Monthly Archives: October 2013

Knocking on God’s Door

Knocking on God's Door crop imageI have to confess—Halloween has never been my favorite holiday. Oh, we did the whole costumes, trick-or-treating, candy thing when my children were small. In fact, I put together some pretty good costumes, if I do say so myself. One year I spray-painted a bed sheet silver and made it into a Hershey’s Kiss costume for my oldest daughter. Then there were the years when my youngest daughter was into “T”-themed costumes. The first year she wanted to be a table complete with a table cloth and place settings. The next year it was a television. My favorite part of that costume was the “tail,” an electrical cord coming out of the cardboard box-turned-television that she wore. The third year she was a telephone which we made out of a couple of sheets of pink poster board. And although it wasn’t my idea, my son made a great bag lady. That and the cat costume I made out of faux fur are still in the dress up box.  But once the kids were out of the house, we became Halloween grinches. When the bewitching hour arrived, we would turn out the porch light and head to a movie. However, when grandchildren appeared on the scene, Halloween magic reappeared in our lives. Funny what having grandkids does to you.

Last year was our granddaughter Siri’s first real experience with trick-or-treating. (She had the name long before Apple appropriated it.)  She was not quite two at the time and at first didn’t really understand what her older sisters were so excited about. In fact, she really hated wearing the absolutely adorable pig costume (it even had a curly tail) that Grandma Eileen bought for her.

After our traditional dinner of chili, cornbread, witches brew (root beer with dry ice), and apple crisp, six of us ventured out into the streets for the annual quest—three trick-or-treaters aged 2, 4, and 6, Dad, and the doting Grandma and Grandpa. Mom was eight months pregnant so she stayed home to pass out candy to trick or treaters. While her sisters ran to the first door, we had to really coax Siri to climb the porch steps with them. Porch steps can be rather daunting when you have short, little two-year-old legs. We showed her how to put her pumpkin bucket out so the neighbor could put some candy in it, and then we coached her to say thank you. The second house went a little more smoothly, with less input from the peanut gallery.

About the time we set off for the third house, however, the light went on. Hey, this was cool. Run to the house, climb the porch stairs, knock on the door (too short to ring the doorbell), say “Trick or treat,” put out your pumpkin bucket, get candy, say “Thank you,”  and do it again. It didn’t matter what kinds of scary things were sitting between her and the door, she was both fearless and relentless. She was still on a roll when her older sisters started complaining of being tired and wanting to go home. Once we finally got her home, the pumpkin bucket immediately went upside down in the middle of the front room floor, and the feast began. Needless to say, the whole evening had become a smashing success in her book.

As I reflected on this experience, I realized there was a lesson for me regarding my relationship to God; in particular, there’s a pattern here for approaching God in prayer to petition for His blessings. Weird, I know, but that is how my brain works. But don’t get me wrong, I would never trivialize my interaction with God by characterizing prayer as a form of heavenly trick or treating. However, I have learned something about myself that I need to work on.

The first step in the pattern is for us to take action—we have to go to the door. If I’m feeling unworthy or unloved, the steps up to the porch can be a tough climb. Sometimes I face the “monster” of believing that I don’t need God’s help. Whatever the obstacle, to be successful I must humble myself and trust in His promise that He listens and answers our sincere pleadings. Next, I have to knock; His is not an automatic door that opens when you do nothing but approach. Besides, that’s the promise: “Knock and it shall be opened unto you.” Once I knock, then it is essential that I ask, again part of Christ’s instruction to his followers: “Ask and it shall be given you.”

It is the fourth step that I have trouble with. When Siri put out her bucket for candy, she did so in complete faith that she would receive. While I know that God always answers prayers, my problem is that I usually assume that the answer will be “No.” It’s as if I stand on the porch and hide my bucket behind my back because I don’t believe God will give me the things I ask for, even if they are good things like petitions for courage, strength, patience, and wisdom to live life well. I have to really fight the habit of believing that He will give liberally to everyone else but me. (See James 1:5) I’m a very visual person, so this picture I have in my mind of me standing on the porch with my pumpkin bucket hidden behind my back has really struck me. It is a metaphor I can use to help me overcome my lack of trust in this area. I really have to work on believing that I will receive.

Step five is to be grateful for whatever I am given, even if it is a toothbrush or dental floss instead of candy. This is a lesson I have learned well over the past 3 ½ years. When my dad fell and suffered his brain injury, our prayers were, of course, that he would be healed. I had absolute faith that God could heal him if it were His will. But Dad wasn’t healed, and that was a blessing. That may sound a little strange so let me explain.

