Category Archives: Mental Health

Sources of Grace for Scary Times

This is a break from my series, because so many of us are struggling right now with fear and depression:

So, I am being redundant – again. (That’s a lot of redundancy.)

My two hands-down favorite authors of a spirituality rooted in Jesus, but not religion, are Henri Nouwen and Anne Lamott.

Henri Nouwen writes incredibly healing and understandable theology saturated with the love of God. He chose to spend the latter years of his life living in a community for the mentally handicapped. For an introduction and short overview of his writing, I recommend,” A Spirituality of Living.” Also another short book: Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, which changed some of my deeply rooted prejudices.  He was a Catholic priest, but wasn’t limited by it. 🙂

For our nitty-gritty stuggle to live a grace filled life, I don’t think there’s a better author than Anne Lamott. Anne’s spiritual journey has been through alcoholism, abortion, single motherhood, great losses, and a terrible bitterness toward her mother on to the freedom of self- honesty, the grace of humor, and an always growing acceptance of others. She finds this amazing grace from a personal relationship with a risen Jesus, who is still calling us, healing us, walking with us, forgiving us, and suffering for and with us. I think she belongs to a small Presbyterian church with a woman minister. Or it might be non-denominational or both. She’s definitely eclectic in her spirituality. She has written novels, but I much prefer her autobiographical books. She is the most personally honest writer I’ve ever read. Here are several of her books: Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, Grace (Eventually). She also has a marvelous face-book page that will share to your own page her day to day struggles with discouragement over our current political situation.

I realize that we are all very different and these authors might not be everyone’s cup of tea. I am by personality focused on relationship, but not everyone is. These authors’ writings are what help sustain me in my journey by always reminding me of my greatest (though not, only) source of grace, the Love of God expressed in Jesus.

Hoge Poge and My Brother’s Birthday

I promise you I have been off any pain meds except Tylenol for over two weeks. Pain medicine makes my coffee taste terrible for a couple of months after I quit taking it and I am definitely addicted to my coffee.  But, as usual for someone who loves thinking about theories or possibilities instead of paying attention to the actual world around her, peculiarities still happen. I got to a doctors appointment recently and as they were taking my blood pressure, I realized I had my blouse on inside out. Of course, me being me, I didn’t keep quiet and just take the first chance alone to right it. The two nurses swore they hadn’t noticed. Which worried me a bit, because I like my medical people to stay aware of the real world in front of them, particularly when I am it.

Then a few nights ago when I was still wearing my back brace at night, I awoke to make one of my usual trips to check out the plumbing, but couldn’t get up because I was unable to move my arms. Luckily before I panicked, my attempts to free my arms made that noise peculiar to Velcro being tugged loose. It happens that the two wrist braces I wear at night for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome have Velcro similar to that on the back brace. Somehow, I had Velcroed my arms to my body. I woke my husband up with my laughter, but managed to get loose without help.

Strange things also come to memory when I have way too much time on my hands while recuperating from back surgery.
Today is my brother’s birthday. He’s my only sibling and ten years younger than I am. I was trying to remember anything about the day he was born, but couldn’t. I don’t know if I just wasn’t sufficiently impressed with that event or perhaps I was significantly depressed and blotted it out. Because I do remember riding the train with my very pregnant mom back to St. Louis when my Dad got a job there after being in the army. She was very uncomfortable in the old Pullman berth and needed my pillow. I think that was my first clue that this wasn’t going to be like getting a kitten.
I remember living on the seventh floor without air conditioning and only having screens on the windows. And when my brother was about eighteen months old I found him sitting on the window sill in the bedroom with his face pressed against the flimsy screen. I didn’t scream or grab for him, but I did get mom.  Then we had to live with those child gates on all the windows. Kind of like a kiddie prison decor.

He had natural talent in art and music, but as the “late” child never got lessons. Where as, my nun piano teacher after three or four years suggested they try me on the drum instead. Life is not fair, is it? But when he was twelve and I had married and moved to Tennessee, I sent money for him to go to the Fine Arts Museum for Art Lessons. Unfortunately, I think my mother quit driving him to them, when she found out they were doing life painting of nudes. Oh, well, at least I tried.

I have wonderful memories of the many years he came to visit us in our hundred acre, Winnie the Pooh wood.  We two city kids, that had lived seven floors up, thought we’d died and gone to heaven. He enjoyed the country even more than I did, being willing one summer to haul water in buckets up to our garden during a drought. I would have just waved good bye to those tomatoes from the house.  I fell in  love with all the weeds and rocks and spent years making crafts with them. And he would bring an empty suitcase to take back full of rocks and fossils from our creek.  He taught a class in geology in Houston which only had sand and shells.

