Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Lord, I Lift My Hands on High

We often hear and see church advertisements asking us to come join in worship.  There are people with their eyes closed and hands raised high looking up at a stage of others doing the same.  We are invited to meet with God in an atmosphere electrically charged with dynamic music and fun speakers. It seems like a lot of fun, right?

You can come in, get some coffee, socialize and sing some repetitive songs that invite you to amp yourself up emotionally.  Then, listen to a pastor give some funny anecdotes, personal stories, and throw in a few verses while making alliterated points.  At the end, the music appeals to your emotions again as there is a call to evaluate your life and make a change.

Yeah, I can't say I had a lot of fun in these environments.  After countless hollow "worship" experiences,  I began to flounder in a pit of despair.  When would I get this right?  Why couldn't I just be a good Christian?  I felt like I saw others on this spiritual high that I could never seem to quite grasp.  If I got it for a moment, it was fleeting, and I spent most of my time desperately seeking to experience it again.  I spent YEARS on a hamster wheel of dissatisfaction.

Not until my thirties did I begin to realize the problem.  Going to church and worship is not about what we do to please God, make him happy with us, or to give to us a spiritual high.  Of course, I was miserable!  I was looking for my own actions and my own heart to give me God.  I was waiting for a moment when I would be able to create within myself a sanctuary fit for God.  I thought my warm and fuzzy feelings equated "good" worship.

It wasn't until I began to acknowledge that I cannot do anything good without the love and grace of Jesus Christ that freedom began to truly come.  When I started looking up at the cross and not within myself, the guilt began to cease.  He paid it all, so why was I still trying to earn salvation by my works?

Worship isn't feeling good as you sing the same words of a song over and over again.  Worship is humbly admitting my sinfulness and His holiness.  It's looking up at that cross and acknowledging that I did NOTHING to deserve the Son of God taking my place. Worship is not so much of us serving God but God coming down to earth and serving us. That is love.  That is salvation.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

What Women Want

A woman's power of persuasion is intoxicating and undeniably hard to resist.  How easily and cruelly we can turn the head of a man.  It's our gift.  It's our curse.

From the beginning we have taken the lead when we had no business doing so. Case in point-Eve.
Sarah was certain she would never conceive a child, and took matters into her own hands resulting in conflict that exists to this day.  Women can take the love a of a man and exploit it to meet their own agenda.  The thing is though, our agenda is often tainted resulting in heartache and pain.

Image result for mary on donkeyYet, we have an example in Mary, the mother of Jesus, of a woman that did not take matters in her own hands when things just didn't make sense. Her faith was undeniable.  Instead of thinking she knew a better way, she trusted.  She believed God's Word.  She was not cynical, controlling, or manipulative.  She let God's plan unfold.  She trusted Joseph to take her on an arduous, taxing journey when she was 9 months pregnant.  How many of us today would agree to that?!

What would happen if we stopped complaining so much when men in our lives didn't do exactly as we demanded?  What would happen if we got a real dose of humility and stopped thinking we know better?  I'd venture to say the world would be a lot more peaceful.

I'm by no means saying that men are perfect.  I'm saying that humility puts things into perspective-for both sexes.  We compliment each other best when we can take that into account.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A Broken Brain; Faces of Depression

As if mental illness is not difficult enough, the expectation in society that we have it "together" blankets it in even more shame.  Sure, we have organizations that raise money for mental health awareness.  That's awesome, but I think there's still a stigma.  Only people that are of a lower socioeconomic status seem to have the permission from our society to admit to such a "failure".  If you have a degree, are a professional, live in suburbia...you're supposed to have your shit together.

Appearances still mean a lot in our American culture.  As a parent, it just gets worse.  You're constantly judged on how you're raising your children.   I don't want other mothers to know that I can't make it out of the house some days with my kids, because I just don't have the stamina to get them ready and out the door.  I feel so much guilt, because I want to do more for my kids...but right now, if I go through the day giving them attention at home and making sure they're fed, it's a good day. 
Before medication

Being a mental health professional, I definitely have not felt the freedom to admit just how bad my depression has gotten.  I don't want other professionals to know that I will be laying in bed all day bawling my eyes out in pain if I don't take my Prozac.  

