I haven’t written in quite a while. My life has seen some significant changes since I last wrote in July 2012- almost 2 years ago! I don’t know why I always feel a need to apologize, as if I owe something and have fallen short? I am compelled to make excuses. Truth is, when everything comes into alignment, it does, and until then, trying to write it out is futile. I’ve had so much to say, but writing takes time…….
The Goliath-sized external changes that have taken place since I last wrote are our move to Texas in June 2013, which included my adult son, my daughter-in-law, and my granddaughter moving in with us, and leaving my daughter behind in Los Angeles. I thought that was never going to work out for us! And then came the unexpected disability re-determination I went through again, losing my disability income (again). Last time it was Social Security that picked my number and strung me along on a nearly year-long appeal process. That finally got resolved when the Administrative Law Judge decided that the letter my oncologist had written was indeed sufficient evidence to continue my disability claim. My struggle through that process uncovered some significant flaws in the Social Security Blue Book (disability regulations and definitions) that inherently make people such as myself, living with metastatic cancer which is being maintained at a no-evidence status through continued treatment, vulnerable to getting kicked off the system, losing not just monthly benefit monies, but much-needed Medicare too. I wish I had the energy to lobby to have the Blue Book changed (language added) to address this problem that more and more people being treated as chronic cancer patients are now experiencing. It used to be people like us didn’t live. But here we are- living longer lives, which is only made possible right now through continued treatment. My odds haven’t statistically improved much really- I just get re-shuffled into smaller and smaller sample sizes. Without the treatment I am likely to die from cancer. Could someone please explain this to the folks at SunLife- that there is no cure for metastatic cancer?
In June and July, the week prior to us moving to Texas, and the week after we arrived (which was a major undertaking and horrendously taxing on all of us, but especially my husband and I), SunLife saw it necessary to pay private investigation companies thousands of dollars to dig up everything they could on me, as well as perform “surveillance”, which really is more like stalking. They have hours of video of me in front of my house, getting into and out of my car, going into and out of stores, restaurants, etc. They have taken this video and distorted it to make the claim that I somehow significantly assisted in the move of my household from California to Texas, and concluded therefore I am not disabled. I can start a moving company! The video evidence clearly doesn’t demonstrate me doing much of anything- certainly nothing more than any other cancer patient can do. But they want to act like I have a claim for a back injury or something, and that getting in and out of my car somehow proves that I am feigning and I can work. I really don’t know what to think about all this mess, but I did appeal and am still waiting for their response. This has been going on since October, when they suddenly and without warning cut me off, even saying that I could owe them money, as I had not been disabled since June, according to their video evidence. Odd that one can be disabled one day, and the moment a private investigation surveillance operant shows up, I’m instantly no longer disabled. A miracle?
So again I have been catapulted into this crisis- a crisis of financial proportion, a crisis of personal identity, and yes, even an existential/spiritual crisis. I know, I know…..that sounds so….dramatic. But let me expound.
Just like with the Social Security review, and subsequent determination that I was no longer disabled, the SunLife redetermination brought up a lot of the same issues for me, compounded by even more issues around my sense of violation because of their grossly intrusive investigation process. How would you like to find out that some stranger had been secretly videotaping you, driving around your house trying to catch views of you through open windows, following behind your car and parking in the same lot, covertly videotaping you in stores, interacting with your family? It’s very disturbing! And not only that, a team of complete strangers would be watching these videos of you and would be using them to determine if you were feigning or malingering a stage IV cancer diagnosis, even after signing over rights to these same people to access all your medical records (which aren’t protected by HIPAA once they are in the hands of these people). It’s reasonable to say anger is one of many emotions I felt, am still feeling- especially because their reports contain the license plates, VIN numbers, and registration information for the vehicles owned by my adult children, and the videotaped footage not only shows my adult children, but also my grandbaby. Even beyond the obvious, my outrage stems from “them”, these complete strangers, taking the liberty to define who I am, to project their own distortions onto me in deciding whether I am disabled or not. I understand they have to review claims, and have rules to help define things- that makes sense. But when they move out of the realm of common sense, ignoring clear, objective, medical evidence in favor of projected distortions, they are displaying a lot of audacity, and I would actually call it corporate bullying. For them to even feel the need to order (and pay for) such an intrusive investigation is suspect, as I did nothing to justify the need, except live longer than I was supposed to, and make a complaint against a rude and inappropriate claim representative. Yes, corporate bullying!
