Breakers of the Fall

Between faith in God and family and friends I hope you have found that those combined are more than enough to break your fall if you find yourself falling. I’m so thankful for family during the holiday, the embrace of my friends and a church that feels like home. They all offer me such a strong love.

I’m sad to be at an airport getting ready to go to a place I’ve called home twice this weekend. I found it strange slipping up by calling Charleston home, especially since it at times it feels a place I associate with discomfort.

But it is my mind.

It’s all in my head. It’s the combination of feeling unable to be self-forgetful while simultaneously forgetting who I am becoming.

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I confuse grieving the loss of the familiar by losing the one tangible living being I brought with me… me. And when you begin to grieve for yourself, you’re falling.

I fall out of touch with a realty that, yes, I am responsible for myself, but I also have entrusted ownership of myself to God.

And God most assuredly is here now with me in the airport as well as waiting to encounter me at my apartment in Charleston.

God becomes the breaker of my fall during feelings of loneliness.

For now I am thankful, thankful for a Thanksgiving that I enjoyed with my family, thankful I saw my Dad doing better, saw my grandma consistent in her awareness, so many fun moments with friends packed into 3 days, free milkshakes with burgers, laughing while playing Loaded Questions, riding on the back of a motorcycles before eating Mexican, hearing the testimonies of God’s activity in the Church community, and the heart connections of feeling heard and assured of God’s plan in the process.

I’m thankful Jesus broke all our falls, I’m thankful for the access of his love that can meet us anymore in a variety of forms including discipline, refining and gifts. But Jesus also came to break us off from the things that make us fall, to catch us but also to stop us in our stumbling and guide us in our wandering.

Hebrews 12:1-“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely and let us run with endurance that race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Thanksgrieving and Believing

The eventual end of grief is an eternal promise we look forward to. In the meantime, Jesus assured us that happiness is available to those who grieve because of a present promise for comfort.  For any comfort to come, there must be a hope. Sometimes that hope is cloudy.

Sometimes grief which would love to linger is lightly carried away by the wind of the Spirit. Sometimes, God places you in circumstances that no emotion you could feel is adequate.

This week I received two phone calls virtually simultaneously to respond to, circumstances completely opposite and unfamiliar to me. One was to the West Wing of the hospital to the Labor and Delivery unit, the other call to the East Wing, the Emergency Department. Both instances had to do with babies, one joyous, one tragic.

I responded to the situation I felt I was needed least first. A family was adopting a healthy baby girl from a woman who delivered the baby, and the birth mother requested I pray a blessing over the baby and the adopting parents. So, I prayed, had no parental advice to really offer and affirmed the sense of joy in the room, despite being unaware of any dynamics as to how this situation came about. I was happy to be a part of it, but lingering in my mind, was the other call I knew I would be responding to immediately following that moment:

A one-month year old without a pulse that would not make it.

For 3 hours I offered prayer and presence and became witness to parent’s and grandparent’s grief. I offered some of my own grief but mostly I observed, stood silent, waiting on God.

Together, we’re all waiting, not always in grief, but we are all waiting.

Waiting for Life

In 2 Samuel 12:15-16, there is a Scripture that is concerning: “After Nathan returned to his home, the Lord sent a deadly illness to the child of David and Uriah’s wife. David begged God to spare the child. He went without food and lay all night on the bare ground.”

The child doesn’t make it. After 7 days, the child dies. David mourns for 7 days then stops once the child dies because David is aware that the child will not return to him. God’s grace was enough to spare David’s life but was not extended to David’s child. It seems utterly cruel, doesn’t it?

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In Scripture, the prophet Nathan affirms that the child’s death is the result of David scorning the word of God. This theologically seems like a bad look. It would be much easier to explain the circumstances using the Devil as the scapegoat doling out punishment for David’s sin, but Scripture does not give us this luxury.

Instead, we get a God that seems willing to employ extraneous means to keep his people tender-hearted. And this, I feel, is a viable tactic of God. God will use grief and the worst of circumstances, perhaps circumstances God authors, to return humanity to the love of God.

I will by no means try to explain the why nor use this or any tragedy to try to convince us that these are demonstrations of love. Rather, they are circumstances that give us pause, cause us to reevaluate, to seek what’s preeminent, namely seek God, the Author.