I know it's my own pride.  I have always been the one that kept it all together for those around me. The fact that I'm not stable has been very humbling.  The fact that there is nothing physically causing the mental illness is also sobering.  Years of rage toward my father for killing himself have turned to empathy.  It feels as though my brain is broken, and there's no cure.  I know now how hopeless he felt.  The difference is that I have a family that I haven't lost.  I have a faith that, albeit often feeble, sustains me.  The difference is, I haven't given up hope, though I truly feel that tug.

On meds for a few days
On meds for a week
I cannot trust my feelings, and that is hard to accept.  For someone that is intuitive, it's hard not to trust your gut.  Yet, I cannot give into destructive feelings and thoughts.  The bright side is, when you're at the bottom of a hole, you can look up and see that there is light. And that's what matters. The hope and light of the world promises peace.  Within the cold, barrenness He gives sunshine.

He is with us always, even unto the end of the age.  Everywhere and in every situation.  Thanks be to God.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Depression: Leprosy on the Inside

I often wish that anxiety and depression wasn't a battle that I face constantly.  I find myself wishing I could be one of those people that seems clueless what it's like to feel like you're fighting to live. They seem to be so carefree and uninhibited by the deep chasm of pain that never seems to heal.  I wonder what it must be like to live life without the roller coaster of emotions and earnest prayers just to get through the day sometimes.

It can feel like the person you loved most in the world has just died.  That's how I described it to my husband.  You don't just feel sad, you feel things that words can't describe.  Something can trigger it, or sometimes you just don't know why your heart, mind and body want to curl up into a ball and hibernate.

It's not always that way.  It comes and goes like an unpredictable tide bringing good and bad with it. It is a lonely place that is often guarded even when others are trying to bring you out of it.  I thank God he has placed people in my life that won't let me go into my hole and disappear.

Although, it is crazy hard, and I often cry out to God questioning why,  I am glad He has given me this perspective into the pain others feel.  I can often see their hurt when others cannot.

This journey began at birth.  I was raised in a home of abuse, neglect, alcoholism, and mental illness.  I can't tell you I understand why, but I know He gave me the parents I had for a reason.  I have been able to help others because of this upbringing.  When it seemed no one else in the world understood, I have been able to be that person for them.  I thank God for that.

Jesus is that for me and all of us.   He endured pain we can't fathom, not only physically, but in every other way as well.  He was rejected, abused, and abandoned by those he loved.  Yet, he was patient, kind, loving and truthful never insisting on his own way but knowing the Father had a path carved out for him.

Had I not been the forgotten child who suffered, and still does, I would not know that truth of his suffering in an intimate way.  Although I have leprosy on the inside that will not be fully healed until I see him face to face, I will take up this cross and keep walking.

Nevertheless, some days, I just want to die.

That's just the way it is.  I don't mean I'm suicidal.

I'm tired.

I'm 34 years old, but I feel like an 84 year old emotionally and mentally.  The rest of heaven is quite appealing, but I keep pressing on, not because I am better than anyone else, but because of the God that I love and serve.  Each day I am here, was part of his plan.

It often feels as though my husband and I are pushing a brick wall out of our way, because we are the link breaking the cycle.  With my marriage and my children, generations of horrific abuse from both my mother and father's side of the family stops.

This evil taunts me daily.  It's like a magnetic force.  I know it too well-the hatred, sadistic thoughts and actions-beckon me to give in and pass along the curse to my kids.  That's why I get so exhausted.  The battle is waged inwardly and outwardly.

I will not give up or give in, though.  I keep pressing on to show my girls that God is always the victor, the savior, our defender and helper though our nature and the enemy fights against us.  I work so hard, so that they will see Jesus clearly without the bondage I have known before.

