Before there was a tree

I have a new job, an incredible job full of possibility and hope for families suffering through perinatal mental illness. This poem is a reflection on another stage in my own healing.

oak

Before there was a tree,

or even the thought of a tree

there was dark, decay pressing down into the earth,

leaves disintegrating

only to release their final nourishment to the soil

there was the sleep of death, curled up, dormant

 

Before there was a tender shoot,

or even the thought of a tender shoot

there was a husk cracking

an unfurling – anaemic and fragile

searching for the light, spreading tiny roots

reaching for Spring

 

Now there is a sapling, the thought of a tree

the wind buffets the stem

the leaves are nourished by sun and April-shower

the soil enriched through loss

there is the beginning of a tree

 

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What if we rewrite the stars?

Easter is kind of a weird day when you don’t know what you believe anymore.

Hope wrestles with bitter disappointment.

The old simplicity is long gone.

A soundtrack of

Candi Statton, U2 and Nirvana all turned up too loud. Washed down with Prosecco.

I’m not sure it’s a fitting tribute, but it’s all I have today.

Unfulfilled hope of miracles,

Are you the Only Way, to hell with those born into another Way?

A wedding feast for the whitewashed proponents of Family Values?

No thanks if that’s the good news after all. Sorry.

Home

 

It’s been a rough couple of days with Little One.  All kinds of reasons, including the snow which we had all eagerly anticipated – yet completely unsettled her.  Snow is a very rare thing in Devon… My rosy image of a family snow-day met with the reality of both of us parents trying to squeeze in working from home while helping Little One understand a totally unpredictable day.  There have been a lot of tantrums.

A moment of joy teaching Eldest to snowboard in the park was cut short by the embarrassment of Little One lying on her back in the snow screaming because it wasn’t her turn.

Tonight I needed to revisit my Sigur Ros Heima DVD.  I needed the bittersweet harmonies and the simple beauty of four musicians totally in step with one another.

Memories flood in when I watch Heima.  Summer 2008 at Greenbelt open-air cinema,  Eldest asleep in a warm bundle of blankets on my knee.  Brandy hot chocolate, and fresh doughnuts as we watched the Icelandic community come together through music.  Feeling overwhelmed with love as I cradled my daughter and rested in my husband’s arms.

Still raw from leaving the church, yet feeling flutters of hope that something like Heima (‘Home’ in English) was what Church could look like outside the walls.  The scene filmed at Gamla Borg  still makes me cry – the simplicity of young and old gathered to share food and be immersed in music.

One of the three

trinity

You were one, one of the three
One in three must find some peace
You were one, one of the three
I need proof before belief
Oh, well, you just knew they’d come for you
So it was suicide, suicide
Oh, well, now you got just what you want
I hope you’re satisfied

One of the three

You were one, one of the three
One in three must find some peace
You were one, one of the three
I need proof before belief
Oh, well, I guess you’re not to blame for what they’ve
Done in your name, in your name
Oh, well, it’s a shame you got so famous for a sacrifice

One of the three

James, 1993

I’ve been pondering my faith again this Christmas time.  There was sadness and anger in Eldest’s face today in the pews.  We went to church for the first time in a long while.  For me today, there was peace in the liturgy.  Much more than I find in guitars and drums, worship that tends to focus on personal happiness as a natural consequence of faith.

It’s pretty hard for Eldest not to question God’s goodness, even existence.  She’s watched me cry out for mercy, wracked with pain in the midst of depression.  Five episodes in her twelve years as my daughter.  She’s learning that so many of her friends are hurting, with complicated lives and broken relationships. She’s living in a word rife with Islamophobia, political polarization and economic insecurity.

For me, it’s more nuanced.  I’ve definitely spent some years being angry and disillusioned – with both God and the church.  Yet there’s still something that draws me back to the fragile hope I feel when I think about God in human form.

The James song hits me right where it hurts at the moment –  I guess you’re not to blame for what they’ve done in your name.  The rhetoric of the Trump administration’s brand of evangelical ‘Christianity’ sickens me to my stomach.  The idea of a monopoly on Truth, the willingness of voters to ignore misogyny, racism and open hatred because of a stance on homosexuality or abortion.

