And All Will Be Made Well

I’ve been listening to Josh Garrels’ new album, Home, over and over since it was released this month.  That’s how I tend to listen to music that I love – repeatedly.  Until I run it into the ground.  Which can take years.  In that time the songs and the voices that sing them become so familiar I would know them from hearing one bar.  They become a part of my story.

I’m so glad to include Home in my complicated tale.  It’s absolutely welcome here.

The second half of the album is already near and dear to my heart.  As my cousin insightfully reacted to it, “Gah!”  I agree with her exasperation at such creativity and beauty and relevance.  It’s almost too wonderful to bear.  But not quite.  And in that not-quite I find a thankful addition to my life.

I don’t like a lot of “Christian” music.  It’s often trite, poorly written and produced, a copy of other artists’ styles.  In my mind, not worthy of it’s subject matter.  Then there are the few inspired musicians whose art is worth hearing no matter what you believe – because they make good music.  Josh Garrels knows how to speak of God unabashedly, but with insight and grit and authenticity.  There’s no false-modesty; no making it seem that trusting Jesus means you avoid the real, hard stuff of living; no fake-it-til-you-make-it.  It’s just him, and his God, and his contemplations about the two.  He gives his listeners an honest offering.  Sometimes, even for free. (more about that here)  And that makes the world better.

In his book The Crowd, the Critic and the Muse, Michael Gungor (another great musician) talks about pain as a source of great art.

Pain is that blessed and despised universal experience that creates more true art than any other human experience.  Love is racked with pain.  Life’s most joyful experiences – the birth of a newborn baby, the formation of deep friendship, or first consummation of love – all are associated with an experience of pain. A wedding is the joyful union of two lovers, but it begins with “Who gives this bride away?”

Garrels’ song Heaven’s Knife puts this idea to music.  He speaks of a precious experience that began with pain but ended in a beautiful realization.  He hits on a universal reality.  The place of pain is also the impetus of searching, the reaching outside of the self.  Pain is the place where all you can think to say is “Help.”  As Anne Lamott says, it’s one of the three prayers (along with thanks and wow), and to pray it, we have to see our need.  When we’ve reached the end of our rope, we cry out for a bit more – with less fraying and a softer braid to grip.  But we know we can’t make it ourselves.  That point of acknowledging need is the very birthplace of hope.  It makes us look up.

I read that this album was written from a place of trying to find joy, and you can sense his search in the music.  Working it out through writing – I can relate to that.  Some songs are more pensive.  Asking for mercy.  But as the album moves along, the songs feel to me like a rising out of a pit into the light.  He expresses the joy he sought – not shallow happiness which changes with each situation, but a gladness which can exist in the midst of sadness or terrible circumstances.  The less fickle, more reliable relative to happiness.  David and the other psalmists wrote with this in mind; they were working it out through writing, too.  Honestly dealing with the painful aspects of living on this planet.  Reading them lets me know I’m not alone.  And so does Josh Garrels’ music.

He demonstrates what Gungor says…

Pain is not the same thing as suffering.  One can fully experience the pain of life without being the tortured artist who lives in constant agony.  But creation is no easy task.  Good art demands a fight.

Thank goodness Josh Garrels is willing to fight the fight.  To work it out.  To make good art.  His attempts to find joy help mine.  Here’s a sample, in case it helps you, too…

 

And it may be broken down

All the bridges burned like an old ghost town

But this my son can be made new

It’s gonna be alright

Shake it out and let back in the light

And joy will come

Like a bird in the morning sun

And all will be made well

And all will be made well

And all will be made well

Once again

Priceless

My fabulous friend, Dar, sent me a message this week.  It was a pep talk in the form of a text.  It made my day.  My whole week.  And all she did was say what’s true.

Sometimes we need reminding of the truth.  The facts, or more subtle realities, that we can stand on.  Sometimes we can remind ourselves, and sometimes we need others to do the admonishing.  When the truth is lost to us.  Because life has us swirling outside of our ability to get perspective.  And then we come across a perfectly applicable line in a novel, or hear lyrics to an honest and thoughtful song, or read a psalm that seems was written only for us.  Or a friend texts with some good ol’ encouraging straight talk.  And perspective is restored.  At least for the moment.

Speaking truth in love is always recommended.  It can be brutal, and therefore should be handed out only with good intention and a gentle touch.  A month ago I received news that was hard to hear.  It was true, and needed to be addressed, but it hurt.  It was the brutal kind.  At other times truth is the sweetest sound, raw and unfiltered.  No careful delivery necessary.  This is the kind of honesty I received from Dar on my iphone screen.  Say what you want about technology ruining a generation’s ability to communicate, but I was glad for it on Wednesday.  She, sitting in Los Angeles, sent me a message.  I, sitting in Kansas, received it almost instantly and responded.  And so forth.  Five minutes was all it took and my head was turned in a new direction.  I had something new to ponder, and firm ground to hold me up instead of the miry muck of fear I was walking around on.

