Fight the Gray

Five Minute Friday.  One of my favorite bloggy days of the week.  We write for five minutes.  We don’t over think.  We don’t super edit.  We just write.  And then we share.  And then we read and encourage.

I have allowed the grey to encircle and encloak me.  It is mid February in the Pacific Northwest.  Gray is a thing we do well at this time of year.

Every day I spend so focused on getting by and going through that I forget to chase after those things that delight me.  I settle for small things–eating too much chocolate (which ultimately leads to feelings of defeat and shame, I might add), too much time on Facebook,  TV shows after the kids go to bed.

When is the last time I breathed in deep the freedom-filled air of delight?

It’s not that I don’t enjoy my children or the world around me.  I do.  My youngest I have described many times in all her babyness as ‘my delight.’  Their giggles and joy in the world are always a shot in the arm of joy.  But something more is needed here.

I have not been cultivating the freedom of delight in my life as I wish I had been.  I’ve been too tired and overwhelmed.  The days have seemed too full of places to be and things that needed done.

So in these moments I know it is important to ask the question.  It’s an important question for the livelihood of my soul.  What delights me?  What sweeps me off my feet?  What gives me the room to take a full deep unencumbered breath?  I need to find these pockets of delight and curl myself into them.  I need to put them on the to-do list I have to.

My heart and my soul will be better for it if I do.  And I may just find some splashes of color amidst the gray.

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Big or Piddly–Consider ’em All Joy

“Consider it all joy my brothers…”

You know the rest.  I know you do, “When you face suffering of any kind.”

Right…  Joy.  Right?

That’s usually my first response when yucky things happen.  Isn’t it yours?

Ok, I admit.  It’s not really my first response.  Often it’s not really even my second or third or fourteenth.  I’m a girl who has to whine and writhe a while before I can get to the joy stuff.  I just am.

I’ve had some suffering here and there of various degrees, but I don’t think it was until I thought about how this verse might apply to the ‘small stuff’ that I really started to get it.

Consider it all joy my brothers when you deal with health challenges, when your world is falling apart, when your child is sick, or your marriage falls apart, or, or, or….  It just sounds so hyper-spiritual in those situations that I almost don’t get it.  I mean, sure….  “Consider it all joy,”  Right.  But that’s what Mother Theresa does.  That’s for the giants.  And really it’s only supposed to be pulled out for the really, really big stuff anyway, right?  So…  When my family is healthy, my husband is home instead of on a boat, and we’re not dealing with tumors I can ignore Mr. James surely.

I don’t remember who I heard talking about this verse in ‘smaller’ contexts first, but it finally just recently hit me:  Well duh.  This verse doesn’t just refer to terminal illnesses, and car accidents, and absolutely terrible life circumstances.  It’s for the piddly stuff too.

It also applies when my kids are fighting and when I can’t find my keys for the umpteenth time.  It applies when I’m frustrated with my husband and want to yell at him.  It applies when my six-year-old argues with me for the 17th time that day and when my 4-year-old digs in her heels and refuses to get ready to leave the house for the third day in a row.  It applies when I’m trying to reign in my Mommy temper and not blow a gasket when those things happen.  It applies when I’m tempted to beat myself up for not doing a good job of that.

They’re all trials.  They can all be used by God for good stuff….  to refine me…  And in that, I can find the joy stuff.

The whole passage looks like this:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.

Then it goes on to say:

 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.

James 1:2-5

I love that.  The big stuff and the puny stuff are all  working together to develop perseverance in me.  And then that perseverance is going to help me to become mature and complete–not lacking anything.  On top of that, when I’m stuck….  when the perseverance is slow in coming I can ASK God who gives generously.  Oh, there I see the “joyful” parts.  At least glimpses of them.

So, I’m starting to get it.  I’m starting to get it in little things.  In the nitty gritty day to day being a Mom and a woman doing her best at things ways.  Here’s a recent example that’s clicking into place: I’m reading (and re-reading) Lysa Terkeurst’s book, Made to Crave.  Yeah.  It’s a book about food.  And God.  And food and God.  In a paragraph where Lysa is talking about not giving way to her cravings she says she found that they could be avenues for prayer.  In her words,

“I used my cravings for food as a prompting to pray.  It was my way of tearing down the tower of impossibility before me and building something new.  My tower of impossibility was food.  Brick by brick, I imagined myself dismantling the food tower and using those same bricks to build a walkway of prayer, paving the way to victory.”

