Friday, April 29, 2016

Hope in Struggle

I moved to San Francisco in my early twenties because I was depressed and struggling at college in Long Beach. I remember thinking that moving to such an aesthetically beautiful place had to be good for depression. And I loved all the beauty there. I took long walks and enjoyed the architecture and flower stands and parks and the beach and museums and opera and all the beautiful things. But not really. I don't know how to explain it, but I could tell it was beautiful and I appreciated it, but I didn't really enjoy it.  It was like eating sand that looked like wedding cake.

I wrote about that when I wrote about depression and suicidal ideation. It was a truly sad and scary time because I lost my assurance of God's existence. I wondered if this was just going to be my experience for the rest of my life, and I had scary thoughts like, “I don't think I can handle feeling this way for decades, let alone years.”

Eventually, I came out of it, when I married and moved to a different state, and just experienced a much happier life. I remember really experiencing day-to-day things as beautiful, not as tasting like sand.  I kept that appreciation for years.  Experiencing things as beautiful has always been a vital part of daily worship to me.

Apparently, my ability to sink deeply into the experience of beauty was again lost at some point in the last decade, I'm not sure exactly when, and I'm starting to get it back now.  I've been pretty depressed for a long time, and I'm coming out of it.

Today I was sitting in my room waiting for my phone to connect to the charger and I reached out and propped the bedroom door open.  For some reason, that physical movement caused a moment of mindfulness and memory of that time when Bradley and I were first married and even simple things like our little apartment produced so much in-the-moment joy and thankfulness.  I touched the door and really looked at it, and then looked through the bedroom doorway at the flowers on the table, and the curtains and the sun coming in the windows, and my table and chairs that I love so much and they are beautiful pieces of furniture. And I realized I was having a much deeper experience of their beauty than I have had in a really long time, years even. There are things in that part of the house that were put there recently by people who love me and are concerned about my mental/emotional state (and who can blame them) like the birthday banner we kept up after the surprise party... and for the first time I deeply appreciated the beauty of them.

It made me realize I've been in a very bad state for a very long time. I'm sad I didn't realize it until now, when I'm coming out of it, but that is probably a protection. I did see my depression in my twenties and almost lost to it.  This time, I didn't realize the world was in black and white until recently. Maybe it is because I was raising little ones and shepherding young people into the world. Parents sacrifice a lot for their children. (This is nowhere more poignantly epitomized than in the movie, Life is Beautiful. Highly recommended, but bring loved ones and tissues.)

I am glad to see colors again, to really rejoice again in the morning, in the sunrise and the birds. I'm starting to sing again. I'm delving deeper into piano. I'm writing again after a long period of nothing.

God has never left me in all this. The greatest thing of all is that this time I knew it. I felt His love and kindness and sense of being right there beside me the entire time. The fact that I never lost the sense of His presence and care is a true blessing. I know it because I've lost that assurance before and it is hell on earth. It's pretty much unavoidable to go through darkness in this life, but to go through it absolutely knowing He is right there with you, the real Him, not some God you hear others speak about, is the greatest gift.

I hope things continue getting brighter, but I don't fear the dark times as long as I can feel Him beside me. This is my hope for everyone who struggles. I think a lot of us are in a crisis of sorrow and anger, even those of us who know the Lord. I don't know how to fix it, but I pray to the One who does.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Telling Stories

Jane Eyre is the story of a young orphan who maintains her principles and honor in the midst of sustained hardship and even abuse.

 Jane is a child. She lives with her aunt and her cousins, a scapegoat for their capricious natures. She is passionate and brutally honest. Their dying father and husband asked them to love her, his little orphaned niece, as he has loved her, but they refuse. She is too strange and challenges their view of themselves. She is taunted, assaulted, imprisoned, and terrorized; falsely accused, and eventually sent away to a charity school.

 The school is a scene of more struggle and hardship, but also hope and love. The headmistress, Miss Temple, encourages her. She succeeds in studies and deportment. She makes a friend. Helen is ill. Helen is distractible. Helen is mistreated by one of the harsher teachers at the school, Miss Scatcherd. Jane is offended, impassioned, angry. She wants to tell off Miss Scatcherd, to throw things at her. Helen says that is not the way. Helen knows who she is outside of what happens to her. Helen's identity is Beloved. Miss Temple loves her, and so does Jane. This is what Helen embraces as her identity.

 One evening, Jane tells her friend about the abuse she endured at the hands of her family. Her telling is full of hatred and bitterness. Helen understands abuse. Helen understands hardship. But she also understands these are not a person's identity. These are things that happen. She gently chides Jane for the tone of her telling. Jane's identity is not to be, abused child, but something more.

 This puzzles Jane. Because she is thoughtful and admires Helen so much, she lets it sink into her soul.

 Jane's beloved Helen dies. The school is discovered to be a place of privation rather than of learning. The school board has believed a false thing about redemption, that it can be produced through manufactured struggle and punishment. Kinder leaders prevail. The school becomes what it should be, a place of opportunity. Jane grows to adulthood and eventually takes a position as governess in Mr. Rochester's home.

 Mr. Rochester is bitter, full of angry passion. Years earlier, betrayed by his family, he took on the identity of wounded soul. He seeks shelter in sensual pleasure, sniping remarks, and the demeaning of others. He will do as he has been done by. This is his world. But at heart, he is noble. He is not a scoundrel, and playing one is killing his soul.

 Enter Jane. Educated in magnanimity by two beautiful women at Lowood, skilled in accomplishments which illuminate her creative, independent, yet principled nature, she is a new creature. Mr. Rochester has never known anyone like her. He is fascinated. He asks for her story and she tells it. Her telling is balanced and unvarnished, with a nod to different perspectives. It is a thing that happened. She no longer identifies as an abused child. She is a woman, quick, talented, playful; fiercely independent, noble, strong.

 What happened in her childhood was terrible abuse. She was not to blame for it. It should never have happened, but it did. As she matures, informed by her loved ones, her story alters. She has now learned to understand others even when they do things she justly condemns. She has ceased to identify herself with her childhood experience. Her story has become more about what happened and less about how offended she is by it.

Mr. Rochester is puzzled, but because he is a thoughtful person and admires Jane so much, he lets her nature sink into his soul.

 Jane's healing and growth teaches Mr. Rochester to stop identifying himself as betrayed son and pursue his true identity. He is so far gone in his egotism that he has to lose Jane, lose his home, lose his strength, in order to realize his true identity. He loses his sight, but gains true vision. Stripped bare, he is finally able to embrace his life. He is redeemed to be who he truly is, a loving soul with the promise of magnanimity.

 “Reader, I married him.” Jane is a story of growth, of the strange paradox of becoming more real by discarding pride and ego. Jane, Mr. Rochester, Helen... they realize their true identities as they cease to identify with their stories of pain.