Tuesday, September 24, 2013

On Being Spontaneous....and Refined Like Sea Glass

A few days ago, I was craving a certain restaurant chain's breakfast (you know, that one you can only find off a highway with the fried apples and hash brown casserole that I, if given the chance, will personally request as part of my last supper.) 

There are only two in my county. One west of my house and one east. The west one is much closer. I could have been there in 10 minutes, seated, and sipping my coffee before I even hit the highway that led to the other one. But I've been going through some things and I didn't want to run into anyone I knew or who knew me. So, I headed east. 

It's a good 35-minute drive. Normally, I balk at anything over 15 minutes away. I've become such a homebody over the years. But, like I said, I've been going through some things and I've come to enjoy the time alone driving around with my playlist streaming through the Bluetooth. It gives me time to reflect. Time to sing, which is like breath to me. I might dance a little in my seat from time to time. Yesterday, I laughed out loud at something a friend said on the phone and the person in the car in front of me eyed me through their rear view mirror because I was leaning forward, hunched over the steering wheel, smiling so wide and laughing so hard that tears were rolling down my cheeks. Seriously, I nearly wrecked my car. I love my friends. 

I digress.

Before I arrived at the restaurant, I felt this tug inside. It was a fleeting moment of spontaneity that I've sequestered since having babies and needing a car load of diapers and gear and supplies and half of Target for two nights away from home. But since my babies are grown now and all that ridiculous packing of items you never end up needing is behind me (thank you Jesus) something crossed my mind as I was preparing to exit the highway for the restaurant. I thought, I should just keep going and go to the beach. It came out of nowhere. Like a voice you hear outside your head. Or a backseat driver. But, I was hungry and I love food and so I decided to eat before even remotely entertaining this crazy and unusual thought.

By the time I got to fried apple heaven, it was lunchtime. On a Sunday. Just after church let out, of course. You can guess the rest. I found one of the last two available rockers and settled in for the 30-minute wait for a table of ONE. Ugh. But I've been embracing the opportunities to just sit and be more and more lately and so I was content to wait my turn, rocking back and forth in tandem with the other 8,000 rockers on the porch that smelled of Sunday perfumes and cigarette smoke. *gag* *hack* *cough*

They called my name. I ate fried apples. (Ok, I ate a lot more than that. I like food.) I sipped my coffee. I read my book. I paid the bill. I left.

Now, just so you know, the beach is three hours away (though, admittedly, I was 35 minutes into the drive already.) And I had nothing with me. No computer. No change of clothes. No clean underwear. No toothbrush. This is a big deal for a Type-A-er workaholic who plans everything out to the letter and brushes her teeth if she gets up in the middle of the night to pee. It's true.

After walking out of the restaurant with a belly full of CB goodness and a coffee to go, I sat in my car in the parking lot, contemplating. The force pulling me toward the beach tugged harder as my reasonable self and my emotional self battled for priority over one another. I knew the ocean air would be good for me. Then I considered work and my client who is expecting me to work. Then I could feel my feet in the sand at the water's edge. Then I thought about not having clean underwear. I was obviously conflicted.

I prayed for an answer. I stared at a tree for awhile. I consulted with a friend, who said I should most definitely go, but only if there was someone there I could stay with. It was true. Going alone at this time in my life would not have been wise. I'm grateful for the wisdom and insight my friends so freely give me. 

And then I remembered. I had a friend. At the beach. She had already invited me for the entire weekend but I had turned her down for prior commitments. I texted her to see if the invitation still stood and if she minded me not having a toothbrush or clean underwear. (Clearly, I have issues.) She was thrilled that I would be there in time for dinner.

Two and a half hours later, I was at the beach with just my book, my phone charger, and the clothes on my back. As my feet hit the sand, I exhaled. And I knew. I had made the right decision. I'm thankful for friends who help me make the right decisions, even when those decisions don't make sense and yet make the most perfect sense at that moment.

The next morning, I got up before dawn and raced to the beach to catch the sunrise. I hadn't seen one since my first morning in Andros, and you just can't take a spontaneous trip to the beach with just the clothes on your back and not take in the sunrise.

It was breathtaking.

I spent the next six hours on that beach. Walking. Reading. Praying. Listening. Breathing. Thankful to be there. Grateful for the people who embraced my act of spontaneity with grace and love. It was worth every mile.

One of the things I do when I walk the beach is look for sea glass. A lot of people do. It's rare to find a piece in the first place, let alone one that is smooth and pretty and perfect. But on this morning, I found one. Deep brown, somewhat soft on the face. Still rough on most of the edges, though not enough to cut. Normally, I would throw it back into the water, as it needs more time in the sand and the surf to become worthy of my collection. But I picked it up and resumed my walk at the water's edge, running my fingers on the rough edges of the glass as I went.
Not shortly thereafter I found a second piece. It was the same deep brown, quite possibly and very likely from the same bottle. It, too, needs more time in the rough water. I stood for a moment, examining them side by side as if being forced to decide which one I liked better.
Neither are very beautiful. To be honest, I prefer translucent blue or weathered green ones. But today, these two are exactly what I was meant to find and hold more significance than any other piece I have ever held in my hand.

