And Now, The Fish Slapping Dance

Giggles

Gentle Reader,

My house is a disaster. Really. We’re down to the last room in the Grand Epic of Replacing the Floor, which means everything in my bedroom has been shoved into the guest room and everything in the guest room has been shoved into what passes for an office (that nobody ever uses) and there is detritus everywhere. The dogs can’t figure out what’s happening to their environment; in protest of the disruption, they knock over bathroom wastebaskets and generally behave badly.

I don’t know whether to laugh, cry or decamp to the nearest cheap motel.

Attempting to see the humor seems the best choice.

Did you know that Christians aren’t supposed to have a sense of humor, though? I didn’t until recently. Again, belatedly I learn that I have been doing my life all wrong. Must have lost the instruction manual. Apparently we are supposed to be deeply serious people, always and ever concerned with ruining everybody’s good time.

How sad.

Jesus went to parties, you know. As in, He was invited to parties all the time and saw no need to avoid them. Heaven certainly sounds like it’s going to be a gigantic, forever-long party, full of light, laughter and good food. For what is being in the presence of God if not happiness? If not constant smiling?

Is life serious? Of course it is. It’s also absurd. A friend texted me a couple of hours ago, relaying a story she’d seen on the news of a man who broke into a house and began doing laundry. Not his laundry. The laundry that belongs to the people whose house he broke into. Yes, theft is a sin, but that’s funny. What sort of burglar thinks, “You know, I’ll just do some washing up for these fine folks that I’m robbing?”

There are two sides to my personality; one is very serious, dark and afraid, the other ever-amused and struggling to hold back giggles at inappropriate moments. This particular blend is what it is. At nearly 34, I’ve about given up on attempting to reconcile how I can, at the same time, be both numbingly anxious and laughing so hard tears spring to my eyes. That is, I suppose, humanity.

I believe in learning, study, contemplation. I also believe in a good pie to the face. I don’t think God minds a good joke. In fact, I think He laughs. Give yourself permission to do the same. Allow yourself to see the funny, the farcical. Perhaps, in so doing, the proverbial silver lining is found.

William Makepeace Thackeray (one of the best names ever) wrote in his novel Vanity Fair,

The world is a looking-glass, and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face. Frown at it, and it will in turn look sourly upon you; laugh at it and with it, and it is a jolly kind companion.

When I frown at the world, when I dwell on all that makes me sad and scared, I find more things to be sad and scared about. When I do the work of looking up and smiling (for it is work, as all choices are), I find more things to smile about. That’s not pop psychology or self-help babble, nor is that a substitute for medication or therapy, if needed. (Real talk: I am beginning to become annoyed at having to place this disclaimer in my writing so often. I wish that anyone who ever reads here would simply, somehow, know what my position is and that I’d never have to state it again). It’s taking ownership of our thoughts an attitudes, something we are advised to do throughout Scripture.

And now, The Fish Slapping Dance. Not because it means anything. Not because it must be analyzed. Because it’s 17 seconds of sheer, unbridled silliness. It’s okay to giggle over this and promptly replay.

Bonus content: The Spanish Inquisition compilation. (Yes, I love Monty Python and yes, Michael Palin is my favorite. Some of my fondest memories involve acting out absurd, stupid sketches with old friends, both original and ones that we blatantly stole from this British comedy troupe. Please don’t sue us, gents. We have no money).

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The Beast, the Tiger

Tiger

Gentle Reader,

Thunk.

Thunk.

Thunk.

Tears leak from my eyes. I’m not fully awake yet. Beads of sweat stand on my brow. Palms clutch the blanket. Ribs feel as though they will break. Not enough air in my lungs. Feet tingle. Goosebumps everywhere.

I can’t do this. I can’t do this. It’s too much. It’s too much.

Panic attacks are not logical. They can’t be rationalized away. The brain decides to flip the “fight or flight” switch and it’s off to the races. The neurons and chemicals and whatever else hangs out in the gray matter fly around, making faulty connections, ones that must sound like a car backfiring. The result: Me, on the couch, stiff, waiting for the terror to pass.

