driving on a flat tire

One morning a few weeks ago as I headed out to meet a friend at our local coffee shop, I noticed that my car seemed really loud inside.  

Really loud.  Hmm.  

I kept driving.  

Then I changed lanes and when I ran over the reflector bumps in the middle of the road, it was super-super loud.  

Again, hmmm.

I kept driving.  

Wondering why the car was so loud.  Driving a little slower, in case it was going to blow up or something.  

Then I tried running over the bumps with the other wheels, and it wasn't loud.  So then I started thinking that maybe I had a flat tire.

Guess what?

Yup.  I'm sorry to say it, but it's true:  I kept driving.  

All the way to the coffee shop.  Then I got out of the car, looked at the tires, and sure enough, one of them was flat as a pancake.  

Whereupon I did what I always do when something mechanical or technical malfunctions:  I called Andy.  And he did what he always does:  he came and fixed it.  

I would say "no questions asked" because he never makes me feel bad about fixing whatever it is I've broken.

But actually he did have questions like, "When did the noise start?" and "Exactly how far did you drive on this tire?"  Those were legit questions, trying to ascertain the possible extent of the damage.  

My answers, unfortunately, were pretty vague, because I just sort of didn't know.  I don't pay much attention to the mechanical and technical things in my life.  Maintenance doesn't cross my mind.  I just roll along, expecting everything to work.

 photo:  Michael Bruner

photo:  Michael Bruner

I was thinking about that this morning, because my first experience with anxiety and depression years ago was a lot like that flat tire.

I was rolling along in life, when some bothersome symptoms began to appear.  I had repetitive nightmares.  I would wake up in the night with racing thoughts, and have trouble falling asleep again.  I was unhappy and tearful and down about myself and other people and life in general.

There was a lot of emotional noise, but I didn't know what it meant.

So I kept going.

And going.

And going.

Until the day I just literally could not function any longer.  In fact, I may have been just the teensiest, tiniest bit psychotic every now and again.  

It was only afterward, when I looked back with the wisdom of hindsight, that I realized how long I'd been driving on an emotional flat tire.

I don't know that we deliberately set out to ignore the emotional symptoms of life and make ourselves completely crazy, but sometimes it just works out that way.

First of all, we may not really understand what's going on.  When I started waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to go back to sleep, I had absolutely no idea that I was experiencing the most common type of insomnia associated with anxiety.  That had never happened to me before. I didn't know what it was.

And then, who wants to pull over and change a flat?  Not me, friends and neighbors.  I have places to go, people to see.  As long as that sucker will move forward, I'll drive it.  The reality is, when we stop to work on our emotional stuff, it can make a mess of our plans.  It can be really complicated.  Really.  Reallyreallyreally complicated.

Besides all that, some of us have gotten the idea that having emotions other than joy and peace means that we aren't very spiritual, so it's pretty hard to admit that anything at all might be wrong.  

Sometimes when we've tried to talk about what's wrong, people have said things like, "Cast all your care on the Lord, because He cares for you" and "Take every thought captive" and "The joy of the Lord is our strength."  

And we retreat into our alone and broken selves, because we've tried that.  For a while now.  It just doesn't seem to be that simple, but everybody says it is, so we just don't know what to do.

So here's the question:  how do we STOP AND CHANGE THE TIRE?

Sometimes it's a medical issue, and we need meds.

  • Honestly evaluate your functioning.  If you're struggling to do what you're supposed to do every day, then it might be time to look for medical help.  I know it's hard to go there.  Meds do have side effects, and sometimes it does take time to get the right meds working in the right way.  And sure, Jesus can heal you without meds.  But most of us these days would take antibiotics for pneumonia, and say "Thank God" when the fever lifts.  If you're not functioning well, if you're not able to sleep or eat like normal, if your moods are seriously out of whack, and especially if you've got thoughts of suicide, please talk to your doctor.  Modern medicine is a gift.  Take it as needed.

Sometimes it's a social issue, and we need to make changes in our world.

  • Most of us have a front door on our house, rather than a big open space where anything and anybody can run in and out at any time.  A lockable door is a normal part of a house.  Sometimes, however, we have a hard time believing that it's an equally good idea to get some boundaries against the emotional chaos that wants to intrude.  Unhealthy stuff sneaks in over time, and other people get used to us being like we are.  Change can be tough.  And it can be so, so, so good.

