Thursday, June 13, 2013

Songs in the cave

 "Who is this coming up from the wilderness leaning on her beloved?" 
~ Song of Solomon 8:5

Sitting across from a friend this week, nursing margaritas over Mexican dinner, she asks me if I've been writing much lately.  And I frown at the answer because I don't like it, but I'm honest.  "No, not really.  Once, maybe twice a week is all."  I know she doesn't know the why behind that answer, maybe doesn't even need to know, but for some reason I need to hear myself speak it, because I'm not sure I've tried yet to put words to it.

"Life has been... overwhelming," I admit, slowly.  "Most of the time, I feel I'm barely keeping my head above water.  And because I write about life as I experience it, in the moment, these hard emotions can either fuel my writing - or they can cause me to clam up.  Like I have nothing to say, or nothing that can be said.  Or I fear sounding like a broken record."

She listens compassionately, saying little, but I feel a sense of relief with this small confession.  

When I'm not writing much, I feel some guilt - well, let's call it what it is, shame - in naming myself as a writer.  Your writing, this shame voice says, is never enoughYou're not enough, the voice accuses.  You're not even fit to call yourself a writer.  And sometimes, I push back, even if the voice comes through someone else - a customer the other day who, upon hearing I'm a writer in addition to my job, asked if I got paid to write.  I said no, and he answered, "Oh, you're a wannabe writer."  I jutted my chin out and surprised myself with my response - "No, I am a writer.  I just don't get paid."  But come the end of the day, I find myself often too weary to write and nothing is pushing its way out, demanding to be birthed in story, and so I tuck it all in for another night and go to bed and try to convince myself I'm still worthy of the craft.

And you know what?  I don't have any clear purpose for writing these things down today, except to say, I'm still here.  And I'm still struggling. 

I wrote back in the fall about this sense that I'd been in a cave and was finally beginning to emerge.  Yet if I'm honest, I have tried to come out of that cave and it seems to follow me where I go, no matter what I try, attached to my back like a shell to a tortoise.  I'd love to think, instead, I'm a butterfly in a cocoon, beating wings against the walls until she's ready to push out, but is this wishful thinking? I ask myself.  I'm weary of fighting - the darkness, the onslaught of negative thoughts, the urge to withdraw, the exhaustion, the loneliness, the hopelessness.  Fighting for joy.  Fighting for a marriage.  Fighting to receive the love and acceptance of God.   

Alone in our apartment several nights ago, I pace the dark living room, not bothering to turn the light on, singing softly, "Holy, holy, you are holy.  Holy is the Lord."  One of the lines from a song I loved (and still love) in another season of life.  My voice quivers, I can barely get the words out above a whisper, and the tears sting warm and salty in the corners of my eyes.  I feel it gently pressing in around me, the presence of God, and I drop slowly to my hands and knees, continuing to sing but mostly weeping (I think I left a pool of tears and snot on the fake wood floor, but I couldn't see it in the dark).  

Truly, there's nothing like being in God's presence, but it escapes my ability to translate into words.  For me, I think it boils down to this intense knowing, I'm not alone here, in this space.  I am seen.  Accompanied by tears (big surprise), gratitude and the tiny hairs on my neck standing up, not in fear but in the sense of being near the holy. 

As I sob out my gratitude and love, I find myself returning to a prayer that's haunted me for this long season.  "God, I'm so sorry... for what my life is, for who I am.  It's probably not what you had in mind for me."  

It tumbles out, but I often see it coming down the pike before it escapes my lips.  It rumbles from somewhere deep within and I feel it rising up.  This shame.  This agonizing pain I want to keep buried because it threatens to tear me in two as it comes up: I've let God down, the one who matters the most to me.  My whole life, it's a big disappointment and disgrace to him.  And hence, the shame talk spirals, until I'm no longer lost in the gracious presence of God, but drowning in a river of accusation.

At least I catch it this time, for the lie it is, and I'm no longer surprised by it.  So I pray into it instead.  "Father, show me who I really am in you.  Help me to know, really know, that this is not what you say of me.  Help me to believe."  It's a small prayer bursting with desperate hope.

The tears begin to slow and my body quiets, and I keep breathing out this prayer until I sit in a hush in the dark, knowing I am held and somehow, accepted here, as I am, even if my heart struggles to receive it.  

