Thursday, January 24, 2008

ghosts of friendships past: my scenic route to God~part eight

So far I've been speaking primarily in the past tense, and that's a comfortable way to speak. It implies that these things are long ago and far away. It creates a big wide expanse between the events I'm telling you about and who I am today. Even as I passed over some terrible memories, the lullaby of the past tense language kept me snug and cozy at a safe distance. Even when sadness and anger passed through me like old ghosts, I was comforted by the "once upon a time" quality of my words. But my story has caught up to me now, and something very current has emerged. This makes it much more delicate to tell.

In the two year transition between my first question and my decision to leave that church, I lost most of my friends. I'm not talking about casual friends. I'm talking about the kinds of relationships that felt as stable and solid as the earth. One of the few benefits of those holiness standards is that they created a deep sense of belonging. But the moment I challenged them, I became a stranger. I stayed there a long time in this half-life of ghost friends because I could not really come to grips with the loss. It's something you just can't take in all at once.

I am speaking in past tense.

This happened twenty years ago.

It was long ago and far away.

So why are my hands shaking? Why am I holding my breath? Why are my thoughts racing around like they're trying to distract me from something terrible?

Why am I speaking in the present tense?

I am realizing that something happened to me back then that is still happening now. The ice-water shock of those losses changed me somehow. I am noticing how I hold myself at a distance from even my closest friends. I am noticing a cold chill of fear always hovering, like I am bracing myself for the moment when everything vanishes. I am noticing a space between me and the rest of the world that I wear like armour.

This is where my story folds over from past to present. These are the old wounds that never really healed. These are the ghosts still haunting me. I wasn't aware of this until the story found its way here into this light. I am aware now as I write these words that this will require something new of me. I am speaking in the present tense. There is solid earth holding me up and trustworthy friends surrounding me. I am reaching out now in spite of my fear. I'm looking to the God who led me here to this land of blessing and abundance for the courage to speak in the present tense.


  1. Someone might already have said that as you write your story you allow us to feel and relive our own stories more clearly.

    It unnerves me that I am shaken by your words as I sit here so many thousand miles away on a separate continent. That I see my own experience and mistake as you describe the distance that you maintain even from your closest friends.

    I'm not sure how I feel about this. I'll need to go and rethink it all.

    Be safe.

    Trust God.

  2. It is unnerving to read this, to begin to take in the weight of what you're saying. That even with time and distance, those things created a very present and very real feeling that the solid ground you stand on may not be as solid as you think. Maybe I don't belong and fit in like I think I did. That is big. It's no wonder those things have followed you to this place, and something deep inside me leaps at the recognition of what you describe.

    So sorry. So very sorry.

    Maybe this will be the beginning of something, the beginning of calling out your ghosts and forcing them to reckon with the Light.

    Love to you.

  3. moved to tears...

    honoring the sacred space between and knowing this love for you will last for ever

  4. And in this present tense

    where we accept our own

    Healing is waiting...

    Someone said "when we realise we're sleeping... we're already half awake."

    When we can name our wounds...when we can see them for what they have been, what they have become...

    When we can contextualise them within the potency of the present moment... like you have done here so bravely..

    Suddenly we hold the balm, the ointment... to heal our wounds...

    and to allow us at long last to take off the armour of the collected years..

    and clothe ourselves in love.

    Blessings of soft light my friend,


  5. Oh, Terri. Such pain. I'm sorry.

    And it shakes me, too. I feel my own experience in your words, and I tremble.

    May you be blessed with softness and wings today!

  6. I'm listening from far away but wishing I could be closer by...I'm so grateful for your encouraging words to me over the past few days and wish I had some to offer you...all I know is that something of the pain of grief & loss stays with you, even after you've healed. May God be very very real to you in the midst of all this...can't wait to see you soon. love ya.