But you see, that’s where the person of Jesus draws me again.  He was a fierce critic of the religious leaders of the time, who were more concerned that he’d broken a scriptural rule of healing on the Sabbath than they were about the brokenness of the people he sought to heal.

When I looked for an image of the Trinity from the film “The Shack”, the most frequent links were angry articles decrying its ‘heresy’.  For daring to portray God as a woman.  For daring to hope that God wants to see everyone healed of emotional pain and brought back into a relationship with the parent, son and Spirit.  For implying that maybe each person of the Trinity suffered on the cross.

Why are some Christians so scared of the idea of a God who is good and fair beyond our understanding?  Of a God who defies definition in human terms?  Of a God who transcends gender, despite the ineptitude of our pronouns to describe that?  Of a God who is love therefore whose very existence is relationship.

Why reduce the mystery of Jesus, fully God and fully human, to a simplistic ‘they’re going to hell and we’re going to heaven’ dichotomy?

I want to say to my friends and readers in the USA, and evangelical churchgoers here in the UK; I know Christianity isn’t as one-dimensional as this for many of you.  I know that we may differ on human issues but I hope we stand united in a belief in the goodness of Jesus – the angels declared his birth to be Good News for all humanity.  I can’t really say it better than Rachel Held Evans so I’ll leave you with her brave and beautiful blog.

 

Polarized

polarized

Life through a polarizing lens,

Contrast intensified

Darkness, darker.  Deeper

Pulling me under the water

Colour (and some may say)

Beauty heightened

Sunset full of the Spirit’s kiss

The clouds portent

Perhaps a storm is coming

 

This poem is something of a meditation on the diagnostic label versus the experience of bipolar disorder (if in fact that’s a thing)

 

The sorrow beneath the surface

He will wipe every tear from their eyes,

and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain

Revelation 21:4

sorrow

The thing is, there is sorrow.  So very close to the surface… we don’t often look for it in each other but most of us know it’s there in us.

Words we never said to those we loved.  Hurts we carry from our childhood.  Dreams that died under the pressure of our lives.  Loss, longing, love.  Unemployment, chronic illness, debt.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg even in our comfortable Western lives.

Yesterday my train journey to Devon was delayed by a fatality on the line in Darlington.  Just a month after a 51 year old man took his life on the same stretch of railway.  Just six months after another man aged 30 died on this line.

What I didn’t yet know as I sat down to read Faith Unraveled is that the lady sitting next to me had been widowed by suicide.

Some of you may know that my own faith has been unraveling over some years.  I’m done with a Christianity that offers blithe answers to the ‘problem of suffering’.  I am not ready yet to let go of the hope that our tears could someday be wiped away.  But we’re not living in someday, we’re living here.  A planet of individuals who know what it is to carry sorrow in one form or another.

The lady sitting next to me asked me a bit about my book, and what I do for work in the NHS.  When I talked a bit about using my experience of mental illness to teach others, there was something like relief on her face.  She poured out her story of the loss of her husband, in his fifties.  Earlier this year he took his own life after suffering from severe anxiety.

I have no answers, but I am finding the ability nowadays to sit with sorrow.  To hear this lady’s pain and not to try and say something uplifting or hopeful because it would ease my own discomfort.  To be a comfort just by being willing to hear her story.

There is death and sorrow and pain.  We don’t like to talk about these things but they are part of humanity.  I want to continue to learn to be a person who can listen, and accept sorrow just as it is.

God of no gender

IMG_20170613_212814 (1)

You may find this post contains heresy and/or madness (depending on your perspective). Consider yourself warned…

So God created human beings in his own image.

    In the image of God he created them;

    male and female he created them.

Genesis 1: 27

I want to tell you about my psychosis.  Uniquely female, a psychosis triggered by pregnancy and childbirth.  It’s not unusual for people experiencing psychosis to have visions of the ends of the earth, and beliefs about their own messianic qualities.  Yet I know that my thought-processes during psychosis were wrapped around my growing struggle with the church and gender politics.  My beliefs were shaped by the visceral experience of giving birth and its powerful sense of womanhood.

