Category Archives: Mental Health
Recently I was reading a discussion on face book with pros and cons about miracles of healing. Many vehemently rejected that a loving God would heal some and not others. I remembered my wonderful friend Bobbie. In her early forties she began to have trouble breathing, finally ending up in intensive care on a ventilator. After several specialists told her she was in the last stages of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis and would never be able to come off of the ventilator, she asked her family to agree to her stopping treatment, because she didn’t want to spend what little time she might have left in ICU on this machine. Her family didn’t want to do this. That night while Bobbie was in total despair, a woman she hadn’t seen before stopped to talk to her in ICU. She told Bobbie that God loved her and had a plan for her life. To accept God’s love expressed in Jesus and trust God and put her life totally in His hands. She went away and Bobbie never found out who she was, but Bobbie did what the woman said and experienced a love so great that she was able to put her life in God’s hands. Three days later she was home breathing perfectly on her own. She sought a church to try to learn more, since she hadn’t ever belonged to a church, She joined a small Episcopal church of mostly intellectuals. Bobbie was a loving person with great competence in practical things, but had married at 15 and never finished high school. Though she expressed frustration with the complex vocabulary of her fellow Episcopalians, Bobbie became the heart of that little church. She started a clothing give away for the poor. She planted a lovely meditation garden of flowers. She had the whole church over for cookouts. Then, she attended a Cursillo weekend retreat that helped her articulate the love she had experienced and she spent many hours helping with these weekend retreats and others at a near by retreat house. After almost a decade, Bobbie had a heart attack and spent a month in a distant military hospital healing from a by-pass operation that involved removing a large blood vessel from her thigh. Unfortunately, Bobbie’s leg became infected. So, she had to spend six more weeks in a hospital in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber daily, Though far from family through all this, Bobbie’s bright eyes and loving heart made many friends and helped others find hope each day. Some months after coming home healed and regaining her strength, Bobbie and her husband drove to Florida to visit their son. Bobbi began to have pain in her leg on the trip and when she returned had to have surgery for blood clots and a clogged artery in her leg. She ended up with her leg amputated above the knee. She struggled to get a good fit with a prosthetic leg. Once after attending the theater at our Renaissance Center, she asked me to carry the leg for her while she wheeled herself out, because of the pain. So, I carried her prosthetic leg over my shoulder like a gun and followed her to the car. Bobby had an incredible ability to laugh at herself and roll with the punches life gave her. She constantly amazed us with her joy in the midst of incredible challenges. But Bobbie had wounds from childhood that had left her with hard places in her heart. Bobbie had three older sisters and two older brothers. Her father was both an alcoholic and an abuser in every sense of the word. Bobby had survived by often hiding in a sun flower patch at the back of the yard. She hated her father and was glad he died in a fire. Bobbie loved being in her kitchen cooking for others. It was a bright room decorated with sunflowers. It was her safe place. Bobbie liked polishing the brass candles and cleaning the sanctuary at her church as she prayed and meditated. One day while doing this, she felt called to pray for grace to forgive her father. And suddenly, her heart softened and she was able to forgive her emotionally crippled father and even pray for him. She experienced other insights and emotional healing. Bobbie spent two months the next Christmas in the Hospital with multiple health issues and in a great deal of pain. I and other friends took turns spending the night with her, because she had fallen once and often it took so long to get her pain meds, that even never complaining Bobbie was in tears. So, one night when I stayed, I took her a small tape player with ear buds and spiritual music on it to help her get through the times of pain. Bobby had a kind of raspy voice and was not really vocally gifted at all. But in the middle of the night, I heard a lovely soprano voice singing songs of praise. It wasn’t the tapes, it was Bobbie singing along with them.
Bobby never gave up. With a little help she was even able to take up casting pots on a wheel. Her faith and her humor got her through many challenges. But as time passed, it was difficult to drive on her own and handle the wheel chair for the places a lot of walking would be needed. So she was shopping for a handicapped accessible van when she had a heart attack and died on the way to the hospital. Bobbie’s miraculous healing, conversion, years of helping others both concretely and spiritually, her own emotional and spiritual healing, and the ongoing physical illness and challenges she kept her faith and joy through are an incredible witness to the reality that both miracles and suffering are part of life and that with the love of God that is grace, faith and love can grow through it all.
When we know with both heart and mind that we are loved at our worst and unfinished at our best, our lives become adventures in grace.