Knowing, as long as I'm in this cave, I'm not alone.  He is with me, and when the time is right, we will make our way out into the daylight together.

So, as a precious friend shared with me recently, the words of a song sung by creation in her daughter's Children's Storybook Bible, these, too, have become my song of faith.  I'll sing them, until they are the voice rumbling from deep within, steady and childlike, and the truth begins to bind up this broken heart.  And I rest, in grace.   

"...the birds and the flowers hadn't forgotten - they still knew their song. It was the song all of God's creation had sung to him from the very beginning. It was the song people's hearts were made to sing: 'God made us. He loves us. He is very pleased with us.' It was why Jesus had come into the world: to sing them that wonderful song; to sing it not only with his voice, but with his whole life - so that God's children could remember it and join in and sing it, too."

. . . . . . . . . . 
* P.S.  I'm reading an incredible, unsettling book by Brene Brown, called Daring Greatly.  It addresses this topic of shame and how becoming resilient to shame helps us toward the courage of vulnerability.  So, while I really didn't want to hit publish on this post, this is one small step of many to come in learning to dare greatly. 


  1. Love this! Your honesty is so painfully beautiful, Amber -- and brave. (Authenticity! Surely Brene Brown would approve!)

    A verse has been stuck in my head all day, and reading your post tonight feels like an exclamation point to this:
    "The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing." (Zeph 3:17)

    I'm so touched by the idea of God singing over us, like a mother cradling her child and singing a lullaby, to quiet and comfort us in the dark times. I'm amazed to remember that no matter how difficult or messy life becomes -- at the beginning, middle, or end -- He takes delight in us still.

    I too am struggling with my writing. More often than not, the words feel stuck in my chest, and I just can't find the key to release them. Thank you for inspiring to keep writing through the tough times, even when I doubt what I have to say.

    1. Erin, you have no idea how these kind words of yours blessed me. I love, love that verse in Zephaniah, and I'm with you - it is touching, in a deep way, to think of God singing over us. I love it, and I struggle with it at the same time. It's so tender and full of delight and adoration. Thank you for sharing how you're struggling with your writing, too. It can be so challenging to find the key to release words. I'm grateful that my messy words here inspired you in some way. I know how much I appreciate reading the words of others who are writing through hard times. Love to you.

  2. Honey, I hear you, I see you, I love you. I am praying you know his delight over you today in all your imperfect, grace-kissed beauty. Thank you for your honesty, for your vulnerability in him. As you tell it, you bring healing with you. Bless you in this journey, love. It is not wasted.

    1. Thank you, sweet friend. The beautiful thing is, I know. I know you hear me, see me, love me - and these are gifts I humbly accept. I love you back. Thank you for coming along on this journey with me.

  3. Amber, I too am "writing through hard times". My voice (much louder than any Creator's) is yelling, full fevered: THIS ISN'T HOW IT HAPPENED. YOU'RE REMEMBERING IT WRONG. Or, sometimes, THIS DOESN'T MATTER. I don't know how to quiet that voice- and right in this moment, I'm not sure I have to. I just have to type over it. Because, at the end of the day, if I type over the sound of it, what I'll get is work. And work can be revised, edited, submitted, and published. If I listen, and I stay still, then what I get at the end of the day is regret, more shame, more guilt, and another day checked off in the "did nothing" column. So, keep going, creative soldier. I've got your back. I know you've got mine. This is how it works. Sometimes we shoulder the weight of our loved one's crushing defeat, and sometimes someone holds our for a while. Please keep writing through the tough times. The world is better for it.

    1. Lo Lo, I'm always so happy to 'see' you here. I appreciate how you get this - writing through hard times - and I value your wisdom. Type over the sound of that loud, obnoxious voice, instead of trying to quiet it... good word. Hard to do, but so good. I know from past experience that the only way to push through the seasons where I don't know what to write is to just.write. Thank you. I really hope to read more of your story one day, friend. Let's keep getting each others' backs, eh?

  4. Of friend how well I know this cave. And really I am not sure that I ever leave it. SOmetimes I think that I stand at the mouth of the cave, and I let the sun on the outside hit my face, so that for the moment the dark is at my back, the shame hidden in its walls. I focus only on that moment, because if I focus on what is in that cave the day will turn to night again. So nothing resolves, it waits, always waits. Currently I am basking in sun on face, but I know that unless I battle what waits in darkness I will never be able to walk away from the cave all together.