“You Are Here to Risk Your Heart”

(Bee leaving glory having tasted its sweetness)

Sometimes, I’m not so sure I was meant to be a blogger.  For one thing, I’m actually rather quiet and not much of a talker, though my sometimes lengthy posts may seem to contradict that.  For another, almost every time I write a post, when it comes time to click the “Publish” button, I get downright queasy, and when I do finally click it, sometimes I feel like throwing up.  Then there are those frequent dreams I’ve had since I started blogging about being in a crowd and looking down and realizing I have no clothes on.

Okay, maybe you don’t feel that way—maybe it’s just me, neurotic, quivering jelly mass of insecurities that I am.  But most times, after I post a piece, I do experience a sort of blogger’s remorse—especially when that post is very personal and revealing.

And so it was last week when I clicked “Publish” on the post, “Wayfaring Strangers.”  Perhaps you read it in the two days it was up.  If you didn’t, let me summarize for you.  Pretty much, I talked about how Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man and I have almost despaired of ever finding a church, a spiritual home where we might fit in because we just feel so unlike the rest of the world—almost as though we are from another planet.  And I talked about how the many difficulties we’d been through made us feel even more that way, so that we sometimes feel broken and sad. Or as Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man puts it: sometimes we feel like God’s Crash Test Dummies. 

So, when I clicked “Publish” on that one, I had something very much like a panic attack.  Pounding heart, nausea, light-headedness, and difficulty breathing.  I almost deleted it then and there.  But I’m trying to learn to trust people again and that means learning to reach out and ask for help and comfort.  So, a deep breath and a little pep talk to myself and out my heart flies into the blogosphere.

Red Smith, a Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper columnist once said: “Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed.”   And, of course, this is particularly true when your writing is personal—when you lay your soul bare for all to see.  It’s difficult and requires a sort of faith that the world will treat it kindly. And, for me it never gets easier.

But I was more anxious than usual about this one.  So a day and a half later, I was grateful for the four comments I’d gotten. But then I looked at my stats, and that was my undoing.  That’s when I saw that 162 people had read that post.  One-hundred and sixty-two people had read that we felt sad and broken and only four had extended a virtual hand.  One-hundred and sixty-two people had read that we often feel alone in this world and one-hundred and fifty-eight seemed to confirm our suspicions.

But this isn’t meant to be a whiny or petulant post about those one-hundred and fifty-eight.  What really distresses me and what I’ve thought about most since was my reaction.  What I felt was shame.   Shame—as though I’d done something wrong in speaking honestly about our pain.  In fact, my sense of shame was so intense as to be intolerable.  So I did the only thing I could think of to do: I deleted my post.

Why did I feel shame?  Why is it so hard to shine a light into the darker places of our spirits?  And when we do shine a light there, why is it so painful?  Why do we hide so much of ourselves away?  Why do we (as Robert Frost wrote in Revelation) “make ourselves a place apart/Behind light words that tease and flout?”

I’m sorry I deleted that post.  I wish I had been bolder.  I wish I could have realized that the only real shame was that I felt shame at being honest.  I wish I had been brave enough to leave that door open to my heart.  I wish I had risked making my heart vulnerable for just a little longer.

I do want to thank those who did comment.  I’m very grateful.  I’ve thought about why more didn’t.  Perhaps, as one friend said, “folks just don’t know how to react when confronted with an emotional post.”   Or perhaps others were like another friend who read my post but wanted some time to think about her response.  I’ve done that before. Whatever the reason, I think what really matters here is that, even though I did delete that post to retreat to a safer place, here I am again opening my heart to the world.  Here I am—saying that there is no shame in showing you my pain.

My friend Wesley sent me a lovely quote that she had found on another blog, Pinwheels.  It’s from Louise Erdich’s The Painted Drum:

Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself that you tasted as many as you could.

So, yes—I am broken.  I am hurt.  I have been betrayed.  And, much too often, death has brushed near.  But still, I risk my heart.  And still I love.  And still I feel.  And still I pray that I will always taste the sweetness of even the most bruised of every fallen apple.

