Tag Archives: God

Return from “The Upside Down”

I need to make a confession.  Late last year, I surrendered to the pressure of my classmates and watched the Netflix Sci-Fi series Stranger Things.  It is a Stephen King’ish scenario set in the 80’s.  In season one, a young boy disappears, and his friends soon discover that he has been taken to the “upside down.”  The “upside down” is a parallel dimension to our world; it is a dimension that is a dark reflection of our world filled with monsters and despair.  Spoiler Alert!  The young boy does get rescued and returned to the world as we know it because of the efforts of his family and friends.  However, there were still things that haunted him from the “upside down.”

I could spend some time presenting the spiritual and religious allegories of the show, but I will save that for another time. Several theologians have written about it already.  I am more interested in the “upside down” because I found myself trapped in a place very much like it.   My world had become dark, filled with hopelessness, and haunted by monsters that I didn’t want to go on.  In late February, 31 one years ago, I felt there was no way out.  I decided to end my life. The sermon in church today reminded me of this time in my life.

Much like the young boy in Stranger Things, I would be rescued.  My rescue came from strangers at first, not family and friends. I had driven them all away.  I was really alone, or so I thought.  I knew God thought I was a hopeless case and had moved on to other things.  I had one person who still accepted my calls. She was a friend from seminary days and a pastor of a small church in Maryland. Drunk and angry, I called her at 2:00 am.  It seemed she was finished with me, just like God.  She told me she could not go through this with me any longer.  She made me write a phone number down and promise to call it. Then she hung up.  I was devastated.  I just told her I was trying to kill myself.  How could she hang up on me?  (I had no way of knowing that she had been going to AlAnon.)

I don’t know why I made the call to the number she gave me, but the Hotline counselor stayed on the phone with me until dawn.  It was the beginning of my rescue from the “upside down.” Because of that call, I found my way to a therapist, who after two years of therapy would become my closest friend, confidant, spiritual mentor, and guide for the next eighteen years.  I became part of the fellowship of a twelve-step program where strangers became a family who showed me that God still and had always loved me.

Although I have never returned to the “upside down,” I know it still exists.  Many are trapped there without any hope. I often share my story with others, and I write about it on this blog because I want those who have lost faith to see that there is life on the other side. I want them to hear someone say that God always has and still loves them.

I have been given everything back everything I lost and more. I was blessed for many years with a job working on staff for the same type of Hotline that I had called.  I was able to listen and talk with those who had lost hope.  I am now in college about to finish my undergrad degree, hoping to pursue my masters, and begin a journey to follow where God is calling me.  I am going to begin even though I am not sure where that journey will lead.  I have genuine friendships, a family that continues to grow, and on top of it all, I have peace and serenity knowing that God is with me.

During this time of year, I hold tightly to my faith.  While I escaped the “upside down,” much like the young boy I am sometimes still haunted by memories.  As February ends, and March comes in to welcome spring, I am faced with the tenth anniversary of the death of the woman who was my closest friend as well as the anniversary of the death of Mama Pearl.  Mama Pearl was a second mother to me throughout my life.   While there is profound pain in these memories, there is joy in my remembrances of them.  They will be with me in spirit as I celebrate 31 years of continuous sobriety in April.

I got lost in the “upside down” a long time ago, but God pulled me back through grace and love.      I know I never have to return-even during periods of questioning or suffering.  Anne Lamott wrote, “I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”  God met me in a place of darkness and despair and brought me out into a new life. I am excited to see where God leads me next.

Finding Center

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There are things I could never imagine happening to me. That is saying a lot considering I have a highly overactive imagination. I can imagine an asteroid crashing into earth close my home. My friends will tell you that they are not allowed to mention comets, or meteor showers, or a protentional eclipse. I can imagine a tsunami wiping out a beach as I sit in the sand.  I can envision an earthquake while I am in a three story building. I am afraid that someone might break into the house when I am all alone and taking a shower (that might just be a throwback to Psycho). I can even imagine how our country might look like after the current elections. Yet, I could never have believed what would happen this week.

I arrived at my class at school, and we began a group team building exercise. The instructions were simple. Everyone was to stand in a large circle. The professor would read a statement, and everyone would quickly, without much thought or hesitation, step into the circle to the extent that they agreed with the statement. If you strongly agreed with the statement, you would walk into the center of the circle. If you slightly agreed, you would only take a small step or two in the circle. If you strongly disagreed, you would stand in place and so on.

The first statements were innocuous.

“I like chocolate.” Almost everyone was in the center of the circle.

“I like pizza.” People were a bit more spread out on this one.

“I am a dog person.” “I am a cat person.” There were some strong feelings on this one.

The statements then focused more on issues.

“I am a feminist.”

“I believe everyone has the same access to prosperity.”

“I believe everyone should have equal access to education.”