I walk. I have just finished reading Part One of Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott and my thoughts are consumed by something Anne's pastor friend told her when she was considering an abortion. He basically says,"Get quiet for a moment...pay attention to what you hear."
I close my eyes and take a deep breath of crisp, fresh, ocean air. This has become a recurring theme for me over the past five weeks. Deep breaths. And so I listen. I pray. I ask God for his thoughts. And I hear him clearly.

This is why I came. The treasures we stumble upon and the moments God uses to reveal things to us is perfect. These two pieces of trash signified a huge leap in my journey. Progress. Forward movement. And I am at peace.
I decide to keep the second one. It looks like a shield and reminds me of the armor of God I am called to don day after day. Keeping it, with its rough edges and yet-to-be-softened color is a reminder that, like this piece of glass, I am a work in progress, and I can still be loved. I am in the throws of being refined by the wind and the tumultuous waves that still crash so forcefully against the shoreline from yesterday's storm. And God is not finished with me yet.
And with another deep breath and all the strength I can draw from within, I resolve to throw the first piece of glass back into the waves, a reminder that there is still work to be done; that it takes a number of outside forces working together to refine the rough edges that still need refining; and that, in the end, those forces will create something incredibly beautiful. 

And knowing that, for now, is enough. 

Now, If any one of you says I throw like a girl, I will hunt you down, drag you to my yoga class, and see what you think after ten minutes in Goddess pose. Go ahead. Try me.

Go be spontaneous. You never know what God will reveal amidst your leap. But try to remember clean underwear.

Monday, September 2, 2013

On Facing the Storm

When I was a kid, I grew up spending a lot of time at my grandparents' house. Behind their house was a small creek. Well, that's not true. In upstate NY we call it a "crick." I spent summer after summer admiring that "crick" from the small red wooden bridge my grandpa had built across it. And I would find a long stick and some string and my grandma would give me a safety pin and some bread, and I would spend hours trying to catch a fish the size of a large minnow. In drought, the "crick" was low and a few times I remember putting on some of my grandma's rain boots and walking around in the shallow water. And when storms would come or the snow would melt, I would watch as the water rushed below my feet, catching glimpses of it's fury between the cracks in the boards of the bridge.

My grandma and I would eat lunch on the bridge and she, no doubt, got tired of me pointing out all the fish and water skippers I would see, over and over and over again. But she never once let on if this was true because she is amazing like that. When we would finish lunch, we would take a walk in the woods just beyond the "crick" and see what treasures we could find. A leaf. A rock. A pen. Nothing impressive but, to a 6-year-old, a treasure nonetheless. And my grandma would always act as though I had found a million dollars. I adore this woman.

This is one of my favorite childhood memories.

As I write this, three boys are swishing their way through a swollen creek out back of the porch where I am trying to work. I'm housesitting for a friend for two weeks while trying to get some work and writing done. If I had the money, I would buy this house in a second just for the sunporch and view alone. The 280 degrees of windows gives way to nothing but enormous trees, endless ivy and vines, and the sounds of wildlife. It's a rare serenity you don't expect inside the city limits of Raleigh. I have one week left here and I'm mourning my friend's return already.

Just two days ago, my daughter and her friend were wading through this same creek in rain boots that probably weren't necessary but fun, nonetheless. Wading probably isn't the right term here. It was more like rock-hopping with an occasional splash. The water level was low; just a small stream of water flowing over and through the rocks that form the curves and bends of the creek. I've spent the better part of the past week enjoying the sounds of this rain forest-like haven. It's like a live version of one of those sound machines that drowns out background noise and helps you fall asleep. Admittedly, though, I have found myself often straining to hear the songs of the live water flowing in the creek below. It's been dry the past few weeks and the sound of a gently rushing water just hasn't been there.

Then, yesterday, it rained.

A series of storms with high winds rolled in that dropped rain at a reported rate of over four inches per hour. As it often does during times of heavy rainfall, the local mall parking lot flooded, leaving cars submerged and owners scrambling. I was sitting outside at a Starbucks just a mile away from the house when the rain hit, and made a break for my car with lightning bolts jetting out of the sky all around me. (Otherwise, I would have danced in the rain until I was soaked through.) I made my way to the house and headed for the sunporch that has become my sanctuary.

As I opened the main sliding door that leads to a deck and stairs down to the creek, I took note of nothing different. Rain drops were dripping off the leaves onto the deck before me, but the rain had lightened and nothing appeared out of the ordinary. No trees down. No plants overturned. Everything was perfectly intact.

As I was closing the screen to walk back inside, I heard a sound that I can only describe as liquid thunder.

And it was getting closer.

And for several moments, with this mysterious thunderous roar growing louder by the second, my mind raced to figure out what was happening...what was about to happen. I literally was scared for my life for the better part of a minute.

