Slippery Devil

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Patience you are a slippery devil.  At times I have a firm grasp on you.  But sometimes when you starts to wiggle and squirm, I lose my grip and you slip right through my fingers.

This holiday season has been strange.  I worked myself into a lather about a routine mammogram which triggered my anxiety.  My eldest daughter is wrestling with her anxiety as she transitions from school to vacation mode.  A good friend finds holiday gatherings very difficult and negotiates them as best she can.  My Facebook feed confirms that this time of year is damn hard for a lot of people for a whole bunch of different reasons.

I know this.  You know this.  Even Facebook knows this.  And yet we lose patience with ourselves and each other.  Patience slips right through our fingers and transforms into unsolicited advice, hurtful comments, neglect and isolation.

I don’t need your judgement.  I’m already doing a brilliant job of beating myself up.  For example, some of the questions that ran through my head last week included:

“Why can’t I get a grip?”
“What is wrong with me?”
“None of these thoughts are logical.”
“I just need to stop thinking these negative thoughts.”

And yet the thoughts just kept on coming at a relentless pace until I lost patience with myself and booked an appointment with my doctor to review my test results and talk about some coping strategies.

Three days after Christmas as my daughter’s gifts lay unwrapped but not played with or read under the tree, I don’t need you to ask:

“Doesn’t she appreciate her gifts?”
“Why is she so stubborn and rude?”
“What’s wrong exactly?”

Nothing is wrong.  But yes, something is different.  I don’t know why transitions are so hard for my eldest.  What I do know is that she will get there.  She will open her microscope and examine all the slides.  She will read each graphic novel cover to cover several times.  She just needs to process everything at her own pace.  And I need to walk patiently beside her as she does this.  How amazing it would be if others could come alongside her as well.

Same for me.  I’d love some company on this journey.  I can’t explain why I got so worried about a routine medical test.  If there was an off switch to my anxiety I would have pulled it but that’s not how it works.  It’s a big ugly monster that grows bigger with each new thought.  And FYI, attempting to explain my anxiety makes me more anxious because I already know how nuts I sound.  

So instead of trying to solve my problems, my daughter’s or that random person on Facebook, why not ask, “How can I support you right now?”  NOT “What can I do for you?” There is nothing you can do.  But you can be.  Be with us.

After asking, “How can I support you right now?” pour yourself a tall, cool glass of patience.  And hang on tight – don’t let that slippery devil slide from your grasp.  It’s so difficult to watch someone struggle with mental illness but just imagine walking in their shoes. 

 

 

About My Breasts

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I’ve written about struggling with depression and embracing menopause so it only makes sense that I now rant about my breasts.  I was going to say boobs instead of breasts but I didn’t want to offend so I’m sticking with breasts.  

I am angry with my breasts.  Or maybe my age.  Or maybe my anxiety.  Quite possibly all three but probably just the latter.  

I have spent the last week getting all worked up about a routine mammogram.  Given that I’m adopted and have no family history, I have been getting my breasts flattened and compressed by a giant machine for the past ten years.  And every single time I get irrationally, inconsolably panicked that they will find a lump, it will be cancer and I will die.  

And I’m angry.  Not because I might die.  We all might die a thousand different deaths everyday.  No, I’m angry because there are people dealing with diagnosed illnesses who are coping better than me.  I’m angry because I get consumed with fear and anxiety every time I have some kind of medical test.  It happens every year with my PAP test (sorry male readers just Google what you need to), mammograms and it will likely happen with my impending colonoscopy.

Really, I just want to get a grip.  I want to look at all these invasive, icky tests as proactive, preventative check ups and not imagine the very worst EVERY SINGLE TIME.  And I know I’m not alone.  Most of the women I freak-out texted today could totally sympathize with my paranoid, over the top thoughts.  Maybe some kind of PAP-mammogram-colonoscopy-freak-out-while- you-await-results support group is necessary.  You know “PMCFOWYAR” for short.  

This feels like one of those things we as women all experience but rarely say out loud.  And we always feel less alone when we say things out loud.  Granted this is coming from an over-sharer but there is strength in numbers and strength from being known – fears and all.  “PMCFOWYAR” here we come!

