New Perspectives on Old Hates

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Gentle Reader,

January.

How I hate this month.

Two seasons have depressed me ever since I was a child: the long, intense days of high summer and the first weeks after Christmas. In this part of the world, January is always gray, mushy and slow. When I was in school, there was always the stress of the semester’s final exams. As an adult, tax documents start trickling in, reminding me just how much I still owe on my student loans. (Seriously. Do they even count the payments I send in every month)? Usually I can’t wait to flip the calendar page.

Rolling into 2018, I resolved to attempt to see these drab days from a new perspective. I asked God to grant me the eyes to see all the little beauties, the delicate blessings, scattered throughout the hours. Instead of staring at the disgusting, muddy slush that lines the street in front of my house, I gaze at the deep teal afghan draped across the back of the couch, a gift from my husband. Instead of wishing time would move faster and I could start playing in the dirt, I remember that the soil needs rest in order to produce the flowers and food I love. Instead of allowing cold temperatures to lure me into total hibernation, I keep struggling to get up at a stupid hour to exercise. (Some mornings are more successful than others).

Many look at January as a magical time, filled with the wonder and possibility of moments yet lived.

Me? I’m just working at not being a complete curmudgeon.

The other day, my eyes fell upon these words:

Let your eyes look forward; fix your gaze straight ahead.

– Proverbs 4:25 (CSB)

As if I was being introduced to the concept of looking forward for the first time, my mind whirled. I fired up my new (and very exciting!) Logos software (a free download!) and plugged in the verse reference. Jamison, Fausset and Brown comment that this chunk of a larger proverb (vs. 20-27 are to be taken together) directs the reader to:

…pursue a sincere and direct purpose, avoiding temptations.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (via Logos; volumes available online here)

John Wesley adds:

Direct all thine actions to a right end, and keep thy mind fixed upon that way which leads to it…

Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

Pursue. Direct. Fix. In my mind’s eye I watch these words tumble around, as if tucked inside a clothes dryer next to the sock that’s always missing its mate.

To shift to a new perspective is no simple task. We are creatures of habit, even the most Type B, laid back, go-with-the-flow folks. Our minds get stuck in loops. Because a thing was a way at one time, the thing, and similar things, will always be that way every time. Breaking out of those thought patterns requires real effort.

The key to victory?

I asked God…

This January is really no different from any other January that has come before in my nearly-34 years of living. The snow is dirty, the skies are heavy, the glamour of winter has worn off. But instead of hanging my head, pressed down by the weight of cabin fever (even those of us who prefer the indoors are susceptible), I am learning to lift it. Instead of looking to the left, wondering why she has it so much better, or to the right, longing for what he has, I am learning to look forward. There, right in front of me, drawing and empowering me in every step, is Christ.

The sincere and direct purpose, the right end, is the Savior Himself. Not what we think He should give us. Not the temporary things we think will make us happy. Not name, fame or acclaim. God, Lord of All. Him. Just Him.

This January may, in the essentials, be no different from the others, but my experience of it is. The world is a slush-ball, but I don’t mind it so much. A cloak of depression still flits around my shoulders, but it doesn’t consume me. I’m looking at Jesus. He is beautiful. Radiance and mystery.

I sit quietly, waiting for Him to point out the things I so often miss by looking down or off to the side. And I begin to see, to really see, that, no matter what, no matter how bad the day, He is always there.

That is enough.

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Five Minute Friday: Accept

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Our FMF brother Andrew referenced Crispin’s Feast in the chat tonight. My appreciation for the Bard came late in life (as a matter of fact, just in the last few months, after watching the BBC series Hollow Crown: Wars of the Roses). Up until now my response has has been, in the words of Joey Tribbiani, “Hey, Shakespeare? How about a chase scene?”

Ah, but does it really get any better than this?

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

– Shakespeare, Henry V; Act 4, Scene 3

Kate says: accept.

Go.

It’s hot beverages, scarves, sweatshirts season.

Oh, and boots. Can’t forget boots.

Christmas may be my favorite holiday, but Autumn is my jam.

Pumpkins glow a fiery orange against the muddy backdrop of a near-empty garden plot, their vines fading from the bright green of new foliage to the duller shade of maturity. They are all that remains of summer’s growth. Beans, carrots, cucumbers, onions, peppers and tomatoes all harvested a couple of weeks ago, as the sun began to hint at its diminishing, giving way to cooler temperatures and the barest, cheek-brushing kiss of frost upon the ground.

