Aug 31

Back to school

It’s been a couple of weeks, so I thought I’d give a life update.

beach

I spent last week sitting in the sand soaking up the sun on Topsail Beach.  We couldn’t have asked for more perfect weather and it was one of the most relaxing peaceful vacations I can remember taking.  Anxiety has been almost a constant in my life.  I know a lot of people who suffer from it so I can’t say if it’s a symptom of bipolar disorder or just part of life in general.  Maybe some of it is living in the DC area and the fast pace of life here.  In any case, I struggle, like many, to live in the present.  I’m either ruminating over the past or worried about the future creating all types of scenarios that may, but probably won’t, happen.

Last week felt like a gift.  We rented a paddle board and I just spent some time paddling around in the ocean, trying not to fall off, feeling totally at peace.  Life isn’t easy right now but I got a taste of what this verse meant:

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. – Matthew 6:34

I knew coming back from the beach meant a lot of craziness.  My first class was starting.  Back to walking dogs.  The kids starting school and fall sports.  Just the business of life.  But for a few days, I was able to set my anxiety aside and appreciate the day.  And just be thankful for all the gifts in my life, I was spending the week at the beach after all!  I did wish a couple of times that I could bottle up that serenity but instead of ruining it by being upset it wouldn’t last, I was able to appreciate the beauty of the day, the kids, and friends.  It got me thinking about how uncomfortable peace often makes me.  I think of it as calm before the storm, so for me, peace often brings with it a sense of foreboding.  For the first time in a long time, I was able to push that away from me and lay my anxiety down  It felt good.

Almost as soon as we got back, I started my first class in 15 years.  I remember last year at this time being in utter despair that I had no marketable skills.  I felt completely incompetent.  A friend helped me update my resume which I half heartedly sent out but it was with very little hope.  It was meager at best.  I didn’t work for very long before quitting to stay home.  Plus, I had no direction and no idea what I wanted to do.  At that point, I did’t even care and would’ve taken any job someone was willing to give me whether I thought it was a good fit for me or not.

I look back to that time and am very thankful I didn’t go back to work.  I was a total mess.  I spent most of my days crying.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that and I know I’ve said it before.  I got up, sat at my kitchen table and cried.  I’d put on my running shoes and run and cry.  I’d fold laundry and cry.  It was one of the lowest point in my life.  I can’t imagine what an employer would’ve thought of me.  I know I wouldn’t have been very productive or a good employee.

Over the past year, I’ve worked hard and very slowly dug myself out of that hole.  And for the first time in a long time I have direction.  But more than that, I feel competent.  I always said I would never go back to accounting but the truth is, I enjoyed accounting.  I’m a nerd.  But, it didn’t seem like an option.  After more than 12 years of being out of it, I had no confidence that I remembered anything or could do it.  Signing up for classes is the first step back to that.  I look at this journey over the last year and am thankful that things happened the way they did.  One step at a time.  While I know many women go from stay-at-home mom back to full time employee regularly, it would have been a shock and not one I’m sure I could’ve handled in the state I was in.  I’m pretty sure I would’ve crumbled under the stress.

I spent last fall leaning on my close friends.  My brother works from home and for a few months, I headed over there weekly to go running.  Those runs helped get me through a very dark time and not something that I would’ve been able to do had I been working full time.  Prayer group was also an integral part of that time.  I often went and talked and cried.  I was accepted where I was without judgement.  I met regularly with friends who wanted to help me.  They would listen to me (cry!) and offer advice but mostly, what I needed was friends who would listen.  I had to do the work myself and it was hard.  I couldn’t have done it without them cheering me on telling me I was stronger than I thought.  Believing in me when I couldn’t.

Getting diagnosed with bipolar disorder and getting on medication was a turning point in my life.  It hasn’t been easy but it’s made sense of things.  I still struggle but so does everyone in different ways.  The self awareness brought with it self acceptance.  For the first time probably ever, I like who am.  That is a huge thing for me to say.  I’ve hated myself for as long as I can remember.  Over the last year, I’ve learned I am flawed but I am loved.  I don’t think I could’ve ever gotten past the self loathing without finally figuring out this major piece of the puzzle.

I stumbled onto the dog walking company when I needed it most.  The company I work for is woman owned and comprised mostly of stay-at-home moms or moms whose kids are grown.  And it’s the perfect part time job for me to do while my kids are at school and now, while I’m studying.  I still didn’t have a plan when I applied for that job.  But I felt so bad about myself and not knowing what I wanted to do with my life, I needed a way to contribute.  It offered me a way to contribute financially to my family without any major disruption to our lives.  I knew it wasn’t a long term career for me, but it was a step.  And there were days when I walked and cried (obviously a major theme of the last year) and I could do that without feeling embarrassed.  No judgement from the dogs.

And now, I’m back at school.  I’m taking 9 credits this semester.  I’m taking intermediate accounting in consecutive 8 week sessions.  Those two classes are refresher classes that I’ve already taken.  They’re quick and intense but I wanted to get them over with in one semester so I could move onto other things.  The third class, a Quickbooks class, which is new to me.  And I’m excited (yes, excited!) to learn the software.  My hope at this point, is to get a part time accounting job in January while I take another class or two to get current experience on my resume and hopefully get a full time job next fall.

The person I was last year couldn’t have even imagined I’d be where I am today.  It’s been the result of a long hard year.  Many tears.  Even more prayers.  Support.  Therapy.  Medication.  Things generally haven’t happened in the time I wish they would.  Or without as much pain as I would prefer but I do think it was all necessary to get where I am.

I’ve been on a major decluttering kick.  I realized it was time to simplify my life.  The clutter overwhelms me and with six of us in a townhouse, we need to be a little more discerning with the things we bring into the house.  Every time I get rid of something, I feel a little lighter which makes me wonder why we have all this stuff in the first place.  Just another step in taking back control of my life.

I still run but have no goals at this point.  For the last few years, I needed a goal and something to work towards.  It gave me a little control in an out of control life.  But right now, my focus is my career.  So I run without pressure when I want to.  I can’t say I enjoy it right now, the heat and humidity make me pretty miserable.  August is my least favorite month to run.  But my favorite time, the fall, is just around the corner.  So I plod through the soupy humidity with visions of crisp fall mornings keeping me going.

So that’s pretty much it.  I feel like I should celebrate August.  I know I paint the last year as pretty horrific.  And in a lot of ways it was.  But it was also the first year of a new life.  Growth doesn’t come without pain and I have hope for better things to come.  From hopeless to hopeful, that’s a lot to celebrate.  So here’s to one year.  Hopefully year two brings just as much growth, perhaps with a few less tears.