He and I would talk until sun-up about everything from politics and religion to physics and geology. He had so much passion about everything, I loved every moment. When he was teaching in a huge high school in a very impoverished neighborhood, he was constantly at war with the administration, who seemed only interested in their own survival, not the kids welfare. I know he was a good teacher, because when he retired, the adversarial principal told him grudgingly that no matter what they asked his students, (one of whom had held a knife to my brother’s throat once), they would never “rat” him out!

So, happy birthday to my “BRO” who all my friends think is much funnier than I am. He needs to be the writer in the family, but since retirement, he has opted to fight nature and turn a flood plain into a botanical garden.  Not too different from teaching .

These Three Things Remain: Humor, Music, and Faith

The mind is a mystery. My mother had Alzheimer’s before we knew what it was. Three things seem to out last memory and logic: humor, music, and faith.
When mom was living with us, one day when I was stressed out doing bookkeeping at the kitchen counter, she insisted on starting dinner. So, finally I put a large pot of water on for corn on the cob and a small pot of water for one package of frozen broccoli and told her to just put them in when the water came to a boil. She called me over later saying, “Something’s wrong, this doesn’t look right.” She had put the corn in the small pot where it was now dry and burning and the broccoli was in free float in the huge pot of water. My response was not kind or spiritual. I shook my head in despair and exclaimed, “Oh, my God!” Quick as a flash, she responded, “Call on someone you know!”
Some years after her death, I was leading devotionals at a nursing home. I kept wondering as I spoke, whether I should call a nurse to check pulses, since most of my “listeners” seemed comatose. But when we started singing the old hymns, they all came to life and knew every word of every hymn.
It may be music or it could be faith. Because one of my favorite nursing home stories is about an elderly woman whose memory was failing. A caregiver was helping her get into her nightgown, when the woman asked her, “What is my name? I seem to have forgotten who I am.” Before the caregiver could reply, the woman smiled and pointed to a picture of Jesus on the wall, and said, “Never mind, he knows who I am and that’s all that matters.”

Without Jesus, I’d Just Lie Down and Become a Speed Bump

I stay on the edge of just being totally overwhelmed with sadness about every level of life. Struggling to do the simple task I set myself of gathering information, mostly by computer, on local homelessness and what is being done to help has shown me just how inadequate I am at simple tasks. If there is any way to complicate simple tasks, I seem to find it. And my love/hate relationship with my computer brings me to my knees daily. Not being able to remember the name of the street where I live when I was asked yesterday, didn’t exactly help my sense of competence. Seeing how overwhelming the problems are for so many, who live on the precipice of homelessness even here in a small town, is heartbreaking and scary. Across America the waiting list for any sort of housing with government help ranges from one to ten years. The money is there, the housing is not. Watching America become controlled by fearful haters with no real perception of  either the immediate consequences of their actions on innocent people or the long range global political and economic destabilization  is devastating. Recognizing how un-Christ-like Christianity has become, or perhaps how blind I have been to the fact that most Christian groups have never been like Christ, makes me question who will bring Christ to the young now. Dealing with the ever increasing problems of aging, both mental and physical, and realizing they aren’t going to get better doesn’t help me wake up rejoicing. Insurance policies are our largest expense each month, but still having to pay over $400 dollars for just one heart medicine for a month, makes me wonder which will run out first, my husband’s heart or our money for the medicine. Realizing that our next line of defense, our children, some how got old while we have been busy worrying about ourselves, makes me both nervous and sad. They are already having many of the same problems we are.
But recently my teen-age granddaughter, Sophie, told me about a girl at her school who was having a screaming match with another girl and finally shouted, “If I didn’t know Jesus, I’d knock you on your ass!”
Well, friends, if I didn’t know Jesus, today I’d just lie down and become a speed bump.
But, God bless God, Jesus hangs in there even with wusses like me. Thanks be!                                          PS Sorry, I realize this was garbage dumping. But I do feel better. I promise I’ll write something more hope filled soon.  Sometimes, I just have to defuse the inner boiling bubbles by letting them out and looking  them straight in the eyes.