Sometimes it's a psychological/spiritual issue, and we need to process through gunk from the past that informs how we think and feel and believe today.

  • Some of us believe that there are rules for acceptability:  we have to achieve great heights, make others happy, be wonderfully nice, be successful in ministry, be thin, be the perfect parent.  We don't actually live in Love, believing deep down that It Is Finished.  We have to keep going and going, and life is just one long, exhausting performance.  That's a lie.  But there is truth.  And it can set us crazy-free.

A whole bunch of times, it's all three--medical, social, and psychological/spiritual--all mixed up together.  

Changing that flat tire can be a whole lot of work.  Like Westley says in The Princess Bride:  "Life is pain, Princess,and anyone who says otherwise is selling something."

But I want to tell you that it's worth the work.  And I want you to know that there is help.  God has not left us here alone to struggle through things by ourselves.  

There are doctors.  

There are friends.  

There are therapists.  

Most of all, there is Love and there is rest for our souls, when we'll stop and let Love help us.

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no man's land

This year has been tough for me so far.  

I'm not ready to tell all the stories yet.  I'm not sure I'll ever be ready to tell all these stories.

But I can tell you how I feel.  

Tired.

Sad.

Scared.

I wonder.  

I grieve.

I pray to see the goodness of God in the land of the living.

That's just kind of how it is right now.

Probably not by accident, at this same time, I've been working on final revisions of The Book.  

You know The Book.  

The memoir of my breakdown and healing and all the grace found in strange places along the way.

The memoir where I talk about how God takes the stinkiest, smelliest, worst manure piles of life and redeems.

That book.

 photo:  Andy Bruner

photo:  Andy Bruner

If there was anybody who needed to read that book through 157 times this spring, it was me, I guess.

Because in that book I've written about all the times when I was just at The End, and how God met me in every one of those places, and how his love carried me through.

There are many days right now when I feel like I am at the end of myself again.  

I just don't know what to do.  I can't make things better.  I just have to wait.

And somehow, God continues to meet me in those places and carry me through this strange and scary no man's land.

The other night, I heard this song on the radio, and I fell in love with these words:  

Life can be hard, and hard can be good.

Because that is a truth that I know in my heart.  Hard can be amazing.

Some of the hardest things in my life have been redeemed into the best things in my life.

And the Owner of that process loves me and mine and you and yours with an Everlasting Love.

I cling to that. 

And I wait, like we wait for the roadside wildflowers in Texas every spring, for beautiful things to happen in no man's land.

He took his chances and he ran 
Out from the hills to no mans land 
Oh my lord life was hard, back then 

Oklahoma sky was his roof. 
Tore into the earth it brought him food 
Oh my lord, life was hard back then 

He said oh, 
Life can be hard 
But oh, 
Hard can be good 
So he built his home where no one else would 

I follow in his footsteps in my dreams 
Memories of my old bedtime stories. 
Oh my lord, life seemed good back then 

He said oh, 
Life can be hard but 
Oh, 
Hard can be good 
And he built his home where no one else would 

I felt my heart beat! 
I filled my lungs deep 
In no mans land 
And then like my forefathers I took a chance

credits

No Man's Land, from Darkest Hours, released 14 January 2014 

Songwriter: Wheeler Sparks

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it's a wonderful life. i'm depressed.

"Real depression is being sad when everything in your life is going right."  So says Kevin Breel, a young man with everything going for him--except debilitating depression, which brought him to the brink of suicide in his teens.  (His TED Talk is well worth watching.)

And I think the kid is onto something.

We are OK with being depressed when something terrible happens, or if life is generally awful.  It's no fun, but it makes sense to be depressed in bad circumstances.

But how can you possibly be depressed, when it's a wonderful life?

Well, I think there are lots of ways that can happen.

You can be depressed in the middle of a wonderful life, when you've been running too hard for too long.

When you do too much for too long, you'll exhaust your body's chemical capacity to cope, and you'll end up depressed.

Listen to Tommy Nelson, pastor of Denton Bible Church.