Depression will most likely always be a part of my life.  I know that.  I also know that God has given me his Word and himself to center me again.  He has given me a husband that partners with me and has not given up on me even during my darkest, scariest days.  He's given me 2 babies we get to meet one day in heaven.  I thank God for their lives and how their existence brings joy and hope to us. God has also given me 2 beautiful children here on earth that make my heart swell up with love every day.
I fight for my girls.  I fight for their future.  I fight, because this is my calling.  God is using me to change the course of history in my family and beyond.

Anything worth fighting for, takes sacrifice and struggle.   The easy road is often the devil's road.  It looks appealing, but it's filled with land mines that hurt you and everyone around you.  He knows us too well, and often gives us options that take us to places that seem comfortable.  Yet, his deception never solves anything.  It keeps us from living the lives God meant us to live.

The road I was meant to tread was this one.  It's the one where I marry a great guy and have two beautiful children.  I would have chosen to live alone, not get too close to anyone and immerse myself in a career, but I obeyed God by marrying a man that would break a sick cycle of abuse and help save my life.  I'd be lying if I said it has been an easy marriage.  Breaking bondage is a lot of work that is often messy and heart wrenching.  Yet, the holy spirit has been with us every step of the way, keeping us together and fighting alongside us.

Now, I undertake motherhood, and frankly, it scares me to death.  I worry about passing along traits that will scar my children.  Yet, I see the blessing of my past and what it has taught me.  I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that these children are treasures and not my own.  I know that there is ugliness in me that affects them, and I know the power of God's salvation is the only thing that makes me a fit mother.

I do the things I do not want to do, most assuredly, but he is my salvation and theirs. It is a lie to believe that we are good apart from the cross of Christ.  It is also a lie to believe that he cannot redeem us.  He died once for ALL.  He even died for my abusers and yours.

People have often stated that I am so strong coming from the past I've had.  If they only knew how weak I really am!  I know how to survive, but surviving is not living.  I have just started learning what it means to live the past few years, because I was crippled by my own self sufficiency.  I started feeling free the day I began letting go.

The more I accept the faith of Christ, and just let it wash over me, the more I know true freedom.  He expects nothing from me, but me.

When the darkness lay before me all around and up and down, He is the light.  He is the rope pulling me from the pit and the lighthouse that won't let me drown.

Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul - and sings the tunes without the words - and never stops at all.  
~Emily Dickinson

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

How Postpartum Depression Changed my Life

The day my second daughter was born was one of the most wonderful days of my life. She was healthy, beautiful and safe.  My pregnancy with her was filled with angst worrying that she wasn't safe.  I had a miscarriage just 1 month before she was conceived and bled from weeks 5 to 14 while pregnant with her.  I went to the ER at week 9 convinced I had miscarried I was bleeding so much. So, the day she was born was a celebration to say the least!  She was finally here.

When I started crying profusely the first week I was home, I knew it was postpartum.  However, the crying spells passed after the first week, and I thought I had a very mild case.  I was pretty exhausted taking care of a newborn and 2 year old.  My husband changed careers shortly after the birth, and I stopped working.  I had always wanted to stay home with my children, at least while they were young.  This should have been a dream come true, right?


I became more and more miserable as the days passed.  I became more angry and frustrated, especially at my 2 year old.  My husband was home 2-3 days per week.  I felt alone and so very tired.  I just thought I was reacting to the lack of sleep due to breastfeeding during the night.

As months passed, I became more angry.  I often took this out on my 2 year old by screaming at her when she wasn't listening.  I smacked her when I could have talked to her.  My behavior caused immense guilt and shame especially since I had worked with children with behavioral issues for a decade.  I knew I wasn't reacting the right way to her, but I just didn't know how to give her what I knew she needed from me.  It seemed we were stuck in the Bermuda Triangle, destined to repeat a dysfunctional pattern.

I had terrible thoughts.  Some were about harming the baby.  Some were about harming myself.  I would just tell myself to stop it and try to think of something else not wanting to acknowledge how I felt.

