Honest Prayers of the Afraid

A tear splashes unexpectedly onto the handmade paper journal page. I hate tears. They’re messy and snotty and vulnerable. For all that I like to write about the importance of vulnerability, I still live in this self-defeating tension against it. I want to be known, to be pursued and valued; I long for people around me who will remind me who I am when I forget and help pick me up when all I can do is crawl. But instead, I push people away, as though I were saving all of us the wasted effort on a girl who will always be a roller coaster without working restraints – unless you’ve got a death grip, the drops and abrupt hairpin turns will throw you out of the car.

It’s a horrible way to live, constantly denying your deepest-felt needs because you don’t deserve to have them and probably wouldn’t get them met anyway. Better to avoid the disappointment of finding no one can understand or help you than to break your heart open in front of someone who is only able to patronize.

And God? Well, if He wanted to help me then He wouldn’t have allowed me to hope and dream only to squash what I thought was from Him and then seemingly drop off the face of the earth. Amazing how you can grow so much yet it only takes one situation to show you how shallow your faith really was.

It’s comfortable here, in a very uncomfortable sort of way. It’s familiar, and the darkness has a way of slowly embracing you so you hardly know it’s coming until you wake up suffocating in its deathly grip. It’s paralyzing, so you feel incapable of reaching out, until eventually you lose much of the desire to do so.

Instead, I’ve just been angry. Angry at myself and my shortcomings and failures, angry at God for leaving me in this mess, and angry at people who have done little to deserve the externalization of my fear.

What am I afraid of?

I’m afraid I really can’t change and will always fall back into old patterns.

I’m afraid God doesn’t keep His word, doesn’t come through, will abandon me in my moment of greatest need.

I’m afraid people don’t love me for who I am, but because they feel sorry for me. That I can never be understood, that I’m “too different.”

I’m afraid of giving my life to something I can’t fully understand, that the unknowns will destroy me.

I’m afraid that I was made defective – and that the further damage I’ve caused my mind can’t be reversed.

I’m afraid.

So where do I go from here?

The fear wants to tell you that there’s nothing left, that you’ve exhausted all options, that you’ve come to the end of the rope and the only thing left is to despair at your hopelessness and abandonment. I want to believe there’s a different story. From somewhere in the depths of my memory it beckons, begging for a moment of my time. But I can’t quite reach it. The other voices are loud.

How do you reclaim a story you’ve lost? How do you call back the hope and the dreams and the thought that maybe, somehow, things will actually turn out alright? I’ve learned that they can slip from your grasp in an instant if you don’t hold tight and fight to keep them. The “seemingness” of circumstances fools you into loosening your grip on what no longer appears to be reality.

Help me, God.

Help me speak what wants to remain unspoken.

Help me unleash the questions, angry and honest, that burn up the lining of my heart.

Help me push against the tension and ask for the “withness” of others that I crave but don’t want to need.

Help me remember.

You, Me, and Systems That Constrain and Divide Us

I am tired. Tired of this sloppy American veneer we slap over everything. Tired of the institutions that were put in place to serve us having a free ride to deceive us, offering “solutions” of no substance, ones that treat symptoms but never seek a cure. Because a cure wouldn’t be nearly as profitable as numbing us with medication for the rest of our lives. I’m tired of creative voices being stifled and the paths to real solutions covered over.

I’m tired of constantly being confronted with conspiracy theories, which become more frighteningly believable with each passing year, and of not knowing who to trust. I’m tired of avoiding mass media because I’m tired of having to fact-check them. I’m tired of a commodity culture in which we are sent subtle messages throughout our lives about how we shouldn’t have to wait, or pay much for food that tastes good (regardless of what’s in it), and we should never be satisfied with what we have while something better is out there that will surely bring us satisfaction and happiness.

I’m tired of being numbed to an ever-increasing intensity of sex and violence on TV and video games, so that seeing news of REAL violence we perpetrate against one another doesn’t break me like it should. Tired of the attempts to distract us away from real issues by bombarding us with celebrity gossip and drama and WHO EVEN CARES?? I’m tired of news as entertainment, where we get to see the things they know will make us fearful or make our blood boil and glue us to the screen and do you ever wonder why positive news is so rare?