What this disability redetermination did is put me back in this place of questioning myself, my existence. I know I am disabled by any necessary definition. But I don’t live my life holding tight to that reality. Like anyone with a disability, I live with it, and I adjust myself as necessary. If there is one thing I am, it is resilient. So I don’t go through my day hyper-focused on my disability and all the dozens of things I am unable to do. I don’t think about all the things I used to do before cancer treatment and compare it to all the things I can’t do since. If I was to allow that to occupy my head space I would be helplessly suicidal. I struggle with that enough as it is. But any evaluation, as I even faced this with Social Security, forces one for defense purposes to examine in finite detail all the ways one is disabled- all the things one cannot do, or needs assistance with. That process itself is difficult, and left me feeling disabled. I felt depressed, helpless, victimized. Yet oddly, while I am trying to justify my policy benefit entitlement, all the ways that I am not disabled are scrutinized by them. It’s not as if they caught me water skiing! I walked to and from my car. Yet that videotape “evidence” is more valuable to them than anything else. They also dug through the internet and came up with a few things to flourish their report with. One of them is a picture of me on Facebook, standing in front of the wine cellar barrels at Castello di Amorosa in Napa, where my husband and I spent my 40th birthday in December 2012. Those of you who know me know how big a deal my 40th birthday was for me, how truly grateful I felt to be alive to see it, how it was a tough decision on how to celebrate it, and how we finally came up with the idea to take the Amtrak to Napa to spend two nights there, together. We never go on trips, never get time away as a couple. Our last vacation was in 2007, as a family. We also don’t make a big ta-doo over birthdays. So for me to get to go to Napa with my husband for my 40th birthday was a big deal- a very special and memorable celebration. For them to take that photo and distort it to imply that here I am collecting my disability insurance benefit while I’m traveling the world is heart breaking, and one of the most personal kinds of violations. Am I not entitled to enjoy life? Celebrating my 40th birthday makes me suspect for feigning my disability? Am I not entitled to salvage any quality of life I can? And how in the hell does this translate to one’s disability status anyway? I’ve been to movie theaters before, seeing groups of severely disabled people (non-verbal, profound retardation, etc.) who were brought by their care home staff. Clearly these people are not able to work, and meet the definition of disability, so to imply they aren’t disabled because they are able to go to a public theater to sit while a movie plays lacks common sense. And so, after such an intrusive violation of my privacy and the gross distortion of my actions, I am sure it’s understandable that I feel uncomfortable even leaving my house. Thinking about how excited I was taking that trip to Napa, how memorable it was, how much I needed it and deserved it, we needed it, seeing my smiling face in front of those barrels, and then knowing how they used that against me, and turned it into something I did wrong, it shadows the fondness with anger, regret, and disgust. The only response I have to this is to cry.
The truth about my “disability” is that I came to cancer already exhausted from a lifetime of dogged survivalism. If it hadn’t have been for my kids, I would likely not have gone through treatment at all, because I was already so exhausted, even at 30 years old. I wish there was a way to convey these aspects of cancer and treatment to “them”, because it does significantly affect the lives and emotional health of cancer patients. How one appears on paper, or even in a candid video does not convey the reality of what the emotional and psychological components of cancer and treatment can do to a person. Cancer completely turned my life upside down, and coping with all the aspects, including the physical ones, is itself exhausting. Managing the pain alone is psychologically exhausting. I am pressed down. So to even imagine myself working a 40 hour work week sends me to a very dark place. I just don’t have it in me. The financial consequence of this is devastating, has been devastating.
Besides questioning myself in terms of disability and my right to have a quality of life, this review process also caused me to question myself in terms of my existence- a crisis of existential proportions. Prior to this review I at least dreamt of ways to redefine myself, imagined things I could contribute outside of a 40 hour work week. But when even these dreams, hobbies, potentials are scrutinized by “them”, my tendency is to withdraw myself. What am I contributing…..to my family…..to my community….to society….to the world? Is my value determined by my ability to work? And if I find a way to contribute that is meaningful, but doesn’t result in a significant financial trade, am I creating a bigger problem for myself by potentially losing my disability income? SunLife believes I can return to a full-time position. I know this is not possible for me- the time cancer treatment demands alone completely precludes any regular work week schedule. So where does this leave me? What am I supposed to do? I started college at 16 years old, clawed my way through graduate school, had three children along the way, worked three jobs as a single mother just to keep us afloat, finally earned my place in the professional world, and had that completely stripped in a single moment. I had a purpose. I helped people, bettered their lives. I had a professional identity. I felt good about what I did, and how I contributed financially to my family. I lost that- just one of so, so many things. The layers of grief alone have been demanding and exhausting, pressing in on me in ways I can’t even articulate into words. It is literally going to take me the rest of my life to heal.
This conundrum I find myself in has fueled a growing awareness of how I have trapped myself in a box. I wish I could just simply say: they have trapped me in a box. But it’s not so simple. I have learned a lot in the past several months. I’ve been writing for years about how stuck I’ve felt, how much wrestling I’ve done. And now I truly have found myself at a crossroad, which has begged a total shift in my understanding, my perspective, in even my consciousness. The choice here is I either accept that I am completely financially dependent on others, having no control over my financial state at all, or I kill myself (literally) trying to go back to a ridiculously demanding 40 hour work week. There really isn’t much of a choice here. So then, the choice that follows is what do I do with the reality that leaves me with?