I also had unrealistic, horrendous thoughts.  I would often have the thought that an airplane was going to crash into our house when I heard one flying over.  I also thought, almost every time I went down them, that I was going to drop the baby down the stairs, and she would die.  I was lethargic and always exhausted.

I told my husband my concerns about my behavior when he wasn't around, but we both chalked it up to sleep deprivation, stress and hormones.  When he was home, I wasn't treating him well either.

I have a history of depression, but this was different.  I just didn't realize what was going on, and I had the mentality that I needed to keep everything together.  I needed to take care of the girls without complaint, because my husband had sacrificed so much so that I could be home with them.

It wasn't until the baby was about 9 or 10 months old that I woke up one day, and I felt more like myself.  That's when it clicked.  That's when I realized what had been happening.  That's when things started to be pleasurable again, like taking care of my children.  That's when I started to laugh again.  I don't think I had really genuinely laughed until my baby was almost a year old.

It took another few months to completely be free of the wretchedness of postpartum depression and anxiety.  I hate that the early days of my baby's life and time with my 2 year old was marred by something so ugly...something that resembled me but was not me.  It's like I was replaced by a robot version that did what she needed to do, but her heart was somewhere else.

Looking back, I see how difficult it would be for others to realize what was going on.  I appeared the same.  I even acted about the same.  I didn't want to admit to myself how bad it was.  I didn't want to spend every day and night with my children.  I wanted to go far away where no one needed me to feed them, change them or give them attention.  I wanted a cave or a shell to hide in.

There were subtle differences in my personality.  I got irritated a lot more and didn't have as much patience.  I needed to get away more.  I was more negative than usual.  I often felt numb.

I was drowning, and no one knew it.  Reaching out for help is kind of impossible when you can't keep your head above water, and you're holding two kids.  My saving grace was God sending me a piece of driftwood so that I could start to catch my breath again.  Eventually, there was a boat to save me...to save us (myself, children and husband) from the storm of postpartum.

Now, I thank God for this time.  Without it, I would not cling as tightly to my kids now.  I wouldn't make as much time for them or stop myself as much before I yell for something inconsequential.  I'm far from perfect, but I'm not the frazzled, falling apart human being I was 6 months ago.

I still struggle with guilt for how I acted towards my oldest daughter, but I pray she will learn from me what it means to ask for forgiveness.  I learned that I will never be the perfect parent I had always hoped to be.  I will fail miserably, and I will ask for forgiveness.  Though I struggle, I will always strive to do better.  I will point my children to the cross, the only perfection they need.  We will always disappoint one another, but Jesus Christ never will.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Prostitute and the Farm Boy

Many years ago, there was a farm boy that ventured to the city.  He came from a family that filled his life with love and laughter.  He always felt safe.  He knew they would always be there for him.

He had no money.  He had nothing but the clothes on his back and a small sack of food he'd packed, but he wanted to do this on his own.

The boy decided to spend his nights on the street until he could find work.  He found a warm spot near the center of the city, and the heart of the night life.  He saw things that he'd never seen before. He saw the worst in people.  Greed, violence, prostitution and deceit that piled up on itself.

The boy was disgusted by these things at first.  He wondered how people could ever treat others or themselves in such a horrible way, but then, he saw something that changed everything.

He was hiding out in his handmade home watching as he usually did at night.  He saw a woman loudly calling out to a man to invite her back to his room.   When the man yelled back a profane insult while laughing, the boy turned back to the woman.
Her face dropped.  It seemed she just couldn't take anymore insults. She slid down the concrete wall in the dimly lit alley until she was sitting on the damp street.  As though a floodgate opened, there she was...sobbing, wailing, with her face buried in her hands.  She started shivering and tried to pull down her snug dress that wouldn't give past mid thigh.  As she continued to try to pull down her dress, she became angry hitting her thighs screaming out into the brisk evening, "I hate you!  Why?"  She continued to scream between her agonizing cries.

