Monday, September 12, 2016

Jekyll, Hyde, and the Other Guy

I'm trying hard to figure myself out. That's one major purpose of this blog -  "I write because I don't know what I think until I read what I say." (Flannery O'Connor) I spent most of my life ignoring myself while trying to help others figure themselves out, so I guess I had a lot of catching up to do.

The problem is, I keep changing. Sometimes it's good, upward growth (not literally, of course - I'm afraid that ship has sailed), sometimes I fall down, take steps backward and sometimes the changes are lateral ones, neither positive nor negative - just change. Now, I know I've just described life in a nutshell. For those who have been more or less self-aware, it's old hat but for me, at forty-one-and-a-half and just beginning to ask the questions in the last few years, it can still be a little disorienting.

In my most recent assessment, I've concluded that I have no less than three distinct personalities: one when I'm free from depression, one that emerges when depression envelopes me, and one when I'm teetering back and forth on the brink of depression. (Yup, it all centers around depression these days. And that's ok.)

When I'm free from depression, the world is my oyster! I'm the confident, people-loving, bubbly Joy with whom most people who know me are familiar. I am hopeful, full of plans and goals. I'm able to do the things I need to do, to participate in activities I enjoy and to delight in the world around me. I can care about people and share myself with them. This Joy has her issues and shortcomings, but she's learning to accept and even enjoy who she is.

Depressed Joy is best described as numb. (Incidentally, isn't numb a weird word?) Shrouded as she is in a thick cloud of nothingness, she doesn't feel much. Hope is gone, energy is gone, delight is gone, emotion is gone. The only real thing is delusion - which isn't real at all, by definition. She plods through her days in a dense fog, trying to do what's necessary. Being with people is agonizing at best; being alone is even worse. This Joy doesn't think much about accepting herself, her only goal is to keep her head above water, to keep herself from drowning in this invisible sea of despair.

I've only recently identified the third Joy - the one who is somewhere in-between. It's a strange place: hope is there, but delusion is there, too. It often feels like a tug-of-war for my soul, between two well-matched competitors. One will have the upper hand for a time, and then without warning, the tide will turn and the other side looks as if it will win. I've spent the last few weeks there, and it's terribly confusing and unstable. (I think I feel most sorry for my family and friends when I'm this Joy - like me, they never know what's coming next...)

You'd think that this discovery would be demoralizing, maybe - even frightening. However, instead of bringing me down, this observation has been most beneficial and freeing for me.

One of my newest disciplines is to consciously look for God's hand in everything. And the more I look, the more I see that His fingerprints are all over my life. Even in this.

So, armed with this new self-knowledge and more aware of God's presence than ever, I put one foot in front of the other, again and again. And when I can't, I can still know His peace, because peace is Jesus and He will never, ever leave me.

Thanks be to God.

Monday, September 5, 2016

I Hate Myself Today

I hate myself today.*

I didn't know I felt this way until a relatively minor mother/son clash occurred. Some disrespect, some defiance, some almost-eight-year-old attitude - nothing I haven't encountered before. But after sending the culprit to his room, I retreated to my own (isn't it funny how that's a reward rather than a punishment as we get older?) and as I collapsed onto the trunk/bench at the foot of my bed - which incidentally is right in front of mirrored closet doors - it all came pouring out, along with my tears.

I hate myself for being a bad parent (I must be a horrible parent to have such a brash, undisciplined son); I hate myself because I've somehow managed to put on yet a few more pounds this summer (which I definitely did not need); I hate myself for gradually falling out of several disciplines that have been so life-giving (I've been so lazy and undisciplined and indulgent this summer); I hate myself for feeling so aimless, direction-less, purposeless (shouldn't I know what God wants me to do next?); I hate myself for being a terrible wife, daughter, sister, aunt, friend (seems like I've neglected everyone I care about); I hate myself for worrying about the future, about finances, about my family (seriously, haven't I learned anything about trusting God?)...

I'm so tired of trying and failing in so many vital areas of my life, trying again and failing again, and again, and again... Looking back over the summer, I'd have to say that I've pretty much stopped trying.

My summer has had the appearance of productivity and fullness on the outside. Packing up, moving, unpacking; backyard fires and gardening; little family outings; preaching and leading worship; getting up early to walk - these things filled my days with activity, but little else. The depths have remained unstirred, have stagnated. The inner life - real life, one might even say - has shriveled up.

The overall effect of this whirl of activity has been that I've allowed myself to give up on the things that are hard, that take effort, that aren't fun, that don't come easily and naturally. Disciplines that are refreshing and life-giving and healthy and beneficial - but not amusing or sugary or undemanding. More like challenging and painful - at least at first.

But now it's Fall - or soon will be. A new season is a gift from God, a chance to begin again. And oh, I'm so grateful! But will I take this opportunity and run with it? Or will I let it slip through my fingers yet again? Stay tuned...

*In case you were wondering, this intense hating myself moment didn't last very long. But the fear to try remains. It was about a month ago that I wrote about falling down and getting back up. I wrote from a burst of motivation that quickly fizzled out. In fact, that's where most of my blog post come from - a place of fallenness, of brokenness... Ughhh.

But that really shouldn't come as a surprise. "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (1 Corinthians 12:9) This is where God's light shines the brightest in my life, when I'm weak and powerless. He loves to come in and pick me up, dust me off and set my feet on His path once again. It's only by His grace that I can remember at all that my feelings aren't the boss of me; that the way of least resistance is rarely the best way; that my value and worth are inherent, NOT based on my actions (or lack thereof).

Into this and every new day, we can venture forth with courage and hope - armed with His power, filled with His peace, covered by His grace, drenched in His love.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

We Fall Down

Humbled - broken, really - by one simple lyric in the first song of today's worship set: "we are here for You". We are here for YouWe are here for You. Somehow, somewhere along the way, I had forgotten.

This very morning while getting ready for church, instead of preparing my heart to worship, I was wondering what I might possibly "get" out of the day's message - if anything. The night before, I had asked what team was leading the music, and I'm pretty sure I said something like, "It shouldn't matter, but it does."

Even last week, when I was a guest worship leader at another church, I distinctly remember being two or three songs in before I stopped focusing solely on how awesome it was to sing with old friends again and directed some attention to the words I was singing and to Whom I was singing them.

These last few weeks have been busy, hectic ones, with lots of decisions, new things and general unsettledness. The cause was a good one; moving a few blocks down the road from our small townhouse to a larger house. As much as I'm beyond delighted to be living in this wonderful place, my familiar routines and practices - those things that have proven essential to my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being - have almost completely fallen by the wayside.

I hate it when that happens - when I allow it to happen. When I lose sight of what really, truly matters. When I, thanks to the tyranny of the urgent, pursue good things (and not-so-good things) yet fail to make time for the best things.

It makes me feel really small. When I finally do come to my senses after a period of upheaval and fuzzy focus, my tendency is to hesitantly approach God with my head bowed low, tail between my legs. It hurts me when I remember that I've forgotten Him - again.

But instead of pouring on guilt and shame, rather than responding in anger or derision or even sorrow, once again it was His grace-drenched kindness that brought me to a place of true, genuine repentance there in my tucked-away balcony seat.

I'm coming to see that this falling down isn't really the important thing; it's the getting up again that's crucial. In fact, those two actions seem to be what makes a life. One hopes to walk calmly along, but that's rarely the case, is it?

I'm so grateful for the Hand that never fails to reach down when I've fallen flat on my face again; already with me when I stumble, always ready to help me regain my balance and carry on.