This Life: Appetizers Only

During a Jungian inner journey in my late fifties, I had a very vivid dream. My husband and I were in a dining room on a boat on a river cruise. They brought us a series of small appetizers one at a time, which my husband ate with great pleasure, but I ignored while waiting for the main course. At some point, I realized there would be no main course. I was furious and went searching the boat for another dining room. When I found one, they only brought me an apple, which I threw against the wall in frustration. I went out on the front deck of the boat to see where we were going just as it began to go through a dark tunnel which became so small that I had to hunch down as we went through it. I felt total despair at first, but became hopeful when I saw some light at the end of the tunnel. Since then I have learned to delight in and treasure the small joys of life, while accepting the pain of failures and disappointments that are part and parcel of being an imperfect human being in an imperfect world. I used to live focused on the future with its possibilities, missing both the joys and the grace available in the difficulties of the present. At seventy-nine, I am pretty much running out of future! But since that dream, I have had many experiences, both joyful and heartbreaking that have become grace for me. Life is about spiritual growth from living in awareness and finding meaning in the whole reality of the journey, not ego or worldly gains or idealized scenarios.

Heartbreaks that have brought grace:

The pain of loss filling me with hate, but persistence in prayer freeing me to let go and accept not only loss, but mine and others’ flawed humanity.

Letting go of past ways of experiencing tenderness and intimacy and becoming open to new ways of feeling deeply cherished even in my helplessness and physical pain.

Accepting that one of age’s delights, sharing laughter with the one I love the most, has an expiration date, because it brings on debilitating coughing spasms due to his progressive lung disease, then finding peace instead in quiet moments of just holding one another.

Letting go of the need for understanding, so I can begin to love instead of need.

Sadly recognizing my own vulnerabilities in the generations following me and knowing the pain these will bring them, but beginning to see that God can bring them through to joy as he has me time and time again.

Knowing that life will not get easier, but believing that grace will continue to bring the fruit of love from both heartbreak and joy.

Appetizers on the journey this Christmas season:

The tree full of cardinals outside our windows, children’s laughter, babies’ smiles, hugs from my husband Julian, people being kind and friendly in a crowded grocery store right before Christmas, Americans’ amazing kindness to the handicapped, Christmas decorations, Julian sitting quietly in the dark enjoying his Christmas village, both Leonard Cohen’s Halleluja and Handel’s Messiah, getting to do the sermon from the molehill at our worship service on Christmas day, our son Mike’s photos and delightful descriptions of his students at the Cambodian orphanage for children born HIV positive, our son Chris getting an interesting new job and so many people in Dickson telling me how wonderful he is, my suicidal friend now ministering to others, seeing friends find new hope in the person of Jesus without having to buy into the hang ups of any denomination, Tylenol taking away all my pain for a while, my loyal friend Margie being a constant in my life, my sister-in-law’s mouth-watering fudge cake, my first cup of coffee in the morning, Christmas memories on face book, our son Steve’s humor and willingness to take care of us Aged Parents in bizarre experiences in foreign airports, all of our grandchildren and great grandchildren, grandson Josh and wife Paula and seven year old Eisley’s adventurous spirits, grandsons Jordan and Jake’s caring hearts and courage, Nativity scenes, granddaughter Hadley so happy wearing her Unicorn Onesie at Norman Family Christmas, granddaughter Emma and her BFF talking and laughing non-stop in the back seat while I drove them to the mall, getting freed from my temporary insanity of hating someone by saying a prayer for love and peace each time while writing it on over a hundred Christmas cards, our teen-aged granddaughter Sophie hugging Julian whenever she sees him and laughing and discussing great books with nephew David, the HO HO HO’s – my friends who are not afraid to color outside the lines, my very own fun super drummer boy great-grandson Aaron, our daughter-in-law Molly’s incredible ability to continue to love even those that bring her heartbreak, our daughter Julie’s infectious laughing attacks that we call “Julie moments”, eight year old Bella’s unfettered enthusiasm for life, memories of waking up to a snow covered world, grown granddaughter Carmen’s resilience and lightning quick sense of humor, the delight of making vegetable soup to share with sick friends and the poor, becoming friends with our fascinating and loving cousin Mary Eleanor, my ninety-four year old friend, Barbara’s children coming to see her in shifts from all over America this Christmas season, grown up great grandson Ryan still having good memories of going downtown with me before the stores opened to earn nickels by sounding out words on signs, some people actually responding to my blogs, being able to keep up with my best friend from High School and College on line, getting to know interesting and friendly people in Canada, England, Nigeria, France, New Zealand and other countries across the globe through the internet, my Study Club women friends, who have miraculously bonded across huge differences in religion, politics, age, background, economics and interests.