Then...it happened.

I could see it coming, a huge mix of brown and white churning together, seemingly fighting for who would go first as they weaved their way through the turns of the creek like a bobsled in the Olympics. I literally stood motionless, bracing myself against the deck railing as I tried to figure out if I should stay or run. The deck is a good 20 feet above the creek, and I remember my friend - the one whose house I am at - telling me that even in bad storms and hurricanes the creek had never flooded beyond the line of ivy that was visible along the banks. That gave me a brief sense of comfort and relief and so I set my fears aside and decided to stay and face what was coming my way, hoping for awe and not destruction.

It seems like such a puny comparison, and I don't mean to minimize it at all, but in that moment, I thought about all the victims of the 2005 Tsunami and how they rushed to get higher as they saw the water approaching and tried to make sense of it. And I wondered if my feelings - the feeling of being entranced by the power and awesomeness before me fighting for priority over a fear of the unknown and a desire to be safe while trying to make sense of what was happening - it was mind-boggling. And I wondered if this was exactly what the tsunami victims felt and was reminded that it was very much the reason for the demise of so many. Their decision to face the storm ultimately cost them their lives.

Before I could grab my phone to take video, the wall of water came rushing at me with all the power and force of an avalanche and was quickly right below where I was standing, gushing over the largest boulders, completely covering the creek bed and raising the water level several feet. This happened in mere seconds. And the creek I had been straining to hear for the past seven days was now very audible. You would have had to yell to talk to someone standing next to you in order for them to hear you. It sounded like Niagara Falls. And I grew up in Upstate New York. I know Niagara Falls.

And so I stood. In sheer awe of what had just occurred. Completely mesmerized by the sight and sound of the rushing water that had so unexpectedly and unapologetically descended upon the once-empty creek below me. And I thanked God that I stayed to experience it.

Today, the water level has dropped and the forcefulness and power of yesterday has subsided for the most part. There's random bits of trash strewn along the edge of the creek bed and I'm fighting the desire to go be a good steward and go clean it up. That's just me. The creek is still very audible, though, and still rushing in some places, and I am enjoying the monotone melody it offers.

And then these three young boys walk by. They can't be more than ten. They were still in their pajamas on this holiday morning. Two had rain boots, one was in bare feet. They were talking about how far they wanted to go and what they hoped to find along the way, one of them carrying a Halloween pumpkin that once held mounds of candy, I'm sure, just in case he found something worthy of taking home.

Yesterday, I finished reading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. (Check it out here). A dear friend recommended it to me and I went out and bought it that day and couldn't put it down. And I am changed forever because of it.

It's all about creating your story. And that your story is made up of hundreds, if not thousands, of little stories throughout your lifetime. And that it's not one story that will make your life meaningful, as we so often think is the case. It's all the little stories that make up the epic adventure that is your life. Your legacy. It's about embracing opportunities to write even just one sentence. Or maybe a paragraph. A page. A chapter. One word at a time. One adventure at a time.

I think having this book - these thoughts on what makes a good story - so fresh in my mind is what drew me to listen for the boys' return up the creek. I heard them coming and I raced down the steps to talk to them. It was as if I wanted to say to them "Good for you for getting in the dirty water and taking an adventure! Don't ever forget this day." As they walked past, I called out excitedly from the deck landing.

"Did you find anything exciting?"

"No ma'am," said the boy in front, carrying the halloween bucket, now with something dirty inside. He must have found something.

"Nah," said the boy in back, dragging a long piece of green plastic behind him.

Then the boy in the middle looked up with a huge smile on his face and held up a small football.

"I found this!" he exclaimed. "It was stuck under some branches but I got it out."

"That's awesome!" I hollered back. "Have fun on your adventure!"

And they went on their way, splashing through the deepest parts of the water that still remained in the curves of the creek. And I smiled knowing this is exactly the type of thing Donald Miller was talking about. And it reminds me of my childhood. And I realize I have written this same story, over 30 years ago.

Who knows how long that little boy will carry that football with him throughout his life? At some point, it will probably start to disintegrate and get tossed in the trash. But he has a story to go with his find, and that story will probably last a lifetime. He will undoubtedly go home and tell his parents and maybe his siblings and friends. And someday maybe his kids. And then his grandkids.

It amazes me how a story that might seem so insignificant now, is one that has potential to come back 30 years later and flood you with emotion and realizations and epiphanies that just make your story that much more meaningful.

The storm yesterday, these three boys today, and the memories I have as a child playing in a creek, gave life to this thought.

In life, storms come. Sometimes we might see or hear them coming. Sometimes they catch us by surprise and send us running for safety. Often times we are afraid of them. Though sometimes our knowledge or the presence of others helps us overcome our fears.

And with the storms comes muddy water and swift-moving currents and trash left on the banks of creek beds and it can leave your mind racing to figure out what just happened. But when we choose to face them head-on with the knowledge that they always pass and the sun always returns, it is easier to endure them amidst the wind and the rain and the uncertainty. And when they do finally pass and the muddy water recedes, if we look hard enough, or remember back far enough, beautiful things can be found in what's left behind.

