Finding Inspiration in the Negative

woods-690415_1280I’m an inspirational writer. I’m also a pessimist. Sounds weird, right? It does from a human perspective. But guess what? The God I serve is in the business of bringing to life what is dead, and bringing into being things that are not (Rom. 4:17). Through God’s lenses, I can see the glass half full; I can even inspire others. But I’ll be honest: usually my inspiration begins with negativity. So, how do I find inspiration in the negative? And how can you, when your world feels dark?

Sometimes we Christians get the idea that we are not supposed to struggle mentally or emotionally in life. Jesus is Life and Light and Living Water and all those great symbols of abundance and hope and happiness. So if we’re struggling to feel happy, positive, hopeful, we feel like failures. We feel ashamed. I know I do, when the only prayer I can pray begins with the words, “Lord, I’m such a mess!”

I recently suffered a Mom Funk where I found it hard to say anything positive. Now I am climbing out of the funk, doing the things I know I need to do to function well, but you know what? My mornings can still feel a lot like those of a physically disabled mom whose story I read once in Parents magazine. Her day began with a long warmup of massaging stiff, sore muscles before she could even coax her body out of bed–before she could tend to children’s needs.

Though I don’t equate my parenting or life difficulties with hers, I can identify with a long warmup of preparing (mental) muscles before I am ready to get out of bed and tackle the day’s challenges.

Though they may be different, we all have struggles. And it’s no wonder. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble…” It was a promise.

Parenting and positivity are my struggles right now. (See my Mother’s Day post for exhibit A.) And the positivity has been a lifetime struggle. Combine the two in an environment with limited sleep or time to pray, and you have some hard days.

Can I say anything positive about this? Jesus, after saying, “In this world you will have trouble…” added these words: “but take heart! I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33).

Take heart, Lindsey.

Take heart, readers.

Jesus has overcome my struggles, and He has overcome yours. For the perplexed parents out there, He is the Perfect Parent, to both our kids and ourselves. We can do all things through Him who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13). For the pessimists out there, remember: Everything He creates is good–so there must be a lot of good in the world…including you and me. We were “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14) …even when nothing about us feels wonderful.

We Christians know the promises, don’t we? But sometimes, in the midst of struggles, it’s so hard to remember them. How, then, can we find our way back to inspiration in dark times?

Well, here’s how I do it.

I put my pen to paper.

I start where I am.

I pray, “Dear God, I’m a mess,” and…praise God…

He answers: I’ve got a big broom. 

He redirects me.

And somehow, through voicing the negative, through writing the negative, I find my way to God’s truth, I find positivity, once again.

Can I tell you a secret? A lot of times in this Young Mom Stage of Life, I feel I’m just hanging on by a thread–one small thread of faith. And my positivity? (Assuming I have any on a given day?) It takes hard work. Painful, stiff, sore muscle work. It takes cracking open my gratitude journal to write three good things at the end of the day when I just want to crumple into bed and cry. But maybe that’s why God has called me to write. I write to show you that my faith is the thread that saves me, day after day after day–and it can save you, too.

Next time you are struggling through a depression, a funk, or just a dark day, I encourage you to tell God and, perhaps, someone else about your struggles because…

When we bring our frazzled threads of faith into the open with an intent toward healing and growing (not just complaining) at least two positive things can result:

  • One: we allow others to carry some of the burden. We make room for friends, loved ones, and maybe even professionals to help us…according to the severity of our need. (Think closing scenes of Disney’s Inside Out.)
  • Two: we encourage–we actually give courage to–each other. Maybe our stories are not pretty. Maybe we are just hanging on. But we are still here. We still have that thread. And if we keep hanging on, even though we might unravel sometimes, we will look back one day and see that it was enough.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. (1 Pet. 5:10, NIV)

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.”

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” (Rev. 21:3-5)

How I’m Recovering from a “Mom Funk”

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Some swinging before church on Saturday, June 3.

If you read my last post, you know I’ve been struggling. I was very vulnerable in that post, based on my own need for affirmation as a mom (thank you to the wonderful readers and friends who gave it). But as dark as that post was, it didn’t share my darkest thoughts, thoughts like:

Am I going crazy? Do I need medication? Do I need a counselor? Are my kids going to end up seeing their mom in and out of a mental hospital as they grow up? 

