The color of the lake

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Once the lake was its own color, one that even the oldest animals have forgotten and people never named, neither blue nor green nor silver. But as she gazed upon the sky she grew jealous and thought to herself that she was low and weak and plain, while the sky was high and fierce and lovely. So the lake turned herself into a mirror and learned to imitate every cloud and color of the sky.

Then people came into the world and the animals never told them that the lake had changed, so the people thought this was the way of the world. But all the while the lake was unhappy, beautiful as it was, and missed its own color but was not brave enough to turn back. And then one day, the people came to the lake to fill their water jars, and found that the water was gone, the lake was gone, and in its place real clouds and sky filled the lake basin. Then the youngest child bent to drink and would have fallen away had not his mother snatched him back at the last moment.

No one ever found out where the lake had gone. But the sky, who had loved the lake’s imitation of her so much that she had accepted the flattery without ever returning it, was lonely. So every now and then, on days that sway from rain to sun and back again, you can catch a glimpse of the lake in the sky, just for a moment — that certain color neither blue nor green nor silver.

~ Jessica Faith Kantrowitz

It’s been a rough summer here. My friend and housemate, Mark, and I were searching for a third housemate, I was job hunting, and the migraines were particularly bad. I’m not sure if it was the heat or stress or what, but the migraines haven’t been this bad in several years. I went for several long bike rides, but I got an awful headache after each one. There’s this weird phenomenon, which I’ve written about before, where I blame myself for the migraines, even though logically it doesn’t make sense. But I always have this feeling that I should have done something differently, should have slept more or less, eaten something different, exercised more — I don’t know. I can’t pinpoint it. It occurred to me the other day that it might somehow be connected with the guilt and shame I’ve always felt about eating and weight, that there was something wrong with me and I had only myself to blame. Ironically, the migraines make it impossible to exercise obsessively, something I’ve definitely done in the past. So even though I exercise as much as I can, and push myself to the point of a terrible headache, I still feel this vague sense of blame all the time. Mark keeps telling me, as I go over all the things I maybe could have done to prevent this latest migraine, that they seem to come no matter what I do or don’t do. So why do I blame myself? Does anyone else do that?

So anyway, the migraines have been bad, and I’ve been feeling burnt out in general. The other day I was having a particularly hard day — my car had been towed, I had a migraine, it was miserably hot and humid for the nth day this summer, and I’d just had a couple of the kind of random, awkward interactions that make me want even more to not have to leave the house. I was feeling exactly whatever the opposite of centered is — off balance, on edge, on the verge of breaking down — when I walked into Target and almost straight into a woman who I’d had a really difficult relationship with several years ago. She was looking the other way, so I had a couple of seconds to decide what to do. She was poised and put together, standing straight and tall, her blonde hair pulled into a casual ponytail, make up carefully applied and somehow not smeared with sweat like mine was. I knew if she saw me she would be smiley and confident. If she was thrown off by running into me she wouldn’t show it.

I wanted so much to be confident, too. Or, rather, I wanted my type of confidence to be as visible as her type. I wanted my outward demeanor to reflect the growth and healing I’d experienced in the several years since we’d last seen each other. These have been such years of peace and strength for me, and I wanted that strength to be enough to carry me in that situation. But it wasn’t enough, and I could feel it. So I turned, quickly, before she could see me, and walked out of the store.

Afterwards I felt so discouraged. When was I ever going to really heal? When was I going to be strong? But I realized that, actually, making the decision to walk out of a situation that felt unsafe to me was a strength. Choosing to spend my time and energy in ways that are life-giving and with people who build me up is wisdom and confidence. It just looks different than I wanted it to look.

I’ve been trying to write about this here, to share these thoughts with you, but I haven’t quite been able to figure out how to express them. But I wrote that fable about the lake a couple of days ago, and that contains some of what I wanted to say. So I’ll just leave you with this for now: You have your own color, your own beauty, strength, and gifts, and the world needs them. The world doesn’t need you to try to be beautiful and strong the way that other people are beautiful and strong. It needs your own particular, specific way of being. And sometimes — often, maybe — your particular strength and beauty come from the things that seem to you like weaknesses or flaws. That’s not a glitch in the system, that’s the way the system was designed. Your weakness is part of your strength. Your flaws are what make you uniquely beautiful. You will heal and grow, but that growth and healing will not make you someone else, it will make you more yourself — and that was the plan all along.

Love,
Jessica

 

 

 

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On loving someone in pain

Job Rebuked by His Friends, by William Blake

Job Rebuked by His Friends, by William Blake

A dear friend texted me today asking for advice on how to support her friends whose teenage son has been suffering from debilitating migraines for a year and a half. He is angry at God, she said, and can’t believe a good God would allow this kind of suffering. His parents are afraid he is going to renounce God, and she wants to know how to be there for them.

