Goodbye Noah

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This is the hardest post I’ve ever had to write. Many of you already know what I am going to say—you saw it on the news or social media—but I feel like I owe it to the rest of you to explain where I’ve disappeared to and why.

The truth is, I’ve fallen into a box of tissue and my nose is raw from crying and I can’t climb out. Our family has experienced a tragedy beyond our wildest nightmares—and I don’t know how to make sense of the world or God or life anymore.

Please forgive the brevity and lack of details as I tell this story. Until the final autopsy, toxicology, and police report get released, I can’t speak to specifics.

As some of you know, my oldest son Noah was an alcoholic. But you may not know he also suffered from bi-polar/ manic-depression. A couple years ago, he stopped taking his medication. I believe this decision contributed to the psychotic break he experienced on October 31st, 2015. 

As reported in the papers, that morning Noah tried to light his apartment on fire. And then he walked out onto the street with several guns and randomly killed the first three people he saw. Not long after, he died in a shootout with the police.

There are no words to describe our utter shock, grief, and horror. And I can’t fathom the heartache and pain of those families whose lives were torn apart that day. All three of Noah’s victims were parents.

As some of you know, once upon a time I had a showdown with God about Noah. I knew I couldn’t trust God to keep Noah safe or alive. I couldn’t surrender him to God’s care until I was willing to do so “no matter what,” willing to accept that the only way Noah could ever truly be safe was in some eternal realm of Big Love that reaches way beyond what happens on earth.

I believe that’s where Noah is now.

Sometimes, I sense Noah’s presence. In the early days after he died, I heard him say, “Mom, don’t you get it? I’m way closer to you now than I ever was when I was alive.”

I won’t try to eulogize Noah here. But I will tell you that the Noah I raised and remember was a kind and caring man. He was our gentle giant in the family, and so tenderhearted. Once, when we still lived back in Oregon, Noah accidentally drove over a trail of baby quail crossing the road. When he looked in his rearview mirror and saw clouds of baby feathers he was so devastated he cried. 

This is the Noah I will always remember. And it’s why I know if he had survived and been returned to his right mind, he never could have lived with what he had done. It might sound strange, but I’m grateful Noah died that day, even as I’m sorry for the police who had to shoot him. 

Honestly, I don’t believe the Noah I know was even there. 

I don’t know if I will blog about this or anything else again anytime soon. I want so much to be sensitive to the victims of this tragedy. I can only hope they have received half the outpouring of love and care that we have.

Here are links where you can contribute to the victims’ families. It would mean so much if you would.

Love always, Heather

Christy Galella

Jennifer Vasquez

Andrew Myers

 

P.S. I don’t know if I can answer comments, but feel free to leave them.

P.S.S. I had turned all my posts private and am only halfway through turning them back on. Not sure if it’s even what I should do. Thanks for your patience. I apologize to all my faithful readers who may have felt cut off when I quit blogging, dumped RAW, and got very quiet.

Atlas Girl

Today I’m excited to introduce you to a friend and fellow blogger, Emily T. Wierenga. Emily is an award-winning journalist, blogger, commissioned artist and columnist, as well as the author of five books including the memoirAtlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look (Baker Books)

Here’s Emily:

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Mum had said to sit close to the bus driver, so I sat as far away as possible.

And now an Ojibway man in a red bandana and stubble cheek was snoring on my shoulder.

He smelled like communion wine, the kind my father served in plastic cups which we slid empty into the pew’s tiny cup holders.

He smelled like beer, like the late August summers when I was entering puberty, cleaning up the Corn Fest fairgrounds in my Sunday dress with my family. The beer cans all clanging like empty songs against each other in their black garbage bags, and it was what good Christians did. Cleaned up after sinners’ parties and marched in pro-life rallies and it was always us, versus them. And all I ever wanted was to be them.

But always, we were taught to be kind to them, and so I let this man sleep on my shoulder in the Greyhound bus headed west while I tucked up my legs and tried to shrink inside my 18-year-old frame.

Tried to close my eyes against the cold of the window but it had been two days since I’d hugged my younger brother, Keith, and my sisters, Allison and Meredith; since Mum—whose name is Yvonne, which means beautiful girl— had held me to her soft clean cotton shirt and her arms had said all of the words she’d never been able to voice.

The Reverend Ernest Dow, or Dad, had loaded my cardboard boxes full of Value Village clothes onto the bus and kissed me on the cheek and smiled in a way that apologized. I was the eldest, and I was the first to leave. But then again, I’d left long before getting on that bus.

I’d slid my guitar, then, beside the cardboard boxes, its black case covered in hippie flower stickers and the address for the Greyhound depot in Edmonton, 40 hours away.

And we still weren’t there yet, and I hoped there would be mountains.

I should know, I thought. I should know whether or not there will be mountains.

My parents had raised us to believe in God, to believe in music, and to believe in travel.

We’d visited Edmonton as children, piled into our blue Plymouth Voyager and we’d driven from Ontario to California, no air conditioning, living off crusty bun sandwiches and tenting every night.

