you an invitation.


Peace!
mair-francis

Thursday, February 18, 2010

One More Time...

Do you ever have those shining moments of clarity that reveal you've got it all wrong? Last night I went to confession.  Let me tell you, I LOVE my parish priest, Fr. Norman. Going to confession with him is an absolute pleasure, and that's a gift, a priest that makes you feel so safe that you're relieved to go and unburden yourself of the yolk of sin. So I laid out my big ticket items--my venial sins get wiped out during the Mass, and I was given abundant grace. I mean, I had grace in the first place. It was grace that drove me to go to confession, but it's a wonderful thing to be able to be honest about the worst things about yourself, and be cloaked with love afterward.

One of the things he spoke with me about is Paul's thorn in the side, and he helped me imagine Paul and the conversations he must have had with God: "Oh, Lord, I've got this thorn in my side. Take it away." To, "Oh, Lord. Thank you for this thorn in my side that draws me closer to you." I think I have a few thorns in my side, and they do draw me closer to my beloved, but I'm known to ask him to remove them on the regular. And then I thank him. And then I ask him to take it away. And so on. Lord, have mercy.

Today's Gospel reading is from Luke 9:22-25:

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘The Son of Man is destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and to be put to death, and to be raised up on the third day.’
Then to all he said, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, that man will save it. What gain, then, is it for a man to have won the whole world and to have lost or ruined his very self?’
 
Recently I read a stunning book by a writer I admire very much, Tim Farrington. He loves St. John of the Cross as I do. He's also no stranger to the Dark Night of the Soul--I don't just mean the poem and commentary St. John of the Cross wrote. I mean the experience. At some point, Farrington, who had the ambition most writers have full of dreams of being on Oprah and making the New York Times bestseller list, had to  do some business with God. He wondered if God had called him to be small, rather than large. He even entertained the thought that God called him to be a failure. Lordy, mercy! I've had this conversation with the Lord. Remember I told you my friend said I may have a vocation to suffer, and how I sorta wanted to kill him for even suggesting it? But a cross is firmly planted on my shoulder that insists on me being given to the broken, which requires me to be broken myself. 

Have I ever told you that I've felt jealous of the success of some of my fellow writers? That I felt angry that some people who don't particularly write beautifully experience wild success, while my sales numbers falter and my books become increasingly obscure. And you know what happens when you look at other people with jealously or envy? You stop looking at the Beloved, who has not forgotten you. This is hard to do lovies. A part of me is wicked ambitious.

But look at Jesus. His words to his disciples was that he was destined to suffer grievously. Rejected. But me, I've been unwilling to suffer or be rejected. And then I say yes to suffering and the little way. And then I say, "Take it away. I want to make it big!" In those moments I've got it all wrong. He's truly calling me to small. Intimate. Full of grace, and quiet, hidden beauty. And one more time, "No, I want the glory. I want to be a star."
I'm not saying that we shouldn't trust God for goodness and abundant blessings, but what I'm suggesting, to myself lovies, I don't want to preach to you, is that praying for the humility to accept the cross I've been given is a good thing, because like it or not, it's right there on my shoulder, and I've been dragging it around anyway, because it happens to be my destiny.

Ouch!

But all of us who follow Christ have crosses. Why is it so easy to forget this basic fact? 
 
The one thing I love about Lent most is the Way of the Cross. I can go through those stations like a pro! crying, and loving Jesus for carrying his cross, but when I walk away, I go back to my life still wanting my own cross to go away. 
 
What if I'm never famous, or popular, or win the award I'm nominated for? What if I get more bad reviews than good, and some people call me a heretic, or just plain ignorant and uninspired? What if the only people I reach for Jesus are the few who come to this blog? What if every writer I know succeeds, and all my books go out of print and the only thing I do is grow old living in a house of hospitality dressed in second hand clothes? 
 
Well, fame is over-rated. I LOVE this blog, and the people who come here, and despite myself, I think I did exactly what I promised Jesus I would do if he let me write: tell broken people he loves them. If anyone came to this blog and got a greater sense of the love of God in the midst of their struggles, I've done something beautiful for the Lord, which was all I wanted anyway. The house of hospitality is my dream. My clothes aren't great as it is. I love sharing Jesus with people face to face. To pass out coffee and soup, and love--now that's a great life!

I'll bet my hero Dorothy Day had a lot of bored days when her cross was the very thing she loved: offering hospitality. When she was getting cussed out, or worried about where the rent would come from, or disappointed with herself because once again she was angry or short with someone, I'll bet she felt the full weight of her cross. And maybe some of those times she had no Simon the Cyrene to help her shoulder it. 

We hate our crosses. We love them. We thank God for them. We beg him to take them away. It's all part of being human, and we can rest assured that Jesus walked the way before we did, and suffered more. That's enough to keep me going for today. And the rest? Well, I'll take it a day at at time, and I'll drag my cross wherever I have to. One more time.

mair-francis

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Fresh Start Season: Lent 2010

Hello beloveds,

It's my favorite time of year. I know I'm a freak, but I actually like Lent and Easter more than I like Christmas. I think it's the time my heart is softest, and I'm most pliable in God's hand. This season it couldn't have come soon enough.

