Five Minute Friday: Want

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

Wrapped in the golden haze of this early summer evening, I stare out the small square of window that remains unblocked by the air conditioning unit and the closed blinds. Faded roses, in desperate need of pruning, grab my attention. If it’s possible to feel like a spent blossom looks, then I do. Long week.

Knowing that my area is sliding into the tortuously warm sunny season deepens the weariness. Tonight, thankfully, the temperature is bearable. Even pleasant.

Kate asks us what we: want.

Go.

Tomorrow is another day, Scarlett says.

Another doctor’s visit.

This life of chronic illness is one of slow, uphill climb toward a peak always hidden. Some days I face the trek with brave, squared shoulders and a smile on my face. Other days, I sit, back pressed against the immovable ledge, feet dangling into nothingness. There is no end in sight and the idea of continuing grates on the soul.

I want an end.

My thoughts are not bleak. I’m not hopeless. What I am is tired. Tired of the pain in my side, of seeing the doctor, of not sleeping well, of being tired. Tomorrow’s visit is about a prescription. Next month is the needle and the vials. In the not-distant future are the biopsy and the MRI.

I’m sure what I need is to have a good cry, the kind that sends me crashing into the oblivion of dreamless sleep. Things will look better in the morning. I want them to look better now, but if there is one thing I have learned, it’s that joy is the grit that gets you through the not-better moments. It keeps you looking into the hope of the guaranteed future in the presence of the Lord.

These mountain pauses, I don’t think my Savior condemns me for them. I think He sits next to me, in the space of grace, understanding that my spirit longs to fly but my body is made of cement. He points out things to me, things in the valley below that only He and I know about. It is our history together. Deceptively beautiful meadows filled with gorgeous, poisonous blooms. Sticky, dark swamps. Crossroads.

The rock pokes my back. Dirt feels rough beneath my hands. Sweat slides down my neck. I will not sit here long, for it is not comfortable. Difficult as the journey is, it is preferable to remaining still. I know He will offer me His hand and pull me onward soon. Where would I be, if not for the Lord? Yes, if not for the Lord. Isn’t that the tagline of our lives?

Some days I feel as if there is no end, but my theology preaches otherwise.

I want the otherwise.

More than that, more than wanting an end, what I am learning, slowly, to want the very most is God. Give me God. I am no saint. I whine. I complain. I sometimes swear. But if I have to spend the rest of my life attempting to surmount the Everest of sickness but the taxing ascent, the climb that will take everything I have, means knowing and loving Him better, if it means the true and sweet intimacy of relationship with the Master, then tired as I get, cranky as I can be, give me the thin air and the taunt muscles and the inability to look back for fear of falling. If in the mysteriousness of Divine will and fallen universe this obstacle is what is required to keep me close to His side, then so be it.

Lord Jesus, on days like today when I cannot take another step, please give me more of You. When I tremble in fear of the unknown, strengthen my trust in You. When I weep in the pain and the sorrow, comfort me. Most of all, Lord of All, please allow me, as You did Moses, to know and see You. I do not want to be anywhere You aren’t.

Stop.

I find particular comfort in this psalm set to music right now.

May you be encouraged.

My journey to faith. (15)

Photo Credit: Cosmic Timetraveler

This Post I Don’t Want to Write

Agony

Gentle Reader,

As with all stories, it’s best to begin at the beginning.

I’ve struggled against anxiety for as long as I can remember, and most of the time anxiety has won. I can remember being six years old and flying into panic at the news of a standardized test all the first graders at my school were required to take. Convinced of failure, I couldn’t sleep the night before and broke out in head-to-toe hives. As I grew older, any conflict with a playmate or a teacher sent me spinning.  In my later teen years, I began to have panic attacks and what one ER doctor referred to as a “seizure-like episode.”

You would never know any of this about me if you weren’t directly exposed to it. Anxiety is an intense feeling, arising out of deep sensitivity – a sensitivity that I’ve achieved a Ph.d in masking. This suppression of emotions feeds into the anxiety, perpetuating the cycle and making it all the more difficult to break. I could be about to hyperventilate in terror, and, unless you knew me very, very well, you’d never even see it on my face.

