Tenderhearted

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

For the first time that I can remember, someone described me as being tender. Sensitive, even. This person seemed to think that these are good, positive character traits.

I do not like this.

Many have wondered if I have emotions. There have been jokes throughout the years about how I must be a robot. I must be some kind of frost princess. And now, someone perceives me in an entirely different way. Those few sentences have acted like a needle, the bearer of which reached in and popped my protective bubble. All of these…feelings…threaten to spill out.

It’s awful.

Anger, I can do. Righteous or otherwise. Anxious and depressed, obviously. But to put words to those emotions, to say, “So-and-so hurt my, ugh, feelings”? To say, “Please stop doing _________, I don’t like it”?

Yikes.

Vulnerability. No, thank you.

I’ll take stoicism for $500, Alex.

Those of us who have been around church for any length of time have heard one of the most famous verses having to do with the heart:

The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked;
Who can know it?

– Jeremiah 17:9 (NKJV)

From this, we gather that we cannot “follow our hearts” as is so often encouraged in movies. We learn

There is nothing so false and deceitful as the heart of man; deceitful in its apprehensions of things, in the hopes and promises which it nourishes, in the assurances that it gives us . . . The constant yearning of the heart is to gratify its propensities to pride, ambition, evil desire, and corruption of all kinds.

Asbury Bible Commentary

I know that my heart (or, in our modern understanding, my mind) plays tricks on me. There’s a reason I take medication every night. I am a living, breathing example of a human’s inability to jump on, without question, every line of thought and every train of feeling. I have to critically examine those thoughts and feelings. We all do.

The heart, which the ancients understood to be the decision-making center, is not to be blindly trusted. This is not a false statement, but as is so often the case, we take the truth and run with it until we wind up in Legalism Land. Never let them see you cry. Put a brave face on. If you’re sad, you’re sinning. 

We have read something into the text that isn’t there.

Consider these verses, so often glossed over:

 Then I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the LORD; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God, for they shall return to Me with their whole heart.

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.

Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart.

– Jeremiah 24:7; Jeremiah 29:13; Matthew 22:37; 2 Corinthians 4:1 (NKJV)

Feelings should not, and really cannot, be divorced from faith, or any other part of our lives.

The lights twinkle on the Christmas tree, casting a soft glow throughout the room. Candles flicker next to the Willow Tree figurines. Mary and Joseph, shielding the newborn Savior. She looks as though she pats His back in order to soothe Him. He wraps his arms around them both.

Who was ever more vulnerable than Jesus? The King of Glory, knowing exactly what was going to happen, wrapped Himself in frail flesh. He had no delusions of a quiet life. Never had a moment when He believed He’d die in His bed, at a good old age. Who better than He ever showed us how to connect with and express our emotions in healthy ways? He cried as a baby. Cried when His friend died. Cried when the people wouldn’t listen. Flipped some tables and yelled, too.

Feelings are God-given. No, we can’t obey them. I can’t slap my husband just because he makes me angry. But we shouldn’t ignore them. We shouldn’t buy into the notion that the only acceptable feeling a Christian may experience is happiness. If my husband makes me angry, I need to open my mouth and tell him why. Tell him what’s bothering me, what hurts me. (Without swearing, which, let’s be real, is a struggle).

We don’t want to be hurt. I don’t want to be hurt. We think that putting on the mask, bearing the abuse, never speaking up, will somehow make it better. Somehow make us impervious to damage. The act doesn’t work. The feelings remain. They grow. They intensify. Then, one day, if you’re anything like me, you find yourself throwing a glass across the kitchen, sobbing for reasons that you can’t begin to identify.

I am tenderhearted. A large part of me recoils in typing that. I may not reveal this tenderness in conventional or easily-understood ways, but nonetheless, it’s true. I can’t read books or watch movies that involve animal death. My heart burns over the idiotic choices so-called Christian leaders make these days. I panic in crowds. Behind this tough outer shell lies a gooey center.

Perhaps this is who you are, too, dear reader. Perhaps you’ve worked very hard so nobody but the Lord ever sees your tears. If so, be brave with me. I suspect there may be new experiences of strength and grace found in taking down the wall and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable.

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Photo Credit: Jamez Picard
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The Detox Diaries: Serotonin, STAT!

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Gentle Reader,

Low serotonin in the house tonight,

Everything – it’s making me cry!