Aug 12

Signs and Messages

I believe in signs.  I’m just one of those people.  Sometimes it feels like God is far removed from my every day life.  He’s off busy doing something somewhere in someone else’s life.  But sometimes, I feel His presence in my life.  Sometimes it’s when something big happens.  Like a year ago when I experienced a huge conversion.  It’s hard to believe it’s been a year.  My conversion experience, while mostly insignificant to other people, was no less huge to me than Paul’s conversion.

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.  As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.  He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.  “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone.  Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem.  And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. – Acts 9:9-19

Paul went from persecutor and murderer of the early Christians to being God’s “chosen instrument.”   A year ago I was so shattered, so broken, I couldn’t imagine I’d ever be whole again.  But in that moment the scales from my eyes were also removed.  That moment changed my life forever.  In my own history, that day and time, is the single most defining moment of my life.  Now, looking at it with a little more distance, I can see how God was orchestrating things.  How he used the time I was at my very lowest to reveal to me His undying love.

Most of the time though, feeling His presence isn’t in those huge life changing moments.  Most of my life, He finds me in much more subtle ways.  Ways that I had previously missed in the noise of every day life.  But I’ve found that when I’m disposed to prayer and take the time to be still, He speaks softly.  Not through a voice from the sky (though that would be nice and a lot harder to miss!) but like a gentle breeze.  A breeze that means very little to anyone else.  In fact, they’re practically meaningless to anyone else.  I seriously would’ve mocked someone who talked like this in the past.  Sure God’s talking to you.  Right.  Possibly those voices in your head aren’t God and you should seriously see a medical professional.  They definitely aren’t the moments that go down in history.  They’re quiet and are very personal ways that serve as a light in the darkness and a reminder that even when we can’t see it, God is still there.

Because I believe that God is near us, I tend to pay attention when the same message comes to me multiple times in multiple ways.  That happened to me last fall.  I was running with a friend one day and knew that she had a spiritual adviser.  I had been giving some thought to finding one.  I felt like I needed some help and guidance in my spiritual life but wasn’t sure where to look.  So I asked her some questions and didn’t think much about it.  Not soon after that, Lawrence and I had plans to go camping, just the two of us.  We dropped the kids off with my parents but the forecast wasn’t great and the thought of camping in the rain wasn’t all that appealing, so instead of camping, we went on a date and then back to our house for the night.  As it turned out, the weather was fine and we would’ve had a nice night to camp.  But we didn’t.

It was November 2nd, All Soul’s Day.  It’s a day put aside to pray for the dead and I decided I wanted to go church.  Off I went.  In 2015, November 2nd landed on a Monday.  My parish has confessions after daily mass on Mondays.  Maybe they always do on November 2nd, I’m not sure, but on that day there were confessions after mass.  I debated going.  The line was long and confession isn’t my favorite thing to do.  But for whatever reason, I got in line and waited.  The priest doing the confessions that day wasn’t one I knew very well, and not who I probably would’ve picked if I’d had a choice.

It was finally my turn and I have no idea if this priest hands out his email to every person that comes in or if I was just the biggest mess he’d listened to that week.  In any case, he gave me his email and told me that if I’d like to talk further, to email and set up an appointment.  I’ve never had that happen before.  I thought, hmmm, that’s weird.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that, so I just tucked it away.

That week, I went to my prayer group and relayed the story because I thought it was funny.  That I was such a walking disaster that priests are giving me their email addresses in confession.  And after I finished, my friend, the same one I had talked to about a spiritual director, said to me, weren’t you just looking for a spiritual director?  And I thought, well, isn’t that a coincidence.

So the next day, I sent him an email asking to set up an appointment.  The first time I walked into his office, I looked at him and said, I have no idea why I’m here but I think you have something to tell me, so what is it?

I can’t even imagine what he thought at that moment.   We chatted, I told him about my recent conversion.  At the end, he said, it was up to me what I wanted to do.  We could meet once and a while as needed or more often in a spiritual director kind of situation.  I hadn’t brought that up.  So, let’s see, over the course of a month, the concept of spiritual director came up repeatedly.  Without me searching him out, I landed in his office.

In the 9 months I’ve been going to him, my life has changed radically.  Not all priests are versed in mental illness but I was led to a priest who was.  He, from nearly the first visit, recognized that I was dealing with something serious.  He encouraged me to go back to therapy and to see a doctor.  He encouraged me to explore the possibility of going on medication, a concept I was resistant to.  I had tremendous guilt about not being able to pray myself out of my depression.  He listened and encouraged.

So that was a long story to say, when messages come to us repeatedly, in different ways from different sources, it’s probably something we should pay attention to.  And also, when telling these kind of stories, other people will probably think you’re crazy.  And that’s okay too.

After my last post, when the story of Abraham popped into my head out of no where, I thought it was a little strange and I wasn’t sure why that story popped into my head.

And wouldn’t you know, this past Sunday, the reading from Hebrews was all about Abraham.  I might have mentioned a few times that I’m a crier.  Like a ridiculous amount of crying happens.  And lately, to go along with the crying has been a whole lot of praying.  For guidance.  For strength.  For some sort of direction because I felt so absolutely lost.  And twice so far, this story has come to me.

I won’t copy the whole reading here, but the last couple verses were this:

By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac,
and he who had received the promises was ready to offer his only son,
of whom it was said,
“Through Isaac descendants shall bear your name.”
He reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead,
and he received Isaac back as a symbol.

What I can tell you is that I 100% do not like this message.  It’s a very hard one.  I can’t imagine having that kind of faith.  I don’t have that kind of faith.  But I know I’m being told to stop worrying.  Lay my anxiety down.  Hand over my control.  It’s such a basic message: have faith.  But when you’re praying hard about something and you feel completely alone, there’s immense consolation in knowing that God’s still there.  He’s always with you even in those times when it seems like He’s totally abandoned you.  And He cares enough to send us reminders that we can hear when we’re paying attention.

Aug 01

A model of trust

trust

Not too long ago, a book showed up on my doorstep.  It was a surprise from a friend.  A daily devotional called Jesus Calling.  It was interesting timing as I’d been feeling a little bit lost.  I felt spiritually aimless not sure what I should be doing.  I still have a pile of books to get through but didn’t feel any motivation to read them.  I was still reading the daily devotions from this site, but it had gone from daily, to a couple times a week, to once in a while… if I felt like it.  So when Jesus Calling was delivered and it consisted of very short daily meditations, it was the perfect answer to jump start my prayer life again.  I opened it up and jumped in.