This is a guy who, by his own admission, believed that if you just prayed, read your Bible, and trusted God enough, you could get through everything just fine.  And then he started having panic attacks.  And now he has a new understanding of what it means to be a human being with finite limits, who has a need for real rest, and help from good meds when necessary.

When I was depressed, this was part of the problem.  We had a stressful life overseas.  Even though we wanted to be there, and there were many good things about it, it was still stressful.  And then extra things kept happening and happening and happening.  And eventually, my body and my brain chemistry just couldn't keep up with the demands anymore.  Kind of like a diabetic.  Too much sugar, not enough insulin.  Danger, Will Robinson.

You can be depressed in the middle of a wonderful life when you've got unresolved grief and pain.

I can't tell you how many people come to me and say, "I wasn't abused as a child.  I don't understand why I'm depressed."  Somehow, we have collectively gotten the idea that child sexual abuse is an OK reason for adults to be depressed, but that's pretty much it.  You're only allowed to have grief and pain if certain truly terrible things happened.

Unfortunately, nobody got the memo to the toddlers of this world.  "Hello, kiddies, I know you are terrified right now and it looks like your world is coming to an end, but don't worry, there are kids who have it way worse than you do, so you have no right to be upset."

As adults we look back and rationalize, "Oh, it wasn't that bad."  But when you're little, it is that bad.  The grief and pain of our childhood is legitimate grief and pain.

And, when I was depressed, this was part of my problem, too.  I had grief and pain, but I had no permission to have grief and pain.  I could never work through anything, because I wasn't supposed to have anything to work through.  I looked strong, perfect, and invulnerable.  But I was really lonely and sad and broken.

You can be depressed in the middle of a wonderful life when you have bad boundaries.

Because your wonderful life isn't yours.  It belongs to the expectations others.  You're a slave to the expectations, to the demands, to the guilt, to the shame.  You can't say no.  Your life is fake.  It's a lie.  Even lies that are told to be nice, so that other people will be happy, are lies.  

And ultimately, lies belong to The Bad Guy, y'all.   The roaring lion is tearing you up inside with lies, and that's why it feels so bad.

I have lived with bad boundaries for most of my life.   When I have bad boundaries, everybody else gets to say what's best for me.  I don't listen to God.  I listen to whoever yells the loudest, and I try to stop them from yelling.  And living like that makes me wonder, "Why am I even here?  I have no voice, I have no meaning.  I don't matter."

Mostly, I think, we get depressed in the middle of a wonderful life because we start depending on our wonderful life to define us.

We all say that the interior life is what matters.

But really?  Really, truly?

We believe that being beautiful and thin will make us happy.  We believe that being recognized and applauded will make us happy.  We believe that more money will make us happy.  The right house.  The cutest kid.  The best college.  The most meaningful job.

And we get a little adrenaline bump from somebody telling us how fabulous we are, so we keep doing it, because it seems to work.

Until we find ourselves in a far country, behind of wall of glittering garbage, surrounded by people who all believe we are something we are not.

The truth is far from us, and we don't know how to dig out of our mess and find our way home again.

Here's what I think needs to happen.

We get real.

  • We get real about how many hours there are in the day, and what we can reasonably do.  We stop trying to save the world, and let God have His job back again.  We go to the doctor and get medication if we need to.
  • We get real about our grief and pain, and we let ourselves feel it and work through it.  We talk to our nearest and dearest about what's in our hearts.
  • We get real about our close relationships and we work on our boundaries.  (Boundaries, by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.)
  • We get real about our wonderful life, and we get willing to let go and let God.  (Celebrate Recovery is nation-wide, and a great place to go for support.)

Most of all, we learn to do what Brennan Manning says:

"Define yourself radically as one Beloved by God.  This is the true self.  Every other identity is illusion."

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Cheat Sheet: Emotions

Q:  Are people with emotional problems (like depression or anxiety) just unspiritual people who need to repent of their sin and trust God better? A:  No.

Emotions are a gift from God.

Sad, glad, mad, scared—all these things are part of our experience as human beings.

Physical pain is a gift from God, and part of being healthy.  Leprosy is a disease that kills pain receptors.  It sounds like a good thing, until you understand that without physical pain, you don't know to take your hand off a hot stove.  Leprosy patients end up with terrible injuries because they can't feel pain.