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23 Responses to ““You Are Here to Risk Your Heart””

  1. Liska Says:

    Know that there are many who care. I have never commented but I do read your blog everyday. Beth, never feel scared to put your feelings out there. It helps you heal to talk about it and you never know who you are helping in the process.

  2. jennifersaylor Says:

    Hey my dear friend. I am one of the many who read your post, enjoyed it, and wasn’t sure I had anything to offer,and therefor did not make the comment I am making now. There is fellowship in a silent sharing.

    I love my own church home, Jubilee in downtown Asheville. I am not at all certain that your family will love it as I do, but if you ever want to give it a try, I’d love to see you there.

  3. Sara Says:

    Hi Beth,
    I want to be the first to comment on your post. I was one of the 158 that didn’t comment and I just wanted to let you know that I’ve been on both sides of the fence on this issue of to blog or not to blog.
    When I read your post I had lots of thoughts. First thought I had was that I could relate to your situation. My family doesn’t have a church home though there have been many times I’ve yearned for the connection and community of a church. It’s probably not because we don’t relate to the Christian message but because our views fall outside the box and we can’t seem to get comfortable inside any of the boxes that we’ve found. Even the most liberal church that we’ve found still feels a bit too institutional to me. And so we wander around alone, feeling like outsiders with a bit of a chip on our shoulders. But that chip is of our own making. After reading the other comments people made after that particular post I didn’t feel that my thoughts or comments were appropriate, so I passed. My situation didn’t seem that relative and rather than put my own feelings out there, I passed.
    In the early days of my blogging I put a lot more of my thoughts and feelings out there, publicly laying my soul bare. I made a few connections but frequently felt that my words fell on deaf ears. It was kind of gut wrenching. I understand the “publish button anxiety”. I’ve experienced it first hand as well. You pour your time, energy, and emotion into your written word and all you get back is a few sentences in return. I’ve come to a conclusion. I have concluded that however tempting it is, it frequently falls flat. There are a few people who seem to appreciate my viewpoint but I don’t always receive the universal understanding and groundswell of support that I crave. Blogging is an imperfect medium.
    That being said I always love what you write. I think I understand that you’re a deep person with a complex personal history and a meaningful perspective, as well as a keen eye for beauty both in the natural world and in the written word. I hope you keep your blog going.

  4. jennifergg Says:

    I’m sorry I missed the deleted post, but I’m glad to be here now. We, too, are craving a church home, a feeling of belonging, community and closeness. It’s so, so hard to find.

    And I understand your publish anxiety completely. I am a writer, I’ve been writing more than 15 years, and every time a piece of personal writing comes out, I feel a little queasy. Even on my blog! Why do I continue? Because every now and then there is a connection made, a real connection. And because my writing is the way I love the world.

    Too, it gets easier, in time. A tiny bit easier.

    xo

  5. Margie Miller Says:

    I was one who reached out to you. I still think you would love my church. The people of my congregation are truly wonderful and compassionate people and I wish you were near one of our Community of Christ congregations.

    However, I contend that every community has a church that would welcome you. Some of the best people I know are in our “Living the Questions” small group and they are Methodists and Presbyterians. We even have one agnostic.

    I think you should look up your dearest friend…the person whose presence just makes your heart shine and ask them where they go to church. Or ask them how they feel about their church. The probability is that that church would have more people there like your dear friend. If they weren’t, surely your friend would leave that church. I know I would. Fellowship at church is wonderful. When life sucks, those friends are your support system…almost like family.

    Give it a try. Go church shopping but start with the church of your dearest friend.

  6. wesleyjeanne Says:

    Beth,
    How courageous, how very very brave and…generous of you to post this after experiencing such pain for the response (or lack of) to that other post. I am proud of you for opening up your heart. And look, look at the response. These comments may be few, but each and every one represents a connection, a person who is reaching back to you to take your hand. Each person who has commented here, I think, is saying to you “I see you. I see you and I embrace the whole of you.” And you know what? They’re doing that because of you, because of who you are, the heart that you reveal in your posts.
    As I told you in my email: “Ring the bells that still can ring/ Forget your perfect offering / There is a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.” I hope that you see the words of your friends here as a light coming in.
    Peace, my friend. May you find peace.

