Five Minute Friday: Follow

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Gentle Reader,

Tonight we spoke of eating our feelings, throwing things and longing for new bodies. We prayed for hurting doggies, discussed my upcoming book “Things That Make Me Cranky and the Food the Makes It Better,” shared Blacklist jokes (yes, that show comes up fairly consistently in conversation) and enjoyed the deep sort of soul-sigh that comes with being in the company of family.

Connected across the miles and denominations and food preferences.

Kate and the gang. We: follow.

Go.

Today was tough. Some stuff was said by some people, which pushed the ever-shortening fuse of my temper closer to the dynamite. I got quiet. (Nobody seems to realize that lack of speech is a warning sign. I might not be the most verbose of persons, but if I’m completely tight-lipped there’s a good chance it’s for the safety of others). I tried to keep my head down and just get through.

But really I wanted to cry.

I hate that. Emotions are so awful.

Of course, they aren’t really awful. They are God-given. I know that. As a person who is very much wired for the head-space and not the heart-space, however, emotions are difficult to handle. Often I don’t know what I’m feeling until the moment has passed. Sometimes it’s hours later.

I felt embarrassed. Publicly humiliated.

So I ate my feelings and put on my sweatpants and chatted with my lovely Twitter friends. All the while, I hear the Spirit speaking into my heart, “Follow Me.”

Why does He say this? I know without having to think. Because my reaction to those feelings was not good. My face was a blank mask (at least I hope it was), but my insides were ugly. I was throwing things. Name-calling. Screaming.

And following Him, while it means not that I ignore the hurt or gloss over the wrong, does involve letting that screaming, cussing, termagant die. It involves killing her. It looks like taking all that pain and frustration and dumping it at His feet. Asking Him to sort through my emotions and help me to feel them in a way that does not bind me tight.

Following Him means releasing the desire to whip around, look at those people and drop a list of their wrongs, failures and short-comings on their laps. It means not retaliating.

Following Him is hard.

So very hard.

Stop.

My journey to faith. (15)

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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)

On Being a Hobbit

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Gentle Reader,

We’re going through some changes in my department right now, due to the retirement of a coworker. And you know me – I just love change. I just love it when things are up in the air.

Please infuse those sentiments with appropriate sarcasm.

There’s been some back-and-forth over job description and qualifications. I don’t know all the ins and outs, but I sense that it’s been a frustrating process. We all feel the tension; it’s been an uphill battle to maintain the flow of materials, working constantly shorthanded. It’s important to get the right person for the position, I know, but I do wish the process would speed up.

Amid this discussion of candidates and what they need to know or possess, I find myself thankful that God doesn’t have a checklist. I’m glad that He doesn’t require a college degree or a certain amount of experience. He doesn’t turn anyone away. Any who fall under the shadow of the Cross are welcome into His family, no matter who they are or what they’ve done.

Tonight, as The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey plays across the television, I reflect on this fact again. My husband and I joke that, if I were part of Tolkein’s universe, I would be a hobbit – living quietly, appreciating good food, enjoying the company of close friends and family. There are other, flashier characters – elves, dwarves, wizards, kings. But their glamour doesn’t mean that the hobbits are any less. Each one has an important place in the story.

Be encouraged tonight, my friend. Wherever you fall on the fickle yardstick of the world, there is One with whom you always measure up.

My journey to faith. (15)

The Marks of an Angry Woman

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Gentle Reader,

I’ll try not to tread the same ground we already covered together in this post, but, you know, there are times in life when clear themes emerge. God is obviously talking to me – quite loudly and repeatedly – about anger and choices. We could place both of these topics under the heading, “Responsibility.”

What is my responsibility?

What isn’t?

Let me just throw something out there: Do you suppose that a lot of our anger comes from not knowing what we are in control of and what we aren’t? Do you think that much of our anger is misplaced? Clearly I am not addressing what is called “appropriate” or “righteous” anger. You should feel angry when you’ve been violated or abused. That kind of anger motivates you to address the wrongdoing.

I’m thinking of a more vague, bubbling kind of anger. This is the kind of emotion that makes you want to blow up at your coworker for being slow in his tasks or shake your kid for talking in that weird accent. It’s too big for the moment. It doesn’t really make any sense.

This is the kind of anger that’s actually looking for a fight.

An angry [wo]man stirs up strife, and a furious [wo]man abounds in transgressions. – Proverbs 29:22 (NKJV)

I wish I could be all saintly and say that I’ve never felt this way or been motivated by it, but, sadly, many times I find myself acting out of anger. I can’t point to any person other than myself when I think about the marks of an angry woman:

1. She is subtly cutting. She will sound sweet, but she isn’t.

2. She freezes you out for no apparent reason.

3.  She delights in playing people off each other.

4. She wants to be crabbby.

5. Her sarcasm knows no bounds.

6. Nor does her appetite for juicy gossip.

7. She is flat-out MEAN. Hurtful-on-purpose.

I don’t like that portrait. I don’t like it at all. I don’t want that to be me.

This has got to be why Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit, wrote that we should “not let the sun go down while [we] are still angry” (Ephesians 4:26b). Anger that isn’t immediately and properly dealt with quickly becomes controlling. There’s no way to keep this tiger in its cage. The original offense might be stuffed into the subconscious, but the world and everyone in it is going to pay for it!

I have chosen to feed my anger. I have often been incapable of setting appropriate boundaries, in knowing what I am and what I am not responsible for, because of this monster. Make no mistake: it is a monster. A dark monster that clouds the vision while convincing the mind that all is clear.

There is something particularly vicious about a woman’s anger. I can’t define the difference between what I see in myself and what I see in my husband, but it exists. Perhaps it is the length of time or the tightness of grip. How quickly can a woman dredge up five years’ worth of offenses in answering the question, “What’s wrong?” I don’t know a single man with that ability.

I don’t want to be the woman who stirs up strife. The kind of woman who delights in making people fight… That makes me shudder. How  manipulative! No wonder anger and sin are so closely linked. It’s a short step from one to the other.

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. – Galatians 5:13-15 (NKJV)

Sweet friends, let’s not destroy each other!

My journey to faith. (15)