On Formulas and Equations

This past week has dried up any extra resources I thought I had stored within me.

It has been emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausting.

And I believe it is right where God wants me to be.

Eighteen months ago, I started to really struggle with my spiritual belief system. I held to the belief that Christianity was like a math formula. I am an algebra geek; if you are not, bear with me for a minute. Math, to me, shows that our minds were created through intelligent design (as opposed to evolving somehow from some ape-like man form). Math is very black and white. 2+2 can only equal 4. Nothing else fits to make the statement true. Only 4, or another equation equaling 4, can fill the space after the equal sign of 2+2. Similarly, a mathematical formula is solved by following steps in a particular order. If one does the steps out of order, one will not get the correct answer. This is important in many areas of life. For example, if one is baking a scrumptious dessert for a family reunion, the recipe would most likely need to be doubled or tripled to feed a crowd of people. If the measurements aren’t correct, that dessert will be heading straight to the garbage can instead of gracing the table at the reunion. If dad is trying to calculate how much time will be needed to drive to grandma’s house 500 miles away for Thanksgiving, the distance formula will give him the answer. If dad doesn’t plug the correct numbers into the formula, turkey and mashed potatoes will be devoured by Uncle Fred before dad can get his family there. My understanding of Christianity was similar to these examples. I did my part then God would do His. My part was A, God’s part was B and putting them together would equal C–a good life. A+B=C. Sounded right in my mind.

The problem is, it wasn’t working out like that. I suspect most everyone reading this would agree that, even though you may be doing all the right things, sometimes life doesn’t work out the way your mind’s formula told you it should. Eighteen months ago, the unreliability of my formula sent me into a tailspin of doubt and disbelief. With the help of a patient pastor and the prayers of many people, I was able to see that my formula was flawed–downright false. I now realize, that when A+B does NOT equal C, that doesn’t mean God has forsaken me or stopped caring about me. Even knowing that, though, it is still sometimes difficult to understand exactly what I am supposed to be doing or learning from difficult times.

Coming back to this past week…a looming situation that holds too many unknowns to wrap my mind around, a work project that is among the most stressful I have ever done, a young adult frustrated with an aspect of life, an ever present exhaustion from disease, a husband gone for work, an emergency surgery for our oldest son, a house that desperately needs some tending to, hurt feelings…all these things built and built until the pressures of the collection nearly caused me to let go of the thin piece of rope to which I was clinging.

I have spent much time in the book of Psalms lately, pouring over David’s cries to God–cries to save him, to rescue him, to forgive him, to vindicate him, to search him and to be with him. I came across a verse I had found at one point in my life to be important enough to highlight and star in my Bible. It is found in the 56th chapter of Psalms. It reads, “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” (v. 8) God collects my tears. He sees them. He knows why they fall. He cares about them enough to put them in a bottle! How amazing is that? I could not even begin to guess how many tears I have cried in my lifetime. As a child suffering at the hands of some who were supposed to love, the tears would have been too numerous to count. Yet, in the last few months, I think I may have cried even more tears than those shed in the painful years of childhood. Yet, God does know how many tears I have cried. I began to wonder what my bottle might look like…I wondered if when I get to heaven, will I get to see it? I envision it as a very large bottle, perhaps with snowflakes on it–clear so as to always see the level of liquid inside. Will Jesus show me this bottle, pour out its contents, and then wipe up the liquid as he erases all the earthly pain and anguish that produced the tears?

As I pondered this verse and its implications, I sensed that God had me right where he wants me, for it is in the pain and the tears, when I have nothing left in me, that I turn to Him. I plead with Him to remove the pain and discomfort just as David did in so many of his writings. This past week, He said, “No.” Sometimes God says no. I remember writing to my pastor eighteen months ago, detailing the anguish of my doubts to him. His words to me made no sense at the time. He said, “Remain in the tension God has you in.” I wanted nothing more than to RUN from that tension. Last week, I wanted to RUN from the pain once again. I couldn’t stand up under it. God knew that. He didn’t expect me to stand up under it, at least not by myself. He was watching–collecting the tears as they fell and offering His hand as assistance. As I took it, I didn’t find myself feeling like I had the power to leap tall buildings in a single bound. In fact, I still felt very weak. God didn’t help me stand up under the intense pressures of this past week. No. Instead, He brought me up only as far as my knees.

God had, God HAS, me right where He wants me–no strength of my own to stand all the way up (thereby trying to fix all of these things myself), but instead, just enough strength to get as far as my knees, depending on Him to work out the details.