This is, of course, a very simple summary of my life thus far. I’d rather not present you with the nitty-gritty, for that would take a book. What I’d really like to tell you about today is the state of my present existence.

On Good Friday of this year, I sat in the back of my church and had a panic attack, the first I’d had in at least three or four years. How on earth could a Good Friday service make me skip into flight-or-fight mode? How could the candles, the music, the Scripture reading make me feel like I was going to have a heart attack? That’s the thing with anxiety. It knows no rhyme or reason.

I was very frightened by the intensity of the attack. That evening, I unloaded on my husband for hours, not in anger, but in desperation. Something in that Good Friday service triggered a flood within me. All of the anger, the fear, the sorrow and the pain that I had tried to push down for so long came bubbling up to the surface without warning. Chris and I decided that it was important for me to see a counselor and work through some of these issues. I knew that I especially needed to learn better coping skills.

It didn’t take long for my counselor to refer me to a psychiatrist for medication. Her theory after a couple of sessions is that I was, in a sense, “born this way.” She believed that there were physical, chemical imbalances in my brain that had worsened with age and conditioning. Like the dutiful person I am, I made the appointment.

And came out with four diagnoses.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Panic Disorder. Major Depressive Disorder. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

That’s a lot to take in, and the only way I could process it was through dark humor. I told my husband, who was diagnosed with Clinical Depression four years ago and takes medication everyday, that I “won” because he’s only got one mental illness and I have four. So I started on the medication and began working through worksheets to help me think about my thoughts (do you ever do that?) and examine them to see if they were truthful or not.

As of this writing, I’ve been in counseling for two months, been on the first round of medication for almost four weeks and will probably be switched to another, have spent hours staring at the wall in a daze and haven’t wanted to do much but sleep. Then, yesterday, came another blow: My psychiatrist suggested I do some blood tests to see if my hormones were in proper balance, as they play a crucial role in anxiety and depression for women. At 4:50 p.m. on August 1, I spoke with my gynecologist by phone and was told that I needed testosterone cream (which I refer to as “man cream” and wonder if it will give me a beard so I can go make some money on the side by joining the circus – again, the dark humor) and that there is a very good chance I will need fertility drugs if I ever want to get pregnant.

I hate to be cliche, but when it rains, it pours.

Here is what I really want you to know in all of this:

1. I do not want your pity.

That is probably the worst and most insulting thing you can possibly give to someone who is walking through a valley, and I regret ever doing it to others. What someone like me needs is genuine friendship and understanding.

2. I do not need you to fix me.

I have Jesus for that. I have professionals who know and love Him. I covet your prayers and your love, but not your designs or plans.

3. Mental illness is not a lack of faith.

Go ahead and write to me about this. Tell me I need to pray more. Tell me I need to exercise more faith. Go ahead. I will then send you my journal, which contains more gut-wrenching and heartfelt prayers over the course of the last two months than in the last ten years. I can say without hesitation that my faith has never been stronger, that I have never been closer to God.

That being said, I do recognize that anxiety and depression can fuel sin or make certain temptations easier to fall to. So while I don’t need your criticism, I do need your loving questions and a community of accountability.

4. Taking medication is not a sin.

If you had diabetes, you’d probably watch your diet and take insulin shots, right? Would that be wrong, or would you justify that decision by saying that God heals in all sorts of ways? I’m so sick of the hypocrisy in the church when it comes to antidepressants. * Insert Sarcastic Tone Here * Oh, yes, not admitting to problems and not taking medication to help with the physical deficiencies in the brain will just make it all go away.

5. Get help. 

If you know that you have a problem with anxiety or depression, get help. You’re not helping yourself or anyone else by refusing to do so. You’re not a special martyr for Christ by “putting the needs of others above your own.” That’s a twisted understanding of Scripture. God never says that you shouldn’t take care of yourself. If you persist in complaining about problems and refusing to do anything about them, I will very lovingly but very firmly tell you to stop talking if you won’t move forward. I stayed stuck for a long, long time. It’s pointless and, frankly, many of us do it for attention.

