Posted in Beautiful Mess, Celebration, Emotions, God, Grief, Hope, Sacred, Uncategorized

Advent (The Howl of the Not-Yet)

O ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow…

The past few weeks have been marked by much suffering for those I love.  The pain seems overwhelming: substance abuse in adult children, the possibility of a very scary diagnosis, a seemingly unfair and senseless job loss, a sibling carted off to jail in the middle of the night, an impending divorce and the unnerving future of being alone, a debilitating disease that prevents normal life-function, and mental illness that doctors are having trouble treating.  You get it.  You are hearing that kind of news as well.  And like me, your thoughts might be shouting, “How long?  How much?  Why?  Why right now?”

I love the holiday season.  From November 1 to January 1, like many of yours, our house is filled with decorations, food (and way too much of it, as my waistline is currently showing), family, friends, celebration, and traditions.  Along with these external manifestations of the season, there are also the underlying inner emotional expectations of gratitude, wonder, joy, peace, love, hope and generosity, to name just a few.  A quick confession:  I like this paragraph more than the first one.  I want to live here.  I want all good things, happy thoughts.

The period leading up to Christmas morning is commonly known as Advent.  It’s Advent right now.  Shauna Niequist reminds us that “advent is about waiting, anticipating, yearning.  Advent is the question, the pleading and Christmas is the answer to that question, the response to the howl.  There are moments in this season when I don’t feel a lot like Christmas, but I do feel a lot like Advent.”

For many weeks now, as you read above, I agree with Shauna.  I feel a lot like Advent.  Advent is NOT Christmas morning.  Advent speaks about and grieves broken places that are yet to be healed, questions that have no answer today, and yearning that is unfulfilled.  Advent gives a glimpse of hope at the end of a long season of waiting.  Advent is “both and.”  Advent says there is suffering and it is real, palpable.  But advent also says there is hope, just as real and palpable.  Advent says “don’t skip over the suffering.  Don’t minimize the heartache.  Sit in it, acknowledge it, and feel it.”  This is not an easy place.  And if the truth is told, I struggle with Advent.  I do not sit with the grief, acknowledge and feel it.  I skip right to Christmas morning, the happy place, where the answer is here and salvation has come.

I am slowly learning that skipping right to Christmas doesn’t work.  It doesn’t take away the pain.  It doesn’t make bad things not happen.  It doesn’t bring true healing.  Advent brings healing.  It is the place of real truth that speaks both heartache and hope, both suffering and a savior.

Sometimes God does His best work during the seasons of advent in our lives, the waiting periods, the not-yet times.  And that hard work usually takes the form of those who “sit with us in the dark,” when we can’t see the light, those who go to the not-so-pretty places with us and remind us of who God is and His undying love for us, for as long as it takes until we can see “Christmas” on the horizon.

There are more than two weeks until Christmas.   Let’s not skip to that place.  Let’s live in the not-yet, the place of anticipation.  Let’s dive into the questions, the grief, the “howl,” the yearning of both ourselves and those we love.  Let’s be okay in the waiting.  Christmas will come soon enough.  A baby will be here.  A Savior will come.  What is empty will be filled.  Heartache will be healed.  Yearning will be fulfilled.  What is broken will be repaired.  What we’ve lost will be found.  But in the meantime, we will wait together, not forgetting the howl of our hearts.

Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
O rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing!

(It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, Fourth Verse)

 

 

Posted in Anxiety, Emotions, Freedom, God, Hope, Love

The Cure for Fear

“We stopped checking for monsters under the bed, when we realized they were inside of us.”  (The Joker from Batman)

For years, I struggled with a horrible disease.  It hurt my family.  As I sit here in the wee hours under cover of darkness waiting for my first grandbaby to be born, one of my greatest desires is that he won’t ever succumb or even have to fight this monster.  No, it’s not cancer.  It’s not heart disease.  It’s not anything that modern medicine in the traditional sense can address.   The disease is fear.  What is the cure?