His formula is the only one that will ultimately solve the problem anyway.

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Transparency

I hadn’t planned on writing this post, but after receiving an e-mail last night, I decided it was a necessary thing to do.

I received an e-mail from someone who has been reading my blog entries for a while. So as not to misrepresent what was said, I am copying and pasting the e-mail, minus the name, into this entry before I comment on it.

Dear Becky, As I have read your last few entries, I have had a growing concern for the place you are in right now. Your writings from as soon as a few months ago are starkly different from those of the last few weeks. I have no way to say this except to be blunt so please take what I am saying here as something that is said in love. It seems that you have taken your life out of the hands of Jesus even though you claim to be His child. A true follower of Jesus would not allow the circumstances of life to get them so down, at least not one who is really trusting. I urge you to rethink your commitment to Jesus so that you are not writing things that would make Him look bad. There are people who would love to talk to you about these things and you know I am one of them. I just want to see you restored and Jesus’ name lifted high instead of being dragged down.”

Before I respond to the above words, let me be very clear that I understand where this person is coming from. I do not hold these words against them in any way nor am I upset over them. I know they came from good intentions; however, I don’t think this person really understands what is going on.

A while back, I was taking a class on the book of Job with a pastor/friend of mine. As we were going through the book, several times he told us stories of a period in his own life that he dealt with depression. I will never forget those stories for they are similar to some of my own thoughts and feelings. I also vividly remember him saying, “I was a pastor. Pastors shouldn’t be depressed. A pastor shouldn’t tell his wife that he is going out and is not sure he will be coming home. A pastor shouldn’t ride his bike down the middle of a busy highway in hopes of getting hit so that life would be over. At the end of that period of my life, I had a very different empathy for people suffering from depression. Before that period, when someone would come to my office and tell me they were depressed, I would think something along the line of just get over it…look at all you have going for you. I realized, after going through it myself, how wrong I was in saying those things.”

I remember thinking after sitting through that class and hearing his recollection of his own battle with depression that maybe this isn’t my fault after all. Maybe, this thorn that has plagued me since teenage years isn’t something I always have control over. Believe me, I have tried to will this away. I have told myself, “Just think happy and happiness will follow.” It hasn’t worked–ever. In the 30+ years that I have dealt with this beast, not once have I been able to talk myself out of it.

When I received that e-mail last night, at first I was upset. My flesh wanted to shoot one back, asking if that person has ever experienced a bout with depression. I did not do that, thankfully. Instead, I read over the last few posts I had written and I realized that, if one isn’t really familiar with this disease, then I could see how my entries could be misunderstood as being written by someone who had given up on her faith and God in general. That, though, is just not the case. I am clinging to God with all I have and trusting that, even if I let go, He won’t let go of me. Do I wish I wasn’t going through this valley? Absolutely. Do I sometimes wish I could put an end to all this? Definitely. Would I follow through with that? I hope not…and that is honestly the best I can do right now.

So, why bother to write then if my writings are making my Savior look bad?

I write because it helps me process. Getting thoughts out of my head and in concrete written form makes me think through the words I choose. If left inside my head, those thoughts have little organization and tend to grow larger and more menacing. I also write because at some point, when this darkness of this valley starts to fade, I will have a record of the fact that it didn’t last forever (even though right now I feel it may). I also write to be honest–with others and with myself. I could put on a mask and pretend everything is going perfectly in my life. I could write how wonderful things are and how God is just always blessing me with wonderful days and happiness, but those words wouldn’t be true.

I lived many years pretending that things were all good. I went to church and wore a mask that told people things were going well and life was just peachy. Wearing that mask, though, got very tiring. Not too long ago, I decided it just wasn’t possible for me to pretend anymore. My writing reflects the thoughts in my head, but not always the beliefs in my heart. I want to be transparent in my writing. I want it to accurately reflect where I am and where I am headed. I hope by doing that, those who read it will not only understand a little better how difficult clinical depression can be, but also that they would pray for and reach out with a little more understanding to those in their lives who may be going through the same thing or having the same thoughts.