I’m tired of the way our nation subtly encourages us to allow our opinions to divide us. Tired of facebook squabbles and people who refuse to listen to each other, tired of circular arguments and arrogant voices that have no desire for mutual understanding. Why must we polarize every issue? I’m tired of the church responding (or not responding) in ways that divide it from the inside instead of offering hope to people whose insides are crumbling.

I’m tired of white supremacy, I’m tired of hypocrisy, I’m tired of pat answers to deep pain and of this hamster wheel of fighting violence with violence and of the fear that so many need to feel in just stepping out their front door. I’m tired of a government that seems to be more “for itself” than “for the people.” I’m tired of this American idealism that feigns independence while slowly dying in isolation, tired of masses suffering in silence because when sickness is in your head, it’s not real. I’m tired of seeing my friends and family disintegrate under the weight of burdens they don’t have to bear because of standards not meant for them, tired of being told what I need to do or look like to be “successful.” I’m tired of being so bombarded with information about what drugs to take that there is no room for learning about how your thoughts and habits have the capacity to heal your brain. Tired of a medical system more influenced by pharmaceutical companies and maintenance drugs than by a desire to see people completely healed.

I’m tired of how consumerism has consumed us, such that we barely realize how addicted we are to our high-sugar, high-sodium, processed foods that so often include chemicals we can’t pronounce and genetically modified organisms on which there is frighteningly little research about long-term effects; all this to produce more, bigger, faster in the name of convenience, blinding us to the fact that someone is profiting at the cost of our health.

Those are just a few things. But wait. You know… what I’m not tired of? That older man across the street that blows snow off my car in the winter. The boss that listens to you and values your opinion. The friend that sends a timely message in the midst of a depressive spiral. The author, blogger, Facebook-er who uses words to activate hope. A hug from someone who can make you feel enveloped in safe acceptance, re-connecting with a long-lost friend who always understood, having a respectful discussion with someone you disagree with, worshiping with people who know you deeply.

I’m not here to argue. I’m not offering petty solutions to systemic issues. But America, WAKE UP. Our battle is not against each other. Your neighbor, coworker, father, husband, that guy on TV, this or that mayor or governor or president – they are not your enemy. We fight against mindsets, systems, and if I may say, demonic powers that keep people stuck, either in conflict and unrest, or worse – apathy, numbness, addictive distractions, and passivity.

I don’t have wise words that will fire you up and stir you to action. I don’t have the full picture and yes, much of this was my opinion, and this wasn’t heavily edited but written in the midst of a deep sadness at the failure of our systems to connect people I love to the solutions they desperately need. I just want us to open our eyes, stop fighting each other and listen, because this is about mindsets and not individuals. When we listen we can take collective action that produces real change. Listening just might be the most important action to take right now. We need each other.

Freedom is a Storm

Why, O my soul, are you wound up so tight
Why this angst and pained longing to know and make known
All my darkness that screams to be brought into light
Welled up voiceless behind the perpetual flow

Of Not Worthy, Too Different, and Always Too Much
So that even escaping, words cower and hide
Behind lies of You Shouldn’t! I use as a crutch
As the cloud of confusion descends to abide

But no longer! The healing breaks forth as a wall
Of confession, words flooding down fast like a wave
And the broken connections re-form as lies fall
Beneath brave step by step chasing what my soul craves

And it’s different this time, though I’m not quite sure how
Except something inside just won’t let me forget
What was promised, and sensing its fruition now
I press on, swift unlocking the demon’s upset.

-ES

Photo credit: @timmarshall

No More

This year, don’t give me resolutions
Shadows of intentions failed
I only want some real solutions
Pain removed from path unveiled

Instead of firm determination
Give me real and lasting change
No more the empty dreams’ deflation
Just the faith to turn the page.

