Sunday, April 27, 2008

And so it began

This is the entry that isn't easy to write. It's a story I could hide and no one would ever know. But it's a story that I have to tell; a story that I want to tell because if someone had told it to me six years ago it would have made a world of difference. Postpartum depression is talked about; it's understood to a degree. But there is another type of postpartum mood disorder; a type that I never knew existed until several months ago. This is a story, my story, of postpartum OCD. (I know I get the occasional male reader who stumbles across my blog. I encourage you not to just check out at this point thinking 'oh, it's a woman post'. If you have a wife, sister, daughter, or close female friend you need to know this too. Doctors don't always ask the right questions of new mothers, sometimes it's up to you.)

Six years. Where has the time gone? It seems like such a short time ago that I held Gates in my arms for the first time and yet it is so hard to remember how small he was, how helpless. And soon he'll be turning six and I am remembering. Remembering, and finally healing.

There is a common saying, turned into a commercial for baby products, which tells us "Having a baby changes everything." And it does. The sleepless nights, endless loads of tiny laundry, the inability to just head out the door with ease whenever you want, the worry over every cough, the endless debate over every decision because now it affects a third person in your life, the first real smile that melts your heart, the celebration of every milestone, big or small, the pride that fills your heart that this is YOUR child. Having a baby changes everything.

I was ready for change, ready for the responsibility, ready to be a mother to another little being. I held him in my arms and I loved him. The first week wasn't easy. There was recovery from a traumatic birth experience, the struggle to nurse him, the fear that he might have to go back to the hospital, the suspicion that I might be sliding into postpartum depression.

But I could handle it. I was tough. Having a baby changes everything, I just needed to adjust.

I don't remember when it first happened, but I remember where I was. I was sitting on our couch by the window. Blue couch, reclining ends, middle that folded down into a table so that I could sit there for hours just holding Gates with everything I needed right at hand. I was holding him, looking at him, marveling at his perfection, loving him. And then the thought hit. "What if I put him in the oven?" What?? Where did that come from? I'm not that kind of parent. I love this child; I would DIE for this child. "What if I put him in the oven?"

And so it began. The endless parade of thoughts that I couldn't stop, thoughts that horrified me, thoughts that made me feel unclean. Oven, microwave, knives. In my mind I pictured myself hurting my child in a multitude of ways. I stopped watching any show that involved victimization of children, it just added to the list of horrible things I might imagine myself doing to Gates. It made no sense. How could I be holding my child and loving him and at the same time be thinking these things? I begged God to take the thoughts away. I cried and I begged and the thoughts didn't stop. Had I failed God in some way? Had God turned his back on me? Was I really as evil as I felt?

Having a baby changed everything. If I was evil, I had to work doubly hard to hide it. When people asked how it was going I smiled and proclaimed how great motherhood was. I couldn't let them see the cracks, the doubts, the uncertainties because they might see though them to the part of me that was evil. I couldn't tell anyone about the thoughts; they'd declare me unfit and take away my baby. I couldn't tell my husband, what would he think of me? Would he reject me? I deserved to be rejected, or so I thought.

As Gates grew the thoughts slowly subsided, only manifesting themselves rarely and in other bizarre ways; but the effect remained. No matter how well I parented, I was a failure. I doubted everything about my parenting. Having a baby changed everything.

Fast forward to this year. Major life changes, major stress. I was sinking back into deeper depression and there at the center, waiting to confront me was the part of me that was evil. And I had had enough; I couldn't continue living with the fear that the shell would crack open and what was inside would lash out and hurt the boys. So I finally gave up. I couldn't do it all on my own, I couldn't fix it and I needed help.

At my second counseling appointment I finally spoke the words I had been holding inside for nearly six years. I told of the thoughts that wouldn't leave me alone. I told of how evil I felt. And then came the words that changed everything. "It sounds like obsessive thought patterns to me." I came home and started Googling.

Postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder is part of the spectrum of postpartum mood disorders and is estimated to affect 2-3% of new mothers. It is most likely under-reported, however, because of the shame it produces and the fear that our children will be taken away from us. Postpartum OCD is NOT the same thing as postpartum psychosis. Women suffering from postpartum psychosis often cannot see their thoughts as irrational; women suffering from postpartum OCD know that their thoughts are not normal but are unable to get rid of them. Mothers with postpartum OCD rarely act on those thoughts, instead they typically develop any number of rituals in order to avoid them or avoid the possibility of acting on them. (Not always though, in my case I didn't develop any obvious compulsions.) It can affect women with a previous history of mild OCD as well as women who have never had it before.