One of the “not-so-good” things I do when I don’t feel well or have some kind of physical symptom (I know at least two or three of you reading this do this exact same thing) is check WebMD.   There is a handy symptom checker, and most of the time, many deadly diseases come up as a possibility when I have a headache, my left-side hurts, and I have a funny mark under my chin (you get it…you’ve had those weird symptoms too).  Needless to say, it sends me to a “not-so-good” place (if you are taking notes and you have medical-related anxiety, NEVER USE THE SYMPTOM CHECKER ON WEBMD!).

I don’t need a symptom-checker for fear.  The manifestations have been evident in abundance for as long as I can remember in my own life, the lives of those I love, acquaintances, and even strangers.  It doesn’t take long to spot them.  They include: striving, hating, arguing, comparing, performing, blaming, controlling, bragging, shaming, judging, pretending, slandering, and hiding, among others.  I’m sure you have your own list to add.   It’s a little more tricky to understand the driver behind these behaviors:  fear.

What is our greatest collective fear?  I would venture to say it might just be the fear of being unloved, not belonging and ultimately rejection.  No wonder there are so many symptoms.  It makes so much sense.

Left unchecked, fear increases.  Hope diminishes.  The above symptoms get worse.  Sometimes, addictions develop.  Relationships with ourselves and others suffer.

So what is the cure?  I can confidently shout from the top of my roof that the cure is LOVE, plain and simple love.  “Perfect love casts out fear.”  (John)

“Love is an experience that is given and received.”  If we had a symptom-checker for love, it would include: safety, connecting, trusting, humility, vulnerability, harmony, encouragement, openness, and resting.  These certainly sound like the very opposite of fear.

One of the things that fear does to us is isolate us from others, from what our hearts long for:  love, belonging and acceptance.  We believe that we can protect ourselves through isolation and lack of trust.  The result is the contrary: fear grows and multiplies.  Can this true debilitation be treated?  Yes.   True treatment is not in protection, but in vulnerability, scary as that is.  It happens on walks, around tables, in homes, all kinds of places, anywhere that hearts connect.

Is that enough?  Do we just need the venue?  I would plainly say no.  We also need the conduit.  It’s not enough to be with people, side-by-side, together, but alone.  We have had enough of that at big parties or even small family gatherings, to understand that fear can abound in any environment.  What we really need is the language of grace.  Received and given.  My new online friend, Janet Newberry speaks these words:

“Grace is a language, and it’s so much more than a language.

There is real, and supernatural, power in the words we speak, and the words we refuse to speak.  There is power to heal or destroy, to strengthen or weaken, and we hold this power in our words.

When grace is spoken, new life is wooed forth, from our new hearts within.  Good life.  Deep satisfying life.” 

Fear language speakers are filled with the symptoms we noted above.  You don’t have to go too far (just go on social media, watch the news, check out what’s going on in your own home or maybe even passing through your own lips), to see blame, shame, judgment, comparison, slander, arguments, boasting, and the list goes on.

The opposite is also true.  Humility, trust, understanding, kindness, encouragement, and vulnerability permeate the language of the grace speaker.  Connection happens.  Fear is quelled.  Love prevails.

God’s ultimate will for us is that we love and be loved.  He gently reminds us to love others the way He’s loved us.  That’s a love you can trust.  God communicates to us in the language of grace.  He is the ultimate grace-giver.

Yes, the cure is Love.  “Love is a connection that speaks grace.”  Love is not a blog.  Love is not a sermon.  Love is not a book.  Those are good, but they are one-way streets. Love is relationship.  Love is people.  Connection.  Safety.  Vulnerability.  Humility.  The ultimate language of grace is to know another and be known, to accept and be accepted, true and unconditional love.

Will baby Broden’s generation be the one that has the cure for this horrible disease called fear?  I am hoping for that.  I want to be, as Janet reminds me, a “cure carrier,” who speaks grace in safe relationships.  It’s free for you and for me.  I pray that my heart will be on this continuing journey of receiving and giving grace, hope and love.   And that out of that more healed heart, my mouth will speak loudly and often.

“There is no fear in love.”  (John)

(Click HERE to see Janet Newberry’s website, who I follow whole-heartedly because she speaks the language of grace which I need desperately and want to learn more about.  I have taken much of these thoughts from her in this post.  Anything in quotes is from her.)