Feels like I’m gonna lose my mind

Norepinephrine makes me – shaky!

(Sung to the tune of “Party Rock Anthem” by LMFAO. Do not take that as an endorsement).

I’m slightly emotionally unstable today. That’s okay; it’s just part of the process. The chemicals have to re-balance themselves and the synapses have to learn new patterns. Literally everything is making me cry.

Couldn’t make it to work today because of insomnia and dizziness –  cried.

Ate some turkey bacon for breakfast – cried.

Played with Blue (the wiener dog) – cried.

Snuggled with Benny (the fat Pom-Chi) – cried.

Bible study – cried.

Iced mocha made with almond milk – cried.

Took a shower – cried.

Read a few chapters of The Sentinels of Andersonville – cried.

Thought about painting my nails – cried.

Made the bed – cried.

And there are tears in the corners of my eyes just typing all that out!

This is tough for a woman who’s never been particularly expressive with her emotions. I’ve always had them. They just don’t usually cause me to become a dripping mess. I know I’ll feel even-keeled once more when this process is complete. It’s comforting to be aware of what’s happening inside my brain and know that it doesn’t have to color my life forever.

That perspective? Comes entirely from God. It’s only be two-and-a-half weeks, but the ways in which He has encouraged and sustained me leave me in awe. I have no doubt whatsoever that He will continue to guide me, even carry me, through this maze.

He’ll carry you, too. All you have to do is ask.

My journey to faith. (15)

To read all the posts in The Detox Diaries series, go here.

Sock Seams

IMG_20131125_191853Gentle Reader,

I’ve been in a funk.

A multiple-year funk.

The last major work I finished writing was for the Women of Faith contest a couple…actually, possibly three years ago. I forget. And reading? I pick up books only to discard them. The mojo just hasn’t been there, not for anything greater than the hammering out of a post or the quick run-through of a familiarly-plotted novel. Words, lovely black-faced words on fresh white pages or screens, haven’t been as friendly as they used to be.

I was only vaguely aware of this funk until last Monday, when the volunteer coordinator at the shelter I’m volunteering at asked me if I had any life-goals.

Cue panic, stage right.

The truth is, I’ve been focusing on getting through each day. Sometimes on surviving the day. Or the hour. I used to spend so much time berating myself for not having brought about the end of world hunger with a Pulitzer and Nobel winning piece of elegant prose. I used to feel ashamed for not having accomplished more at such-and-such an age. I used to think that it was necessary to have a five-year plan and that if I didn’t check every item off the list, I was a complete and total failure. Then the world caved in. Getting out of bed and taking a shower became the major milestones.

For someone who isn’t wildly expressive, I sure do live on the extremes. Plan out five years or plan out five minutes. No happy middle ground.

This simple question, coming from a place of completely innocent curiosity, settled on me like a thick, smelly blanket. What are my life-goals? Why can’t I think of any?

In the midst of this gloominess, I picked up Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission by Amy Simpson. The hubby had gotten the book for me over the summer, for my birthday. It had been sitting on my nightstand for weeks, untouched. I’m sure I sighed when I picked it up and thumbed through the crisp pages. Why not read? Nothing else to do.

While I’m not the heavy predestination-y sort, I do believe that God orchestrates things for our good (Rom. 8:28). I think there are times when we’ve been wandering around for long enough and He lights a spark under our rears. Where I could barely get through the introduction before, now I couldn’t stop reading. And, gloriously, I came to this sentence:

The problem is, many people can get treated for the rest of their lives and learn to manage an illness, but will never be “over it.” (p. 114)

This screamingly-apparent truth brought new light to the question of life-goals and the answering thereof. While I firmly believe that God can and does bring total healing to people if that is within His plan for them, I also firmly believe that it can be within His plan to withhold total healing. I know that this is true because of sock seams.

I’ve worn socks my whole life. I’ve never had a problem with them. For the last two weeks, I’ve had to turn my socks inside out. I can’t stand the seams. This isn’t just a “oh, seams are annoying” and you carry on kind of thing. No. I have to turn my socks inside out. I’m afraid that the seams will get between my toes and I won’t be able to fix it. If I am in a situation where I can’t fix my socks, then it must be a Very Important Situation. I don’t like Very Important Situations. If I turn my socks inside out, I can avoid the discomfort and, possibly, Very Important Situations.

Does that really make any sense?