These are just a few parts of the wonderful collage of my life that bring me seasons of joy in what sometimes momentarily seems like the “cesspool” of life. 

An Undiagnosed Killer of Marriages

Differences in personality types can have a lot of effect on marriages.  I respond to the outer world emotionally first.  My husband responds with logic.  I am an extrovert, so I tend to react openly immediately. My husband is an introvert and he only responds after much thought. When I would get either excited or upset about something and babble over  about it, he would sit back, cross his arms and put on his “here come the judge” face.  After several moments of waiting, I ‘d get frustrated, either disappointed that he didn’t share my enthusiasm or angry because he was looking judgmental.  And unfortunately his first logical problem solving response is to focus on the practical problems or negative aspects.  After some years of marriage, without realizing it, I began to try to push his buttons just to get him to express a feeling of any kind.  The problem with this is the introverted thinker may go years without responding openly to provocation, only to one day reach overload and either explode violently or simply leave and not look back. Fortunately, since we had five young children, I recognized my pattern before my husband reached overload. I have since realized that when asking him for a yes or no decision, I need to give him plenty of unpressured time or he will play it safe and just say “No.”  The same with arguments. I now state my case and go wash dishes or do something else while he works out his response, and then gets back to me.  Unnatural as this is for me, doing this brings much better results and lessens conflict.  I’m pretty sure that it is a total shock to one of the spouses, when marriages disintegrate  from unrecognized inborn differences such as these.

 

 

Sadly, This is Exactly What I Have Been Doing

When we cannot handle our suffering, we spew forth our frustration and pain on those around us. We are victims of our own suffering, but because we do not know how to handle it, we hurt others while we are in pain. ( quote from Thich Nhat Hanh)

Because of Jesus I know that God has forgiven me.  Now, I am praying for wisdom to know how to heal the wounds I have caused and  that those I have hurt will also be able to forgive me.

Unrealistic Expectations>Disillusionment> Bitterness> Hate

We all have wounds. It is a feeling of loneliness that lurks behind our successes, a feeling of uselessness that hides under the praise we receive ……that makes us grab onto people and expect from them an affection and love they cannot give. If we want people to give us what only God can give, we become a heavy burden. Quote from Henri Nouwen’s “A Spirituality of Living.”
This has hit me where I live today. I have two daughter-in-laws and a daughter that have always seemed to be Super Women to me. When one daughter-in-law, who has spent most of the last 18 years being an awesome advocate and mother for her children with disabilities and a House Beautiful wife, recently reached the end of her endurance with her marriage, I found myself filled with raging anger at her. An anger that felt like hate. I didn’t understand where it was coming from. I have admired her and had complete faith that if anyone could find a way to make her children’s lives happy and productive, she could. Since divorce means she must work full time, it seemed like betrayal of her children and even of those that love them like we do. And when I found myself unable to help in any significant way because of health issues of aging, I hated myself also.
I know from study and many life experiences that unrealistic expectations of other people embitter those having them and destroy relationships.
None of us is God. We are not miracle workers. And we are not able to love unconditionally as long as we expect ourselves or others to walk on water. It’s an imperfect world filled with imperfect people.
To expect otherwise is to become both embittered and a burden to people already carrying as much as they can.
My most destructive trait is a blind idealism unfettered by reality that leads to disillusionment and hate. God knows our limits. Some are built in and others beaten into us. I must learn to live within human limits, my own and others’. And trust that God can and will accomplish His plans, not mine.

Tattoo for an Old Lady

I’m seriously thinking of getting a tattoo. The problem is that it would have to go either on my back side or my stomach to have enough space. That would defeat the purpose, because I couldn’t see it well in either place. And the whole point would be to have it as a permanent and visible reminder. Here it is:
Tips for Mental Health
Feelings are not facts!
Seven important things we need to develop:
1. The will to bear both physical and emotional discomfort (and only whine on Monday).
2. The courage to make mistakes, admit them, take responsibility for them, learn from them, ask and accept forgiveness, and then for goodness sake, MOVE ON!
3. Patience with small gains.
4. The will to do what down deep, we know we should.
5. The determination to stop digging up the past. (If necessary, write it down, cremate it and let the wind carry it away.)
6. The energy and caring to help others. (Look around: we are surrounded by invisible lonely people. We don’t have to fix them, just let them know we see them.)
7. The wisdom to not let the perfect defeat the good.