Posted in Anxiety, Childhood, Emotions, Freedom, God, Hope

For What It’s (uh…I Mean I’m) Worth

The Lord Your God will take great delight in you.  He will quiet you with His love.  He will rejoice over you with singing.  (The Prophet Zephaniah)

I was a smart, speedy child.  I could read when I was just four.  I skipped kindergarten, went to first grade at five years old, did three grades in two years, moved to the United States and repeated third grade (there was no way the Ventnor school system would have a seven-year old in fourth grade), skipped fourth grade when I went back to Ethiopia and ended up in fifth grade when I was only eight years old.   Sounds exhausting just writing it, much less living it.  After that, I actually did only one grade per year, but it meant I graduated high school at 16, even before I got my New Jersey driver’s license.

Needless to say, I was praised all the way through for how smart I was.  What a great performer I was.  How “special” I was.  I loved the attention and thought of myself as the “one to beat.”  But to tell you the truth, I actually did not believe you would ever “win” if we had a competition when it came to smarts.

This perpetuated itself in high school when I received the award for the #1 Bible quizzer in the United States for our church’s denomination and was deemed worthy of a spot at the “Harvard of Christian colleges,” Wheaton College in Illinois.  I had performed well and was rewarded for it.

Lest you think that I sailed through with flying colors both outside and inside, there were many times that I struggled with embarrassment.   I did not want to be the “odd man out,” the one who was different, “special.”  I lived with two conflicting emotions:  I loved being the best, the fastest, the smartest, but I also wanted not to HAVE to be that, desiring to be average, normal, the right age and be accepted anyway.  I actually purposefully got a “C” in Physical Science in ninth grade to fit in (not even with others, but just within my own head).  Opposing messages swirled inside of me:  I am worth a lot because I am smart and I wish I was worth a lot because I am me.

I took these two opposite notions with me well into adulthood when one day, I heard the phrase, “Your worth is not based on your performance.”  Really?  Really?  Because my worth certainly was.  As time marched on, I began to entertain this thought and realized much damage had been done to my heart so long ago and still continued.  It began to make sense why I was driven to achieve and worked tirelessly at everything I did and ended up in an adrenaline-overloaded life-style, constantly feeding the “worthy monster.”   It morphed into terrible anxiety in my late 30s as I struggled with the idea that if I wasn’t “pulling my weight” here on earth, God might just deem me unworthy of staying and he would take me to Himself.  Weird thoughts prevailed:  if I wasn’t the perfect mom, God might just give me cancer.  If I don’t make that person dinner or take their kids to soccer practice, they might not want to be my friend.  If my kids misbehave in church, people will judge me.  So I paddled along, hearing that good message faintly echo in my thoughts, but living from the louder opposing voice.  I wanted to believe that I was worthy even if there was no performance, but my actions proved that I still held to the contrary.

It didn’t help that our culture permeates this point of view.  Constant evaluations based on performance in school, community, church, sports, friendship and even marriage flood our lives.  Learning is replaced by good grades, teamwork is replaced by winning games, compassion is replaced with mandatory volunteer hours, Christian community is replaced by behavior-management sermons, long talks on porches are replaced by a “what can I do for you” mentality and intimacy is replaced by well-manicured lawns and magazine-worthy homes.

I spent years combatting this highly destructive-to-the-soul belief, shouted truth from the mountaintops to my children, friends and anyone who would listen, hoping it would penetrate my own soul and that I would finally live within the framework of knowing I was worthy just because I am who I am and God had deemed it so.  Until this past week, I would have told you that I had won the war for my heart.

Not so.  While waiting for Broden, our grandson, to arrive (and yes, we are still waiting not-so-patiently), I was scurrying around cooking meals for home and for the soon-to-be-parents, cleaning out every cabinet in the house, washing every last dish and dirty clothes item, and tackling projects long-laid to the side, when I asked myself the deeper question:  what’s going on?  why do you feel the need to get “all your ducks in a row” before this baby comes?  Of course, there is the natural “nesting” that takes place when a baby comes into the world, and that is all well and good, but I sensed a below-the-surface wound that was oozing out again.  After all, I am making the transition from motherhood to grand-motherhood.  I can justify my worth if I have children and take care of them.  But what about now that they are grown?  I had a huge moment of clarity: once again, I am trying to prove my worth.  This does not come from a deeply-loved place, but from an earning place.  Keep working.  Keep doing.  Get praised.  Be loved for what you do.  Prove.  Prove.  Prove.  YIKES!