I wrote last year about my own experience with debilitating migraines and depression and struggling to find God in it all. When you are in pain and the life you know has been pulled out from under you, you naturally ask why. When you have prayed till your knees are bloody and cried out to God until your throat is hoarse, and still the pain continues, of course you wonder why a loving God is not answering you. Of course you do.

But when your friends and loved ones have prayed their own knees bloody and throats hoarse, and still you are not better, something else begins to happen. They may question God, too, but they may also — out loud or only in their heads — begin to question you. Are you sure you’re praying enough? Are you sure you have faith that God can heal you? Are you taking the right meds, have you tried acupuncture, are you eating right and getting enough sleep; have you tried everything you can? And the blame begins to shift, slightly, to the one in pain. It can be subtle or overt, but it echoes the person’s own questions and doubt. Are you sure you aren’t psychologically attached to the pain? Maybe you’re getting something out of it. Why did you stay up late last night when you know a regular sleep schedule is shown to help migraines? Maybe all of this is actually your fault?

In my earlier post, He suffers with us, I wrote that I didn’t find answers to my questions, but instead I found God’s presence with me in the pain:

Then, one day on a whim, I bought a little crucifix online. I was raised in the Protestant tradition and remember being told that Catholic theology was wrong because they kept Jesus on the cross, whereas Protestant crosses were empty, representing the resurrection. When the package came, and I took out the little plastic Jesus it seemed so strange — a little Jesus doll when what I wanted was the real man, present in my heart, mind, and spirit, as he used to be. But one day, when the pain was at its worst, I placed my fingers on the nails in his hands, studied his face and his body, and wept with understanding: Jesus was in pain, too. He was suffering, too. I might not understand why it was happening to me, or why he wouldn’t answer my prayers to take it away, but now I knew that He was in it with me. For the days and months to come I lay in bed, clutching the crucifix to me and crying.

That presence, that willingness to be with me, to suffer with me in the pain, was what I found in God — and it was what I most needed from my friends and family.

I don’t know how much you’ve read Job, but it has always been kind of a confusing book to me. I don’t understand why God would allow Job to lose his family and everything he owned. I don’t understand his friends’ advice really, or what God means when he shows up and silences them. And I don’t understand how everything is supposed to be okay when Job gets a new family and new riches. You can’t make the loss of children all better by having new children. But this quote by Buechner helped me to understand it a little more:

Words Without Knowledge

IT IS OUT OF the whirlwind that Job first hears God say “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 42:3). It is out of the absence of God that God makes himself present, and it is not just the whirlwind that stands for his absence, not just the storm and chaos of the world that knock into a cocked hat all man’s attempts to find God in the world, but God is absent also from all Job’s words about God, and from the words of his comforters, because they are words without knowledge that obscure the issue of God by trying to define him as present in ways and places where he is not present, to define him as moral order, as the best answer man can give to the problem of his life. God is not an answer man can give, God says. God himself does not give answers. He gives himself, and into the midst of the whirlwind of his absence gives himself.

There aren’t answers to our questions, at least there aren’t answers that we can understand now. Job’s friends try to explain God to him, to tell him he must not be praying enough, must not have enough faith, must have some un-confessed sin or pride. And Job listens and argues with them and suffers even more because of their arguments and advice.
(Another time we can talk about the bad rap Job’s wife has gotten, and the nasty look she’s giving the beatific Job in Blake’s painting above. She lost her children, too, you know. She was in pain, too. Her advice to Job to renounce God must have come out of that pain.)

But when God finally shows up, he does not give answers, he gives something better — himself. And that is what we need from each other, too: Not answers, but just presence, just understanding and listening and presence. I told my friend that even if her friends’ son does feel like renouncing God, or even if he renounces him, the best, most loving response his parents and friends can give is not arguments, but presence:

“It must hurt so much. I’m so sorry. I can completely understand that you would want to renounce God, and I don’t love you any less for it. If God is God, he will understand, too, and not love you any less for it, either. Go ahead and cry and swear and do whatever you need to do. We’re here.”

Love,
Jessica

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When I awoke today, suddenly nothing happened.

Any minute now, my ship is coming in
I’ll keep checking the horizon
I’ll stand on the bow, feel the waves come crashing
Come crashing down down down, on me

And you say, be still my love
Open up your heart
Let the light shine in
But don’t you understand
I already have a plan
I’m waiting for my real life to begin

When I awoke today, suddenly nothing happened
But in my dreams, I slew the dragon
And down this beaten path, and up this cobbled lane
I’m walking in my old footsteps, once again
And you say, just be here now
Forget about the past, your mask is wearing thin
Let me throw one more dice
I know that I can win
I’m waiting for my real life to begin

Any minute now, my ship is coming in
I’ll keep checking the horizon
And I’ll check my machine, there’s sure to be that call
It’s gonna happen soon, soon, soon
It’s just that times are lean

And you say, be still my love
Open up your heart, let the light shine in
Don’t you understand
I already have a plan
I’m waiting for my real life to begin