About 18 months into his recovery, Dad stopped making progress. In fact, he started to regress, and nothing the brain doctor did seemed to help. Finally, the doctor decided we should have Dad evaluated by the dementia specialists to see what they thought. As we spoke with the dementia doctor, we began to realize that Dad had been showing signs of deteriorating cognitive function as long four or five years before the brain injury. What we realized then was that even if Dad hadn’t had the brain injury, he would still have had the declining cognitive functioning we were seeing. What the brain injury did was to prevent Dad from knowing what was happening to him. And that was a tremendous blessing, because “losing his mind” was my Dad’s worst nightmare come true. I can think of a number of scenarios that would have been torturous if Dad had known his ability to function, especially his capacity to work, was slipping away. Eventually, given his history with depression, I think it would have been entirely possible that in a moment of despair he might have tried to harm himself. So although Dad’s descent into cognitive darkness was sudden, it was actually much easier than a slow, agonizing struggle would have been.

There is one last aspect to this pattern, and that is to keep coming back to God. Daily. Hourly if you need to. He stands by the door waiting to answer and bless His children with that which He knows will benefit them. That is what He lives for. That is what gives meaning to His being. That is what brings Him joy.

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Peach Pie and the Pursuit of Perfection

Our family has a whole treasure trove of RTTW stories.  You know, the ones that start out with “Remember the time when . . . .” and then usually go on to recall some inadvisable (translation: dumb) thing one of us did. This is one of those stories.

Peach Pie cropOne night my husband, Craig, got a hankering for peach pie. If he had been a woman, I would have thought he was pregnant his craving was so strong. For some reason he just had to have peach pie. Now it’s not that peach pie was a regular staple on our table. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever made one. His mom makes a great peach pie, so maybe that’s where this hankering came from. Who knows. For whatever reason, he wanted peach pie, and he wanted it now. There were no peach pies at the bakery department of the grocery store (I don’t think it was even peach season), so we picked up a frozen pie and took it home.

When we got home and read the baking directions, we discovered that the pie was supposed to bake for 75 minutes. He wasn’t happy; 75 minutes didn’t qualify as now. That’s when he decided to cook it in the microwave oven. This was back in the dark ages, not long after microwave ovens became affordable for the average young couple. At that time, there were few, if any, products that came with instructions for both microwaving and baking. Also, the pie came in a regular aluminum foil pie tin and not one of the microwavable cardboard pans that were developed later. When I told him we couldn’t cook it in the foil pan, he decided it would work just fine if we dumped it upside down on a plate and nuke it that way. I knew we were on the way to disaster, but it was his pie so I simply relegated myself to the role of I-told-you-so onlooker.

Into the microwave went the upside down peach pie. I don’t remember how long he cooked it; since there were no instructions, he just picked an arbitrary number and punched it in. My guess is that it was probably about 15 minutes. I am sure in his obsessed state of mind anything longer seemed unreasonable. After all, if he thought it should be done in 15 minutes, then obviously that’s how long it should take, never mind the reality of the circumstances.

So 15 minutes later, the microwave dinged and he opened the door to his “cooked” and ready-to-eat peach pie. Do I really need to describe what it was like? Without a pie tin to help it hold its shape, the pie had become a blob of what was somewhat recognizable as pastry and fruit. It was in such a state that cutting a slice and putting it on a plate was impossible. So my husband dug in to the pie just the way it was. The edges of the crust weren’t too bad, but after that things just got soggier and gooier. I’m not sure the center of the pie was even warm. I do remember the crust in the middle had the consistency of the paste we used for art projects in elementary school. Unbelievably, before long my husband had eaten the whole mushy mess. Then he got sick. Oh, he didn’t throw up, but he felt miserable. And worse, he still wasn’t satisfied because what he ate wasn’t what he really was craving. Plus, he had now developed an aversion to peach pie which persists to this day. But that’s fine with me; when we visit his mom and she serves peach pie with ice cream I get to eat his serving.

So what does this have to do with perfection? I’ll get to that in a minute.

Usually when people think of the word perfect they think of something without flaw. However, something can be without flaw and still not be perfect. For example, if I buy a shirt and every stitch is literally perfect but it doesn’t have any buttons, the shirt as a whole is imperfect because it is unfinished. Consequently, something is perfect only when it is without flaw and complete or finished. In fact, the Greek word translated as perfect in Matt 5:48 means just that: complete, finished, fully developed. Thus, the injunction to be perfect as our Father which is in heaven is perfect refers to more than our being without flaw or sin. To have the same perfection as God has, we must also become complete, finished, and fully developed as He is complete, finished, and fully developed.