There, at the end of our grief, is resurrection life and belief.

Mood Disorder-ly Conduct

Mood disorders color our decisions but also color our consequences. We must take ownership of our actions even when temptation takes us out of our own mind. They might blind individuals to consequences who give in to impulsivity, or it might accentuate a consequence allowing it to loom much larger than the consequence may in fact be.

This is the danger within the lie, but also the double edge sword. Some people can bounce back from minor mistakes and extend grace to themselves. Some people with certain kinds of mood disorders lose the proper balance. They might extend massive amounts of apparent grace towards people when it is unrequited and have great difficulty in accepting or extending this grace to themselves.

This out of balance endeavor typically leads to worsening matters through bad decisions that continue in an unhelpful pattern. A person with a mood disorder who has been wronged might be desperate to try to right the wrong, that they commit additional wrongs to themselves with good intentions. They try to extend what could be kindness, but it ends up being unnecessarily costly.

So much time has been spent in recent years within some circles trying to explore the why behind conduct. Sometimes trying to place a reason why we do things is helpful, but I have often found it exhausting.

While I do believe much conduct to be symptomatic of the mood/mentality one is in, it is absolutely, necessary to take responsibility for conduct which can often be helped by either medication or a cognitive therapeutic plan that is in place when/if the wave of despair arrives.

A Short Story

Too many holiday’s growing up were colored by my mother’s mental illness. So many of my good memories from 8-18 are lost to traumatic moments where I would leave her home crying while my brother remained the steady voice of reason. One holiday, either Christmas or her birthday we visited and tried to celebrate.

My grandmother who was in her late 80’s had soiled herself on the couch and my mom over-exaggerated. There was frustration, and then sadness, and in her anxiety, she kept muttering, “Another Mother’s Day, another Mother’s Day,” likely because something had happened on Mother’s Day where I had left in tears while my mother was distraught. And I probably started to weep because I never could just contain my feelings. I always wanted her to just keep from being anxious or not say something that would make me sad, but I could never just control myself in those moments, control my emotions and actions of uncontrollable sobbing.

I have spent so much of adult life trying to manage feelings, some time going to therapy to recognize feelings and not giving in to them and staying composed in hard situations. I cry far less (maybe more so than I’m comfortable with in the past few months but still less for now).

But I actually cannot seem to cry with patients in the hospital. It’s not that I don’t find their stories sad or that I don’t want to cry, I just can’t physically bring myself to. For pain to be real to me it has to last longer than a few moments I spend with strangers. I have to feel like I’m not being counted on. But it’s also a result of the way I view my own tears. I believe probably a lie that no one needs my tears, because I no longer find them helpful for someone else, or I find them to be the currency I have stored up to figure out and forgive myself.

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Either way my mood, my emotion can never be an excuse for a lack of self-control; either we control our emotions and mood through medication or cognitive therapy or we do neither, but that makes me culpable. Either way the only one responsible for our self-control is us as the individual.

The order to our conduct comes through a will submitted to God’s and acting honorably, obediently, in sincerity. There is help available to walk this out. There is help available now. God is our ever-present help in our time of need.

Darkness Falls: Layers in Mental Illness

Most of you probably don’t see in the dark. Some do and to varying degrees.

The next 4-5 posts seek to share candidly about 3 generations of mood disorders and how to find hope, cope or get help. I’m not seeking a comparison about how deep the dark can go. These will be an honest look at my experience, a sub-reality of a diagnosis that I don’t often revisit or own, perhaps to my detriment. Maybe it will provide me or you with help.

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I should also be honest about how and why I am writing. An hour prior to me writing this, I had a meltdown lasting about an hour on the phone with my mom. These have been far too frequent over the last 5 1/2 years but were less frequent for a period of 8 months prior to my move.

I could describe in detail the circumstances that I believe are potential sources of my moods, but I have gradually accepted more and more that my disorderly moods are not always the result of circumstance. Perhaps correlated, likely not caused and I can usually know this by comparison. People who endure much worse react much better when they are sober-minded.

In other words, some people cope better.

I’m likely not one of those people.