The other kicker for me is that I dig Jesus so I should trust that God has got this –  boobs and all!  Breasts!  Sorry, I meant breasts.  The fact that I cannot hand over this fear and anxiety to God makes me more angry and frustrated with myself.  Combine this with lack of sleep + illogical thoughts = total mess.

So I have decided to externally process all this here.  And I’m chatting with God about all sorts of things including my breasts.  I confess my brokenness.  And my inability to go it alone.  I need God.  I need girlfriends to vent to and pray with.  I need to acknowledge the worst but dwell in the best.  I need to breathe.  I need a glass of wine.

Today a good friend suggested that as I wait for my mammogram results that I focus on the the awaited and anticipated birth of Jesus.   I’m still wrapping my head around this idea.  It seems weird associating my anxiety with the birth of our Saviour but I’ll give it a shot after all she’s a pastor’s wife so I figure she knows a thing or two.  

So I wait.  And I will try to wait well.  

 

Dear Diary

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I was going to read this diary entry at a local event but sadly that event was cancelled so I’m going to share it here because THE DRAMA!  Names and dates have been changed cause it’s my blog and I can do what I want.  Oh, except the name of my car.

March 19/99

Fred and I broke up in November.  I’m happy to say that I don’t remember the exact date he told me, “It just isn’t working anymore.”  At least that’s something.  I won’t know the exact date to throw myself a pity party next year to celebrate getting dumped.  I’m not sure why I’m writing in this journal again.  

March 20/99

Two thoughts today.

  1. I love my car.  I can trust and rely on my car.  Freezing cold, sleet, snow – no matter what the conditions, my car is faithful and reliable.  Therefore, my car is female.  I’ve named my car Myrtle.  I cry in Myrtle a lot.  She doesn’t mind.  She keeps all my secrets.
  2. I drive a lot now that I am single.  To work, the movies, the gym, the store, to friends – like everywhere.  I miss a having a boy to drive me sometimes.  I’m not sure if I miss my stupid, lying, cheating boy or just a boy.

March 21/99

I should write a novel.  I never thought I had enough life experience before now.  But surely with my first failed long term relationship under my belt I could write a bestseller.  Or an angry one woman play.  Or maybe I’ll just write down every ridiculous thought I have in this stupid journal in an effort to hang on to my last threads of sanity.

March 22/99

Are we there yet?

March 23/99

I’m thinking too much.  Replaying our entire relationship over and over in my head.  I look much thinner and prettier in the replay.  But Fred is bald and has a nasty eye twitch.  I hope he goes bald – like really bald.  Maybe in some freak chemical accident or something.  He deserves bald.

I should get my hair cut.  That might be nice.  Imagine if everyone in the world was bald.

March 24/99

It’s Friday night and I’m in bed at 10:45pm.  I hate this stupid journal.

March 28/99

I had a terrible day at work.  Charlotte gave me a hug but it was one of those bend at the waist hugs where there is barely any body contact.  Fred was good hugger.  Right height.  Right squishiness.  I miss him.  Ugh.  For how long will I miss him?

April 2/99

Here it is: I don’t trust people anymore.  Fred slept with someone else.  He broke the trust that existed between us.  He could have broken a lot of things and I would have been fine.  But not trust.  Why can’t people just break up with each other before someone cheats.  Why?  I hope he gets some kind of sexually transmitted disease that causes his penis to fall off.   

April 6/99

I’m feeling strong today.

April 8/99

Worse day ever.

April 14/99

A friend told me that the grocery store is a great place to meet men.  Ridiculous.  The grocery store is a great place to meet Haagen Daaz ice cream and sour cream and onion chips.  

April 15/99

It’s Saturday night and I’m in bed at 11:30pm.  If I were the other half of a couple and had spent the night drinking wine, eating pizza and watching a chick flick this would have been an adorable date night.  But as a single person this seems really lame.  

April 16/95

It is odd to become strangers with someone you love deeply.

April 20/99

I miss Fred.  I hate this.  I hate that I still feel sad and cry over this man.  This man who has not yet lost all his hair in a chemical accident.  Dammit.

April 28/99

Maybe Fred and I will get back together.  Because let’s face it, I’m all that and a bag of chips.  Seriously, who wouldn’t want me?  Or is this just something pathetic, broken hearted girls tell themselves after a bottle of wine and a box of Joe Louis.

