Home remodeling for the soul.

I’ve realized that some of what I’m writing in this blog is like the “how-to” articles in home-repair magazines. They show you how to build a deck or remodel your kitchen. They show you the tools to buy and all the insider tricks to make it come together well. There are pictures and words, and somehow in the middle of it you figure out how to do it in your own home. Perhaps you don’t have a square deck – yours is rectangular. Perhaps you don’t want granite countertops in your kitchen, but the pictures of the cabinets going in explain something that you needed. This is that, but for the rooms in your heart and head.

Sometimes “home remodeling” hits closer to home. Your first and truest home is you.

This is my journey, and my work. If any of this helps you figure out things, all the better. Our paths will be different, but there will be some similar landmarks along the way.

I’m “growing up in public” as one friend tells me. Either he learned it from his therapist or from group work. Either way, it is a good phrase. It isn’t easy when you haven’t gotten all of your growing-up out of the way when you should, but late is better than never. Writing, beading, and drawing are how I do my growth-work these days. I use eating well and regular exercise to help keep me on this path. It is all connected, body-mind-spirit.

Recently I went to my spiritual director (kind of like a personal trainer for the soul) and she told me that there are many rooms our hearts, and Jesus wants to enter into all of them. This includes the good and the bad, the happy and the sad. Hmm. Kind of sounds like wedding vows when I phrase it that way.

One room we are working on is my childhood, and feelings of loss. I’m angry about the bad choices my parents made. I’m angry that they smoked themselves to death. I’m angry that they died young, leaving me to defend myself against a predatory brother and an insensitive, bossy aunt. I’m angry that they weren’t there for my graduation and my wedding, because of their bad choices and their lack of self-control. I’m angry that they left me alone a lot, even when they were alive.

But she pointed out that anger is a symptom. There is always something that comes before anger. I’ve been working on this technique recently, so I understood where she was going. Trace it back to the root. Dig down to the source.

The feeling before anger in all of this is sadness. It is grief. It is loss.

Instead of dealing with my sadness, my grief, my loss, I went straight to anger. Anger is useful but you can get stuck there. If you don’t dig out the root cause of anger, and dig down to the grief, you’ll be treating the symptom and not the cause.

She asked me to name this room. I call it “The Room of Abandonment”. I spent a lot of time alone as a child. There were a lot of things that I wasn’t taught before they died – basic things like taking care of a house inside and outside. How to cook, how to garden. I’m learning these things backwards. I still am terrible at plants, but I can get by without a garden. I’m not great at cooking, but I make do. I celebrate everything that I do figure out. I’m pretty awesome with hedge shears. I make a pretty fabulous stir-fry. My hummus is getting better too.

I felt abandoned before they died. I felt abandoned after they died too. I was just 25, so I was old enough to take care of myself. But being the youngest in a family where the older brother is abusive is hard. It was hard to claw myself out from underneath his mountain of lies. I didn’t have any perspective on what “normal” was.

So. This room. Look how I’m not really dealing with this room. This is normal. We want to turn away from hard things. So I’ve drawn it. I’ve made it into a prayer bracelet as well. I have reminders of it to force me to look at it. These are like writing notes to myself on my hand – “pick up spinach and cheese and Triscuits”. They are reminders for what I’m trying to forget.

She asked me to visualize what it would look like. I saw a light-blue room, empty, save for a chair. The walls are blue like a robin’s egg. The walls are windowless, but there is light. I’m not sure where the light is coming from, but the room feels clean and bright. The chair is an old wooden chair, like the one I rescued from my grandmother’s house when the time came for her to be put into a nursing home.

WP room 2.
(The drawing of the room)

My director told me to invite Jesus into the room, and to invite Him into any hard feelings. He wants to be there, to help me with them. This is some pretty foreign stuff. Jesus as a friend? Jesus wants to heal me? Jesus wants to hang out with me, in the boring times as well as the beautiful times? She says that Jesus wants to be with me all the time, in all the rooms of my heart. He wants to be with all of us like this.