Indeed, when I wrote that post on Mother’s day (polished and published later), I was in a dark place. At almost sixteen months after my second child’s birth, I felt less together than I did postpartum. My emotions felt too big to handle.  And Buc was asking where his wife had gone.

You see, Satan is so good at what he does. He plays on our worst fears to try to create the very realities we fear. My mom was diagnosed bipolar shortly after she birthed her second child, me, in the early eighties. My life was punctuated every few years with seeing her go into the mental hospital. And after several months of intense struggle this spring, I was worried I could replay the past. I was worried my best self had died on the delivery tables of my two boys.

I needed to figure this out–whatever this was.

Thankfully, in the weeks since Mother’s Day, God has given me a good update to share with you. Through “writing to my roots” (writing for clarity about the underlying issues), claiming Scripture promises, and reading and applying good counsel, I am happy to share with you that I’m not going crazy after all: I am in recovery from a “Mom Funk,” and I am now getting needed “treatment.” Read on for more.

Defining The “Mom Funk”

I give credit to psychologist, mom, and blogger, Amanda, for giving words and insight to my troubles with a post called “Are You Stuck in a Mom Funk?”

Mom Funks happen to all of us.  They aren’t a deep dark depression, they’re just a feeling of funkiness.

Instead of crying all day long and not being able to get out of bed, like depression, Mom Funks are like being in a bad mood for days, weeks, months.

Being in a funky mood can really impact the way you react to your children.  For me, I get angry.

I’ll never forget the day that I transformed into a raging Hulk Mom and screamed at my children.

I had been in a Mom Funk for months.  I was unhappy and walked around every day with a huge chip on my shoulder. I should have been wearing a sign that said: “Don’t Poke The Monster, She Will Bite Your Head Off”

I had been snippy, short tempered, and moody.  The negativity in my soul had been building up, just waiting to explode.

Then it happened.

[Amanda goes on to describe how, one day, her three-year-old son spilled coffee on her new computer and she became a raging “Hulk.” Click here to read the whole post: “Are You Stuck in a Mom Funk?”]

I saw myself in this description, and promptly signed up for her seven-day email series, “Banish the Mom Funk Challenge.” In her email series, she gave lots of helpful tips which I have been trying to apply, such as:

Start a gratitude journal

Find activities that bring joy and “fill your soul”

Find time to do said activities

Find the right “tools” for specific problems you are having (i.e., search out and gather activity ideas when you don’t know how to play with your kids)

Replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts

And make all of these changes a way of life

(Take the “Banish the Mom Funk Challenge” for more help with these.)

I love all of her suggestions, and I think they address many of the roots of Mom Funks, but I have also identified a few more roots of my own. Below, I share what I’ve discovered to be the roots of my “funk” and how I am going about “treating” it.

Roots of my “Funk”

Stress

Sarah, a friend who had her two boys around the same times I had mine, said that adding a second child to the family (when you still have a toddler) is like trying to ride a bike while “the bike’s on fire. And you’re on fire too.” (Brilliant analogy, Sarah, brilliant.) That’s the first thing. Life is just at a hard stage.

On top of that, my husband’s company is getting bought out, and we have been waiting for months to find out our fate. Are we moving? Where? When? So, should I wait to wean Seth off the bottle? Should we wait to make a change with three-year-old Sam’s troubled sleeping (bed-sharing) until we are settled?

There is stress in such a huge unknown, and a sense of being stuck, not able to move forward with plans, because you don’t know what’s coming up and if it will undo any changes you make.

The answer here is probably just pray and wait it out. Thankfully, we are expecting to get news within the next month on the job (and living) situation. Whew. Deep breaths.

Lack of Sleep/Lack of Space

I haven’t gotten good sleep for almost three months, because Sam has been waking in the night and coming into our bed. First it was allergies, and then it was “monsters.” And I get it; a three-year-old is allowed to have those troubles and get comfort from Mom and Dad. The problem is, when he’s in our bed, or when I know he’s coming, I can’t sleep. I lie awake stressing because I worry I won’t be able to get out of the bed without Sam seeing and following me, and I’ll have no time to myself. And no time to myself feels like a desperate situation right now.