  7. checking back in to check the little box (is there a way to default that to checked?)

    truly yours, grasshoppa

  8. dean: you be safe too. rethink and refeel and take the risk to be exactly where you are. which reminds me: i'm curious where you're listening in from.

    kirsten: i'm not sure whether it's a beginning...more like picking up where i left off. i know it's good to be here in the light, but i'm also noticing an urge to retreat. i'll just surf that urge for a while and see what happens.

    di: thank you, truly, for that honoring space.

    maithri: your words from the other end of the world are part of that balm. i receive them gratefully.

    sarah: thank you for the blessing. i'm calling out my coordinates to you so you won't feel alone.

    jen: it means so much to me that in the middle of your own sorrow you have the space to hear me. i love you sister, and i am looking forward to meeting you away from this bitter cold so that we can sit in the warm sun and keep each other company.

  9. Having come out of the same church you came out of, I know that ghoulish chill you're talking about very well. I don't think I felt it as deeply as you, because I don't think I feel anything as deeply as you. And I certainly couldn't express it the poignant way you did, even if I DID feel it as deep as you. You're ability to paint feelings with words and willingness to do so blows me away. (In fact, it's kind of intimidating even commenting on this blog because EVERYONE here writes like a poet!).

    But anyway, you're blog brings me back to my own experience of "getting out." You've made the past present. And that always makes a person more whole. Thanks Terri.

  10. Hi Terri

    Cape Town, South Africa.

    And I agree with Greg that it's intimidating writing here. But I don't plan to leave.

  11. Dear Terri,

    I feel so much of your preciousness when I read this post. I feel it when I imagine what it must have been like to be left so alone after such a monumental decision in your life and faith. I feel it when I imagine you up there in your house, surrounded by love and words and memories and emotions.

    You are such a brave soul, Terri, in your willingness to face these feelings. I love that about you. And we are right here with you, at least in the ways we can be, holding you, cupping the expanse of this in our hands with you, putting our arms around you and pulling you close so you can rest your head on our shoulders.

  12. ditto what greg said ... you people can write! thank you for sharing. my hubbt comes out of a JW background and can echo much of this experience while leaving the witnesses ... not easy stuff at all.

  13. Terri,

    I appreciate your bringing us all forward into the present with you. And you have crafted the journey in a way that allows us to feel your experiences vividly, yet in a casual atmosphere.

    It’s mystifying how the past can at once warm us with nostalgic sentiment and haunt us with gut-wrenching pain and anxiety. No wonder we guard ourselves and erect a buffer zone between us and what could end up being future acceptance or rejection. Because, honestly, the sting of rejection throbs incessantly to the point that you sometimes wonder if the caress of kinship is worth the bruises of banishment – especially if you’ve been ostracized by those that you once called family. I get sick just typing these words.

    My skin has thickened over the years. And that scares me. It insulates me from the pain some, but it imprisons me to another excruciating existence: detached loneliness in the presence of people who genuinely love me. And that’s not worth it.

    Whatever it takes, whatever it costs, don’t let the specters of past pain and rejection stymie the progress of your present journey towards victorious vulnerability. Take your time; just don’t change your course. As down and depressed as I have been, and as cynical as I feel at times, I know one thing for sure: PAIN CAN’T FEEL AS BAD AS LOVE CAN FEEL GOOD. And love demands vulnerability.

  14. i'm jus like dat craig boyd...i fer sure ain't got no writen skills! ;-)

    But I love you T and I'm glad you do!!!

  15. Wow, the way you tell it takes me back there to my own group. Our whole lives were them..the buzz words, the way everyone thinks the same, it brings such a sense of closeness. As long as you don't let yourself think. Or question. It is a very expensive closeness.
    You made me realize that I am more self protective with friends now, too. Your self awareness is so appreciated.
    The bravery of living honest is worth it, but we do have to feel the pain we bring on ourselves by stepping out. Thanks! Tracy

  16. OK, before I address anyone in particular, I want to deal with this issue of people being too intimidated to leave a comment because you feel like you're not a good writer or not "poetic". That honestly breaks my heart. Please, please, please, if you have something on your mind or if you just want to let me know your there by saying hi, don't be afraid that you're going to sound stupid. It means so much to me just to hear the other voices out there and I would be so sad if I thought someone was out there feeling something or thinking something but not saying it because they are intimidated. 'nuff said.

    greg: thank you for taking the time to read this. that means so much to me. you and shelley were the life line to another world for dave and i. you are so embedded in the fabric of our lives. you're my big brother who always encourages me to do the thing my heart is telling me to do.