To be honest, sometimes I don’t know how to even put into words where I actually am without sounding like I have given up completely, because sometimes I want to give up completely. What stops me from doing that? For the longest time I wasn’t sure what kept me from taking that step. This past Sunday, though, I think I learned why I haven’t taken that step (at least in the last 15 years). The Vertical Church Band recently released their second CD. One of my favorite songs on that CD is titled, “The Rock Won’t Move”. We sang this in worship Sunday; we have sang this many times before. This time, though, a group of words really hit my heart and brought tears to my eyes. They were as follows:

“When the ground beneath my feet gives way and I hear the sound of crashing waves, All my world is washing out to sea, I’m hidden safe in the God who never moves, Holding fast to the promise of the truth, That YOU ARE HOLDING TIGHTER STILL TO ME…”

Even if I let go, God is holding tightly to me. Even when it seems I have reached the end of my rope, I have to believe that God will be there to catch me if I let go. Depression, though, if you’ve read any of my recent entries, does distort the view of reality.

It’s the nature of the beast.

 

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Mirrors

Have you ever looked in a mirror?
 
That’s probably a dumb question. Most people look in the mirror at least once a day and often more like several times a day. We use mirrors to judge our appearance. Is our hair in its proper place? Is there chocolate on my face after eating that piece of cake? Do I need to touch up my make up?  Every house has at least one mirror and most have multiple mirrors. When we look in a mirror, we expect the image staring back at us to be an accurate reflection of us.
 
Not all mirrors work that way, though.
 
Have you ever been to a carnival or a circus? Sometimes those places will have mirrors that purposely distort the image reflected in it. This is meant to be for fun and make people laugh since carnivals and circuses exist for that purpose. One can hear the giggles of little children and the laughter of young adults as they see a tall, thin person turned into a short and round one or a short, round person suddenly stretched to be seven feet tall and pencil thin. No one actually believes that the image staring back at them from a carnival fun house mirror accurately reflects the person standing in front of it.
 
This morning, as I sat at my desk, tears streaming once again, I opened my Bible to the place I have been spending lots of time lately–the Book of Psalms. I turned to Psalm 13 and read the following:  “How long O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart all the day? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?”  David had real enemies–people who wanted to take his life. David was looking for his God in the midst of being pursued by those who would seek to have him dead.
 
I don’t have people who are looking to take my life, but I do have a very present enemy. This enemy threatens my life often and is not only capable of, but regularly does, distort how I see life. Just as when one looks into a circus mirror and sees something that isn’t reality, my enemy, who goes by the name of depression, distorts the lens through which I view my world.
 
Depression mirrors back to me a false image of reality. Where others say that God will not leave nor forsake me, I fear that God has abandoned me. Where others see a situation that can be overcome, I see a situation that threatens to take me out of the game. Where others see hope, I see despair. While others may understand that nothing lasts forever, depression tells me that the problems I am facing are a permanent reality.
 
This is not the way I want to exist. As a child, I didn’t wish for this enemy named depression to distort the way that I see life. I also know this is not how God desires me to live my life. And yet, I feel so powerless against a powerful enemy.
 
The mirrors just keep reflecting back a distorted image. Only, I’m not laughing. I need to get away from these mirrors that distort my world and find ones that show a truer reflection of what God may be doing.  That is so much easier said than done, though, when every lens one looks through shows a twisted and distorted world.

 

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God’s Chisel

Last night at small group we watched a Skit Guys video. I had actually seen it a few times before. Each time, it seemed something different stuck out to me. Last night was no exception.

The title of the video was “God’s Chisel”. I would encourage you to go look it up on You Tube if you haven’t seen it.

Anyway, I’ve been put through God’s chisel it seems lately. Actually, it feels more like God’s wringer–or maybe God’s sledgehammer. And, to be honest, it has been and continues to be very painful.

I was thinking this morning about how a piece of wood feels when someone is hammering a nail into it. Now I realize that wood does not have feelings, but humor me for a minute. Imagine you are a piece of wood sitting on a shelf in your local Home Depot. A guy comes by, stops, looks at the tag above you, and wraps his hands around you. Next thing you know the guy is loading you into the back of a pickup truck. The truck starts moving. It stops at a house and the same hands that loaded you into the truck now grab you and put you on the ground with a few other wood pieces bought from the store. Soon after that, you hear the loud, grating sound of a motor and pieces of wood dust are flying around you. The man works efficiently; you wonder when it might be your turn to be put under the saw. The man grabs you and lines you up with some of the cut pieces. He makes a mark with a pencil and then it happens. The sharp point of a nail is pressed gently against you and then WHAM! Ouch! The nail pierces the surface of you and is driven deeper and deeper with each hit from the hammer in the man’s hands. Seriously? What the heck is this guy doing? Why take a perfectly good piece of wood and ruin it by putting holes in it?