That made sense to me.  Oh!  So…  yes it stinks that I have made choices that dictate that for my physical and spiritual health I need to address my eating.  That’s a trial even if it’s not a ‘biggie.’  Yes, its’ frustrating that I don’t get to be like those perfect people who seem to be able to be effortlessly thin.  A trial, even if not a ‘biggie.’    Yes it feels unfair sometimes that I have to plan every bite of food that goes into my mouth these days…  Sure we can call that a trial too.  But…  Those are trials to rejoice in!  Those are trials that God is using IN me.  Those are Bads that when framed the right way I can see God is transforming into Goods!  Right in front of my very eyes.

This afternoon the kids were really being stinkers.  Not only were they not cleaning their room as instructed, but they were also bickering and fighting and all in all about to punch each other’s lights out.  And I wanted to yell.  And I wanted to eat a nice comforting bowl of granola.  Which, really…  is better than a chocolate bar or a plate of chocolate chip cookies, right???  But I didn’t.  I recognized my trial and I said–Ok….  Let’s dismantle this not so good wall and make it into something good.  And I prayed for wisdom.  And strength.  And peace.  And the supernatural ability to not devour granola or to scream like a banshee at my kids.

It didn’t feel immediately good.  But I didn’t eat the granola or scream like a banshee.  And I got a little more perseverance.  I used it as a bridge to talk to God about my weakness.  Aha!  That’s where the joy part comes in.

And then there are the “biggies.”  I had a similar aha a few months ago.  I found myself again battling depression.  It comes and goes for me and the seasons of bigness that have been going on around here helped to trigger it.  For whatever reason when I was really in the thick of it I picked up Mary Beth Chapman’s, Choosing to See.  Guess what?  She struggles with depression too and she wrote about it.  I found myself in her chapter about dealing with depression and I remember making a sharp intake of breath at this line,

Depression became my friend, in a strange and painful way, a pushy friend I really did not want.  But this strange friend made it so clear to me that I couldn’t just buck up and feel better, or try harder and do better. I was helpless.

I read that and kind of went…  Did she just call depression her friend???  And then I got it.  Because it *does* make you know you are helpless.  You can’t fix it.  Your friends can’t.  You can’t try harder to dig yourself out.  It’s not something you can control or snap out of.  You can’t “try” yourself out of it, and believe me…  You have no idea how much I do try to “try” myself out of it.  But that aspect of it, that reality, if you let it, can actually push you toward God.  He specializes in being strength in one’s weakness and in displaying His glory through broken places.  It’s another bridge.  Where my strength and trying stop, God’s begins.  It’s not about DOing anything to get to Him.  It’s just an avenue where I realize I need Him and then it becomes a touch-point for me to direct myself to Him.  Depression does end up being my friend.  And even in what seems to be the antithesis of joy, I find that that kind of suffering produces joy.  I rely on God (and with His help I get the help I need) and I persevere through the suffering and if I let it, it draws me closer to him.  And then, voila!  Joy!  No, not the rainbows and unicorns kind right away….  Instead it’s a reminder that I can’t do this on my own.  I can’t “handle” this on my own.  And I don’t have to.  I’m not supposed to.  He rescues me in it and therein lies the joy.

So as counter-intuitive as it is, I’m starting to get what James was talking about.  In the big stuff and the small stuff.  It can ALL be used to propel us toward Him…  to recognize our helplessness.  It can all lead to places of surrender and strength in weakness.

Depression, kids fighting, delectable bowls of granola dancing before my eyes… the big, the piddly…  They really all can be considered joy when I let them pave the way to God and let Him develop my character through them.

Something Must Be Done

I read a suicide note written by a military spouse today. .

She was writing a farewell to her blog-friends, who in a world of transitions with moves and major life changes, were a constant.

Her husband, though not in direct combat, had come back from deployment changed. They moved to another duty station. Things spiraled downward for both of them and she found herself overwhelmed and isolated. Eventually she found herself in a place that felt like it had no way out.

An update that I read stated that somehow someone or something intervened and she was getting help. I am so glad.

Still this was too far for anyone to go before getting help. And it jarred me back to knowing that we HAVE TO DO SOMETHING!!!!

These situations happen too commonly and too easily. Considering the stress and isolation that are companions on the journey in a military lifestyle, we need to be doing more to PREVENT these situations before they happen. I’ve heard more than one story in the last week about soldiers who’ve drawn a gun on wives and children–out of touch with the world around them and still immersed in a world that they’d left behind thousands of miles away that had left battle scars on their minds. Wives are finding their breaking points. Studies are coming out indicating the extreme toll that the being part of a military family at war is taking on military kids. I’ve walked through depression in contingency with a deployment myself (for me it was PPD with a tinge of grief thrown in), I’ve walked with friends as they’ve battled varying levels of depression and mood disorders which were only made harder to overcome by the X factors involved with a military lifestyle. Some struggled through with medication and counseling, for others more extreme forms of help were needed on their road to recovery

Measures are being taken to address suicide and PTSD in soldiers. This is good. So much MORE needs to be done though. SO MUCH MORE. More help MUST be made available. On top of that, though, we have to start taking care of the family members of those service members who are so often removed from support systems that can see trouble brewing and give them the courage to reach out for the help that they need.

