How Far I’ve Come

When we’re trying to implement changes in our lives whether they be physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual, we sometimes have a hard time knowing if what we’re doing is actually making a difference. Or at least, I do. The old adage of one step forward and two steps back has been a big part of my journey this year. But yesterday, a status came up on my Facebook memories that caused me to take stock of the journey I’ve taken over the past year. What was it? Well, a year ago yesterday, I had boarded my first international flight in twenty-six years to go to Honduras. Here is what I looked like on our first day of work which was a year ago today.  I had such a blast playing with those children. We had other good experiences too like helping to build latrines, holding Vacation Bible Schools, and getting to know the people at the churches my church in the US sponsors.   I came home from that trip changed, but I didn’t know how far-reaching the changes would turn out to be.

I knew I was in bad physical shape as the summer drifted to a close in August. I was going to have opportunities I hadn’t had in a while though since I was done homeschooling. My son was going to be taking classes at our local community college. I wanted to have a new focus on my life which would include writing, and, I decided, physical fitness. I wasn’t concerned about the number of my weight. I just wanted to feel better. So, I started. I would use the elliptical in my complex three days a week and walk the other two days. At first, I could only do 15-20 minutes before I had to quit because of being out-of-breath. But, I persisted. September passed. So did October and November. Then, I noticed I was feeling better physically. My clothes were looser too. It was a good feeling.

We had gotten to the months though where my depression usually kicked me in the teeth. December and January. I was going through the stages of having an empty nest and everything that went with it. I felt as grey as the clouds in this picture. I’m smiling in the picture, but there were many times that I cried. I felt like my efforts weren’t getting me anywhere and asked myself how anyone else could possibly want me around when I wasn’t even sure I liked myself. But, I persisted. I wrote every day even if it was just three pages in my journal. I worked out on the elliptical three days a week and walked the other days. My whole outlook swung from feeling really good to really sad. That’s what depression does.

The months flowed forward, and spring came to my part of the world. I noticed I could walk wherever I wanted in our complex, and I wouldn’t get tired. I was able to buy clothes in a smaller size, and my face looked thinner. I did my first 5K in March. I was really proud of that one. I also went to my first writers’ conference and met some neat people. I felt like I was making progress though I hadn’t sold any of my writing yet.

There are some anniversaries in the spring though that bring sadness to my household. It’s hard to remain positive when other people are sad which meant I continued to flip-flop. There would be days I would feel great, and there would be other days where I wondered how I could possibly be good company for anyone else since I felt so rotten about myself. That’s what having mental health issues does for you. But, I persisted. I kept working out. I kept writing. And I kept talking to someone when I needed to.

The beginning of May came, and my oldest graduated from college. The bad holidays came and went, and we settled into summer. I started hearing rumors about this year’s Honduras team, and I was sad and jealous. I knew there wouldn’t be an opportunity to go this year because of some financial constraints from the spring. I was also still trying to figure out where I fit in as I negotiated this new life of mine.

But then, yesterday rolled around, and I saw the status. I looked at my picture from last year, and one that was taken last week. I have come a long way. My friend told me I should plan to go next year, and I’ve set that as a goal for myself. God has a place for me in this life, and though I might not know all of it yet, I know He’ll be with me through it all!

God bless you!

Thoughts and Meanderings

I have a number of titles for this post swirling around in my head, but since I can’t zero in on one, I thought I’d start writing and see where the words took me. It’s Monday, the day after what we consider to be the Christian Sabbath, and I find myself still processing what was said yesterday and regaining the energy I expended from being around so many people. It’s almost like the Sabbath is happening for me today instead of yesterday. At least, that’s when calmness and quiet invade my soul, and I feel like I’m truly able to rest which is what the word sabbath actually means.

Why is that though? Why do I feel like I truly don’t rest on Sundays when that is the day we’re supposed to rest? By the way, before I start, let me say I’m in utter admiration of all the people who work in our churches on Sundays. Those who preach sermons, those who take care of our children, even all who volunteer to make our times of worshipping our Lord and Savior the best they can be. I hope and pray that these people find times of rest and relaxation through what they do on Sundays or at other times during the week.

But this post is about why I, at times, feel like the Sabbath Day is not a day of rest for me. First, it’s the whole matter of getting up, going to church, and seeing other people. It takes a lot of energy for me to “perform” and “pretend”. We’re not ourselves when we’re at church much as we might want to be. Think about it and be honest. Do you tuck away your burdens and your heartaches when you go to church? Most of us do because of fears of judgment and rejection. Even when there is a time for taking prayer requests, people will usually only mention people who are sick or in the hospital about to have surgery. It can be exhausting to navigate through all of it.