Through a lot of introspection and emotional work what I have concluded is that my utter exhaustion is not simply a result of 11 years of cancer treatment, but has been the direct result of my tenacious will to survive. This survivalism has served me well up until now. Without it, I am certain I wouldn’t be where I am, and maybe wouldn’t be here at all. But it also has a dark side, a weak side. Remember when I wrote “The Weak Side of My Strength?” Well here I sit, nearly ten years later! This weak side has me knocking on doors and then kicking them down with brute force when they don’t open. It has me carrying knee-buckling loads on already damaged legs because I can’t seem to stop piling more stuff onto the load. It has me lifting cars off of trapped children with one arm, while pulling them out from underneath with the other in an effort to save them. All of this has been without any regard for myself, and to my detriment. So yes, after 40 years of developing and practicing this nails-dug-in survivalist way of being, I am exhausted. It no longer serves me well. Ironically, it’s squeezing the life out of me, slowly killing me, and I can no longer sustain it. But what’s the alternative?
Well, Jesus said His yoke is easy and His burden light (Matthew 11:30); that I will find rest if I simply take His yoke upon myself, learn from Him. But what is His yoke? The theologically- driven dogma would go something like this: Jesus submitted to the cross in death. His yoke is death. Symbolically, looking to Him as an example, we are to die to ourselves (Matthew 16:24-25; 2 Corinthians 4:10-12, Galatians 2:20, etc.). What this means is that we no longer live for ourselves alone, but for Him. Our “self” is crucified and replaced with Him. In that, supposedly, is freedom. The Bible speaks very clearly and abundantly about this concept. But if we carry this out even further down the theological road, we come to this: “Those who love their life will lose it, while those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25). What does this mean? Quite simply, it means we are to hate our lives, ourselves, our humanity, the sinfulness in us, our worldliness. While I, like everyone else, struggle with the hedonistic drives of living in a human body, the major problem this theology has asked me to solve is that I in fact do hate myself. I hate myself so much, as I have come to understand, that I have spent the past 40 years of my life neglecting myself. I have hated my life so much at moments that I have been desperately suicidal. I know, I know. This isn’t exactly the kind of hating God has in mind. The problem is these theological espousements from the pulpits of America are a one-size fits all, and they grossly lack in their reflection of the truth of my life and experience, to say the least. All these years I have listened to sermons telling me (or what I heard them say) that I needed to humble myself, deny myself, live in a state of non-self, having no selfish inclination to care for myself in any way. Anything I do, if it isn’t for Christ, is done selfishly and should not be done. Believe me when I say it wasn’t hard for me to do this- not at all. And not only that, I did it to the detriment of myself, my health, my emotional well-being. So all ‘the church’ did through the pulpit teachings was provide me cover to continue on in a very unhealthy pattern of self-hate. In fact, if we define darkness as the absence of light, there is a great deal of darkness within the church.
My first inkling of this came to me very early on in my adult Christian experience, when living in an abusive relationship I would hear mutterings of “longsuffering”, “pray for him”, “submit as unto Christ”, and all sorts of similar Biblical phrases meant to imply that I needed to just keep living like that, that my abuse and suffering was holy and sanctioned by God. These mutterings came straight from the pulpit (by inference, because let’s face it, no pastor talks about domestic violence while up there), but also were shot directly at me by others in the pews who I was desperately seeking counsel from. And I bought into this for a while. A long while really. And then I wrote about it. But in terms of my abusive marriage, the pain and harshness of the reality of it, and my innate instinct to protect my children, it all culminated to bring me to a point of shift. The shift was in my perception. I no longer came to see my decision to suffer through abuse as a righteous and holy martyrdom for Christ, but as a character flaw. I saw that my motivation to stay in the abuse wasn’t truly in love, but was in fear and lack of regard for my own safety. And so my will to survive, my even stronger instinct to protect my children became just enough larger than the fear of the unknown, the fear of being a single mother with three small children, that it catapulted me into some major life decisions. Suddenly, I was no longer seeing Christ on the cross as my model, the One to whom I was suffering for, but was now seeing God’s people being led out from captivity, slavery, miserable and demoralizing lives, through a miraculously parted Red Sea. In both perceptual frameworks, it was the Bible, Christian teachings that served as the lenses. In one it was my lack of love of myself, my indulgence as a martyr, and fear from which I grasped Biblical significance. In the other it was love, power, strength, and faith through which I gleaned Biblical relevance. And in both I was fully convinced I was acting out my life in full obedience to God’s Word and instructions.
So I learned a valuable lesson as a young Christian- the Bible can be used by others, but especially by my own self, as a means to justify and cover up things within the self that need to be worked through, changed. I was using the Bible, was allowing others to use the Bible, as a means to keep me stuck, to keep me from growing, a shade to keep me in darkness. And how insidious that is, because it adds another seemingly righteous layer of ego defense that is much harder to tear down because of one’s utmost commitment to their religion and faith! If I can suffer and call it righteous, if I can self-hate and call it spiritual, if I can live in fear but mask it as faithfulness, I become a lot more entrenched. And there still remain a great number of people sitting in the pews who have convinced their selves they are striving for a righteous life, but who are hiding deeper and deeper behind tenets of their faith, unwilling or unable to self-examine. M. Scott Peck called these people “The People of the Lie”, and defined evil as the lack of introspection, the hiding of the true self in the shadow, protected safely behind layers and layers of ego defense. You see, whether we pretend we’re denying ourselves or are honest about who we are, “self” is always with us. We cannot escape ego without tremendous effort specifically channeled towards that end goal. This is an area where I have found Christianity, in its post-modern version, to be significantly lacking- they don’t identify “self” clearly as ego (because that’s psychology, and psychology is ungodly), and they don’t offer any tangible process through which one can let go of the ego. I was taught to believe that prayer, fasting, worship, service, that all of these things are manifestations of dying to self. But the truth is, I engaged in all those things and never once let go of ego, even as I was engaging in these things from a self-neglecting place. There is a fundamental difference between neglecting self and letting go of ego. To truly “die to self” there is a deeper work that has to occur, and it is the deeper work that the post-modern church fails to beckon.
