Thursday, May 23, 2019

Coming Alive Again

Hey Friend,

After living for many years in what I now realize was a very dysfunctional system, I am coming to truly appreciate "mutually life-giving" relationships.  No one totally lives a Norman Rockwell existence, but if we feel that we've lost ourselves somewhere along the way, it's a red flag signaling that things need to change.  I do believe, however, that dysfunction doesn't just magically pop up in one generation.  It is usually a system that has been passed down through the generations.

My husband, of five years, and I just returned from a wonderful three day weekend in the mountains.  In a short time we took in everything from the grand Biltmore Estate and Gardens to the Asheville River Arts District. 


I've always loved photography and the Arts.  It was such fun capturing the breathtaking beauty of the mountains and the diversity of the numerous gardens with my camera.  My husband patiently strolled with me as I popped in and out of the artists' studios that held beauty displayed in the mediums of glass, pottery, oil paints, water colors, jewelry, sculpture, and even old inner tubes. 

I told a good friend (after I returned home) that I felt like a part of me, that had shriveled and died, was beginning to come alive again.

I am realizing that a crucial part of self care and soul care is indulging the God-given bents inside of us that make our souls soar.

I studied French in high school and college, but I have learned that if you don't "use" it, you will quickly "lose" it.  That goes for how we nurture and take care of ourselves.  If we have a gift for music, art, writing, running, swimming, gardening, woodworking, dancing, problem solving, (fill in the blank), if we don't use it, we will lose it too.  

God gave us each unique ways to explore and relate to His Creation.  He delights in us using these gifts in order to step out of the daily grind and let our bodies and minds simply breathe.  By giving my soul the space it needs, I find that I am better at re-framing how I look at the daily "to-do" list.

After photographing and breathing in the fragrance of heirloom roses, I am better equipped to let the weekly laundry be an offering vs. an obligation.

Even if we have neglected the soul care we need (for whatever reason), take heart, there is no such thing as "too late."

"I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten." (Joel 2:25)

I am so thankful that God is in the business of restoring and redeeming.  He is an expert in bringing what was dead back to life.  He can do that in us if we will let him.

Having been given this gift by God and my loving husband, makes me want to repay it.  When was the last time you encouraged your spouse or special people in your life to "get in touch with their inner child" or to give their soul some nourishment?  

Soul care is not only a gift we give ourselves or receive from others, it's a gift to be passed on.

Though going to an ACC Baseball Tournament may not be tops on my list of things to do, I know that my sports-loving husband gets a break from work stress and feeds his inner child when he takes in the distinctive "crack" of bat meeting ball, and the unique aroma of hot dogs mixed with popcorn that can only be found at a ballpark.  When was the last time you asked yourself, "What makes my spouse come alive?"  

Maybe it's time to take inventory:
1.  What makes my soul come alive?
2.  What makes my spouse's soul come alive?
3.  What has hindered this from happening?
4.  What steps can I take to make this happen?
5.  Plan it and Do it!!
* These don't have to be vacations, it could be just going for a hike in a nearby park or relaxing with a good book and glass of wine. Let your soul breathe.*

Dear Heavenly Father, I praise You that You long to usher our spirits into the unhurried rhythms of grace. Thank you for the unique way in which You created me to be in relationship with You and to enjoy Your creation.  Help me to realize the parts of my soul that need nourishment and, through Your grace, help me to come alive again.  You are the ultimate Redeemer and Restorer.  Let me put my trust in You.  In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

What about you?  Is there a part of you that has died or gotten lost along the way?  What makes YOU come alive?  What steps can you take to give your soul the care and nourishment it needs?  Will you share?

Sunday, May 12, 2019

May is Mental Health Month - Popular Post Revisited

Hey Friend,

May is National "Mental Health Awareness Month", and if you've read my blog for long, you know this is a subject near and dear to my heart.  I featured this post - "Can Christians Truly Have Mental Illness" quite awhile ago and it has been one of the most widely read of my posts, and I have had so many hurting people contact me who were so relieved to know that they weren't alone.

I invite you to read along if you suffer (or think you suffer) from anxiety, depression, or a whole host of illnesses that fall under the "Mental Illness" umbrella or know someone who does.  Let's talk openly and continue to pull away the veil of shame and erase the stigma associated with these debilitating illnesses.  Without further ado, I revisit my post:

This is a rather lengthy and very personal post, but several things have happened this past week that have convinced me that I need to speak up on this subject.  Here is one thing that was posted on Facebook and Instagram:

It was followed by some joking remarks and quite a few laughing emojis.  Now if someone cracked jokes about cancer, or heart disease, or MS, etc., people would be disgusted, yet mental illness is fair game and the stigma is far from being erased.  After all, "It's all in your head," right?  Obviously they don't know that OCD is considered one of the most insidious of the anxiety disorders.  