There are some basic ingredients necessary in this whole speaking-the-truth-in-love thing.  Starting with knowing what the heck you’re talking about.  My friend and I have a history together.  She met me when I was fresh off the U-haul from Kansas to L.A. and, admittedly, even less cool than I am now.  And yet we became friends.  She knew me when I felt like crap every day but didn’t know why or really want to admit it.  We went through the roller coaster years of trying to have kids, having them, adopting them, me being insensitive, her being mad, us making up.  And then I moved away and we knew we were in this thing for the long haul.  Even from far away.  Emailing, calling when we could, visiting, loving each other from afar.  She has earned the right to speak the truth to me.  She knows me, my past, my present, and I know I’m safe in her care.  And she’s safe in mine.  She can tell me hard things, or sweet things, and I can receive them because the source is reputable.  The check out lady at Target could say the same thing and I’d know she was a nut job.  You have to earn it.

You also have to know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.  When to speak and when to zip it and just be.  Sometimes the truth can wait.  Until the person is ready to hear it, is open to that piece of reality.  When someone is hurting, sometimes she needs to hurt for a while.  To do the work, the push and pull of dealing with a mess.  But a good truth-teller can wait, can sense the right moment to come in with some tough or lovely honesty to cast the person’s vision in a new light.  And that person is priceless.  That friend should be kept.  Even if they live a thousand miles away.

That’s what smartphones are for.

Wrestling Match

I was recently told I probably have Epstein Barr (that’s like mono), and that I’ve likely had it for a very long time.  Like since I was in high school.  And I’m 40.  The unfortunate thing about the Epstein Barr virus is that it never goes away.  It goes undercover sometimes, waiting in the shadows to reemerge when the time is right (you get really tired, sick, stressed out), but it never gets the hell out.  Which sucks.

I’ve been trying to decide whether I’m glad I know (sort of) or whether I’d rather not know.  I’ll be chewing on that question for a while I suspect.  There was something wrong years ago – before I had kids and I felt tired all the time, and achy, and foggy, and couldn’t eat anything without dire results for my guts.  But I was in denial.  I didn’t want to have an auto-immune problem, so I decided I didn’t.  That approach got me exactly zero percent better, so it can’t be the answer.  But knowing – giving the wrongness a name – isn’t sitting well with me either.  Maybe it just has to suck.  No getting around it.  But I’d like to explore the possibilities of making it suck less.  So, how to achieve such a lofty goal?  That is the question bouncing around my brain these days.

Obviously, and thankfully, having medical care that comes from a direction of understanding and problem-solving, instead of symptom-masking, can play a big part.  And maybe facing the darkness head-on is better than denial.  But I hesitate to give in.  I know that psychology has much to do with one’s wellness, and positive thinking can save people from a downward spiral at times.  My instinct is to white-knuckle all attempts at health.  Will I fall into the pit if I admit that something is wrong?  Or will it free me, as truth does?  It seems the answer is clear.  Logically, cerebrally, the answer to my self-questioning is obvious: truth is always better.  I believe that.  But it’s hard to convince my heart to get on board.  When fear is running the show.  When the baggage of years of it have piled up in my arms.

My mother had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome when I was in high school and college.  I’ve written about it before, but the summary is this: she slept, she felt awful, she was absent from Life.  And ever since then I have feared that this would happen to me.  So when I began feeling bad in a general sense while in college (and really in high school if I use my 20/20 hindsight) I diminished it’s importance.  Fought hard to stay above the waves.  I never fully fell in.  Was that my willpower?  Was my illness just not that bad?  Was God keeping me from complete submersion?  I really do not know.  I awaited the results of my blood test three weeks ago with such anticipation. The mystery of why I keep getting sick is nearly as upsetting to me as the sickness itself.  But then I got some answers (or, rather, an educated guess) and all was not fixed.  Some things were better: no more wondering constantly; the need to search the internet for symptoms/causes/treatments was gone.  But do I want to own Epstein Barr?  Not a single bit.  “You know my mom had Chronic Fatigue when I was younger, right?” I asked my beloved kinesiologist.  “Yeah, same thing,” he said, not knowing the weight those words carried on their measly backs.  I crumpled inside.  Just what I had always feared, had run from in years past, was smack dab in front of my feverish, snotty face.  I wanted to cry.

Often in my essays I end with a nice, neat “summary paragraph.”  Because writing is my way of working things out, and the summary paragraph seals the working-it-out deal.  I typically truly wrestle with the topic enough, before or during the writing, that the last bit can be neat and tidy.  But this.  This is a big one.  A fear, like the virus itself, that has been lingering and quietly waiting for it’s moment – to explode on the scene and get the attention it deserves.  My fear demands an audience.  Maybe that’s the best thing in the end, though it’s painful and hard and scary.  But…it’s painful and hard and scary, and I don’t like any of those things.  I haven’t worked this one out to the point of neat and tidy yet; I’m not ready to give.  This is a to-be-continued post.  Let the wrestling proceed.