Going Home

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My dad called last night to check on me. He’d been reading my posts from last week and wanted to make sure I was “okay.” Also to confirm travel plans for this week when I will go see him.

“So you’re feeling depressed? Are you feeling better?”

Since another family member has long been diagnosed as bipolar, I think Dad is extra sensitive to signs of mental illness. It’s understandable. And though I didn’t appreciate these inquiries when I was sixteen, today I think they’re sweet. He and my mom are the only ones who really ask about my mental health anymore, since I’ve been off medication for about eight years.

Thankfully I am able to answer, as I did last night, “I’m feeling much better, thank you. It was just a bit of the blues, and some female hormones getting the best of me.”

Thank God, I do feel better.

But that’s the thing these days. Even when something painful triggers bad feelings, I know they’re just passing feelings. None of that abysmal stuff of the past.

Like with visits home.

Used to be these visits triggered deep depths of anger and sadness.

Because of the divorce, I always miss half of my visit time with each parent and my little brother. The ‘rents live hours apart (and both are far from the airport), so though I buy a plane ticket for a week, I only get to see each for about half that time.

Needless to say, visits are complicated.

For years, when I was about to make a visit, I would typically spend the days leading up to it grumbling about the inconvenience. Anger bubbling up again at the awkwardness left over from divorce. Sadness that the awkwardness would never go away.

And, oh, I can get pretty low rubbing my nose in the past—and I have. Sometimes, in the past, returning from a visit was even worse, as I got to thinking about how a few days were not enough—and how long it would be until the next visit (usually six months to a year).

Maybe some of these thoughts were unconsciously playing in my head last week as I felt the illusion of the abyss, though I didn’t acknowledge them.

But over the weekend, something happened to remind me: my life is not that bad.

After church, I found myself talking to a new couple from Romania, the first real conversation I’d had with them since they’ve started visiting our church.

The woman is pregnant, and due this very week, in fact. Because I knew they were from far away—and I am sensitive to being far from home—I got to wondering: Does this lady have any friends or family nearby to help with the baby?

So I asked her.

After describing how miserable the pregnancy had been in the beginning—constant vomiting, dangerous weight loss, and inability to eat or sleep—she told me she’d lost both parents at a young age. Now she has only one or two family members left…and they are still in Romania. In the states, her husband is really all she has. Still new to this area, she doesn’t even have a church family yet.

“That must be hard,” I said, over the lump growing in my throat.

“Oh, it’s not so bad,” she said, eyes bright, face brave. “We’re always seeing and hearing interesting things; we get to meet a lot of interesting people.”

She proceeded to tell me about the groups of people they’ve met at various churches they’ve attended over the years, moving from state to state for her husband’s job.

Through it all, she kept a smile on her face.

Does she really mean it? I wondered. If I were her, all alone and pregnant in a new state without so much as a church family to call my own, I think I’d be depressed. Perhaps she really is. But she carries on, as we all must.

Readers, I have to apologize. I want this blog to be positive and godly and uplifting. But sometimes I find myself hovering a little closer to melancholy than I want to.

Though it’s not an excuse, my parents tell me I was a melancholy child. My husband agrees that my personality still drifts that direction.

I want to show you how far I’ve come from depression and sadness, but sometimes, with a personality that tends toward the negative, it’s hard. And I’m not going to lie.

So I write about sad feelings hoping you realize I’m just being honest—to show that, though one’s life might, overall, be “re-set” from broken and despairing to hopeful and healing—that doesn’t mean all sadness leaves.

It just doesn’t stay like it used to.

But knowing, recognizing, and acknowledging when bad roots are stirred up allows me to take them to God once again. Allows me to open my heart, once again, and say:

“God, it hurts. And I don’t ask you to fix everything just today (because I know you will in the future). But for today, here’s my heart. Thank you that Jesus died for my broken heart. Thank you that His heart and Your heart were broken as He carried all my hurt and pain to death on the cross, as He suffered and died for me, and rose again in victory over the death and decay of our mortal bodies and wounded hearts, so I could claim my inheritance as Your daughter.”