So, that’s one reason I feel like Sunday is not a day of Sabbath rest for me. Another is the length of time it takes for me to process what was said–during Sunday School and during worship time. Every speaker usually has something worthwhile to say, but I need to listen carefully and internalize it before it becomes a part of me which can take awhile. Even, this afternoon, more than twenty-four hours later, I’m still processing what Jesus said in Luke 11:13 about how our Father wants to give us even more than we give our own children–an apt illustration of how God is our Father.

Finally, Sunday has the potential of not being a true Sabbath for me because of my confusion over my faith and the conversations I have with Jesus in my head and what “living in community” really means. It’s a challenge. Everyone is more comfortable in their own friend group and is not willing to reach out to the people who are different. I try, and then I watch, and it seems like nothing has changed. The church looks just like the world, and it’s discouraging. And, when I’m discouraged, I get tired. It’s a vicious cycle.

I don’t have any solutions to this yet. I’m sure I’ll be working through it until the day I die. But, I do feel more rested today, and I have more of an understanding. Maybe I can use the Sabbath rest I get today to try again next Sunday. Thanks for listening to my thoughts and meanderings. Feel free to share yours in the comments.

God bless you all!

 

 

Holding Space for Grief

I’ve been reading the book Inspired by Rachel Held Evans, and it has validated a lot of my own ideas about my faith and how I view Jesus, the one I call my Lord and Savior. I was inspired to start it (pun not intended) when I heard of her unexpected death last month at the age of 37. I haven’t finished it yet, but I wanted to speak to one of the topics today as I have a lot of experience with it.

So, holding space for grief. Over the past few years, I’ve learned about lament and about how many of the Psalms in Scripture are psalms of lament. In them, God is cursed, wrestled with, complained to, and doubted. It was almost a relief for me to see the words in black and white and see that they matched the thoughts that were in my head. Evans provided a few examples I want to mention.

From Psalm 139:19-22:

“If only you, God, would slay the wicked! Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty! They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name. Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.”

Or from Psalm 109:9-12:

“May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes. May a creditor seize all he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor. May no one extend kindness to him or take pity on his fatherless children.”

Not quite the words people usually share from Scripture. Right?

But, I find I must quote them if only to bring to light a major problem in the American church and some hypocrisy in my own life. There is a lack of lament in the American church. There is no “holding space” for those in grief. The nearest we come to it is individual counseling with church staff members or with trusted friends. We all suffer from the heaviest of burdens, but we refuse to lament with each other. We just pretend that everything is okay. Evans had this to say which says it better than I could. “That American tendency toward triumphalism, of optimism rooted in success, money, and privilege, will infect and sap of substance any faith community that has lost its capacity for “holding space” for those in grief.” (pg. 110, Inspired, Rachel Held Evans) No one is willing to sit with people in their pain without judging or offering solutions. They don’t want to share their pain either because they are afraid of being judged. This is a conundrum I’m not sure how to navigate, but I see it as a problem we, in the church, need to talk about. The comment I quoted also reflects how we choose our leaders. Because there is a veneer over their appearance in which none of their burdens are seen, we choose them thinking they are effective leaders. But then, we don’t allow them to lament or lament to them, and the cycle starts all over again

These words have resulted in another conundrum in my own life, one which I’m not proud of. There are many times I don’t feel seen in my faith community or in my life. There was even one time I was told to “go away” by someone in my faith community. As you can imagine, that comment made me feel like garbage. But, it brought me to a conclusion. I want to be important, to be an influence too. I want to be noticed and to have friends. Isn’t that what being a faith community is all about? Isn’t that the definition of community? I believe we should recognize ALL of those in our faith communities whether they are leaders or not.  But, it also made me ashamed. It made me think my wanting to be an influence was not coming from the purest of motives, that I was letting Satan influence me.

But, Jesus clarified my thoughts and reminded me of something. There’s nothing wrong in wanting to be an influence for Him. He reminded me I probably wouldn’t have done the reading I’ve done if I’d been more of a “person of influence” or “leader” in my faith community. My heart wouldn’t have been open to the changes it has undergone, and I wouldn’t have been willing to explore the concept of lament or to challenge the status quo either. He wanted me to be open to His voice.

Let me leave you with another quote by Evans to consider. “Life is full of the sort of joys and sorrows that don’t resolve neatly in a major key. God knows that. The Bible knows that. Why don’t we?” (pg. 111, Inspired, Rachel Held Evans)

God bless you all today!