A pumpkin is nothing more and nothing less than a pumpkin. A seed responds to the rain and the sun and the soil. A process mostly unseen. Held together by the word of God. It sprouts, it grows, it delights, it dies. All as designed by its Creator. It is, of course, not sentient. There is no wrestling with the great questions of life. Without a brain, it cannot worry that it is not as good as a spaghetti squash. It cannot wish to be slim like a cucumber. It cannot throw its weight around to intimidate a carrot.

A pumpkin simply…is.

I have been wondering about God’s love. Truth be told, I’ve not often felt it. Some speak of their hearts being overwhelmed, their souls swimming in Divine affection. Being at least half-Vulcan, I am at home in the mind. I have emotions. I cry (though few have seen it). I have compassion for people who are hurting. But I just don’t speak in the language of “feels.” That part of me is underdeveloped.

It is true that we cannot base our faith on feelings. There are far more mundane days than dances on mountaintops. More opportunities to grit our teeth and choose obedience than bask in the glowy fizz of spiritual hugs. This is right and good. We have to be tough. We have to have grit.

And yet…

God is love, right?

The mind and the heart have to be devoted to Him.

It’s not that I don’t love God. I do. There’s simply a desire for…more. I don’t know what this means. I have asked Him to allow me to experience His love in a way I haven’t before. In a way that will make sense to me. (In a way that will keep me from yelling at the kids loudly playing basketball across the street, kids who should be inside having dinner or doing homework). In a way that will reach beyond the walls and the cherished sins, the dark places we all possess and seek to keep hidden.

I want to live fully in the reality of these words:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.

– Ephesians 1:3-6 (NKJV)

Beloved. Dearly loved. Much loved.

Christ, the much loved. Christ, the dearly loved. Christ, the beloved.

I want to feel that love. It is, by right of adoption, mine to have. Mine to experience.

Mine to accept as a gift beyond pricing, for He has accepted me by His love, in His grace, through my faith.

I want to simply be in Him, confident of His pleasure, secure in His affection, at rest, with no fear.

Just as the pumpkin simply is.

Stop.

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A Pirate’s Life for Me

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Long have I been fascinated by pirates, specifically the 17th and 18th century variety. Many were coarse, foul, murderous thieves. Others, usually British or French, operated under the authority of the government as “privateers.” Most really did abide, at least loosely, by the dictates of a pirate code, which varied from ship to ship. These codes were at times strikingly democratic; crew members, no matter how lowly, each had a vote in “the affairs of the moment,” as Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts put it. There were female pirates – Cheng I Sao, Grace O’Malley, Anne Bonny, Mary Read – who could and did go toe-to-toe with any man.

This “golden age of piracy” has been romanticized in novels and on the big screen for decades, but the reasons for deciding on the brutal, short life of a pirate were anything but glamorous. European governments had no problem with impressing lower-class men into naval service (i.e., slavery on a ship), leaving their families behind to fend for themselves – a situation that rarely ended well. In a sense, the choice was between the harshness of respectability or a life of criminal activity. Rock and hard place, no doubt.

This is, of course, hugely generalized. Go read some history books to learn more.

You’re probably wondering if I’m cool with murder, rape and pillaging. Of course not. The above is meant to provide context for the rest of this piece.

I searched through the archives in an attempt to find words written during what was, to this point, the darkest period of my adult life. There are only two entries, neither of which goes into great detail about the struggle. No, less of a struggle, more of an onslaught. Either I didn’t post much then or whatever other entries that once existed were purged. I’m guessing the latter, for I know that I worked hard to put on a brave face. Very little in the way of authenticity during those months.

For, you see, tomorrow marks the sixth anniversary of my almost-death.

Some have asked if I share these things in order to gain sympathy or as a way of increasing blog traffic. The answer is: neither. I’m not entirely comfortable writing (and speaking) with such honesty about my experiences with anxiety and depression. I don’t like being so vulnerable. My way of dealing with the world involves sarcasm and pop culture quips. I prefer to be the funny one. If I can’t be the funny one, then I’d like to be the smart one and teach you theology or Tudor history.