No.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions). – Mayo Clinic

I thank God that I have what you might term a “mild” case of OCD. My obsessions and compulsions usually revolve around little things, like sock seams and getting my tape dispensers at work lined up exactly. But I know what it is to feel a physical ache and a great, gnawing worry when things aren’t “just so.”

Life-goals and sock seams. And then this, in my Sunday school lesson:

There are other children of God who are hurting and need to be comforted. – Rob Prince

Amy Simpson put a lot of effort into her book. She surveyed pastors and congregations to get a feel for the prevalence of mental illness within the Christian community. My friend, it’s everywhere. The person you sit next to at church could very well be slogging through mirky depths of sadness. Could have chewed her nails to the quick out of fear. Could think that he’s getting special messages during the sermon. There are people in pain and confusion, from the new guy in the back row to, gasp!, the pulpit itself. And even though we’re learning to talk about it more, we still struggle. We still don’t have ministries that seek to serve the mentally ill; it’s no wonder that this is often referred to as the “no casserole” disease. We stigmatize. We fear. We label.

We think of victory in terms of completion. The Christian lives a victorious life if she is no longer struggling, no longer tempted. I think that’s an incomplete definition. Victory is found in turning your socks inside out and going about your day. It’s acknowledging that, yes, there is pain, but that pain will not defeat.

I don’t know if I will ever write a book that gets published. I don’t know that you’ll ever see me work the talk-show circuit. I’m sure I’ll have more days like today, when I wonder if I should really be adding my feeble voice to the cacophony. I do know what my life-goal is, though: Hope. I want to share hope with people. I want to comfort the hurting children of God.

Especially if they’re irritated by sock seams.

My journey to faith. (15)

Hello There

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Gentle Reader,

It’s amazing how quickly this break has gone by. I’d like to say it was because I was having immeasurable amounts of fun, but the reality is that I spent quite a lot of time coming and going. My companion in this travel? Doctors. Just shy of two weeks ago, I had my gallbladder removed. Despite several tests coming back negative for problems, pain persisted (and worsened), so the surgeon decided it was best to get it out of there. And it was. A 2 millimeter stone was blocking one of the ducts (considering that the ducts are 1 millimeter in diameter, this was an issue) and the other ducts were twisted and misshapen. This little organ attached to the liver was never going to get better on its own.

Recovery hasn’t been awful, though I don’t recommend popping in of an afternoon and having an organ removed, no matter how small. The worst part has been my inability to use the prescribed painkillers, as they made me sick. (I’ll spare you the gory details). My belly button, sadly, will never be the same again and I look like I was shot three times in the abdomen. I’ll no doubt have some pretty amazing scars by the time all is said and done. Still, I’d rather have scars than excruciating pain every time I eat.

That’s not all that happened during the Great Blogging Hiatus of 2012, however. In no particular or significant order, here are some things I learned:

1. Sometimes the words won’t come.

I fully expected to journal like mad during Lent, thinking that I would surely need some sort of creative outlet. I think I wrote twice, maybe three times in my little notebook. At first, this unnerved me. If you consider yourself a writer of any sort, you expect to have words. You love words. They are your gloriously varied colors with which to fill the blank canvas with the mocking, blinking cursor. If you don’t have words, what do you have? I’m certainly not a speaker. I’d much rather do all communicating by email, but nobody wants to cooperate with me in that.

This lack of words turned out to be a good thing. While I continue to doubt my suitability for any type of speech-making, I found myself battling through the tongue-tied anxiety that continually plagues me. I said things. Important things, silly things. Sometimes just groans. I yelled at God once. I apologized later.

Sometimes the words won’t come out onto the page, but they will come out via the tongue. That’s scary – and necessary.

2. You can’t force reconciliation. 

The Lord is in the business of reconciliation and restoration. I’m pretty sure He invented the ideas. As His child, there have been multiple times when I’ve been prompted by the Spirit to reach out to someone I just really didn’t want to reach out to. (That’s how I know when something is from God – when it’s definitely not my idea). I don’t like conflict and I like the messy business of repair even less. I have, however, had largely positive experiences in this arena.

Until now.

I had a falling out with someone awhile back, and we haven’t spoken in over two years. I have no delusions as to what reconciliation would look like. I don’t expect to be close friends or even friends at all. What I would like is to be able to associate with this person in a loving way, especially since we have mutual friends. I’d like to not feel hot with fear and run the other direction when I see this person in the store. So, I sent out a little note. Nothing major. Just a, “It’s been a long time and I would like to reconnect.”