Lack of Morning Quiet Time

After going through these funky, sleepless months, I re-realized how essential it is for me to daily have quiet time with God (and frankly, just some quiet) before I deal with my family. My friend Naomi and I had a prayer session where I lamented to her that I really would like to talk to a counselor about my “Am-I-Crazy?” thoughts, and when she prayed over that, the phrase “Wonderful counselor” came up. I knew I needed God to speak into my funk—on a daily basis…before I deal with the family—and I knew I needed to make that a priority again.

Right now, the answer to this lack of quiet time is turning out to be the same as the solution to my lack of sleep/lack of space problem: I have temporarily vacated my bed to sleep downstairs in the guest room. My husband and I are sleeping in separate beds.

While sleeping apart from my husband makes me sad, it has helped my sleep…and given me back some morning quiet time in which I can pray, journal, and read uplifting things. Unlike mine, Buc’s sleep isn’t bothered when Sam comes in in the early morning, be it 2 a.m. or 5 a.m., so he lets Sam stay. And with Buc next to him, Sam will sleep until between 6:30 or 7 (versus 5:30 if put back in his own bed). And that gives me an hour or more to myself to mentally and spiritually prep for the day. Hallelujah. It’s been so long.

Although this is not ideal, right now, this is the solution I have.

Hunger

Moms shouldn’t try to parent on an empty stomach, and that’s that. Remember Amanda’s “Hulk” analogy? Well, I can easily become a hulk when I’m hungry (I’ve blogged about this before). So now that I’m “beating” Sam out of bed, I’m taking care of this basic need in mornings, pre-kids, and it is helping me to be a nicer mom.

Schedule Disruptions/Lack of a Plan/Lack of Confidence to Carry Out a Plan

We came back from a business/family trip to Texas in April, and after that, I felt our routines, and my confidence, shattered. After our routines had been disrupted for two weeks, I couldn’t seem to keep everyone fed, changed, napped, stimulated, you name it, without someone having a major tantrum (sometimes me). And in trying to deal with my son’s tantrums, I had my own. So my confidence nose-dived. I started to doubt every single thing I was doing in the day with the kids, from what time we ate breakfast each day to what activity should we do first?

It’s no wonder my kids were crying and acting up so much. I wasn’t giving them clear direction. I couldn’t give clear direction, or even make simple decisions, with my mind so cloudy. I was so beaten down by Satan’s lies (“I can’t do this”) that I didn’t even have the presence of mind to go back to the things that were working pre-Texas, or search out ideas and resources for problems that do have solutions.

So now I am getting back to the basics: setting mealtimes, sitting us down to mealtimes together (as much as I can when by myself), trying to stick to bedtime routines, and praying with the kids as a first thing. A new thing I am doing is getting on the Internet and searching for activities to do with my boys. For the first time, I’ve given Pinterest a good look. Why didn’t I do this before now? I refer back to my friend, Sarah. For sixteen months, I’ve been riding a flaming bike while flaming myself. Adding one more thing to do was too much until I could get my sleep back.

The Lie that “I Can’t Do It”

I can’t do it, is a common refrain Satan has run and re-run in my mind so much these last three months. But a few days after my Mother’s Day slump, I heard a different thought, one that had to be from the opposite source, God:

The only time to say “I can’t” is to say “I can’t give place to these thoughts, these lies, from Satan.”

If I let Satan into my brain, he filters through to all of me: my emotions, my words, my frantic, crazed, panicky actions in my parenting. And then, my worst nightmare as a parent is realized: I am a mentally distraught mom who can’t keep her kids emotionally safe. And Satan’s work filters through me into my sons. This is how the sins/tendencies/paths of the parents get passed down generations. Kids do what they see done. Kids emulate their parents, whether for good or bad. If I don’t want my kids growing up with a mentally unstable mom (or a Funky Mom, for that matter), I’ve got to stop the thoughts in their tracks.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” has become my replacement thought when I am tempted to believe the lie that “I can’t do it.

Conclusion

In short, my “funk” has mostly been a mix of stress, basic needs going unmet (food, sleep, “counseling time” with God), and a lack of knowledge in various areas of parenting, which creates more stress. Also, I cannot underestimate the effect of Satan’s lies wreaking havoc on my mind.

How glad I am to have been reminded of God’s truth (versus Satan’s lies) through this experience, as well as found two other Helpers in this time: the Basement (for adequate sleep and quiet time), and Pinterest (for ideas to keep my boys busy).