Though I have to pray this way daily, He delivers daily. Fresh batches of grace every time I need them. And I’m sure I’ll need them again, soon.

This week I’ll get to my dad’s and have a jolly good time laughing and talking over Scrabble and coffee—and at Mom’s I’ll enjoy the home-cooked meals and those mother-daughter conversations I can’t have with anyone else. It’ll be a good time, and infinitely more fulfilling than past visits, when walking over the old family threshold used to bring tears.

I’ll probably battle some more resentment when I have to part from Dad on day three—then I’ll face it again as I wave goodbye to Mom and little bro at the airport on day seven.

But I will recover quickly, as I remember that it won’t be too long until I go home for good—my real home—where there will be no more tears, no more regret, no more long car rides, limited visitations, or broken families. This is the hope that heals—and brightens bad days.

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Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Rev. 21:1-4, NLT)

The Lonely Vegetarian

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So apparently in India, you can get a Mcveggie burger. We vegetarians in the states are still waiting.

Oddly enough, today again I find myself sitting in Mcdonalds, writing. Why would a vegetarian go to Mcdonalds, you ask?

Over the past few months of being homebound, I have discovered that Mcdonalds is actually a nice place to come and write. That’s true, of course, except when you sit down in an empty play area only to have it fill up with screaming kids (which happened to me a few weeks ago.)

ImageBut seriously. At Mcdonald’s, coffee is just a buck, and you get free refills.

And this was a pleasant surprise: Mcdonalds has renovated to make itself more modern and coffee-shop like. A poor man’s Starbucks, really.

Right now, in fact, I’m sitting on a cushy couch-like thing in front of a fake fireplace, with a flat-screen TV just to my upper left. It’s 10:18 a.m., with few people here except for some good-natured seniors in the corner over my right shoulder, smiling over their senior-sized coffees and chatting. (Once I interrupted a high-spirited Bingo game in the Playroom on a Friday. Kindly, the Bingo players let me sit quietly in the corner and blog.)Image

There are four Mcdonalds relatively close to where I live, so I have rotated among them, trying not to look like that loser who has nothing better to do than go sit solo in the same place day after day. So far I think I’ve remained relatively anonymous. I mean, I don’t go every day. Just when the house feels too empty.

Well, actually, that’s kind of the point. Why would a vegetarian go sit at Mcdonalds, you ask? And why am I drinking coffee, anyway? Health conscious Christian that I am, I’ve tried to quit several times. I was successful for a few weeks in 2010 when I had my heart conversion and found myself cutting out lots of old, icky stuff from my life.

But for the most part, I’ve been a steady drinker for almost ten years, ever since I dropped out of college and entered the most lonely phase of my life.

This is kind of embarrassing to admit, because in my particular church, caffeine use is seen as a bad thing. We focus lots on good physical health. That’s why I’m a vegetarian, in fact. And good physical health is a lovely thing.

But what happens when your bad physical habits are a result of bad mental health? Bad emotional health?

As I’ve learned in the past year, all bad behaviors stem from negative beliefs we have developed. Our negative patterns are reactions to negative thoughts and feelings implanted by Satan, the father of lies (see John 8:44), such as I’m alone, I have to protect myself, or I deserve to reward myself.

This is one of two “pillars” in The Hidden Half of the Gospel, the book I’m co-writing with Paul Coneff of Straight 2 the Heart ministries.

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This is the gist of what our book cover will look like. Currently, we are in round two of a three-round editing process. Thanks to Paul for letting me use this image.

And for me, it’s not just some high falutin’ theory. Nope. It’s what my own introspection keeps confirming. Day after day. Mcdonalds visit after Mcdonalds visit.

So I order my Egg McMuffin without meat. So I’m a healthy weight and I exercise pretty regularly.

So what?

I’m still here today—the lonely vegetarian—sipping joe with seniors. (Is that sad?)

At least I’m not sipping deadly medicinal cocktails.

“You’ve come a long way, baby.”

Is that God’s voice I hear?

Well, maybe someone else said that.

Anyway, I think God understands that recovery is slow. And egg McMuffins are good. Not vegan, but I think He understands: heart health is more than meat or drink.

“We’ll keep working on it,” He says.