No response.

You can’t make other people participate in the process of reconciliation. I think that’s partly what Paul meant when he wrote that we are to be at peace with all people (Romans 12:18). I’ve done all that I can; all that God wants me to do. I can be at peace with this person, even if it is not reciprocated.

3. Love grows.

I love Chris more today than I did all those weeks ago. He patiently took me to every doctor’s appointment his schedule would allow, and if he couldn’t be there, made sure I wasn’t alone. He held my hand and prayed with me right up to the moment the nurse wheeled me into the operating room. His was the first face I saw when I came into recovery. He didn’t once make fun of me for sleeping with the two stuffed animals I carried over from childhood. He set his alarm and got up every four hours to feed me saltines and painkillers. He held my hair back when I couldn’t keep those saltines and painkillers down.

My man is amazing. I see Jesus in him every time he assures me that we’ll be taken care of, no matter what the check register says. I see him working to put aside his own fears, knowing that I need encouragement. I literally cannot imagine my life with anyone else, and don’t even want to try.

4. Casseroles and cards come from the heart.

I don’t even begin to know how to thank my church family for bringing us dinner, for the cards that arrived in the mail and the prayers I know were sent to the Throne Room on my behalf. We’re not a perfect family. In fact, we’re pretty dysfunctional. That’s what makes the love we have for each other and the grace that is given all the more amazing.

5. There is something about family.

A few days after my surgery, we went to my parent’s house as we usually do for Sunday dinner. I was still pretty out of it and in a lot of pain. It felt so good to lay on the couch and know that Mom, Dad and my brother, Ben, were all nearby. This family isn’t perfect, either, but I feel safe there. I can show up without makeup, hobble down the stairs and cry ’cause it hurts – and that’s okay. Nobody minds.

6. A public platform is a powerful thing.

It is fearsome to be a blogger. I never know who might be reading these thoughts of mine. That can be a heady thing – tracking site statistics, engaging in comment conversation, looking for just the right “hook.” While none of these things are wrong in themselves, I became acutely aware of how easy it would be to use this site in a God-dishonoring way. I don’t have all the answers. In fact, I have very few. I can’t fix anyone’s life. If I use this little corner of the Internet to promote myself… Well, I hope that’s the day my laptop explodes.

I’m not kidding. Everyone’s got an opinion, a thought, an idea. I want to point you to the One whose opinions, thoughts and ideas really matter. Without Him, I am nothing.

7a. Memorizing Scripture actually works.

I’d like to say I’m bad at memorization, but the truth is that I just don’t. It’s a matter of laziness. After going through such a difficult Autumn, I made memorizing Scripture one of my goals for 2012. Those words have become a lifeline.

I have long struggled with having assurance when it comes to salvation. This stems from my perfectionism and anxiety, to be sure. Having seen far too many Dateline specials about surgery screw-ups, I was deeply afraid of dying on the table – and ending up in Hell. As panic began to set in, I felt the Lord speak to my spirit. Would I choose to trust the words I had put into my heart? Would I rest in the words that I have poured over, picked apart and studied? Would I believe that the blood of Christ really is enough?

It would be nice if I could tell you that my response was easy, but I wrestled. Would He really be with me in that operating room? Would He really accept me into His arms if the end of my time had come?

7b. It’s my choice.

There are very few things in life that I can control, but one of those things is my reaction. I can say “yes.” I can say “no.” I can freak out or access the calmness of God. I can do things my own way or seek His wisdom. It’s my choice.

Lying on that hospital bed, listening to my husband pray, it dawned on me that I had to choose. Faith really isn’t just a one-time decision. It’s a moment-by-frightening-moment deal. So, with a deep breath, I told God, “Okay. I trust You. I trust that You have saved me and that You will be with me. I won’t worry. I am persuaded. You are strong.”

I had to choose. It’s a mind-stretching and heart-wrenching thing sometimes. I came through the surgery and I believe that I would have been welcomed into Heaven had I not, but the journey’s not over. There are mounting medical bills and it’s not entirely clear how we will make the house payment this month. Again I will have to choose whether to give in to the fear or allow God’s strength to enable me to stand and do battle.

My journey to faith. (15)