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Saturday, September 17, 2016

Peeling the Onion--What they don't tell you

I have struggled with mental disease most my life. I have received therapy, worked with friends, counseled with ministers, and used self-help in order to peel the layers that I built to protect myself from pain.  They call it peeling the onion.

Thing is, there is something that nobody ever told me; something that I think it is essential to know in order to heal.  Sometimes when you peel the onion, you find the core is rotten. I think that it is more often than not, in fact, although some people may not find it so. But this was definitely true for me. And sometimes it takes a truly traumatizing event to bring that core into the light.

For me, it was something as simple as a misunderstanding that blew up out of all proportion. It caused me grief, and it hurt me. That's normal. What wasn't normal was the immediate jump to feelings of worthlessness and the impression that life would be better off without me. That was totally out of all relationship to this issue, and it made no sense. Obviously, something was wrong.

What was wrong was the fact that I had reached the core. What was wrong was that life lessons had taught me that I am worthless and am only as good as what I have to offer. If that offering is rejected, no matter why, then I am rejected, too. That understanding was a revelation to me--an epiphany. Even though it happened in such a way that my world was rocked, I'm happy that it did, because now I can work on getting past it.

There are so many things that go into who we are. Thirty-seven trillion molecules make up our physical selves and a thousand million times and feelings make up our mental selves. Each of us goes through the same kind of experiences, but some are able to cope much better than others. Those of us who can't cope well can become diseased--way down deep inside where nobody can reach. We cover our disease with layer upon layer of bandages to hide the defect and seal away the pain. Kind of like a pearl. We have to do this in order to live. But the difference between onions and pearls is that the pearl's shell seems to be impervious to the piece of sand that caused it to form, while an onion's layers don't do a great job of keeping the disease at bay. If the core is rotten, it infects the layers, inside out, one layer after another, until the whole onion is damaged.

Thank God that we are not onions. Thank God that layers can be peeled away, the disease at the core can be excised, and a new core can form. That's where I am right now. I can honestly say that I'm thankful for the events that caused the underlying issues to come to light. God is good, and he knew exactly the time for this to happen. I'm taking steps to try and make sure that it won't happen again. Even if it does--even if I am wounded by thoughtlessness and misunderstandings--I now have a new awareness that my circumstances don't have to influence my life. With or without my talents and abilities, I AM VALUABLE. And so are you.

So, if you find yourself peeling onions, whether actual or metaphorical, God bless you. Remember that peeling may bring tears, but they don't last forever. And keep in mind that there are people around you who care about you and pray for your healing.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

I've moved!!

If you are still following me on this page, you didn't get the message.  I've moved!  My new address is

I hope to see you there soon!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

All-Consuming Fear -- The Surprising Truth

     As I write this, I am waiting for events to unfold within my family.  I'm not in charge of these events, and I am concerned.  A few years ago, I would have to say that I would have been terrified.  Life is happening, a bad outcome is possible, and I can do nothing to stop it except pray.

    But I am not terrified.  Deep within my soul I know that God is in control, and so I wait for him to do what he's going to do.  Whatever he does, it's going to be exactly what is needed.

    Some people might call this fatalism.  It isn't.  It's trust:  deep-down, all-encompassing, totally dependent trust.  This trust did not come overnight; it came through a surge down through fear, out through to the other side.  It came through living and breathing God's mercy, and the result is that I know that God's ways are not my ways, but they're the best ways.

    I've spoken about fear--ways to stop it from destroying your life. But there are times in our lives when our fear seems very valid and threatens to overwhelm us for good reason. When your loved one is in the hospital and nothing is helping, that can be terrifying.  When you are facing layoffs and cutbacks and are not prepared, you can become frozen with fear.  When you are faced with something that you have been concerned about all your life, it can come over you like a tidal wave.

    I've faced many things in my life:  abuse, death of a child, both parents, and a spouse, job loss, and most lately solitude.  All of these things at some point horrified me.  But all of them no longer do so.  Why?  Because I have walked through them.  I wish I could say that I walked through them fearlessly, but I did not.  However, I have learned secrets that might possibly allow you to walk through them more easily than I did.