For one little boy today, it was a football. All because he had the courage to put on his rain boots and get into the trenches and find something worthy of taking back with him.

For me, it's the realization that it's not the story ending we are living for. It's the story we create to get there. And the way in which we choose to face the storms of life head-on and make our journey - our story - more meaningful every day. And embracing the little-known fact that this can take us for the ride of a lifetime on our way to the story's end is what really matters.

Go find some rain boots, my friends.

Monday, August 5, 2013

You're going WHERE on a missions trip?

It's happening. I almost can't contain myself. In six short days, I will do something I've longed to do since one cold November night in college over 20 years ago when I handed out bagged lunches to homeless people in the poorest (read scariest) parts of New York City in the middle of the night. From that moment, when their grateful looks with humbled eyes melted my heart and awakened an awareness to a world that existed outside of my own, I've wanted to be part of something bigger. Now I have that long-awaited opportunity. It's going to be pretty amazing. I might not come back.

I've done my share of serving those less fortunate than I over the years. From raising or donating money for other people's mission work to regularly serving meals at a rescue shelter, leading our American Heritage Girls troop in collecting thousands of diapers to packing school supplies in backpacks for kids in the projects of Durham, NC, I've been blessed to have the opportunity to serve and personally get to know the meek and the poor. I cherish this part of my life, and I believe God calls us all to do these things (Matthew 25: 31-40). Probably more for our own sake than the sake of those we are serving. There's something eloquently humbling about loving on those in whatever ways they need at the moment. I think Jesus called us to do these things for our own hearts, because the meek are already going to inherit the earth anyway (Matthew 5:5).

And now, at the age of *cough* for- *choke* -ty *gag*, I will embark on an adventure I've dreamed about for the better part of the last decade. On Saturday, I will set comfort aside and head to the poor (and stifling hot) island of Andros on my very first-ever missions trip. Our mission for this trip is hosting a youth camp (along with any other ways we find we can serve while we are there.) Nathan (my 18-year-old son) and I will be leading worship and our team of 10 will be putting on a Vacation Bible School and sports camp for the week. I'm super excited to be able to share this journey with Nathan, and am excited for him to be able to experience this at a young age in hopes that it will change and mold him to become an even better servant than he already is.  

So, where is Andros, you ask? (It's okay if you have to look it up. I did. And I taught world geography to middle schoolers last year.) I'm a little afraid to tell you, actually. When most people hear "missions trip," they usually think of desolate places in third world countries far away where kids are living in squalor and are lucky to eat once in a day. And that IS where the majority of mission trips take place. But when I tell you that Andros is in the Bahamas, you're probably going to change your vision of what this trip will be like. Don't.

Before you go rolling your eyes and leaving this post in disgust, let me give you some facts about this little-known island. (The fact that you probably had never heard of it until now should tell you something.)

*5th largest island in the Caribbean (largest in the Bahamas)
* 90% of the landmass of the Bahamas but only 2% of the population (around 4,000 people)
* Main source of income: Commercial fishing and crabbing, mostly for export to markets in Nassau
* There is very little infrastructure, very few jobs, and no elderly or hospice care.
* Farmers live on less than $9,000 per year (the maximum amount the government will pay them for their crops.) Most quit farming for the year as soon as they reach this amount.
* If you aren't a fisherman, a farmer, or employed by one of two of the island's "big" companies (The Bahamian government and the Navy's AUTEC base), you likely don't have a job and thus don't have any income. This is the reality of most people living on the island of Andros.

Farmland. Not what you think of when you think "Bahamas."
There are no resorts. There are no hotels. There are no steakhouses. There are no big grocery stores. There won't be any tourists or tourist gift shops. If we want to eat "out," we'll likely have to find a family-run "restaurant" where they will probably have to go catch our dinner first before they cook it for us. We could wait up to two hours to eat supper from the time we order it. This, apparently, is life in Andros. I might not come back.

Beach in Nassau

Beach in Andros
We're staying at a "Bed & Breakfast" run by Mrs. Beneby, a native woman with a heart for helping the people of Andros. Her daughter sends food and goods from Florida about once per month for her to sell or distribute among those in need and she runs this little inn for the comfort of the few visitors that do come to the island. We will have air conditioning. I've heard we'll have to run around in the shower to get wet. (I might not be washing my hair the whole week.) I won't have phone service. We might have internet. Ms. Beneby will make us breakfast every morning and I'm sure be filled with stories and tales of island life. I cannot wait to meet this woman. I really might not come back.

I do feel a wee bit guilty heading off to such a beautiful place on my sponsors' dime (er....thousands of dimes. And, thanks to ALL of you who supported us, whether financially or in prayer!) At any given moment, there are permanent missionaries and people on short-term mission trips alike facing dangerous situations in unheard of living conditions. Their lives and their health are at risk. They likely spent many hours (if not days) on airplanes to get to where they were going and have, or will, experience a tremendous amount of jet-lag on both ends. I didn't have to get any shots, get to remain in the same time zone, will be at my destination in less than six hours, and can walk down the street at night without worry. Oh, and with this view on my way:

Yep, feeling guilty.

