Discussing Dark Things (Prayer Devotional for the week of August 17, 2014)

Our Lord is an awesome, miracle-working God who loves, heals, saves, and provides for us, yet I also believe that he entrusts us with imagination and knowledge to develop and invent things to make our lives better. Thanks to modern medicine, for example, I feel pretty confident that I can take ibuprofen when I have a headache, and it will go away. Most Christians would not criticize my faith for taking a couple of over-the-counter pills to alleviate minor aches and pains.

 

Of course, we still pray for healing – and we’ve witnessed God do remarkable things! – yet, cancer patients still go through chemotherapy treatment. We ask God for provision, yet we still take insulin, blood pressure medication, multivitamins, etc. to keep our bodies regulated properly. Why then, when we have access to pastoral and professional counseling, not to mention a wide array of medications, do we often brush off diseases of the heart … or, to call a spade a spade: mental illnesses? Why do we only really talk about dark things when a celebrity dies, yet people all around us are suffering every day from the same problems?

 

If you want to read about a guy who had a lot to cope with in his adult life, check out 2 Corinthians. In chapter 11:23-27, we learn that Paul was flogged with 39 lashes (the max was 40) on FIVE separate occasions. Can you imagine the rumpled scars on his poor back? And that’s only part of the story: in the first chapter of his letter, Paul explained that things had gotten so bad on one of his journeys that he felt like he’d been sentenced to death row and didn’t even know if he’d make it home alive.

 

Paul didn’t have the advantage of modern medicine to help manage any anxiety or depression that he may have suffered from, but one thing he tried to do was to surround himself with supportive, godly people. Repeatedly in his letters that we read in the New Testament, Paul recognized various individuals and expressed his appreciation for them or asked others to pass messages of encouragement along to them.

 

Depression is a monstrous liar, and I can’t pretend to understand it any more so than a naturally skinny person can understand what it’s like to live in my body. We think we know how to “fix” each other, but we don’t truly know what it is like to live in another’s skin. All we can do is support each other. I would submit that it is much more difficult to drown out the lies when you are alone than when you are immersed within a caring community. If you are dealing with issues of the heart, talk to a pastor or life group leader, and let them know what you are suffering. Don’t go it alone; people do want to help.

The grief I don’t discuss

I had an email exchange with an old friend last night that started me thinking. (Not that *we* are old, but we’ve been friends since middle school, lost touch somewhere between her move to another state and our lives after high school, then reconnected a few years ago thanks to the marvels of Facebook.) She has a unique perspective on health and fitness that begins not only with nutrition and exercise, but also with a healthier understanding of self-worth. I strongly encourage you to watch her recent conference presentation about her own journey.

According to the Holmes & Rahe stress scale, which measures life stressors such as changes in work & family, illnesses and finances, I scored 282 points in the past year. A score of 300+ puts you at risk of stress-related illness. (“Moderate risk” is 150-299.) To take it a step further, I scored 734 points over the past five years. So, yeah, life has been a wee bit stressful. Interestingly, even some of the really wonderful things — like finishing school — are counted on the stress scale. It makes sense, though, because it is a significant shift in how I spend my time and manage my day-to-day life.

The thing is, I have talked/vented/cried/blogged at length about my brother’s death five-plus years ago. In fact, aside from this post, I reckon that nearly all of the entries in this Grief category have to do with him, in some regard. Yet, there are other sources of stress and grief that I have experienced that I don’t talk much about, and the elephant in the room is my divorce.

Talking about my brother’s death and my grief journey feels like the right thing to do. I want others to be encouraged in their own grieving scenarios, and it also helps me to talk about it. My hope is that God receives glory through the whole process. There’s nothing to be ashamed of in talking about losing him; no one can blame me for my brother’s death.

Talking about my divorce, on the other hand, feels … different. There is a very real sense of shame — perhaps largely self-imposed, but it’s still there. Self-worth and shame go hand-in-hand. Twenty-year-old Me would have told Thirty-something-Me that she was giving up, throwing in the towel, disobeying the Lord, breaking a promise. Twenty-year-old Me had a fenced-in view of the world and believed that a marriage between two Christians would be healthy and stable, by definition. Twenty-year-old Me would have been adamant that the only two acceptable reasons for divorce are abuse and infidelity, and anything other than those extreme situations means that you should just put on your big girl panties and work through it. Oh, Twenty-year-old Me … you were so very naive.

Part of the reason I don’t talk about it much — in fact, I still run into acquaintances around town who I’ve known for years and realize they don’t even know that I’m no longer married — is because sharing my pain/hurt/frustrations feels a lot like gossiping or berating another individual. Besides that, even trying to verbalize the 1,001 things that were wrong with my marriage would probably sound like a trite list of petty crimes. In the grand scheme of things, did it really matter that he seldom cleared his plate from the dinner table, mowed the yard without being asked for three weeks, or suggested going on a date without me having to plan it? Probably not, but when combined with 998 other things, those seemingly minor issues became major indicators of a relationship severely lacking in care, responsibility, attention, initiative and love.

During our separation, he told me, “I said that I would never leave you. You are the one doing this.” Guilt trip much? But it was true. I did initiate it, and he was correct that he didn’t walk out on me. Yet, what he failed to realize is that he had already left me in every way other than physically walking out the door. He had disconnected, disengaged, and withdrawn into himself years before we actually got divorced. Ours wasn’t a healthy marriage; we were roommates who raised kids [somewhat] together.