It is like getting a notice that the President of the United States, or the Queen of England, or the Pope is coming over to my house and wants to hang out in my basement. I want to say no – come sit over here in my living room. It doesn’t have a lot of clutter. There are comfy chairs. There is natural light. Surely you don’t want to hang out in the basement with the spiders and the one overhead fluorescent light. There is a lot of clutter in the basement. It is really embarrassing. Nope- that is where Jesus wants to go. Not only does he want to hang out there, he wants to help me with it. He wants to help me clean it out, or be OK with it as it is.

When she asked me to invite Jesus into it, and I felt that while I wasn’t ready for Him to be in the room with me, He came in and put a fuzzy green shawl around my shoulders while I sat in the chair. The shawl was a reminder of His presence, and it was comforting.

While there in that visualization, with that shawl, I worked on my feelings. I’ve been working on this for days. I return to it again and again, refusing to turn aside. I’m trying not to obsess about it because that isn’t healthy either. Just like with yoga, it is important to have rest periods in this work.

When I started drawing the room, I felt that it needed something extra. I was wary of putting too much in the room. If I clutter it up with tools or toys then I’m being distracted from the work at hand. Often it is so easy to use noise and activity as an escape from being by ourselves. There is a lot of fear of silence in our society. We don’t like to be alone with our thoughts. This room needs to be quiet and clear, so I can process this feeling.

When I was thinking about it, trying to remember what events made me feel abandoned, I felt that I had to draw a rug under the chair. While I was drawing it, the events came to me. While inviting Jesus in, I started to see things clearer. He is helping me to deal with these feelings. I wasn’t ready to process this years ago. I’d put a wall around it because I wasn’t strong enough to deal with it. I don’t feel like I’m ready yet either, but I think that is normal. There are a lot of things that God calls me to that I don’t think I’m ready for.

One of the biggest things I realized was that I was taught shame about my body, and of being female. This was taught to me by my mother. Ignorance was masked by fear, which lead to more ignorance and fear. The body was always to be clothed, and periods and sex where embarrassments. Necklines were always high, and bras were always padded so no nipple showed. I learned about the mechanics of sex from a library book. I learned about how to deal with periods by accident, on the sly. Bodies and how they worked were seen as disgusting, shameful, wrong.

And then I dug down further, past the grief. All of it traces back to a feeling that I didn’t get something that I thought I deserved. All of it traces back to not being OK with things as they were, as they are. It has to do with not trusting the process, and the Director of the process, God. All of it has to do with not being ok with the Now. Anger comes from grief. Grief is a sense of loss. It is an unwillingness to accept change. That is an unwillingness to accept things as they are. It is a desire to shape the world to fit me. Nothing is ever “good” or “bad” or “half-full” or “half-empty”. It just is.

It is our society that trains us to define things as good or bad. We can unlearn this. I believe that all the sages from all the ages have been trying to teach us this.

Jonah praised God in the whale. Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek. The apostle Paul tells us that all things work together for good, for those called by God. There is something in these ideas that is so revolutionary and yet so simple.

Sometimes I feel that I’m trying to make wine out of grapes, and it just isn’t ready yet. I’m reminded of my story of when I tried to encourage the tadpoles to be frogs sooner than they were ready by pulling on their tails. I think I need to hang out in that room for a little more, and let things ferment. I’m not very good with waiting, but I’m inviting Jesus into that too. I think He understands the quiet times, the waiting times.

WP room 3

Here’s the bracelet I made to remind me to work on this. The blue beads are for the walls in the room. The Green bead at the top is the green shawl from Jesus, to remind me that He is there with me. Going clockwise, the white bead is me. It has two millefiori on it, one on either side. The square brown bead represents the chair. The broken-looking beads represent the “stuff” that created the need for the room. They are made from recycled glass from Africa.