This deeper work is profound. It is entirely unique too, but not so much so that one cannot relate to another in regards to it. But to reach enlightenment, to truly manifest the Christ in us, I believe we have to engage this deeper work. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on one’s perspective, I have had to go outside of Christianity to do this. I know so many of my Christian friends who have watched my journey silently from the sidelines, who have encouraged others to read my words, who have been profoundly inspired by my faithfulness, are going to be disappointed and feel sad because of where my journey has taken me. I know people who believe they care for me are going to fear my soul is in danger and my eternal fate is at stake. And I want these people to know one fundamental truth: I am fearfully and wonderfully made in His image. Nothing can change that. Nothing. Where I go, He goes, because God is in me.
I also want to still the tongues of any naysayers who will insist that my current spiritual state is a direct result of us not having attended church in a number of years. I know what the Bible says about fellowship! Our decision to stop attending church years ago was a symptom, not a cause. It was a symptom of our growing discontent, our yearning for something more. And yes, Christ is enough. But, is He fully present in the church, in post-modern Christianity? Curiously, as I reflect back, this symptom, if I was to claim it as that, reared itself from the very beginning of my Christian experience. So I can’t say it was the “energy healer” we went to, the Transcendental Meditation I learned to practice through the cancer center, the mind/body classes I took, the exposure to alternative modes of healing through the Art for Healing Center, the anatomy class that sparked my fascination with the metaphysical aspects of health and disease, or any of these things that I am certain most Christians I know would be afraid of. Terrified, actually. Maybe it was that women’s retreat I attended way, way back when? You know, that time when God prompted you to go lay hands on a woman with cancer from the church because He wanted to heal her, but you were too afraid. Remember crying when you got home, and instead of that retreat being a reinfusement of faith it served as a reflection of how little faith you truly had? God did heal that woman. And since then I have secretly wondered if healing is just another of the numerous gifts He has given me? But that’s something the church, whichever church I was attending at any given time, and there were numerous ones, never encouraged or supported. In fact, of all the numerous talents, gifts, desires, and ways we offered to serve, we were met with continued resistance. So that was part of the growing discontent, as I began to see more clearly how Christianity is steeped in control, and rooted in fear. They try so hard to “keep the devil out” and “keep the truth pristine” (their specific version of it anyway) that they squelch much of the unique and creative expression of the Spirit. As much as I know it will pain people to acknowledge this, I have to be honest about it: I have outgrown Christianity as we now know it in the U.S. This has nothing to do with Christ or my position and faith in that regard. It has everything to do with corporate religion and the status quo required in order to be seen as legitimate in Christian circles. I have come to find that the Jesus Christ of the modern church is a narrow, impotent, and very inaccessible version. And so my search for Christ, the true and full embodiment of Christ, led me outside of the church, outside of Christianity. Notice I did not say it led me to abandon the Bible- His Word. And I don’t see myself as no longer being a Christian. I see myself as having an expanded understanding of the manifestation of Christ- in and through me. But I am painfully aware that because I have opened myself up to alternative philosophies, practices, and even other religions, I will be and am branded by mainstream corporate Christianity as a backslidden sinner who has rejected the truth and is danger of eternal damnation if I don’t repent and turn back to that warm spot on the pew. But, there’s just no turning back now.
I thought the exhilaration I felt when the scales fell off of my eyes and I accepted the truth of Christ would be unmatched, that the height of spiritual awakening had been achieved. I’ve since discovered differently, as I have had a palpable shift in the past two years, which was precipitated by the previous ten years of me publicly complaining about how exhausted I was, how I was constantly wrestling with God, and how I felt stuck, just spinning around in circles on the potter’s wheel. I feel like the past two years I have been groggily waking up from a really long slumber, eyes caked with gunk, which I am gently wiping and re-wiping out as I yawn, and stretch, and yawn some more. All these years I thought I was awake! But I’m there- right there on the verge, aware I had been asleep even when I thought I was awake, and as my awareness slowly increases, I am anticipating a full and complete awakening. Is it irony that as a very young Christian God called me to lay hands on a woman with cancer, but I was too afraid, and seven years later I found myself with cancer? I’m not suggesting I was being punished. To the contrary- I needed cancer to bring me to the place of not being afraid of the power of healing in and through me. I am excited and I am having a hard time relaxing into it. I want it all and now! Those old patterns die hard.