    And, by the way, I still have your original “Wayfaring Stranger” post in my email. If you want it back and didn’t keep a copy.
    Wes

  7. Bonnie Jacobs Says:

    “I’m sorry I deleted that post.”

    Beth, take Wes up on her offer and get back a copy of your post. When I feel queasy about something I’ve written (or started), I edit it and click SAVE NOW instead of PUBLISH POST. That way I still have what I wrote, but I am (temporarily?) keeping it out of circulation. I just did that, as a matter of fact (though for a different reason), with my post about Blog Action Day. I wrote a post about the upcoming day, but when October 15 arrived, I never had time to write the post I had planned to write. I did actually START a post — which is still “hidden” — but I don’t know if I’ll have time to write it, EVER.

    About stuff that’s hard to tell the whole world? Yeah, I have some of those, too. The “biggie” for me was over a year and a half ago, and I kind of fudged. I wrote a post about a book I’d read (yeah, you know I do a lot of that, right?), and then I shared the most difficult part in a comment to my own post! Yes, I really did that. I said it, but I said it in what felt like a less public sort of way.

    It is very, very difficult for some of us, even the most talkative and sharing sorts (like me), to say the most personal or most important kinds of things … to strangers. Okay, so we know about the ones who have become MORE than strangers, who may even have become friends … though we may never meet face to face. But we know by our stats that there are lots of people from all over the world who drop by and read our stuff. And that’s SCARY to contemplate! Yes, it scares me. And I think it’s scary because we have no way to control what others may think about our words and about us. When we talk to someone in person, we can alter our disclosures based on what we “read” on the other person’s face. In this venue we can’t do that … and we know there are lots of folks out there (maybe reading our blogs) who would condemn us for not thinking as they do. Nobody wants to be condemned, even when we recognize in our hearts that we don’t value their opinions, anyway.

    Can you see from these comments that many of us love you and your writing? I have felt overwhelmed and busy lately, and I’m one who MISSED your deleted post because I read my favorite blogs (see the sidebar of Bonnie’s Books) only 2 or 3 times a week, when I catch up on all the recent posts. Wish I’d seen the one you deleted, but I do thank you for sharing this summary of it.

    Many years ago my sister and I were talking about how out thinking seemed so different from the thinking of other people. We decided we must have been plunked down here from some other planet! No matter what people SEEM like, we never really KNOW what’s going on inside their heads. If we are able to bravely share the inside stuff, we may find kindred spirits around us, after all.

  8. Nancy Says:

    Hey, Beth. I’m sorry I didn’t get to read Wayfaring Stranger but as a fellow writer, I do understand and share your feelings of vulnerability. I too, have wondered if anyone reads what I’m writing or feels as I do about things.

    But your post made me think about myself as a reader. It made me wonder if there aren’t others in cyberspace who read blogs like I do…At the end of the day when I have time to sit down and read, I seek out the blogs that speak to my heart and soul. Yours is one of those.

    I come to your blog when I am tired and my batteries need charging, and like the bee in your photograph, I sometimes revel in your words, then fly off- feeling nourished by your words. I don’t always comment but that doesn’t mean I don’t treasure what you’ve said. I do…or I wouldn’t continually return.

    164 readers is no small potatoes, my friend. To me, that number says there are other tired travelers seeking refuge and finding it in your words. Perhaps they don’t have the ready ability to say what you’ve sparked in their hearts, or perhaps, like me, there are times when they don’t think they could say it any better- but by their continuing presence and faithful readership, they provide their own form of affirmation.

    You are not alone, Beth, and you and Blue Ridge Man are not outsiders.
    (You just can’t see thru cyberspace to see my head bobbing up and down!) Thank you for writing. Please don’t stop!