With each of these statements, everyone in the group shared the same opinion. We all appeared to be on the same page when it came to social issues and ideals.

After each statement, the professor would ask us to return to the circle if we had moved. After a few more statements, I heard this one.

“I believe in God.”

Without hesitation, I began my first step into the circle. As I moved, I suddenly became aware that no one else was moving. I hesitated for a split second. Do I keep going? Surely everyone is thinking about the question and will be stepping in. Maybe they are just waiting for the others. I took another step. The room was silent and still.

I kept taking steps towards the center of the circle. I could only see those in front of me or just to my side. Everyone was looking at me in the circle, but no one looked me in the eyes. I felt alone and exposed. I thought of the woman in the Bible who was caught in adultery. Everyone circled around her, pointed fingers, and said she should be stoned. Could this really be happening? I just wanted the professor to direct me back to my spot in the circle.

We quickly moved on to our next activity. I don’t remember much about what we did the rest of the class. I still felt as if I was standing alone in the middle of the circle. That feeling would stay with me for a while; in fact, I am still carrying a bit of it with me as I write.

I would not have been surprised if no moved into the circle had the statement been, “I am a Christian” or “I am religious” or “I go to church.” I know many people who want nothing to do with organized religion. I understand those who have questions about faith. I certainly have many questions about God, the church, the Bible, and theology. I am still shaken by the fact that no one moved into the circle. Even if someone had moved just a step or two into the circle, it would have been easier to understand. How could these people who share the same values about social issues and social justice not believe in God?

I have been thinking about this all week. As I began to process this, I looked at the world and the events of the past years. I remember bombings and killings in the name of God. I saw religious people who hated those who are different, people who say that God hates those who are aren’t like them, people who claim to follow God but turn their back on the poor, sick, and lonely. Politicians have been throwing around claims about God for months. Churches are splitting because they can’t agree to love one another any longer because of issues surrounding race, gender, who you can love or which bathroom people can use.

I must wonder if these bright, talented, young people I know, who want to change the world, look at all of this and decide that God can’t exist. In his book, “Blue Like Jazz”, Donald Miller writes about his experience at Reed College, a secular liberal arts college in Oregon. He and a few Christian friends discuss a way to talk to people on campus about their faith since students seemed hostile to their views. They come up with an idea to offer a confession to the other students. The confession below expresses what I have been thinking:

“So this group of us on campus wanted to confess to you,” Donald said.

“You are confessing to me!” Jake said with a laugh.

“Yeah. We are confessing to you. I mean, I am confessing to you.”

“You’re serious.” His laugh turned to something of a straight face.

“There’s a lot. I will keep it short,” Donald started.  “The thing is, we are followers of Jesus. We believe that Jesus is God and all, and he represented certain ideas that we have sort of not done a good job at representing. He has asked us to represent him well, but it can be very hard.  Jesus said to feed the poor and to heal the sick. I have never done very much about that. Jesus said to love those who persecute. I tend to lash out, especially if I feel threatened, you know, if my ego gets threatened. Jesus didn’t mix spirituality with theology.  I grew up doing that. It got in the way of the central message of Christ. I know that was wrong, and I know that a lot of people will not listen to the words of Christ because people like me, who know him, carry our own agendas into the conversation rather than just relaying the message Christ wanted to get across. There’s a lot more, too.”

There is a lot more!  I want to confess and apologize for not always carrying the message of Christ in my life, but I am going to keep trying.

Church Noise

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I write about church and faith quite often.  If you have followed my blog or read any of these posts, you might recall that church and I have had a challenging relationship over the years. (You can find these posts under the Faith tab on the blog.)   I only returned to traditional church about six or seven years ago. I church shopped for a while before I found a place to stay for a while.  I was part of this church for about five years, however just a few weeks ago, the congregation voted to disband and close the church.  I won’t go into the reasons since this blog isn’t about that.  It did however create the need  opportunity to visit churches over the past couple of months.

As a child, I learned that the church sanctuary was a solemn place to be treated with absolute reverence.  There were many rules including no running, no talking above a whisper, no laughing; you get the idea.  Music was never that toe tapping hand-clapping sort of thing.  It was more along the lines of hymns written in earlier centuries to tortoise paced classical organ accompaniment.  It was only in the fellowship hall that we could have a piano with more lively music; however dancing was still out of the question.

On my summer visits to my brother in West Va., we would attend small charismatic type churches.  Their music was piano, guitar, and a bit more old-time gospel.  The preacher was scary.  He screamed, threw things, and often took off his coat and tie with armpit sweat stains showing the intensity of the sermon.

Over the years, things have changed in worship style and music in many churches, but not in the one I was attending after my return to church. Occasionally the congregation might be moved to clap after the choir anthem, and someone would usually have an “Amen”.  One of thing liked about this church was that the people enjoyed talking to each other.  Before church and during the time in worship when people greeted one another there was a buzzing of voices, and it was sometimes difficult to get everyone seated again.  As time went, on the voices and noise faded.