    dean: so you're the guy peeking in from south africa. i'm really glad you're here.

    christianne: thank you for the way you love me and hold me up in your mind and heart. i don't know how brave i am, but you certainly give me courage.

    tara: i can't believe with the things you're dealing with right now, sitting in a hospital in port au prince with your baby and all of your other concerns, that you care to check in and support me. you're amazing. i didn't realize troy had that background. same song i'm sure. take care of yourselves. i'm thinking about you and praying for you a lot.

    nathan: i know you're right about the emotional algebra, i'm holding on to that. it's really strange to me because i have some of the most wonderful, loving, supportive, safe people in my life. it kind of reminds me of the survivors who were liberated from the death camps in poland after the war. they were given food after starving for so long and their bodies had basically lost the memory of what to do with it. food made them ill. i think something like that happens emotionally. your body forgets how to receive the nourishment of love.

    my mia: you crack me up sister. ya, fer sure! i love you like mad, even when i'm weird and distant. you know that's true.

    tracy: another survivor. i'm so glad you're here remembering with me and walking through the muck. peace sister.

  17. It's hard to put feelings and issues behind you. I have the same problem in my life now. There are ghosts out there that are standing by to reenter my life. I have decided not to dwell on them though and go ahead as if they never existed.

  18. Whoa, Terri, that example of the Polish prisoners gave me the chills. I'd never heard about that before, and it makes me so sad. Thanks for sharing that because it helps incarnate even more what you are feeling right now.

  19. Terri: I read this post when you first published it and started to comment, but had to sit with it for a few days. I'm not sure if I've found any better words since then, but I just wanted you to know that I appreciate your openness, vulnerability and desire to allow your past fold into your present.

    That takes a lot of guts, and I'm not sure a lot of people ever really stop and turn around and face those voices that won't shut up.

    Glad you're willing to share it here, in public; it helps me to stop and listen to the past.

  20. Wow T.;

    That post brings back a lot of memories, most of them bad. I forgot how terrified I was not just of leaving a group of people, but of ever being able to connect again in any meaningful way. It felt like I was always looking over my shoulder.

    Then God does his thing and plugs us into the most amazing people in the world . . .

  21. terri- I remember the first 2 times we went to the cabin you did not want to swim. I am not sure why, but I would ask you and you just said you didn't feel like it. The third time we went, a bunch of the younger kids were in the water and out of no where you came out and took this big jump off the dock. It really surprised me. You didn't slowly dip your toes in and get used to the water (like I would have) didn't check to see how deep the water was. You just dove in and said "c'mon julie get in!". I didn't.
    But I see you jumping off that dock is beautiful and inspiring.

  22. gardener: i truly hope that works for you. may you have peace from your ghosts my friend.

    christianne: i studied the holocaust a lot for a while there. unimaginable evil and suffering.

    tom: i love that you're here and that you give my words space. thanks brother.

    dave: as tough as this was on me, i know you suffered on a whole other level. these were people you knew from birth and a way of life that was so familiar to you. but somehow, in spite of the impact on you, you moved so easily to letting in love from our friends. it's one of the things that fascinates me about you and makes you so easy to love.

    julie: "come on in" :) sometimes i wonder how i must look to all of you. i know i kind of disappear periodically and withdraw into myself. it's good to be with people who give me space and grace for all my oddness. you, especially, seem to have an endless reservoir of esteem and patience for me. thank you.

  23. Terri
    Thanks for that comment you made about feeling intimidation. I have said a lot of stuff, you would think I am not intimidated, well I am, I just ignore it. The things I say are just out there raw, no editing, half the time not spelled right, no correct grammer. I am just me....not even cleaned up. As a matter of fact what you are hearing is me when I get up in the morning, no shower, I have not brushed my teeth yet, I have bad breath and my hair looks like I slept on top of my head. That was a metaphor but you understand. People have said things to cushion the blow, Christianne made a comment to me a while back, and Drea made a comment about my writing, and I said ohhhh nooo, thanks, but I am in the midst of very talented, very gifted, very intellectual people.

    In regaurds to what you have said here, man I hear so much pain in your voice at times it saddens me. Man, it is such a helpless feeling to know someone hurts but you cannot take it away. That is when my humanity crucifies me the most.