-ES

The Death of Try, Part 1

I don’t know what’s happening
Or what to write, the fight so familiar
I’m falling, peculiar…

It wasn’t supposed to be this way
The day-by-day decline, I prayed
Take me back to where I was
—or did I? Let’s rewind because
I whined and whined of all my woes
(Exhaustion writes defeating prose)
The failure felt unbearable
I tried to care, but answerless
I fell deep into the abyss
Of Apathy, I tried to flee
But finding me, I shoved me down
The throat of scattered, drowning lists
Who took their fists and pummeled hard
And shards of Insufficiency
Went flying, “Hopeless!” their decree

The rope pulls tighter ‘round my neck
The more I try, the more I wreck
So tell me, what’s the point of trying
If I feel I’m slowly dying
Dreading dawn of each new day
Of failure, loathing disarray?

Come closer, soft, a voice I hear
Familiar, so I dry my tears
Draw nearer, but I fear this wall
When I call, are you even there?
I just can’t take another fall
Can healing be found anywhere?

-Erinn Soltys

May 2011 – Pain

Disclaimer: I share this part of my journey as a step of faith & boldness for myself, and in the hopes that someone out there will realize they aren’t alone. It is not a cry for help or pity.
I am becoming more and more convinced of the power of vulnerability to break down walls of shame and lies and misunderstanding. When you struggle, you are never alone.

Pain.
There’s nothing to gain from this game, I complain
But still I play, no one to blame
But myself, there’s no way I can break
And admit that with each passing day
I wish for a way out of this,
I just can’t stay, because here
I’m hopeless… can’t escape, though I wish I could fly
Away instead of wondering why I can’t cope with
Being alone.
I get so high on my self-hatred
That I can’t pry my focus off myself
To see the pain of someone else.
How did I get here?

You walk by, quick hello and a smile
Just to let you know that all this while
I’ve been fine.
I’m sorry, I just can’t tell you my heart is bursting
I’m desperate and hurting, nothing’s working
And I feel about to explode.
My cover’s eroding but still, it’s easier
To enter zombie mode, won’t ease this load
But I gotta fake it. There’s no mistaking
That I don’t take any opportunities to change,
I’m awake but I feel like I’m dying.
I’m tired of crying alone in my room
Tired of convincing myself that I’m trying
When I’m not.
Tired of saying “I’m great” when I’m really about to break,
I can’t wake from this nightmare,
What is at stake here?

Erinn Soltys

The Guilt In My Hands

“Out, damned spot! Out, I say! . . . What, will these hands ne’er be clean?”

Lady Macbeth

These hands—extensions of my deepest pain and fear, marred by its outworking; hands that have caught my falls, balanced textbooks and teenage angst, held loved ones in tight embraces, mastered motions of artistry, clutched this freedom pen—

Why, why are they so stained?

The blood of my faults dries fresh on fingertips, I all the while digging deeper. “Out with imperfection,” I think, a part of me knowing I’ve invented this antagonist—that part somehow locked up and stifled by a more sinister foe.

The blood, it cakes on now, evidence of senseless struggle, sticking between nail and skin. But I can’t stop. The defect remains.

So, blind to the consequences creeping around the corner, I dig. Dig into the illusion of imperfection under control. Dig into mindless mental replays, like that movie you’ve seen 5 times and still can’t tear your eyes away from when it comes on. I dig deep into identity insecurity, searching for what I never lost. I dig, and I retreat into my head, and the eyes of my heart glaze over a bit, the real ones staring back empty if I dare to look.

Head up, breathe deep, brief reprieve… could I be free? —but then, from the corner of my eye, I see it again, unresolved—

Imperfection.

Powerless, it seems, to change the course of long-established reactions, I bow my head again. Not in prayer, but in pursuit of the impossible—perfection.

Time seems to stand still in this death-dance with deception but, true to its name, it is a lie. Hours later, I stand present in the world again—wishing I wasn’t—in nauseated awe attempting to cleanse guilt from all the crevices where it could be discovered. Here, again? Is there another way, an escape I’ve been blind to, or am I doomed to this slow destruction by self and its sickeningly impossible standards?

How can I cover up?
How can I avoid being seen?
How could anyone love me this way?