As I began visiting churches, I became interested in the church noises.  One of the first I visited had a full band with music I love from contemporary Christian artists.  I know many people love this type of “concert” setting, and while I enjoy it, I like a blend of more traditional hymns. From the moment, I entered the building, an excitement and joy could be felt.  The next few churches I visited were much mellower. There wasn’t much noise at all, even during the worship.

I attend service at a small country church in the upstate every few weeks when I go to stay with my friend.  I love this church.  It has a history stretching back one hundred years.  The organist/pianist is a precious 95-year-old woman. A small group of children in choir robes sing with a guitar accompaniment.  The choir is small, but powerful.  The sounds of children and babies create a sense of delight. The noises in that church are truly joyful ones.

I recently visited a church, and as I entered, laughter and chatter filled the foyer.  Before I could find a seat, several smiling faces had welcomed me as if I already belonged.  During the time in worship for greeting one another, the people seemed genuinely happy to be in worship with one another.  Each time I have attended, children and youth have been part of the worship.  Excitement and wonder are the noises that fill this place.  I think I might just stay a while here.  I like the noise.

Of course, I have to add a quote from Anne Lamott:

“I live for Sundays,” she says. “It’s like going to the spiritual gas station to fill up on fuel and clean the dirty windshield and mirrors. 
I usually show up nuts, self-obsessed, vaguely agitated, and I am at once reminded not of who I am, but Whose I am.

“Then everything falls into place, and I smile again at how crazy I (and most of us) are, but how at church, in fellowship, in the arms and eyes of Jesus […] I remember the truth of my spiritual identity. I love to sing in a group – more than anything, and to do the holy dance of swaying, and clapping. Plus, they say that clapping in church scares away the devil.”

 

 

 

 

Grace Joined With Wrinkles

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“Happy old age” was always an enigma. I didn’t know any “old people” who seemed happy. Bitterness, anger, and loneliness seemed to be the destiny for anyone that lived past fifty. I will admit that perhaps my vision was a bit skewed.

 
From the time I was four, I lived with my grandparents and my great grandmother. Vacations each summer were spent with another set of grandparents. Each of them was miserable in their own way. None of them showed any signs of a happy old age.
When I think about each of them, I remember the frowns and downward pointed eyebrows. None of them had that sparkle of joy or peace in their eyes. Their voices were dull and mean. Yes, that is the word I needed to find-mean. Perhaps all of that anger, bitterness and loneliness had poisoned their spirit to the point that their words and actions spewed meanness.

 
This seemed to be such a contradiction since all of them (except my grandfather) talked about loving God and hoping for the glorious day when they would see Jesus in Heaven. My grandfather was a drunk, so his meanness came straight from a bottle. Grandmother took me to church every Sunday morning and then again on Sunday evening. When I was younger, she would take me with her to her church group “circle” meetings. The old women sat in a circle and talked about a Bible verse of two for a while, and then went directly into bashing anyone not there, as well as other church folks. Time for refreshments meant time to discuss the terrible state of the world, the disappointing youth of today, and to ask the host for the recipe of the treat of the day. Of course, they chatted amongst themselves as they left about “those treats she made” and the recipe was thrown out at home.

 
At church I heard sermons from an amazing pastor about God and his love for us, but at home Grandmother told the story of a different God. Her God was vindictive and just about as mean as she was. God was clearly judgmental, and perfection was required for His love. I never measured to the standard my Grandmother set for God to love me. He was just another grey haired, white bearded, crotchety, mean old man in my mind. When I was in my late 30’s I left the church, and after 25 years I felt drawn to return. I attended a variety of churches and denominations looking for a place to call a church home. One Sunday, I was looking for a church and “accidentally” found a different one. It was the farthest thing from anything I would ever have considered, yet it was where I was supposed to be-for many reasons.

 
The congregation is an older one with some of the most beautiful grey haired, faces with wrinkles, older women you will ever meet. I come complete with tattoos and ever-changing hair styles and colors, and they have accepted me without question. Many of them have been friends for years, and they truly love and cherish each other. The ages range from 70 to well over 90.  Every Sunday and often at Wednesday prayer lunch, I look forward to seeing these special women. Their faces show wrinkles and eyes are often clouded by cataracts. They may have to use a cane or walker. Yet, all I see are  sparkling eyes and beautiful smiles. I listen as they willingly share stories of the church, their childhood, marriages, families, and more. Laughter often accompanies their stories. When one is sick or has to be away, you can feel the sadness from the others. These women all love God and Jesus, but they don’t have to tell you that. You can see it in the love they have for each other, their church, their lives, and the way they welcome anyone who enters the doors of the church. I can clearly see the God of love that the pastor of my youth shared with us.