As the week progressed, it came to the forefront that I still have ways to go.  I am still surrounded by constant evaluations, some of them coming from inside of me.  The battle is not “one-and-done.”  It’s a daily fight to the place of wholeness and healing.  There is good news:  I believe and live whole-heartedly from the place that YOU are valuable, beyond any measure.  YOU are of infinite worth, whether you ever perform another task again.  I never measure YOUR worth on your performance.  And there is future good news:  I am much closer to living from that same place for myself.  After all, my mantra in this blog is this: wholeness and healing is for all of us.  And finally, there is the best news of all, a spark of hope:  it can start with me.  I am loved and that is enough.

(Please like or comment on this on social media if you came from Facebook, Instagram or Linked In.  It helps in spreading the good news of hope.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Celebration, Emotions, Freedom, God, Health, Hope, Love, Sacred

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

“The gospel…has but one purpose in mind:  to make brand-new creations.  Not to make people with better morals, but to create a community of…professional lovers.”  (Brennan Manning)

One definition of love is this:  connecting with others at a deep level affirming their value.  I believe this.  Each one of us has infinite worth and it needs to be affirmed through deep connection with God and others.  But really, how does this happen in the bones of what makes up each life?  After all, we have a lot going on and are stretched beyond imagination with family, work, household, community, volunteer and personal growth commitments (even the list makes me feel stressed).

Many years ago, the book, Celebration of Discipline, was circling around in the Christian world.  Practices that had primarily laid dormant for the 20th Century were being called to light by the author, Richard Foster.   He created a buzz about subjects like fasting, solitude, meditation, prayer, simplicity, worship and celebration, things related not to the outer, visible life of a person, but rather the inner, intimate life we have with God, self and others.

Having grown up in church, I viewed these disciplines as a bunch of special, super-Christian duties that would make God happy.  They didn’t really even make sense to me.  They were just piled on top of the long list of things to do that would show that I was better than the next Christian (or if I speak what’s true, that they were better than me, because I didn’t practice most of them hardly at all).

Thankfully, over time, and with more of a proper understanding, albeit still limited, I’ve sporadically, with fits and starts, attempted them all at some level, with limited success.  Most of the time, if I am being honest, they are done from a place of downright desperation for change in myself or others, a kind of “okay God, I’m-serious-about-this-and-I-need-an-answer-now” place.  It certainly hasn’t been a life-style, patiently exercising inner life muscles consistently.  It’s been knee-jerk, “help me now Jesus” and short-lived.

We all know from the tagline of my blog that I am all about hope for healing and wholeness (with some snarky humor along the way…I’ve been missing the snarky lately but I’m sure it will come back full force very soon).   I definitely want healing and wholeness for everyone I love, including you, but first I want it for me.  After all, I can’t give something away that I don’t have myself.

In this vein to grab healing and wholeness, I am reading Shauna Niequists’s book, Bittersweet.  This past week, the subject matter reared it’s ugly (I mean beautiful) head again in the chapter I was reading for my life-giving women’s small group.  We meet every Thursday morning, come hell or high water or even content we don’t want to address at the moment (told you the snarky might return in full force)Anyhow, this particular week, she spoke of how these disciplines are an “enduring way of living that has been shaping and reshaping people for thousands of years.”  They do something to the inside of the people who practice them.  They matter.

Being the “leader” of this small group and wanting to be prepared with some deep insight to share (embarrassing truth), I began to ask some questions.  How do the spiritual disciplines (or as my good friend says, “tools”…I also like the word “guides”), these centuries-old practices, this “enduring way of living” bring wholeness and healing to me, to others, to our world?  What is the real, life-changing point?

