Saturday, April 22, 2017

Come, Let us Worship Together

Remember the Sabbath.
Do we?
Keep it holy.
Are we?

A knot develops in my stomach as I think of the "worship" services I've attended in my lifetime. Many were far from worshipping Jesus Christ.  A handful of people performed on a stage singing "Christian" music evoking an emotional response while a crowd stared up at them.  As emotions heightened, the performers amped it up lifting their hands higher, waving their arms harder, skipping across the stage at times.  The crowd loved this. Lyrics chanted repeatedly flashed up on a screen often reminding us of what we needed to do to be in good standing with God.

As everyone took their seats after the mini concert, a charismatic speaker wearing trendy clothes took the mic.  He was very engaging and personable.  He told some funny stories, used a few verses from the Bible to support his points about living a Christian life making heartfelt comments along the way to make us feel better about ourselves.

When his talk was done, one left feeling more of a duty to be a better Christian, yet no real tools to do so.  There was always the nag to be better.  There was never true peace.

You could sign up for service opportunites that had to be filled.  You were doing your part if you helped clean up after church, helped with parking duty, worked with the children in their "church", gave of your musical talents, etc.  This was called service, and the people who are recognized were the ones who gave a lot of their service.

So, this is what the Sabbath is supposed to be?  I don't think so.

It seems to me many churches have lost focus. The focus is turned inward while Christ is used as some sort of banner to adorn the church walls.

The Sabbath is the sign.  It points us to Jesus.  Our REST!  That is what Sabbath means.  The Sabbath is about preaching the Word, not a self help sermon with a few Bible verses sprinkled in for good measure.  It is about the Holy Word of God that is to be heard and learned.  It is about coming together in fellowship to participate in the sacraments.

I think Christian culture has confused what Psalm 26:8 means.  "I love the house where You live, O Lord, the place where Your glory dwells." Why are we begging God to come.  He is in his house where his people are.  If you don't "feel" anything, that doesn't mean he isn't there.  That's pretty self centered of us to think that a feeling is what is needed for God to be present in his house with his people.

What happened to the service of loving our neighbors?  Service doesn't mean you fill every service slot at church or have to raise tons of money to travel overseas.  It means you show love to the mean old man that lives across the street.  It means you support a friend who is having a hard time.  It means you make time for your own family and their needs.  It means you pray for God to mend relationships and change parts of your heart that need tending.  You don't have to go far to serve God.

We complicate something that is so simple.  Worship cannot be conjured up.   We cannot make ourselves better people.  We are wretches saved by the miraculous grace of God.  "This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at My Word." Isaiah 66:2

After many frustrating years of filling my obligatory duty, worship on a Sunday morning has become my favorite time of the week.  I sit with my brothers and sisters in Christ singing sweet hymns about our Savior, listening to the Gospel being preached, and breaking bread with them at the Lord's Table. I am reminded of my sinfulness, but also reminded that the debt has been paid in full.  I am forgiven. Thanks be to God!

"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." Acts 2:42

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Mommy, You are NOT Enough!
Becoming a parent has most certainly stretched me beyond my limits…limits I didn’t even know I had!  Being just a touch neurotic, especially after the birth of my first daughter, I immersed myself in the study of how to be the best parent in the world.
You are probably chuckling at this point if you have had kids for awhile.  The perfect parent just doesn’t exist.  It never has, and it never will.
That’s why I get frustrated by some posts I see these days.  Feeling guilty about not being as good of a parent as you’d like just comes with the job description.  There are those out there that seem to feel the need to tell everyone else how they should parent their children and why they are doing a disservice to their children if they don’t.  Yeah, that may be overstepping some boundaries that the social media world we live in has blurred.
Yet, the response to these highly opinionated posts isn’t necessarily helpful either.  I’ve seen so many people try to uplift other parents by telling them that they are enough for those babies. While I agree God gave them to us specifically for reasons beyond what we know, I do not agree that we are enough for them, and I’ll tell you why.
A year of trying to be enough for everyone led to a bout with clinical depression.   I spent 4-5 days and nights with barely any sleep, a fussy nursing baby, a whiny two year old, mounting laundry, and errands (you get the drift).  I realized I can’t do it all.  It’s nice to hear how wonderful you are, but that’s not where you truly find freedom.
All of my intense research and anxious protection of my children in the beginning was NOT enough.  The days and nights of being by myself with a newborn and 2 year old taught me the very valuable lesson that I will NEVER be enough for them.  
I am only enough because of Jesus Christ within me.  He through me gives me the strength.  I just don’t have it.  Realizing this, takes the burden off of me, because I don’t have to worry about how my failures, my humanity, is ever going to be enough to raise decent human beings.  That’s the thing.  I am human.  That’s okay.  Where I fail, Jesus takes up the slack.  I’m glad I’m not enough!  He is perfect, and I can point my children towards him in my successes and failures.  
My kids need their creator.  I need MY creator.  Yes, these beautiful, precious children have been placed in our family, but they are not mine.  They are God’s children first just I am.  I have the mind blowing opportunity to teach them and they me.  That’s enough for me.

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'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 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.