 
I used to be afraid of growing old. I worried that I would become a bitter, angry, lonely old woman just like my mother and grandmothers. I’m not afraid any more, in fact, I look forward to watching my children, my grandchildren, and yes, even my great-grandchildren as they grow and change. I have some very special friendships that I cherish and plan to take them with me as I journey towards old age. My prayer is that I may be just as precious and joyful as the women at my church.

The Rest of the Story

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This blog post is NOT about Phil Robertson, A&E, Duck Dynasty, or the controversy surrounding them.  However,  it was prompted by comments made by Phil from Duck Dynasty that  is featured on A&E.

If you follow facebook, any news channel, or read the paper, you might have heard the huge debate going on about an interview Phil gave to GQ.  He has been banned from A&E for his comments.  I am not here to argue if he was right or wrong, talk about free speech, issues of race, homosexuality, or anything else.   I am writing today because of  what he didn’t say.

You see, I was raised by a grandmother who  lived most of her adult life as a drunk, along with a variety of other sinful ways of living.  When I was about 7 or so, she decided to start taking me to church.  She found “religion”, and her life did change in some ways, but she was still the same person inside.  She was mean-spirited and did hurtful things to those around her.  She wore her religion like a street person putting on a new suit without ever showering or cleaning up.  It was all for show.

She used the Bible as a weapon and as a crutch for her way of living and thinking.  She would quote Scripture to prove her point, to allow her to judge others,  and to control my behavior.   One that she loved to throw around was, “Vengence is mine, I will repay says the Lord.”   I am sure we could take time and have a long theological discussion about this verse, but I am going to bet that most of you would not interpret it the way my grandmother did.  Her use of the verse was to say that God was going to get me if I did bad stuff.  I was a  kid who had been neglected, abandoned, and abused the first few years of my life, so I was going to have a few issues,  and I (like all kids) was going to do things considered bad.  I was always waiting for the Lord to punish me and I assumed anything bad that happened to me from being sick to not getting all A’s in school was vengeance being  imparted to me.

You see, the thing that troubles me is when we don’t get the rest of the story. My grandmother stopped short of telling the whole story when she used scripture the way she did.   I remember when Mel Gibson’s  “Passion of the Christ” was released; people asked why I didn’t go see it.  I had a number of reasons, but one of them was that it didn’t tell the rest of the story.  The film only showed the last 12 hours of the life of Jesus.  It only showed the horror of the crucifixion, but didn’t show the resurrection or talk about the things Jesus came to teach us.  This is  what happened with Phil’s interview.  He didn’t tell the rest of the story.  He only quoted verse 9 and 10 from the Corinthians passage.  Verse 11 is so powerful in this passage.  Can you see the difference it makes?

1 Corinthians 6:9 “9 Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men,  10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Look at that list of sins!   Can you see any there that you might have committed or even held in your heart?  I can tell you that in my life, I have committed most of them.  You see, I am a recovering alcoholic and addict.  I hit bottom hard, and  I don’t need to tell you the kind of life I lead for a while; you can figure it out.  So, according to those first two verses, I cannot inherit the kingdom of God.   That is devastating news, almost hopeless.

Yet, just look at verse 11.  That is the one that wasn’t quoted by Phil or the GQ article.  “And that is what some of you were.”  Yes,  that is what I was.  “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. ”   That was all done for me!

Phil also said, “But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”  I disagree.  Sin is the most logical thing I understand from the Bible.   There are many verses telling us that we are sinners by nature and that no one is without sin.  It is from the beginning to the end.  What isn’t logical is that this all powerful, omnipotent God would bother with any of us.  Why not just get rid of us all and start from scratch?  Instead, He did something absolutely illogical.  He sent His only son to be born as a human and live this earthly life, and die for our sins.

As we celebrate Christmas next week, we remember the birth of Jesus.  But, we need to remember the rest of the story.  Jesus showed those he encountered the purest love and gave hope to everyone, even the worst of the sinners. He opened his heart and his arms to tax collectors, adulterers, drunkards, thieves, and more.  And, that is what He asks us to do.

“I think joy and sweetness and affection are a spiritual path. We’re here to know God, to love and serve God, and to be blown away by the beauty and miracle of nature. You just have to get rid of so much baggage to be light enough to dance, to sing, to play. You don’t have time to carry grudges; you don’t have time to cling to the need to be right.”
Anne Lamott

I have several friends on my facebook list and blog followers who may wish to debate or help me with my theological understanding of scripture.  Instead, I hope they will simply read this and say a prayer for this justified, sanctified, and forgiven sinner.