Is there something that we can do? You and me, I mean? Is there something already in place that I don’t know about that can be made stronger? Is it time to raise up a grass-roots effort to provide a life-line for military families who find themselves in these situations. I have been thinking today about the model of Postpartum Support International–an organization composed of 99% voluntteers who take phone calls from families dealing with PPD and help them to find mental health resourcen in their own communities. Could something like this be helpful? Could mental health professionals like the ones who volunteer with Give an Hour be reached in an easier way? Could a massive information campaign be launched so that even this group of stalwart and stoic people who never ask for help could find a safe place to do so?

Does anyone have any ideas, resources, or expertise to lend to the cause? Maybe if enough of us pooled together and put ideas, and resources, and thoughts on the table SOMETHING could be done…. so that these notes could become fewer, so that even in a transitional situation where military families are moving and service members come and go and support systems are hard to come by in the stressful events of life, there could be SOME PLACE to reach out for a lifeline.

If you have any ideas, I want to hear them. I am serious in hoping to get a grass-roots effort put together to offer help and support to a portion of population which protects this country with strength and resiliency, but who need life lines to reach out to when the going gets rough just like everyone else. We have to stop this from happening. We need to support one another. I just can’t help but think it’s time to DO something.

Krystal

We didn’t travel in the same circle.  I was a ‘good girl’ a ‘smart kid.’  She was a ‘push the envelope’ kind of person and into sports.  Her life seemed to be kind of rough around the edges from the start, while mine was sheltered…  and for all intents and purposes, when compared with the early heartache of others, ‘easy.’ 

We were in the same Brownie Troop.  If memory serves correctly, her Mom took on the leadership of it.  We met in the smokey American Legion, and earned badges, and had Santa Claus come for visits, and we all sort of grew out of taking it seriously at once. 

We had adjacent rooms for our trip to Washington D.C.  in 8th Grade where we lived out our own Breakfast Club experience.  The ‘Push the Envelope’ crowd and the ‘Nerdy, Goody-Goody Types’ ended up hanging out, finding common ground, having a lot of fun together for a few days.  And it smacked me upside the head last night that I think I remember her taking too many pills one night, me wringing my hands in fear and wondering if we should get one of our sponsors, but for some (stupid) reason taking the word of her roommates who had evidently seen this happen more than a sheltered girl like me had.  All the same we laughed late into several nights.  We threw water balloons out our hotel window.  Just like in the movie, it couldn’t last…  completely.    Still, my heart was changed towards these girls who traveled in a different crowd, but weren’t as different from me as I once thought.  My heart felt more gracious to them.  I hope my actions were more gracious toward them…. 

She tormented a good friend of mine in high school….  And I can remember times when I laughed even when I shouldn’t have because even when she was being mean, she was funny (which I feel so guilty about still), and times when I stuck up for my friend. 

I feel all these awkward feelings thinking back on these relationships and the social rules that were writ large at our tiny little High School.  Still somehow our class ended up being tremendously cliquey…  But tremendously allied all at once.  We drew together when the cards were down.  We had our own cliques, but the biggest clique of all in some strange way was all of us. 

I wonder about how she felt in High School.  And how I felt.  I wonder if my ‘goody-goodiness,’ my affiliation with the Christian Fellowship Clubs, my early evangelical zeal caused her and others to feel marginalized.  I’ve always been quiet, and seemed aloof  because I really am a little socially inept, and I fear that came off as snobby or ‘too good’ for those in the ‘push the envelope’ crowd.  Mostly, I didn’t feel that.  Mostly I just felt afraid of myself being out of control, and intimidated by those who courted that feeling.  And mostly I just tried to walk the tight-rope of the high school version of ‘always do the right thing.’ 

She was unapologetically who she was.  Always.  But I can’t help but wonder if that was part of the pain she carried.

Last night, thanks to the quirks of small towns and Facebook, I found out that she died.  She committed suicide.  People are telling me she hung herself, and I keep thinking…  You have to really want it to go that way.  And that makes my heart hurt.

I’m shaken.  I’m sad.  I am feeling from the West Coast the incredible void now left in the midwest because she left us. 