A young man I know, has an agonizing obsession that loops around, and around, and around endlessly in his brain.  It says, "You're going to hell."  Compulsively, he is led to pray and read scripture continuously (for hours on end) as a way of warding this off from happening. The more he tries, the more anxious he becomes. Meanwhile, he knows somewhere, consciously, that this is irrational, but the obsessions present themselves as being VERY real and threatening, and he is helpless to make them stop.  That to me is hell....not a joke. 

I hope you'll read my personal story and perhaps glean some information that previously you were unaware of.....maybe even read up on mental illness.  Chances are someone you know has such an illness!

I can vividly remember my dad asking me, "Are you still dwelling on that?" and then saying, "For Pete's sake give it a rest already." I would get stuck on thoughts that would keep looping around in my mind without ceasing. 

When I would start a new job, even a simple job like working in a fast food place, I would get so anxious that I would literally get sick.  I was sure I was going to screw up.  

I intrinsically knew I looked at the world differently.  I didn't have as carefree an attitude that others seemed to have.  I was plagued with self-doubt and was certain that anyone else, if placed in my shoes, would do a better job at managing life than I did.

Fast forward to my first child being born.  I couldn't wait for his/her arrival.  I loved this baby and was anticipating its coming...until she came, and a dark cloud blew in and settled over me.  Another friend, who gave birth around the same time I did, seemed to be enjoying motherhood.  I was a nervous wreck. 

I had terrible thoughts like I wanted to give the baby back because I didn't like how I was feeling.  I wasn't the glowing happy mom that doted on this precious child the way others did.  Even writing this now, I feel horrid, ashamed, and embarrassed.  It's hard to think about, let alone write about it. 
I couldn't sleep even when my daughter slept.  I obsessively wrote down and tracked everything she did and when.  I couldn't go to bed at night without putting my hand on her chest and feeling her chest rise and fall.  I'd kiss her and exit the room, only to return seconds later to see if she was still breathing.  This process of checking her breathing, going back and forth, could last for hours. I feared she might die if I left her alone and didn't keep checking. 

I sank deeper into a sadness and despair at what my life had become and felt guilt and shame for not being more grateful for this gift that God had given me.  I would walk around the neighborhood in the wee hours when I couldn't sleep and one time I remember just running.  I was running and crying, and I didn't know where I was running to, but I just wanted to run away.  I remember driving by myself and thinking I just wanted to turn and head into oncoming traffic so that someone would hit me and put me out of my misery.  What on earth was wrong with me?

I finally confided in my family doctor who said I was experiencing post-partum depression and as long as I didn't feel like I'd hurt the baby (which I didn't) that I should just give it time and it would pass.  It was the "baby blues" and it was not unusual and given time I'd feel like myself again.

The trouble was that I didn't feel like myself again.  I felt somewhat better, but I knew that I just didn't feel like I should. I loved and adored my daughter, but something bigger, greater, was wrong.  

It wasn't until around my daughter's third birthday and potty training just about pushed me over the edge, that I was thankfully and mercifully diagnosed as having OCD (an anxiety disorder) and depression (a chemical imbalance in the brain).  

I started taking medicine (albeit with great hesitation) that worked on both the OCD anxiety and the depression.  It took a while, but I began to feel like I could cope.  I wasn't as anxious about things - especially taking care of my daughter.  I didn't have that feeling like if someone said to me, "Could you pour me a bowl of cereal?"  It sounded like they were saying "Go climb Mt. Everest.”  I began to feel joy return. 

I didn't like taking the medicine, however, because that meant I had to admit I had a mental illness.  Well-meaning people told me that if I just read more scripture, or prayed harder, or had more faith then I wouldn't feel this way, nor would I need to take medicine.  I was a Christian, after all, and medicine was a crutch.  

I felt flawed, less than, like my faith wasn't enough.  Surely, if I was just a better Christian I wouldn't be in this state.

These are the thoughts I wrestled with.  I remember going to a new dentist and having to check off medical history.  I would get to the part where it would list anxiety, depression, or mental illness and I’d have to check the little box.

Fast forward many years and I now realize that Mental Illness is, just that, an illness!  It can be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain or by extreme circumstances (like what many of our returning vets experience).  Sometimes it's a combination of chemistry and experience. It's also genetic.  Many people self-medicate with alcohol, drugs, etc. 

The truth is, it's not my fault.  It's not your fault.  You have an illness.

If someone had diabetes, you wouldn't tell them they didn't need insulin, but just needed to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, think happy thoughts, mind over matter and they'd be fine.  Perhaps reading more scripture would alleviate the diabetic symptoms?  Sounds silly, right? But this is how we treat the mentally ill.