Anything but talking about “the feels.”

But I’ve also got this rebellious streak in me. If I can’t make sense of a rule, if it doesn’t fit neatly into a well thought out system of ethics and morality, then I see no reason to abide by the rule. (Yes, this has gotten me into trouble on more than one occasion. Sorry, Dad. Sorry, Mom). We, generally as a society but specifically as a church culture, have this unspoken rule that mental illness isn’t something we talk about. It’s weird and scary and shameful.

Yeah, well, that’s stupid.

So, here you go: I have Clinical Depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Panic Disorder. I take medication – Zoloft – every night before I go to sleep. I’m in my second round of therapy. Chances are good that I’m far more scared of you than you are of me (and I’d be willing to bet that that goes for most people with mental illnesses). I’m not going to hurt you. You don’t have to fix me. I’m not a drain on society. God doesn’t hate me. I can’t “pray it away.”

Clinical Depression is more than feeling sad and it lasts longer than a couple of weeks. It’s being so sad that you don’t even feel sad. You’re numb. It’s a battle to take a shower. You have no interest in anything or anyone. Sometimes all you want to do is stare at the wall. You become furious when you run out of milk. You’re lonely but you don’t want to see anyone. Your body hurts. You’re too tired to sleep.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is more than worry. It’s feeling scared, all the time, in a low-key way that can be turned up to terror at any second. You’re scared of everything and nothing all at once. You hyper-analyze every situation and interaction. You have to have a plan of escape. You avoid certain places and people.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is more than just “liking things to be neat.” It’s the same unwanted thought, over and over. It’s having to check the alarm three times before you go to sleep. It’s believing, in the back of your mind, if something bad will happen to someone you love if you don’t follow this routine. It’s germophobia. For those of us who lean more obsessive than compulsive, it’s becoming fixated on things.

Panic Disorder is more than a moment of surprise. It’s lips tingling, hands going numb, hyperventilating, chest pains, passing out and shaking violently. It’s being convinced that you’re having a heart attack. It’s your brain randomly and nonsensically flooding itself with chemicals like norepinephrine and dopamine.

I have a funky brain. It doesn’t function properly. Why should this surprise anyone who’s read the third chapter of Genesis? We live in a fallen, broken world, people. There is no atom, no neuron, no electron, not one single part or piece that has escaped the effects of the Curse.

My advice?

Accept it, get over it and stop telling hurting people, in word or action, that they suck.

Because here’s the thing: Satan is already telling us that we suck. His mission is to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). He loves to capitalize on the brokenness that we’re born with. My brain doesn’t work the way it should, which means my mind doesn’t always interpret or respond to the world the way it should, which means that Satan slides right in there with his lies. Already disposed to think that you’re not safe? Well, you definitely aren’t. Already lean toward fear of abandonment? Nobody likes you and you’re going to end up all alone.

Feeling lost, sad and trapped in the dark? You useless pile of crap. Just kill yourself.

See? We need no help in that department.

Instead of fearing and disdaining and judging us, come be part of our pirate crew.

Satan wants to steal our very lives. He is a murderer. He gets his jollies off by ruining and ending all that he can.

But God.

Holy words, you know. Words of hope.

God is bigger. Mightier. Better. Stronger. In no way is Satan his opposite or equal. That’s what the Father of Lies would like us to think. That’s what he’d like to think about himself. Nobody is equal to God. Nobody is more powerful than He is. He speaks these kinds of words to His children:

“So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten,

The crawling locust,

The consuming locust,

And the chewing locust,

My great army which I sent among you.

You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,

And praise the name of the LORD your God,

Who has dealt wondrously with you;

And My people shall never be put to shame.

Then you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel:

I am the LORD your God

And there is no other.

My people shall never be put to shame.”

“No weapon formed against you shall prosper,

And every tongue which rises against you in judgment

You shall condemn.

This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD,

And their righteousness is from Me,”

Says the LORD.

The LORD also will be a refuge for the oppressed,

A refuge in times of trouble.

– Joel 2:25-27; Isaiah 54:17; Psalm 9:9 (NKJV)

These words were originally written to Israel and are tied to the covenant of Genesis 12. Nevertheless, there is an overarching principle that Gentile (non-Jewish) believers may cling to: God sees our trouble and knows our pain. He will, in His good way and in His good time, fix what has been broken and restore what has been taken.