Last week, before I read the mediation, I said a short prayer asking God for guidance in something I’ve really struggled with lately… for a really long time actually.  Before a year ago, I floundered and flailed tying myself in knots and running around in circles trying to gain some sort of control.  Over the last year, I’m still often running around in circles, but also praying about it on a near daily basis.  Mostly in a Lord, tell me what I need to do to fix this.  Because it’s my job to brute force this issue into submission.  It’s my job to fix everything in my life.  And also tell everyone how they can fix theirs to make my life better.  Because if everyone else just did what I thought they should do, my life would be perfect.  Since, you know, it’s all about me me me.

So, I prayed for guidance yet again.  For the answer to be made clear and then read the devotion for the day:

Come to me continually.  I am meant to be the Center of your consciousness, the Anchor of your soul.  Your mind will wander from Me, but the question is how far you allow it to wander.  An anchor on a short rope lets a boat drift only slightly before the taut line tugs the boat back toward the center.  Similarly, as you drift away from Me, My Spirit within you gives a tug, prompting you to return to Me.  As you become increasingly attuned to My Presence, the length of rope on your soul’s Anchor is shortened.  You wander only a short distance before feeling that inner tug- telling you to return to your true Center in Me.

As, I read the accompanying bible verses, the story of Abraham and Isaac popped into my head.  I thought, hmmm, that’s weird.  Where did that come from?  It had nothing to do with the mediation or readings.  I went back and read it.

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

As I sat there thinking about it, I realized that was the answer to my question.  When asked to sacrifice his only son, who he loved, he immediately went.  Although I’m sure his heart was troubled, even devastated, by the thought, there was no questioning or arguing.  He must have wondered why.  Why God would’ve given him this son, that he waited so long for, only to ask for him back.  But Abraham trusted, willing to give up the thing, the son, he loved most when asked.  Trust.

And trust was my answer.  I needed to loosen the death grip I’d had on my life and hand it over.  We’re required to have a certain amount of detachment from not just things, but also from the people and relationships in our lives.  In Abraham’s shoes, I imagine I first would’ve argued.  “I’m sure you don’t mean actually sacrifice Lord.  That couldn’t possibly be what you mean.”  And then, “Lord, this is ridiculous.  You’re wrong to ask this.  If I were God, I would never make you do this.”  And finally, “No Lord.  I will absolutely not do this.”  At which point, I probably would’ve packed up my child in the middle of the night and run away to hide him and keep him safe.

We know that’s not what Abraham did.  He trusted.  He obeyed.  He said yes.  He immediately gave God what he treasured most not knowing what would happen.  He had faith.  Ultimately, God restored Isaac to him but he didn’t know that beforehand.

But it’s hard to hand things, things I love, over to God.  Why?  Because, ultimately, I don’t trust Him.  What if I hand it over and I lose it?  I don’t trust that He has my best interest in mind.  If He asks this sacrifice of me, I won’t be able to accept it.  I’ll not longer trust him.  I’ll crumble in devastation.  I’ll run and hide.  I hold on tight to maintain some sort of control.  But control is ultimately an illusion, isn’t it?  What we can count on with complete certainty is the unpredictability of life.  We have free will and so do the people around us.  If we put too much faith in our ourselves, when things out of our control inevitably happen, and our lives seem to crumble before us, so does our faith.  How can I have faith in an unjust, unfair, and unloving God?

I can’t answer that.  I don’t understand why God allows bad things to happen.  But I do know, He’s asking me to give this to Him.  Handing it over not knowing what the outcome will be.  Not knowing if I’ll be asked to sacrifice it or if He’ll restore it to me?  I don’t know, all I can do is trust and have faith that if I turn it over, He’ll lead me down the path I’m meant to walk.  To trust in His promise even when it seems to my eyes and my heart totally untrue.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. – Jeremiah 29:11

And as I sat thinking about all of this, I circled back around to the original meditation:

“Come to me continually.  I am meant to be the Center of your consciousness, the Anchor of your soul.”

As long as the Lord is my anchor and I trust in Him, no matter what happens, no matter what He asks of me, no matter what suffering I experience in this life, I know He is with me.  I know He hasn’t abandoned me.  Even in the biggest tragedies, the most seemingly hopeless situations, even though my faith may be shaken, it won’t be destroyed.  As I loosen my grip and turn things over, my anxiety quiets and calmness washes in.  When I stop running and stop hiding, when I turn over control to God, I find peace.

What are you holding onto today that you’re scared to turn over to God?  In what area do you not trust Him?  Like Abraham, trust and turn it over.  Find peace knowing He is in control and the ultimate goal isn’t this life.  It’s eternal life in heaven with Him.

Jul 26

My ah-ha moment

struggle

I had a moment this morning.  That kind of moment when you’re driving along, kind of zoned out with the radio going in the background and out of no where, a thought formulates in your mind.  You entertain it for a minute thinking, hmmm, that’s an interesting thought, let me chew on this.  Then it occurs to you, hold on.  Where did that come from?  Did I really just think that?  Because it definitely doesn’t sound like something I would think.  Weird.

So back to this morning, I got up and drove Brendan to swim practice not fully awake, in my pj’s with coffee mug in hand.  As I was heading back home, I had this thought: I’m really thankful for all the challenges, even the painful ones, because I can’t even imagine the person I would be today if I hadn’t faced them.

Okay what?  Is this coming from the same person who’s written page after page whining about the hard and painful?  Could this thought really be true?  Am I really thankful?

As I mulled this over, I realized that absolutely yes, I’m thankful.  It was kind of my ah-ha! moment.  I wrote about this Stephen Colbert interview in February.  I’ve read it many many times over the last year.  It embodies what  thankfulness and acceptance of our struggles is.  It’s impossible to move forward, impossible to accomplish anything when you’re stuck in anger and denial over past decisions, tragedies, hurts.  Denial keeps you from seeing the big picture as you focus on one event, one moment in time.  But our lives aren’t one moment in time.

And now for my religious reference for the day: this was the issue the apostles had.  They were so focused on the Jesus’s death, they totally forgot or ignored all the times Jesus himself had told them exactly what was going to happen to him.  Just a few of the many passages where he very directly, not at all vaguely, told them about how he would die.  And that he would rise:

Mark 8:31-33: He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.  He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.  But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter.  “Get behind me, Satan!” he said.  “you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

(Ah Peter, what a jerk.  I love that guy.)