    First of all, we are talking about enormous things here.  These are not fears that can easily be put aside.  Nobody wants to think of loved ones dying. Nobody wants to imagine themselves alone.  But some things can and should be worked through before the fear comes.  For example, loss.  When my father died, he was 81.  I knew that the death was coming.  I had time to prepare.  Yes, I still grieved and it was still hard, but it wasn't as overwhelming as were the other losses.  If you and your spouse are blessed with good health, wonderful!  You should still go through end-of-life planning together.  The fact that you did will make the ending easier. Everything is easier if you have walked through it before it happens.

     Next, don't collapse in on yourself.  That's what I did and it is absolutely useless.  If someone offers help, TAKE IT.  If you know that you need it and nobody is offering, MAKE YOURSELF ASK.  A real problem with friends of the grieving is that they don't know what to do.

    I could go on in this fashion, but I want to continue with the major idea.  We are overwhelmed by fear because we don't trust God to know and complete his plan.  When we see ourselves in the process, we imagine that it will be like this forever, or we think that it will never get better, or we are afraid that we will never recover.  In other words, we trust God's word.  "I know the plans I have for you--plans for GOOD and not for EVIL, plans to give you a HOPE and a PURPOSE.

    I hear you thinking--surely you don't mean that God PLANNED these things?  Surely you don't believe that God allows evil--or worse, brings it himself!  I'll tell you what I believe.  I believe that we don't know the end from the beginning.  Only God does that.  We don't see the path in its entirety.  Only God does that.  Sometimes we can get a glimmer, and sometimes that glimmer can put things into perspective.

    My son was born at 24 weeks.  Because we were part of the Kaiser HMO, we were forced to transfer him to a Kaiser hospital as soon as he was considered "stable".  He died after 11 days of struggling, and he broke our hearts.  Our family shattered.  That was our reality.  But there was another part of our reality that we didn't know--only God knew.  The clock was ticking on my husband.  Up to the moment my son died, God was distant and unimportant to him.  But when Tommy died, Val spoke of needing to get right with God so that he could see his son again.  That was real and necessary, and I believe he took it seriously.  

    When Tommy died, I wondered over and over again why God didn't save him.  My question was answered in 1993, when he took my husband.  I had a 6-month-old baby and 3 older kids.  There was no doubt that had Tommy survived, he would have been severely mentally disabled.  I simply could not have managed.

    I know--these examples raise every bit as many questions as they answer.  But at some point you have to stop blasting heaven's doors with "Why" and begin to realize that He knows what is best and you don't.

    The other thing I've learned about fear is that the very thing you're afraid of is that very thing that you need the most.  More on that next time.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Fear and worry: Subdue and Conquer

My last post dealt with fear and Philippians.  This time, I'm going to share with you how I've learned to deal with fear.  Please remember, though, that I'm not claiming to have overcome it.  I don't know if anyone absolutely overcomes fear.  I walk through it and have learned not to let it torment me.

First of all, name it.  You have this heavy feeling pressing down on you and making you feel anxious.  Why?  What is causing it?  Sometimes you know; sometimes you don't.  If you don't, ask the Lord to help you see.

I'm a big proponent of naming.  I think that if you are fighting something that doesn't have a name, you are giving all power over to your opponent and have already lost.  For example, as I sit here typing, I have a weight in my heart.  I could choose to ignore it, hoping it will go away on its own--bad idea.  I would go through my whole day anxious and depressed, wondering about that weight.  Instead, I did a little reflection and realized that there are several things weighing me down this morning.  First, I woke up early today and have a long day ahead of me.  Second, I have a rehearsal tonight that I haven't adequately prepared for.  Third, I am going to report on a concert tomorrow and feel woefully unprepared (I'm a perfectionist and as such have problems with my first time of doing anything.)

Having realized the issues that are weighing me down, I can now name them:  dread of the upcoming day, lack of preparation, and fear of failure.  As I write these words down, I already feel lighter.  There is a solution for each of these problems.

First of all, the dread of the day.  Go straight to the Bible, since only God can help there.
Isaiah 41:10  fear not, for I am with you;  be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you,  I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 40:28-31  Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God,   the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint,   and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary,and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;   they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary;   they shall walk and not faint.