And there was Disneyland and the ocean and me nearly drowning because I was all rib. My body too tired to care. And we’d traveled home through Canada, through Edmonton, but all I remembered was the mall. West Edmonton Mall and how it had hurt me to walk its miles, thin as I was.

I was hospitalized soon after that trip. The submarine sandwiches hadn’t been enough to fill the cracks. But oh, how my parents taught us to love the open road. We caught the bug young, and here I was, and I couldn’t remember where the Rockies began and ended.

I scratched at the night as though it were frost on my window, but all I could see were the bright yellow lines on the highway, like dashes in a sentence, like long pauses that never ended.

***

This is an excerpt from my new memoir, Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look, releasing July 1st through Baker Books.

 

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Our own Heather Kopp says,

“This is the kind of spiritual memoir I love. The story is vulnerable, insightful, and artfully told. You know you’re in the hands of an expert writer–and yet you never feel like style is getting in the way of heart. I thoroughly enjoyed every word and didn’t want it to end.”

~ Heather Kopp, author of the memoir Sober Mercies

 

From the back cover:

“Disillusioned and yearning for freedom, Emily Wierenga left home at age eighteen with no intention of ever returning. Broken down by organized religion, a childhood battle with anorexia, and her parents’ rigidity, she set out to find God somewhere else–anywhere else. Her travels took her across Canada, Central America, the United States, the Middle East, Asia, and Australia. She had no idea that her faith was waiting for her the whole time–in the place she least expected it.

“Poignant and passionate, Atlas Girl is a very personal story of a universal yearning for home and the assurance that we are known, forgiven, and beloved. Readers will find in this memoir a true description of living faith as a two-way pursuit in a world fraught with distraction. Anyone who wrestles with the brokenness we find in the world will love this emotional journey into the arms of the God who heals all wounds.”

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I am excited to give away a copy of ATLAS GIRL today. Just leave a comment below to win.

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I’m also giving away a FREE e-book to anyone who orders Atlas Girl. Just order HERE, and send a receipt to: atlasgirlbookreceipt@gmail.com, and you’ll receive A House That God Built: 7 Essentials to Writing Inspirational Memoir — an absolutely FREE e-book co-authored by myself and editor/memoir teacher Mick Silva.

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ALL proceeds from Atlas Girl will go towards my non-profit, The Lulu Tree The Lulu Tree is dedicated to preventing tomorrow’s orphans by equipping today’s mothers. It is a grassroots organization bringing healing and hope to women and children in the slums of Uganda through the arts, community, and the gospel.
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Emily T. Wierenga is an award-winning journalist, blogger, commissioned artist and columnist, as well as the author of five books including the memoir, Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look (Baker Books). She lives in Alberta, Canada with her husband and two sons. For more info, please visit www.emilywierenga.com. Find her on Twitter or Facebook.

Getting Attention

Art by Laurie Anne Sikorowski, used by permission.
Art by Laurie Anne Sikorowski, used by permission.

This morning I read this and thought I heard God say, “This is better than any blog post you could write today. Post this and go jog instead.”

I harrumphed, and then agreed. Yet another way to quit deeper, right? I hope you get as much from this as I did.

Much of our anxiety and inner turmoil comes from living in a global culture whose values drive us from the essence of what matters. At the heart of this is the conflict between the outer definition of success and the inner value of peace.

Unfortunately, we are encouraged, even trained, to get attention when the renewing secret of life is to give attention. From performing well on tests to positioning ourselves for promotions, we are schooled to believe that to succeed we must get attention and be recognized as special, when the threshold to all that is extraordinary in life opens only when we devote ourselves to giving attention, not getting it. Things come alive for us only when we dare to see and recognize everything as special.

The longer we try to get attention instead of giving it, the deeper our unhappiness. It leads us to move through the world dreaming of greatness, needing to be verified at every turn, when feelings of oneness grace us only when we verify the life around us. It makes us desperate to be loved, when we sorely need the medicine of being loving.

One reason so many of us are lonely in our dream of success is that instead of looking for what is clear and true, we learn to covet what is great and powerful. One reason we live so far from peace is that instead of loving our way into the nameless joy of spirit, we think fame will soothe us. And while we are busy dreaming of being a celebrity, we stifle our need to see and give and love, all of which opens us to the true health of celebration.

It leaves us with these choices: fame or peace, be a celebrity or celebrate being, work all our days to be seen or devote ourselves to seeing, build our identity on the attention we can get or find our place in the beauty of things by the attention we can give–Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

Mark Nepo is a cancer survivor, a poet, and philosopher.

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No Matter What (For Moms of Addicts)

Art by Susie Zol, click to visit her on Etsy
Art by Susie Zol, click to visit her on Etsy

This time, she’s wearing a floral dress and pink lipstick. The pained expression I recognize well. Before she even opens her mouth, I’m pretty sure she is the mother of an addicted son or daughter.

I meet this mom too often, I’m afraid. This particular one I met on Tuesday, after I spoke. She’s scared out of her mind, guilt-ridden, and confused. How could this happen to her baby? And her worst fear is too great to voice: I’m terrified my child is going to die.