More information on what it is: Postpartum OCD

Lots of great resources, support and links about all postpartum mood disorders can be found at Postpartum Progress.

Article from the Washington Post on postpartum OCD.

Those are some of the facts. You can Google all you like and find many more stories out there. The common thread in so many of them is "I wish someone had told me about this before I suffered for so long."

Do you want to know what grace feels like? Grace is taking your deepest, darkest secret, exposing it to the light of day and having it washed away with just a few words. Grace is finding out that even in those dark moments, when I didn't understand why he wasn't taking the thoughts away, God hadn't turned his back on me.

I don't know the answer to 'why me?' Why did I get this disorder that changed the course of my early parenting years? Maybe I'll never know. I know that it has taught me that secrets held too long leave their mark. I know that in some ways it did make me a better mother because fear gave me the desire to seek out parenting solutions that were gentle. I know it reaffirms the depths of love that my husband has for me, that when I finally told him he didn't turn away, he didn't reject me. I don't know all the answers, but I know the peace that comes from being finally set free.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Fighting over earthly spaces

I came across this article on the Yahoo News page. Does anyone else think these Christians missed something? Is there an essential message that they've forgotten?




(from Sarah El Deeb, Associated Press)


JERUSALEM - Dozens of Greek and Armenian priests and worshippers exchanged blows at one of Christianity's holiest shrines on Orthodox Palm Sunday, and used palm fronds to pummel police who tried to break up the brawl.


The fight came amid growing rivalry over religious rights at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built over the site in Jerusalem where tradition says Jesus was buried and resurrected.


It erupted when Armenian clergy kicked out a Greek priest from their midst, pushed him to the ground and kicked him, according to witnesses.


When police intervened, some worshippers hit them with the palm fronds they were holding for the religious holiday. The Eastern Orthodox churches, including the Armenians and Greek Orthodox, follow a different calendar from Western Christians and celebrate Easter next Sunday.


Two Armenian worshippers who attacked the Greek Orthodox clergy were briefly detained by Israeli police. Scores of Armenian supporters then protested outside the police station during the questioning of the two, beating drums and chanting.


The Holy Sepulcher is shared by several Christian denominations according to a centuries-old arrangement known as the "status quo."


Each denomination jealously guards its share of the basilica, and fights over rights at the church have intensified in recent years, particularly between the Armenians and Greeks.


Father Pakrad, an Armenian priest, said the presence of the Greek priest during the Armenian observances violated the status quo. "Our priests entered the tomb. They kicked the Greek monk out of the Edicule," he said, referring to the tomb area.


Pakrad accused the Greek Orthodox Christians of trying to step on the Armenians' rights. "We are the weak ones, persecuted by them for many centuries."


The Greek Orthodox Patriarch in the Holy Land, Theofilos III, told The Associated Press that the Armenians are pushing to change the rules, challenging what he said was the dominance of the Greek church in the Holy Land.


"This behavior is criminal and unacceptable by all means," he said. "They wanted to trespass on the status quo concerning the order that regulates the services between the various communities."


The Church of the Nativity in nearby Bethlehem — where Jesus is said to have been born — also falls under the status quo arrangement. Last year, pre-Christmas cleaning in that church turned ugly when robed Greek Orthodox and Armenian priests went at each other with brooms and stones.



In some ways it's easy to read that and be almost amused. Imagine that, those priests pummeling each other instead of living out a life of love made flesh, the very reason for the sites they are so jealously protecting.

And yet...and yet...are we that far above all that? Maybe we haven't turned to brooms and stones, or palm fronds. But how often do we pummel at our fellow Christians over the insignificant stuff? Over who has the 'right' to do something? Over our worship styles, the formality of our services? Over who has the correct political views? What is the 'status quo' we think we are protecting? We've marked our territory, we've declared that we own this part of Christendom and then someone comes in and challenges us, enters our sacred territory with different garb. And the fists come up.

There isn't anything inherently sacred about the place where Jesus was born, or where he was buried for three days. It is just land, and we've confused what is earthly and human with what is divine. Divine is the message, not the location, not the music, not the clothing it's dressed in.

It's time the church understood that. It's time the church lived that.

 









Sunday, April 20, 2008

It's a good thing it isn't about me...