This is what has happened to a lot of my clients who struggle with depression and anxiety.  They've been told that if they trust God, they won't feel bad.  So they try hard to trust God, holding their hand on the emotional stove, and winding up with terrible emotional injuries.

Remember what King David was called?  The man after God’s own heart.

He wrote a lot of the Psalms, and those express all kinds of emotion.  Praise, love, trust—we know about those.

The Lord is my light and my salvation--so why should I be afraid?  The Lord protects me from danger--so why should I tremble?  When evil people come to destroy me, when my enemies and foes attack me, they will tumble and fall.  Though a mighty army surrounds me, my heart will know no fear.  Even if they attack me I remain confident.  Psalm 27:1-3 

But he also wrote about feeling abandoned, being incredibly angry, feeling anguished and despairing.

"O God my rock," I cry.  "Why have you forsaken me?  Why must I wander in darkness, oppressed by my enemies?" Ps. 42:9,

Break off their fangs, O God!  Smash the jaws of these lions, O Lord!  Ps. 58:6

My heart is in anguish.  The terror of death overpowers me.  Fear and trembling overwhelm me.  I can't stop shaking.  Ps. 55:4-5

Wake up, O Lord!  Why do you sleep?  Get up!  Do not reject us forever.  Why do you look the other way?  Why do you ignore our suffering and oppression?  We collapse in the dust, lying face down in the dirt.  Ps. 44:24-25

Yeah, I know that David ends up praising God at the end of a lot of these psalms.  But he processes through the emotions.  And he does it over and over and over and over and over.

I love the example of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane.

Then, accompanied by the disciples, Jesus left the upstairs room and went at usual to the Mount of Olives.  There he told them, "Pray that you will not be overcome by temptation."  He walked away, about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed, "Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me.  Yet I want your will, not mine."  Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him.  He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.  Luke 22:39-43

Here's what I see:

  • HONEST EXPRESSION of emotions
  • RECEIVING COMFORT AND SUPPORT
  • MAKING A TRUTH-BASED DECISION
  • CONTINUING TO EXPERIENCE EMOTIONS

Sometimes our emotions are buried so deeply that we can't identify them.  Or we’ve had them so long that they feel normal, even when they’re making us completely crazy.

But if you struggle with issues like the following, be assured that your emotions are roiling around and need attention:

  • Trouble eating or sleeping (especially waking and not being able to sleep again);
  • Repetitive, intrusive thoughts; keeping rules scrupulously
  • Being irritable, angry, crying, withdrawn, and disinterested in life
  • Self-medicating with food, exercise, drugs, sex
  • Overachieving or underachieving
  • Cutting, self-harm, thoughts of suicide

It's time to get your hand off the stove.

It takes time to learn to deal with emotions in a healthy way.  It’s OK not to be doing perfectly.  You can still figure it out.

Here’s a secret:  YOUR LIFE WILL NEVER BE PERFECT.  There will ALWAYS be challenges!

No matter how well you think about things, or pray about things, you will still feel sad, mad, and scared sometimes.

But keep track of your FUNCTIONING.  If you're not able to do normal life in a fairly normal way, get help.

Here are some things my clients find helpful when they're learning to process emotions:

  • BE HONEST - journal
  • Read good books (check out my booklist tab)
  • Allow time to feel
  • Find safe people – talk to those who wish you the best and encourage you.  You should feel better after being with a safe person.
  • Relax daily - exercise, enjoyable hobbies
  • Laugh daily

More than anything, BE READY TO CHANGE.  You know the old definition of insanity, right?  Doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result.  Yeah, we're not all up into that here.  Change is scary, but in the end, it's fabulous.

So there you go, friends, my little cheat sheet on emotions.

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An Anatomy of Redemption 2

In April 2003, we left Ukarumpa, Papua New Guinea for Dallas, Texas.

It was our 5th international move in 3 years.

I was sick with anxiety and depression and grief.  We had four kids going into public school with just two months left in the school year.  We were looking for a house to buy, searching for a church home, and above all trying to reconfigure our marriage into something real and true and good.

I had thought I was done in February.

But I got done-er in April, especially when we encountered our mission's counseling department.

My second child was delivered by a young intern who had just started his OB/GYN clinical rotation.  I was his first delivery.  And here is how we met.