The farm boy was mesmerized.  He felt his heart begin to break for her.  He continued to watch as she seemed to tire from a pain like he'd never seen.

The woman stood up.  She pulled her dress down.  Pushed her breasts up higher, straightened her hair and wiped her eyes.  She took a few slow, deep breaths and as though becoming someone else, she stood up straight lifting her head high into the air.

A minute or two passed while the farm boy peered around a dumpster still watching.  Then, a man exited a nearby bar, clearly drunk.  The woman set her gaze on him and started jogging in her high heels to catch up to him.  She was all smiles while she grabbed his bicep complimenting his physique.

As they walked off in to the misty evening, the farm boy realized he'd never be the same.
He'd never look at a prostitute the same way again.
He'd never judge the person based on the sin.
He knew now.  He knew just a little bit about that woman.
He knew a little bit more about mankind.
He knew a little bit more about himself.
And he was ashamed.

He had judged so harshly before.  He did not love first.  He was unlovable, just as he had judged the prostitute to be unlovable.  Yet, Jesus loves us anyway.
He asked God to forgive him, and he thanked God for showing him the reality of human depravity.

The farm boy found work within a week and got an apartment in the city.

He went back to his street home a few weeks later to find the prostitute at her regular corner.  When he asked her to go get a cup of coffee instead of have sex, she started laughing.  After convincing her he'd pay her anyway, she agreed.

The farm boy explained over coffee how he'd seen her a few weeks ago crying in the alley.  The woman immediately became defensive and suspicious.  The meeting ended with the farm boy giving her information for a shelter and his coffee card.  Though hesitant to accept, she did...making sure he knew this didn't mean she was leaving her lifestyle.

Years went by.
The boy turned into a man.   He married and had two girls.

One afternoon, he passed by the coffee shop where he had met with the prostitute so many years before.  He passed by it often and would pray for her each time.  This time, he glanced inside, looked away and immediately flung his head back to the window.

In line staring up at the board holding her coffee card-was the prostitute.

He casually walked in, but inside there was a whirlwind of emotions swirling around like a tornado out of control.  He was nervous, excited, curious, and hesitant.  He waited for her to get her coffee and stood a few feet away looking at her, hoping she would see him and instantly remember.

She glanced up, but walked away.

His heart sank, but before he could decide whether he wanted to chase after her or let her go, she turned around walking determinedly towards him with her gaze fixed.

"Do I know you?"  she asked with a concentrated furrow.

"Yes!"  he said with a grin on his face almost laughing.  "I bought you coffee here a long time ago."

Her mouth dropped.  Tears welled up in her eyes.
"It's you"  she said as though seeing someone raised from the dead.  "It's you!"

They instantly hugged laughing and crying all at the same time.

They two sat at the coffee shop catching up for an hour or so.  The woman told him how she decided to go to that shelter after all.  She was able to get on her feet, get some counseling and get off the street.  It turns out she was pretty good at public relations.  She went back to school, married and had a son.

The two promised to keep in touch and set a time for their families to meet.  But before they left, the farm boy said, "You know, I never did get your name."

"It's Hope" she said.
"Even when I didn't believe it, it was always Hope."

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

How a Baptist Preacher's Daughter Became a Lutheran

If you had told me 10 years ago that I would be a Lutheran by my early 30s, I would have given you a blank stare and probably thought something like, "Okay, crazy person, aren't Lutherans like Catholics?"

That's kind of embarrassing since I grew up in a very religious environment.  It's embarrassing that I didn't know enough about what I believed to have any idea what the difference was between Catholics and Lutherans.  Sadly, I grew up knowing religion but very little about the grace and true Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 I grew up in Baptist circles where my life was touched by some very kind people.  Some of them truly showed the love of Christ to me and my family.

However, the message conveyed to me for 3 decades was not really the Gospel.
Even the call for salvation is to ask Jesus into your heart.
Where is that in Scripture?  Which disciple asked Jesus into his heart?  Which sinner did this?  Did the thief of the cross?