I know it’s going to be nearly impossible for some people to understand this. Those who will struggle most with it are the ones who hold on steadfastly to their faith, eating, breathing, and sleeping it. I can’t judge that. I can only say it wasn’t enough for me. It was ineffectual. And by that I don’t mean my own practice or expression of Christianity, because I expect that’s what people will say- that it was me who wasn’t doing something right. What I mean is my place within that community and how I was ministered to, and allowed (or not) to minister to others was ineffectual. If I am a healer, this was never allowed to bare fruit, I never found a supportive environment for growth to occur. And this is most apparent in my own self. I’ve heard people say that the moment they first believed they were healed of many things, physical and emotional. I can’t say that was my experience. I still struggled with depression, with suicidality, with a profound and deep wounding as a Christian. It didn’t matter which church, how many times a week I attended, how many streamed sermons I listened to, what Christian books I was reading, how emotional and loving I felt towards God during worship, how much I prayed, how diligently I studied the Bible- I still had a wound that wasn’t healing because I was still engaging in behaviors that were not allowing me to heal, and was still blinded to a lot of these. So time and again I would bring my wounded self to the alter, but I found that people truly did not want to hear, or see, or feel me. They didn’t want to help me carry my cross, wipe my tears, or even offer me some sour wine in a sponge on the end of a really long stick. They used their faith, their beliefs as a way to put up a wall of separation, a way to keep distance, even as they claimed we were all one in a single body. Cancer just served to make that crystal clear as I truly walked that path alone. Throughout the years I would be told things, hear things like, “have joy in your trials”, “consider your sufferings a blessing”, “I’ll pray for you”, “trust in God- He has a plan”, “just keep going to church”, and a lot of other empty sentiments intended to hide the fact that the people who said them were afraid of the shadow stuff, or they just didn’t have the true love of God to sustain them while they helped me carry my cross. I was “too needy.” Can you imagine Jesus telling that to the woman who wouldn’t stop bleeding? Again, I don’t fault people for being where they are because we’re all here doing the best we can. But this inadvertent denial of the healing I was so desperate for put everything I am, or was, in a context of spiritual depravity. Any grief I felt, any addiction, any suicidal thoughts, any physical illness- all of that could be neatly boiled down to my spiritual depravity. There was no offer of a tangible healing, no true love offered, no clear mechanism for change or a way out- just a vague morsel of hope in “Jesus’ Name.” They told me there was power in that, but no one ever, not one single time, showed me. No one offered healing to me. No one ever told me that I had the gift to heal, that we all have the gift, and that I could use that gift to heal myself. It was always put outside of me- if I would just do this, or believe that- all while they were telling me Christ was in me. So there was a huge disconnect in my internal and external experiences of Christianity.
So yes, Christianity became an obstacle to my growth. This, my friends, is what kept me stuck on that potter’s wheel for nearly ten years. I was terrified to let go of my self-identity as a Christian (as defined as a member of the corporate church) and what that would mean. But exploring healing for me meant I had to let go so I could open myself up to it- in any and every way it wants to come.
I know, I know. I know this all too well, too. “His people are flawed. There’s no perfect church. Look to Christ and not to His people.” So this is why we stopped attending church. If we can’t find a supportive place to serve and we can’t be effectively served, the only purpose for warming a pew became to learn, like a student from a teacher. But even that became conflictual and frustrating as the intellectual study of the Bible, even if spun out into an emotion-driven web (we tried some of those churches too), failed to offer the transformative enlightenment that I’ve been desperate for. Christ has to be more than read- He has to be experienced. He was enlightened. He was transfigured. He moved mountains, calmed stormy seas, walked on water, exercised demons. Too many Christians pursue intellectual Christ, or emotional Christ, but don’t sit egoless at His feet to really know Him in His creative power. Ritualism, observance, judgment- these all serve to separate us, to box God in to our ego-driven perceptions. The result, as I’ve seen it in my life, is a lack of connection to the Source. All the reading, praying, preaching, fellowshipping- all ego driven intellectualizations. And worship? Ego driven emotionalism. While unity or oneness is given lip service, it isn’t practiced in any tangible way. We aren’t truly taught that the Word is God, that we are God, that we are the Word. What we are taught (in practice) is that there is a schism between us, dirty filthy sinners who depend only on His grace and mercy, and Him, a holy and jealous God who loves us, yet barely tolerates us, and that we have to always strive to do something more than what we’re doing to bridge that gap and “prove” our salvation. This separation is painfully felt- or at least it was by me. I know there is more than this. The answers we seek, the healing we seek, I believe we can have that here on this earth, in this life- why else did we come? There is a purpose for our lives beyond just “serving God” through reiterating and duplicating the same message over and over and over. We each are a unique expression of the Creative Source, and I didn’t feel that was honored in Christianity. You know, we recently attended a ‘church’ (not Christian) that had a few obviously transgendered individuals in its congregation. Why did I never, not a single time in the hundreds I attended, see such an individual in a Christian church?