I’m scared her child will die, too. In the U.S. alone, addiction and alcoholism kill on average 300 people a day, many of them young. That’s a jumbo jet filled with passengers going down. Every. Single. Day.

The hardest part might be that I can’t even tell this mom, “Trust God—it’s gonna be okay.” Because it might not be. Ask any parent who earnestly prayed for God to protect their child and then said goodbye in a morgue. [To continue reading, click here and follow me over to the Huffington Post.]

Worried About All the Wrong Things

Image by Matthew Grant, click to visit site.
Image by Matthew Grant, click to visit site.

This week I’m spending a lot of time working on a speech I’ll give Tuesday—and practicing the delivery of it on my computer’s video cam.

Wince is too sweet of a word to describe what it’s like to watch it back. If, like me, you still want to believe folks who say you don’t look your age, I can’t recommend this approach.

Trust me, it has occurred to me that I might just be worried about the wrong things. It’s not about me, right?

Still, since I’m too distracted by revelations about my face to write a post, and since Sober Mercies releases in paperback this Tuesday, it seems a good time to run an excerpt that seems to relate.

Here it is:

“In typical, self-centered fashion, I had imagined that treatment would be all about me. I had pictured myself spending a lot of one-on-one time with the staff psychiatrist while he probed my psyche to solve the mystery of what drove someone as nice as me to drink myself blotto. Sure, I knew the other patients would be there, hovering in the background.

But in my mind, the camera was always focused on me, front and center.

It was nothing like that.

I quickly learned that rehab is nothing if not a group activity. It’s like one long experiment in the study of how people develop intimacy with strangers. Naturally, whether or not this is a good thing depends largely on who your fellow residents happen to be. These are the people who will see you with bed-head at six a.m. when you stumble half asleep down the hall to have your vitals taken. Who will learn your most shameful secrets. Who will see you exposed for what you are—a blubbering drunk in Banana Republic clothes.

Who won’t like you.

It was true. Right away, several of the residents decided I thought I was better than them. During dinner in the school-style cafeteria that first night, a lesbian and meth addict named Geneva mocked me for being so “put together.” She said I looked like one of the damn counselors. She was sure if I met her on the street, I wouldn’t give her the f*@*#ing time of day.

Others at the table nodded or snickered.

I had half-expected this—not quite fitting in. But I was taken aback by the open hostility. I went to my room and cried. What did these people want from me? Should I not put on makeup and blow-dry my hair? Should I wear only T-shirts? Forgive me for not knowing what a “tweaker” is! (It’s a methamphetamine addict.) I don’t think I’m better than any of them! I insisted to myself.

And yet, I did think I was different. I just wasn’t in the same category as these hard-core alcoholics and drug addicts. I’d never stolen anything. I’d never spent time in jail or on the street. I’d never woken up naked in Vegas, unsure how I got there and who was in bed with me.

That night, I phoned Dave and told him I’d met a drug-addicted lesbian named Geneva who hated me on sight. I told him I missed him. I missed Edmund (my dog). I missed being at home in our house on our wide, pretty street where no one ever looked at me funny, wore pajamas to dinner, or asked me what I was ‘in for.’

***

On the upside, before I came to treatment, I had envisioned myself here curled up in a corner, sweating profusely, delirious with pain, and perhaps suffering small seizures. But that never happened. Much to my relief, during those first couple days, I was given Valium to help me cope with the physical symptoms of withdrawal.

In the meantime, because I was new and detoxing, I was temporarily excused from most of the program activities. Since I didn’t have a roommate, this allowed me plenty of time to wallow in self-pity. In fact, I was so worried about being ostracized that I forgot to worry about not being able to drink.

At around eight on that first night, the irony hit me. Instead of climbing the walls with craving as I’d expected, I was alone in my room, calmly reading a book, desperately upset because a lesbian didn’t like me.

Obviously, I had worried about all the wrong things.”

P.S. Just so you know, Geneva turned into a great friend and I eventually realized I was exactly like all the other residents.  🙂

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Unlike Hungry Ghosts (or Leaving Empty Empty)

Art by Ariel Schoen
Art by Ariel Schoen, used by permission, (click image to visit her on Etsy)

Like many of you, I grew up hearing about the cross-shaped hole in everyone’s soul that can only be filled by Jesus.

And guess what? It worked! After I became a Christian in my teens, I felt joyous and fulfilled—for maybe a week.

I couldn’t understand it. And what I heard in church convinced me that I should feel fulfilled. How could my soul thirst for more when I had a “river of life” flowing out of me?

Since I did thirst for more, I decided I just wasn’t spiritual enough. I wasn’t trying hard enough. Eventually, alcohol helped me numb that hollow ache, and I stopped caring so much…

Click  HERE to read more.

Technically, I’m on a blogbattical until September, but today I have a guest post on Emily Weirenga’s blog. She’s the author of Chasing Silhouettes and co-author of,  Mom in the Mirror. She paints, too!  You’ve gotta check out her amazing art. Come by and say hi. 

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