My body is not a battlefield but it does seem so sometimes, like civil wars waged, casualties high, no victor. My ability to hide is not always as skilled as I suppose, despair leaking out around the rough edges that no makeup could conceal. How long must I suffer by my own hand? Until destruction is complete? What can this body bear? Will these hands lose the power to pursue their calling, support their livelihood, weighed down by the consequences of my sin?

I turn to the only One who seems to have any control over this—but not in humility. WHY DIDN’T YOU HELP ME! I silent-scream into the stale air. Faith seems like an awfully silly thing some days, when the effort of years can feel fruitless. But, deep knowing the only flicker of hope is found here, I choke out, I don’t know how to do this differently. I’ve tried… I’ve prayed… I’ve asked…
I can’t take this seeming silence, this cruel crypticism. Why am I in this place? Why do I feel forsaken?

The answer is surely slow in coming, traveling in a thick fog across the void of years spent in blind disbelief. But oh, it comes, defying the dark despair, slow rhythmic chugging rumbling louder, edges becoming defined little by little, faint beacon of light signaling its almost-emergence from the mist.

And I, I have to be that engine that believes, that thinks she can, I-think-I-can, I-maybe-can latch onto that answer and pull it over impossible hills into my field of vision. Receiving is a verb, and perhaps the more difficult of many actions.

But these hands, I force them open,
faith small,
shame-stained,
vulnerable and empty,
and wait for the exchange.

February 2011 – Sleepless Again

What does it mean? How I feel, all this stuff
Call my bluff, and you’re right,
Never thought You were enough.
I can’t take one more day
Of dismay, disarray whenever I pray
God… just take it away.
My desires, ambitions, selfish prayers,
Always there, and the lies—
Beady eyes tell you “no one really cares.”
Insecurities are on the attack,
Life is jumping off the tracks,
Can’t fake it, can’t shake it, I just wanna make it
Go away. I fight, I pray,
But what’s there to say?
I choose myself over You.
I’m selfish, self-hating, the world’s unrelating,
But even when my hope is fading,

I feel You.

In my heart, in the air, I pretend not to care
But You’re everywhere—
A smile, a word, a touch, a meal.
How can I not feel You in the way
The sun smiles through the leaves?
Glory weaves through everything
I choose to ignore.
I know, out there, there’s so much more
To be had, to be seen, than just this time
In between. I press on in the hope
That I’ll come out of this, from the abyss
I see Your hand reaching down, and I’m done
Fighting… a battle that isn’t mine,
I cross the line, and maybe this time,
I’ll be fine.

Erinn Soltys

Thoughts on Summer Rain

Raindrops spatter, speckling
the roof, slow takeover
of darker hue
not unlike my mind’s descent

With pointed stabs
the Pointillist paints
his medium making contact
with crisp crackles, bleeding
into surface, staining
so it seems

It feels like steady blows
each one pricking
tender skin, set on guard
to misinterpret touch

If I unclench fists, maybe
could I see the downpour’s seeming
stabbing, staining
is really cleansing scales
from my eyes
bathing all in strange grace?

Throw your head back
eyes closed, only
feeling the warm washing
over, I preach to myself.

-Erinn Soltys

Photo courtesy of @Pixabay at pexels.com

Of Trees and Truth

The forest – thick with foliage and steeped in the day’s post-rain silence. Dim.

My mind, brimming with worries and “why”s and “why-didn’t-I”s, melding into a general confusion, swirling just below the surface. Blurred.

I step forward.

A lone strand of a spider’s web interrupts my attempts to dig into it all, sticky across my face, frustrating in its ability to defy detachment. I become aware of the bugs, endlessly buzzing in and around every orifice of my face, and the voices that terminate my solitude, growing louder, cutting through nature’s white noise. Distracting.

How is one to move from a difficult place when the darkness refuses to lift?

When confusion reigns and the afflictions find strength in their mind-numbing numbers?

When everything surrounding you competes for your attention, pulls you off the path to where you’re meant to go?

Pat, scripted words can’t answer the throbbing ache of a lonely heart, overwhelmed with sorrows and disillusioned with faith when promises don’t see their manifestation.

What does it take to lift a heavy burden from the chest–one that has grown with you since childhood, impregnated by your own defeatist thoughts, until it birthed into a parasitic beast that sucks away any energy you had to fight it? Surely, to lift this burden would be to kill a part of yourself.