Another major disconnect for me was in the manifestation of self-love. The only sermon I ever heard when self-love was discussed was expounding on the verse about loving our neighbor as ourselves and spouses loving one another as they love themselves (in body). In both examples it was assumed that everyone must love themselves. More than 20 years of sermons from multiple sources, and what I heard most was how we love ourselves too much, we’re to self-centered, how we need to be humble and serve, and castrate ourselves. I personally felt a lot of shame. It was the only way laid out to me that I could come by salvation- accept my filthy sin nature so that it would open the way for me to accept God’s mercy and forgiveness. And again, while it’s taught in passing that we’re loved by God, created in His image, the depth of the truth of this was not fully realized in any of the churches I’ve attended. To put it bluntly, they didn’t put their money where their mouth was. I came with gifts, they weren’t accepted. I came with talents, they were denied. I came with words, they were rejected. And when I bared my soul, that soul they claimed was made of God and in His image was perceived as “weird”, or “creepy”, or “rebellious”, or “disturbed”, or “dark”, or sometimes, sometimes even demonic. So this causes a sort of schizophrenia, a split. And when someone such as myself is already lacking in self-image, self-esteem, and most especially self-love, this schism can serve as a major obstacle to growth in those areas. Christianity did help me to limit God, to limit love. It taught me to be suspicious at least, always guarded, and maybe even downright terrified of any type of healing that didn’t fit the prescribed box Christianity created for God. I was somehow supposed to just get direct healing from Christ to me through reading the Bible, praying, and worshipping. Well, it didn’t work. And I was stuck in that, just encouraged to longsuffer it, to adopt a joyful suffering approach to life, all while feeding myself the words: “He has a plan.” Let me tell you, whether I failed at it or it failed me, either way, joy in suffering still does not let go of the construct of suffering. Considering it joy when we face trials does not make us stop viewing all things as if they are trials (victimization). And so this doctrine was dangerous to me, because it encouraged me to hold onto that part of myself that perceived everything as a sort of victimization, a trial to be endured. You cannot get unstuck from this position while holding onto this belief. I am very proficient at being a martyr. Covering it up with joy, if the deeper work of perceptual shift has not occurred, is pushing the wounding deeper into the shadows, denying it any true light, and any hope for healing. The Christian people I have encountered who live only in joy, or who can only respond to healing by suggesting the wounded simply adopt an attitude of joy, are often operating out of inflated ego defenses too, because that can easily serve as a form of denial, which doesn’t allow a trial to truly refine you. These are the women who simply said, “cancer blessed me”, and wanted us to believe it rolled off their back as they fully trusted God, not allowing it to have any effect on them. “God’s got this”, they said, as they pushed it out and walled themselves off. I had to grab cancer square on and take it fully in to me. I had to allow it to knock around inside, and knock hard. Almost 11 years now since my diagnosis, and it’s still knocking.
But let me tell you this too: The problem is the cellular matrix of the scab that formed over my original long-healing wound is made up of this very pattern of grabbing onto everything to try to wrestle it down to the ground. Ann Voskamp called it the “ferocious thrash for joy”, and what a poetic description! It describes well the fundamental nature of its energy: ferocious. But what it falls short on is describing the gross result of this thrashing- the cuts, and bruises, the broken bones- and the cumulative effects of dozens and dozens of these wrestling matches over the course of years. Being a fighter can be a good thing. Like I said, I’d likely not be here if I wasn’t. But this compulsive need to consume every experience, to make sense out of it, to dig bare and bleeding knuckles to find the hidden gems, not only has it exhausted me, it has made it very hard for me to not take everything personally- even a flat tire. Through all my years as a Christian, while I knew intellectually that I am loved, chosen, unique, created, that knowing never was fully realized as Knowing. My heart did not believe it. In my heart I felt that God showed me no favor. I can’t catch a break. This world is a hostile place that seeks my destruction. And there was no protection. So I came to believe that I could not trust God to give me anything but shit. Shit, shit, shit. I mean, how many trials can a person experience in a single lifetime? The cancer is a big one, and it happens to be the one I write about in context here, but I came to the doorway of cancer with already 30 years of equally horrendous shit in my suitcase. The problem with this belief I have that God won’t stop giving me shit is that I then rely on myself, separating myself out from the Universe (as God) as if I am standing on my own. I mean, why not? Everyone else in my (childhood) life abandoned me in one way or another. Every. Last. One. Of. Them. It’s obvious God did too. I know it’s not possible to exist like this truly because truth is truth independent of what we feel or experience, but in my perception of reality, it was me, myself, and I. I moved mountains, but by my own strength and will, never being able to relax and trust that my needs and wants would be honored with less exertion than absolute exhaustion. I had to make it happen on my own. The pressure of living like this is immense. It’s this constant weight on my shoulders to make stuff happen for myself when the Universe seems to be against me. It feels like I’ve spent 40 years swimming upstream. I’m exhausted to the bone. Did I say I am exhausted? Is it loud enough, clear enough? And I can already hear the echoes on that one too- “fight the good fight”, “God won’t give you more than you can handle”, “your reward is in Heaven”, “His yoke is easy.”