Now back to our pie. When purchased, the pie was, theoretically anyway, without flaw, and in that sense could have been considered perfect. But it wasn’t complete; that couldn’t happen until it was baked. Only then would it be finished and have attained the state for which it was created. We are like that frozen pie in the sense that we come to this earth in a “frozen” state—perfect in as far as we have progressed, but not complete. Until we are “baked,” until we are complete, finished, and fully developed, we are not perfect. And just as the pie couldn’t bake itself, neither can we make ourselves whole and complete. That is a power that resides in the God.

Unlike the pie, however, we must do more than sit on a freezer shelf and wait to be removed from the box and put into the oven. The pie has no power to act for itself; we do. According to His mercy, God allows us to choose whether or not we will submit to His will and be perfected. Becoming perfected is a process that takes time; there are no microwave instructions to shorten the course of our development. And it requires the heat of mortal experience. While God provides the experience, it is our responsibility to learn from those experiences, as difficult as those lessons usually are. But if we commit ourselves to God’s process of progression with patience and persistence, the joy of our finished and fully developed eternal self will be far sweeter than any of earth’s peach pies can ever hope to be—even hot with ice cream.

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The Hole in My Soul

When I started this blog, I knew I would write about the hole in my soul sometime, but I didn’t know when. The idea was just kind of sitting out there on the sidelines looking on. After a conversation I had with a young woman recently, I knew it was time.

To be honest, the “hole” was really more like a crater, but “The Crater in My Soul” just didn’t have the same ring to it. That crater was caused by the meteor of depression, with a result not unlike that of the meteor that crashed into the earth 65 million years ago and, in theory at least, caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. Like that meteor, when depression slammed into my soul more than 30 years ago, the impact raised massive amounts of emotional dust that blotted out all light in my life. This caused all the classical symptoms doctors use to make a depression diagnosis—loss of interest in formerly enjoyable activities, inability to concentrate, feelings of hopelessness, difficulty making decisions, etc., etc. But there is one symptom that you never hear about, and, for me at least, it was the one that caused the greatest pain. I’m talking about the loss of the ability to feel God’s love and the sweet assurance of the whisperings of His spirit.

Hole in soul image1In my deepest despair I sought solace in scripture, but that just made me feel worse. The descriptions of joy and peace and comfort were feelings that seemed not only beyond my reach, but beyond my very comprehension. When I prayed, I felt like I was praying to a brick wall. When I sought the comfort promised the obedient, I found distress. No matter how hard I tried to do the things I had always been taught would bring me into God’s favor, there was seemingly no response. I would wait until my husband was asleep, then I would get up and go into another room and pray and plead for hours. I cried buckets of tears. Still nothing.

I never doubted for an instance the reality of God, but I began to doubt His faithfulness. I asked and heard no reply; I sought and found nothingness; I knocked until my emotional and spiritual knuckles were raw and bleeding, but still I couldn’t perceive any opening of a door (See Matt. 7:7). I faithfully attended Sunday worship services even though it was torturous; while others would talk about feeling comfort and peace, of feeling God’s loving arms around them like a warm blanket, I felt nothing. No, that’s not quite right. I did feel something, I felt inferior. What was wrong with me, I wondered. Had I somehow royally ticked off God? Please, I besought Him, tell me what I’ve done wrong and I’ll fix it! But no answer was forthcoming. I came to understand later that that was a question He couldn’t answer because I hadn’t done anything horribly wrong that I needed to fix. Eventually I began to feel excluded by Him, then abandoned, and ultimately betrayed. Through all of this I kept praying, studying His word, worshiping, and giving service whenever and wherever I could. I had decided, rather peevishly, that I wasn’t going to give God the opportunity to tell me that if I had only prayed more or read more scripture or gone to church more or served His children better He would have relieved my despair.

I finally reached the point where, if God wasn’t going to help me, I decided I would have to take matters into my own hands. The only escape from the intolerable anguish I felt, as far as I could see, was to take my own life. But because I believe in an afterlife, even that solution wasn’t completely satisfactory. You see, I didn’t want just to die, I wanted to cease to exist. Knowing that was impossible only intensified my distress. But I finally decided that if I killed myself and ended up in hell, at least I wouldn’t have to cook or do laundry. Go ahead and laugh; I do. Obviously, my reasoning wasn’t exactly stellar, but that’s what depression does to you. I knew how I would do it—I would take a bunch of pills and just fall permanently asleep. What I couldn’t figure out was where or when I could carry out this ultimate action of finality without my children, ages 4, 7, and 9, finding my lifeless body.