November 9/16

Fred and I are happily married…to other people and are the best of Facebook friends.

Lessons in Compassion

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Near the end of last night’s Yatzee free-for-all, my ten-year-old started to cry when she realized she was going down in blaze of glory.  As she dried her tears, my eight-year-old gave her big sister a sideways glance and quietly picked up her dice.  She then proceed to throw the game (allowing the eldest to win) by super slowly rolling her dice and paying no attention to the result.  

I watched in awe as this unfolded.  And it got me thinking about compassion.  My youngest wears her heart on her sleeve.  She sees someone suffering and acts immediately.  This is often noticed and applauded.  My eldest quietly observes and thinks.  She sees suffering and absorbs it.  This is often dismissed as uncaring and callous.

Is one kind of compassion better than another?  

One daughter learns that a friend was bullied at school and seeks them out on the playground to comfort them.  She then gives this friend daily hugs for the next week.  The other daughter learns about this same friend being bullied and wants to understand why anti-bully days and classroom discussions have not prevented bullying at their school.  She then discreetly watches the bullied friend throughout the week to make sure that she is OK.

Is one kind of compassion better than another?

We visit the SPCA. One child wants to adopt all the animals. The other child questions why there are so many animals at the shelter.  We sponsor a child in Zimbabwe.  One child want to send cards and gifts.  The other child asks why children in other countries need sponsors and why some people are poor and others have so much.

Is one kind of compassion better than another?

I’m much like my youngest daughter.  I see someone hurting and I want to help.  Sometimes this help comes in the form of a hug.  Sometimes it’s a long chat over a cup of tea.  Sometimes it’s the delivery of a homemade baked treat.  My compassion is swift and immediately tangible.  

My eldest daughter also feels deeply but her response is more subtle and abstract.  Her compassion leads to questioning, investigating and challenging the way in which things are done to see if there is a better way.  Her ten-year-old self hasn’t yet made the leap to acting on all this yet but I sense it is not far off.

My sweet, I’m sorry for not recognizing and celebrating your compassion just because it looks different than mine.  I will do better.  I will champion you as you champion others. Take on the world my quiet, thoughtful child and make it a better place.

Is one kind of compassion better than another?  I think not.  Everyday I watch two very different young girls demonstrate compassion in their own unique ways.  We need those who are willing to wrap their arms around those who are hurt by injustice.  And we need those who are willing to take on the systems that create injustice.  You go girls.

 

An Empathy Yarn

 

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You pull your empathy from the drawer,
And tug it over your head like an ill fitting sweater.
A sweater you knit for just such an occasion.
But the wool is itchy and distressing.
You move perversely.

I loathe your sweater.
And in turn I loathe you.
You make a mockery of my heart.
I ask for clemency.
You are impervious to my demands.

One day I will boil your sweater in scalding water.
And when you next pull it from the drawer,
It will strangle your vain attempts at compassion.
You cannot become something you are not.
A fool at play and nothing more.

But this is not a game.
Empathy is not a sweater to wear at your whim.
No!  Empathy is the yarn itself.
Yarn wound so tightly around the heart,
It constricts with each new affliction.

The yarn entwines itself through the body.
Strangling all logical thought from the brain.
Rupturing the circulatory system,
Spewing emotion from every artery.
An erratic puppet on a string.

Empathy is woven into the very fibre of my being.
It pulls tighter and tighter until I can no longer bear it.
And now as I unravel you with my words,
The yarn grips my lungs.
With every breath I struggle to accept your deficiency.

The Cost of Discipleship

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Luke 14:25-34 The Message

25-27 One day when large groups of people were walking along with him, Jesus turned and told them, “Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple.

28-30 “Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you’re going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: ‘He started something he couldn’t finish.’

31-32 “Or can you imagine a king going into battle against another king without first deciding whether it is possible with his ten thousand troops to face the twenty thousand troops of the other? And if he decides he can’t, won’t he send an emissary and work out a truce?

33 “Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple.

34 “Salt is excellent. But if the salt goes flat, it’s useless, good for nothing.

“Are you listening to this? Really listening?”

The NIV translation of this parable begins,  “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.”  