I am a cancer survivor.  Cancer, though terribly scary, was something I could wear like a badge of honor that I battled and survived.  No one talks about battling/surviving mental illness in these terms.  When I hear about someone committing suicide and others saying things like, "How could he or she be so selfish to do something like that?" 

All I can say is that unless you've lived the pain and suffering of depression or anxiety or intense fear or all other symptoms of mental illness like mania, or rages wherein you feel like a monster, or multiple personalities, you have absolutely no idea the pain and suffering that a person endures.  It is so bad, and if left untreated, I can understand that a person could get to a point that they are in so much pain, that ending one's life is the only way to make this horrid, unbearable pain stop.

Mental illness is no respecter of persons.  

Most people would not peg me as the poster child for mental illness.  I was the captain of my cheer leading squad.  I graduated 8th in my class of nearly 800 students in high school.  I excelled in college.  I held leadership positions and have worked in Christian ministry most of my adult like.  I love to write and have been published. 

Mentally ill?  No, those are the homeless people begging for money on street corners, right?

I am the face of mental illness.  I know what it's like to wear the gray glasses and have the dark cloud come in and settle over you.  I know pulling the covers over my head and not being able to get out of bed for days at a time.  I know pain so intense that all I can do is let the Holy Spirit groan, "Jesus" on my behalf.

I needed and still need medicine and counseling - hand in hand - to get me to, and keep me in, a healthy place. It's still not a cure.  I have my episodes with OCD and depression, but I am able to function and cope in this world. I can experience joy and can find hope in scripture.

I've learned that stress, and lack of sleep and exercise, and poor diet can all contribute to a greater likelihood of returning symptoms.  I know coping techniques like distracting and holding the lies I hear in my head (from the enemy) up to scripture and if they don't match up with scripture, then I need to take those thoughts captive to Christ and let Him cast them far from me.  I can call on my faith now, because I was able, thanks to medicine and prayer, to get to the field.

Christians, Mental Illness, & Scripture - A Football Analogy: It’s like you are on a football team. God is the Coach and the Bible is His playbook. In order to benefit from the Coach you first need to be able to get to the field so that you can hear the Coach’s instructions from the playbook, practice on the field, and get the encouragement and discipline He offers. The only problem is... you can’t even get to the field. You are stuck miles away in a pit so large and so deep that you can’t possibly climb out of it by yourself. You need medicine or counseling or both to even be able to get out of the pit, to get to the field, to sit at the feet of the Coach so that He can coach you from His playbook. You, first, need to be able to get to the field.

Mental illness is the thorn in my side (like what Paul experienced).  The Lord has not removed it, but I have learned that in it - as in all trials - His grace is sufficient.  He has never left nor forsaken me and He has been faithful to walk with me THROUGH the valleys and has not left me stuck there indefinitely.  

I believe that I have a compassion for others that I would NEVER have had it not been for what I have dealt with and continue to deal with.  I would NEVER have the close relationship that I do with Jesus had I not had to call out to Him from the utter depths of despair and to know He was still holding onto me even when I couldn't hold on to Him.  

So why do I say all this?  Two reasons.  One is to let the world know that God is faithful.  He knows the pain of the mentally ill and is close to the brokenhearted that deal with this illness.

Second, I would like to erase the stigma of mental illness.  One day, perhaps NFL teams will wear bright lime green cleats, gloves, and mouth guards to bring awareness to the one in four people who suffer from mental illness…including Christians. 

One day we might talk with ease about bipolar, panic attacks, anorexia, OCD, depression, schizophrenia, etc.
I strongly encourage you that if you have felt or experienced any of the symptoms I've mentioned, that you PLEASE seek medical advice and counseling.  There IS help and there IS hope!!  We just need to talk more about it.  Take it from one who's been there.
I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.  He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him. (Psalm 40:1-3) 
Thank you for reading.... maybe you know someone who needs to read blessed....


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CONGRATS' AND THANKS TO THOSE WHO SUBSCRIBED AND COMMENTED ON LAST WEEK'S POST:  Winners of the "A Moment to Breathe" devotional book are:  Renee G. and Nancy R. - Woohoo!  Thanks ALL for joining in the Mother's Day fun!! 

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Come to Him As a Child - Plus Giveaway!

Hey Friend,

When my daughter was two years old (before her brother came along), we did everything together including our weekly trips to the grocery store. On one excursion, I grabbed a cart at the local Jewel Osco and plopped her in the child's seat in the front of the cart.  Every trip was an adventure, so I whispered a short prayer and proceeded to serpentine up and down the aisles.

We had made it about halfway through without incident, but the moment I turned the corner to head down the cereal aisle, I felt a sense of apprehension rise upward starting at my toes.  

Our cart pulled up alongside an employee stocking the shelves.  He was a very friendly man of short stature with a warm smile.  "Good morning," I greeted him.  "How are you ladies, today?" He responded, smiling, and then...

