Monday, June 21, 2010

Casting on the Waters

"Lights will guide you home

And ignite your bones

And I will try to fix you."

(Coldplay, Fix You)

There are certain songs I try to avoid these days.

This is one of them.

I thought I’d selected a different playlist on the iPhone, one that would get me fired up about the arm machine I’d been dreading. Just as I grabbed that instrument of torture, the slow, melancholy organ music started, accompanied by Chris Martin’s plaintive voice: “When you try your best, but you don’t succeed…”

Tears streamed
Down my face…

Not really. But they glistened.

People looked at me funny. “Is the woman that upset about having to do the arm machine?”  I decided to stretch out and go home instead.

I know I’m not alone in being deeply affected by music. All kinds of music. The first stanza of a song has the ability to vividly evoke the emotions of another time and place, transporting me back to a different me.

That song by Coldplay takes me back to the time when I still thought I could fix people.

Now I know I can’t even fix myself, much less anyone else.


Alone at the lake the next day, I grew maudlin, scribbling,

Silence screams
from walls that used to
echo with the calls of voices
long since gone so far away from here.

I sip a beer out on the porch,
and hear them still,
calling from the dock.
Boombox blaring 90’s music
back up to where I rocked,
unseen, behind a dappled screen of trees.

And laughter danced among the leaves.

It lingers still.

As I said, maudlin.

I haven't had time to do the empty nest thing yet.

Coming back into the cabin, I noticed a book lying out on an end table. A River Runs Through It, by Norman Maclean. It is a beautiful book; sparse, but rich with meaning and metaphor.

I love to read books more than once, if they’re worth it. I started out just skimming through, but finally gave in and started over at the beginning, savoring each word. Maclean’s lovely prose washed over me like the clear Montana waters of which he writes.

The story of two brothers, sons of a Scotch Presbyterian minister and avid fly fisherman, tugged at my heart. Brothers so profoundly different, yet bound by a deep, unarticulated love.

Maclean is tortured by a desire to help his younger brother Paul escape his demons. He grapples with the question of how to intervene in the downward spiral that ultimately will lead to his brother’s destruction. He writes:

“Sunrise is the time to feel that you will be able to find out how to
help somebody close to you who you think needs help even if he doesn’t
think so. At sunrise everything is luminous but not clear.”

But the awkwardness that comes between men prevents the brothers from open communication. They avoid certain areas of conversation like loaded mine fields. Instead, their feelings for each other come out in subtle nuances and implications.

When Maclean’s idiotic brother-in-law comes to town, the women of the family force the Maclean brothers to take him fishing. The brother-in-law separates from the group in order to get drunk instead. The brothers have this exchange:

“Do you think you should help him?”
“Yes,” he said, “I thought we were going to.”
“How?” I asked.
“By taking him fishing with us.”
   "I’ve just told you,” I said, “he doesn’t like to fish.”
“Maybe so,” my brother replied. “But maybe what he likes is someone
 trying to help him.”

I still do not understand my brother. He himself always turned aside any
offer of help, but in some complicated way he was surely talking about himself when he was talking about Neal needing help. “Come on,” he said, “let’s find him before he gets lost in the storm.”

Later, when Maclean brings the brother-in-law back to the house, naked and sunburned, he and his wife have words.  Finally, things resolve in a truce.

“Tell me,” she asked, “if my brother comes back next summer, will you try to help me help him?”
It took a long time to say it, but I said it. I said, “I will try.”
Then she said, “He won’t come back.” Then she added, “Tell me, why is it that people who want help do better without it—at least no worse. Actually, that’s what it is, no worse. They take all the help they can get, and are just the same as they always have been.”
“Except that they are sunburned,” I said.


I had the gift of time to reflect on these ideas at the lake. As I watched sparkling waves undulate toward the setting sun, I wondered, How do we really help those we love?

The hints I’d gotten were timely, as always. A call interrupting the peacefulness of the woodland setting confirmed that someone I love needs help. There are several people in my life that I want to help now. Desperately. Want to fix.

I suppose that’s why the Coldplay song had the effect that it did.

I’ve been in this place before.

There was a time when I felt as if everything and everyone were crumbling at once. A stretch of crisis after crisis left me depleted and frantic. I didn’t know which hole in the dam to plug first. People for whom I care deeply were going through painful circumstances…some of their own creation, some not. I allowed myself to get down into that place of pain where you act out impulsively. Instead of waiting and receiving peace, I jumped in there and frantically tried to fix everything and everybody. My manipulations just made things worse. And made me sick.

I won’t go there again, with God’s help.

But, still, Maclean’s questions echo.

How do we find them before they get lost in the storm?

Can we?

Should we even try?

My prayers that night were full of anxious fretting.

Yesterday morning, we got up early and came back to town in time for church. We were surprised to find that the guest speaker was a Scotsman. With a charmingly thick brogue, he spoke of his love for his native land and his great surprise that God had called him to leave it for missions. As he told stories about Scotland, with it’s beautiful lakes, rivers, and mountains, I pictured the Scotch Presbyterian minister in Montana teaching his two little boys to cast a fly. A River Runs Through It is full of illusions to the art of casting. Rife with symbolism about it. As I was drifting off into reveries about the book, something the pastor said re-centered my attention on him.