I began to think that even in the herky-jerky, sporadic times that I have allowed these to be a part of my life, they have changed me on the inside.  They seem to be an outward framework that brings inner healing.  We are actually seeing a resurgence of them all throughout our society.  Even Google has “silence and solitude” retreats for their executives.  What we have been doing for the past 50+ years, in our work-a-holic, 24/7, achievement-based culture hasn’t really worked.  These things must matter and we can’t get away with having a rich and full life without them.

But why do they matter?  What’s the larger story?  What do they provide that the running-around-in-circles, performance, “I-don’t-have-time-for-myself, you-or-God” atmosphere does not?  Here is my half-thought on the subject (that just means I haven’t fully-processed it all yet and landed somewhere completely).  They just might matter because they promote an environment where intimacy flourishes!  Relationship abounds.  Connection proliferates.  True intimacy (being fully-known and fully-loved) happens when there is space made for it and what really doesn’t matter is put aside for what really does matter.

Consider these:

Solitude grants room for intimacy with self, allowing for knowing and loving our complex and wonderful self.

Prayer provides space for connection with God, revealing to Him our private stories, dreams, hopes and heartaches, and receiving His unconditional love in return.

Meditation is a sacred place where it’s just us and God and neither one has an agenda, a quiet place to just “be” and not “do.”

Simplicity declutters the external “I’m-so-busy-I-have-so-many-things-on-my-plate-that -take-up-a-ton-of-time” stuff so that we have room for what truly matters in this life, which is love (see definition above).  There’s no better feeling than to have undistracted connection.

Worship makes a time and place that we can tell God we love Him. Celebrate Him.  Tell Him he matters to us and all the reasons why.

Fasting removes external, physical pleasure for internal, soul-level healing. I don’t know how this works. I just know that it does. Maybe it’s an “in-the-face, can’t-avoid-it” reminder that we are much more than just the physical.  It is a mystery to me, and I’m really okay with that.

Celebration says to others “you are valuable, I choose you today,” not out of convenience, but actually with fierce intentionality.  It’s why we have birthdays, weddings, showers, and even funerals.  It says, “I really know you and love you.  You matter.”  

I’m not one, being the cynical person that I am, to do things just because someone else tells me to do them.  Not my parents (much to their chagrin in raising me), not my husband, not my friends, not even my church.  I have a mild (okay a spicy) reaction to this.  If I can understand the larger backdrop, the bigger reason why it’s right and good and best, it’s much easier for me to get on board.

I am seeing something I just might have been missing.  Each of these disciplines are designed by God to promote true intimacy with self, Him and others.  They provide a good environment for my mission to become, as Manning reminds me, a “professional lover.”  I look forward to the continued changing and healing of my heart and soul.  This might just be one reason why they work and why they matter.

 

Posted in Beautiful Mess, Emotions, Freedom, God, Hope, Sacred, Thanks

I Needed Hope Today…TT (Season #01, Episode #05)

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”  (the book of Hebrews)

After almost a year of navigating the tumultuous polarization and division that is running rampant on social and regular media from every possible side, and then more recently following both the natural and man-made disasters, last night, I was done in emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  I felt as if I was living in a place and time where there is no hope.  No hope.  Not a good place for this Dolly Mama, the one whose fierce passion is to bring the message of hope and healing.  It’s what I normally shout from the mountaintops.  There’s always hope.  But last night, I was mired in a place believing I might be wrong.   There actually might not be any hope.

My thoughts swirled.  Who is going to fix this?  Why do people hate each other?  What’s with all the natural disasters?  Why do people keep vilifying those they are not in agreement with?  Where is the love?  Doesn’t anyone see that divisiveness will destroy each valuable person?  I was pretty much on a rampage to convince myself that I am wrong to think that there is redemption and hope and healing.  Hopeless might just be a more true place.  Right in the middle of my thoughts running amok, there was a song that kept running through my mind as I turned in for the night and rang loudly again in my head as I woke this morning.  It was one of those catchy tunes you wish you could get rid of but just keeps going around and around and around in your brain.  The words eventually caught hold of my heart as I was trying to tune them out.