And this is the reason I chose this parable.  I could not accept the idea that God – who is essentially love – was telling me I had to hate my father, mother, husband, children, etc. in order to follow him.  Chances were good I was misinterpreting yet another bible passage so my research began.

The Cost of Discipleship is neatly tucked between The Parable of the Great Banquet and the Prodigal Son.  And there are actually three mini parables within The Cost of Discipleship.  Jesus tells the parables about the building of a house and a King going to war.  It wouldn’t be smart to begin to build a house without figuring out if you had enough money to finish it.  And it’s not the brightest King who engages in a battle without first determining if he has the resources to win.  Nor is it the best idea to become a disciple without first knowing how it will impact your life.

In “Stories with Intent” Klyne R. Snodgrass states, “Discipleship changes allegiances with family, requires the willingness to die, shifts the focus off self-centeredness, places one at the disposal of another, and changes the way one handles financial resources.”

I was unknowingly discipled for two years by my friends Dan and Kathy before they asked if I was ready to be baptized.  And I answered them with a resounding “NO!”  I knew this required a really big “yes” and I just wasn’t there yet.  Mostly because I knew this “yes” would continue to change and shape my life in ways I couldn’t even imagine so I wanted to be sure I knew as I could before taking the plunge.  I became the homeowner deciding if I could build and the King determining if I should enter the battle.

I experienced much of what Snodgrass references.  The biggest challenges for me were being less self-centered and putting others’ needs first.  Not that I was incredibly selfish and ignored those around me prior to knowing Jesus.  But what would it look like to be intentionally less selfish and more giving of myself?  What demands would this put on my time and my wants?  This was not as difficult as I imagined.  My eyes were opened to a new way of viewing the world.  I saw more, felt more and cared more.  My world became smaller.  People became bigger.  Their needs, wants, hurts and joys came into focus.  A moment, a conversation, a confidence to keep, a hand to hold, a sorrow to shelter or a laugh to share.  For me this is being a disciple of Jesus.  

There are days when this is challenging.  Days when I don’t want to listen or hold someone.  Days when I need to be heard and held.  And this is the rhythm of life and being human.  The times when I am heard and held recharge me to then do the same for others.  Geez, it’s like we are all one body – connected – one part in need of the other – rather useless all on it’s own.  

Oh.  And then there is the “way one handles financial resources.”  I suck at money.  And quite frankly, I would happily give Jesus my debit card right now and turn the whole sorted mess over to him if I could.  If it’s God’s money he should really take over because I’m doing a lousy job.  But I continually trying to be a better steward of my money.  And while this is icky and uncomfortable I want to do it.  Not so much out of need for obedience but out of desire to fully surrender myself.  What would that look like?  What would that feel like?  What would that do?

The Cost of Discipleship closes with the parable of Salt, “Salt is wonderful; but if salt has become insipid, how can you make it salty again?”  

I had no clue what Jesus was talking about here.  Once again Mr. Capon to the rescue.  “Salt is not worth buying for it’s own sake, but dirt cheap considering the way it perks everything up.  Much the same can be said about salvation.”

I don’t follow Jesus because it’s my ticket to heaven.  I don’t follow Jesus because I fear hell.  I don’t follow Jesus for a thousand other wrong reasons.  I follow Jesus because my life is tastier with his salt.  

I started going to church and asking questions about God because I was terrified of dying.  And life felt empty in a way that was hard to describe.  I’m not like my husband, Chris, who can hardly wait to kick the bucket and hang out with God.  But over the last few years my fear of death has evaporated.  As has the emptiness I felt.  Much as salt enhances the flavour of food, becoming a disciple has enriched the here and now.  The future will hold what it will hold and I am all good with that because what matters is how I live right now.  How I follow after Jesus.

As Snodgrass states, “Discipleship is not about humans straining on their own; it is the necessary result; and consequence of faith in and following after Jesus.  Relation to Christ activates and empowers the whole of life, but if humans do not choose to act and actually act, nothing happens.”

So now back to the hate.  Use of the word “hate” is strong in almost any context.  And this was no different in Jesus’ time.  Jesus needed to use strong language because at that time, family was the most influential voice in an individual’s life. Jewish families lived by strict moral, social and religious rules.  Husbands were the legal and spiritual head of the home.  And children were taught at a very young age to honour their parents.  So for Jesus to tell his parents he believed something different from them and had decided to follow a totally new path was a really big deal.  And then for Jesus to encourage others to allow God – not their families – to be the influence in their lives was blasphemy.  