As I identify the roots of my funk…and combat them with God’s promises, common sense, and a “this too shall pass” attitude…things are slowly getting better.

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One of the greatest joys of having small children is snuggling them and laughing with them. As I experience the de-funking process, I am finally remembering this joy.

Is There Such Thing as Too Honest?

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Most people agree that “Honesty is the best policy.” But as a writer and ministry leader who has made honesty her central message and MO, I wonder if it’s possible to sometimes be “too honest.” Not a few times as I’ve posted unflattering, embarrassing, content, I’ve wondered: am I hurting my influence by being so raw and real? After people read this, will they still look up to me?

I’ve found that honesty, at the level I go, can be hard to find in Christian writers, teachers, and leaders. Many I’ve observed in this group like to use honest illustrations and anecdotes…of other people’s struggles. Or, if the stories are first-person, they tend to remain on a safe, surface level. I once read an article by a Christian who used the analogy of scrubbing her floor to illustrate the filthiness in her heart. But she made no mention of what, exactly, was in her heart. “Scrubbing my dirty floor made me think of how God has to scrub my heart clean of sin. I thought, how much better if I kept it clean daily, instead of letting it all pile up?”

Illustrations of the gospel like this one don’t resonate with me. It’s not that they’re bad or untrue, it’s just that they’re so general, so vague so b-o-o-o-o-ring. Worst of all, illustrations like these are generally unhelpful when it comes to making real changes to behavior.

At the risk of assuming other humans think like I do, I would submit that humans long for authenticity. Especially when we’re talking about faith. If our sources of inspiration don’t hit close to home, addressing real issues we battle daily, they will be perceived as impotent, laughable, and even painful (because they minimize our struggles)—and they will be quickly abandoned.

That’s why I chose to be vulnerable in the memoir I wrote about discovering my new life in Christ.

It’s why I choose to be vulnerable almost every time I post on this blog.

I believe people are hungry for other people to relate to them—to say “I’ve been there, too. Look how screwed up I used to be, and how I still struggle sometimes. And yet, look what God was able to do with that mess!” I believe messages like this bring hope.

But what if I’m wrong? What if messages like this do the opposite? What if brutal honesty breeds distrust in God and disaffection for his “honest, messed-up followers?”

When leaders decide to be honest, this is a very real risk we take—the risk of our followers unsubscribing because we are not perfect.

I am willing to take this risk, not only for the reasons I listed above, but because a genuine Christian faith should not hinge on the words and deeds of any human being. (In other words, no one’s faith should hinge on me.) It should hinge on the person and words of Christ.

When Leaders Disappoint

A few years ago I was deeply disappointed when I learned that one of my spiritual heroes, Leo Schreven, committed suicide. Honestly, I felt betrayed and somewhat deceived by this man who previously appeared to “have it all together.” But I was able to weather this bad news by clinging to the truth that God is not, and never will be, totally represented by those claiming to be his followers. When we see good in Christians, that is from God. But when we see bad, that is from the enemy. We can’t lay every quality at Christ’s doorstep, because not every quality is from him.

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I had the privilege of meeting Leo Schreven in 2010 when he conducted a seminar at my church. My husband (left) had met him many years before and introduced me to Leo’s preaching through a set of seminar tapes that made me eager to meet him.

One quality I do believe is of God is the quality of honestly engaging our struggles as we seek His healing. I think I would have still respected my deceased spiritual hero if, in life, he had openly admitted his struggles. Perhaps I would have respected him even more for choosing bravery, rather than bravado—even though his brave sharing would have painted him as a fallible, sinful, wounded human being.

I have to add something here, to be fair. A family member of Leo Schreven’s contacted me after reading my blog post about Leo’s suicide, to tell me that my “hero” had struggled with psychological problems the public knew nothing about. This family member wanted me to have a fair, truthful view of Leo. The truth included mental illness, and as a former sufferer of mental illness, I empathized with that. I understood that I had put Leo on a pedestal. I also understood that his mental state may have precluded him from the type of honesty to which I am calling spiritual leaders.

Given the state of Leo’s mental health, it’s actually amazing that he enjoyed the long and successful career as evangelist and motivational speaker that he did. I have had similar thoughts, of course, about the late Robin Williams. Leo and Robin show us that there are exceptions to the standard of honesty I am putting forth. The exception applies to those who are not able to help themselves, or not able to let God help them, because of mental illness, or a genuine medical problem. Maybe they keep up the façade for the public for awhile, but in the end, we find out they are not the leaders we wished them to be. But then again, no one in whom we place our trust is immune to struggles, and to sin.