This morning I had the misfortune privilege of being assigned the task of doing the announcements at church. I actually do like to attend churches where everyone gets involved in the service at some point instead of just a select few; at least I liked it until it became my turn to stand up in front of people and make words come out of my mouth.

I get nervous. Horribly, incredibly nervous. The worship team could have sung the theme song to Blues Clues and I truly would not have even noticed as my fear mounted. (Somehow I think God understands my fear, and I'd like to think that it's ok with him.) The good news is, I survived. I'm not sure what I said, I'm not sure if I missed anything, but I survived.

But here's the great news. It's not about me. God can show up at church whether it's me reading announcements or the most silver-tongued orator we've got. God can show up when there are Power Point difficulties, God can show up when the sound system screeches with feedback, God can show up no matter what happens. Because God doesn't depend on us presenting some flawless show that delights the listeners, he depends on us having hearts that are open and willing.

So the next time your church asks for volunteers don't think "Oh, I can't do that, I'll let someone more gifted do it." Be willing. Serve. You don't have to be perfect, God's got that covered already.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Thankfulness

I was in the grocery store earlier today and have you seen the price of bread lately? Everything costs more! It's so hard to stick to a budget and I am sick of eating the same stuff over and over. I want to feed my family good food, but it's SO expensive.

Ugh, and gas jumped in price again! When's it going to stop? When do we stop feeling squeezed?

There's so little extra money coming in and yet we want to do some work on the house. I'm so sick of these paint colors, I don't know WHAT the prior owners were thinking. Seriously, a mustard yellow bathroom?

On and on it goes. The little complaints, the whining. Except now we call it 'venting' because that makes it sound more therapeutic and useful. And yes, venting feelings and frustrations is therapeutic, it hurts to keep everything bottled up inside. But I think there is a line between venting and complaining, I know it's a line I've crossed over before. Sometimes I've crossed over so far I can't even see where the line was anymore.

How often do we spend as much time on thankfulness as we do on complaining or worrying? Not enough, I'll bet. I know that as soon as I start to focus on what I'm thankful for I can feel my perspective shifting.

So for today, here is my 'thankful' list:

1. I am so incredibly, incredibly thankful for the man God has gifted me with as a husband. I literally cannot imagine there being anyone else out there more perfect for me. Doesn't mean that he IS perfect, but he is perfect for me. He has kept on loving me with a sure and steady love through all the highs and lows of the past few years, and especially the past few months. And he helps with laundry and cleaning too. (Hands off, he's mine!)

2. I am, of course, thankful for the two energetic boys that we have been blessed with. They make me laugh even in some of my darkest moments. (By the way, initials are getting awkward. J will henceforth be known as Gates and K will be known as Indy. I'll leave it up to your imaginations as to why.)

3. I am thankful for our health. In the grand scheme of things we have been gifted beyond compare with good physical health in our family. I have so many friends who struggle or have family members who struggle with health issues, and I don't know why some struggle and why some don't. That's one of those big questions I have.

4. I am thankful that we have food on the table. In spite of rising prices, in spite of the middle class squeeze that we keep hearing about, we never have to question where our next meal is coming from. There are millions of people around the world who do not have the basic nutrition each day necessary to sustain a healthy life. And I'm complaining when bread goes up 11 cents a loaf.

5. I am thankful for a job that lets me stay home with the boys. I'll probably post the whole story some other time, but for now I'll just say that I was blessed beyond what I ever expected.

And with that I will close my list for the day, because Indy is napping and its time for me to do some paying work. I hope this got you thinking though, and hey...feel free to post a comment about what you are thankful for today. (I think I've got it set so you don't have to be registered to comment.)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Keep on pedaling

Yesterday was an exciting day in our household. K learned how to ride his bike! I know that 3 and a half isn't that unusual of an age for bike riding, but this is the child who last summer wouldn't even pedal his tricycle. I'd see other two year olds happily tooling around on Big Wheels and tricycles and think "My child can do that, I KNOW he can do that." I'd set him on the tricycle, place his feet on the pedals and say "OK, now pedal, move your feet!"

Nothing. "Push me, mommy!"

I'd put my hands on his feet and try to get him to understand the motion and that the motion moved him forward.

He wasn't buying it. "Push me, mommy!" Physically I believe he had the capability; in every other way he was on target with his motor skills, but something in his brain was not making the connection that HE could do it. HE could make the tricycle move.