6. Childlessness is not a sign of rebellion. 

This last one is probably where I get most hot under the collar. I have never had a desire to be pregnant, and I wonder now if that lack has been a blessing from God. I am not devastated by the news that it may be especially difficult for me to get pregnant. I’ve long had a desire to adopt, and hopefully will be able to do so in the future. Barrenness or chosen childlessness is not a sign of a curse or a sin in every case.

I’d like to conclude this post by having you read Ezra 3:8-13, with special emphasis on 12-13:

Now in the second month of the second year of their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, Jeshua the son of Jozadak,  and the rest of their brethren the priests and the Levites, and all those who had come out of the captivity to Jerusalem, began work and appointed the Levites from twenty years old and above to oversee the work of the house of the LORD. Then Jeshua with his sons and brothers, Kadmiel with his sons, and the sons of Judah, arose as one to oversee those working on the house of God: the sons of Henadad with their sons and their brethren the Levites.

When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the LORD, according to the ordinance of David king of Israel. And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD:

‘For He is good,
For His mercy endures forever toward Israel.’

Then all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of the fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this temple was laid before their eyes. Yet many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people, for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the sound was heard afar off. (NKJV)

The generation coming out of captivity was glad to have a place of worship once again, regardless of its lack of grandeur. The older generation, fewer in number and also coming out of captivity, mourned the lack – but the joy of the larger group drowned out their cries. This is where I stand today. It is plainly and painfully obvious that my life isn’t going to look like any of the lives of the women around me. There might be some who cry out in mourning because I don’t fit the mold – but my joyful embrace of these days that God has so graciously given me will drown them out.

I have surveyed the Valley of the Shadow. I know deep and searing pain. I wear tortuous fear on my back. But I walk, step by slow and deliberate step, with my Savior who lights just enough of the path for this day. I understand what it means to rejoice in suffering, for this intimacy with the King is infinitely precious to me, and I would not have it without this sorrow. He is loosening my chains and teaching me to hold tightly to truth.

And I am unapologetic.

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A Ministry or a Friend?

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Gentle Reader,

This post is going to touch a nerve, but I feel that the topic needs exploring. Before you read any further, please know that it is not directed at any specific person.

I recently heard the phrase, “Most people are a ministry. Some people are friends.” The words were utterly profound to me. Most people are going to require you to pour into them, and that’s okay. You just can’t expect them to pour into you – and so you need to find some who understand the give and the take of a relationship. Being able to discern the difference actually frees you up to love everyone you come into contact with, because you’ll have realistic expectations of who they are.

This is especially significant to me right now as I finally begin to face and admit to the changes that have taken place in my life over the last year I have lived under the cloud of Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome. (There is now some suspicion that Fibromyalgia is also involved. I have either been misdiagnosed or there’s a whole lot of messiness going on up in this here body). You would think I would have adjusted to this by now, but I haven’t.

Would you like to know why?

I have spent the last year trying to managing other people’s reactions. There have been shifts in relationships that I haven’t been able to understand. I’ve tried to keep the talk about the sickness to a minimum; many people are uncomfortable being around the chronically ill. I’ve tried to keep on going with life as it always has been, the best that I can.

I realize now that this is just a sneaky form of lying.

I need to be able to talk about being sick and the emotional, spiritual and mental issues that come with that. Most of the time when someone asks how I’m doing, I’ll say, “Sleepy.” While that’s a true statement, it’s not the full truth. Other words roll around in there, like “confused,” “distraught,” “in pain,” “isolated,” and “hurting.” Yet I keep my mouth shut.

I think it’s because I don’t know the difference between someone who is a ministry and someone who is a friend. While I don’t want to be the sort who natters on endlessly about every little bump in the road (I do have interests other than this illness), I do need to be able to be honest. That starts with trusting people, which is rooted in discernment, which is found in God alone.