What the wood cannot know, though, is what the final product is going to be. The wood can’t see the swing set it will be a part of–a swing set that will produce laughs and memories of precious children. Or maybe the wood is part of a patio picnic table–a table where families will gather in the warmth of summer and eat burgers from the grill and smores from the fire. No. The wood cannot know any of this. Even if the wood did have a mind and soul, it would most likely focus on the pain of the nails as they were being driven.

Right now, I feel very much like that piece of wood. As each “nail” is driven, making me into something that the Creator wants me to be, it hurts. I want to scream at the Creator, “STOP! Can’t you see how much you are hurting me? Don’t you know that I just am not able to take anymore pain? Don’t you care that you are ruining me??”  Yes, I am right where that piece of wood might be before it sees the end result.

And I wish I wasn’t in this place.

I wish I trusted the Creator enough to believe that the end result will be so much better than sitting on a shelf just being useless. Please don’t misunderstand. It isn’t that I completely mistrust in this process. No, that is not the issue. The issue is, and this is what struck me in the video last night, I want to be made useful by the Creator, but I want it to be done my way. I want to have the say in the level of pain that I can handle and still be comfortable. I want to be in control of how many nails it is going to take. I want to decide how long must pass between each nail. After all, I am the one being worked on, right?

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, I don’t get a say in any of these things. I signed the right to have any say away when I told Jesus that I wanted Him to be Lord of my life. I am no longer in control of any outcome.

And right now, that is overwhelming me. The tiny amount of faith I have is being tested beyond what I think I can handle. There are only a few ways to escape that, though, and none are really acceptable to the Lord of my life. I know. I asked someone their opinion on that and the advice given to me was, “I wouldn’t want to take that chance.”

So, the only other option is to keep allowing the nails to be driven.

And hope that I am able to withstand the pain of the construction. And hope that the end result makes me a better and more useful person.

Because right now, I don’t feel useful nor do I feel that there is much hope that things will get better.

And hope is an important factor to keep on keeping on.

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The Snowball Effect

I grew up in Western New York state. To the north was Lake Ontario and to the south was Lake Erie. Winters there were always a world of white. I remember three official blizzards, the most popular being the Blizzard of 77. Schools were closed an entire week from the effects of that storm.

I now live in Minnesota. We get winter here too, although most years have not held the snow amounts that I experienced growing up. I know Minnesota has had official blizzards, but in the 17 years I have lived here, we have not had one. In fact, this winter has been the harshest since relocating.

There is a definite difference in the kind of snow experienced in the two locations. In New York, snow was almost always lake effect. A cold front would move over one of the two very close warmer great lakes and lake effect snow would be the result. That snow, having developed over the lake, was heavy and wet. My dad had a snow blower, but often we would all end up shoveling because the snow was so wet, it would jam the augers of the snow blower. In Minnesota, even though it is the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes, those lakes freeze in the winter and the snow is usually a dry, powdery type snow. I remember the first winter we lived here and we saw our neighbor clearing her deck and steps of the accumulated snow with a broom. I had never seen that before!

Because the snow in New York was a wet snow, making things with it was always easy. Snowballs, snow forts, snow sculptures and snowmen were common in neighborhoods like I grew up in. Sledding conditions were optimal because the wet snow would pack down and freeze overnight. There was a sledding hill behind our house. I remember being there for hours at a time, never tiring of sliding down, walking up and sliding down again. (Sadly, that hill is no longer there) One of the things we loved to do was see who could make the largest ball of snow. It would start as a little ball and, as we rolled it in snow, the diameter would increase. The more we rolled it, the larger it got.

As I was thinking about the condition of life right now and the multiple stressors that are on my plate, my thoughts became like that snowball. As I thought of one thing, another would attach to it and the stress level would increase. As I thought about mistakes I may have made that may be a contributing factor in some of these things, my mind instantly went to what a failure I have been as a parent. The snowball grew bigger and bigger.

I’m hoping, like the snow in a warm sun, that the snowball begins to melt. I am losing strength to keep pushing it, but if I stop pushing it, I fear it will roll backwards on to me and crush me completely.

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What If?

Those two words use my mind as a playground. Especially at night.

Life is pretty messy right now. Some of the mess is my own doing. Some of the mess is caused by the choices of others. Some of the mess is just because this world is messed up and I happen to live in it.

To be honest–and this is not something I admit to lightly or proudly–I don’t want to live in this world anymore. In fact, I so desperately want to get out from under the mess and pain that I have actually envisioned doing just that. I have run the fallout of that decision through my mind as well. I have considered the effects of that decision on those closest to me. I have thought about the effects of that decision on those who know me but aren’t necessarily a big part of my life.