There is hope for the helpless
Rest for the weary
Love for the broken heart
There is grace and forgiveness
Mercy and healing
He’ll meet you wherever you are
Cry out to Jesus.

(Click here for the full version but come back and read.)

Having nowhere else to turn and not really liking the place I was in, I made a bold move.  I actually took the song up on the challenge and cried out to God.   I asked Him to bring voices of HOPE, RESTORATION AND HEALING today to my heart instead of voices of fear, divisiveness and destruction.  I needed those voices today.  I needed that healing and restoration.  Many days, I am that voice.  But not today.  I was desperate for those voices from others, those that reflect the very heart of the God of unity, truth, healing, encouragement, kindness, love, hope, peace, joy, patience, all that is GOOD.  I promised Him I would keep track of them if He would just send them to me.

I quickly went right back to a “not-so-good” place and asked myself if I was just purposefully trying to avoid the bad stuff.  Shut it out.  Not deal with it.  Pretend it’s not there.  Go on in my “nice little world” and not have it be shaken up.   That thought deeply troubled me.   I am not sure that my answer was purely 100% “no.”  Life is hard.  Terrible things happen that shake me up.  I get caught up in the drama and the opinions and the tragedies.  The world is suffering and struggling.  I do want to avoid it.  However, a louder voice and a deeper, truer message broke through the darkness of my soul.  God sent those voices today.

On this,  my “Thankful Thursday,” I share them with you.

  • A beautiful sunrise on my walk and talk with wise daughter, Sarah.  She shared her heart for the poverty-stricken children she has in her second-grade classroom day after day.  She loves these kids with every cell in her body.  A voice of HOPE.
  • A text from my dear friend, Cindy, about her love and thankfulness for me and our friendship.  A voice of HOPE.
  • A quick word with my mom about my dad coming through his surgery with flying colors.  I think this man may outlive me.  A voice of HEALING.
  • A letter from my friend Kim in prison pouring out words of truth, grace, mercy, and wisdom far beyond anything I have personally known.  A voice of RESTORATION.
  • A blog post from my online friend Shelby.  A voice of HEALING.
  • A walk and talk with my pastor friend Tracy.  We shared our differences and our similarities with kindness, love and grace, with humility and reason.   A voice of RESTORATION.
  • A hard phone call with my patient husband working through a disagreement that we’ve been struggling with since Monday night.  A voice of HEALING.

I will end with an excerpt from Shelby’s blog post.  She speaks truth, the deeper truth of HOPE, HEALING AND RESTORATION!

“Wherever the Spirit of the Lord is present, He gives freedom. And the Spirit is EVERYWHERE.

God knows we long for freedom—freedom to live and love and laugh and experience the grandeur and beauty of this precious life He’s given us. Freedom from evil, discord, scarcity, oppression, shame.

If we would only look longer into the eyes of every person we meet, friends and foes, perhaps the God in them would have a better chance of connecting with the God in us. Together is the only way we press forward through these moments of suffering. Arm in arm, heart to heart, breath to breath.

Let’s make sure we love…with every fiber of our being.

Love binds, love sustains, love endures, love heals, LOVE WINS.”

(Read her entire post here)

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Celebration, Emotions, God, Health, Joy, Love, Marriage, Travel

Ciao Italia! (Due cose che ho imparato)

“In Italy, they add work and life onto food and wine.”  (Robin Leach)

I spent the past 10(ish) days in Italy (with a one-day jaunt to Switzerland) with my wonderful husband.  It was our 25th anniversary trip 18 months late (somehow we couldn’t stop Sarah from getting married, Josh from needing surgery, Jared from graduating college, and Rachel having high school and no license yet so that we could take our trip on time).

We had two days in Rome, one day in Pisa with Daniella, Josh’s girlfriend, two+ days in Cinque Terre (the Five Lands) on the west coast, two days in Milan (part of which was our day in Switzerland) with our good friends and missionaries, and then two days in Venice.  It was a whirlwind.