I've never found anything to support this.  Yet, I believed it, felt the pressure as a very young child to pray the "sinner's prayer" and get other people to do it, too.  I did become a Christian as a young child, but I never knew what that truly meant until recently.

I learned at the age of 31 that I don't have to do anything.  No, it's not about me!  It's about what Jesus has done.  I grew up hearing this at times, but the expectation was that I do something.  I had to hear God's prompting.  I needed to walk down to the altar.  I needed to feel my sinfulness and ask Jesus to come to me.

Guess what?  He's already there.  He doesn't need us to parade our pridefulness with a cloak of so called humility.

There was always a big to do about knowing the exact time and place when you asked Jesus to be your Savior.  I find this kind of comical now, because Jesus already was my Savior!  Why did I need to do anything in order for that to happen?

It's silly when you think about it.  It's like my daughter asking me if I will be her Mommy. Well, of course I'm her Mother.  She can reject that fact and turn away from me, but that doesn't make it untrue.

I also grew up feeling that I had to validate myself to those in the church.  I felt I had to keep doing things right in order to earn their approval.  I grew up always doubting.  I was always guilty and never felt like I had done enough.  Yet, I never realized I felt this way.  All I knew was that I carried an immense burden around that I couldn't seem to shake.

I believed that I could somehow be a "better Christian" if I didn't smoke, curse, drink, do drugs or have sex before marriage. Be as abstinent as possible basically.  I didn't get the memo that I wasn't going to hell if I had a beer.  I thought I was good if I gave to others, was at church all of the time, and associated with other "good" people.

So, I tried, and of course, I failed.  When I failed, I hid it.  I hid it because the message had been received since I was a small child that good Christians don't do bad things. 

That is an oxymoron.  What Christian is good?  Isn't that why we need Jesus so desperately?  We are all filthy sinners, but by his grace and sacrifice on the cross, we are made whole.

I knew how to be "good".  If the church doors were open, we were there.  If there was a choir to sing in, a team to go witnessing or a mission trip to go on, I was there.  I had scripture memorized, even chapters at a time.

I knew the rules.

Ah, but I was SO miserable.  I was chained not truly knowing the freedom that's in Christ.  Yes, there are rules to be followed, but not the dos and don'ts that I once thought would lead me to acceptance. I didn't realize I was already accepted-wholly and fully.  Only after my first daughter was born and we began attending a Lutheran church did things begin to change.

My husband really wanted us to raise our children in a doctrinally sound church where the truth was preached and taught.  I was very hesitant in the beginning.  It was extremely different.  It was very ordered and liturgical.  I found it stuffy.  Where was the praise band?  Where was the high energy preacher with lots of funny stories?

I found myself getting upset.  I didn't hear judgment every Sunday.  I heard forgiveness, and that scared me.  I didn't know how to be a Christian without that weight of judgment on me.  I didn't know what to do if expectations of my performance were not the focus of the sermon.

Time passed, and I began to accept the free gift of Christ's forgiveness as we took communion.

I remember thinking, "This is it?  My sins are forgiven?  But God, I did the most terrible thing this week.  I said something horrible to my husband."

It didn't matter.  My sins were forgiven.

That is a truly humbling experience.  To be knelt down at an altar taking the body and blood of Christ knowing that he died so that my sins could be forgiven.  The sins I blatantly commit.  The sins that I defend.  The sins I don't even acknowledge.  He's forgiven them all.  He sees me.  He sees the need of me and the rest of the world.  How desperately pitiful we are!  How we need a Savior!  He loves us without strings attached.

That's why it's so amazing and you find so much freedom from hearing ALL of the gospel.  Not just the law.  Yes, we are utterly condemned, AND we are eternally saved.  Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God...not just certain verses that suit us but the entire Bible.

I have never been less guilt ridden and felt more freedom.  Thanks be to God.  I think I'll go have a glass of wine. :)