What to the outsider looked like jumbled stream-of-consciousness had an intense sense of clarity for me.  Everything made sense.  I had it in my mind that as the end of the world drew near, God was seeking to bring the maleness and femaleness of himself back into unity in the world.  The beautiful (and of course to my loved ones terrifying) thing was that I would be the vessel, the girl-messiah who would bear the unbearable of losing my child and my husband.  I would be obedient even unto death.  I would submit, as the weekly-beaten doctrine of the past few years of church had instructed me.  And yet, in the submission there would be power.  Power to bring those in my life with terrible illnesses into their new bodies, into eternity, into the great Wedding Feast.  I even saw the feast, it was beautiful, and feminine, and filled with joyous reunions.  Everybody, everybody, everybody was there.  God, it was beautiful, I can’t really begin to express it. But it was not to be.

And yet… I probably shouldn’t get into a discourse here about what I perceive as the liminal space between psychosis and prophecy, madness and shamanism.  Maybe I will blog about it sometime in the future, but it feels too raw, too frightening in many ways.

What I can say is that after the long depression that followed my season of visions and dreams, I couldn’t stay in a church that sublimated women and did not allow them to preach, teach or be an Elder.  Nowadays I see all around me women becoming their True Selves through some truly unbelievable suffering.  I’m humbled to be the mother of two daughters who are unashamedly authentic, open and vulnerable.  May they celebrate their femininity, its strength and its power to bind up the brokenhearted.

The illustration at the top of this page was part of an art project in collaboration with Action on Postpartum Psychosis.  I love the Triumvirate somehow all wrapped up in the shape of a mother and baby.  I still believe the best is yet to come.

Be the kind of woman you want to be.  Regardless of doctrine.
 

Ma’people

Readers of the last few months may have gathered… I am a huge Nashville fan.  I am committed to not giving away any series 5 plot spoilers for my friends on this side of the pond, so let me just say that Rayna is one of my heroes (and I do know that she is a TV character – but she’s my hero anyway!)  I love the way that we have seen her grow as a mother as her girls have entered turbulent teenage years,  I love how passionate and open-hearted she is, and I love the way that we’ve seen her struggle to balance her career and her dreams with her life as a mentor, mother and lover.

 

There’s a scene in Nashville a few years back where Rayna has to play at a Country Club benefit.  I remember her raising her eyebrows and assuring her band leader, “These are not ma’people” (try and imagine a lovely Southern drawl)

But here’s the thing, Rayna grew up with those people.  Yet the comfortable world of the elite wasn’t for her.  She knew they weren’t her people.

Ever since we moved from a cosmopolitan, diverse Northern city to a sleepy market town in the South West, I’ve been searching for “ma’people”.  The direction life took us when Eldest was born meant that our local conservative, evangelical church began to feel less and less like home.  We had too many questions.  One of the reasons I left Facebook earlier this year was because I felt so aware that the views of many mainstream Christians just don’t reflect mine.  These are not ma’people.

When life throws a lot of crap your way, it’s interesting how it can help you find your people!  Over the last ten years or so, my friendships have deepened with other people who know what it is to feel broken.  My little WordPress community is full of amazing people who are learning to live with limits.  Next weekend I’ll be meeting up with the other mums from the ‘Head up, Heart strong’ film who have all battled postnatal illness. We will be sharing cocktails and stories of relapse.  These are just some of ma’people.

 

This week I took a new step to reach out and find ma’people.  I joined Team East Devon Swimmers for an evening swim in Sidmouth.  The water was 12 degrees C and the swimming was magical!  It was a special thing for me after a number of years living with mental illness to meet people based firstly on a shared interest, rather than on a shared experience of suffering.  I learned a new word – Thalassophile – meaning someone who loves the sea.  These too, are ma’people… and I can’t wait to get to know them better.

Here’s where we will be swimming.  Just beautiful.

Derailed