We found out that in order to get by as an English speaker, you basically need 5 words:  ciao (hello and goodbye), grazie (thank you)prego (you are welcome, please come, after you, have a seat)allora (total filler word, like “um”, “well”) and toilette? (I’ll let you figure that one out all on your own).  We became pretty good at fudging our way through and made it home in one piece with our passports and luggage.  Of course, I am up at 3 am writing this blog post because it’s full-blown day-time there.  I should already be finished with breakfast and have logged about 5,000 steps!

If you haven’t looked it up yet on Google Translate, “due cose che ho imparato” (the subtitle above) means “two things I learned.”  Amid all the incredible eating of pasta, pizza and gelati (I had it for 10 straight days and sometimes even twice.  It was my goal!), touring breath-taking architecture and landscapes, endless shopping in fantastic local boutiques, and traveling on boats, trains and planes, my mind kept meandering to two central “take-aways” from the trip, having nothing to do with any of the above.

1.  I took myself with me.  I would love to tell you that it was 10 completely magical days, that I was immediately changed into an always thankful, patient, kind, loving and joyful human, but the truth is, I brought my real self (the broken and the beautiful) along with me.  There were times where my eyes and heart leapt with the adventure of it all and I was filled with sheer gratitude and awe, but there were other times where I immediately lost patience over train schedules and people cutting in line.  There were times where Allen and I were like two young honeymooners, selfless and in love, but there were other times where we were unkind and hurtful to each other.  It hit home once again that it’s not the quick-fix, external circumstances that heal us in the internal places of our hearts, but the slow and sometimes day-to-day inner work we do in cooperation with a God who is in it with us for the long-haul.  Phew!

2.  I didn’t belong.  Not being able to fully communicate (to understand and be understood) was the first clue to realizing this was not my place and these were not my people.  I felt lost and confused and at times, didn’t seem to even know how to get the help I needed.  Cars and trucks (albeit miniature-sized) darting in and out of pedestrians without many traffic laws, militia standing on street corners with machine guns, currency that looked like monopoly money, and strange food (okay, I got you there…it felt like New Jersey with the pizza, pasta and ice cream shops on every corner) assured me that I was “no longer in Kansas” as the saying goes.  I was drawn into the adventure, the “otherness,” and am truly grateful.  I was changed a bit.  My eyes were opened a little more.  It was really fun and I needed that.  However, being with Allen (my person) was the best part of the whole trip.  And now I know why.   Deep within me, my soul aches for belonging, community, understanding, being understood, my place and my people.  This is most often where healing and the journey towards wholeness takes place, within the belonging to a kind and gracious God and a loving community of others.  My biggest “inner reaction” surprise of the whole trip was when we were standing in line waiting for our passports to be checked upon our return to Newark and the agent said, “Welcome home!”  I could feel my heart let out a sigh.  I belong here.  (A huge shout-out to those of you who are on this life journey with me!  I have missed you!)

Italy was a dream-come true and a big check mark on our bucket list!  And the travel bug has been tickled in my soul!  I am already making plans for a family trip to Alaska.  But today, on a mundane Monday morning, it’s really really okay for me to say Caio Italia and HELLO LONG HILL!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Anxiety, Emotions, Freedom, God, Health

What My Dog Taught Me About Anxiety

“I need you to love me a little louder today.”  (Healthyplace.com)

This past year, our dog, Autumn, tore both of her ACLs and we made the very hard decision to put her to sleep.  She was an absolutely beautiful dog, a loving dog, an active dog, a mischievous dog, and a highly-anxious dog.  At our first vet visit when she was just a puppy, we were told that she probably had neurological issues (because we made the lovely decision to buy a pure-breed).  Little did we know then, but soon found out, that this dog was one nervous-nelly.

Life marched on and she had all kinds of typical dog anxiety related to thunder, strangers, and loud noises (like Allen and I yelling at the TV during Steelers games).  But she also had “not-so-typical” dog anxiety where she panted and paced often for no reason, snapped at the air like she was catching flies even when she was alone (it’s called fly-biting syndrome) and tried to climb out of our home through the fire place.

Needless to say, you get my point.  Like her loving owner, this dog had some serious issues with the dreaded monster of anxiety.  As the years went on, I learned some very valuable lessons from my Autumn, many that I remind myself on the days that anxiety rears its ugly head in my own life and the lives of those I love.