In Mark 3, after appointing the twelve disciples, Jesus enters a house and is accused by his family of “being out of his mind.”  And by the teachers as “being possessed by Beelzebul!”

Jesus needs to counter this with equally strong language “…hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—.”  Had he said, “Come guys, we should totally hang out.  And you should listen to my rad ideas instead of your family.  For real man, it’s gonna be sweet!”  This would not have grabbed their attention or ear like the use of the word hate.  It wouldn’t have grabbed me either.  Or maybe it would have if Jesus spoke like a surfer dude.

So Jesus is not asking me to hate my family.  But He is telling me that He should be the one shaping my life.  Not my family.  Today this family metaphor applies but in a different way.  Families are obsessed with themselves – school, sports and extracurricular activities – these influence and dictate family life.  And there are tons of other influences too.  Jesus saying something like this would likely have more impact in our time, “If anyone comes to me and doesn’t hate their iPhone, Netflix, tattoos, beards, craft beer, bacon and squad goals – such a person cannot be my disciple.”

My friend Dan suggested I “elaborate on one specific situation where I had to make a choice; something that went against the grain of self-interest.”  The most obvious examples are relationships.  God wants us in relationship with Him and with each other.  I think Chris would agree that one of the reasons we are still married is because we know this.  And just like we choose God everyday, we also choose each other.  If I was only interested in myself I would have ditched him like a hot potato and pursued some loud, extroverted millionaire.  I joke but there is truth here.  In our darkest days as a married couple, I have clung to the idea that life isn’t all about me and my happiness.  I need to stop thinking about my needs and think about Chris’.  I need to extend the same grace and love to him that I receive daily from God.

Choosing Jesus was not a one off for me.  I have to consciously choose Jesus everyday.  Everyday I choose to surrender my plans and dreams to Jesus.  And so far it’s worked out pretty well.  I am living a salty, abundant life.

Some consider the cost of discipleship high.  But can you put a price on the freedom Jesus offers us?

 

Mental Illness is Not a Choice

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Five years ago, I found myself calling in sick for every shift of a very part time job.  I struggled to play and engage with my young children.  Every task and conversation required tremendous effort.  I felt sad and hopeless.  I knew I was drowning but I could not save myself.

My doctor diagnosed me with depression brought on by perimenopause and diminishing estrogen levels.  She prescribed an antidepressant and several lifestyle changes.  After six months, three medication changes, four dose adjustments and immeasurable grace, patience and kindness, I surfaced.

I’m one of the lucky ones.  I was diagnosed early and responded quickly to treatment.  I had a handful of people in my life who understood depression and helped me keep my head above water during my darkest days.  So many people live with mental illness their entire lives with varying success of treatment and little or no support.

And I am angry.   I am angry that despite our best efforts to educate people, there is still a terrible stigma attached to mental illness which only deepens the feelings of isolation and loneliness for those battling it.  I am angry that there is a time limit on our compassion for those struggling with mental illness.  I am angry that people suffer alone.  I am angry that people continue to say hurtful things.

Know this:

  • I don’t just need a good night’s sleep
  • Yoga and vitamins are not the answer
  • This is not a case of mind over matter
  • A fun night on the town will not do wonders
  • I do not have any happy thoughts to think

Trust me if it was as simple as any of these I would have done all of them over and over again until the emptiness and despair were distant memory.

Don’t judge me or try to fix me or offer advice unless you know what the hell you are talking about.  I don’t want your ignorance to result in more guilt, shame or self-loathing.

I need you to listen to me.  I need you to educate yourself.  I need you to ask how you can help.  I need your compassion.  I need your love.

You know someone with depression, anxiety or PTSD.  You know someone with a mental illness.  They are within your reach.  You need to hear, support and love that someone.  We need you.  Even on the days when it is impossible to accept your love.  We need it.  No one should fight this battle alone.

Mental illness is not a choice.  I did not choose it.  It chose me.  The question is how will you choose to respond  when someone confides in you about their mental illness?