One of thousands of "blue holes" in Andros.
But just because the location looks like this from the air does not mean the people living there are any less in need or deserving of help or the love of Jesus. In fact, I would venture to say they are in even more of a need than places with regular mission team visits. There are currently no missionaries doing work in Andros, nor have there ever been. The island has been largely overlooked; it's existence forgotten since Jacques Cousteau first explored its "Blue Holes" in 1970.  I get to be part of an inaugural team who hopes to bring a little bit of Jesus to the people of this island. That is coolness.

Blue Holes are a vertical cave, of sorts. Largely unexplored, their depths are widely unknown.
In a place where life is slow, people are poor, and the world apart from the island likely feels like a galaxy away, it is probably not hard to feel forgotten or ignored. My hope is that I can show the people of Andros that the world and its attention are meaningless. That the One who matters most will never forget them, never forsake them, and loves them more than they know. And that, though the destination may be beautiful and enticing, it's not the reason we're there. The occasional tourist may come and go; but we hope to remain in their hearts forever.

Guilty feelings....gone.

I'll be journaling and blogging throughout the trip. You can also follow our Andros Missions Trip Facebook Page for updates and pictures throughout the week. I'll be hashtagging on Twitter under #androsvbs. We'll be gone 8/10-8/17. I'll post when I have internet....and energy. And, hopefully, I'll come back.

For more information on the non-profit I'm teaming up with for this trip, go to the 10 Eighteen Website. My friend, Jennings, heads up this organization. She's awesome in more ways than I can count. Check her out here and be inspired. And maybe buy one of her books.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

On Liars and Hypocrites, Jeff Foxworthy style.

"If you've ever made change in the offering plate, you might be a redneck." - Jeff Foxworthy
Well....have you?  It's okay to admit it. I won't judge you, nobody can hear your answer, and God already knows, so....

My last post, On Jesus and Zoloft, apparently resonated with a lot of people. I've gotten e-mails and comments and private messages from people all over the world. In the first 48 hours, it was up to almost 200 views. (Up to now, I'd be lucky to get 20 views on any single post since starting this blog last year.) As of today, the page view count is up over 350. Craziness.

I had the post drafted for over a year. For 12 months, I pondered its relevance. It's usefulness. It's necessity. I just couldn't bring myself to publish it. It was probably fear. And pride. Mostly fear.

Last week, I got the courage to finish and publish it thanks to one of my favorite bloggers, Jamie Wright, (aka Jamie the Very Worst Missionary.) She posted a nearly identically-titled post to the one I had drafted. Coincidence? I don't think so. You can find that post here. It's worth reading. And she's worth following. I promise.

Sadly, the most common theme in the comments and messages I received (and also in Jamie's comments on her post) was that the person suffering from depression and/or anxiety had been chastised by someone...in their church...for having it. Even more so if they were taking something for it.

I read comments like, "They told me I wasn't praying hard enough" and "They insisted there was some sort of sin in my life I wasn't dealing with properly" and "They told me my faith just wasn't strong enough and I needed to repent" and "Depression is just anger turned inward; Jesus is the only medicine I need."


I get migraines. With them, I usually get severe nausea. I have a prescription for both the pain and the nausea because, otherwise, I'm in the ER getting IV treatments to make them go away. If someone came up and told me I was getting migraines & puking my insides out because my faith wasn't strong enough, I'd probably clock them upside the head with my bible. Ok, I wouldn't really do that...but I'd imagine myself doing it and then I'd feel better for a while.

I absolutely love this comment on Jamie's Jesus or Zoloft post: 
"Why do we continue to treat depression as anything else but a chemical imbalance in need of treatment? No one would even consider that having diabetes is a sin."
So. True. Why are prescription medicines acceptable for migraines but not for depression? Cancer but not anxiety? High blood pressure but not panic attacks? What gives anyone the right to say that one is medically-justified and the other is not? 

I'm actually not surprised though. It doesn't surprise me one bit that people...in the church...have these opinions. Churches are full of people who have no clue about what it means to live and love like Jesus. Churches are full of hypocrites. And liars. And thieves. And adulterers. And the self-righteous and arrogant. But, quite frankly, if they weren't full of these people, churches would be empty. And that includes the stage or podium from which the ones we might hold in the highest regard stand.

But before we go chastising those people and their wretched way for criticizing us for being depressed or anxious, guess what? I'm part of that crowd, too. And I'm willing to bet, whether you're a church-goer or not, or a follower of Jesus or not, so are you. Don't believe me? Well then, let's ponder this a moment, Jeff Foxworthy style.

If you've ever argued with your spouse on the way to church, and then smiled as wide as you could smile when you stepped into the building and told everyone who asked that you were doing "great".....you might be a liar.

