West Virginia Morning: Light Comes Early

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When I take Bonnie out this morning, the blue light of night still lingers. The stars still haven’t shut their eyes and I wave at Orion as we wind around the house. At the edge of the dome, light striations are only just beginning. To me, they look like layers of phyllo, layers of light, and the goodness of the earth’s rotation rouses a slight lift in my spirit.

The light comes earlier each morning and the days grow longer. I’m still trying to find a rhythm since returning to work at the hospital every day at the start of the new year. I miss my slow mornings, reading poetry out loud to God and Bonnie, sipping my coffee and underlining words. Yesterday, the sun warmed the winterstruck and Jeff and went walking for the first time in a while. The sparrows were singing their sweet-sad song and I could smell new grass, the earth melting from the outside in. I felt a holy whisper in my ear, grow, it seemed to purr.

As I drove to work this morning, I noticed a new level of comfort—my heart settling in to a new routine. Time. I’m always telling my patients that some things just take time. But it’s the way we take the time that makes all the difference. I’m still learning how to slow in the midst of all this busy, how to notice the kairos in the chronos. I think it will be a life-long lesson.

And I’m okay with that.

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The winner of Dawn Camp’s new book The Gift of Friendship is Maryleigh from Blue Cotton Memory. Congratulations, Maryleigh! I’ll send you a private message soon.

West Virginia Morning: How to Be Washed Clean

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This morning, the fog settles in over the meadow, skimming the blanket of Queen Anne’s Lace with white until it becomes a sea of flowery ghosts. I go out in the yard in my bare feet, let the same moisture that kisses their upturned faces be my foundation. I want to walk in beauty today.

It feels like we have miles to go before we sleep. So much work to do to get ready for the next season.

In the Russian tale “Vasalisa the Wise” the sweet girl Vasalisa is sent into the woods by her jealous stepmother to retrieve a coal to reignite the fire in their hearth. In the forest, Vasalisa encounters Baba Yaga—a witch who represents the wild old mother in each of us (just as Vasalisa represents the innocent, too-nice, naïve part of our psyche). Baba Yaga makes the child perform certain tasks to earn the coal she will give her: wash her clothes, sweep her yard, prepare her food, separate mildewed corn from good corn, and see that everything is “in order.” Vasalisa performs all the tasks successfully with the help of a little doll given to her by her mother when she was on her deathbed (the doll represents the intuition handed down through the ages).

Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés says that these tasks Baba Yaga puts before Vasalisa teach her “how to take care of the psychic house of the wild feminine.” Washing the old hag’s laundry, in particular, is a beautiful symbol for “cleansing and purification of the entire bearing of the psyche.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this cleansing ritual lately. As we sort through Teddy’s things, making lists and deciding what he needs to take with him to school, it feels like a fine comb is being run over my spirit. I wash his new towels and sheets, take inventory of underwear and socks, cast aside the outgrown or unworn … and something inside of me is being scrubbed down, rubbed hard up against the washboard.

 … to wash her laundry is a metaphor through which we learn to witness and take on this combination of qualities [strength, endurance], and also to know how to sort, mend, renew these qualities by the purificatio, the washing of the fibers of being.”

It is a strange truth that saying goodbye to one part of myself means welcoming in another. Always, always, there is another skin growing over this scaffold of bones and blood, this limping heart. This is the way of God—to continue conforming me to the image of his son. These seasons I move through edge me closer and closer to the holy. Oh, how far I have to go.

Still, the moments creep up on me lately, and I am often surprised by an unexpected and sudden flow of tears.

Another kind of washing.

Garden Notes: Nurture

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When I returned from the College Summit Workshop, I was amazed at how much my garden had grown in just four days. I spent Monday afternoon stringing and canning beans, letting the slow snap of the pods soothe my mind and welcome me back into the routine of home. My tomatoes are struggling this year, due to all the rain, but I still have been able to start my mid-summer diet—tomatoes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (and some in-between). This morning, I diced one of my salad varieties into petite bites and stirred the red bits into a pan-scrambled egg. Is there a better way to start the day?

Our first night at the College Summit Workshop was spent in training. All the writing coaches gathered in one room and our coordinator took us through the same free-writing exercises we would be asking our students to do over the next three days. After writing for ten minutes, we took turns reading our scribblings to one another, while the others took notes; just as our students would do. This simple activity allowed us to share our stories, to learn about the hearts and passions of each person there. I learned—by the way a voice would change as it held certain words—about the greatest loves these strangers carried. By the end of the night it felt like we knew each other better than some life-long friends.