I’m haunted by her pain.  I’m haunted by the loss.  I’m haunted by the questions that I have.  I’m haunted by wringing my hands wondering if I was one who made life harder for her or easier.  Brennan Manning says there is no neutral encounter.  We either push people closer to God, or farther away.  I’m unsure of those High School Days…  Which way I might have pushed people.

I was never a close friend.  I don’t want to invite myself into this grief in a way I don’t deserve and in a level of intimacy I haven’t earned.  But still I am shaken.  I am sad.

Most of all I’m sad that this beautiful, funny girl is gone.  That she felt so much pain that she knew no way out.  I know the distorted voices of depression and I’m so upset that no light was able to pierce through.   I hope and I pray that in God’s graciousness she is finding the love and acceptance that she longed for… that her pain is wiped away… that she is at peace.

Lady Redundant Woman and Bilbo

“I feel…thin. Sort of stretched, like…butter scraped over too much bread.” -Bilbo Baggins

I was going to blog about how I feel like this quote (I love you LOTR trilogy).  So I googled it.  And found out that’s been done and the t-shirts issued.  Shall I be redundant?

Which reminds me…  You know what I love?  I love Lady Redundant Woman on Word Girl (thank you PBS Kids).  That name causes me to chuckle each time I hear it.

So anyway.  I’m stealing ten minutes to write here today before I go throw my hair in a pony tail and put on a clean shirt to go to work.  I AM feeling rather scraped over too much bread these days.  I LOVE my  job, but it keeps me away from my family in the evenings.  I get to be with the kidlets all day long, and Husband after bedtime, but I miss that beautiful family time with ALL of them during dinner and after.  When I get home Husband’s eyes are inevitably bugging out of his head from the kiddos being nuts too which makes me feel…  Well, rather yucky for making him rush home from work only to stress him out with his own kids as well.  I love my  job.  I do.  I walk a little taller when I leave it in the evenings.  I love the kids I work with and the work I do.  But…  I miss my family.  The last few weeks have been heavy on work and evening commitments.  Hopefully after next week, I’ll feel a little more on-kilter (can you be on-kilter, or just off?).

Is it normal for me to feel like I’m flying apart most days?  Does everybody else?  Does anybody else?  I do.  The sunshine is helping me to stabilize, but part of the scraped thin feeling is depression-related, I believe.  I feel like I have to dig deep into my reserves most days.  I guess the good news is it pushing me towards God.  I find myself consulting him regularly for mercy and grace and help and…  not flying-apartness. 

Living in the midst of fighting the flying apartness doesn’t make for great blogging either.  I sit down to write.  And I backspace.  And try again.  And backspace.   I think I’ll just hit publish today.  Give you all a little 10-minute snibbet of my current nuttiness.

So I’ll finish and tell you that I love this totally unrelated quote by Pete Gall:  “My Passion in a Nutshell Enough of this cutesy “we’re better because they’re worse” Christianity – from old guard political platforms to young believers who think torn jeans, a tall coffee, and some bitter complaints spewed through spotty facial hair somehow represents a better way. How about actually searching for, and standing upon, a better way? And the better way isn’t found in new places. The better way is exactly where – and with whom – it has always been. Enough revolution. Enough feeding frenzy on the dead horse of a worn out approach to church. Enough fighting fire with fire. Bring water. Rediscover passion. Experience adventure. Pay a price. See what happens when you replace “principles” with “virtues” – see if there isn’t enough of “home” left in you for some homesickness for a better way, a way breathed to life by God, to still stir passions in your life. Prodigals don’t thrive in the far away land. Elder brothers are slaves until they summon the courage to speak honestly to their fathers. Let us meet there – on our Father’s land – and ask him, together, how we might live and turn this life into a tour of princes and princesses who bring justice and comfort and meaning to a world that is dying for it, and will only hear it if we make it our passion first. This is why I do what I do. And it’s bringing me back to life.”

Remembering Crystal

Lauren, over at Sharing the Journey  brought this to my attention.  She asked that other bloggers would spread the word about the story of this beautiful young Mom whose life was cut tragically short, and about her father and family, who are grieving the second anniversary of her death this weekend.  To Joseph and his family I want to say:  I care.  I will remember Crystal even though I never had the privilege of knowing her myself, and I will tell her story.  This video was made my Crystal’s Dad in her memory.  It’s a photo montage telling her story.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYIRZbyXnu0&feature=player_embedded

Two years ago this weekend a beautiful woman named Crystal took her own life in the midst of a struggle with Postpartum Depression.  She was like many of us who struggle with the disease–she didn’t… couldn’t ask for help.  The changes that family saw in her were easily explained as just the worries that she was prone to have.  I don’t fault this family at all.  PPD is so tempting to hide.  Having a baby is an overwhelming experience anyway…  Of course we’re not always going to be looking or feeling our best.  And it feels so scary and hard and hopeless that asking for help just feels impossible.