We all need to belong. We all need friends. We all need that place where it’s okay to take off the mask, where we don’t have to be “on” all the time. Unfortunately, that place isn’t always there. Or it’s not in the location we assume it to be. I do thank God that I always belong with Him. I always fit. I never have to be “on.”

I don’t know if this is making sense to anyone other than myself, but chronic illness leaves scars that people just don’t talk about. The bald truth of it is that people often abandon the sick when the sick need them most. Why is that? Can we not get past our own petty problems (let’s face it: a good deal of our problems really are petty)? Are we utterly incapable of reaching out in compassion? Can we not see past the ends of our own noses? Or is it worse than that – are our relationships really all about us? When we stop getting what we want/need from that other person, are we happily willing to walk away?

I’ve been very convicted about this myself. As someone who knows the pain that chronic illness brings, I should be very willing to reach out to those who are suffering – and yet I’m often not.

Who is a ministry? Who is a friend?

I know I need to learn to tell the difference.

My journey to faith. (15)

Shelter Me

Gentle Reader,

Tonight is the evening of Fat Tuesday, better known as Mardi Gras, the day before the Lenten season begins. Traditionally a time to binge and gorge, Fat Tuesday is seen as being the release before the austerity of the days leading up to Easter.

I thought about having that last can of soda, but then I wondered what that said about my heart.

The self-denial of Lent isn’t mean to be a drudgery. It is, instead, to be a worshipful experience. It is a time of setting aside what normally distracts us from God. While this should be the hallmark of Christian life in the daily arena, it is good to have a specific time devoted to “cleansing the temple,” so to speak. To getting rid of things and reassessing. To renewal.

If I had that can of soda, I would, essentially, be saying, “All right, God. I am giving this up for the next 40+ days because I think You want me to be miserable.”

For Pete’s sake, it’s just a soda.

If missing a can of Pepsi is that big a deal to me, then I can quite clearly see that I am distracted, distraught and discouraged. I have not been living a life attuned to the Spirit’s voice. The danger here is that it would be easy to think I’m doing all right. I’m not cheating on my husband, I’m not gambling, I’m not stepping on people to get ahead at work. But deep down inside, where, according to Christ, it still counts?

It’s dark. Overwhelming. Not a pretty sight.

I have been tempest-tossed and ruled by anger for weeks now. It got to me so sneakily. My defenses were down. In the stillness of the night, as my husband slept, I cried out the Spirit of the Living God in anguish, begging Him to bring a fresh outpouring of His presence into my life.

You see, I have been living as a worm when Scripture tells me that I am a butterfly (see 2 Corinthians 5:17). I have not realized that I have the ability to fly and to be free of the things which bind me (Hebrews 12:1). So, I have continued to burrow in the dirt, wondering why it no longer feels comfortable but trying so desperately to make it work.

My wings are tattered, my eyes downcast.

And yet…He holds me.

This Lenten season is going to have a theme for me, beyond that of introspection and renewal. I need a Rock, a Safe Haven, a Shelter. I need Someone Bigger than me, and I need permission to be small and not all that smart. I need to know and believe that He is the God upon whom I can cast all my anxieties (1 Peter 5:7).

I need to be human, and I need God to be God.

Rather than go wild tonight, I sit quietly and sing these words over and over again:

When I cannot close my eyes

And the night goes on

Trouble taunts on every side

And my doubt is strong

Shelter me, shelter me

Let the thought of Your compassion be my strength

Prince of Peace, shelter me

From the tempest of my unbelief

Mighty God, who calmed the sea

Come and shelter me

Do Your promises still stand?

Does Your mercy cease?

By the power of Your hand

Grant me my release

Shelter me, shelter me

Let the thought of Your compassion be my strength

Prince of Peace, shelter me

From the tempest of my unbelief

Mighty God, who calmed the sea

Come and shelter me

Oh, come and shelter me

– Billy Sprague, Bruce Carroll and Joe Beck

Don’t be like me. Don’t wait until things are a muddle and you feel as though you’re a miss of knots. Fall into His gracious arms right now. Snuggle down into His chest and hear the beating of His holy heart. That is the safest place to be.