Matthew 17:22-23: As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.”  And they were greatly distressed.

Luke 18: 31-33: Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.  He will be delivered over the Gentiles.  They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him.  On the third day he will rise again.”

But when the time came, the apostles were so focused on the past, on His death, that they missed what was coming, the resurrection!  Instead of pondering in wonder how all the things Jesus predicted came true and looking forward with anticipation to the third day, they huddled in fear and despair.  They missed the single most important moment in the history of the world, Jesus’s victory over death, until Jesus came back to personally explain it to them.

Back to Colbert, he explains his ah-ha! moment, the moment he saw the big picture about his father and brothers’ deaths. The moment he realized God used the darkest hour of his life to transform him:

He was 35, he said, before he could really feel the truth of that. He was walking down the street, and it “stopped me dead. I went, ‘Oh, I’m grateful. Oh, I feel terrible.’ I felt so guilty to be grateful. But I knew it was true.

“It’s not the same thing as wanting it to have happened,” he said. “But you can’t change everything about the world. You certainly can’t change things that have already happened.”

And I had that moment in the car this morning.  The gratefulness for the hard things because they changed me for the better.  God used that pain, my brokenness, as a display of his strength.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships,in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

So today I am thankful.  I am thankful that because of the hardships and difficulties, I am a better person than I was a year ago.  I am thankful for the many blessings in my life.  I often lose sight of them in the storm.  I am thankful that God is strong when I am weak.  People often say, God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.  False.  We often experience things impossible for us to handle.  Things too heavy for us to lift.  It’s when we turn those struggles over and admit our complete inability to carry them, that God’s strength lifts us and He carries the burden.

Today, I encourage you to joyfully turn your weakness over to God.  So that in turn, His strength can shine through you.

Jul 18

My hopes for my 38th year

Apparently I’m on a summer writing hiatus.  I keep thinking about sitting down to write a post but haven’t been able to come up with anything to say.  It’s been a rough couple of weeks.  The last time I sat down to write was my birthday.  It was not a happy post.  My sister, who I can always count on to give me wise advice, forbid me from posting it because it’s bad luck to write depressing blog posts on your birthday.  She said I could put it up on the 7th if I still wanted to.  It’s unclear whether that’s an actual thing or she just made it up, but as it turns out, I’m glad I didn’t hit publish.  I was in a low place and it’s hard to have perspective from the bottom.

But, when I reread what I wrote, it wasn’t all doom and gloom:

In 2012, I was completely broken.  Every single bone in my body was a tangled mess.  In the years that followed, they healed as best as they could but not being properly set, I was mangled and crooked.  And always, every day, in pain.  I limped along, functioning as best I could, numbing the pain with a mix of alcohol, running, and sugar, but the pain remained.  My twisted limbs and ever present pain a constant reminder my failure.

2016, year 37, was the year that all of those bones were re-broken.  With no anesthesia.   I can honestly say that the last year was the absolute worst, most painful year of my life.  It’s hard to look back on.

On the other hand, it had to happen.  If I were ever going to be a healthy(ish) person, I needed to be completely broken.  Because it was in that complete and total brokenness, I began to find healing.  As much as I hated it, it was necessary.  Some days it feels impossible and hopeless.  Other days, I can see that I’m not the person I was a year ago.  And that’s a good thing.  I’ve come a long way.

So, here I am at the beginning of year 38.  (Hard to believe that number.  Was it really that long ago when I thought 35 was old?  And 40 was practically one foot in the grave?  I guess so because here I am!)  I’ve been thinking about my hopes and goals for this year.

Tara

I hope my faith grows.  I hope I trust more and worry less.

You of little faith!  “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ “For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6: 31-34

(As an aside, and I think I’ve said this before, but I love any passage in the bible where Jesus says to someone, you of little faith!  I find it funny and it makes me smile.  It makes me feel like I’m not the only one who struggles to turn over my worries to God.)

When I look back over the last year, I know I spent way too many hours twisted in anxiety.  And coincidentally, yesterday’s gospel was the story of Martha and Mary.

 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42

I’m fortunate to live close to George Mason and we went to mass there last night.  Fr. Searby, who is the priest at the catholic campus ministry there, gave a great homily on this gospel.  I know I’m Martha and my prayers reflect it:  Lord, don’t you care??  Fix my life.  Right now.  It’s worth the 12 minute listen.

http://www.fathersearby.com/homilies/2016/7/17/stressed-time-for-reorientation

I hope this year I am kinder toward myself.

bostonmarathon3

I hope when the negative thoughts hit and I’m tempted to believe them and give up, ie, I’m a bad mother, I’m stupid, I’m not good enough, that I acknowledge them and let them go.  I can’t control what thoughts pop into my head.  But I can control what I do with them.  I don’t have to entertain them.  I don’t have to give them the power over me that I’ve given them in the past.

But also acknowledge, some days I’m not a very good mom.  Some days I’m not a very good wife.  Some days I’m not a very good friend.  And instead of  letting that send me into a despair spiral, to use it as a way to seek improvement.  Today I wasn’t a very good mom because I xyz (lost my patience, spent too much time on the computer, didn’t spend enough time with them) so tomorrow I’m going to try to do better.

I hope I’m more forgiving and empathetic towards others.

I’ve realized over the last few years how very judgmental I am.  This experience has definitely softened me in that regard but I still have a long way to go.  As I struggle, this parable often pops into my head.

Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!

“Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him.  In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars.  He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.

“But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.

“But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment.

“His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.

“When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me.  Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.

“That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”

Matthew 18:21-35

I’m filled with shame every time I think about all the ways I’ve failed and am the least deserving of mercy.  Yet I know I’m forgiven and loved.  And then I turn around with bitterness and anger in my heart refusing to extend that same mercy to someone else.  It’s a struggle.  But two things are clear to me.  One, Jesus emphasizes the importance of forgiveness many times in the gospels so it must be very VERY important.  And two, he wouldn’t need to make such an emphasis on it if it were easy.  So we know it’s imperative and difficult.  I realized there’s no way I can do it.  I have to turn it over daily and say, Lord, I give this to you because I can’t let this go by myself.  Slowly sloooooooooowwwwwwwwwly, my heart is changing.

This year I hope I keep moving forward, let go of my insecurities and gain confidence in my abilities.

I’m working on some exciting things this fall.  I’ve always said I didn’t want to go back into accounting.  But the truth is I didn’t feel confident enough to consider it.  It’s been a long time since I looked at a balance sheet and I was too insecure and overwhelmed by the thought of going back to work in that field.  I’ve decided to audit some accounting classes at the community college to refresh my memory with the hope of going back to work full time in the next year.  I feel a little scared and a lot of excited.  I was good at accounting and I’m ready to build a career.