But oh…  If she could have only reached out for help.  Postpartum Depression so often tells a woman that her family would be better off without her.  But that’s a lie.  The truth is this:  Your family NEEDS you.  There is HOPE.  It won’t always feel like this. 

And that’s something that I want people to understand about PPD, and about ALL depression.  So many people, when they hear of a suicide, wrinkle up their noses in disgust and say, “How selfish!”  But what they can’t understand is that from the inside looking out suicide isn’t selfish.  When your diseased mind tells you that you aren’t the best thing for your  baby or for your family, when lies whisper all day long that you aren’t good enough to do this job, strong enough to be a mother, and that if you continue in the job your child and family will come to great harm, when those are the lies that you hear, the thought of suicide isn’t so much about sparing YOU pain, it’s about sparing them.  That’s how twisted your thoughts can become when dealing with PPD. 

BUT…  Those thoughts are LIES.  You WILL NOT be sparing them.  Because YOU MATTER.  And YOU ARE a good Mom, or can be with help, and the strongest thing, and the best thing you can do for your family is to get HELP.  Your baby and your family NEED you. 

I wish it wasn’t so scary.  I wish it wasn’t so threatening.  We think our kids will be taken away.  We think we will forever be branded.  We think that there is no hope (more lies).  We have to reach out for help.  And we desperately need the people in our lives to see past our masks and our assurances that everything is ok, and to empower us to seek that help.

I wish Crystal could have.  I wish she could have gotten help.  I wish she could have found her voice.  I wish this video could be about how she overcame Postpartum Depression.

Watch this video.  Honor Crystal.  And then, ask the tough questions to the Mom’s in your life.  Let them know that they aren’t alone when the task seems impossible.  You might just be their lifeline. 

As Lauren says on her blog: 

“If you, a loved one, or a friend are coping with the recent loss of a loved one to suicide, please read this from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

If you are contemplating suicide, there IS hope. There are people who love you. People who care and want to help you heal. Need someone to talk to right now? Click here for a comprehensive list of resources in the US.

If you are struggling with a Postpartum Mood Disorder, contact Postpartum Support International’s warmline at 1.800.944.4PPD. (I may just be one of the people to return your call – I’m a volunteer for the warmline in addition to providing support in my home state of Georgia)

Bottom Line here? There is hope. There is help. And above all, you are absolutely NOT to blame. And above that? You WILL be well.”

Read more at Lauren’s Blog.

Read more of Joseph’s story in his own words, here.

Why Support the MOTHERS act?

  • Because postpartum depression is THE most common complication of childbirth. 
  • PPD affects approximately half a million women per year in the US.
  • 10-15% of women who give birth will experience a postpartum mood disorder
  • Postpartum mood disorders negatively affect mothers AND children
  • Postpartum depression is frequently unreported and under diagnosed. 
  • Postpartum mood disorders are TREATABLE

Need more reasons?

  • Because no woman should suffer the sadness, guilt, and anxiety that postpartum mood disorders bring
  • Because children need mommies who are able to care for them
  • Because being a parent should be a joyful experience
  • Because chances are someone you know will experience postpartum depression

You can even read the bill yourself! 

Please support the Melanie Blocker Stokes MOTHERs act.  How can you do that? 

Again, it’s easy! 

  • Go to the DBSA and sign the petition.
  • E-mail Susan Stone at susanstonelcsw@aol.com and put your name on the state-by-state list of people who endorse this bill–be sure to include your name and state.
  • Call and write your senator or Congressperson
  • Write about the Melanie Blocker Stokes MOTHERS Act in your blog.
  • Call or e-mail every one of your organization’s members today and tell them to get up and get to work for goodness sake.
  • Join Postpartum Support International as it works to create more and better services and education for the women who suffer.
  • More Goodies:

    Sharing the Journey–A fellow PPD survivor, PSI coordinator, and PPD Advocate who is heading up this week’s movement to blog for the MOTHERS Act

    An interview with Mary Jo Cody

    Susan Stone’s Perinatal Pro

    Senator Menendez’s enorsement

    One more edit to add:  I just got done calling a good 3/4 of the H.E.L.P. Senate Committee (including getting yelled at by a very annoyed but official sounding somebody when I fat-fingered a number…  *sigh*).  I’m a girl who wets her pants when she gets pulled over by a policeman, and gets sweaty palms just driving by them. I’m afraid of important people.  If I can call a few Senators, I know you can!