I remember one particular night when I approached God on my knees in “prayer.” I use quotation marks because I’m not sure you could really categorize what I did as praying. I have never been so angry in my life as I was that night, and I let Him know about it. Why, I demanded, had He abandoned me? Though I was far from perfect, I had done everything I could think of to the very best of my limited ability to be obedient. Where were the promised blessings? The promised peace? Why, why, why? I implored. Even now, more than 30 years later, tears stream down my face in the remembering.

I received a very clear answer to that prayer. I was made aware of the great love God has for me (and all of His children). I didn’t, I couldn’t, feel His love, but I did understand it intellectually. I also understood that even if I tried to take my own life, I wouldn’t be held responsible because in my current state of mind I wasn’t accountable.  Those answers just made me even more angry. Here I was, contemplating one of the worst things a person could do, and the answer was “I love you”!?! And what did He mean, I wasn’t accountable? What kind of an answer was that?

It was at this point that my sweet, patient, incredibly supportive husband knew there was more going on than just PMS or moodiness. (Why he hadn’t left me by that point, I don’t know. I had certainly made his life hell.) Somehow he knew I was at a critical emotional tipping point that was beyond either of our capacities to handle. I believe it was at God’s prompting that he put me in the car and took me to a doctor. He didn’t give me a choice; we just went. I don’t know what doctor we went to. In fact, I don’t even remember seeing the doctor. The only thing I remember about that appointment was that the nurse made me promise that I wouldn’t commit suicide. I made that promise even though doing so made me furious. From my perspective, she had just taken away from me the only thing left in my life I had control over—my choice to live or die.

Let me say here that suicide is NEVER the answer, no matter how inviting and logical it seems. Quite frankly, it is an incredibly selfish act. You might be gone and in peace, but those left behind will never be the same. I know because two of my cousins have taken that route. Even if you are absolutely convinced that you are unloved and unlovable, I can guarantee there are people on this earth who would be devastated if you ended your life. If this is something you are contemplating, please talk to someone and get help. It’s out there. As long as you keep things inside, it’s just going to get worse. If the first person you confide in doesn’t help, keep telling others until you find the right person to help you get through this terrible ordeal. And promise me that you won’t do it. Please. Over the years I have gone up and down more times than I can count so I know from experience that things always, always, get better—not necessarily perfect, but better.

And so I began my long, long journey in search of physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. I’ve tried just about everything except voodoo. There have been supplements, homeopathy, energy therapies, neurofeedback, acupuncture, herbs, yoga, psychotherapy, pharmaceuticals, and even this blog. I’ve taken numerous medications—some that worked and some that didn’t. Some that worked had side effects that were intolerable, so it would be back to the drawing board. My first line of attack is medication because it enables me to have the physical, cognitive, and emotional resources to do other kinds of things that will help. Without medication, I would never have started this blog; it simply would have seemed too overwhelming to even attempt. This blog has allowed me to find my own voice; committing to a course of action that I value has been the best therapy of all.

Is the hole gone? Mostly, at least for now. Because it is filled with soil that is neither sand nor bedrock but something somewhere in between, there is always the chance that some flood will come that will erode my sense of well-being. In other words, I am not cured, and I don’t think I ever will be in this life. I believe I will always have the disposition towards depression and anxiety in mortality, but now I know how to deal with it—I know better where to get the peace to fill my hole. More importantly, I have lived long enough to see how my experiences have enabled me to become more than I ever would have been without them (See my post “Psych-ick Fruit”). Most people who know me would never know I deal with mental illness if I hadn’t publicly spoken about it many times. Oh, I have my days, but never anywhere near what I experienced at the beginning.

Hole in soul imageAnd where am I now with God? Fortunately, He is perfectly patient and infinitely forgiving. Over the years He has brought me back from the brink of the abyss by leading me to the doctors and other resources I needed. I know now that I was never left alone; I was just temporarily blinded to His influence and interest in my life.

For those of you who are where I was, trust that things will get better—they always do. And trust God. Trust that He loves you and that He is watching over you even if the heavens seem sealed with concrete at the moment. Though He might not take the trial away, He can and will make you equal to enduring it. He knows perfectly just how imperfect we are, and He’s perfectly ok with our imperfection. In fact, He doesn’t expect perfection of us in this life. If you can’t believe now, at least put the decision to disbelieve off until you are in a better state of mind. When the clouds lift and the light begins filtering in, then revisit the question of His reality and His love. The best way to do this is to ask Him. He will answer. He always does.

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