I was just starting into a contraction when the curtain around my bed parted, and this young man introduced himself to me.  As the contraction progressed, he began to ask me questions from a checklist on his clipboard.  I answered as pleasantly as possible.  At the peak of the contraction, he asked, "And what is your blood type?"

Through gritted teeth I shrieked, "I don't knooooooooooooooooow!"

My experience with our mission's counseling department was sadly similar.

The counseling department had a clipboard and a checklist.  And before they were prepared to give me counseling,we had to undergo nine hours of evaluation.  I was assigned a counselor.  Andy was assigned a counselor.  We each had to do our evaluation.

I had never been to counseling.  I thought maybe this was how you did it.  They told me it would be helpful.  So we started.

One of the first questions was, "What was it like for you, growing up as the eldest of seven siblings?"

What?

I'm incredibly depressed, in so much emotional pain I can hardly walk across the room, and you want me to give you a paragraph on my childhood?

I remember indignantly saying to this person,"I don't know!"

It didn't get better.  It didn't get more relevant.

I thought the evaluation was ridiculous, and I didn't want to be evaluated.  I just wanted help.

When I communicated this to administrators and counseling staff, I was told, "This is a helpful process."

I said, "It's not helping me."

But it just didn't matter.  Gathering information was the most important thing.  So that's what they did.

I would come home from evaluation sessions, lay on the bed crying, and say to myself over and over, "God loves me.  God loves me.  God loves me."  That was all I had to hang onto.

I kept saying I didn't like it.

My counselor told me, "You don't understand.  This is part of the discipline process."

I went to my administrator and said, "Hey.  Pretty sure I don't need to be disciplined, since I haven't done anything wrong.  Go ahead and discipline Andy.  But leave me out of it."

He agreed and promised to make it clear to the counseling department that the process was a restorative process, not a disciplinary process.

But by the time the evaluation wrapped up in September, I was done being helped by the helpful process.  Way, way, way done.

I wrote a letter to the organization, saying I would no longer participate in any of their counseling processes.  I think I might have said that now I needed counseling for their counseling.  I know I said I would seek my own therapy outside the organization.

I figured we would be fired.

After a month, we received a short letter apologizing for the difficulty, saying we were allowed to seek counseling wherever we chose, and that they would just appreciate a brief letter from the counselor whenever he or she felt we were recovered.

I've been told they don't do it like this any more, and that's a good thing.

But here is what I do know.  Beyond all shadow of a doubt.

Whatever the intentions of those people at that time, whatever mistakes they made, God meant it for good.  And He has done great things.

I really struggled with whether or not to tell this part of the story, because it's kind of crazy and ugly.  But these things happen.  People do things that hurt us, sometimes accidentally.  Sometimes on purpose.  But no matter what, God redeems.  The more we believe that, the more we can tell the truth and let it set us free.  Even if it's crazy and ugly.

And, the more time goes on, and the more I see what God has done, the more grateful I am for even this part of the experience.   Maybe the mistakes of other people became the flames of the refiner's fire.  If that's true--and I think it is--I can only be grateful.

Here's another thing I know.  I have had to learn a lot about forgiveness.

I had to forgive Andy for what he did.  It helped a lot that he was sorry and worked hard to be trustworthy again.

I had to forgive administrators who made mistakes.  It helped that they were sorry and worked with us in the end.

I have to forgive counselors who made mistakes.  That has been harder, because they kept telling me they were right.

So I forgive.  And God heals.  And when the other person repents, we have the possibility for restoration of the relationship.

Other times, I forgive and God heals and the other person never gets it.  That's hard, but we keep walking and God keeps healing.

Jesus told the parable about the man who owed millions, was forgiven the debt, and then got crazy with the guy who owed him a dollar.

And I just don't want to be that person, worried about every penny stuck to the sidewalk.  I don't need the pennies, and it messes with the manicure.

So for the experience of forgiveness and healing and restoration, I am truly grateful.

And for the things I don't understand and I still think are crazy, I'm grateful that God knows and understands.

I believe He redeems everything.  Even this.

But hear me now.

If I were in that situation today, I'd be out the door in a heartbeat.