Having understood this truth, I can now go to the physical aspect.  My eyes are sore, and even if I'm not tired, sore eyes make me feel so.  Since I have glaucoma, I take eye drops that dry out my eyes and make them sore.  So I remind myself to take my drops with me and use them when I feel tired during the day.  I did this just now, and I'm already feeling better!

Next, lack of preparation.  That one is easy.  I always worry about this before a rehearsal, and it's really not true.  I have prepared, I just haven't done so in the past week.  So today while I work, I will find my solos on Youtube and play them as I grade papers.  Hearing the soloist will cement my own part, and I will feel more confident tonight.

Finally, fear of failure.  Back to the same verse as before: 
Isaiah 41:10  fear not, for I am with you;  be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you,  I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Next, I remind myself that I have a meeting today with my supervisor, who will work with me to strengthen my article questions and help me be successful.  I don't have to do this alone.  Finally, I need to realize that I'm not in an adversarial relationship with my subject.  They want the article to succeed as much as I do.  So if I have questions or further research that I need to do, I can call them and they will help me. 

Franklin Roosevelt said that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.  That is so true.  If we name the fear, we have already gone far towards winning our battle.  Nebulous anxiety is able to overcome and overwhelm; fear that is named becomes a problem to be solved.

But what about fears that don't have easy fixes? I will look at that in the next post.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Nothing to fear...

As a Christian, I've heard the verses.  I've memorized them, kept them in my heart for such a time as this.  "Be anxious for nothing...fear not afraid...and maybe the best of all--God gave us not a spirit of fear but of power and love and self control.

I hope you will forgive me, but in this case, I get more insight from Franklin D. Roosevelt.  He said, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."  This is very very true, and for no one more than for me.  I've lived my life fighting fear, and I've lost more often than I've won.  Fear has immobilized me, kept me from achieving my dreams and goals, deprived me of joy and peace, and just basically ruined my life.  I used to live each day in fear. I was anxious about everything.  I worried about my kids and their decisions.  I was afraid that someone would commit suicide when they were having a bad day.  I would check my bank account several times a day, afraid that I had made some sort of mistake and had no money (of course, sometimes I was right to be afraid about that, but still...)--in short, there was really nothing in my life that didn't fill me with fear or anxiety.

For many years, I really didn't know how to fight this fear.  Then came the year that I felt I had to leave my job.  I knew that I couldn't stay there because of the way that they were doing business, so I followed what I believed was God's leading and quit.  As a teacher, of course, I was committed to stay through the year, but I had no idea what would happen after that.  For a widow with a son who would be starting high school, that's a scary place to be.  I tried to find jobs in Bakersfield, but it was too late.  People look for work in teaching in January, and this was April.  The jobs had been filled.  I started casting my net, first outside Bakersfield, then outside California.  There were interested replies, but nobody had offered me a job yet, and I was scheduled to go with my son to the Dominican Republic for a mission trip.

In the DR, I learned many things, some good and some bad.  In looking for answers to my dilemma, I thought that maybe God had something for me there.  Nope.  I tried to put myself into my work, but the fear was overwhelming.  Then I got a voice mail from my daughter.  They had promised to care for my dog, but they were moving to northern California!  They promised me that their friend would take care of him, but the fear quickly became overwhelming.

Luckily for me, the Bible study that was an ongoing part of the mission trip was on Philippians.   "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, in prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, make your request be known before God.  And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will fill your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4: 6-7).

Now, as a rule, I don't memorize scripture.  Not sure why--I just don't.  But this verse, I memorized.  Not only did I memorize it, but I learned a few things that I applied to it.  First of all, I realized that the verses really should be read backwards.  The part "be anxious for nothing" is the RESULT of making your request known with prayer and supplication to Jesus.  Doing it WITH THANKSGIVING is important.  If you don't thank him for the situation, you aren't really and truly turning it over to him.  This situation, as stressful and horrible as it might seem, is another opportunity for him to show his strength and his love for you. And as a result, you will have-not necessarily the solution-but PEACE.  And peace is so important.  The peace of God allows you to continue walking when weaker men would fall.  It allows you contentment in the midst of trouble.  It gives you comfort so that you can walk away from fear and anxiety in the knowledge that God loves you and still has a plan for your life.