Then came yesterday, our first nice spring day, and an early school dismissal for J. K is now the size of a small four year old, so we decided to graduate him from the tricycle to J's old bike. I sat him on the bike, Thomas the Tank Engine helmet fixed securely to his head. I put my hands on his legs.

"OK, pedal!" I encouraged him as I moved his feet, trying to get him to understand the motion. Meanwhile J was zipping up and down the block on his bicycle. "Watch how J does it!" I said. A tentative turn of the feet, and the bike moved forward. Then it stopped. "Pedal, pedal!" I'd encourage again, hands on his legs reminding him of the motion. A few more turns. We worked our way slowly down the block...and then he got it. I graduated from hands moving his feet to a hand gently on his back, pushing him along, occasionally helping to steer.

By the end of the afternoon he had made it all the way down to the far end of the block and back and no longer needed (or wanted) my hands pushing him along. Occasionally he'd get hung up on a crack and say "Ok, little push now." But he was doing it! As we put the bike away he said, "I want to ride my bike forever."

I wonder if God is like that sometimes. He sees the gifts, the potential we have inside ourselves and sets us on the road to discovering them. But we think we can't do it, or we don't see the benefit to learning it, so we sit there on our bikes, wanting God to do all the work. "Pedal!" He encourages us. "It will be worth it!" He coaxes, maybe he puts things in our path that make us use those muscles to learn, and maybe he gives us other examples to watch. But always he encourages "Pedal, pedal, pedal! You can do it! I know you have it in you!"

And then it happens. Awkwardly, uncertainly, we start to move. We start to do the things that God knew all along we could do. Sometimes we get stuck, "Ok, a little push now, God." And he does, and we keep going, gaining strength and gracefulness as we go.

When K had really mastered the art of bike riding I was so excited that I called my husband on my cell phone. "Guess what K is doing! He's riding bike!" I wonder if God gets that excited when he sees his children using the potential that he has given them.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Unexpected

"No eye has seen,


no ear has heard,


no mind has conceived


what God has prepared for those who love him"


1 Corinthians 2:9 (NIV)


For the past two days I've been struggling to write a post about happiness, about what it means and how we get there when it seems so out of reach. The words just weren't coming together right, they weren't conveying what was on my heart.

This morning I sat down to work on the Beth Moore Bible study that I'm working through with a group of women from church. We've been working on the study Breaking Free: Making Liberty in Christ a Reality in Life and I've got to tell you, so far I haven't been feeling a lot of breaking free going on in my life. Still yelling at the kids? Check. Still struggling with depression? Check. Still feeling that in God's eyes I'm pretty useless? Check. We're half way through the study and I'm thinking once again God is just ignoring me down here. Bless others, give them great insights, but somehow I'm left out in the cold. Again.

And what was the title of today's lesson? "To Live Happily Ever After." Now, before you go accusing Beth Moore of having some pie-in-the-sky vision of perfect Christianity that never experiences sadness, that isn't her point at all. I won't go into the details, they aren't important to what I learned today and if you really want to know you can do the study yourself. (Which I'm sure you'll rush right out and do after that ringing endorsement I just gave it in the previous paragraph.)

I came into this lesson with my fighting gloves on, expecting Moore to tell me a Christian should be able to be happy all, or most of, the time. And after years of believing that myself and trying to perpetuate the illusion, I'm dropping it. Christians get sad. Christians can even struggle with clinical depression and guess what? Christians can even have to take medication for depression and anxiety. (And yes, three months ago I would have argued the opposite, that I SHOULD be able to be spiritual enough to MAKE myself happy. Notice the conspicuous absence of God's work in that sentence...now move on to the next thought.)

Two paragraphs into the lesson the unexpected happened. Moore posed the question about what God has done in our life at this point in the study that is in the realm of 1 Corinthians 2:9, that exceeded anything we had seen, heard, or imagined. I flexed my fingers, picked up my pen and began to write that after all this work, God has not done one single thing in my life over the past few months. I've been passed by.

And then I stopped. I stopped and thought about the group of women that I'm doing the study with. I thought about how we've opened our hearts to each other and shared our hurts and our joys. I thought about the women who have encouraged me, the one who poked at me to get me to speak up, the one who gave me her phone number just in case I wanted a friend to call, the one who said "We've all been there" when I was frustrated over one of my son's meltdowns, the one who invited me out to a movie. My prayer for more years than I can remember has been "God, just send me a friend. Send me someone I can share my heart with, someone I can sometimes just hang out and do fun stuff with. I am so lonely, God." And unexpectedly, without me even realizing it, over the past few months he has not been giving me just one friend, he's been giving me a whole group! Slowly the corners of my life have been filling up with the female companionship that I craved.