Repentance is now considered a negative word. It implies sin, guilt and shame to the modern mind. Yet, the truth of the biblical quote, “All fall short of the glory of God” (which is perfect love) is pretty obvious.
The problem seems to me that somewhere along the way, we decided that seven was old enough to recognize right from wrong and twenty-one was old enough to take responsibility for our choices. End of story. The reality that we not only can grow in our understanding of and capability to love ( of morality), but were designed to do this at least to the day we die, got lost in the shuffle between Adam and Eve and their apple of damnation and Jesus Christ and the cross of salvation.
What if we use the word “unfinished” to describe our falling short? What if we use the word “growth” for the change implied by the word “repentance.” And then recognize that grace is simply “unconditional love ” in many different guises. And that is the fertilizer, the good soil, that enables growth and change.
Important note: Love does not protect us from the pain of natural consequences from our imperfect human choices. But love/grace stays with us through the whole learning process and has the power to free us to change when we recognize our need for it.
What percentage of the world’s population experiences perfect love from birth to seven? More, probably, than between seven and twenty-one. But where in the world do children experience only that kind of love? In an imperfect world of disease, hunger, greed, war, and TV is it even possible to protect children from knowledge of the fear, pain, and hunger in the world?
Even in a loving family, in affluent circumstances, traumas can still happen at critical stages of a child’s development. I knew a family who had several children and when the youngest was a toddler, the mother stayed with the oldest who had to be in the hospital for a week. After they returned, the youngest would have a panic attack if the mother even went out the front door and could no longer go to sleep except in bed with the parents. Up until a certain age, a child experiences “out of sight” as “gone forever.” By school age, the child seemed to outgrow the fears, but years later, in retrospect, the mother recognized that a profound fear of abandonment has been a strong influence even into adulthood.
We probably all experience the crippling effects of forgotten, even innocently caused traumas, unaware of how they influence our responses and choices in adulthood. The key to freedom is recognizing them, feeling sorrow for how they have wounded us and caused us to misuse others, and then by taking responsibility for seeking healing. Recognition is the beginning of the process. Sometimes awareness alone can free us to break a pattern of response. Other times, it takes time and we can only replace the destructive response with a less harmful one, during the process.
We are terribly vulnerable human beings in a scary and confusing world in a humongous unknown universe. Both, addictions to pleasures and to behaviors that give us the delusion that we are in control, dull the pain of awareness of our human vulnerability. I personally am not into housekeeping. Dust reappears the next day; no feeling of control there. But sorting and organizing lasts a lot longer and is much more satisfying. But sorry you will be, if you come along and disturb my order. And when dealing with painful realities in the middle of the night, but too tired to organize anything, I’ve been known to stand at the kitchen counter and eat half of a peach pie. These are not terribly destructive painkillers, unless I use them to indefinitely avoid looking at what is the root of my particular pain at that time.
I’ve never known anyone that thought this life is heaven. Though there have been times I thought it might be hell. I am definitely no longer a Pollyanna, who saw only the good, because I felt too fragile to deal with the pain of life. Nor am I my midlife self that became a cynic, who expected and tried to prepare for the worst. With grace, I’ve become able to see both in each day; to experience the deep sorrow of loss and the joy of beauty all around me at almost anytime.
When we believe we are loved at our worst and still unfinished at our best, most days we are able to try to be open to how our lives are challenging us to grow. Sometimes, like Peter Pan, my theme song is “I Won’t Grow Up!” But then I remember that life does not give up challenging us, which means I’m just dragging out the process.
We are all a work in progress. Awareness is the key to progress. And that comes in different ways: discomfort within, overloaded responses to people and events, even just something we seem to suddenly read or hear all around us. We will be able to perceive the cues in different ways through different stages of our own life. When I got brave enough to make the leap from agnosticism to faith in grace, I could suddenly make sense of the scripture in spite of all its anomalies. But I met many life long Christians that admitted sadly that they did not really find meaning there. Then later in life, they suddenly found great joy in it. I had loved the Scripture from my early thirties, but during my fifties and sixties it simply became like reading the back of cereal boxes. We all go through stages, but they differ in timing because of our various personalities. So, don’t assume because you have never enjoyed or understood something, that you never will. Like it or not, we grow and change with both losses and gains during the process.
All of this can be seen as psychological or spiritual or both. Mostly, it’s just the way life is, but how we perceive it can make a huge difference in becoming the people in process that we were created to be.
