a new hope (in the quiet, not in silence)

What a deceptive title.

One, because this post has nothing to do with Star Wars, at least not directly.
Two, because the hope I’m thinking of isn’t new in the conventional sense.

It’s more of a renewable hope. Or a continually-renewed hope.

I sit here in the final minutes of 2016 (it’s literally 5 minutes ’til midnight), typing on my laptop while the TV regales me with the blatherings of announcers, the poor enunciations of music artists, and the weird ramblings of a woman with green glitter lipstick worthy of Panem’s Capitol. I think of the illusory and foundationally meaningless construct of calendars and years’-ends. We humans get in such a tizzy at this time every year, never mind that flipping a calendar page from one month to the next or one year to the next has absolutely no connection to actual, tangible change.

I set my laptop aside to check windows for fireworks as 2017 A.D. rolls through the door.

The fireworks are audible from inside my living room, but I can’t see them from any of the windows. A quick call to my parents — one I make every year on January 1st at approximately 00:05am — sends love reverberating through the atmosphere. A good start to the new iteration of this particular human construct.

My husband went to bed at 22:35 (that’s 10:35pm); my four-year-old daughter trundled off to sleep at her usual time of 20:00. None of our friends were partying this year.

No one texts me.

This is probably the first time in 20 years that I’ve rung in the “new year” completely alone.

Shouldn’t this make me melancholy? I don’t know if it should (don’t should on me!), but it doesn’t. It’s kind of cozy, really. Until the timer turned them off a few minutes ago, the Christmas tree lights splashed a warm glow across my typing fingers; I’ve turned off the TV, so all is quiet, if not silence; I can hear my husband snoring, my clock ticking, my fridge chuckling. Sporadic fireworks still grace the night behind me, on the other side of the window.

I don’t type in silence, but I type in the quiet.

Ah. There’s the first ambulance siren of the year.

Peace. Peace for this year. Grace and mercy to those who aren’t starting 2017 in peace.

The clock is ticking.

The cat is sleeping under the darkened Christmas tree.

The year 2016 A.D. held so much grief.

Deaths of people I’ve long admired from great distances.
Death of confidence in the basic decency of humanity.
Death to idealism and optimism and other beneficent -isms — all of which are intimately connected with fellow humans-being.

I still like to think of myself as Eternal Optimist Woman, even though that belief has been sorely tried this year. I think the EOW has disintegrated into ash for the time being; I can only hope that, like the phoenix, she will rise from the ashes again.

She’s done it before.

And there’s that word again.

Hope.

I’ve pondered again and again whether or not I should wax political about the goings-on in the United States of America in 2016. And if I decided to wax that way, just what could or would or should (!) I say? But the emotional energy required take for such a blopgost (yes, blopgost) would be an expense I cannot afford.

The Babadook still lives in my basement*. He demands my intensive self-care, which includes not feeding my strength into something that won’t benefit anyone.

(*If this reference makes no sense to you, I recommend watching the movie The Babadook, which is basically a metaphor for depression.)

I will say this, since it relates to hope: I don’t hope for anything Good to come from the USA’s current president-elect. “I hope for no hope from him…poor clown,” as Amalthea told Molly Grue. (Although I know I’m doing Schmendrick an injustice; still, allow me my nerdy references, would you?) He has proven himself ridicule-worthy, dangerously unbalanced, selfish, self-absorbed, greedy, incapable of empathy, ableist, racist, misogynist, bigoted, prejudiced, childish, fiendish, and just plain gross.

If I were to put him into a novel, readers would mock me for writing such a parody of a villain. He’s so much Chaotic Evil as to be unbelievable. No one would read him.

(“He lied in every word, that hoary [emotional-]cripple with malicious eyes….”)

I cannot describe to you how much it cost me to write the preceding two paragraphs. I feel completely exhausted.

But.

The point is, I have no hope for the next year regarding the president-elect of the USA, his cabinet, his advisors, his family, his decisions, his intentions, his cronies, his sycophants. I have so little hope regarding any of those, it has passed zero and dropped squarely onto the negative side of the axis. And on the negative side, my hope moves ever more rapidly away from zero.

Thank God — literally — that the Reality which gives me hope is no human construct or human system.

When I was 19, my atheist friend said to me, “Courtney, I don’t care if you believe in God or not — but if you’re going to believe, you have to be able to tell me why.”