It does.

It always does.

The rest of the day, the anxiety is high. By “high,” I mean “would send a person who doesn’t live with an anxiety disorder to the emergency room, convinced she’s dying.” My hands shake. The bottoms of my feet tingle. My lips go numb. I talk to myself.

“Okay, you have to get up and shower now.”

“Okay, time to make some lunch.”

“How about you vacuum? You can do that.”

When completed, these simple tasks become victories. I celebrate them. I ask God if He notices that I braided my hair. Of course He does; He misses nothing. But I like to invite Him to the party. I take comfort in knowing that He paces around the house with me, laughing at sitcoms I’ve seen a thousand times, working to burn off the excess energy that leaves me both restless and drained. He knows that it’s not my fault. He knows that I didn’t wake up and think, “You know what would be fun today? An episode of the crazies.”

We’re not supposed to use the word “crazy” when discussing mental illness, but I feel crazy when the panic hits. I was 19 the first time the terror tiger sank its claws into my brain. I’d always been anxious, but this…it was new. Strange. Surreal. I’d been hanging out with friends. Nothing unusual. Went home, put on my blue plaid flannel pajamas and crawled into bed.

Sometime before sunrise, I don’t remember the hour, I sat in a room at the hospital, feet encased in purple Volkswagon Beetle slippers, adrenaline pumping. The doctor asked my parents if I was on drugs.

Anything I do, I do afraid. I do it with the thought that it won’t be good enough. That I’m not good enough. That failure is inevitable. The times I’ve seriously considered no longer writing, I can’t count. Any Bible study group I’ve led, I’ve been sure that someone else could do it better. Going to a party or get-together, even with people I’ve known for years, requires pumping myself up as if I am about to step into a boxing ring.

And most people are never able to tell, because I have a poker face to rival the best of card sharks.

God knows, though. As I said, He sees it all.

We misunderstand passages like:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.

– Joshua 1:9 (NKJV)

And forget:

Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You.

– Psalm 56:3 (NKJV, emphasis mine)

Trusting God isn’t a one-and-done deal. Conquering fear isn’t an easy win.

The Hebrew yôm used in the psalm is a word that is used to denote any length of time. It can be a day. It can be yesterday. It can be tomorrow. It can be a lifetime.

Yesterday, I was afraid. I trusted God.

Today, I am afraid. I trust God.

Tomorrow, I will be afraid. I will trust God.

My lifetime is marked by an anxiety rooted in faulty biology, the result of the Fall and Curse of Genesis 3. I will keep on trusting God. And when I forget, when I fail to act in wisdom and cry out for His help, I believe that He holds me in the palm of His hand. I believe that He does not and will not cast me aside for being frail. He knows the dust from where I came and the dust to which I shall return.

I plant my feet on the Rock.

Whatever winds roar.

Be encouraged today, dear reader. The fact that you have not destroyed the beast that weighs upon your back doesn’t mean that you don’t belong to God. It doesn’t mean that you don’t believe. It doesn’t mean that He hates you. Keep fighting, one moment at a time. This is the working out of your salvation, the wrestling that is part and parcel of sanctification. The beast may always be there, pulling at you until you reach Eternity. This is no sign of failure. Instead, take its presence as a reminder of the great grace you need each moment, as a prompting to raise your hands to the Lord who knows.

He is with you.

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Review: On Edge

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (2)

Gentle Reader,

On December 5, 1989, Andrea Petersen suffered a crippling panic attack. Over the next year, she would be in and out of doctor’s offices, attempting to figure out what was wrong. Finally, sitting in the campus health office of her college, she hears the words that will mark her life forever: anxiety disorder.

Of all the books in the world, I figured that I would relate to and appreciate this one.

Weirdly, I didn’t.