If you've ever found yourself imagining life with someone other than your spouse....you might be an adulterer.

If you've ever told your kids to stop yelling at you...while yelling at them...you might be a hypocrite.

If you've ever looked around your church and judged the gay couple in the back row....you might be self-righteous and arrogant.

Want to keep going? No? Me neither. But I've done all of the above and I'm heartbroken over every single one of them. But don't be too quick to judge me here. Because my guess is you've probably done them, too. (It's okay to admit it. Nobody can hear you and God already knows.)

Back to the medicine soapbox. I do believe that not everyone on medicines to treat depression or anxiety should, or needs, to be on them. Our Western-world medicine approach is so freakishly fast to offer up a pill to solve everything it jerks a knot in my stomach. Pharmaceuticals are more overused and overprescribed in the United States than in any other country in the world. And I do think Jesus is a large part of the answer for every soul battling these demons (among every other demon known to man...and God.)

The problem is we have become a society of "believers" who think it is our job to put people fighting battles different than ours, or out of our realm of understanding, in their biblical place. But guess what? It's not biblical of anyone to do that. In fact, it is quite the opposite. So who are we really serving when we condemn someone for their battles? Whose interest do we really have at heart here? And, why? 

I am so saddened by all the people who think it's their right to tell someone what's wrong with them and how they should go about fixing themselves. I'm even sadder that it's the people who are supposed to be the least judgmental and the most loving (i.e. our brothers and sisters in Christ) who do this the most. That's not love. That's not compassion (both of which we are called to exemplify in the name of Christ.) Nope. That's judgment with a capital J.  
"For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." - Matthew 7:2
The truth is, the people who are so quick to judge those of us with depression or anxiety (or any other condition they deem un-Christian) are the ones who need the most grace. People who think Christians shouldn't "struggle" with depression or anxiety or anger or homosexuality are grossly misguided and misinformed. And they only make matters worse with their "Jesus is all you need" approach. 

But instead of allowing the judgments of others to eat away at us and bring us even further down in our struggles, let us consider this:
Just because someone, Christian or otherwise, says it, DOESN'T. MAKE. IT. TRUE. It doesn't make it noble. It doesn't make it biblical. And it doesn't make it right.
We cannot control what others think of us or say to us or about us. But we can control our response to them. And we can have grace on them. And we can, amidst the hurt they may have caused or the struggle they may have unknowingly intensified, remember that, like them, we are liars and hypocrites, too. 


If you've ever loved your enemies and prayed for those who persecute you....you might be like Jesus

And that trumps anything anyone could possibly say or do to you.

Love and peace to you, my fellow depressed or anxious or angry or self-righteous or arrogant or gay or lying hypocritical followers of Christ. You are LOVED, no matter what anyone else says or thinks of you. Don't forget that.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

On Jesus and Zoloft

I'm totally depressed.

There. I said it. 

Oy. My mom is so going to call me over this one. 

I was, in total honesty, sitting in my office tonight, weeping, when I saw a post by one of my favorite bloggers come across my Twitter feed. Like...hands on my head, rocking back and forth, sobbing into my sleeve, weeping.

You can find her post here. It's worth reading. More importantly, it has given me the courage to write this post that has been drafted and on my mind for over a year. Because I know I am not alone. I have a feeling most of you are depressed, too.

“That's the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it's impossible to ever see the end.” 

― Elizabeth WurtzelProzac Nation

I was supposed to be at my monthly dinner tonight with my bible study girls, eating wings and drinking a glass of Malbec. But I was reminded of a deadline I had long missed that needed my attention, and when I became a blubbering emotional mess over it (and other things) I knew I couldn't go anywhere. I'd be crying my eyes out for sure, in the middle of the wing ding place, over my onion rings. Lovely.

Three weeks ago (and unbeknown to my doctor...and my husband) I weaned myself off of my 8+ year love/hate relationship with Zoloft. I know how to taper but I'm still feeling the effects of withdrawal. I honestly didn't think it was working anymore. Until now.

For years, I've hated myself for being on it. I hated myself for regularly forgetting to take it two days in a row and remembering only when my lips would tingle. I hated the emotional roller coaster I would find myself on when I would forget, then remember, then forget again. More than anything, I hated the sarcastic little remarks I would get from various people about me needing this little "happy pill" and what a hypocrite I had become; this so-called "Christian" who leads 2500+ people in worship on Sunday mornings.

The truth is, it didn't make me happy. I realize now it was doing something, but it didn't make me "happy." It just eased the anxiety and lessened the depression I knew was always hanging around in the background, waiting for me to forget to take my pill so it could forge its way back in. But I was never happier because of it.

I have always been a very happy and outgoing person by nature. Ask anyone. I am optimistic to a fault, and can find the positive in every situation. But now, having been off of my medicine for a few weeks, I have become quite the emotional wreck (my apologies to everyone at last Friday's 7pm showing of Les Miserables.) I'm crying at absolutely everything. Some things are justified of my tears. Some are questionable. But my life seems more of a disaster than usual (which has been mostly tolerable until now.) I find myself considering drastic measures to rid myself of how overwhelmed and depressed I have become. (Drastic as in major career moves and relationship assessments, not as in jump-off-a-bridge, suicidal drastic. You can stop worrying, mom.)