I had no answer for him then.

Nowadays, I have answers squooshing out of my ears, but that’s another tale and shall be told another time. 😉

My thought tonight is that because of my faith and in spite of the Chaotic Evil that has created a safe place for so many other evils to reveal themselves, I still have hope.

A renewable hope.

A continually-renewed hope.

What if we humans had a leader who cared? Who empathized? Who accepted us all, every one? Who wanted to build something beautiful and glorious and beneficial, instead of promising dread and fear and harm? What if we had a leader who actually did represent us and count us in and protect us and serve us and live for us and die for us? What if we had a leader truly “for the people” and “by the people”?

What if we humans had a leader truly made of Love?

I know of so many people who profess to follow this man named Jesus of Nazareth, the Anointed One (that’s what mashiach–“Messiah” and “Christ” mean) — and yet, they are so terrified of someone misleading “their country,” they actually believe that a human construct could “close the doors” of their churches.

(Fellow believers, how could you vote Chaotic Evil when you claim to follow the Perfect Lawfree Good, which never restricts freedom?)

The Good News is that no matter what any man-made system decides or does, the house being built by this Jesus of Nazareth will never close.

After all, He is a carpenter. He knows how to build a house with uncloseable doors.

But it’s not about the closing of doors. It’s about the closing of minds, the closing of hearts, the tearing-down of the differently-opinioned, the shutting-down of empathy, the removal of “with” from compassion (which leaves only passion, and of an undirected, malignant sort).

(Compassion, in case you didn’t know, means “suffering-with”; to have compassion on someone means to enter into their suffering, to become part of it and to make it part of you.)

And this closing off and shutting down is coming from those who profess to own the One who personifie(d)s opening up, feeling with, suffering with, building up, welcoming in.

My so-called fellow Jesus-followers rejected his example and his indwelling Lifespirit.

That, in my very subjective view, is the real tragedy of 2016 A.D., for it leads to the suffering of humanity, most especially including the impoverished and the unbelieving.
In regard to so-called Jesus-followers, this felt more like 1016 A.D.

They have forgotten their hope.

They have forgotten that their hope can be “new every morning”

(great is thy faithfulness).

Jesus the Anointed One, Son of God Most High and Head of His Body (the collective of Different Ones [definition of “saints”] in this world) — He is building a house.

His house has nothing to do with physical buildings ornamented with made-up names and stained-glass windows.

His house encompasses the universe itself.

He will build that house with or without those followers of his who happen to name themselves “American” (for you can be sure that *he* didn’t name them that). He will build his house with the people on the street corners, the ones who actually hear his words and listen to them and respond (Matthew 22). He doesn’t care where these people came from; they listen, and they come to him, and he loves them and takes them in.

They take his Hope and they eat it. They chew it. They swallow it whole.

And his Hope has no relation whatsoever to the construct of human politics or calendars.

In the vastness of the universe and the multi-directional eternity of history, human politics are less than a footnote. I’m not sure they’re even mentioned between the covers of the entire book.

I have hope.

Because I’m a stone in a wall that’s going to last forever. I am a stone in Reality.

That Reality behooves and encourages and enables me to feel-with and suffer-with those who feel deeply and suffer. And it’s the kind of suffering-with that leads to action. Compassion leads to getting my hands “dirty.”

I’m okay with that.

His hands were “dirtier” than mine ever can be.

I didn’t intend for this blopgost to turn into such a revelation about my beliefs. I wanted to keep it simple, really. But it just seemed like the words wanted to come out exactly as they did.

There goes the second set of sirens of the New Year.

No one wants to read a sermon first thing on January 1st (at least, I don’t know of anyone who does.)

Also, I’m tired and starting to fade toward sleep. And starting to type in my sleep; I’ve already had to delete two sentences because they made no sense. 😉 So I’ll wrap this up. There really should be some more thoughts here, but I don’t have any.

I’m too tired.

HAPPY NEW YEAR, everypony!

Peace.

That’s not a corset, mate. THIS is a corset.

Gone with the Wind

When I was a kid and teenager, I watched Gone with the Wind at least a couple of times a year. (I read the book for the first time at age 14 or 15.) And every time, I viewed it with an odd mixture of enjoyment, disgust, fascination, and horror.