I know I practically disappeared, but you would not believe the head trips I've been on. First of all, at the end of January I started some new medications, and wowza, one of them was NOT good for me. It made me feel drunk, and then I got a little twitchy. After that the bottom fell out of my brain, and I found myself free-falling into a wicked depression. All of this happened as I sequestered myself inside the house to finish a novel. Every comforting habit of destruction I thought I'd let go of returned, and I felt like a total failure, but total failure isn't the worst place to be, children of God. Lying to yourself about being a total failure is, or it's darned close.

I have to be honest. No, seriously, I HAVE TO BE HONEST, because I'd become quite the pious liar when it came to my worst behavior. My first mistake was that I'd begun to think that I could do kick my compulsive eating addiction on my own! "Look at me," I thought. "I'm doing my thing!"  I'd forgotten what had driven me to my knees in the first place: the fact that I could not beat it on my own. For years I've stuffed myself instead of grieved my losses, numbing my pain with food. It actually changed my brain pathways. It's pretty clear to me now that it's a whole lot easier for me to engage in my addiction than to eat like a normal person. And I, this woman who has for so many years called myself a ragamuffin--poor in spirit--began to believe I had this all by myself (read as, I didn't need God's help), just because I'd taken to walking and cutting sugar. Around the third week of my journey, my brain promptly reminded me that it was not interested in change, and cut it out already! And I folded like my mama's clothesline-dried laundry.

I had to take it back to the first step of twelve, lovies: I admitted that I was powerless, once again. The second step came right after: I came to believe a Power greater than myself could restore me to sanity. Lord, have mercy, I had truly become insane again, but having gotten that far in the steps, it was easy to go to the next one, and make a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God.

This is the one that isn't easy to do, so I'm going to hang out there for a bit. Sounds like Lent to me!  It's become clear to me that in some notable ways I just don't want God in control. There are sins I have that--make no mistake about it--I love, and apparently I've become adept--downright masterful! at acting like they aren't there. If I can pretend they don't exist, I don't have to think that God wants me to surrender them, and that my refusal to do so is hardhearted and stiff-necked. These are the things I'm thinking of as I began this holy time. Trust me, sistah girl will be going to confession today.

Last year my friend Steve Laube sent me a book by a writer I love, Emilie Griffin. It's called, Small Surrenders: A Lenten Journey. The cover says, "Lent is our chance for a fresh start, a new page. We consciously let down our defenses against the grace of God."

That's what my compulsive eating is, a defense, and now it keeps me from the grace God wants to give me, and it blocks my freedom. Once upon a time it protected me from the dangerous predator I lived with whose own pathology made a misery of my life. I ate ravenously, hoarded food, lied about food, and even threw up the massive portions I stuffed down because it wasn't safe for me to eat normally. This is what God is saying to me: "You can give this to me now."Giving such a deeply ingrained defense to him isn't a one time event. It will be a constant turning of my will over to him. I am hoping I can get out of my own way, and allow myself the blessing of a helpless, infantile dependence on the One who really is safe for me. Because I am powerless, like, totally, I'm not even going to try to attempt anything heroic for Lent. I like what Griffin says, which inspires the title of this magnificent devotional, "Lent is a time when we deepen our faith in a journey not of grand gestures, but of small surrenders." Amen to that.

So, I am not really giving up anything other than sugar. It is sacrificial now, as opposed to several weeks ago when I started this journey, because sugar is my crack, lovies, and in my body it's just as destructive as any street drug. Because it's hardest for me to give up and be consistent about, I'm offering it to God as often as I need to, in a series of small surrenders. I'm also giving up the enormous portions sizes I've come to depend on, instead having three portioned controlled meals a day, and two snacks--and I do mean snacks: small ones, rather than small meals between meals--that too is a mind game! This way will help regulate my wonky blood sugar. The only day I will not eat this way is today, Ash Wednesday, and on every Friday, when I will fast and abstain from meat. This (except for the fasting) is called clean eating. I should have chosen an eating plan when I first started this journey, but I didn't realize how dishonest I was about my love for food and my lack of real desire to release it.  Lord, have mercy.

As I continued on this journey of changing my life, I realized that it is far more a journey into the arms of God than anything else. Everything I read about in overeaters anonymous led me back to him, and every step of the twelve was a beckoning--an urging to return to God--revealing my true hungers, even those I didn't want to see. So more than anything else, this Lent is about what I'm giving to God, not what I'm giving up. So yes, I'm giving myself to God, in the small most meaningful ways.  A few years ago, during one of my first Lenten seasons, I heard a wise man say, "God is more important than food." Ain't that the truth? I want that to be a reality in my life, and stop my manipulations. It's time to get real.

What about you, lovies? What are your Lenten surrenders about this year?

mair-francis

Monday, February 08, 2010

Sistahfaith! Get it!!!

If you buy one book this year (besides my St. Teresa of Avila book), let it be Sistahfaith: True Stories of Hope and Healing by my lovely dear, dear friend, Marilynn Griffith. I contributed three stories to this riveting book, and I really want to spread the word about how amazing this anthology is. You will be hard pressed to find the honesty and grace that are in these pages. Mary and I are going to chat about how Sistahfaith came about soon. For now, enjoy this entry I wrote for her blog tour.