He asked, “What are you carrying that you should be casting?”

I knew he was talking to me.

As he read the beautiful words of Psalm 55, I saw what I needed to do. Cast your cares on the Lord, and He will sustain you. I realized that in trying to help bear another’s burdens, I was clinging to them and attempting to carry them in my own strength. I know as well as anyone that you just end up crippled that way. The pastor encouraged the congregation to be real with God. To acknowledge that even in our worship, there is an awareness of pain. He reminded us that we don’t have to be strong, because in our weakness God’s strength is made perfect.

I had a mental picture of casting my concerns and cares high up in an arc over the tumultuous waters.

And then I went down to the altar and lay them down.


“It’s not much, is it?” “No,” I replied, “but you can love completely without complete understanding.” “That I have known and preached,” my father said.

Once my father came back with another question. “Do you think I could have helped him?” he asked.

“It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us.”

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and run over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

I am haunted by waters.

from A River Runs Through It, Norman Maclean


Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (I Peter 5: 6-7)


Does anyone else share these concerns voiced by Maclean: “How to help somebody close to you who you think needs help, who doesn’t think so?” 


Anonymous said...

I've been the helper all of my life. When my parents' marriage started falling apart after the birth of my two youngest brothers', I took care of them. When our mother left us to pursue a man in her effort to make up for what she never had (a father), I stepped in further and became a very young mom to two very young, very hurt little boys.

I was always the friend to call, the pillar of strength, the shoulder to cry on. When my mom eventually returned, I figured out that by helping her, I got the attention that I had so desperately missed out on and still did not receive.

And now, I'm on my own. My brothers are grown, our mom is back in the picture to be mom, and I have finally moved on to have a life of my own, and I don't know what to do with myself.

I have spent so many of my nearly 28 years of life, helping and fixing everyone else, allowing my needs to go unmet, and now, I am lost. And since everyone else has a life of their own to live and marriages and families, and I don't have any of those things, I feel like I've lost my sense of purpose.

I know it's all part of the transition into finally taking care of myself instead of everyone else, but it's painful and I feel alone most of the time.

Last night, I asked God for a sign that I'm not alone, something to show me that others relate to what I'm feeling, and you posted this blog. So thank you for writing out these feelings. Your words have helped me over the past year or so than you may ever know. :)

Kim said...

Oh, Amy,

Thank you for being so open in sharing your heart and hurts. It really does help to know we're not alone in our suffering...whatever form it may take.

You have been through too much for a woman your age.

I will be praying that you can allow yourself to be taken care of by your Father, and that you will know HIs tender love and feel His strength in fresh ways

And that you will have a time of rest and restoration and healing.

Soooo glad the post was used as a confirmation. That makes my day

You are loved..

Anne H. said...

I think the book "Same Kind of Different as Me" answers that question perfectly. It is an amazing book and it shows the amazing God that we serve!

Thank you Kim for your Amazing writing and honesty. .. I am blessed every time I read your blog.

Kei said...

Hi Kim,

I've been following your blog since I heard about Katherine's AVM in the Women's Bible Study at Bel Air Pres 2 years ago. I don't even know Katherine but when they announced it something inside told me that I had to pray for her.

You guys have really been a blessing in my life. I'm having a particularly hard time dealing with my mother's mental decline into Alzheimer's and I always hear a comforting and inspiring word here. I have no one in my immediate circle of friends who understands what I'm going through or can even remotely try to relate. It's a lonely place to be sometimes.

So I come here and know that there is someone else out there who is also going through something extraordinarily difficult but handles it with such grace and awe-inspiring faith. I have no doubt that God is smiling down on you at this very moment.

Keep doing what you do and I sincerely hope that you will write that book one day!

Laurel said...

@ Kei: I've lost two grandmothers and am losing an aunt to Alzheimer's. Strong maternal links indicate that my own mother and ultimately I am at risk. I completely get it. Shoot me an email if you need to vent. It's horrible, devastating, and exhausting.

@ Kim: as regards to the post.

a) I love that song.

b) I'm a "helper", too. I want to help you solve your problem. I've never let myself get sucked in too far due to some instinct or another that informed me some people won't be helped.

The conclusion I come to is that to serve someone is not the same thing as to help, if by help you mean rescue. It's very (VERY) hard when you can see the solutions that someone else has to implement and won't.

To serve them, sometimes the best thing you can do is to offer nothing but an ear and wait for them to call for help.

Kim said...

I'm a born helper and fixer. This blog was as if it was written by me - although I could not be nearly so eloquent. This theme of "casting all my cares on Him" has been rolling around in my mind for that last week - and here it is on your blog.

God is amazingly resourceful - using one theme in many people's lives - to help another; and all at the same time! He never ceases to amaze me with this kind of display of power. Your words encourage me to keep casting all my worries on Him - because He is capable of seeing all angles and doing what needs to be done - and I am not.