No Safety Net; No Harness

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I watched as Nik Wallenda walked on a 2-inch-thick steel cable, 1,500 feet above the river on the Navajo Nation near the Grand Canyon without a harness or a safety net.  I can’t count how many times I held my breath when the wind blew or he would seem unsure of the next steps.  My friend and I texted as we watched, wondering how much longer it would until he would reach safety on the other side.   The faces of those on either side of the tightrope were filled with apprehension and concern.   While viewers watched around the world, many questioned his reasoning for taking on something so dangerous without the aid of some type of safety device.

I think most of us have felt that we were walking a “tightrope” at some point in our lives.   That’s where I am right now.   One year ago, in July, I took those first steps out onto my tightrope.  I walked out in full confidence that I was prepared in every way for the journey.  I believed this was the path I was supposed to take.  I had a harness and a safety net in place.  I was afraid, but most things in life don’t come without some risk and willingness to follow an unknown path.

The thing is, once you are out on that rope, looking back can cause you to falter or even fall.  You have to focus on each step and keep moving toward the safety on the other side.  When I stepped out, I couldn’t really see the other side.  I just knew I couldn’t stay on the edge of the cliff any longer.   Somewhere along the way, I lost my harness and my safety net.  I am out in the middle of the tightrope today, and I still can’t see the other side.  Things I had planned didn’t go the way  I believed they would go.   John Lennon’s song says, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

The part time job I counted on fell through and a second part time job did the same.  Several months of being ill ended in a short visit to the hospital.  Medical costs, paying for COBRA (health insurance), unexpected bills and car repairs depleted the savings that would take me until mid October when I would begin collecting Social Security Retirement.  For the first time in more years that I can count, I am without health insurance.   Safety net and harness are gone.

This morning I had the oil changed in my car.  The service person came out to tell me that my windshield wipers were separating and I needed new ones.  They would be happy to replace them for me.  I asked how much it would cost.  He shrugged and said, “Not very much at all.  It would only be about $30.”  I forced a smile and explained that  I couldn’t afford that right now. I stopped at the grocery store and spent a long time trying to decide what I could afford to buy today.  I am trying to eat healthy foods, but Twinkies and canned foods loaded with sodium are much less expensive.   A friend invited me to meet them at the water park today.  I had to say no.  I came home and tried to figure out how to budget for the rest of the month since I have car taxes and a parking ticket to pay.   Just as a sideline, the parking ticket was very unjust but that will be another blog post. I wonder if I will be able to afford my books when college classes start back mid August.

Long ago, I promised myself that I would never be in a place like this again.  My friend JanF. was filled with wonderful saying.  She would remind me to “never say never because if you do, life will surely teach you a lesson about that. ”  Much like Nik Wallenda, I have people in my life who question my decision to step out on the tightrope.  They are the ones who believe I won’t make it to the other side and they are waiting to be able to say, “We told you so. ”   Like Nik Wallenda, I pray and believe that God is going to protect me and be with me through out the journey.  And like Nik Wallenda, people ask, “How can you ask God to help you when you put yourself out on the tightrope?”

I sometimes say the same things to myself.  Yet, I am very grateful to now have a job.  It is part time with no benefits (at least for now), but it is helping me maneuver this tightrope.  I am blessed to have family and friends who are cheering me on.  My daughter and her husband have opened their home and allowed me to share it with them.  My health is good, for now.   Someone is helping me with a plan to get my medications at a cost I can afford.   Right now, my car is running well with the exception of the windshield wipers.   Perhaps the tears I cry from time to time help keep the tightrope free of dust and debris, just as Nik “spat on his hands and rubbed it on the sole of his shoe for grip” when the cable gathered dust.”    Nik carried a 43 pound balancing pole.  Faith and prayer have become my balancing pole.

Maybe I was wrong in saying that I have no safety net or harness.  When the ones I had in place failed, it seems God provided new ones.   His may be much be stronger and better than the I ones I counted on to protect me.   I can’t let fear stop me from moving forward, one step at a time.  Nik talked about an earpiece that allowed his father to talk to him and encourage him as he walked across the tightrope.  I don’t have an earpiece, but if I listen closely, I can hear God talk to me and encourage me.  What better harness or safety net is there than that?

 

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There’s No Need To Hide

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I saw the headlines, “Pastor Rick Warren Asks for Prayer Following Son’s Suicide.”  I read the articles detailing the struggles of the 27 year old son who had battled depression most of his life.  I was grateful to see that Pastor Warren expressed such love and understanding of the tremendous battle this young man fought and finally lost. I read nothing of blame nor lack of faith.  Sadly, it is a common theme.  You can overcome depression or any other form of mental illness simply by prayer, self will, and choosing to be strong.  Some will go so far as to say that mental illness is the work of Satan taking over because your faith was not strong enough to fight.