This isn’t a post about slavery or bigotry or racism or women’s equality or war or politics, though Gone with the Wind contains plenty of fodder for each. (Not to mention a kaboodle of interesting stuff relating to the psychology of Scarlett O’Hara herself; man, did I ever get a doozy of a shock concerning her when I finally rewatched the movie as an adult! Also: Vivien Leigh? Brilliant.)

No, I’m not delving into any of that today. What I am going to talk about, though, is corsets.

scarlettmammycorset

As a kid and a teen, I watched the corset-lacing scenes with horror. How could any woman do that to herself? How could she breathe? No wonder she couldn’t eat. No wonder there was fainting all over the place. These women had to be crazy to think fashion and other people’s opinions were worth putting themselves through this kind of torture — putting themselves into this kind of torture device.

Corset. Torture device. Every bit as effective as the iron maiden, thumbscrews, and the rack, I had no doubt.

Oh, and then there was this:

Mammy (referring to Scarlett’s waist measurement): Twenty inches.

Scarlett: I’ve grown as big as Aunt Pitty! You’ve simply got to make it eighteen-and-a-half again!

Mammy: You done had a baby, Miss Scarlett, an’ you ain’ never goin’ to be no eighteen-an’-a-half inches again — never. An’ there ain’ nothin’ to do about it.

Eighteen-and-a-half inches. You know what that is? That’s the circumference of…of…well, of I don’t know what. Something very small. Like maybe the head of a small child. Or my cat. (The whole cat, not the head.) Definitely not the waist of an average-height, adult, human female.

Corsets, thought I, shaking my head in amazed disgust. Those are for crazy people. NO DOUBT.

Down with the Corset!

Now. By which I mean, give heed, dear inklings, to meanderings mine as well as in the context of this narrative, we find ourselves in present day. If you recall, I recently gave you a candid look, both in description and in photographic evidence, of my post-pregnancy body. If you recall, in that post I jokingly used the word “corset” to describe the bodysuit thingamajig my physical therapist wanted me to wear in order to help heal my separated abdominal muscles (diastasis recti).

That bodysuit corset thingamajig is this:

Ooh la la. #no #notreally

Ooh la la. #no #notreally

I didn’t like it. It pulled on my shoulders, making them sore and straining my upper back. It slid down. It rode up. Sure, it slimmed down some of the fat pockets on my back and sides, but was a slightly (SLIGHTLY) streamlined silhouette really worth the discomfort? Nay, said the horse. Not to mention the part where I have to unhook it when I want to pee, which makes me feel like I’m wearing a superlarge version of my toddler’s onesies. Great, not only am I out of shape and in pain, I’m also reduced to wearing gigantic baby clothes. I CAN’T WIN.

I wouldn’t wear this thing if I didn’t have to. But if I ever want to heal my abs, get my back into shape again, and return to exercising with any semblance of gusto, wear this gigantic toddler onesie wedgie corset-thing I must.

I had no idea what was coming next.

gwtw-intermission

Physical therapy was still progressing, at least as far as my mobility was concerned. But the pain had plateaued, meaning that it wasn’t getting worse (most days), but it certainly wasn’t improving. My physical therapist suggested placing a sheet of plywood under my mattress. The husband installed it. I also started wearing my mouthguard at night so that I wouldn’t clench/grind my teeth. (Bruxism can contribute to back pain.)

Plywood and mouthguard helped a little; the pain dropped a notch. Then it plateaued again. My therapist was at a loss. My frustration level went up. The toddler kept doing this weird thing called getting bigger, which also meant getting heavier. Soon, every morning began with numb spots on the bottoms of my feet. I couldn’t turn my head.

My mother, wise woman that she is, suggested X-rays. My general practitioner, all-around awesome that she is, agreed. The X-rays showed something that shouldn’t have surprised me but was still fairly depressing:

Mild arthritis in my neck.

Mild scoliosis in my back.

Arthritis. At 36. I know it’s not unheard-of for someone my age or even younger to be diagnosed with this, but still. I figured out a long time ago that, powerful genes considered, I’d probably develop arthritis just the way my mother and grandmother did. But I thought that would be distant future, not imminent. I mean, seriously. Arthritis? Wasn’t I supposed to be at least 55 before this party started?