The Bible says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, so we know every person, Christian or non, ministry leader or not, has a mix of good and bad.

No matter what we know to be true about our leaders, hopefully we can sift the good from the bad, and remember and respect them for their good qualities. Hopefully we can go on learning from them, no matter what their lives reveal. Sometimes we may observe the right course, other times the non-example. As long as we are looking up to human beings, we should expect both. And if we are the ones being looked up to, we must trust Christ to be the one shining example our audiences need; we must be okay with being imperfect representations of him.

That said, I believe that we in positions of trust—ministry leaders, Christian writers, etc.—should do our best to represent Christ, and this includes being honest about how God is working in our lives and transforming our sinful patterns. We should also be honest about “wilderness” times,  times when we struggle with our faith…but we should do it wisely.

Guidelines for Christian Leaders

Here are two guidelines I’ve found helpful in my own writing and ministry that can help Christian leaders determine when, where, and how much to share.

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1) First, we should consider timing. You can read various sins and struggles of mine on this blog that occurred at various stages in my life. I blog about problems long past and problems of last week.

The safer type of post is the one about problems past. These problems are ones I have likely had victory over. They are problems that have yielded personal lessons I can use to teach others. These types of posts, and this type of sharing, should be an absolute “yes” for all ministry leaders. Why wouldn’t we use our stories of redemption as teaching tools? What better examples of the gospel could we present than the ones that have played out in our own lives?

The murky area is problems of the present. How much should Christian leaders share about present problems? Here, we have to be wise about audience.

2) Audience is the second consideration. Consider who will be reading or hearing your message. If you are a preacher and it is your job to inspire hope, then it may not be the best time to insert a struggle that you do not have victory over, or at least cannot yet talk about in a positive way.

Sure, there are times when you are on the upside of a struggle—you can see the end in sight, and you are pressing through for victory. That might be material for an inspiring message, and if you are comfortable exposing that yet-unresolved pain, go ahead.

But other times, pain and sin is too raw to project to a large, or public, audience. That’s when you need a small, confidential audience. I’m talking a few trusted friends or advisors who can help talk and pray you through your problems. When you have worked through those problems, then they may become appropriate large-group material. But don’t rush it. Getting outside voices mixed up in your current personal problems could hurt the healing process, and you need to get healthy first so you can go back to being your motivational self.

One caveat for leaders working through personal problems: if your challenge handicaps your ability to do ministry, whether because the emotions involved take too much energy, or because a sin you are fighting “disqualifies” you to be a role model at the time, then it’s probably the right time to step out of ministry, at least for awhile. In the case of Leo Schreven, I would have much preferred hearing the news that he had stepped out of leadership for awhile to tackle some personal problems to hearing that he had committed suicide. We are ultimately the most helpful to others when we get the help we need, first.

On This Blog, What You See Is What You Get

To apply my guidelines to myself, I routinely post about my current struggles, but many times I have chosen to remain silent until I have prayed over them and exposed them to Scripture and the wisdom and counsel of a few trusted others. By the time I post on an issue, I want it to be, if not totally resolved, at least on the path to resolution. I want others to look up to me, yes, but I am happy to admit that sometimes the best example I can give is: “Look, I’m broken here, but I’m looking to Christ. And if you feel the same way, you need to do the same.”

By posting my struggles, past or present, I risk losing my readers’ respect, but I also keep myself accountable to Christ for resolution. I put a problem out there (such as my sleep-deprived, desperate, witchy state), and I say, “Okay, this is the mess this sinful world, or sinful me, has created today. But now, how am I going to find Christ in the middle of it?” My mission is to find out how Christ will come through for me, and then to share my victory with my readers.

Indeed, if “Superwoman Christian” is the role model you want, look somewhere else. Because on this blog you’ll just encounter a broken girl trying to depend on Christ, and trying to work out her faith, in all things big and little. After all, as so many examples in the Bible show (Kind David and the 51st Psalm come right to mind), a Christian leader worth listening to is not someone who claims to be above sins and struggles, but someone who fully admits their weaknesses; has learned how to let Christ lead in the hard times; and can discern which, of all their life experiences, will be helpful for lifting others up.