Mostly though, I hope when I look back at my 38th year, I remember it as one with more laughter than tears.  More growth than failure.  More time spent focused on the most important things in this life instead of worrying so much about the things that don’t matter.  To leave the past in the past and realize that everyone has their scars.  To stop focusing on where I’ve been and instead look forward to where I hope to be.

So that’s it.  37 years.  They’ve been a little rough.  They’ve left me scarred and wounded.  But I’ve learned a lot.  I’m not who I was when I turned 36 and for that I’m truly grateful.

Jun 23

Stuck on the shore

I try to post at least once a week but this last week has been difficult.  I keep trying to write but all the words seem  so hollow.  I talk about what I’m learning.  Progress I’m making.  Having faith.  But it seems no matter what discoveries I make about myself, how many steps forward I’m taking, how many bible verses I quote, I always end up back in the same place.  And trust me, it’s not a good place.

Have you seen Castaway with Tom Hanks?  He gets stranded on an island and keeps trying to get off of it but can’t make it past the breakers on his tiny makeshift raft.  Every time he goes out and tries to paddle through, the waves wash him right back onto the shore.

That’s how I feel right now.  Every time I think I’m making progress, every time I feel like I’ve finally worked through something and made a breakthrough, a giant wave appears and washes me back up onto the shore.  Even the good days right now feel like a lie, like they aren’t real.  Just a tease before I’m inevitably pushed back to the beginning again.

And some days it’s not even that I’m back at the beginning.  Some days it feels like I’m actually moving backwards.  1 step forward, 5 back.  Then the old familiar feelings of what the hell is the point of all of this anyway come back with a vengeance.  I’m still struggling with the same old things that I thought I worked through a year ago.  Maybe peace and contentment in this life is just not possible for me.  I’m beginning to really believe that.  It doesn’t matter where I am or what I’m doing, I literally do not have the ability to transcend this darkness.

(And just as an aside, yes I did go back to my doctor and I’m currently ramping up my medication again.  So there’s that.)

I often wonder if this is just the burden I have to carry in this life.  We all have things we deal with that we wish we didn’t have to.  That’s just life.  I’ve written before, on my better days, that the only choice we have to play the hand we’re dealt.  Maybe I have to learn to be at peace with and be content in my depression.  Is that even a possible thing to do?  I feel like people have lived with much worse struggles than I do and they learned to do it with grace and cheerfulness.  Which, of course, makes me feel like an even bigger failure.  Like my job is to find contentment in my life and I’m clearly failing miserably at that.

I’m having trouble finding joy in anything.  I don’t look forward to things.  Even things that I used to enjoy have lost their fun.  I’m living on the edge of life.  I’m sitting on the bench while everyone else is in the game.

So that’s my update and downer of a post for the week.  I’ll end with this song because it’s one of my favorites and when life gets hard, I like to listen to it on repeat.

Jun 13

Bad Decisions: Going off my meds

Have you ever put a potato in the microwave without poking holes in it?  As it cooks, the pressure builds and builds until it explodes.  And when you open the door, instead of a whole cooked potato, you get potato carnage splattered over every inch of your microwave.  You’re left with a big mess to clean up.  And no dinner.

That’s how I feel right now.  And it’s not new.  For a long time, on a fairly regular basis, I would have these times of extremely intense emotions.  It felt like they were too big for my body to contain.  And the more I tried to stuff them down or ignore them, the stronger the pressure would become until one day, like the potato, I too would explode, saying every terrible thought that had been swirling around in my head.  And while there was immense relief from the venting, at the end of the day, I too, was splattered in pieces.  Hating myself for the way I acted.  And even more, hating myself for feeling relief.

So, as I often do, I turned to google to look for answers.

“The elevated mood of a Manic Episode may be described as euphoric, unusually good, cheerful, or high. Although the person’s mood may initially have an infectious quality for the uninvolved observer, it is recognized as excessive by those who know the person well. The expansive quality of the mood is characterized by unceasing and indiscriminate enthusiasm for interpersonal, sexual, or occupational interactions. For example, the person may spontaneously start extensive conversations with strangers in public places, or a salesperson may telephone strangers at home in the early morning hours to initiate sales. Although elevated mood is considered the prototypical symptom, the predominant mood disturbance may be irritability, particularly when the person’s wishes are thwarted.  Lability of mood (e.g., the alternation between euphoria and irritability) is frequently seen.” Source

“While there are intermittent times when Keith feels just fine he repeatedly finds that for no apparent reason he becomes really unhappy. He doesn’t just feel sad, blue or down. It’s more like he feels miserable with a sharp edge of discontent. In the midst of his negativity everything grates on him. During these episodes which can last up to a couple of weeks he can’t seem to get comfortable with himself or with others. He just wants to snap at the people he cares for, all the while knowing they don’t deserve his negativity. So rather than approaching social situations like an agitated porcupine, he prefers to withdraw to his bedroom hoping for some respite. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come. With each episode he feels more and more prickly.” Source

I find all of this difficult.  I don’t want to sound like I’m trying to shift blame of every negative thing I do onto my diagnosis.  Of course that’s not true.  Of course I behave badly sometimes simply because I’m a flawed human being making bad decisions.  But I do have a very strong desire to understand myself.  And sometimes the extreme things I feel are directly linked to the fact that I have bipolar.  It’s a very fine line between I’m a horrible person and everything is my fault and I have bipolar and can’t be held responsible for the things I do.  I hope that makes sense.  I have a hard time wrapping my head around it myself.  It’s hard for me, and I’m sure even more difficult for outside observers, to differentiate between looking for explanations and looking for excuses.

So confession.  I stopped taking my medication.  It’s not uncommon.  The medication non-compliance rate is very high for those diagnosed with bipolar for a variety of reasons.  My reason?  I decided it wasn’t working.  After spending Mother’s day in bed crying, I began to wonder why the heck I was putting this chemical in my body for no apparent benefit.  Unilaterally deciding, without speaking to my doctor, to stop taking it was a bad decision.

Within days of going completely off the medication, the pressure began building.  I was angry and full of resentment.  I began to withdraw into myself.  I didn’t want to talk to anyone because I could barely stand me.  The bitterness was oozing from every pore in my body.  Bitter over my circumstances.  Blaming every bad thing or decision in my life on something or someone else.