Cheri said...

This is the devotional for May 26 from Charles Spurgeon's Morning and Evening Devotions. It came at just the right time. I have found every bit of it to be true in my own life, especially when my cares concern those I love the most. Hope it encourages you as your writing encourages me.

Psalm 55:22
"Care, even when addressed in legitimate matters,if it is carried to excess, has in it the nature of sin. Again and again Jesus exhorted His followers to avoid anxious care. The apostles reiterated the call; and it is one that cannot be neglected with out involving transgression. For the very essence of anxious care is imagining that we are wiser than God and putting ourselves in His place as if we could do for Him what he has undertaken to do for us. We attempt to think of things that we imagine Him forgetting; we work to take upon ourselves a heavy burden, as if He were unable or unwillingly to take it for us. Now this disobedience to His plain precept, this unbelief in His Word, this presumption that intrudes upon His province, is all sinful. But more than this, anxious care often leads to acts of sin. If we cannot calmly leave our affairs in God's hand but attempt to carry our own burden, we will be tempted to use wrong means to help ourselves. This sin leads to a forsaking of God as our counselor and resorting to human wisdom. This is going to the broken well instead of to the fountain. Anxiety makes us doubt God's loving-kindness, and so our love to Him grows cold; we feel mistrust, and in this we grieve the Spirit of God, so that our prayers are hindered, our consistent example spoiled, and our life one of self-seeking. Such lack of confidence in God leads us to wander far from Him, but if through simple faith in His promise we cast each burden as it comes upon Him and are "not. . .anxious about anything" because He undertakes to care for us, it will keep us close to Him and strengthen us against temptation. "You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you."

Kim said...

That is awesome. I need to be reminded that anxiety is a sin...because it represents mistrust of God. Wow, have I been there.

I love Spurgeon! He nails it on the head.

Thank you so much for sharing that, Cheri

ellenpaige said...

Oh, did I ever need to read this, Kim, and the responses, especially Cheri's. My mom is presently dying of ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease), and a close friend and former teacher colleague of mine is battling the same hideous disease. I have found myself in a constant state of anxiety, distrusting God and questioning how a loving Father can allow so much suffering. And I am having these awful doubts and thoughts and questions after He healed me of my ruptured brain aneurysm ten years ago. Because of your words and Cheri's response to them this morning, I clearly see that my anxiety- my anxious care of people I love who are suffering - is sinful. I am going to- right now- give God, our LOVING, perfectly CAPABLE of caring for the people I love, God the awful anxiety I have been experiencing for the last half year. Thank you for your timely words, Kim. God has definitely used you and Cheri to speak to me this morning. And did I ever need to hear Him!

JRT said...

It is so hard to watch someone you love self-destruct.

I identify with your questioning. How can we intervene in a meaningful way? Especially if the person is in denial?

There are no easy answers to these questions.

Thank you for bringing them up, though. They need to be addressed.

Bethany said...

I love the last quote: "... you can love completely without complete understanding.”


That is unconditional love.

But I agree that it's really hard to see someone you care about 'spiral down into self-destruction.' You want to keep the elevator from crashing down...but how do you if the person won't let you?

It is difficult to know what to do.

I feel like I'm really going to regret it if something bad happens, and I did nothing to prevent it.

Any ideas?

Melinda said...

Just discovered your blog.

I don't think the poem is 'maudlin,' I think it is lovely.

And true. Life is short. We need to embrace each moment. I'm glad I found your site. I'm looking forward to more of the same.


Anonymous said...

What a post. I know I can not explain how much I needed to hear this. Over the past few years my life has imploded. I have wrestled with this very thing for years and was struggling mightily today. My husband....went off the deep end a couple of years ago--affair, huge debts, tons of lying, betrayal and deception. He is now in jail. I am left with three small children ache. Could I have acted differently? How do I honor God and continue to love such a person. He is still irrational and in his own strange world. I am doing what I never in a million years envisioned--divorce. How can you love through divorce? I want to cry sometimes that it's not fair. I just keep hitting my head on that line "Whatever God decides is fair." Who am I to say what He is doing. But, boy, it is so hard to watch someone self destruct. And all the pieces you are left with don't fit back together. Sorry for the novella. Thanks for the post. I am always encouraged and sharpened when I visit.
Praying for you & Katherine.

Kim said...


Please don't apologize for the "novella."

I appreciate you sharing your story.

I will pray for "light at the end of the tunnel" for you and your children.


Michelle said...

I am so guilty if crying about a song at the gym! Perfect comic relief to your beautiful writing.

What about letting others help us "helpers" when we need it? I'm horrible at that one.

I think, by God's grace, I've been learning to back off from trying to fix people and pray and let God do his thing. I think I've taken baby steps in the right direction.

Overstepping my bounds to help others made me ill too. Very ill.

But I still don't let anyone close enough to truly minister to me. I know I don't and that's a sin too. it's prideful. I'm confessing it here and asking God to teach me to let my guard down.

groping ahead,

Anonymous said...

Thought of your post last night as I was watching this.