I kept my own mental illness a secret for a very long time.  It was an example I learned at a young age.  We didn’t talk about my great grandmother’s “problem.”  They sent her to a state mental hospital and lied to everyone.  My grandmother felt that mental illness was a weakness.  Prayer and just the right amount of church services and tithing could fix it.    We never talked about my grandfather’s alcoholism to anyone.  Our Pastor was the only one that knew.  He came once a year to “talk” to my grandfather and pray for him.  He only did it because my grandmother insisted.  When I showed signs of depression and anxiety disorders as a child my grandmother became angry.  I learned quickly to hide and lie.  I found ways to cope that had to be unlearned as an adult.

I am grateful to two amazing therapists who helped me learn to manage my life and my illness. They both helped me find my way back to my faith.   I am grateful for the medications that keep me in balance.  I am grateful for friends and family that allow me to share my world with them.  I have bad days just like everyone else. No one in my circle of family and friends comes running in to ask if I am taking my meds or if I need to see my psychiatrist.  The amazing thing is that they would do that if they truly were concerned.  I talk about these things because there is no need to be ashamed.  Yet, many people still talk in hushed tones about mental illness.

I read a blog post today and I wanted to share a  part of it here.  Here is the link if you want to read it in full.  What Christians Need to Know  About Mental Health by Ann Voskamp

“There are some who take communion and anti-depressants and there are those  who think both are a crutch.

Come in close — I’d rather walk tall with a crutch than crawl around insisting like a proud and bloody fool that I didn’t need one.

I once heard a pastor tell the whole congregation that he had lived next to the loonie bin and I looked at the floor when everyone laughed and they didn’t know how I loved my mama. I looked to the floor when they laughed, when I wanted them to stand up and reach through the pain of the flames and say:

Our Bible says Jesus said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a doctor, but those who are sick.” Jesus came for the sick, not for the smug. Jesus came as doctor and He makes miracles happen through medicine and when the church isn’t for the suffering, then the Church isn’t for Christ.

I wanted them to say it all together, like one Body, for us to say it all together to each other because there’s not one of us who hasn’t lost something, who doesn’t fear something, who doesn’t ache with something. I wanted us to turn to the hurting, to each other, and promise it till we’re hoarse:

We won’t give you some cliche –  but something to cling to — and that will mean our hands.

We won’t give you some platitudes — but someplace for your pain — and that will mean our time.

We won’t give you some excuses — but we’ll be some example — and that will mean bending down and washing your wounds. Wounds that we don’t understand, wounds that keep festering, that don’t heal, that down right stink — wounds that can never make us turn away.

Because we are the Body of the Wounded Healer and we are the people who believe the impossible — that wounds can be openings to the beauty in us.

We’re the people who say: there’s no shame saying that your heart and head are broken because there’s a Doctor in the house. It’s the wisest and the bravest who cry for help when lost.

There’s no stigma in saying you’re sick because there’s a wounded Healer who uses nails to buy freedom and crosses to resurrect hope and medicine to make miracles.

There’s no guilt in mental illness because depression is a kind of cancer that attacks the mind. You don’t shame cancer, you treat cancer. You don’t treat those with hurting insides as less than. You get them the most treatment.

I wanted the brave to speak Truth and Love:

Shame is a bully and Grace is a shield.  You are safe here.

To write it on walls and arms and wounds:

No Shame.
No Fear.
No Hiding.
Always safe for the suffering here.

You can be different and you can struggle and you can wrestle and you can hurt and we will be here. Because a fallen world keeps falling apart and even though we the Body can’t make things turn out — we can turn up. Just keep turning up, showing up, looking up.”

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The Sky is Falling

Narrator:   Chicken Little was in the woods one day when an acorn fell on her head.  It scared her so much she trembled all over.  She shook so hard, half her feathers fell out.

Chicken Little:   “Help! Help!  The sky is falling!  I have to go tell the king!”

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I have written about my Grandmother in previous posts.  Her ideas on religion and life in general would give even Freud cause to wonder.  I became her “child” through adoption at age four so her impact on my life was significant.  In fact, it has taken two amazing, determined therapists and many friends to allow me to move past her influence.   Yet, there lies trapped in my brain those tapes and fears that can be triggered without warning.  My rational mind understands the illogical fears that still haunt my “little girl” inside, yet the fears are real.

I have been fighting bronchitis since my Christmas gift of the flu.  One round of antibiotics and prednisone seemed to work but the bronchitis came back full force.  I am now on more antibiotics, double the prednisone, and breathing treatments/inhalers filled with albuterol.  They tell you to rest, yet the medications make sleep improbable if not impossible.  Last night I managed to fall asleep and stay asleep for four hours.  I woke at 3:00am and turned on the TV looking for something to lull me back to sleep.  The story of the Carnival cruise ship stuck at sea for several days captivated me.   I watched the passengers finally disembarking from the ship in Mobile, Alabama as the newscast played “Sweet Home, Alabama.”  Yes, it was corny, but effective.  It made me laugh.