  24. One of George Orwell's characters (O'Brien actually) said the past is not "out there" somewhere in a specific location we can visit and measure and photograph. It only exists in our heads - nowhere else - and is therefore subject to revision. In effect, that we can make the past whatever we wish it to be, either on a personal or societal level.

    But the past is inalterable. That's okay, though. Even when it jumps out of its pen and runs across our current emotional lawn, relieving itself on the beautiful flowers we recently planted, that's okay.

    Take a deep breath. In its own ugly way, it is serving only to remind us - by contrast - of just how far we've come since the little bugger showed up at our doorstep years ago. Just water the impatiens or the gladiolas as you've been doing. It'll eventually get bored and go back inside its little fence.

    Don't let it bite the kids, though.

  25. Irony: I used a dog metaphor for the past, right after calling it "inalterable."

  26. Terri dear, are we the same person or something?

    I'm finding that it really is the same looking forward as it is looking back. Partly this is what genealogy has taught me. It is good news, really.

    I read some very old letters from my great grandfather, Charles, to his love, Ida, who would later be my great grandmother. What they spoke of was not the daily struggles, money problems, business or work. They spoke of of love, belonging to each other, wondering if they were loved as much as they loved the other, when they would see each other, and how short time is. I think in that moment, something changed for me. I realized that what lasts really IS the love. And here I am, over a hundred years later, living proof of their love.

    This too shall pass. And come again...


  27. I’m listening and experiencing your journey to the present by way of the past… some of which feels very familiar having left the same church. Emotions are whelming up inside of have a way of turning me inside out! I love that you are telling your story and i love having you present sis! You are standing on solid ground.

  28. poet: i'm glad if that comment at least helped you to feel freer here. and you don't have to take on my pain. you have enough of your own.

    sharp: i'm really aware of the flexibility of the story as i've begun to write. i could say it this way or that way. i could include this aspect or that aspect. I could focus on this or that. and it makes a difference, these little choices. thanks.

    marcell: our story really does have a lot of similar elements. thanks for that story of your great grandparents. it does point to something lasting and important.

    shelley: that means so much to me shelley. i know that you are familiar with this territory. i love that you are here as a witness with me and that you are one of the friends who have remained stable since my childhood. love you.

  29. Wow, Terri. This is my first visit back since leaving my own comment a few days ago. Your description of the prisoners from war camp caught me like a sucker punch to the gut. How true & somehow terrifying.

    As always, thank you for putting this out there, even if it is scary and you don't know quite what to do with it yet. We're in it with you, figuring it out.


  30. What a treat to find your blog. I have found you through Bella and Terri. I definitely will be back later today to visit some more.

  31. Terri ~ I'm sorry, I meant through Bella and Beauty in the Breakdown. Anyway, now that I'm unlost in my blogging journey this morning :), I've added you to my blog list.

  32. kirsten: no sucker punch intended. i was just thinking about the way our bodies accomodate trauma and that's a very good thing, but then somehow it can be difficult to unravel those accomodations. we're sometimes stuck squirreling away little pieces of bread when we have a constant feast in front of us...always waiting for the famine.

    alexandra: i'm always glad to have visitors from bella and chloe...pretty choice company. i'm really honored that you've added me to your blog list after only one visit. thanks! i look forward to hearing from you in the future.

  33. Like you, I thought the Church connection was an umbilical cord - but, when it was severed, I was reborn and free. Maybe the cutting was painful, and maybe it left a still sensitive (and obvious) bellybutton wound -- but "whom the Son sets free is free indeed." An occasional look back reminds me of how liberating it is that I never have to go back. History is who I was AND who I am. Thank you for this blog.

  34. Debbie,

    I don't know much about your story connected to all of that, but it sounds like you're in a really good place right now. I'd love to hear more if you're in the mood to share it. (my email is in my profile). I DO know that you managed to raise one of the most wonderful kids ever. I've really enjoyed getting to know Angie a little and she is such an important part of Danny's life. Very cool.

    And yes, our history is both who we were and who we are. Untangling unhealthy knots is a delicate task, and I'm grateful that I don't have to do it alone. God is good.