Now, I'm left to wonder if the only reason I was able to do everything I have done for the past eight years is because of the skewed reality this little pill offered. And I wonder if I should try to get that skewed reality back, or if these realizations are a blessing of some sort and I should work to set my path straight before entering that easier form of reality again. Regardless, I'm making an appointment with my doctor first thing in the morning. (You're welcome, mother.) Cuz this crying-all-the-time thing is for the birds.

As I sit here, out of Kleenex, dried tears stuck to my cheeks, I am reminded of what my doctor first told me when I was considering going on this medicine so many years ago. If I had cancer, I wouldn't refuse chemotherapy. If I had diabetes, I wouldn't refuse insulin. God wouldn't want me to forego any treatment that could make me better, and that includes treatment to be a better version of this daughter he created. 

Thanks for the post, Jamie Wright. For the reminder that being Christian doesn't mean we have it altogether, on the inside or the out, and that's okay. And for helping me remember that God does not want me to feel guilty over the person he created. He loves me. Zoloft and all. Just as I am. And that is all that matters.

On Roads Not Taken.


Some embrace it like an old friend. Some fear it like a terminal disease. Regardless of who you are or what your stance, one thing is for sure. Change is inevitable. 

When I was a kid, I used to rearrange my room often. Being the night owl that I am, this usually occurred well into the evening. One minute, I'd be sitting on my bed listening to Heart, and the next minute I'm sliding my bed across the room. The first few times, my mom came into my room, a concerned look on her face, and she would ask me why in the world I was doing this at this hour. I had no explanation other than I just felt like a change or I couldn't sleep or why not now? After a while, she knew better than to ask anymore; I'm sure she just rolled her eyes at the familiar sounds of change coming from my room above. I loved changing my room. This change, I welcomed. This change was always good. This change...I could control.

Unexpected change, on the other hand, is not something I - and probably you - generally readily embrace. Just when we think we're on the right path, going in just the right direction, the winds change and we're forced to choose something different. A new road. An uncharted course.

New paths are scary; treacherous. We take inventory of their cost and we search for their meaning. The direction is unknown; the terrain questionable; what lies along the way, and at the end, a mystery. And mysterious unknowns are extremely intimidating. They make us exponentially vulnerable; they open us up to new opportunities for failure or a regression of progress we once fought so hard to make. They put us at risk of losing things that are important to us. Like People. And Pride.

But like a once well-worn path no longer trod, roads not taken will, eventually, become overgrown. So overgrown, in fact, that when we find ourselves upon them once again they may seem completely impassable; impossible to venture down. And it is likely we will inevitably regret not taking them the first, or second, or third, time around, when it might have been easier. 

Roads, however, that continually come into view over the course of our lives; roads that we once passed by without attention or much notice; roads we may have seen but not have been ready or mature enough or wise enough to know how to investigate each time they came into view; those roads are still worth being explored. We might need a machete by the time we decide to take it, but at least the road is still there. Waiting. Calling.

We cannot experience the beauty of a new road if we are resistant to change. And we may, one day, be filled with regret over our resistances and weep over roads not taken. 

Embrace the changes that come, whether welcome or unexpected. They define you. They refine you. They create your story. And take the road that's calling you. Take it before it's too late.

"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you've imagined." 
- Henry David Thoreau

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

On Finding My Christmas Spirit...O Christmas Tree

I wrote this post several years ago but have only ever shared it privately with family and friends. However, I read it every year as I settle back into the annual struggle of holiday busy-ness, Christmas delivery deadlines, and the temptation of (and subsequent fall into) the materialism we 1st world peeps have come to know so well. I read it as a reminder that I can lift myself out of the commercialism that tends to suck the true meaning of Christmas right out of me, and I think the message is important enough to now share with you. May you find peace and rest amidst the societal to-do lists that plague us all during this...joyful?...season and most...wonderful?...time of the year.


Over the past several years, I've gotten real big on the "why's" behind things. I guess it's a desire to be sure I'm not falling into carrying on some man-invented tradition that "conveniently" coincides with bringing God some (relatively small amount of) glory.

I was really (and I mean, REALLY) unmotivated this year to put up the tree (or any Christmas decorations for that matter). I've had a very hard time, overall, getting into the Christmas spirit, which is completely and totally out of character for me. Perhaps it's because I've felt so incredibly awful the past six months (tired, achy, icky, blech.) Or perhaps the older I get, the quicker Christmas seems to sneak up on me, and it just doesn't seem "time." I mean, really, weren't we just hitting the pool in 90 degree heat for swim meets? When the heck did it get to be December?!?