I learned some things about myself through words shared and the lens of writing. Some things, I guess, we never leave behind. But, perhaps, the broken ways, the hard memories, the things we try to prune away, perhaps these are the very things that become the soil bed for rich growth.

Sometimes I think I love gardening because it proves to me that I can care for something other than myself—that I do have the ability to nurture and cultivate. All those years taking care of myself when no one else would—they have a way of turning the gaze inward. Survival of the fittest, right?

When my boys were born, the desire to nourish and teach and give was so strong the pain of it would overtake me at times. Now that they are older, they try to shake free of the bumpers I’ve put in place for their lives. They want to make their own way. At least in part.

But the garden never shrugs off my hands. My eggplants are beautiful and the summer squash are late but they are coming. I will have late cucumbers too, my planting was distracted by a boy’s graduation this year. Every morning I visit the garden. In the cool of the evening I tend to her needs.

And she will give back in countless ways.

When You Love Someone Who has Depression: Grow

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At night, the moonlight falls through my window, a giant spotlight in the sky, illuminating shining thoughts that will not let me sleep. In the morning, she still hangs heavy in the sky, watchful. I have been thinking about the changing faces of a relationship, about simple ways a life together can change things.

When my husband and I were first married he was a renaissance man, of sorts. The bloom was still fresh on his doctoral degree and his professional life was full and exciting. He was running about 40 miles a week, played guitar with a group of old friends in a blues band, and had just passed an exam to become a nationally recognized homebrew judge. He was busy and happy and in love with life.

Early on, I lost myself in his interests. I became the good helper his wide array of interests required. Only, I wasn’t happy. Good man that he is, he encouraged me to find my bliss, and so, with his blessing I began to journey. I took a painting class. Began a yoga practice. Remembered the joy in putting down the words.

I still helped him bottle up batches of homebrew; I still went running with him on the weekends; I still listened for his footfalls in the hall. But I was on my own journey. We grew into individuals, together.

In my book, I talk about self-expansion theory—that theory of love that says we fall deeper in passionate love over the years only when we continue to grow and learn new things together. Early in relationships, when couples are still learning about the other, passions run high. But as time goes on and we think we know all there is to know about one another, the wild tongues of fire usually settle into slow, steady burning embers.

Depression stunts curiosity, robs us of the continued growth that stokes the embers back into flame. Just as any crisis elicits protective behaviors, when depression enters a relationship, we tend to wrap our arms around the entire system—shut off the rest of the world in an attempt to defend against the pain that is found there. The relationship becomes insulated, shut off, co-dependent. When you tether your happiness to one person the world becomes very small. More than that, God becomes small.

What if, in depression, we opened our arms to the world instead? Instead of I just don’t feel like it today, what if we took that apathy as invitation? A sign that something new needs to enter the doors of our hearts?

Last weekend, when I traveled to the Nebraska plains to worship with over eighty women at the Jumping Tandem Retreat, I was reminded how time invested in my own growth refreshes. I didn’t realize how tired, how lonely, how hungry I was until I landed in the middle of that place. Stepping away from the ordinary moments of my life allowed me to miss them. To miss my husband.

When I returned home, I saw him with new eyes. And I was able to love him better.

Practice:

**What are you doing to continue to grow personally? When was the last time you went away by yourself? How about your Beloved? I have been known to tell my husband, “Go away so I can miss you.” It usually works. Space is a place where grace grows afresh. If an overnight trip is too hard, take a small sojourn alone or with a friend who refreshes your spirit. Go for a walk, to a museum, a garden center, do some window-shopping, take a class, learn something new. Encourage your beloved to do the same. He or she may resist. Fear is a powerful anchor. Continue to gently encourage and model for them by investing in yourself. 

**This Friday series contains reflections on loving someone who has Depression. If you are in this place, or know someone who is, I hope you’ll join me in this journey. These words cannot replace medical or psychological treatment, but I hope they will be a source of encouragement.

Part I: When You Love Someone Who has Depression
Part II: West Virginia Morning: When You Love Someone with Depression, II
Part III: Good Friday
Part IV: Interview with Dr. Michelle Bengtson
Part V: When You Love Someone Who Has Depression: Stigma
Part VI: When You Love Someone Who Has Depression: Pray Together