I brush off some ants and sit on a bench boasting “Made from 100% recycled materials.” Sometimes the weight of it all is too great to stand under, when the way is unclear and your prayers seem to hit a wall and disappear into nothingness. Did I know God, once?

“Medication,” they say. “Counseling,” “Inner healing”, they suggest. Then, “Deliverance,” others posit. What if the thing I need to be delivered from is… me? Am I then beyond hope?

Because – no matter where I run to, there I am again.

A soft breeze sends a few stray hairs swirling around my face, a brief reprieve from air so humid that each breath feels labored. I can almost taste freedom sometimes, feel the relief of burdens lifted, if only for a second – the loneliness, despair can be so thick in the air that they nearly suffocate. Great struggle, I’m told, precedes some of the biggest breakthroughs. But how long? If the struggle lasts half a lifetime, is that enough? If I can’t even remember what it feels like to be without it, has it become an inseparable part of who I am?

Sometimes knowing the truth by name alone isn’t enough. Sometimes you have to sense it, experience it, live it to truly know.

And where does Truth live? I’ve come to know it better in the living, breathing, loving ones, embodied in the brave broken, the seasoned encouragers, the facade-cracking friends who remain faithful even so. It lives and grows and multiplies out of those who choose to live vulnerable but hopeful, who remind you of what you know, but you’ve buried deep down inside.

And it lives in me, somewhere.

I shift uncomfortably on the bench, brushing off more ants and tiny flying insects. If Truth is so powerful, so freeing, then what is it that chokes out its memory in my life? What can so shift my gaze as to distract me into an alternate reality that evades my attempts to escape, where everything spirals hopelessly out of my control? Where I isolate in fear from the possibility of judgment, but also from the reach of those who would point me back home?

Maybe it’s true, that the lifting of some burdens requires more of us than we are willing to give. Maybe we do have to suffer a sort of death to detach the thing, the death of pride and control and of a part of us we never needed in the first place. Maybe sometimes we don’t know who we are without it, and we keep trying to make it live in the same place as Truth, when the two are opposed.

And maybe, just maybe, we need something to hide behind, and this is all we know.

Well, there’s no hiding now, and the breeze is growing stronger, and the insects more numerous, and the voices louder, and the time has come to make a choice – sit, cower and hide in misery, or stand and follow the wind and face your burdens and fears?

I stand.

For all of the times I’ve sat out, for all the years seemingly wasted in isolation and exhaustion and despair, for the lies I’ve believed because I wouldn’t get out of my head to let anyone else tell me different, for the prayers never spoken because I thought they’d change nothing, for the countless times I remained silent when cries for help were burning inside me, and for the silences I never filled with encouragement because I believed I had nothing to give –

I stand. And I shut the mouth of my fear, and I push past the debilitating exhaustion and negative self-beliefs, and I know I’ll have to fight this fight all over again tomorrow but in this moment I am nearer than ever to believing that none of it has been in vain. That maybe I’m about to step into something that redeems the wasted moments and the up-and-down faith life, that far surpasses the years of misery and despair and isolation and pain, that answers some of my cries of “why?”, maybe?

I stand, and I step forward into Nature’s unknown. And I feel nothing besides the crunch of dry leaves under my feet, and a million questions are still parading through my head, but I know it’s different this time, because yeah, there is such a thing as faith that precedes the feeling you want to come (although I’m hoping it doesn’t delay much longer), and that could be living the truth too, and there’s a hope that won’t stop kicking even when you give up on it.

And you know what? I’m not a hypocrite, even if I decide to give up again tomorrow. I might believe it, even, but here’s me preaching to myself:

You are not your feelings. You can fight, and you can fall, and you can get up again, because every decision to fight makes you stronger. And one day soon? You’ll suddenly realize who you’ve been all along, and you’ll rip off that life-sucking parasite and you won’t die, you’ll heal. And things that never made sense will come into focus, and you won’t feel so alone anymore, because you see.

You’ll see.

If you fell down yesterday, stand up today. – H.G. Wells