So last night, about a week and a half later than usual, we finally got our tree. After an impromptu trip (unfortunately, a necessary one, we realized, when we got the lights out of the attic) to Target to get two of their last three boxes of tree lights, we managed to get the tree lit. No energy for ornaments by that time, but at least the lights were on.

Today was no exception in the fight to attain some resemblance of Christmas spirit, but after much prodding and tugging (quite literally) from the kids, I finally got up enough energy and desire to put ornaments on the tree. I'd like to say it was because the spirit to decorate finally hit me, but in reality, it was a Type-A desire to fix all the "clumps" of ornaments the kids had already managed to create. Because, let's face it, if I don't the tree just might fall over from its unbalanced-ness. That was my excuse...I mean reasoning...I mean story, anyway. 

As I dug into the ornament chaos my kids had called "decorating", I couldn't help but huff and puff in my frustrated and grumpy state of mind.  And as I found a Christmas station on Pandora and was singing (loudly) along with it, trying to force myself into feeling all Christmas-ey, I was consumed with three thoughts:

1.) Who decided we should bring a TREE into our homes to decorate this time of year. I mean, really, there's a TREE in my living room.

2.) Why do we put lights on it in the first place? I know, it was originally candles (to mimic the flickering stars in the sky, I now know), but that would be absolutely foolish in this day and age (and probably was back then, too.) But who thought getting your hands all scratched up forcing strands of lights onto tree branches was a good idea? And why so many choices? White, colored, large, mini, all blue, blue and white, blinking, bubbling-the options are ridiculously endless. 

3.) And finally, ornaments. How did we go from nuts and figs and paper flowers to Santa Claus heads and nativity scenes and "New Home 1997"?? Why do some people go the all-ball route and others of us are set on hanging every single ornament we've ever made since we were three?

I couldn't help but marvel at how this tradition has exploded into a ridiculous amount of time and work for just a few weeks of enjoyment. As I started unfolding the tissues and opening ornament boxes, though, the Christmas spirit began to envelop me, little by little, with every ornament I unveiled. As I started to put each ornament on the tree, those three thoughts bouncing around in my head, I came to two very monumental realizations.

First, (and it seems quite obvious now) there's no real right or wrong color choice for lights or ornamental theme. Every tree is an individual reflection of those who are decorating it. For some, it's a beautifully symmetrical tree where all lights and ornaments are of the same color, shape, size-like one you might find in the Biltmore or the Capitol Building or a Macy's picture window in New York City. 

For others (and this includes us), your tree tells a story. For me, there are ornaments from just about every monumental occasion in my life, my husband's life, and my childrens' lives. There are ornaments that my kids made in kindergarten and preschool and there are ornaments that I made in kindergarten and preschool (some of which I remember making.) There are ornaments from marriage, births, moves, achievements, hometowns, vacations, hobbies (lots of musical notes and song quotes on ours), jobs (lots of airplanes and gifts from old bosses), ornaments that were my mom's and used to grace the trees of my childhood and ornaments that used to hang on my husband's grandmother's tree. Every year, our tree is a living chronicle of over 100 collective years of memories. From the moment we unwrap an ornament and place it on the tree to the moment we take it down and carefully wrap it back up again, we are continuously reliving some of the sweetest moments in our lives. 

Perhaps one of my favorite ornaments is a small, ragged stocking. On the white cuff, torn bits of paper from what used to be a question mark that had been glued on. Sticking out of the stocking is a paper note from my mama, explaining how she made the stocking when she was young and pregnant with me. 

Which leads me to my second realization. Probably more important than what you put on your tree is the actual act of decorating it in the first place. What good are all those ornaments if you don't experience the sweetness of the fond memories that accompany them? And what good is it if you don't relive those sweet moments in life with the ones you love? With each ornament we revealed tonight, someone would say "Oh, I remember making this one with Shelby," or "I remember when Nathan made this in Mrs. Monza's kindergarten class," or "This one was made just for me by my Aunt Annie in 1982." 

With each ornament, I realized that I almost missed the opportunity to pass onto my kids the most important history lesson they will ever learn. Their own. And that of their parents. And their grandparents. And their great-grandparents. There is a legacy on that tree that is like no other.

So while the origin of the Christmas tree may have started out secular, I believe it has become one of the most important and imperative traditions in keeping with the spirit of Christmas. Because of Jesus' birth, we have the opportunity and freedom to worship him in so many ways this time of year. Because of those who came before us; who shared with us their stories; who risked their lives to tell the world about Christ; and those who came before them or would come after them, we have the opportunity and freedom to relive that history each and every year. 

One of the many ways we can bring glory to God is by spending time with the ones God has put into your life, continuing with the tradition of passing your history and the history of Jesus from generation to generation, and allowing his spirit to enter into your heart even when you don't seem to have the energy to receive it. 

How great it is that we have the opportunity and freedom to be able to keep our history and that of our savior alive. We are, in a sense, creating our own legacy with each and every light we burn, song we sing, ornament we hang, and moment we share.

May you experience the spirit of Christmas that God has intended all along.