The effects would most likely far outweigh the relief I would get from that action. It doesn’t take me long to see that. I don’t need someone to tell me how this would impact those around me.

Still, the thought of staying under this pain is almost too much for my heart to take. By choosing to remain under it, I am choosing to have to live with said pain.

And that’s when the “what if” question starts to creep in.

What if these issues are never resolved?

What if people judge me for the actions of others?

What if people just don’t care?

What if…

What if…

What if…

But the biggest “what if” that is going through my head right now is one I just don’t know what to do with.

What if God just doesn’t care? What if God has just given up on this mess called my life? What if I can’t get past these hurts and pain?

This is a crossroads of faith. I have to choose which direction I am going to go. The wrong choice could make things worse than they already are. And if you know me at all, you know that I’m just not that good at making the correct choices. A few years of alcoholism proves that.

Is it okay to admit I am scared? Is it okay to admit that I am tired? Is it okay to admit that I really want to do the right thing but am not sure I have the strength to do the right thing? (I know what the right thing is–that is not the issue) Is it okay to admit that I’m not sure where God is right now? I know people will say, “Oh Becky, God is right there with you.” Please. Don’t say that to me. Because part of me knows that but part of me REALLY wants–NEEDS–to feel His presence. I need God to show up in a very big way so that it is unmistakeable to me that He IS HERE–He IS in CONTROL and He CAN work all things for GOOD. It’s that last one that is really tripping me up right now. Because I don’t see how any of this can be worked for good. Maybe God’s definition of good is different than mine?

What if…

I need you, God. I NEED you. I hurt–and I’m tired of hurting.

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Battlefield of the Mind

If you are reading this, then you follow my blog and most likely get notified via e-mail when I post. Normally, my entries automatically post to Facebook as well, but for this one, I turned that feature off. My reasoning behind that is because this post is in no way uplifting, encouraging, or even something I am proud of. But, as with so many things in my life, if I don’t get the words out somehow, I am unable to start making sense of my thoughts.

Today was a very difficult day. I’ve had many of those lately, and honestly, I am getting tired of them. I am so tired of them, in fact, that today, for the first time in a while, I seriously did not want to live. I wasn’t even convinced that anyone would miss me if I weren’t around. Unless one has been in this state of mind, there is NO way one can fully understand how the mind just takes over any logical thought processes. The mind really is a battlefield, and for me, it is a CONSTANT battle.

That battle makes me hate myself. I mean that very literally. I HATE myself.

I hate that I get so jealous when others get what I would love but will most likely never have.

I hate that I worry to the point of making myself sick.

I hate that everyone around me has a wonderful group of friends who enjoy getting together.

I hate that I am suspicious of people and have a hard time trusting–even my husband.

I hate how my mind conjures up scenarios that I am sure “could” happen while my husband is out of town on business.

I hate how I let God down time and time again.

I hate…

I could go on. I wish I was a better person. I cry so many tears. I pray so many prayers. And God is silent.

I see stories of people going through very difficult times and their faith is strong. And mine sucks. And I wish so much I could be like them.

I hate that I sometimes doubt if there is even a God or if he cares about me at all.

As I think back over the course of the day, I realize that one of the MAJOR contributing factors to my hatred of the above things is social media. With the click of a mouse, I instantly am bombarded with images of people having fun, being with family or friends, being happy, etc. I scroll through and see nothing but happy, happy, happy, and I look at myself and see nothing but misery. And the tears come hard and fast and the mind wanders to wonder why I am even here.

I have thought about dropping off of all social media. I still may, but there are some things I would miss so much. For example, during a bad day this week, a dear friend posted a video of her two darling little monkeys–who I happen to LOVE SO SO much–to my wall. I smiled and cried at the same time because I miss them so much. What I wouldn’t have given for a hug that day from them. I would miss that. I would miss being part of Bible studies. I need that since I don’t really have that option right now. I would miss the encouragement that I often get from those I’ve never met. Funny that women I have never met in person seem to be closer friends than so many I have met in person. (I wonder if they did meet me in person if they’d avoid me? I won’t go there right now.) I would miss the posts of my kids and pictures from their lives lived hundreds of miles away from me.

No, I can’t completely drop out of social media; however, I am scaling WAY back as of tonight, I am uninstalling Facebook from my phone so it will not be as accessible. I will keep Twitter since it doesn’t impact me like FB does.

This just needs to happen. I hope that doing this will give me back some sanity–some feeling that my life isn’t as bad when I’m not comparing to everyone else’s.

I guess I’ll have to wait and see if that holds true.

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