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.

Is My Writer Seeping Through?

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Since deciding to be a “real” writer, I’ve kept a low profile. Not wanting people to know I’ve embarked on a low-paying (sometimes no-paying) job, I’ve hidden my true profession behind a façade of graduate student and teacher.

I haven’t been a teacher since May 2011, but until last December, I really was a graduate student, putting the finishing touches on my one-hundred-page master’s thesis. Mostly I was done by October, but I still let my classmates offer condolences for “how hard” the writing must be.

It wasn’t hard, really, because my advisor let me write the way I wanted to write: creatively and personally (with a little academic jargon sprinkled in). I guess this “practical” approach worked because the topic was practical: best practices for teaching writing.

When a few of my fellow students heard about my personal [slash] creative [slash] academic project, they seemed intrigued.

“I’d never have thought of that,” some said.

As they scrambled to turn up sources on the databases, scouring search engines and library shelves, giving themselves ulcers looking for an original angle, I just sat back and wrote. I started from the inside—I knew what I wanted to say, and I didn’t much care about citing the scholarly conversation that had come before me, or that would come after.

I know this sounds sort of pompous, and it wouldn’t work in some of the disciplines where original voice is not prized. But thankfully, English departments operate on this truth: If a voice is engaging enough it doesn’t really matter what it’s saying—people will read it for the good writing.

And that’s the truth in the real world, isn’t it?

People who don’t care a lick about golf will watch Tiger Woods because he excels in his sport. Same for most Olympians and Olympic sports. Who watches bobsledding or curling on a regular basis?

But millions watch the Olympics because it’s fun to watch pros do what they do best.

Funny, then, that I feel I’m still hiding in the wings, waiting for permission to “come out” to do what I do best.

Well, not so funny, I guess. I have no doubt that the hiding is due to the overwhelming personal content of my writing. (It’s not really about the money.)

In order for me to write about the things I write about (mental illness, family dysfunction, deepest fears) and be respected, I feel I have to be either a mental health professional or a pastor, or some other authority who can talk on these things at a close, yet safe, distance. That, or I have to make the writing itself attractive. Because the topics just aren’t.

Still, I am convinced that these topics are worth discussion. Worth a master’s thesis, a doctoral dissertation, and many book series. I am convinced that all this painful self-reflection is what more people ought to be doing, but aren’t. But if it’s so worthwhile, why aren’t more people doing it?

Because: Like graduate students fumbling for research topics, we are afraid of ourselves, and we are afraid of what self-examination might reveal. So we look for other voices to latch onto. Let someone else be the guinea pig—or the “straw man,” to use an academic term. Then, if our life thesis fails, we can partially blame the voices on whom we’ve built our own.

Well, I’ll stand behind my own work. To the thesis examiner who said my work got uncomfortably personal at times, I would remind her that everyone else who read it said it was the most memorable thesis they’d ever seen. She was more comfortable in the theoretical realm, and that’s where she encouraged me to return. Toward the end of the defense, we had a more informal discussion about how we felt about publishing—how we felt about others reading our work—and this professor said she felt terrified thinking others would read her academic writing (not to mention any personal stuff).

Just like she couldn’t understand me being so personal in writing, I couldn’t understand her being so guarded (about dry academic prose). Perhaps she is worried that others will smell a rat—that of inauthenticity. And I guess if I were not being true to myself, I might worry about the same thing.

But after denying myself public expression for so long, I think having to live in hiding is far worse than living exposed. After spending time in a theoretically constipated English department, I think living vulnerable is better than living jealous of writers whose real-world topics you only dare poke with a critical stick.

Perhaps my guarded professor would even agree. At the end of the day, she passed my thesis unconditionally. Call my writing what she will, that day she called me a master.

 

 

What Christians and Mental Patients Have in Common

I can never tell, I thought, sitting in a mental ward in Minnesota. I was nineteen.

When I get out I can’t tell friends that I dropped out of college. That I attempted suicide. I can’t tell them how messed up I am. I can’t let them see me like this.

When I got out after forty days, there was only one option (besides suicide, of course). I had to hide.

This year of my life, 2004 to be exact, is the darkest one I can remember. Almost a decade has passed, and there’s hardly anyone I’ve told.