Short History

                My maternal grandfather was a postman, who worked a second job because money was tight while married to my grandmother, together raising two kids. He died when my mother was 17 of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Before marrying my grandmother, he received shock treatment for manic-depressive disorder. He received the treatment because he was found wandering New York City unaware of who he was in a depressed stupor. Later in life, it manifested on the manic side in access spending. He told his family not to tell my grandmother under any circumstance when they met of his mental illness for fear that she would not marry him.

I harbor a similar fear. I was prescribed medication one time from one diagnosis after one meeting with a psychiatrist and several meetings with a psychologist for a major depressive episode I had in 2013 during an exceptionally shitty season after a break-up. If I told you this was my only struggle with depression, all you would have to do is look at my various journals from the 5 years prior to 2013 to doubt that it was a one-time deal.

The two snapshots above have a slight tinge of a fear of/potential for heartbreak. And while my heart was broken, the greater concern for me was how I coped. Plenty of people suffer heartbreak, this I must remind myself. I am not the only one to suffer this, even though I feel I level-up by enduring in this arena with more frequency than I desire.

My problem is not the circumstance of heartbreak as much as the moment or series of moments that affect the chemistry within my body particularly my mind.

I understand heartbreak.

I don’t understand what usually follows.

The spiral, the way the world gets colored, the greyness of moving on, the process of not being able to decide what to buy at the grocery store and having to leave the grocery store so people won’t see you cry, going to the gym and enduring a similar cycle, coming home from work to immediately nap, eat fast food for comfort and so you have one less decision to make, getting angry at God for why you’re wired the way you are rather than enjoying the presence of the Holy Spirit, the increased difficulty of seemingly everything, going to pro wrestling training begrudgingly because you paid to do it and owe it to your past self even though all joy is sucked out of it in the present.

The loss of self, the wandering around in New York City wishing you knew who you were or never wanting to go back to NYC for the fear of running into one person in a city of 8 million.

That was my life during my major depressive episode in 2013, it was not because of a break-up, it may have been correlated, but the disordered mood was nothing new, just a deeper layer.

If you or someone you know struggles with mental illness or would like more information regarding support or getting help click here (National Alliance for Mental Illness)

Lord of the Bowel Movement

bowel+movementsYesterday was monumental. I prayed with a 92 year-old-woman who had a bowel movement in her bed, specifically a poop, immediately after I prayed for her. I didn’t know it right away. A nurse who came into the room shortly after me, reported back and thanked me. Apparently, they had been waiting for the patient to poop and my presence did the trick.

I suppose I do have that effect on people. Sometimes they or even you, feel so relaxed that one can let themselves go or become relaxed once I finally leave a room.

Whatever the case may be, is it fair to say God used me to help an elderly woman poop her bed?

This is the kind of theological question we should all grapple with today.

What does God hold me responsible for or give me credit for being a part of?

I don’t know to what extent our actions are commendable or deplorable in causing a ripple into eternity. I know that the letter to the Colossians as well as other biblical letters advocate for Christians lives to be evidently marked by a new nature. This nature is clothed in tender-hearted mercy, kindness, gentleness, and patience (Col. 3:12-15) It implores us to forgive and to lean into a love that binds us together in perfect harmony.

To this end our work when ruled by Christ in the place of our hearts grants us potential to minister in movement, perhaps even ones from the bowels.

I remember one summer between semesters in college, I cared for my maternal grandmother for a week. She had dementia, so I fed her, spent time with her, and just made sure she didn’t get hurt or into trouble. I made her lots of grilled cheese, monitored her banana intake and tried to make conversation with her. She slept a lot, almost fell down the stairs once and peed on the kitchen floor. I remember she was mildly upset; I remember having to clean it up, a little annoyed.

I also remember in that moment God speaking to me about love, about how love in its most ideal form is about reciprocation. My grandma who at times took care of me, I now took care of and had the opportunity to love in a variety of ways, most of which she would not remember.

For love to be most real, most felt, most liberating, it must be reciprocated. We must have assurance of its existence to be secure enough to give love back. To love God back we must experience love, then we can give God back our affection and devotion. We hope to continue in its wild cycle. Love is also secure because it is eternal.

Love is monumental and its more than yesterday, it’s forever. It’s more than a passing movement but I’m hopeful and thankful that it might be found in a movement that passes.

Cute, right?