Still yelling at the kids? Check. Still struggling with depression? Check. Still feeling useless? Check. Surrounded by friends who love me and will walk with me through all the crud in my life? Check, double and triple check.

Sometimes we're digging in the dirt, trying to make grace grow, only to turn around and realize there's a whole garden of it behind us.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Reflecting on Church

This morning my husband and I were introduced as members of the church, along with several other families. This wasn't our official 'joining'; as a newly organized church we have already done that; this was just a way of actually introducing the families who make up the church. But as I was getting ready for church this morning I began reflecting on what makes a church 'good'. What is it about this church that drew me in where others left me cold? This is by no means an exhaustive list, and it may look different from your list, but these are my thoughts.

1. Real church cuts across denominational lines. No one denomination, worship style, etc. has a lock on all that is true and holy and biblical. In fact, we probably all get it wrong in some places some of the time. I've been in churches and movements where it was subtly or not so subtly proposed that somehow we knew a truth that all of those other churches 'out there' didn't get. And that gets confusing when you run up against something in your church that you aren't sure you agree with. Our church is now a merged congregation of the Mennonite Church and the Christian Missionary and Alliance Church. How cool is that? Breaking down walls and declaring that as part of something bigger, as part of the body of Christ we aren't going to let names separate or define us anymore.

2. Real church allows questions. It acknowledges that as humans we are going to struggle to understand the mind of God, to understand the word He left behind for us, to understand how and why He works the way He does in the world both in the past and in the present. Didn't it always irritate you as a kid when you asked your parent a tough question and their answer was "Because I'm the parent and I said so, you don't get to ask the questions." (Well, ok, maybe you were lucky enough to have parents that let you question with freedom.) But it is frustrating to be told you shouldn't have a question because that doesn't take the question away, it just makes you feel guilty for having it. What better place to struggle with the big questions than in a church, where we can learn together?

3. You shouldn't have to be a 'certain way' to belong to a church. Yes, different churches will often ultimately draw different types of people through their worship style, outreach ministries, etc. But as the body of Christ on earth it's our job to show His acceptance to everyone who walks through our doors. Side note here, I don't think cliques have any place in the body of Christ. Nothing makes it harder on a newcomer than to realize that everyone has their own little 'group' already and they are so content with who they relate with that they don't want anyone else coming in and messing up their dynamic. This was my experience in the church I grew up in. Or rather, I should say, my mother's experience. New to the church, she tried to join several Bible studies only to be told that they were really quite full and why not consider starting her own? What a way to welcome a new person! In all the years that we attended there I do not recall my mother making any close friends of her own age. And so I grew up in a church where we were always a bit the outsiders, where I was never quite pretty enough, or popular enough or well dressed enough to fit in with the rest of my class. Insecurity for me began in the church. It should be the other way around. I love that at my church now we are a blend that welcomes ties, tattoos, dreadlocks and Dockers.

4. Related to point 3; church shouldn't be a place of plastic perfection. Church comes with real people and real people come with hurts and baggage and some Sundays we can barely drag ourselves through the door. But we come, and there we find other people with struggles, some the same, some different, but ALL with struggles. It is in watching other people struggle that we can sometimes find grace for our own battles. How frustrating it would be for me, two days out from almost being checked into a mental hospital, to walk into church and feel that everyone there had it together except me, that I was the only one falling apart on the inside? I don't think I'd be back. No, we can't all walk around wearing our weaknesses on our sleeve, but there's something in the air of a church that is genuine, something we sensed when we first entered the church we are a part of now. I still struggle with trying to put on that mask of perfection, but God is gently prying it from my hands and I don't think I want it back.

There are other points I could make, other things to say, but in many ways they all fit under the umbrella of those points. Ultimately, I like the way the vision statement for our church lays it out: Belong, Question, Share, Grow. I love my church, and I'm glad to be a part of it. I hope that I succeed at making other new people feel as welcomed as we did when we first came. (That's a big task for a naturally shy person, but I don't think it lets me off the hook.)