Because there are basic legal and ethical rights that the law provides for clients in counseling.  Things like:  I have the right to keep anything private that I want.  I have the right to ask questions.  I have the right to helpful therapy.  And guess who decides whether it's helpful or not?  Me.

I am a counselor now.  And if you come to see me, you'll receive a copy of your client bill of rights.  And I will go over it with you verbally.  And I will tell you that if you meet with me, and then decide to see another therapist, please go with my blessing.  In fact, if you don't like the color of the walls or the office furniture, bon voyage my darling.  (Although if you've tried 10 counselors and none of them were any good, you might start thinking about other common denominators.  I'm just sayin'.)

Can God redeem?  Yes.  Always.

Is it necessary to stay in a harmful situation?  No.  Absolutely not.

When you're in a bad place, what you need is help.  Make sure your therapist is helpful.  To you.

We stayed at the time because our translation project wasn't finished.  We had devoted 10 years to that project and we wanted to finish.  So we felt like we had to retain membership with the organization, no matter what.

Today, I would say:  not so much.  God has other ways.  And those other ways don't have to include me being mistreated.

Which, at the end of the day, was a really important lesson for me.  Really important.  Huge.  My capacity to stand up for myself was practically non-existent.  I might make some noise, but over and over and over I'd go along with things I knew were wrong for me.  I kept hoping that other people would notice and do the right thing for me.  I didn't take responsibility to do the right thing for myself.

In the refiner's fire, I learned to take a stand for myself.  I learned that God does love me, even when He doesn't rescue me right this minute.  I learned to press on through the pain with the hope that God is always at work, always redeeming.  I learned to be grateful even for this.  Truly.

No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening--it is painful!  But afterward there will be a quiet harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.  So take a new grip on your tired hands and stand firm on your shaky legs.  Mark out a straight path for your feet.  Then those who follow you, though they are weak and lame, will not stumble and fall but become strong.  Hebrews 12: 11-13

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Hurt

Just before he died, Johnny Cash covered Nine Inch Nail's powerful song, Hurt. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3aF9AJm0RFc]

Every time I watch this, I'm struck again by all the ways we hurt ourselves.

And sometimes I think Christians have it the worst, because in many circles, there's a fair amount of pressure to look better than we really are.

Maybe we feel like we have to protect God from the ugly.  Or other Christians can't take the truth about how bad we really feel.  Or maybe it's the need to "be a good witness."

Whatever the reason, we plaster on the spiritual band-aids and suck it up.

Have faith.  Be strong.  Trust God.  Lead a Bible study.  Pray more.  Better.  Longer.  Deeper.  Higher.  Wider.

There's nothing really wrong with any of those things.  Except they can be so terribly dishonest.

A stiff upper lip may keep us looking good on the outside.

But inside?

We are left with the pain, the loss, the grief, the injustice.

Unspoken, unheard, ignored, dishonored.

Eventually there is a Grand Canyon between what we look like on the outside and how we feel, deep down inside.

And this is where, I think, "I hurt myself today" starts to happen.

Whether it's cutting or substance abuse or food addiction or sexual stupidity.  Or performance or perfectionism or perkiness or helping others until we're half dead.

We throw one thing after another into that dark chasm, and it's never enough.

We hurt ourselves today, on the outside.  To avoid what is inside.

And tomorrow we'll have to hurt ourselves more.

Unless and until we're finally willing to go into the pain, into the loss, into the grief.

And that is likely to be a scary, disruptive, and lengthy process, mostly beyond our control.  Like they always say about therapy:  "real expensive, no guarantees."

But here is where Christians have it the best.  And I have to quote Brennan Manning in Abba's Child:

"The apparent frustrations of circumstances, seen or unforeseen, of illness, of misunderstandings, even of our own sins, do not thwart the final fulfillment of our lives hidden with Christ in God."

I think God always leaves us with the choice.  Are we going to keep hurting ourselves today, for the momentary relief?  Or will we take a deep breath and a leap of faith into the truth that sets us free?

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Pentecost Sunday

We just saw The Avengers movie the other day--Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk, Thor, and a couple of others I can't remember.  They all have some kind of power that kicks in right when they need it, so they can vanquish evil and good can triumph. Today is Pentecost Sunday, when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit.  We were talking about this over lunch with our kids.  What does the Holy Spirit really mean in our lives?  And while we were talking about promptings and gifts and all those things, I thought, "Wow, this kind of sounds like super powers."