  9. eemilla Says:

    I sincerely apologize for not commenting; I cried after reading your post, but being the shy person that I am I did not comment. Your writing is so beautiful, and I love your photographs. Thank you for all the sharing you do, and I hope that your continued writing will help you find the real life community you seek. You have inspired me to appreciate the natural beauty that surrounds us rather than taking it for granted, and I would love a congregation that celebrated outside of brick and mortar. It is so much easier to feel sacred surrounded by natural beauty, and Sam’s Knob makes so many churches seem gaudy and superficial.

  10. June Says:

    Between your post and the heartfelt comments before me, I feel rather embarrassed to comment with only a brief note. So often I haven’t the time to sort through what you’ve written about. But trust me, your words touch me and give me lots to think about. I hope you know I care about you and I really, really respect you.

  11. Jeff Says:

    Beth, I so identify with your fear of publishing personal posts. I’m new to blogging, but I can’t imagine posting something as personal as you did. That took a lot of courage. I posted a reply to a post on a blog recently where the blogger’s great-aunt was dying. In that reply, I spoke of my experience with the death of my mother and somehow felt that I was dishonoring the blogger’s situation by writing of my own experience. I also felt that what I wrote might be deemed inappropriate. You are so right – revealing personal thoughts is not easy at all. Several months ago, I sent a note to a dear friend whose father had died recently and prayed that what I wrote would not be inappropriate. I recently received a note from her in which she said that she had “re-read [my] thoughtful card a number of times and appreciate [my] insight more than I can say.” I feared that I had offended her since I had not heard from her. When you went about 10 days without posting, I feared that what I had written privately to you had offended you. So you see, fears about what we write (or say) to others is not uncommon. We launch those words out into the blogosphere or into the postal system and sit back and second-guess ourselves endlessly.

    On the subject of shame: our culture has rules about how emotions should be expressed. Those rules probably center around “appropriate venues”. What makes our situation so much more difficult is that those “appropriate venues” have been severely restricted by the decline of community. That search for an “appropriate venue” may well be behind your search for a church/community. I have a theory that those who cannot find a socially-deemed “appropriate venue” either bury those emotions, which can result in tragic repercussions, or seek other venues, not deemed appropriate, to express those emotions. One of those venues is writing. Writers are just as much artists as painters are. Just a different medium, that’s all.

    I love Wesley’s quote from Leonard Cohen and the lovely quote from Louise Erdich. They are so ….. heart-full.

    Know that there are a lot of people out in the blogosphere who are avid followers of your talented posts and photographs. As Nancy said, 164 readers is no small potatoes. If I had a tenth of that, I’d be happy!

    After reading your Robert Frost post, I decided that you, like a wounded cat, had taken refuge and had now decided to venture forth again, after your wounds had healed. Perhaps the wounds haven’t entirely healed (do they ever?), but you felt that it was safe to venture out once again. Rest assured that you have a loving community of readers who share your pain and your blessings. If we don’t comment, perhaps it is because we aren’t as courageous (or as talented) as you in our command of written English.

    Hang in there, Beth … we love you!

  12. Linda H Says:

    Dear Beth,
    So many have expressed my thoughts and better than I could. Your blog is at the top of my go-to-first folder. It is well written, interesting and deep. Stimulating. I missed you, but just thought you were busy or away. Never dreamed you were hurting, or I would have made time to respond. I often feel like my non-blogger responses are not appreciated by other bloggers, but I persist, sporadically.

    I’m going to echo Jeff’s parting comment…”Hang in there, Beth…we love you!” And anytime you need a not-so-public ear…I’m here.
    Sending you a hug,
    Linda

  13. clairz Says:

    Sometimes I see comments on blogs that don’t really say much and your post has made me understand the importance of every one.

    When you write from your heart your readers know it. They may take your words away and ponder them; they may think they have forgotten them but later wake in the night and think about them. Even though they leave no comment you have dropped a little pebble into their pool and the ripples continue to spread.