June 24 at 11:04 AM •
The world can feel like an alcoholic father sitting in the living room in his vile underwear, tranced out or abusive; and the world can feel like your favorite auntie who thinks you are just great, still likes to hike, always brings trail mix, and knows her wildflowers.
These are excruciating times, and this is the kingdom. It’s two, two, two mints in one.
So yeah, some of us are a little tense.
But we are not flattened. Nor do we look away from the suffering of others. And no matter how bad things look and how long change is taking, we don’t give up on goodness. Here is proof: we still take care of each other in ways that are profound, loving and sacrificial, by the bedside of our most beloved, and in the streets. We show up: the secret of life.
We gather in cities to rise up, and at local parks for live music in the sun, where we and our cranky neighbor end up doing the old tribal hippie two-step in the same shaft of light.
We are still laughing—some of us perhaps a bit maniacally—and people are creating the greatest, most live-giving routines and cartoons and responses. This is what saved me during the Cheney years. It was chemo.
So, great laughter, community, joyous and/or sacrificial love. We can work with this!
It is more than enough.
Here’s the one fly in the ointment: we have to do this in dim lighting, what with a political fever dream, and our own failing memories and overwhelm. Life is always like E.L. Doctorow’s great line about writing, that it is like driving at night with the headlights on—you can only see a little ways in front of you, but you can make the whole journey that way.
You still have to buckle up, no matter how slowly the car is moving. Put on the radio and sing along, loudly and off key. You just have to trust that, as John Lennon said, “Everything will be okay. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”
I heard a story last week from a sober friend that almost completely captures my understand of goodness and life, a story that has been medicine for my worried, worried soul:
Caroline stopped drinking 30 years ago, at the age of 40, with zero interest or belief in any kind of higher power to whom she might be able to turn when cravings overcame her. But after a year of white-knuckle sobriety, contemptuous of a higher power, hanging on through will power, she one day heard and then found a frog in her shower.
She lifted it and gently carried it in her cupped hands through the house. She could feel and, of course, imagine its terror. She took it out to the garden, where there was a moist patch of earth over near the blackberries, and set it down. It sat stock still for a bit, and then hopped away into the bushes.
She said, “My name is Caroline. I’m that frog.”
I am, too, and I am also a big helper. When I have felt most isolated and lost, I have always ended up being carried back to the garden in people’s good hands, to where I need to be, afraid and not breathing. for much of the way. And I have helped carry scared people, the best I could. You have, too.
Isn’t that what grace is, when some force of kindness, against all odds, with unknown hands, brings us from fear and hard tiles to a moist patch earth, and sets us down?
If I were God’s west coast representative, I would speed up the process a bit, and hand out klieg lights but I can’t. All I can do is to try and help you get back to where there is moist soil and fresh air, and let you help me. And those happen to be the two things I most want in life.
by Sean Dietrich
It’s the day before my birthday and it’s cold in Coosa County, Alabama. Lake Martin never looked so good.
You won’t care about this, but fifteen years ago I didn’t know my purpose on this planet. Today, I’m middle-aged, and I still don’t know—only, now I have a bad back.
This morning, I ate breakfast at Cracker Barrel. Cracker Barrel, it should be noted, doesn’t have the greatest biscuits, but in a pinch they’ll keep you alive.
An old woman and her daughter sat at the table beside mine. The woman was in a wheelchair, with messy hair. And talkative.
“That man needs to shave!” she hollered.
Several people in the room giggled.
Cute, I was thinking, looking around for an abominable snowman.
“He needs to SHAVE!” she shouted again, this time in my general direction.
“Mama,” gasped her daughter. “Be nice.”
I smiled at the old woman. And that’s when it hit me. This lady was yelling about me.
I am the Bigfoot.
And I became a middle-schooler again. It was like a bad dream, only without the corduroy pants and the Barry Manilow music.
The woman’s daughter apologized. But I told her it wasn’t necessary.
The old lady went on, “Your face looks like a big, fat bear!”
Precious memories. How they linger.
Eventually, she calmed and I finished breakfast in peace. She, more or less, forgot about me—until I stood to leave. Then, she noticed me again.
Her old passions reignited.
“Go shave your dumb face!” she hollered.
The daughter whispered to me, “I’m SO sorry, my mother has no filter.”
I got into my truck and took a few breaths. I looked into the rearview mirror.
I don’t know what that woman might be going through. Maybe she’s not in control of her mind. Maybe she’s had a traumatic experience involving too much hair.