Next:  how to deal with fear in your life--a plan to conquer and subdue.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

willing it to rain

Dear Friends,
All day today, I've been wishing that it would rain.  As I went about my day with this thought, God began shaping this poem within me.  It is in the first person, though I personally am not called to the mission field (at this time).  I've gone before, but right now, this is my call:  to serve him in writing and use my hands to trumpet God's words.

In the beginning, the desire was to stay out of the rain.
The rain of the spirit was all around--
I knew about prostitution, about the invisible children, about the orphans in Africa--
But I felt no desire to get my feet wet.
"Oh, no.  The rain is all wet and nasty.  
Others are interested,
Others don't mind getting soaked 
But I'm afraid.
If I get too close, 
I might get sick,
and that would never do."

But as time went on,
I felt the dryness of my soul,
and almost unbidden,
the thought came,
"Lord, I wish it would rain."

There was nothing wrong, really.
I was not wandering in a barren wasteland.
There were lush gardens,
Well-manicured lawns
and fat and happy people 
just like me
to all sides.

But I couldn't help thinking
that there was something missing,
that somehow things could be
well, better
if only it would rain.

I would read about rain online,
Others in the midst of a perpetual downfall would write about it.
My friends on Facebook would talk about their storms,
the midnight vigils downtown, 
seeking and saving those caught in human trafficking,
the meetings at church
getting ready for a summer building hope in Mexico,
the pleas for help
from others caught in a deluge of need and needing support.

And I would virtually get a pinky toe wet.
Praying for my brothers and sisters online.
Sometimes I could even feel the mist,
the slightest taste of the rain of the spirit that they were experiencing,
and for a time,
I was satisfied.

But then the desire came stronger.
Reading was no longer enough.
Lord, I need it to rain.
I actually want it to rain
on me!

And so, cautiously, I went in search of rain,
umbrella at the ready.
I went to meetings given by missionaries in Africa
and as they spoke,
the rain began to descend.  
The majority of us listeners put up our umbrellas,
prepared to be part of the rain,
but not yet ready to actually be in it.
However, we all felt the rain
as we reached into our purses and gave money 
(braving the rain to take the collection plate).
I talked with my friend about Magdalene Hope
and as she spoke with delight about helping those caught up in trafficking,
the rain of the spirit welled up and over
and threatened to inhabit me as well,
but I wasn't ready.
I backed away,
Safe in the vacuum of,
"Sister, I'll pray for you."
And as I left, I thought,
"Well, that was close!"

But there's the problem.
With my new understanding,
I no longer could ignore what was happening.
I'd never noticed it before,
But it was raining all around me.
People were in all stages of accepting the rain,
Some running with newspapers over their heads,
trying to stay dry.
Others were walking with overshoes and slickers,
Bustling and happy in God's service.
Still others were slogging in rain-drenched dirt 
that stuck to them and pulled on them
so that they were in danger of being sucked in--
Why was nobody at their side to help?

That's when I realized--
Nobody was at their side, 
because we were too busy
no, I was too busy
trying to stay out of the rain.

So here I am,
No hat, 
no overshoes, 
nothing but my spirit overflowing with Your love,
and saying
at last,
Let it come down on me,
Overwhelm me,
Overcome my fears
my phobias,
my sophisticated sense of "not me".
Let it rain on me,

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Transitions (making sense of the walk toward death)

Do you remember that moment when you knew you were going to give birth--that today was the day?  I understand that everyone's feelings are different, but I know that at least for me there was a sense of anticipation, of awe, and of the sense that something sacred and blessed was about to begin.

Then there's the transition from single to married.  You are walking step by step toward your wedding day.  At first, it's so far in the future that it seems unreal in a way, but as the days, weeks, and months pass, you become more and more aware that this is it--the moment that you've dreamed about your whole life is here, and you again feel anticipation, awe, and the sense that your world was about to change forever, and something sacred and blessed was about to begin.