When I’m severely depressed, I focus inward.  Every problem in my life is my fault.  I spend my days engulfed in self loathing.  In that state, I have zero desire to make any life changes because it would be silly and pointless.  No external change will change the fact that I’m stuck being me.

But in this other state, I’m focused outward.  My problems aren’t my fault.  If I could just escape my current set of circumstances, my life would be different.  In this state, I lash out at others.  And I have a extreme desire to run away.

Which apparently, is not toally uncommon.

“I even struggled to stay put physically. I would compulsively move residence from location to location, thinking this new place, this new town, would make me happy and I’d want to stay. But once mania came back around – though I didn’t know that was what was happening yet – I was in the same position, packing up my belongings and moving yet again. ” Source

Going off my medication without supervision and a plan was not only unwise, it was outright irresponsible.  And now that I’m back on, I’m trying to deal with these thoughts I’m having in a less destructive way.  Trying not to unleash them on some totally unsuspecting and undeserving person.  I keep telling myself this isn’t real.  These thoughts aren’t rational.  Running away won’t solve anything.  Happiness isn’t a thing waiting for me somewhere else.

The issue is, they feel very real to me.  They are loud and persistent.  The more I try to bury the thoughts, they louder they scream at me, refusing to be ignored.

And it’s just not fair.  It’s not fair to those who get caught in the explosion when the pressure builds too high.  While being more aware has definitely helped me rein myself in and practice more self control, I know I’m not easy to be around.  Bipolar isn’t an illness that only affects me, the one diagnosed with it.  It affects those around me too.  And it wasn’t fair to them to go off my medication in such a reckless way.

So, what’s the plan?  I still think this medication isn’t working by itself.  But clearly, it wasn’t totally useless.  Maybe it’s time to discontinue this one and go on something else.  Maybe I’ll stay on this one and add another.  Either way it’s clear: it’s time to go back to the doctor.

Jun 03

The Importance of Goals: Not sacrificing the long term for the short term

One of the many things I’m struggling with right now is my diagnosis.  At first, it was a huge relief.  A weight off my shoulders.  After spending so many years wondering why just being seeemed so hard for me, it answered so many questions.  It explained so many things.  It was like my life was a 3d movie I’d been watching without the 3d glasses.  And at that first appointment, the doctor finally handed them to me.  My life snapped into focus and made sense for the first time.  I finally made sense.

But now, 6 months later, the reality has set in about what that really means.  There’s no cure.  And there’s no medication that definitively works.  And really, what does “work” mean anyway?  Just that I’ll only be mostly miserable instead of living in all consuming misery?

When I’m depressed, I know eventually it’ll let up… but only to return again.  When it lifts, it’s hard to live in the moment knowing the darkness will consume me when I least expect it.  So, the reality is, I’ve spent a lot of time lately wondering, is this a life worth living?  Knowing that there is no cure and this is the burden I’ll carry for the rest of my life, do I want to go on?  Do I want to continue to suffer?  And some days, the answer is no.

But when I dig deeper, the question becomes: what is the purpose of my life anyway?  What is the point of all of this?  What is the goal?

Well, in some areas of my life, making goals is pretty easy.  Running for example.  After my spectacular meltdown in Boston, I decided I needed to take a break from distance training.  I’m planning on a fall marathon but for the summer, I’m focusing on some shorter distances and working on speed.  The nice thing about shorter races is you have a lot less time to reflect on how truly terrible running is.  Unlike the marathon when, if you get into trouble early on, you have hours to think about all the things that you wish you were doing at that moment: eating a doughnut, watching a movie, getting a root canal…

But of course, it’s not always miserable.  When I have a day when all that hard word work culminates in a great race, it’s incredibly rewarding.  So, I know why I’m out there every day.  I know why I’m running through the pain of pushing myself to the limit.  I know why I keep going when I want to stop.  Because I want to see what I can do.  Because reaching my goal is an amazing feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction.

DSC_8823

This picture, with my head bent after crossing the finish line?  That was me crying tears of complete joy.  Less than 7 months after foot surgery, I re-qualified for Boston at the Erie marathon.  The training was hard.  The race was hard.  But I did it.  That one race represented hundreds of hours of training, work, and sacrifice.  And that moment right there in that picture?  It was worth every drop of sweat.

The nice thing about running goals is: they’re easily quantifiable.  I know what training paces I need to hit.  When I race, I know immediately after crossing the finish line if I reached my goal or if I fell short.  And then, I can easily tweak my goal with that feedback.  I can go over my results with my coach and analyze the race.  What went right, what went wrong, what worked and what didn’t.  Sometimes, I just have a bad day (cough Boston cough) and sometimes, it’s something else.  Training, diet, sleep, race day conditions.  But always, I see that goal in front of me and I’m willing to change the things I need to change to get there.

Life goals might be a little more abstract but often, also quantifiable.  In a career, you might want to get to a certain level of management.  Or hit a specific salary amount.  You might want to live in a certain neighborhood or own your own home.  You might want to save enough money to pay for your kids to go to college or participate in different activities.  You might want to do a lot of traveling and experience different cultures.

I know one of the things on my list currently is to move out of our townhouse.  It’s a little small for six people and I’d like a yard.

What I realized is that just like running, if I want to reach that goal, it’s going to take planning and work, as all the examples above do.  You can’t hope to advance in your job by being a poor employee.  By being late every day.  Submitting sloppy work.  By being lazy.  You have to go above and beyond.  Be reliable, dependable, and trustworthy.

So, what do I need to do if my goal is to save money to move?  What am I doing today to make that a reality?  Well, when I started looking over my budget, I saw that I was wasting a lot of money on things that weren’t enhancing my life in a positive way.  If I’m bored, I might head to Target and wander around.  And somehow I end up coming home with $100 worth of impulse buys that I don’t even need.  We go out to dinner or order takeout often because I didn’t do a good job meal planning and don’t feel like fixing something.  I stop at 7-11 or Starbucks a few times a week.  Just a few examples.  And because I’d lost sight of the goal, I was risking ever getting there.

When we don’t know why it is we’re doing something, it’s hard to keep doing it when it becomes painful or uncomfortable.  If I didn’t have a specific time goal for a 5k, there’s no chance I’d be hitting the track at 5:30 in the morning to push myself through painfully fast intervals.  If I’m not trying to save money to ultimately buy a house, why bother cooking when I’m exhausted and don’t feel like it?