Just as I got comfortable in my fortress of sheets and pillows, the scene switched to breaking news.  I saw what appeared to be a bright light go across the sky.  Perhaps there was a plane crash, I thought.  Then I heard the words, “meteorite hits Russia injuring more than 500 people.”  The picture looked just like something from the sci-fi movies that have become so popular.   I fumbled to find the remote and change the channel as quickly as I could only to find the pictures on the next channel as well.  I quickly turned off the TV and tried to lose the images from my mind.

My Grandmother’s stories of meteors hitting the earth and Russia being the center of all evil came crashing into my mind much like the meteor hitting the earth.   Her interpretation of the book of Revelations may leave Biblical scholars scratching their heads, but as a child, I only knew her words.   She warned of the moon turning red, stars falling from the sky, loud noises, and more as God destroys our evil world.   There was something in the story about good people disappearing into heaven before that, but I knew I was not good enough to be among them.

I decided to turn my mind to more productive thoughts.  Where the h*** were there those radar things?  I mean we watch planes on radar all the time.  We can see tornadoes, hurricanes, and even thunderstorms forming.   Was someone asleep at the big screen at NASA?   Don’t we have plans in place to blow up a bunch of rocks falling from the sky?  Or, I have I just watched Bruce Willis save the world in the movie Armageddon one too many times?  Luke Skywalker or Captain Kirk would be appalled to see this.

This morning I told my daughter about my middle of the night wake experience and before I could say more, she laughed and asked if I saw the meteor news.  She wanted to tell me about the “Left Behind” books and Moscow, and meteors, but I reminded her that I don’t like to talk about those things.    People who know me well know that I don’t like to hear, see, or talk about such things.  Maybe we are facing those end days talked about in Revelation; I don’t know.  I do know that today I can walk outside my house, look at the sky, and know that I have faith in a God who is in control.   I have a mortal body.  One day it will die.   I just hope it isn’t from a cataclysmic event like a meteor falling on me, however.

I have a friend who reads my blog and from time to time will tell me, “I can’t believe you shared that in your blog for everyone to read.”   There seems to be some fear that I may have a future employer reading my blog posts who will quickly file my application away and send off the polite “we will call you if we have anything” letter.  Perhaps some overly cautious suitor will check out my online profile and decide I am far too complicated to pursue. He would be right.   I am willing to take that risk and continue to share my stories.   Humor, sharing my stories, and prayer are the best weapons I have to fight those lingering fears…………. and stray meteors.

Back of A Tow Truck

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There is a curse on the women in my family. My Grandmother told me about it, so it must be true. Every month she would remind me of the dreaded curse of the 11th. “Tomorrow is the 11th. Remember, anything can happen”, she would warn. Her belief was that on the 11th of every month something “big” happens. Occasionally it might be something good, but she made sure I knew that was a rare thing. These big things could be anything from someone dying to a natural disaster. My Grandmother also had some strange ideas about the “rapture” and was sure it would take place on the 11th.

I have come to understand that Grandmother had very unique ideas. Most of them were not based in reality or fact. Her ideas about God and religion were the most bizarre. My friend came up the term, GAG. It means “Gospel According to Grandmother.” If I mention one of Grandmother’s ideas, she will smile and say GAG. Even though I know these ideas are illogical and foolish, I still have those old tapes playing in my head.

Yesterday was January 11th. It was a beautiful day. My friend and I decided to go to lunch at one of our favorite restaurants near the beach. We also decided that since we would be so close to be the beach, it would be a shame not to go for a quick walk. We were minutes away from the beach when I stopped at a red light. I noticed that my car was unusually quiet. I realized the engine had shut off. I turned the key only to hear a whining and popping noise. The car would not start.

I did the usual thing. I waited a minute and tried it again. I did that a couple of times before looking at my friend and agreeing it wasn’t going to start without help. We were in the middle of a busy road and even though my flashers were on, cars came up behind me and started blowing their horns. Even the sound of angry horns did not make my car start. Soon a couple of kind men came and pushed the car to the side street for us.

I made the appropriate calls for emergency roadside assistance. The first rescuer came with jumper cables and attempted to start the car to no avail. He determined that I needed a tow truck. That was a determination I made long before he showed up. I made another call for a tow truck. They told me it would be close to an hour so we decided to walk across the street for some food. The tow truck showed up much sooner than we expected. We asked for our food in to go boxes. We found it very difficult to eat while riding in the cab in of the big tow truck. I imagine it was much like the early settlers riding in covered wagons with the rough ride, bumps, and wind blowing everything around. The truck was not one my friends would have on the “sexy” list. You can read more about that idea here.