And personally, I've never felt like I have super powers.  Everyone around our table agreed to a lack of the same.

Hmmm.

So then I started to think about the times when I have known for sure that the Holy Spirit was doing something for me through somebody else.  I have several of those stories, but I want to share just one, out of my journal from 2002.  We were living in the Solomon Islands.

July 27

I can't believe we've been in the village for nearly a month already.  On the other hand, it feels like years.  I started to get bored and restless this week, feeling so pathetic and useless.  I don’t do anything spectacular.  I just teach my kids and cook.  Is this really the missionary work I was called to do? 

I really do think that the best thing I can do right now is support Andy and teach the kids, but it's not always so personally fulfilling as one might hope.  And I might as well be an alien from Mars, for all the sense my culture makes to these people.  They are so kind to me, so precious to my kids.  And yet I want more.  I want to know and be known.  To share my heart and have someone share theirs in return.

I know in my head that I need to keep realistic expectations.  But my heart still wishes for that close friendship.  I still want it, no matter how unrealistic it may be to expect it.  One of those "not until heaven" things, I guess. 

Andy, after long years of experience, can sense this mood in me from a mile off.  There’s nothing he can do, and we both know it.  But Saturday afternoon, we sneak off from the kids and go for a walk along the beach.  Even I have been known to cheer up on the beach. 

We meet up with this old lady down at the beach, wearing a bright green skirt and nothing else.  Breasts hanging down to her waist, tattoos in between her breasts.  As soon as she sees me, she cries out with pleasure:  “Oh my daughter, oh my daughter.” 

I have never, in ten years, had anyone call me by a kinship term; I hardly know how to respond. 

Is she really calling me her daughter?  But she doesn’t just say it once—she keeps repeating it. 

She puts both arms around me and hugs me, holds me. 

I’ve had plenty of women hold my hand out here, but I’ve never, ever had anybody hug me. 

She goes on and on, talking and laughing, holding my hand now, so happy that I am there.  While I of course am doing nothing spectacular—not even leading a Bible study.  She is just thrilled that I am there, doing nothing, saying nothing, just there.

July 29

This morning I was thinking about her again and I was reminded of Elijah, under his broom tree, telling God to go ahead and let him die.  I thought about Elijah, so tired and alone, no longer asking for a blessing, just asking for an end.  Seeing great things happen through him, and too exhausted to ask for anything to happen in him.  And the angel came and touched Elijah. 

And I thought that this lady was my angel with her hard old hands and her great soft breasts and her tattoos and her pipe of tobacco and her pleasure at my existence.  And I realized that, like Elijah’s angel, she was the answer to a prayer I hadn’t even had the heart to pray.

Now if you asked May, she would probably tell you that she's never had super powers either.  But the rest of us can see the Holy Spirit prompting and gifting and empowering like crazy.

My son put it this way:  "Well, I guess it's just that you show up like you're supposed to, and then God does something more."

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Being sick makes you feel bad

Being sick makes you feel bad.  We're in the middle of flu season, so we all know this. But sometimes being sick makes you feel really, really bad.  Like clinically-depressed bad or panic-attack bad.

Here's a little problem.  Depression and anxiety symptoms that arise from medical problems feel exactly the same as depression and anxiety that come from psychological stress or trauma.  Sometimes we take such a psychological approach to anxiety and depression that we forget to look at possible medical problems.

Here's a list of medical issues that can make people feel anxious or depressed:

  • Adrenal disease
  • Anemia
  • Brain injury
  • Caffeine
  • Caffeine withdrawal
  • Cancer, especially pancreatic cancer
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Hearing loss, often associated with social isolation
  • Infections or post-infection states
  • Low blood sugar
  • Migraines
  • Mineral imbalances
  • Mitral Valve Prolapse
  • Thyroid disease
  • Vitamin deficiencies (especially thiamine, vitamin B-12, niacin)
  • Medications such as birth control pills, weight loss pills, blood pressure medications, Accutane

Source:  Healing Anxiety and Depression, Daniel G. Amen, M.D.

So there you go, a little bit of anxiety and depression info to file away.  I hope you never actually need it.

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