After the mental ward, my social worker set me up in an efficiency apartment that was fully furnished, yet covered in grime. The walls were spotted with grease stains, the floors covered in dirt. Kind of like me.

Only, instead of dirt, I was filthy with lies—and they were rooted deep.

And unlike the dirt that disappeared after one afternoon’s scrubbing, it would take me many, many years to recover from the lies that had saturated my mind for so long.

I can never tell, I thought just today, before finally deciding that maybe someone besides me needed this post.

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It’s funny how those lies stay with us. You see, in 2013 my depression and suicidal tendencies are for the most part gone; but today I almost didn’t post this, for fear of looking “crazy” when friends or family read the opening lines.

The good news is, by this point in my twenty-eight years, I know I’m not alone. After repeatedly opening my heart to the Source that “lays bare our innermost thoughts” (Heb. 4:12-13) through prayer, and after training other women to do the same, I’m starting to feel less territorial about the pain I’ve guarded for so many years.

I can never tell. What about all the women and men who have been sexually abused? In The Hidden Half of the Gospel, the book I’m co-writing, we cite a “1 in 3” statistic about girls who have been sexually abused, which blows me away! (Since starting prayer ministry, I’ve also prayed with two women who have admitted to being sexually abused.)

I can never tell. What about the teenage boys and girls struggling with their sexuality—thinking they may be gay but afraid of rejection if they “come out”? I’m reading a memoir right now about a girl, stuck in a mental hospital for three years by her abusive, incompetent parents, who admitted to lying, stealing, cheating, and who lied about having a drug problem, plus an eating disorder, before she would ever admit she had gender confusion. (Still waiting to see how it ends, but the title, The Last Time I Wore a Dress, gives me a good idea.)

I can never tell. What about all the Christians struggling with pornography, drinking, or other “sins”? (In The Hidden Half, Paul and I share the stories of some such Christians.)

I can never tell. What’s the issue for you?

For me currently, this lie is complicating my various writing projects. Just as I did today, just as I did when I published my first magazine article about a suicide attempt . . .

I still sometimes battle that lie, I can never tell.

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Maybe that’s why I like to read memoirs like Prozac Nation and other riveting romps through mental illness.

My husband thinks reading these kinds of things is unhealthy. Wonders if I am vicariously milking old, bad feelings through reading these books.

I used to wonder that, too. But these days, I don’t think so.

You see, more and more as I’ve dealt with my bad roots through prayer, I’m uncovering a holy rage about how humans (and Christians especially) cover up their bad roots. As if denying them is dealing with them. Who do we think we’re kidding? Certainly we’re not fooling God.

No, I like to read these memoirs not because they inspire my faith (I read the Bible and Stormie Omartian for that!), but because they inspire my honesty. I read them because they take me to a level of intimacy far below what I get with pretty much everyone else in my life.

Now for those Christians who may disagree with my “uninspiring” reading selections, that’s fine. But if you’re going to knock them, then at least tell me where else I can find such honesty. Sadly, I don’t find it in church, or from my family members, or even from most friends.

But as for me and my writing, we will be honest.

Not because I think we all need to be sharing and airing our garbage. If we did, just think what a stinky world it would be. But come to think of it, this world already stinks quite a bit…so maybe we don’t have much to lose. And if Christians would speak up more, maybe more people would join us, as they see that we’re not too out of touch to deal with the ugly realities that blot all human stories.

In any case, I’ve decided to be honest, in the name of not being fake…or distasteful to others because I can’t relate in any human way…or disgusting to myself because I’ve built my perceived flaws so big that I’ll never get over them. But the most important reason to be honest? Well, gosh darn, if so many people are writing the depressing stories, don’t we need someone to write the un-depressing ones? (This is the plan for the memoir I’m writing—to share how I got un-depressed.)

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And so, to conclude my very abridged tale of woe (for today, anyway), at the end of that worst year of my life, I’m happy to tell you, God intervened, introducing me to my husband (in Texas of all places!) and moving me 1,000 miles from that dirty apartment and my broken past. He moved me away physically. Mentally, on the other hand, I had a long way to go! But that’s the subject of many more blogs.

So, though it’s sometimes hard for me to write, and might sometimes be hard for you to read (but I’m sure you can find lots of “fake” blogs to read, if this one makes you uncomfortable), I choose to tell. No matter how often Satan tries to tell me I can’t, with God’s help, I will ever tell.