Right. So back to that yoke thing. A yoke is defined as: a wooden beam normally used between a pair of oxen or other animals to enable them to pull together on a load when working in pairs. Pull a load, working together. Working together to pull a load. A single ox usually does not need a yoke. Really the only time a yoke is used is in pairs. You know, I never heard any teaching like this. It was always presented as something we had to do, like a submission thing, a subservient thing. We have to come to Him. We have to take the yoke upon us. We have to……. do something, or be something. And here Jesus is saying for the weary and burdened to come to Him. So just a mile longer. Never mind you’re weary and burdened, keep walking. Come. Come to Him. Keep walking up that hill to Golgotha, where you will meet the allusive Jesus. And what does He give us? A yoke! Of all things, a yoke! A thing of bondage, for godssake! And what constitutes the yoke? The yoke we are told is easy and light. But is it? It never felt easy or light to me. It always felt like more doing. Why? Well, maybe because I was struggling to pull the load all on my own. A yoke is for two. And who is the other half?
See, for years and years, through my own theological (intellectual) study of the Bible, I was convinced that human beings have no free will. I mean, think about it, if it all boiled down to a simple choice and every human being was capable of making that choice, why would we need Jesus in the first place? He didn’t have to die- He could have just said, “hey everyone, choose me”, and we would have the inherent free-will to do so. But yet we don’t choose Him. Time and time again we don’t. Because it’s not that simple. It’s not that easy. He had to die. But personally, this particular form of Protestant theology resonated deep within me, not because of its Truth with a capital ‘t’, but because it fed my view of the world, God, the Universe, as being a hostile place that just wants to keep giving me shit. I’m not talking about my cognitive perception- in my mind I have always been fully aware that God loves me, that trials are for my own good and are purposed to refine me into a better character. I’m talking about my wound, that deep place that aches, that feels unloved, feels victimized, feels undeserving, feels the lack- that dark shadowy part that hates myself, hates the body I am in, hates the world. I don’t think when God said to hate the world and everything in it (John 12:25; 1 John 2:15), this is what He meant.
So I had to gain some distance from what I believed about God’s Sovereignty to get some clarity. And what I discovered is that it is possible that we are “co-creators.” What I mean by this is that maybe we have to, in tandem, work to bring about (create) or clear (change or uncreate) everything in our lives, emotionally, physically, materially, practically. God is the other oxen. And so what I am saying in this long examination is I haven’t learned to balance the tandem part- to let go and trust that my partner will have my back and do His part. I’ve been struggling and wrestling to take all of the load- all of it- onto myself. It isn’t because He’s not there beside me, or I don’t trust Him in His power. Time and again I have seen firsthand the power of God. Truly. It’s because I’m not connected, or not conscious of the connection. I haven’t seen His power clearly in my own life because my own strength has blocked that off. I’m so determined in what I’m doing, I can’t really see the benefits of what He’s doing. And I can’t discern the leading, when we’re supposed to go, or stop, or turn. I just keep wrestling with it all on my own, thrashing about as I go, yoked, but feeling like I’m doing all the work.
Horses, big strong pulling horses, also wear yokes. A wild horse is going to resist the yoke because it fears for its life. It will buck, and pull, and twist, and rear, often even injuring itself in the process. It is a raw survivalist fear that motivates its wild behavior. Yet the core of its essence is not to be this wild and untamed beast. Horses are social animals, docile, herded by a leader in nature. The foundation to ‘breaking’ a wild horse is trust. Through consistency and connection the horse begins to trust the trainer, and will eventually come to see the trainer as the leader.
I am a wild horse. So putting on a yoke is not as easy as it seems. If God is my trainer, then to be successful at this tandem yoke thing, I have to trust God before we can go any further. Again, I’m not talking about God out there. I know, without doubt, that God can and does miracles. He lead His people out of enslavement by parting a sea and guiding them through the friggin’ opening. He calmed a storm in milliseconds with nothing more than intent. He healed people who were really bad off, and even raised a man back to life who had been dead to the point of stinking. I’m talking about God in me. I know how to discern His leading through the filter of His Word. I know right from wrong. And I’m getting even better at discerning shadowy things that project themselves as love when they are not. What I am not so good at discerning is when I’m supposed to hold on, and when I’m supposed to let go, when I’m supposed to pull harder, and when I’m supposed to rest. And I’ve worn myself completely down, because damn it, the field aint’ gonna’ plow itself!