Oh, and one final note; if you happen to be within driving distance of Sioux Falls, come check us out!   Mercy Church I'll be the shy one who probably won't say much, but I promise I'll at least smile at you.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Spectacular Failures

Some days I not only fail slightly at letting grace flow through me, I fail SPECTACULARLY. If you were at the Howard Johnson's in Lincoln, Nebraska this past weekend you probably witnessed my spectacular failure. Yes, I was that mother screaming at her children from behind the closed doors of room 111. I was also that woman snapping at her children at the wedding reception to stop squirming because every time they squirmed they threatened to bring the entire tablecloth (candle, glasses and all) crashing to the floor. It really wasn't their fault, small children and long tablecloths are two things that should never be mixed.

By the end of the weekend I felt like the world's worst parent. I had no intention of screaming at my children, they were stuck in a situation that I'm sure they liked no better than I did. But no matter what my intentions were, I lost it. I screamed at them and in my frustration I said things to them that I promised myself I would never, ever, ever say as a parent.

What do you do when you fail so spectacularly, when you go waltzing off on the wrong path even though you know that danger lies that way?

Believe it or not, the Bible is full of people who failed in some pretty big ways. Look at King David. He saw Bathsheba bathing on the roof, slept with her even though she was already married and then when a surprise pregnancy occurred, he had the woman's husband killed to cover up his spectacular failure. But when confronted with the fact that he had failed, he confessed his sin and repented. He couldn't go back and make it right, he couldn't bring Bathsheba's husband back to life and he couldn't undo the fact the he slept with her. All he could do was repent.

And in the end, that's what I have to do when I fail so spectacularly to show grace to my children. I repent. I will always tell them I am sorry when I know I have blown it, I think children need to hear it from us. I don't make excuses, I just apologize, and if I can I try to make amends in ways that fit the wrong I originally did.

So if you were in the Howard Johnson's in Lincoln, Nebraska this weekend and you heard me blow it, I hope you also heard me putting them to bed that night, snuggled between them, telling them how proud I was of them for how well they'd done all day and then singing 'Amazing Grace' and 'This Little Light of Mine' because they wanted songs.

Sometimes the light of grace flickers in our lives. Sometimes it almost goes out. But how amazing that even in our spectacular failures it can always be rekindled.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Empty places

The conversation goes something like this:

Me: (shamefacedly holding out a bag of trail mix that is now about two-thirds empty) "Um, I got you this to snack on for the trip this weekend, but...well...you know, it's been a rough week with J getting detention and me getting all up in the principal's face and everything, so..."

Husband: (shaking his head and smiling so it removes the sting from the words even if the truth remains) "Didn't you learn anything after the Easter candy? Didn't you learn not to buy that stuff too early?"

No, no, clearly I didn't, OK? I didn't learn my lesson, even after having to replace the Easter Candy three times. I didn't learn it after Valentine's Day when I realized that J is now old enough to notice that candy is missing from the stash he received at school. I really do ok most of the time, I do this by having almost no palatable food in the house at any time that does not require several hours of preparation prior to consumption. I proudly proclaim myself a food purist, shunning fast food, high fructose corn syrup and scary food dyes. But let a holiday or a special occasion hit and I am shameless.

No, that's not right. I am not shameless because emotional eating carries its own shame with it. The shame that says, "I should know better, I should do better, I am weak, I am not in control." Anyone who has struggled with emotional eating knows the drill, the roaming through the house flinging open cupboards, refrigerator and freezer, certain that somewhere there is something that can be eaten, something to fill that feeling that we can't even identify. And even as we fling open the cupboard we slam shut the door to our heart, to the voice that is calling us to just be still for a moment.

Being still isn't easy. I am learning that the hard way this year. After years of stifling the inner voice by immersing myself in work, in books, and on the internet, I came to a screeching halt when I decided to quit my full time job to stay home with my boys. No, they don't allow a lot of time for literally sitting still, but suddenly my mind became still. I couldn't hide behind busying it with work, my protection was stripped away. Suddenly the empty places became obvious.

We all have empty places in our hearts and our lives, places that we don't know how to fill. And for every woman with an empty place there is a different way of trying to fill it. Some of us even rush desperately from method to method, trying to find the one that works. In high school I tried to fill them with packages of Oreos, hidden under the covers of my bed as I hid from the world inside the fantasy world of books. In college I thought I could fill them by just reaching that magical weight, but the empty places couldn't be filled by the steadily decreasing numbers on the scale. Most athletic, perfect mother, perfect employee. Nothing filled them.