So back to the purpose and goal of this life.  Well what do I know it’s not?  I know it’s not fame, fortune, or stockpiling material possessions.  If it was, celebrities would the be the happiest people around.  But we see so many celebrity suicides and overdoses, those things clearly aren’t the road to true happiness.  So what is this insatiable hunger we all have that so many try to fill with things that we know will never satisfy?  Things like drinking, drugs, sex.  Money, power, popularity.  Whatever it may be.

On many of my runs, I’ve reflected on this.  It’s a much much harder concept for me to wrap my head around because it seems so abstract.  As a catholic, I know the answer the catechism gives to the purpose of life: to know, love, and serve God in this life and forever in the next.   But for the longest time, I couldn’t understand this.  I looked at the people around me.  The people who seemed to have a strong faith, and honestly, they didn’t seem all that happy.  If having faith didn’t make you any more happy, what was the point?  Having to go to boring mass every week, having to follow all those antiquated rules, having to recite meaningless prayers, why bother if at the end of it, you were just as miserable as you were when you started?  I might as well not follow any rules and do what I want when I want and at least have a little fun.

But that’s such an embarrassingly immature understanding, I’m now ashamed of myself.  What is happiness?  The giddy feeling we get when we’re out having a good time?  That’s fleeting.  And saying religion didn’t “work” to give me that “happiness,” that “feeling,” is ridiculous. It isn’t about a feeling.  It would be like me saying, I ran for a week and didn’t reach my goal, so I’m giving up.  I went to work for a month and my boss didn’t promote me, so I’m quitting.  I saved money for a whole six months and I still can’t buy the house I want, why bother saving?

If I look at spirituality as a thing to work towards, a goal to achieve, then sometimes, it will be a grind.  Some days it’ll be hard and I’ll wonder if it’s worth the work and the pain.  But I certainly feel that way about running sometimes and yet I keep going because the goal is not any one training run.  Training runs are all about laying a foundation.  One run, one brick, at a time. It’s a necessary part that you can’t skip.

Why would spirituality be different?  We can’t reach holiness and ultimately, happiness, without laying the foundation.  It shouldn’t be discouraging.  Sometimes prayer is hard.  Sometimes I just don’t feel like doing the right thing.  But that’s when I need to put my head down and do it anyway.  Lay the foundation.  Brick by brick.  Keeping my eyes on the ultimate goal.

The concept of heaven and eternity are hard to understand.  Because the reality is that we won’t reach that goal in this life.  Some days that seems way too theoretical and I’m way too flawed to care about it.  I want happiness now.  I want the pain to go away today.  But our goals aren’t meant to be easy.  They’re not meant to be painless.  Where would the satisfaction be if they were?  If there’s a promotion at work, is there more satisfaction in earning it or being given it because you’re related to the boss?  Is there more satisfaction in reaching a goal that you have to stretch to achieve or one you achieve because you set your aim extremely low?

 Beloved: Therefore be serious and sober-minded so that you will be able to pray.
Above all, let your love for one another be intense,
because love covers a multitude of sins.
Be hospitable to one another without complaining.
As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another
as good stewards of God’s varied grace.
Whoever preaches, let it be with the words of God;
whoever serves, let it be with the strength that God supplies,
so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ,
to whom belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you,
as if something strange were happening to you.
But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ,
so that when his glory is revealed
you may also rejoice exultantly.

1 Peter 4:7-13

Why am I surprised that I experience pain?  It’s part of every journey toward something worthwhile.  Without pain, we don’t grow stronger.  We don’t mature.  Without pain, we can’t become better versions of ourselves.

Beloved:
May grace and peace be yours in abundance
through knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

His divine power has bestowed on us
everything that makes for life and devotion,
through the knowledge of him
who called us by his own glory and power.
Through these, he has bestowed on us
the precious and very great promises,
so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature,
after escaping from the corruption that is in the world
because of evil desire.
For this very reason,
make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue,
virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control,
self-control with endurance, endurance with devotion,
devotion with mutual affection, mutual affection with love.

2 Peter 1:2-7

I admit, I love every verse in the bible that mentions endurance.  In every area of life, we need endurance.  We can’t lose sight of the goal if we hope to achieve it.  We must stay focused and take the little steps towards it every day, building the foundation.  Even when progress seems impossibly slow, we must not let ourselves become discouraged or lose hope.  Because once we lose sight of what we’re working toward, it’s nearly impossible not to get off track.

So is this life, my life, worth living?  Yes it is.  Because the goal isn’t the here and now.  It’s far greater than any material thing I could hope to achieve here.  And struggling through this pain is my road to get there.  To grow stronger through the adversity.  To trust when I feel abandoned.  To love when I’m hurt.

It’s not easy and it’s not painless.  But one thing I know for sure, it’s worth it.

May 26

The Power of Friendship

birthday

I’ve been having trouble writing lately but I wanted to do a quick update since I was so down in my last post.  First, I just wanted to thank everyone who sent me messages over the last couple weeks.  I apologize for not responding to all of them but I want you to know how much I appreciated them and how incredibly grateful I am to have so many amazing people in my life.  Far more than I deserve which is incredibly humbling.

It’s made me think a lot about friendship, what it is and what true friendship looks like.  There was a time in my life when I thought friendship was meeting up at a bar and having a good time.  Drinking, laughing, partying.  Buying each other drinks.  Having a good time.  But what I realized over the last couple of years is how incredibly fleeting it is.  The good times always come to an end.  Life unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, who knows) isn’t all good times forever.  And when those friendships are tested, reality sets in.  When the good times are gone, the friendships fade away.  Much like in the parable of the prodigal son.

 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.  After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.  So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. – Luke 15:13-16

I’ve compared myself to the prodigal son before and I come back to it often.  It amazes me (possibly because I’m easily amazed) just how applicable today a book written a couple thousand years ago still is.  At the end of the day, I looked around and realized I was all alone.  Living in a famine.  I longed to fill my life with the love and joy I saw experienced around me but I couldn’t.  And not because there weren’t people offering it, but because I couldn’t receive it.  I hated myself too much, wallowing in the pigsty.  I had to go back home first.

And now my view of friendship is a very different thing.  When I wrote the last post, I was very low which obviously came across in the writing.  The messages poured in which made me feel so incredibly loved, something which I struggle with because I also feel so incredibly unworthy.

One person in particular took it a step further and did something I would probably never do for someone.  Not because I don’t care, but because I would be worried that I would offend her.  Or overstep boundaries.  Or whatever reason I come up with that stops me from acting even when I want to.