Either way, all I could see in my mirror was a chubby middle-schooler who looked like Cousin It. I saw a boy I’d almost forgotten. A mediocre athlete, a redhead, a C-student, a face like a Pilsbury ad.
My birthday is on the horizon, I’m thinking, and some woman just called me ugly. In public. Repeatedly.
It started in my belly and went to my throat. I laughed. Hard. I don’t know why. The universe has a sense of humor, I guess.
Funny, what words can do to a man. Simple, little words. They can make you feel good. Or bad. Or they can make you feel like the mascot for U.S. forest fire prevention.
So my purpose in life. I still don’t know what it is. But I can tell you my aspiration: to be nice.
I don’t have any grand plan. No big ideas. I just want to be the fella who smiles more than he doesn’t.
If you ask me—which you didn’t—the world has enough people who have figured life out. They’re smart, prudent, with four-car garages.
That’s not me. I can’t even remember how to play Bingo. But I do know the person I want to be. I want to be the man who hugs strangers, pets stray dogs, and uses nice words. A man you might pass on the street, then say to yourself:
“Look, there goes a nice guy…
“Who just happens to look like Sasquatch.”
(I get Sean Dietrich’s posts on face book. They are all right out of his life and ours, simple, touching, funny, and inspiring. Not sure how to re blog so you can follow him also. I copied this. Hope you can find his site from his name. Believe me, I know my day is going to get better when I see a post of his show up on my face book.)
My mother always made Christmas extraordinary, even when money was in short supply. She polished and decorated every square inch of our apartment. The presents may not have cost a lot, but they were wrapped beautifully. There was a constant flow of guests, often widows without family near-by or young families without parents and grandparents around. There were special treats to eat, but also even the plain old potted meat sandwiches were trimmed and cut into triangles with parsley sprigs around them on silver trays.
When my father died and she passed the Christmas torch to me, I tried to do the same. And I added being active at church in teaching classes and organizing Christmas pageants. My five children and I even spent weeks happily making presents for all their teachers and for all my students. I never thought about the fact that mom had two children and a small apartment and I had five children and a large house, which was a home away from home for a constant flow of college age house guests involved in Christian ministry. Mom had set the bar very high, but without realizing it, I had raised it.
So, pretty much every year, sometime close to Christmas, I would reach my annual Christmas overload, yelling at my family that I hated Christmas and slamming my way into my bedroom to collapse for a day or night. One year after once again crankily retreating to curl up in a fetal position and figuratively suck my thumb, I awoke in the wee hours of the morning realizing that I was scheduled in a few hours to give a talk on The Spirit of Christmas to the Women’s Group of another denomination.
I seriously considered calling and saying I had broken my leg, but I figured that was risky. God might have ways to keep me from being a liar.
As I prayed for help, it seemed like God was telling me that although I was doing many truly good things, I was missing the point of Christmas. Christmas wasn’t about how much we could do or how perfect we could make it:
Christmas was about being open to receive our much needed Savior, the tangible expression of God’s perfect love for us imperfect human beings.
So, I ended up simply telling the women the whole story of my pattern of Christmas breakdowns, my panic over giving the talk, and what I thought God was saying to me in all this. It actually seemed like everyone there could relate very well to my experience. Then, for reasons unknown to me, I ended by saying, “No matter what it takes, even leaving dirty socks under the Christmas tree, I’m going to keep my focus on the meaning of Christmas.”
Now, really! Dirty socks under the Christmas tree?
Of course, mother arrived, guests arrived, children were freed from school and Christmas Eve arrived with the stress building and with me once again tensely rushing around. As I was putting laundry away in a bedroom close to our great room, I heard my mother ask,
“Eileen, why is there a dirty sock under the Christmas tree?”
I got goose bumps. I could almost feel Jesus standing there with His hand on my shoulder, gently shaking His head. I dropped the laundry on the bed and hurried to stop my mother from removing the sock.
“Mom, leave it there. Let’s get a cup of coffee and sit down, right now, to read the Christmas scriptures to remind us of what we’re celebrating.”
Now, each year all through the Christmas Season, I pray, “Come, Lord Jesus,” and watch expectantly for Him to come some way, perhaps even in a dirty sock under the Christmas tree.
Love makes us vulnerable. But it’s a love that enables us to feel another’s pain, not a love that enables anyone’s destructive behavior. Suffering because we love is what Jesus did for us and he showed us there is a resurrection not only from suffering, but from death itself. If we aren’t willing to suffer because of loving, we end up alone without love. That’s the definition of hell.