"Why is dat man soooo short, Mommy?" my daughter chimed in.  I felt my face burn because I knew that not only did he hear, but the folks in our aisle and two aisles over, must have heard as well.  Two year old's don't pull any punches.  They just ask or say whatever is on their little minds, and with one volume - LOUD!

I tried to embrace this teachable moment as I reminded my daughter that God makes everyone special. I told her that God created that man with the same care in which He had created her.  I smiled apologetically. The man smiled back with understanding...and then on we went.

Thankfully, as we mature, we hopefully begin to have a filter on our thoughts.  We learn that our mouths are not like a convenience store - open 24/7.  We don't let every thought in our brain come out of our mouth, but there is one person, with whom we clam up, who really DOES want to hear what's on our mind and in our heart.

I know that when I pray, I often think I have to come up with the right words, or I try to say what God wants to hear.  I know I need to praise Him, before I petition Him, but what about the times that I'm in so much pain, I can barely utter a desperate groan?  Perhaps I'm like a child who's fallen, hurt themselves, and is crying uncontrollably?

What if I'm so angry that I raise a fist to God to furiously ask Him, "Why this?"  My words are critical, loud, and filled with hurt and frustration.  Am I so unlike a toddler having a temper tantrum? 

When I blurt out my unfiltered thoughts, doubts, questions, criticism, and disbelief am I not like a little child squirming free of a parent's grip?  When I am afraid, fearful, hurting, or sad, do I not reach longingly for my Father's hand?

God is BIG enough to handle our childlike emotions and feelings.

He wants us to come to Him with pure honesty and not hold anything back.  Our relationship with our heavenly Father is, perhaps, the most HONEST relationship we can possibly have.  

So why do I hesitate to go there?  Many of us have assigned our earthly father's traits to our Heavenly Father.  Perhaps we think He is distant, aloof, critical, not warm and fuzzy, a true disciplinarian that is waiting to make check marks in the mistake column, and is secretly disappointed with us?  Maybe we've had an absentee father or even been abandoned or abused by our earthly father?  

I admit, I related more readily to Jesus at the beginning of my faith journey.  I loved the pictures I saw in Sunday school of Jesus, smiling and warmly beckoning the little children to come unto Him.  But, as I've matured in my faith, I have witnessed and experienced, firsthand, the awesome lovingkindness of my heavenly Father. I asked Him to work that trust deep into my soul and He obliged.

Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” 9Jesus replied, “Philip, I have been with you all this time, and still you do not know Me? Anyone who has seen Me has seen theFather. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me? The words I say to you, I do not speak on My own. Instead, it is the Father dwelling in Me, performing His works.…(John 9: 8-10)

Jesus reminds me that if I have seen Him, I have seen the Father, because Jesus and the Father are One, and Jesus is actually God in human form.  

Jesus is lovingkindness because God, who dwells in Him, is lovingkindness! 

So if we want to enter the gaits of heaven, we need to have faith and trust like a little child. God desires to have a relationship built on intimacy and honesty.  He wants us to come to Him as a child would - with our REAL selves showing and our questions blazing. Trust me, God's big enough to handle it.

Dear Heavenly Father,  Forgive me for keeping You at a distance or feeling like I have to clean up my act or better myself to come into Your presence.  Remind me that is only by the grace of the sacrifice of Jesus that I can enter Your Holy presence with pure honesty.  I thank You that You are a patient, long-suffering God.  You never tire of my questions; You use our doubts to draw us closer into knowing You.  Give me the reassurance that I can come, real and raw, before You and You will meet me with mercy and grace.  Thank You for giving me Jesus so that I might know Your lovingkindness.  I praise You for Your faithfulness throughout my life.  Let me always, like a child, take hold of Your hand that is outstretched with love toward me.  In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

What about you?  What holds you back from being real with God?  What misperceptions have you had about God?  How do you see Him right now? In what area does your relationship need to grow?  Will you share?

Mother's Day Giveaway!!  "A Moment to Breathe" daily devotional book :)  On Mother's Day I will draw one lucky winner to receive a copy of this devotional book (just hardcover).  I've written two devotions, but there are some well known writers who have contributed: Holley Gerth, Ann Swindell, Jennifer Dukes Lee, Alia Joy, Denise Hughes, Emily Freeman, Lisa-Jo Baker, and more.

Two ways to win:
1.  SUBSCRIBE to my blog.  Be sure to click the link in the email you will receive to verify your subscription and to get my weekly blog posts. 

2.  Leave a COMMENT and say, "Count me in!" in your message.  Choose the "Anonymous" option if you are not a blogger, and then sign your name at the end of your comment.

**Winners will be announced in my next post so be sure to check back**  MSRP $19.99