I was a solo parent long before I became a single parent. In fact, “only” having five kids to raise actually feels a little easier than having six people in the house to tend to. He was a nearly invisible presence in our home that the kids would literally walk straight past in order to ask me something. Sometimes you could ask him a question, and he’d just look at you and never respond.

Our visitation arrangements are more flexible than the decree states, mainly due to his work schedule and living arrangements. What that means is that I have not had a full day and night to myself since the last time I went out of town. Even on days off when he says that he’ll take all of the kids for the day, he might show up around noon to get them, and then come back in a couple of hours because so-and-so and so-and-so were bickering, so he brought them home. WTH?!? I’d like to drop off so-and-so and so-and-so at his house one day and say, “Oh, they were arguing, so here you go — you deal with it. Bye!”

See what I mean? It’s hard to talk about without complaining, and I don’t want to complain. It doesn’t change anything, and I don’t want to sound like the nag he always accused me of being. I don’t see how talking about my divorce is helpful to anyone, except perhaps just to know that you’re not alone. If there is some good to come of it, then I’d like to know. I’d like to find a way to redeem the circumstance, but for now, I just deal with it like everything else that life has thrown in the mix. When it comes down to it, my sense of self-worth is negatively impacted, and it’s something that I’m going to have to work to overcome.

Favorite shirt

Human emotions are so peculiar. In the midst of being sooooo very excited about my upcoming dissertation defense, I have also experienced waves of anxiety (time is running out to make these edits!), frustration (the kids are driving me bonkers!), and one that surprised me last night after the younger kids were in bed, as I happened to be walking into the kitchen — grief. Suddenly, I had a fierce desire to call Nathan and tell him about my dissertation progress and talk to him about the defense, graduation, and the whole nine yards. I sat down in a nearby chair and just cried for a few minutes.

I know that he would be proud of me, and I know that heaven is a lot more awesome than driving 17 hours to sit through a graduation ceremony just to watch me walk across a stage to be “hooded” by my faculty. Still, I miss him. So many times when I think about things he is not here to experience, it usually has to do with the boys — achievements in school or other milestones in their lives. But this, this is something that’s just for me … an accomplishment that I wish my brother was here to celebrate with me.

So, that’s where my heart was when I saw this week’s Haiku Friday post on Osler’s Razor this morning. (By the way, if you are interested in law, politics, or poetry, you should check it out. I love the invitational feel of his posts, where disagreement is ok because discussion is welcomed. Plus, Haiku Friday is a favorite treat.) Here’s my entry for today’s topic of favorite clothing:

Dr Pepper red:
my brother’s faded t-shirt,
cotton soft with age.

Along with others,
I took it from his closet
to be reminded

Of his warm bear hugs.
It smelled like him for a while …
I wish it still did.

Deliver Us (Prayer Devotional for the week of February 23, 2014)

A friend confided in me recently that she is angry with God because he has not yet delivered a loved one from the noose of alcoholism, despite her years of prayer. I struggled with how to respond, because even though I may think I understand a few things, God’s reasons and his thoughts are far beyond mine. For the record, I believe whole-heartedly that he is fully capable of delivering us from addictions, healing us of diseases and injuries, and intervening on our behalf in ways that we’ll never understand. And yet, I also believe that he allows us to make choices that are harmful because we are his beloved, not his puppets.

We could run in circles asking “Why God?” questions. Why didn’t you fix my marriage? Why didn’t you take away the cancer? Why didn’t you miraculously keep that accident from happening?

The short, honest answer is I don’t know. The four gospels are chock-full of stories of Jesus healing people, and yet he hints in John 9 that sometimes there are deeper meanings to our sufferings. Some of the stories are vague, like Matthew 4:23 (NIV), where it simply states that he healed “every disease and sickness among the people.”

In many instances, the healing is accompanied by praise and/or renewed purpose, like Matthew 8:14, where Simon Peter’s mother-in-law is healed from a raging fever, and she begins waiting on him. When Jesus healed the paralyzed man in Mark 2, the man took his mat and left; he didn’t sit back down and continue being crippled.

Think about all the times (and there were lots!) in the Old Testament when the Israelites cried out to God: “Deliver us!” … and he did. Then, they went back to their old ways, disobeying the Lord till they got sick of themselves and cried out again: “Deliver us!” … and he did. Round and round they went. How often do we get upset about problems in our lives that were self-inflicted?

God’s deliverance may end up looking like something completely different from what we were asking or expecting. Hold onto hope, even when it is hard to understand.

5 years

Ang and Nathan on benchFive years seems like it should sweep in with some sort of fanfare, but it feels like just another day. I mentioned before that I’m on a journey to reclaim January by making a concerted effort not to let this month defeat me. For the past four Januaries, I’ve slumped into a pity party, and I’m trying hard not to do that again this year.Ang and Nathan by Christmas tree

Still, I do feel reminiscent during this month, especially leading up to today. I miss my brother like crazy, each and every day.

There are plenty of things that make me feel sad, but if I concentrate, there are even more things that make me feel happy … and better than happy, but also joyful and certainly grateful:

  • I got to know him for 30 years plus a few months, and we became good friends.
  • We were baptized on the same day, and I remember it fondly.
  • I will get to see him again some day and never ever have to say goodbye. Hallelujah!
  • Nathan selfieI get to see his smirk,
    • his demeanor,
    • his mannerisms,
    • his smart*ss attitude (LOL), and
    • his facial expressions in his sons every day.
  • I had my personal IT support hotline for years! 🙂
  • I got to meet the love of his life, and I’m doubly blessed that we remain “sisters-in-love” all these years later.
  • I got to receive more bear hugs than I can count.
  • I always knew that he had my back, even when we disagreed.