    I think about teachers and the way they touch their students’ lives. Years later a child might come back and say, “You know, I’ll never forget how you…” and then the teacher has a tiny glimpse of how every word landed somewhere in somebody’s heart, even though no one said much at the time.

  14. Clara Melvin Says:

    Beth, I think I was one of the four who responded to your “Wayfaring Stranger” post. You touched my heart in that post as well as most of the ones you write. I can feel the warmth and the love coming from your heart. You have a way with words that most people (myself especially) do not have. Please don’t stop sharing your beautiful photos and your thoughts with the rest of the world. I would be really sad if I knew I would never read your blog again! Lovingly, Clara P.S. I even sent my daughter and son-in-law over to Craggy Gardens because of you!

  15. Benjamin Says:

    Mommy:

    I’m so proud of you, that you came back and put your heart out for all to see. Your blog is my connection to you while I’m away, and a vessel for bits of life, love and lyricism. You know how much I look up to you, and how much you have helped me understand who I am–and also why who I am is not a problem. I’m sure that every single person that really read that post was touched in a sincere way. God always has a plan for us. He is using us every day to make the world more bearable. Your blog is a part of that. Your novel will be a part of that. I have faith in you, and I know how strong you are. You complete my life in a way that is hard to describe. I love you, your readers love you, and God loves you.

    Thank you everyone who commented on this post and the original.

    Your Proud Son,
    Benjamin

  16. jennifersaylor Says:

    Somebody seems to have a truly outstanding son.

  17. marion Says:

    My thoughts when I read your beautiful post were: Years ago, I felt the same way, that being outside in nature was my ‘church.’ I didn’t know at the time that finding a loving, caring church family would become so much more meaningful as I aged, that these dear friends would pray for me through two devastating illnesses, sending me cards, calling, even bringing food to the house during a lengthy recuperation.
    Yes, I still feel God in the outdoors. I sit on my sunporch and watch birds at the feeders and the river flowing below us. But I also know, through singing in the choir, and bible studies, and working in the soup kitchen, that we can surround ourselves with love, if we have the faith.
    This is why I didn’t post, Beth. I didn’t want to sound as if I “knew the answers.” But perhaps this might prove helpful…and caring, I hope. We all struggle to find what is meaningful in our lives, and it is a daily quest.

  18. Going Crunchy Says:

    Aw man, I’m so hating that I missed the post! Perhaps others that see your blog just hadn’t read it yet? I’ve had to reduce my blog time online due to new job, and to make sure that my quality time goes to my kids and some leftovers to teaching. That has left not as much time to blog so I check all my favorites (yours is one) about once a week right now. I truly didn’t see it otherwise I would have left you some comment love.

    Hey Beth, I know the feeling of blogging. I LOVE it, but I’ve also found that people I know are reading me, and some from my new job that found me online. It makes me feel a little strange, and less likely to write the emotional stuff. I’ve had to get over that because it is MY virtual space, a place for me to write to get my groove on.

    And I happen to think that you actually really are an amazing writer, and your unpretentious honestly is why I keep coming back. You seem like a person I’d really like to know, and so I cherish the little bits and bobs of you that come out with your work.

    And it is o.k. to question your faith, or your place, or your spiritual home. It is o.k. to not be perfect – – – but don’t censor yourself or edit your feelings away because you are worried in a way about how people think.

    Just write, and keep writing. A blog post that nobody comments on is just as a valid piece of yourself as that legendary tree that falls in the woods, wondering if somebody heard. Shannon

  19. CountryDew Says:

    Writing in a blog IS hard work. I have been publishing for 20 years and it is thankless. Generally unless someone has a quarrel with what I’ve written they don’t say anything. Only hearing the negative can indeed be heartbreaking.

    The important thing is to do it for you. I fyou have things you want to say, then say them and don’t worry about what other people think. That is a hard task, I know, and it does take a brave heart to move forward and onward. But in doing so you are facing a fear and that is always a good thing.