And for that, I’m lovin’ ‘im.

The Illusion of the Abyss

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This week has been a tough one so far. I don’t like to admit it, but I’ve battled some depression—at least, some depressive feelings. (But don’t mistake me—these are nothing like the suicidal thoughts of yesteryear). I finished my part on round two of my co-writing book project, handed it back to my co-writer, and then sank into a bit of an abyss that looks kinda like so:

The Rough Morning

Scene: Morning comes, time for hubby to wake up. It’s 6 a.m. and dark.

Crap. [my thoughts—bad angel]

“I should get up and make him breakfast.” [my other thoughts—good angel]

But why? He gobbles it down in five minutes, then leaves. [bad angel again]

“But when we decided on this arrangement, it was understood: This was part of my job.” [good angel—you get the point]

Exposition: Then I feel guilt because I’ve been sleeping in more and more lately. [Not sure which angel.]

What is there to get up for? I have ten hours of aloneness stretching in front of me. And I can’t even stand to write for more than five.

“I could clean the house.”

Who even cares anymore? We stopped our Bible study at our house a couple months back. And it doesn’t make a difference to hubby. All he needs is a clear spot on the couch, where he will come home to sit all evening barely talking to me anyway… [definitely bad angel—I understand that my hubby is just tired at the end of the day; I would be, too.]

…And my family is all 1,000 miles or more out of reach. Can’t go visit mom or dad down the street. Can’t see little bro, and big bro is halfway around the world in a mission field. [stupid bad angel won’t shut up]

So why get up?

(I’d like to thank my blogging friend, Harper Faulkner, for inspiring this bit of internal dialogue, although it’s not what I had in mind when I told him I’d try to be more humorous in my posts, like he is. Oh well. Baby steps.)

Starting the Day

At 7 a.m., or 7:30, or 8, or 8:30, the day is brighter, and I can finally stand to face it. So I hoist myself out of bed, trying to brush away the cobwebs in my brain.

I debate how to start the day.

I will pray. I always pray. But maybe I will try to exercise first, because I’m still not thinking too clearly. Maybe exercise will clear out some of the cobwebs.

So I pop in P90X and accomplish thirty minutes of a sixty-minute-long DVD—I didn’t know when I selected it that Plyo-X was the “mother” of all P90X videos—before exclaiming, “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

There’s no way I can do another set of these squats.

Click.

Fast forward through a shower and breakfast.

Now it’s 9:30 or 10. I sit down at my dining room table-slash-workspace, and try to pray.

The Prayer Session

“Lord, I’ll just be honest. I don’t wanna face this day. I know you are big and great and all powerful. I know that you offer me “glorious, unlimited resources” [says the New Living Translation of Ephesians]. I just don’t feel them right now. I feel depressed, and I think I shouldn’t, because you have been so good to me this past year. And I am so thankful I’m able to write instead of teach bratty high school kids this year (oh, am I thankful!).

But I’m so lonely.

And I don’t know why, if I’m so blessed, I’m having these feelings.

Lord, do you have anything to say to me?”

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Asking God actual questions that I expect Him to answer is a new thing for me. It’s all due to Paul Coneff and Straight 2 the Heart, or the prayer ministry I have been working with since last July, both learning to pray for myself and with others, and helping to write The Hidden Half of the Gospel with Paul.

Silence.

“Lord, what’s up? I’d like to hear from you right now, because I feel a bit lost. It’s like I’m starting over again.”

I mean lost in my career at the moment. I recognize this feeling from January, right after I finished my master’s degree and before starting this blog. Around that time, I applied to an MFA and a PhD program, and currently [in March] I am still waiting to hear from both. I canceled my birth control in January, too, and am still waiting to see if we’re fertile. I’m almost done helping Paul with his book, and am now waiting to see if he wants to really make me part of his ministry (which I love), or if I’m just to be on call when he has a writing project. I also have this “Before Thirty Project”—my memoir—roughly handwritten in about three notebooks, but the task of polishing and marketing it seems too huge when my life could take a drastic turn any day. And then I have this blog, which I can easily pour all my time into, but I don’t feel that would be very wise.