My shift away from Christianity is more than just principle. I feel like for the first time in my 41 years on this earth I am on the brink of really knowing myself. I have had a very, very difficult life. One thing after another, really since the time of my birth. The trauma, the struggles, they have piled one on top of another to such a degree that even a flat tire can send me into an existential depression. I’m tired of living like this. And I’m tired of struggling to not live like this. For years I’ve felt, talked about, wrote about being like Abraham and wrestling with God. And I got tired enough of being tired that I let go and jumped out in faith to follow a path that was different than the one I thought I was supposed to be on. This path is teaching me to be still, to be quiet, to have moments, however brief, of glimpsing All That Is without the dirty lens of ego. I’m sorry for my Christian friends’ sakes that I couldn’t learn this through Christianity. The healing required is just so deep, and I couldn’t seem to navigate into it through corporate religion. The promise was there, and kept me captivated a long time. But like in an abusive relationship, the words didn’t match up. He was saying he loved me, that I was special, and precious, but then he was telling me I wasn’t good enough, that I had to prove myself, that I should feel lucky he even tolerated me………
I know I have exposed myself to be picked apart. And I know that this is so scary for many devout Christians. I know the fear in “opening one’s mind”, and that you’ve been taught it makes you vulnerable to ‘the enemy’. But that fear kept me in a box, and God in another. The pain of living like this has become too great for me. I literally could not get through a single day without being in tears, which became a disability all of its own. I tried all the conventional treatments. And I really came to a place of not having any choice but to open myself up and take the leap of faith in exploring healing beyond that narrow Christian paradigm I was clinging to. I am excited to experience some growth after nearly 10 years of struggling with stagnation, even as I know I’ve taken a huge risk in opening myself up to a lot of shaming and negative thoughts and feelings that might get directed my way. But hey, I wanted to keep this true and real, and here it is! Pray for me if you feel compelled. I appreciate that you have concern enough for me to hold me in that reserved space. And if you are compelled to provide me encouragement, please do- I can use it! If you have wisdom to share, please share it. I need that too. And if you just want to be excited for me, thank you. Thank you for your empathy, for being the empath you are. Thank you for honoring the God in me. I would love some loving, healing intent directed my way.
Another semi-exciting thing that has happened since I last wrote nearly 2 years ago is I started my first fiction novel. Most of you know I have published a non-fiction. I wasn’t ever able to see any significant return on that because my cancer diagnosis came so soon after the publication. To make money at being a published author in these times you really have to have a solid marketing strategy and actually implement it. So much more work is required beyond just writing. But during one of my existential crises a few years back (I am so good at these!) a very trusted friend suggested I start writing- maybe fiction. I couldn’t imagine that! I don’t read fiction. At all. I know nothing about it. And how could my mind conceive a story? I just didn’t put trust in my ability to imagine an original and interesting story. But Wellbutrin helped. Remember that crazy psychotic manic break I wrote about as a result of the Wellbutrin I started taking for the depression? Well, it did do something good for me- it fueled a really intense manic-driven creativity out of which a few story ideas were born. They were all over the place in terms of genre, but I was able to whittle them down into a single story that was the most interesting to me, and I started to write. That was in July 2012. I am finally nearing the end of this endeavor and hope to have the book, some 100,000+ words of it, completed within the two year frame. This driven fighter, beat-the-doors-down part of me I just shared with you wants to do some more of that in terms of this project. I am so tempted to throw all my hopes, my dreams, my expectations, my financial goals into a writing career and to make it happen. Sheer willpower- I can do it! So it’s interesting that the timing of all of this awareness and focused struggle coincides, because it’s a real and tangible way for me to practice letting go of the lead to just let be what will be. Notice I didn’t say this was easy- just that it provides an opportunity. The pre-cancer me, the 29 year old me, I would have had this wrapped up. The 41 year old tired-of-fighting, 11 year cancer survivor me…well…..I am too tired. I have limitations. I don’t know if these are going to prove to limit me in ever being able to make money at this writing business? Is my book good? Well I think so! But good is not enough in these conditions. We’re saturated, competing for single spots on book shelves. I don’t know if I have the stamina to sell the thing. And that’s even if I got a publisher, or an agent, which requires a great deal of work in itself. But I’m going to keep writing. I have a lot more in me. And I’m trying not to beat down doors. I mean, I don’t have the energy for that anyway, but I could sure kill myself trying. I don’t want to do that. So I’m just going to plow along and am focusing the work I do to be in learning to listen to the leading as I relax into the rhythm of just being. But because I now have stalkers, even talking about it publically opens me up. I write. I write well. This can translate into me no longer being disabled, me being deemed as capable of holding some type of job- some type of writing job. Nevermind I’ve been working on this piece you’re reading now for 6 months, and on my novel for nearly 2 years, and I haven’t seen a dime from either. Though it would be a blessing to have some direct financial benefit of my laboring. Either way, I’m not going to stop writing or sharing my writing. It has been suggested to me that maybe I need to just stay off the internet, limit my presence so I’m not providing them “evidence.” I refuse to do it. Maybe there are some strands of vanity in my stubbornness? This type of writing, although cathartic, is particularly laborious, which has become even more obvious to me now that I have experienced the fictional writing to flow like lava. And I’ve found a lot of other ways to cathart since starting this cancer journaling nearly 11 years ago. This is probably why I’ve slowed down my writing pace to once every….oh….couple of years! But my point is, there’s no point in me laboring through this writing if it sits buried in some dusty box, or becomes lost in an outdated file format. If SunLife denies my disability appeal something is going to have to change because we can’t sustain our living situation with that much of a loss of income. So this will be an interesting ride…..stay tuned.
To define yourself in terms of human limitations is a desecration of the image of God you are. — Paramahansa Yogananda