#1  Anxiety can come out of nowhere.
There are times that I find myself in a place that only moments before was nowhere to be found.  I am going along just fine and out of the blue, I have thoughts that are absolutely ridiculous and filled with fear.  (I haven’t heard from Josh today.  I wonder if he’s okay.  He is, Esther.  You are ridiculous.  But he could have fallen in the shower and all his housemates are already at school.  He might be laying there bleeding or worse, he might be dead.  How will we deal with this?  I will be wreck.  Stop it Esther.  This is nuts.)  This may have come on the heels of enjoying a nice breakfast out with a friend while drinking chamomile tea.

#2  Anxiety usually passes.
After years of observing Autumn’s and my own anxiety, I have come to realize that it doesn’t usually last.  The same way it roars into my life, it often makes its way out.  This is a lifeline for me in the throes of it.  On a very bad day, I remind myself that it will eventually pass.  It might take some time, but it won’t be like this forever.  It seems to be cyclical.   Shalom (meaning completeness, soundness, peace) is a life-long journey, with many fits and starts along the way.

#3  Anxiety isn’t about trusting God.
One day, Autumn was just beside herself.  It might have been a thunderstorm.  She was pacing and panting, wide-eyed and whining.  In a moment of clarity, I said to her (very tongue-in-cheek), “Autumn, you just need to trust God more.”  You are probably thinking to yourself, “That’s ridiculous.  She’s a dog.”  And you know what, it is ridiculous.  For years, I added to the shame of my anxiety by berating myself about not trusting God enough.  I memorized verses about fear, the “do not fear” ones especially (and yes, I do know that here are 365 verses about fear, one for every day…I would imagine you might sense the sarcasm).  I promise you.  If memorizing these verses and trying really hard to “trust God more” would have done the trick and that formula could have worked, I would be all over it, preaching it from the mountaintops.  If it were only that easy.  But the hard truth is it’s not.

This is a message for all of us.  Anxiety is a neurological disorder.   Anxiety is when a person’s central nervous system is telling them there is an emergency even when there isn’t one.   Anxiety comes from a place of fright without solution.  Yes, we can feed it and make it worse (learned all about those neurons firing and giant pathways being created in my Physiology class in college).  I am an expert at feeding it.   And yes, new pathways can be formed that bring calm to the nervous system.  I am in the process of feeding those new pathways now and have been for many years (which has helped tremendously).  In the end, it’s all very complicated and I am not an expert in the field.  But that’s not the point.

Here is the point.  For those of you who don’t struggle, please don’t tell the person in the middle of it to “trust God more.”  I promise you it won’t help.  It may just heap more frustration and shame on the person and send them deeper into hiding.  And for those of you, like me, who have this monster hounding them on many days and during many seasons, think about my dog.  Give yourself some grace.  Tell yourself some truth.  It’s just as ridiculous to say “trust God more” to yourself as it is to my dog.

#4  Anxiety dissipates by being “held.”
The best thing we could do for our dog, when she was at her worst and visibly shaking with fear, was to hold or pet her, come close to her, and speak gently and kindly to her.  That’s really what those of us with anxiety need.  We need someone to listen to our fears, be gentle and kind to us and most of all, hold us until it passes (this can be emotional or physical).  My favorite words in the whole world are, “It’s going to be okay.  You (the real you) are going to be okay.”

The big question that nags is what if there is not someone tangible to hold us?  Can we go to God?  Will He calm our hearts?  It’s not magic and certainly not a quick-fix formula, but I promise you that He cares for you.  He loves you.  He will listen.  He will be kind and tender to you.  He will hold you until your heart and mind calm.  A verse that I reprimanded myself with for many years got flipped on its head one day by our counselor.  I Peter 5:7.  Instead of “cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you,” it is actually the reverse in the Greek.  It really says, “Because He cares for you, you can cast all your anxiety on Him.”  God is the initiator here.  We ARE cared for.  He holds us.  To that truth, I cling with my life.  Shalom.

(By the way, I loved my dog and I miss her very much.  I wouldn’t have traded her for the world, fly-biting and all.)