    I love your posts and I try to visit weekly or more; I always am afraid I don’t visit folks enough. Some people visit my blog daily and I would like to return that but particularly when I have deadlines I find it impossible. I don’t always comment because, like the folks who read my own work, I agree. I thin it is simply a human tendancy not to say anything unless it is to point out an issue. That you get comments otherwise means your writing has moved someone to make the effort to post a reply. This is good.

    Keep your chin up. The world needs your words just as much as it needs anyone else’s.

  20. colleen Says:

    I missed that one, but I relate to your feel lings. I too have felt queasy and over exposed after some postings. I don’t think I’ve ever deleted but have changed stuff to clarify.

    I feel less that way these days. I do try to keep in mind that everything I publish is a record and I try to find the balance of privacy and honesty, as all writers probably do. But we draw from our own experiences and if it doesn’t resonate or have meaning for me, I don’t think it will for anyone else. I like honest writing and to be honest with my own. I still have old posts about grief and loss that continue to get comments.

    I don’t even look for a church. I’m just not much of a joiner and had my fill growing up. If I HAD to join one it would probably be a Quaker Church. I like that they sit in silence together as a form of worship. I have a great community here and we share life passages in a conscious way together. I really do like to worship alone under a big sky.

  21. luckypennies Says:

    Mommy, I agree wholeheartedly with everything that’s been said here, and I too am proud of you for putting yourself back out there. I think this is just one small step in opening yourself more and more to a world that can sometimes seem so cold and closed. Everytime you do that, you strengthen yourself and you strengthen other people, through your bravery and spirit.

    Wesley and Leonard Cohen put it well. Light does shine through our cracks. Being broken hurts us deeply, but sometimes it forces us to open ourselves and share our pain with others and God in a way that we might be too shy to otherwise. I know you personally, and I know that you feel like you don’t want to burden others with your pain. But it’s not a burden, as all of your readers and their beautiful comments attest. There are so many people who care about you and will spend a good twenty minutes on a comment to say so. They are here to cheer you, help you, and pray for you.

    And you are a ministry to everyone who reads your blog. Your words are careful, thoughtful, pure, and honest. Your vision isn’t clouded by worldly desires or the need to be liked or sound witty and care-free. You say what is true, and I love that and so many things about you. The light shines in and out of you.

    I love you eternally. I love you for who you are and for everything that has shaped you and for all of your pain and struggles. I love every part of you. You are a blessing and a joy to the world, in ways both small and large.

  22. Judy Says:

    Beth, For some reason I almost missed this post. I just saw it tonight. It looks like you have all these people out there reading your blog and because you were so open and wrote from your heart they have decided to speak up and tell you how wonderful you actually are and what a great person and writer. I knew that the first time I ever read a post on your blog. I can’t wait to get over here when I see that you have posted something new. You have always just captivated me with your writing and your honesty and the way you see things in nature. The post you wrote about the hearts in the grass was amazing. Who else would see God’s world the way you do and your pictures are always my favorites. You are so special in the way you express yourself. Please don’t even think of not blogging anymore. You would be missed so much by those of us out here that admire you and love to see life through your eyes. Whenever you finish a post and start to get that anxious feeling, just smile to yourself and say, “Judy is going to love this one!” I am sure I won’t be the only one waiting to hear from you. All these comments should be proof of that.

  23. Cathy Says:

    I don’t have a church, although I live in a small town and there is a beautiful church across the street. Sometimes, but not very often, someone leaves a light on in the church and at night while I lay in bed the light from the stain glass windows shines in my eyes. I think to myself that the lights were left on just for me, that somehow these lights are my answers to my prayers and I don’t need to go because it doesn’t matter to God whether I fit in or not because I don’t and never will. I think I read your post and didn’t comment, but I would have if I knew it would have meant so much to you. I can’t quote you, but I remember you saying that you can find your faith just looking at the trees… I liked that, and I say it to myself all the time now. Just remember that it was YOU that inspired me to start my own blog way back when. And mostly you are my comments….and Clara came from you ….it only takes one or two to make my day. I am always there…sometime I just don’t know what to say.

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