Petersen is a medical reporter for the Wall Street Journal, and this shows in her writing. Instead of straightforward memoir, she fills the chapters with an overload of background information about synapses and chemicals and medications, leading to a denseness that was difficult to get through. Having read many books on this topic, I know that there is such a thing as too much information, especially if one is reading these books in an attempt to understand and therefore battle anxiety in a more effective way.

That, perhaps, seems odd. How can there be too much information? In answer, one word: Overload. Knowledge may be power, but overload is crippling.

Petersen should have written two books: one memoir, one technical. Trying to have both forms in one volume results in a disjointed read.

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I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Five Minute Friday: Expect

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

I can’t figure out the world we’re living in. These are surely times that try human souls (thanks, Dickens). Government is a mess, reduced to odd tweets and cringe-worthy memes. Viewers rail against talk-show hosts for being not political enough (or too political) because apparently we decided to just give up reading and wrestling with news ourselves and instead just want someone to stoke the fires of our collective rage. Goodness, is there ever rage. Against Trump. Against Clinton. Against practically every member of Congress.

That foaming and frothing would be enough, but the rage has become personal. Intimate. No longer, it seems, can civility be maintained. Relationships crumble. Strangers shout at each other through the keys. This country is locked in “us vs. them” chaos, only we don’t really know who the “us” or the “them” are.

I didn’t vote for Trump. Made no secret of that. I’m very concerned about what truths lie beneath the surface, truths that begin to bubble up, popping and singeing those close by. Intuition tells me that the firestorm – raging for so long now – has really only just begun. And yet I can’t muster up hatred for those who did tick the box for him. Am I aware that Trump appealed to the misogynistic and xenophobic tendencies running throughout this country during the campaign, and that he continues to do so? Painfully aware. Do I think that those who stubbornly turn a blind eye to the faults of this administration are deep in denial? Yes. Do I think history will look back and see his time in office as one of the greatest missteps the United States of America has ever made? Probably.

But still. I can’t hate people who voted for him. The majority of us, I believe, want the same thing at the end of the day, as Thomas Jefferson so eloquently wrote: life, liberty happiness. We differ sharply on how such goals are achieved, but these are our desires.

I wonder, if we could all just remember that for a second, if we could start putting country and neighbor above party and power, would things take a turn for the better?

Linking up with Kate at the new FMF home. Tonight we:

Go.

I haven’t changed my mind about the nature of humanity. We aren’t basically good. Apart from God, we are capable of good, sure, but our fundamental bent is selfish. World peace isn’t going to suddenly break out. There’s a radical Anabaptist strain to my theology; I believe that it’s highly possible, even probable, that we will only continue a downhill slide, however slow it might be. I suppose I’m just dumbfounded that this election was the thing to expose the darkness. Then again, I know my history well enough to recognize that politics in this country has never been pretty or easy. Perhaps it was inevitable.

The Founding Fathers made backdoor deals. They were hardly paragons of morality. Jackson sent an entire people group into exile and death. Bleeding Kansas. Civil War. Jim Crow. Economic disaster. Riots. Kent State. When I entered first grade, we were at war in the Middle East. Twenty-seven years later, we still are.

I know all of this.

And yet I keep hoping, praying, that somehow, some way, everyone is going to calm down and we can move on. Move forward. Perhaps that is an unreal hope. I don’t know.

I did not expect this…mess. In the back of my mind lived the assumption that cooler heads and steadier hearts would prevail at the end of the day. There’s still time. It could happen.

And so I remain a pessimist trying to see the light in and amongst the clouds.

Even the barest hint would do.

Stop.

I’ve left you on a downbeat, something I’m not fond of doing. I’d much prefer to make you laugh or give you something to think on. But I can’t pretend or say “peace” when there is no peace. This is where we are, in the middle of a swirling storm that shows no signs of abating. A numbness, a sense of disbelief, accompanies the sound of thunder and the crash of waves. How did we get here? How did this happen?

No amount of think pieces can provide an answer. I wonder if those are even in the right questions. Maybe it’s not about how we got here, but what we do now.

Please, if you have a good idea – let me know.

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Photo credit: Nathan Anderson