The Devil tried to steal my life.

I, as a daughter of the King, washed in the blood of Christ, standing on His promises, am empowered to steal it back. Bit by bit, day by day, looking onwards and upwards in hope. Nothing about me belongs to that nasty, fallen angel. My whole person, every part of me, everything I am and all that I have, belongs to God.

If I have to choose between the facade of churchy respectability and a life lived out on the edge of faith, then it’s a pirate’s life for me. Whatever Satan tries to take, I will, by the grace and power of God, take it back – and then some.

Join me, won’t you?

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Five Minute Friday: Path

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Didn’t make it home on time for the Twitter party or the prompt on Thursday as I was too busy dealing with my car, which decided to not start when it was time for me to leave work. It’s last bit of energy was expended on automatically locking the doors once the key hit the ignition, resulting in a panic-fueled five or so minutes. I finally slammed on the driver’s side door lock, probably breaking it in the process, in order to exit my surprise prison.

Kate says: talk about your path.

Go.

More than once I have been accused of being melodramatic and self-centered. The strange thing about such accusations is that I genuinely strive to be the opposite. Like Mia Thermopolis of Princess Diaries fame, many days, even most days, my goal in life is to remain invisible. I don’t want to make waves. I don’t want to make people angry or upset. I don’t want to be a burden. And, also like the character brought to life by Anne Hathaway, I’m good at it. Perhaps you doubt my claim since I’ve obviously chosen to place my writing on a public platform, but you might be surprised at how much one can say without truly revealing anything at all.

The car refusing to start was the final thing in a long, hard week full of physical exhaustion and mental taxation. It sent me over the edge. I became engulfed in a white-hot fury. I lost my temper, and it has been raging ever since.

I don’t throw things. I don’t yell. I haven’t even cried. In fact, I told myself, out loud, “Don’t you dare cry. It won’t fix anything.” In fact, the only real sign that rage swirls around me is my expression: From default blank (“resting b____ face”) to death stare.

All this anger? I turn it inward.

That’s my path.

I suffer from textbook definition hyper-responsibility. Some would call this arrogance, thinking I have more control over things than I do, but what it really comes down to is fear. Somehow it must be my fault. I don’t know how or when I picked this up. I do know that some of my earliest memories are tinged with it.

I learned in therapy that this is directly related to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. This sense of constant failure and need to please sometimes manifests itself in rituals and routines. More often for me, it shows in an inability to speak. To say “no” or “stop” or “you’re/that’s wrong” or “it’s really not my fault that you feel that way/did that thing.” Because I possess a strategic way of thinking, I apply observed patterns of behavior and responses, playing out conversations. If I say this, then he is likely to say that and this will be the outcome and it’s not worth it.

So I went to a dark place in my mind. A very dark place. I said things to myself that I would never say to another person and would never stand hearing another person say to herself. At the root of this self-abuse was the constant echo, I deserve it.

It’s been something of an out-of-body experience, these last two days. Not literally. Just a sense of being disconnected from myself. Times like these are when a theological education can really bite you in the butt. The logical part of my brain knows that I have descended into irrationality. I’m aware that there is a pitched spiritual battle clamoring inside my heart. I know that I have stepped, however timidly, more fully into my calling this summer and I know Satan doesn’t like that. I know that he seeks to hit me where I’m weakest. I know the right answers, yet struggle to apply them.

How does one change her path? How does one move from hyper-responsibility to knowing where she ends and others begin?

I don’t have the answer. It would be a blatant lie if I told you that I did.

It’s not as simple as a single prayer or knowing the Bible better. There is a deep and lasting wound that only God truly understands. Bit by bit across the years I am confronted again and again with it, learning something new each time.

For now, all I can do is hope that the tiny seed of faith buried deep in my soul is enough.

Stop.

September is is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. On the 19th I will pass a milestone, the five-year anniversary of my own brush with self-inflicted death. Please know that those of us who battle our minds really aren’t self-absorbed or selfish. We love. We care. We want to be useful. We long to help others. We simply struggle. Try to understand. And please, whatever you do, don’t use our struggles against us.

My journey to faith. (15)

Photo Credit: Jake Melara