I still have empty places. But slowly I am learning to be still, to quiet the frantic rush of my heart, to hear grace calling "Be still, and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10 NIV) Psalm 46 is a reminder to us, a reminder that God is our refuge and strength, not all the foolish things we try to surround ourselves with and fill ourselves with.
 God is our refuge and strength,

an ever-present help in trouble.

 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way

and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

 though its waters roar and foam

and the mountains quake with their surging.

 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

the holy place where the Most High dwells.

 God is within her, she will not fall;

God will help her at break of day.

 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;

he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

 The Lord Almighty is with us;

the God of Jacob is our fortress.

 Come and see the works of the Lord,

the desolations he has brought on the earth.

 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;

he breaks the bow and shatters the spear,

he burns the shields with fire.

 "Be still, and know that I am God;

I will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth."

 The Lord Almighty is with us;

the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Take time. Be still. Let grace begin to move.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Anger

I am angry today, and words do not always come easily when I'm angry. But I want to write, because if there is one thing I know about anger, it is that it kills grace. It stifles it in my own life when the anger overwhelms me to the point that I feel nothing else. It is hard to dance free and unbound when you are holding on to something that weighs you down. But I also want to understand how, in the midst of anger, do I extend grace to the one who has created the situation that angers me?

Life is messy and people aren't perfect. We are always going to be running up against people who either intentionally or not cause those emotional reactions to rise up within us. They rain on our parade, they make mistakes and blow them off, they treat us as if we are not worthy of love or respect. They are human. We are human.

In Psalm 37:8 we are told to refrain from anger and turn from wrath. Furthermore, we are told, do not fret because it leads only to evil. I looked at the definition of the word fret, and the most common definition is to feel or express worry, discontent, annoyance, etc. But the remainder of the definitions go a little deeper. They talk about eroding, eating away, and the sense of something that eats at you. The word fret comes from the Old English word fretan meaning ‘to devour' and was often used when speaking of monsters. The original Hebrew word used in the passage is charah, which carries overtones of burning, kindling, heating oneself to vexation.

To expect ourselves never to get angry at all is to deny our human condition. But what do we do with our anger when it comes? How many of us fret over it, allowing the incident to consume us, to devour us from the inside out? Monster indeed; I can think of many times that my anger has eaten at me to the point at which I feel almost physically devoured. And how often do we allow our anger to heat to the point that it burns those around us?

So how do we tame this devouring beast, this raging fire? How do we reach that place of calm again?

  1. We acknowledge that it is ok to be angry. Earlier this week J's school made a mistake that caused me several minutes of panic, thinking that something had happened to my child. It was a mistake that shouldn't have happened. But mistakes happen and that is not what I was angry about. I was angry that they refused to acknowledge their part in the mistake and in fact attempted to shift the blame off their shoulders and onto mine. It was ok to be angered by that because it was their attempt to devalue my response and keep the upper hand.

  2. We give voice to our emotions; we declare ourselves worthy of having our voice be heard. If you cannot do it in the heat of the moment without losing your temper, try writing it down in a moment when you are feeling calmer. I have learned that one of the most effective ways for me to keep from yelling at my children at this point in my life is simply to tell them "I am angry right now. I am going to go into the other room for a minute until I calm down." Sometimes I will tell them why I am angry, but I am careful never to blame them for my anger. Blame can be a flame that burns the person it is directed at.

  3. We move on. Once we have voiced our feelings and our opinions the ball is in the other person's court. They may or may not acknowledge it. They may acknowledge it in ways we don't want to hear. It is no longer in our control. I sent a letter to the school detailing why I was upset. They may respond; they may ignore it. I cannot change what they will do, so my choice is to either continue to let my anger devour me (it won't make any difference to them) or I can let it go. Letting go frees me. It takes the weight off my shoulders and lets me concentrate on grace, on the things that make me happy, on loving my children. Oh, there are some instances in which we may not want to let it go; anger over injustice, prejudice and the like is not something to give up on, even if the other party doesn't respond favorably. In those cases we can still move on; we can move on to other actions that solve the problem in other ways. But staying stuck in our anger immobilizes us; it keeps us from finding the better solution.


I'm not angry anymore. I've said what I need to, and I refuse to be devoured any longer. I had enough grace for myself to allow myself a voice, and enough grace for others to allow them to choose their final response. I will not let grace be bound by anger.