Backing up, I may or may not have mentioned that I see a spiritual adviser once a month.  Sometimes, when things are really rough, more often.  I think at one point, I was seeing him every week.  Anyway, it has been such a wonderful positive experience which I haven’t been shy to share about.  He helps me process life through the eyes of faith.  He gives me homework: books, podcasts, articles to read and think about to really dig deeper.  He also gives me validation when I feel like I must be the worst christian in the history of Christianity.  He constantly reminds me that this is a journey.  I don’t expect to be able to run a marathon on the first day of training.  And I can’t expect to reach the epitome of holiness at the beginning of my spiritual training.  I like that term: spiritual training.

The last time I saw him I told him I was having trouble praying.  I felt guilty, like I was letting God and myself down.  His response: that’s okay.  Telling God that prayer is hard right now is in itself a prayer.  And actually, that’s the foundation of faith, isn’t it?  When we’re having trouble feeling close to God and maybe even questioning if He’s there or cares, through faith, we keep going.  We pray.  We don’t give up.  Why do I feel like I have to be perfect?  I know I’m not.  And more importantly God knows I’m not.

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” – Matthew 19:26.

A little off track, back to my friend.  I’ve talked to her about this priest but she doesn’t know him personally.  After reading my blog post, she looked up his number and gave him a call.  She told him I was in trouble.  She knew I needed help and decided this was the best way to do it.

He sent me an email saying he heard I was having a tough time and that we should figure out a time for me to come in.   So I did.  And as always, I came out with a whole lot to think about.  But mostly, I’ve been thinking about what an amazing act of love that was.  And how amazing (apparently everything is amazing today!) it is that I have so many people in my life who care about me.  Who are praying for me.  Every time someone tells me that, I feel so much gratitude.  Is anyone else humbled when they’re told someone’s praying for them or is it just me?  Maybe for the first time, I’m really beginning to understand the huge power of prayer.  And when there are so many bigger more important things to pray for in this world, that they think I’m important enough to warrant one, well, that’s kind of huge.  And amazing.

So, all of that to say, thank you.  Thank you for your friendship.  For your prayers.  For reaching out when it’s uncomfortable.  For a willingness to sit with me in my pain when it would be easier and much more pleasant not to.  I thank God every day for all of you and for this place He’s brought me to.  I know it wouldn’t have been possible without the help of true friends.

May 13

Mother’s day and depression

I debated whether I should post today.  Depression is hard to write about and probably even less fun to read about.  On top of that, I worry if I’m too honest, will people judge me?  Will they think I’m exaggerating or looking for attention or validation?  But I realized it doesn’t matter.  I’ve been hiding in my house the past couple of weeks.  I haven’t gone to support group.  I haven’t seen my therapist.  It all seemed so pointless when I always end up back here.  I already know what they’ll say and it doesn’t help shine light into this impenetrable darkness.  So, I need to write about it.  I can’t deny my feelings and hide in the shame that I’m not strong enough to overcome them.  This post is a kind of compilation of my journal entries over the past few days.  The raw and honest truth.  A tiny window in the struggle.  Here we go.

How do I live?  I feel like I’ve failed at life so spectacularly.  When friends lament their kids growing up, I realize that I never felt like that.  In their baby-hood, I was overwhelmed and deep in postpartum depression.  I was often alone while Lawrence traveled for work.  I can remember now when I think really hard back to those sweet toddlers with their arms stretched up wanting to be picked up and cuddled.  Those sweet moments that I had and that I miss.  But those memories are quickly swallowed up by the feelings of failure.  How I really missed those years, not savoring and appreciating that time but wishing it away.

I didn’t cry when my kids started preschool or kindergarten.  I wasn’t sad when they graduated from high chairs and diapers.  I wasn’t nostalgic when I put away tiny newborn clothes for the last time knowing my once tiny babies were growing up way too fast.  I can’t turn back the clock and spend more of it in the moment, tracing little hands and little feet that in the blink of an eye turned into big strong ones.

I feel angry and I feel robbed.  Bipolar has robbed me of my life.  I’m angry and terrified that I’ll look back with the same regrets over these times.  Today.  That I’ll cry for all the times I missed, stolen by this depression that darkens my life.

Mother’s day was a painful reminder of just how hugely I’ve failed my children.  A whole day that makes me feel even more inadequate and low.  My poor sweet children who don’t even know yet.  Right now I’m all they’ve known.  But one day, in the not too distant future, they will know.  They’ll look around at all their friends and see the relationships they have with their moms and they’ll realize that they’ve been horribly short changed.

I spent a good portion of mother’s day crying.  Instead of going to the park or taking my kids somewhere, any where, when they asked what I wanted to do, I just laid in bed and cried.  I cried for the mother that I am and the one that I wish I could be.  I cried for my kids and all the things I won’t ever be for them.  I cried afraid I’ll grow old and angry and bitter, beaten down by this life and too weak to get up again.  The kind of bitterness that oozes out of every cell to the point that strangers can see it from a mile away.  A shriveled old shell of anger and regret and what could have been.  I cried overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of how I’ve failed them.

Mother’s day used to simplly make me uncomfortable.  When the kids proudly handed me their beautiful handmade gifts, I felt guilty because they actually believe those things they write.  Those things that I know are so untrue.  But now I hate mother’s day.  The yearly reminder of all the ways I don’t measure up.

I don’t want to live like this any longer.  Waiting and hoping that life will change and the darkness will lift when in reality, it quite possibly never will.  It’s hard to understand why I was made this way.  Probably similar thoughts that anyone battling an illness has.  Why me?  There are those that overcome, Helen Keller comes to mind.  She took the life she had, not the one she wished she had, and lived it to the very fullest.  I’m afraid I’m not that kind of person.  I’m stuck feeling helpless and hopeless.  Maybe my last post was wrong.  Maybe my meds are wrong.  Or maybe this is just the best it gets for me.  And I’m just left wondering how did I get here?  And is this a life worth living?

I’ve read in a lot of places that running is better than the best antidepressant.  I’ve known for a long time that running was a lifeline for me.  That I was literally running for my life.  On days where I could do little else, I still dragged myself out the door to run.  I knew if I stopped, the darkness might swallow me entirely.  And even as I lace up today and pound out the miles, I wonder, why am I doing this?  Why am I fighting so hard for this life?  I’m tired of living this way.  I’m tired of thinking I’ve worked my way through something only to have the regret crash into me again when I least expect it.  I wish I could be the person I want to be and who I’m meant to be but am too weak to be.  Maybe it would be easier to just let it consume me.  To stop waging war against it, to give into the exhausting struggle.

But today isn’t that day.  Today I run.  And fight.  And breathe.

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