And scoliosis. Is this a new thing? Did this just develop during pregnancy? Can pregnancy cause it? Or have I always had it, and nobody ever realized? Isn’t this something that crops up in childhood? With all the bajillion doctors I’ve seen during the course of my too-short-for-arthritis life, if I’ve had scoliosis the whole time, how is it possible that nobody ever noticed?

It’s been a few days since the diagnoses, and I’m very definitely still *SIGH*ing over this. And feeling way older than any of this merits.

Done with the Corset; Or: That’s not a corset, mate. THIS is a corset.

My doctor says that if I have better back support, the pain of both conditions should/will decrease and go away. In order to gain better back support, I need core strength and stability — of which I’m clearly not getting enough via my onesie-corset-bodysuit. Those separated abs are THE BANE OF MY EXISTENCE. To heal the abs and reestablish core strength, the doc wants me to wear a thing. It’s called a “Belly Bandit.”

bellybandit

The Belly Bandit is supposed to be THE BEST for getting one’s stretched, now oddly-proportioned, post-pregnancy belly back into shape. It flattens and compresses. It squeezes separated abs back together so they can heal. It produces whangdoodles and zippetybobs, and it will most definitely endow one with those ever-elusive vorpal unicorn morphing powers. I guess it’s called a “bandit” because it steals away one’s oversized post-pregnancy belly. I guess.

I buy one. I haul it home and pull it out of the package. It’s a ca. 3-foot-long, 1-foot-wide piece of cloth-covered elastic with front panels of what feels like industrial-strength Velcro. I suck in the belly, flex what’s left of the abs, and wrap my new belly-thieving friend around my waist. I secure the Velcro that would make the Acme Corporation proud. I relax and immediately notice two things:

1. I suddenly feel like my top half and bottom half are finally connected again.

2. Gasp and egad, I AM IN A CORSET.

PRETTY.

PRETTY.

I can’t breathe. Did I get it too tight? I can’t sit down. Oh dear, it’s bunching up in the small of my back. But the package insert says it’s supposed to do this. I can’t breathe. And later, I will pull a Scarlett and eat like a bird because my stomach is too smooshed for more than half a meal to fit into my abdomen.

I remind myself that this is a good thing. I use all the force of my fingers, hands, and arms to pull the Velcro apart and strap the thing back on a little looser. Breathing recommences. A little. I pick up the baby, and my back doesn’t scream at me. Okay, Ms. Bandit, maybe we can be friends after all.

After a lifetime of looking down my nose at those frivolous, 19th-century Southern belles, I now am not walking around in their shoes, but in their underwear. The Belly Bandit slims my waist. I ain’t never goin’ be no 18 inches (never was in the first place; nor 20, nor 25…ET CETERA), but at least the waistband of my jeans now rests comfortably on my hips instead of pinching my flesh. Sure, sitting isn’t comfortable, but the moment I strap on my torture device, I feel my posture improve and my whole body stabilize. For the first time in over a year, I don’t feel like my top half is gonna slide all janky to the right when my feet are leading my legs and hips to the left.

The best and weirdest part is that I can actually feel my abs touching under my skin. I mean, what a testament to how messed up my body is. You’re not supposed to be able to feel your abs touching. What manner of crazy is this? And yet, I do feel it, and in addition to bizarre, it also feels like hope.

Maybe I can feel normal again. Maybe I can live without pain again (because, yes, after a week of wearing the Belly Bandit, I definitely have less pain, and my next pt appointment isn’t until the end of the week). Maybe I can get my abs back.

Maybe, just maybe, I can get my body back.

I’ve never been suicidal. Not really. But.

The title of this post might serve as adequate warning. But. In case it isn’t, please note that this post concerns suicide. If reading about suicide is a trigger for you for suicidal thoughts, please don’t read this. Instead, call someone you consider a friend. Or call 800-273-TALK. Or click here for resources.

On the blog of Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, I read this morning that today is World Suicide Prevention Day. The goal is to raise awareness of suicide, reach out to those who are suicidal (which we all should be doing anyway!), and possibly help prevent more suicides from taking place.

In honor of this, Take 5 To Save Lives is asking everyone to light a candle near a window at 8:00pm, Monday, September 10th (today). The site also encourages us to read their warning signs of suicidal behavior — and to have the courage not to ignore it.