 

I remember looking in the mirror and seeing my beautiful little car perched on the bed of the truck much like a sick person lying on a stretcher in an ambulance. I wish we could have ridden inside her but it seems the law doesn’t believe that is safe. As I looked at her, I heard my Grandmother’s words. “It is the 11th of the month. You should have expected something like this.” My mind started to wander.

 

I wondered if this was some message from the universe that I should go out, find a full time job, and give up this silly notion of going back to college. Every time I have thought about returning to school, life has happened. Was this going to be just one more time? I told my friend what was going on in my head. She helps me stay focused on logic and reality. I remembered her sermon last Sunday about life getting in the way when you are doing what you are supposed to do. Anne Lamott says, ““When God is going to do something wonderful, He or She always starts with a hardship; when God is going to do something amazing, He or She starts with an impossibility. ” ― Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

 

My car is in the shop and I won’t know the exact extent of the repairs needed until then. The suspected diagnosis is a timing belt and water pump with the estimate somewhere around $1000. The dealership did give me a loaner car much to my delight. I looked at the car this morning and found that it is a Dodge Journey. When I saw the name Journey on the back of the car, I smiled and thanked God for reminding me that life really is just a journey. On this journey called life sometimes we walk, sometimes we run, sometimes we fall, and sometimes we ride on the back of a tow truck.

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The Year The World Came To An End

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There was no zombie apocalypse, and I didn’t see one rouge asteroid penetrate earth’s atmosphere.   December 21 passed and the world as we know it survived intact.  Last December, I remember hearing the legend of the Mayan prediction of the end.   I jokingly said that if indeed the world would end in a year, I needed to make some serious changes in my life.  Little did I know I was making a prediction that would come true.

The first change I made after the New Year was to go back to church-again.  I stopped going for several months and missed what I had found there.  Encouragement from the pastor and the warm welcome back by members made it easy to return.  After all, when confronted with an end of the world scenario, prayer and faith seem the logical solution.

A lunch meeting with Jan early in the year brought an unexpected new friendship.  Our schedules made finding a date a challenge.   We met  along with her daughter Anna and laughed our way through most of lunch.  We became fast friends.  A love of writing was one of the many things we found in common.   Jan and her family are now a second family for me and a gift from 2012 for which I am truly grateful.

My diet and exercise programs needed a serious boost.  I walked past a karate studio near my office many times and decided to finally check it out.  In February, I started training, and I am now a blue belt.   I finally hit my goal of losing 100 pounds as the year went on.  If the world was going to end, I wanted to be healthy and strong enough to fight and make a run for it if possible.  After all, every end of the world movie has people survive who can run, jump, fight, and look amazing doing it.

I love to write and wanted to find ways to improve.  I  decided to make a move from Blogger to WordPress for my blog and made it public. During the year and my blog followers and views increased dramatically.  Connections with many new writers during the year were an added benefit.  I  attended a Writer’s workshop at Montreat in the spring and renewed my commitment to writing on a regular basis.   This fall  I went to Atlanta to see my favorite author Anne Lamott.  She offers great advice and encouragement for writers.

Things at home (my marriage) had been difficult for some time, but I made the decision to stay and do what I could.  My job was stressful but I loved my work.   Friends, family,  and writing kept me going.  However, things changed quickly in the summer.   The job I loved fell apart and I made one of the most difficult decisions I have had to make in a very long time.  After much prayer, talking with my therapist and consulting close friends, I choose to leave my job without another job in site.  I know in my heart it was the right decision.   Within weeks of leaving my job, I made another difficult choice.  I left my marriage of five years.

While the world didn’t end in December, the world as I knew it ended in 2012.  2013 is a mystery.  I registered for college and will sign up for my classes on Jan. 10th.  I have no idea how that is going to work.  I am 61 and haven’t been in school for over 40 years.  I need to find a way to support myself and get health insurance without working full time and going to school.  I work only 17 hours a week and pay almost my entire income to cover COBRA for health insurance.   I fight the demons of feeling alone at times and feeling like a failure at others.  I know there are people in my world who think I have taken a walk into insanity.  There are moments when I feel very lost and unsure of what is happening.   Some days I wake up, get out of bed, put one foot in front of the other, and see where life leads me.

Yet, for the most part, I feel happy.  I have a sense that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.  I have two amazing grown children who encourage me and support me.   Jan and Anna make me laugh, let me cry, push me, and just let me be me.  I have other friends who believe in me as well.   And, in the middle of all of this, I pray and I trust God.

A blog challenge for 2013 is to find one word to focus on through the coming year and incorporate that into your writing.  I have several words that seem appropriate but the one word that keeps coming through is trust. It isn’t something that comes naturally for me.  I learned a tremendous amount about trust in 2012; some of it bad and much of it good.  I am going to embrace the challenge and put trust in my daily life- trust in God, my friends, my family and in myself.   I survived the end of the world in 2012 so welcome 2013. Let’s see what you have in store!

Happy New Year!!

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