Running

by Claudia Mair Burney

I woke up this morning after dreaming about my mama. Not the one who birthed me, but the one who raised me from the time I was fifteen-months-old. She’s the one I conjure every Thanksgiving when the celery and onions simmer on the stove. Her memory brings with it my little girl self, chopping onions at the kitchen table, and wiping tears away.

I was the one mama chose for that important task, and every year I see this scene in my mind while the vegetables cook. I still chop the celery and onions, even though I have capable children I can assign the work to. But I like doing it; in a way, it’s still for her.

Sometimes out of nowhere, I’ll hear a snatch of Mama singing Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” She didn’t know the lyrics, and I smile to remember how she flubbed it every time. She and Michael both are gone now. Lord, have mercy.

And there she was in my dreams today, along with a never-quite-healed sense of loss. I only saw her flicker on the strange and vivid screen of my sub-conscious mind, but it was enough to stir an ache for her upon waking I couldn’t get away from. And here I thought I’d put that particular hurt away.

She died at a time right after many things had perished in my life. I stored her death in it’s own pretty jar, and placed it on the dusty shelf that held the rest of my persistent sorrows: babies born too soon, loveless shame-filled liaisons, harrowing abuse. My grief shelf was full. I thought my sorrows sat there quietly, disturbing no one, certainly not me! Until a dream shook mama’s jar from its high, hidden place, and it tumbled down and shattered on the floor.

I’m learning not to be so quick to pick up the pieces. Hasty clean-ups always leave me with bloody hands. So I lie in bed this morning, feeling the weight of my sadness, the surprising rage, and the awful helplessness. I’m learning that feeling is so much better than hiding grief out of sight, and hoping if I don’t see it it’ll just go away.
In many ways, I’m in the greatest journey toward healing I have ever experienced. It’s a pilgrimage that leads me straight into the arms of God. But all along the way I have to feel. I don’t get to stuff the emotions back down with food anymore. That kind of behavior will forfeit the crown I’m after. I can’t sleep my feelings away, sex them away, or drink or drug them away, or even write them away. If I’m to see God, I must be fully alive, and living women feel.

But I am not left alone with these overwhelming emotions. God is not only at the end of my journey; he’s in every step I take. He will not leave me to blunder along directionless. By his grace I have allies bearing maps, band-aids, and cups of living water. They hug me, and offer robust cheers to keep me moving when I think I’m too weary to run on. With this cloud of witnesses surrounding me, I believe I’ll see this journey to the end. For that I’m thankful, and as I go I’m humming that praise song the old Pentecostal folks sing: “I’m runnin’ for my life. I’m running for my life.”

“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.” Hebrew 12:1

ABOUT CLAUDIA MAIR BURNEY: Claudia Mair Burney is a novelist and new non-fiction book author living in Lexington, KY with her tattoo artist husband, four of their seven children, and a dwarf rabbit. She is kicking pre-diabetes butt in the run for her life, while encouraging others to live their best, most fully alive life, on earth as they will in heaven.


ABOUT SISTAHFAITH, INC.
SistahFaith™ is a revolution of restoration, bringing hope and healing to the brokenhearted and those who love them. Our goal is to communicate Christ personally, practically and powerfully, bringing women full circle in faith, arts and life. Each of our books, conferences, events and multimedia projects address the problems facing today’s women in a raw and relevant way.

Join the network of sistahs at http://sistahfaith.ning.com/.

ABOUT THE BOOK
Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people? (Jeremiah 8:22, NIV)

Twenty-five women, including Bunny Debarge, Sharon Ewell Foster, Stanice Anderson, Claudia Mair Burney and Marilynn Griffith, tell their stories of coming full circle from tragedy to triumph. Each contributor keeps it holy, keeping it real in these raw, relevant tales of redemption and restoration. Think of it as Prozac for the Christian Woman’s Soul!

A twelve week study is included for churches and book clubs. Instructions provided on gathering your own SistahFaith circle.

Check the tour schedule at http://bit.ly/SistahFaith

SISTAHFAITH CONTRIBUTING WRITERS
• MARILYNN GRIFFITH (Editor)
• STANICE ANDERSON
• TANYA R. BATES
• CLAUDIA MAIR BURNEY
• WANDA J. BURNSIDE
• ROBIN CALDWELL
• SHELETTE CARLISLE
• LADY CATHERINE
• ETTERLENE “BUNNY” DEBARGE”
• DEE EAST
• SHARON EWELL FOSTER
• DORIEN HAGE
• GAIL M. HAYES
• DR. NAIMA JOHNSTON
• DELORES M. JONES, MSW, LMSW
• STEPHANIE L. JONES
• CARMITA MCCALL
• LAVONN NEIL
• CARLEAN SMITH
• DAVIDAE “DEE” STEWART
• SONYA VISOR
• LITTLE SALLY WALKER
• ROSALYN “ROS” WEBB
• ROBIN R. WISE
• KISHA WOODS