So why isn't there that feeling in death?  It's another transition, isn't it?  I realize that I'm speaking about vastly different things to different people.  If your loved one was murdered or died in an accident or a sudden illness, of course there can be almost no transition.  It's sudden and unexpected and devastating in its intensity.  But the majority of people, I think, die differently.  There is a process, much like giving birth or getting married, where you have time to understand, to fully prepare, and to await the transition with a holy expectancy.

As I write these words, I can hear you.  You're thinking, 'Holy expectancy?  That's crazy!' But really, it isn't.  We are the crazy ones.  We ignore death for most of our lives, and when we see its face, we do everything that we can to disguise it, to separate ourselves from it--to pretend that it isn't really death.  We keep our loved ones in the hospital when they could be at home.  We keep them on life support when they could be released.  We try as hard as we can to put off the moment, and when it does come, we dress our dead in their Sunday best--no, strike that--the hospital sends the body to the funeral home and IT dresses them in their Sunday best.  When we see them, they are a parody of the person that we knew--made up with rouge and foundation and blush to hide the true skin color--the pall of death.  We gaze fondly at them in their coffin, so lifelike that we have trouble believing that their chests aren't moving up and down, and then we speak holy words over them and put them into the ground.

It didn't used to be this way.  Our ancestors cared for their sick at home.  They died at home.  They were taken into a sitting room, a coffin was made by the undertaker, usually a carpenter, then  brought to the house, and they lay in state there until time for the funeral, when the hearse would bear them first to the church then the cemetery.

But what about this sense of expectancy that I was talking about?  Is it morbid to think that there should be one as a person dies?  As a Christian, isn't a holy death the transition from a life on Earth to everlasting life with Christ, and shouldn't that be a joyous affair?  Every time I think about this, I remember my son's death.  His whole span of life was only eleven days, and most of those days were spent in horror and tears and at the same time a rugged hope that refused to leave, even though we knew from the beginning that his chances were pretty much nonexistent.  Looking at it today, I know that we were in denial for much of that time.  I choose not to wonder about the alternatives--how the transition would have been if we had realized the situation and allowed him to simply cease to be rather than insisting on respirator and heroic measures.  I can't wonder--we made our choice and Tommy lived as long as he did because of it.  But as he was dying, there was a sudden burst of activity and I was excited--a muddle of excitement to finally hold my baby and terror at his death, something that I definitely didn't want.  When I held him, my soul felt the transition.  It felt him leave his body and go to be with God.  I believe I was even granted a vision of that departure.  It didn't do away with the grief and the misery of the months to come, but it was something that has never left me.  It was both a horrible and somehow a joyful time.

On NPR today, Lucia Maya spoke of this transition with her daughter, Elizabeth Blue.  She had cancer, and her mother was with her in the ICU.  They had tried all sorts of life-saving things, but finally she realized that her daughter was done.  She asked if they should consider hospice, and then and only then did the hospital agree with her.  They didn't raise the issue; she did.  The daughter soon returned home, and she and her mother were able to share time before she died:  writing together, being together, speaking about things that were important.  When her daughter died, family readied the body, family and friends had a service, and the family even brought the body of their beloved daughter to be cremated.      You can read about her story here .

Now as for the sense of holy expectancy, I just wonder if we are missing something.  When I think about my own death, it's with this same sense of anticipation as I felt when awaiting marriage or childbirth.  An enormous, wonderful change is about to come.  Why can't we feel that when awaiting the death of our elders, of those who are soon to be released from the devastation of disease, of those who are soon to be reunited with God?  It's an obvious answer, isn't it.  It's not our journey.  It's theirs.  But we can share in the journey and help them on their way.  We can choose to be part of it or we can choose to shield ourselves from it and leave our loved ones to die on their own.  But it is a choice.  There are groups that can come to the bedside of the loved one and sing them on their way and through this final transition, such as Threshold Singers.  We can choose to take the risk of allowing ourselves to carry the burden of a hospital bed in our front room so that our parents don't have to die alone.  I didn't do that.  I wish I had had the nerve to.

Thanks for reading along with me as I tried to make sense of this.  This post is as much for me as for any of you--maybe more.  I just have this feeling--can't we do more--be more--have more understanding of the joyfulness of the time of transition?  Maybe we can, and maybe God will allow us to experience the peace of his love in the midst of it.