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As I write, it's Sunday, and as Sundays go in the Haines house, Seth prepares to lead the music for 5:00 mass by listening to what he intends to play that evening. Today it's Christy Nockels’ new music. I haven’t listened to Christian music in a very long while, but today, I must have forgotten to be jaded. Christy slips past my untrusting boarders and in like something old, like something good from back home. It has me tender and humble and close to my anger. This is an odd combination of emotions to admit, but it isn’t rare at all for me to experience it in worship. The truth of one’s pain and the truth of anger is sometimes the very thing that makes a good emotion blossom. There’s peace. And then there’s justice, like salted butter on fresh bread.
Yesterday, we received a letter from our old church. It’s been 3 and a half years since we left, since my leaving (and my reason for leaving) was kept secret by the people I adored the most. It’s strange that it’s been 4 years, on Easter Sunday, that I knew I had to step away from what I considered my vocation to find some semblance of health, away from a priest who was my boss, who manipulated me, used sexual language with me, and broke me down to a self I no longer recognized.
There’s no beauty in the ax that cuts us down, but after a time, there can be some beauty to see when faith whittles down to a barely breathing little nub. Picture the twig shooting up from an old stump, and here now these years later, the twig has fresh branches with new lime green leaves. Somehow, the root remains. When I first opened the letter, I skimmed it. I winced to filter it through my eyelashes. In this silent time since you last heard from me in these newsletters, I have found some stubborn and sticky joy. I’ve found a renewed sense of vocation - both in my home and out. (I’ll share more about this in a later post.) The teenage stage of motherhood that I had dreaded so much is, in fact, my sweet spot. I was made for this flickering little short season, and I am a kind of content I never expected after experiencing such loss.
(We live all piled up in a rental while we build a house on our land. There are fur balls and guitars and late-night hangouts about quantum physics and dark matter, psychedelics, the Bible, and sex. I’m telling you; I was made for this. We like to turn over rocks to see what we can find.)
We finished the book. Seth and I did it together, and I’m proud of it. It took us a year longer than I had hoped, but it was the right process. More vulnerable than my other book dreamed of being, part of the manuscript is the story I didn’t think I could tell, but somehow, I found some magic in writing what I could. Magic was a thing I didn’t believe still existed for me. I get in my car now, and I say “thank you for the birds and the sky and the strawberries and that tree and my coat” like I did when I was little. So, dammit, I don’t want to risk losing the contentment, which is to say the enchantment I have with this beautiful world and the people in it. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more protective of something as I have with the rebuilding of my joy over the past few years. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to open the letter or ready, either, to write a newsletter and invite a gaze into what has felt so sacred that it might shouldn’t be said out loud. Some things really are still sacred.
The church’s letter was an apology. The church’s letter was late, but it acknowledged that some things really do need to be said out loud, things like “The process we facilitated compounded your family’s pain instead of bringing healing and justice. We are deeply sorry for this. We ask for your forgiveness.” I read it again with my eyes open, and I cried. Again, how anger and love both swirl in the cup. It took so long, so long to heal, to hear from them, to finally forgive, to come to you and tell you that I didn’t think I would make it. But I did, and I am. I can open my eyes and read the truth without it being a threat to true contentment. I can write to you again, because I don’t have to protect it.
I get to tell you the title of our book now, which really is the title of our last 5+ years (not just about the church but really more about the universal slog of belief and of healing in the midst of despair. My despair just happened to be from the great loss that always comes with spiritual abuse.) If you’ve read Gerard Manley Hopkin’s poem, God’s Grandeur, then you’ll recognize where we pulled the title.
The Deep Down Things: Practices for Growing Hope in Times of Despair (via Brazos Press with a release date of October 17, 2023! So soon.)
If I have authority anywhere about anything, it’s this. Hope is not some far away ethereal thing. It does have a scope that exists beyond the moment, but also, it’s what we get to enjoy now in the available present, and there are ways we can participate with it even when we’re in the dark. Sometimes the first step is saying a thing out loud. Sometimes we help others in despair by making space for them to speak and by merely reflecting back to them the proper and right emotions of sorrow and anger. I hope you’ll see that it isn’t all Debbie Downer, though. That’s the whole thing. Hope shows up, and the surprising thing about almost not making it is learning that we can interact with hope. To write that out in a dumb little sentence makes it sound cliché. It took a whole book and several years to do it right. It is flesh and blood and a witness to Beauty.
The Deep Down Things is also the grittiest writing I’ve seen from either of us. Seth and I are too old now to not write that way.
I’ll keep trying to use these flimsy Bambi legs to walk in here and tell you more about it as we go. In the meantime, an ask: please pre-order The Deep Down Things here or here or here or anywhere you buy your books. (Pre-orders are the biggest way to help an author.) Also, please do keep your receipts! There will be pre-order bonuses. I just didn’t expect that part of the pre-order would be “The Rest of the Story,” yet to be written but coming at us swiftly nonetheless.
Thank you for letting me show up late. When I responded to the church’s letter, I said “maybe, sometimes, late is right on time.” I hope it is. Thank you to my monthly subscribers whose support was a nudge of belief over and over again. I’ll be asking for your addresses soon because you stayed, and I would like to thank you with a love letter and little gift when the time comes.
You are all a gift to me. Thank you.
A few other things to celebrate:
1. Mothering Spirit is a website with an honest approach to motherhood and faith. They asked me to write something, and I shared what it was like to mother after my teenage boys were in close proximity to an active shooter here in Fayetteville. It’s called Ferocious Motherlove. Obviously, I’m not celebrating the shooting, but I do celebrate the opportunity to share our story with others who know what it’s like to watch people they love go through hard things. Story-telling is powerful to both the hearers and tellers! I’d love for you to read it.
2. My sister-in-law Shannon is one of my very favorites of life, one I admire like crazy. I believe she could run a country, but instead, she started a new podcast for moms who really want to explore what success means for them. If you know someone like this, please send her podcast their way: The SUCCESSFUL MAMA podcast!
3. I do care about pretty things, but I don’t let stuff like book covers rile me up. “It is what it is” is a thing I say to myself often. But dang, I really love the colors and connotations of our cover. Brazos Press has treated us well, and I’m grateful. What do you think of it?
Okay, now if you pre-order The Deep Down Things, please let me know. I can’t wait to really start processing it with you.
Here’s to keeping it gritty.
With love and lots of fire,
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