I can’t claim to know or understand what it’s like to feel suicidal. Certainly, when I was a teenager and miserable and felt as though the entire universe were aligned against me, I had moments of thinking, “I wish I were dead!” But those moments resulted only in bathroom crying jags and passive-aggressive behavior toward my parents.

For me, the I-wish-I-were-deads never led to thoughts of how I could go about killing myself. I never even used poetry, my avenue of most intense emotional expression (still), to delineate my frustrated misery.

Because that’s all it was: frustration and misery. Through it all, somewhere in the back of my mind and in the depths of my heart, I continued in faith and in hope. I knew — whether I felt it or not, I knew — that life would change (it did), things would get better (they did), and these feelings wouldn’t last forever (they didn’t).

As an adult, I haven’t had the I-wish-I-were-deads per se…but there have been times during which I looked around and saw the pain other were going through, and I thought, “God, I can’t bear to see this anymore. Help them…and if their pain doesn’t stop, then please, just take me so I don’t have to see this anymore.” And yes, I do recognize the hypocrisy and selfishness inherent in that prayer.

This, too, passed.

Depression lies. Through faith, in spite of the cloud of doubt and fear and sadness, I’ve always had that assurance and held on to it.

Suicidal people don’t have that assurance.

I can’t know how it feels not to have that.

I can’t know how it feels not to have hold of that faith. I can’t ever say to a suicidal person, “I know how you feel.” I can’t even say, “I understand,” because how can I understand an emotion I don’t have? It would insult you and invalidate your emotions if I claimed to know something about your feelings that I can’t possibly know.

All I can say is that, even though I don’t understand how you feel, I do understand that you feel this way.

I’ll never be the saving light at the end of someone’s tunnel; I’m not created to be that. (No human is.) But I can be a way station, a guidepost, a mirror that reflects the true Light. We can all be that for someone else at some point, I believe. We can all brighten the world by lighting our tiny corner of it.

Sometimes, that little tiny light, reflection of the true Light, is all a suicidal person needs to hold on for one more moment. And then one more. And then one more. Until they can see the Light that guides them out of the darkness.

Shine a little light into the darkness today.

It ain’t about the stuff, y’all.

It’s not about rushing around two days before Christmas.
It’s not about slogging through car-clogged parking lots.
It’s not about plowing through a crowded store to find the best deal.
It’s not about snagging the last one of something off the store shelf.
It’s not about mashing the potatoes right.
It’s not about defrosting the turkey in time.
It’s not about how many different kinds of pie.
It’s not about the ubiquitous fruitcake.
It’s not about the Douglas fir or the Jeffrey Pine.
It’s not about the lights on your front lawn.
It’s not about getting presents.
It’s not about Santa Claus and reindeer.
It’s not about St. Nicholas.
It’s not about the nativity scene.
It’s not about the angels.
It’s not about the number of wise men.
It’s not about Baby Jesus.
It’s not about traditions.
It’s not about religions.
It’s not about the correct seasonal greeting.
It’s not about the agendas.
It’s not about the next new thing.

All of that is just stuff.

This ornament — a dove carrying a heart and an olive branch — hangs on my Christmas tree every year. It reminds me of these truths:

It’s about generosity.
It’s about compassion.
It’s about patience.
It’s about forgiveness.
It’s about kindness.
It’s about joy.
It’s about peace.
It’s about hope.
It’s about love.

It’s about LIFE all year ’round.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
Happy Holidays.

Love,
Courtney

Sometimes, a Lady’s Just Gotta Get Naked

This is a Naked Lady, aka Amaryllis. She grows, she changes, until she becomes what she is meant to be. She is vulnerable to her environment, but she is strong in joy over being what she is meant to be. She is naked. But she has no fear.

Thought of the Day:

To get what you want, you’re going to have to change.
 

 

 

 

You can’t keep doing just what you’re doing and expect to achieve a final destination that’s not at the end of your current path. You know what your current path is and what it leads to. You know it leads to something other than what you want.

So, to get what you want, you’re going to have to change.

It might be a tiny change, something so small that you are the only one who notices. It might be so small that even you don’t see its ripple effects until years and years later.

Or it might be a change so obvious and so radical, it makes your inner circle sit up and pay attention.

It might even be so ginormous a change that your inner circle turns on you for being different. It might be so great a change that they cast you out of their hearts.

Either way, to get what you want, you are going to have to change.

You just have to decide how badly you want it.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone. Go do something fantastic. : )