My Soul Thirsts

10935610953_ecff276a2d_zMy children’s Michigan fact book says you can’t go more than eight miles without hitting water in this state, but it must be less this far north. I imagine the land shifting and disappearing beneath my feet as it does at the shoreline, except I’m standing in my kitchen.

“You’re basically living on a big dune,” a woman says when I mention my back pain. I thought I’d pulled something lifting moving boxes, but she says transplants often complain of chronic pain. We go rigid trying to find our sea legs. [Read more...]

Driving the Dark Roads

Dark_RoadsThe other day I got an email from a high-school boyfriend, which drove me headlong into remembrance of a time in my life I’ve tried to forget.

My husband is the only person I know who enjoyed high school, so I don’t harbor any delusions that my unhappiness made me unique among teenagers. In fact, my misery found plenty of company. My mother died at the beginning of my freshman year, and while my dad reeled, I got mixed up with the other kids whose parents or grandparents weren’t really watching.

After reading his message, I sat for a long while and tried to remember the year this boy, now a man with his own family, came into my life, the year I turned fifteen. What surfaced most clearly was a dark road. I’d just gotten my license, and we were always driving. Gas was less than a dollar a gallon, and though I usually couldn’t afford dinner, I could scrape together enough coins to get a few more miles.

So I canvassed the town, looking for some diversion. I didn’t have anywhere to be—no club meetings, no soccer practice, no piano lessons, and I couldn’t bear being at home. I’d scoop the change from my dad’s dresser, and if there was any left over after putting a couple of gallons in the tank, I’d splurge on single cigarettes from the quitter’s cup at the Shell station. [Read more...]

Signs, Parables, and The Lord of the Rings

mapI’m reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy for the first time. I inwardly cringed when I wrote that, as I cringe whenever anyone asks me what I’m reading right now.

Despite his reputation among the beloved Inklings and many others I admire, I’ve always lumped Tolkien in with Dungeons and Dragons and Renaissance fairs, or at least with fanatical teenaged boys.

The Peter Jackson adaptations didn’t do much to convince me otherwise. They came out when I was in graduate school, and when I saw them I was unmoved. I realize now I was mostly uncomprehending—so much that gives the story its emotional heft is necessarily glossed over in whispers and asides—and distracted by the violence.

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Medicating the Religious Mind

I’ve been taking an antidepressant for six months now. Psychiatry wins: I’m a more functional human. I don’t feel so isolated and restless. The tasks of daily life don’t seem impossible. Even the feeling of shame that I need to be on medication has been lessened by the medication. But it’s a dry season, God seems distant, and some days I don’t recognize myself.

I wonder how much higher the dosage would have to be to silence that little voice that wonders with every shift in mood and emotion—is this me or Celexa?  Is the real me revealed when the medication suppresses my anxiety, or am I suffocating her with an SSRI?  Is there a drug that can quell this stubborn refusal to be well—even though I feel well—the belief that peace is just a chemical haze that clears as soon as the bottle empties?

At the risk of sounding like a religious freak, or even just a garden-variety freak, I confess I’ve often worried that this voice inside is the devil. Except it’s the same voice that urges me to write and to throw myself at the foot at the cross—two good things I’m decidedly less inclined to do now that I’m on drugs. Physically, mentally, I’m waking up, getting well, returning to life. Why do I feel so spiritually and creatively dead? [Read more...]

Light One Candle

Every week after Mass I light a candle. I love the smell of hot wax and matches, the action of my own hand kindling one small flame that will burn for hours, a visible sign of my unseen petition flickering beside the anonymous hopes and burdens of others. I’ve always clung to this little ritual.

In those moments of life when I’ve felt most powerless, when I’ve felt there’s no comfort at all for myself or a suffering friend beyond a cry for divine help, lighting a candle has made me feel like I’ve at least done something, turned my body and my heart to some purpose, performed an act of faith that has changed the atmosphere of the dark night even for just a moment and lit the room with prayer.

“Better to light one candle than to curse the darkness” is the motto of The Christophers, an organization that recognizes work that “affirms the highest values of the human spirit.” Last month at their annual awards ceremony, The Christophers honored Love and Salt, the book I wrote with my friend, Amy Andrews.

It felt really good to win something, especially for this book, which grew out of years of personal letters chronicling the crushing grief that followed my mother’s death, and so soon after my co-author Amy’s conversion to Catholicism, the stillbirth of her first daughter.

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