Notice my mind—see how it races! It does this a lot. I get to thinking about things so frenetically that I can hardly choose one single activity to start my “work” day. Like on a day like today.

“Lord, I don’t even know where to start. What to work on? Can you help me? What should I even blog about? I can’t even decide that.

Since learning to pray dialogically (yep, that’s another grad school word [meaning two-way]), usually I do hear from God. Usually the answers materialize almost as soon as I formulate the question, or I get an impression.

Now, I don’t hear words, but I feel my eyes gliding to rest on my prayer journal.

It occurs to me (and let’s not discount Who is making it occur) that I have been trying so hard to make something happen today, to reinvent the wheel, to even figure out what to pray for—and I’m probably repeating myself. I’ve forgotten something.

Maybe all I need to do is look again at what God’s already told me. (This is the benefit of keeping a prayer journal).

So I open it up and read what I’ve written for the past three months.

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Lessons from Prayers Past

Surprise, surprise. I’ve already prayed about all this stuff and more. Common themes in my prayers since January:

  • Loneliness, the sense of loneliness from being alone in this big house all day.
  • Anger that I’m alone. [This usually comes around Christmastime, where I see it in my journal now, and I know it was exacerbated this year because I didn’t get to see my family for the holidays, and I haven’t seen them now since last June.]
  • A sense of being Overwhelmed. [I ended last year at a sprint, having gotten super-involved in ministry for the past year, including this prayer ministry I love, and starting a church choir, and running an in-home Bible study with my husband.]
  • Resentment that I was doing so much for others and yet feeling so little being done for me. My blog readers have a better idea of my feelings than most of my friends, because I hide them (my feelings, I mean).

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As I reread these woes, I feel discouraged at first. Gosh darn, and I thought I’d done so much growing over the past year with Straight 2 the Heart!

But as I read, I also see another pattern emerging. For each whiny problem, God’s booming voice answers. I’m alone, angry, overwhelmed, and resentful, but through it all, represented in my messy scrawl, is God’s much bigger voice—His promises, His care.

And to that end, I see something else in these journal entries.

I couldn’t see them while going through the past few months, but now that I look back, I read the following string of answered prayers:

  • For my stress in ministry, God has brought more people to help, such as a new friend at church who has taken the choir idea and run with it. He has also taken away the burden of our Bible study by moving it to a young adult class at our church, which our church desperately needed!
  • For my loneliness, God has added some people to my life, like a niece who comes over sometimes to get tutoring during the week; a Groupon-shopping friend who invites me for spa days periodically; and this blog, where I am meeting more like-minded people all the time.
  • For my loss of family time, God moved my hubby just a week ago to decide (on his own) to buy me a plane ticket so I can take part in a cousin’s wedding in Minnesota next week. Oh, thank you, Lord—how I have missed family!

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As I look at all these blessings, I am again overwhelmed, but now in a good way.

“Wow God. Thanks. I know you’re here. And you’ve been here. I just can’t really hear you very well right now, for whatever reason.”

And now I remember something else that Paul told my prayer group and me when we began our training last July:

“When you really start giving your life to God and praying for victory, expect Satan’s attacks to increase. Now that he sees you’re going with God, he will try to stop you any way he can.”

Huh. Actually, for the first few months of prayer ministry, I felt great. Wondered where Satan was. Thought I was getting off easy when all my group mates reported greater attacks from the enemy.

Oh, but he is a master deceiver. And maybe he was just waiting…waiting…to throw me off his trail. So that I wouldn’t recognize his attacks for what they were when they finally came.

Well, they’ve arrived. And each morning this week I’ve had to fend them off on my knees. And I’m still not hearing God like I want to. But I also remember that lots of God’s people went through wilderness experiences. And it didn’t mean God wasn’t there (remember the poem “Footprints”?).

I know he’s here. Though it may take me a little extra time to get out of bed these days, I won’t give up praying. I will hold on—knowing God and I will ride out this storm together—knowing this abyss is just one of Satan’s many illusions—and it, too, shall pass.

This week I will also remember that God has a plan, and that I don’t have to have all the particulars right now. When I look back in a few months or years, hindsight will be clear enough.

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