A Thousand Little Crests of Joy – balancing the blues

wave

“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.
    I’ve called your name. You’re mine.
When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.
    When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place,
    it won’t be a dead end —
Because I am God, your personal God,
    The Holy of Israel, your Savior.” – Isaiah 43:2 (MSG)

The blues…

I’m not sure if it’s an addict thing, or a depression thing, or a human thing….I only know it’s a thing. And it can be a Christian thing, too. Why do I know that? Because I am one, and I struggle with it.

I live for the great swells of emotion … raw joy, good surprises, high energy spurts, times of health, romance. And that’s a problem because it isn’t an even equation.

In happiness numbers, the math doesn’t work. Wake up to the alarm clock + make coffee + go to work +  deal with parenting issues (kids are the hardest and best thing I’ve ever done) + get stuck in traffic + worry about the state of the world +  take a walk + weigh myself (gained three pounds) + pet the cats + load the dishwasher + fight chronic pain + admire my husband’s smile + pay bills + laugh at funny cats on the internet + read the news (the world is on fire!) + go to sleep ….only to do it all again the next day = a deficit.

In the less-than, greater-than schematic, it doesn’t balance.

Have you ever seen how tsunamis are formed? Forced? Before a great swell washes ashore, there is a disruption. There has to be some event – an underwater earthquake, volcanic eruption, or landslide – that causes the initial undulation. That emotional undulation is birthed of frustration.

But with every tsunami swell of the positive, there is a great sucking under to fuel it.

When there is too much sucking underneath and not enough swell, I despair. The waters get shallow, and a great, dark current takes my feet from under me. I’m not afraid anymore to present that honest emotional dilemma – and my pain – to my Creator.  I don’t have to play ‘perfect.’

I can’t.

Deliver me from that dark current, God. From the fear of disaster and of mediocrity!

It is a sign of maturity – in recovery and in my walk with Christ – that I don’t live for the great swells, but for the emotional undulation is birthed of redemption. I am working on remembering that great swells of raw joy, good surprises, pain-free times, and ease of mind are only a swell away, no matter what the circumstances. I live for Christ, in actuality. But I have to do it in this body on this planet awash in feelings, issues, and hormones – and I’m finding walking on top of the water a bit tricky.

I am His. I am not HIM.

In the force that is forming a great tsunami, there is a priming. And in the struggle against depression, there is a priming, too. A stirring up of sand, a washing-out of debris. And a chance to see things from the top of the crest – a new perspective. I am praying for that now. How many times have I felt stuck in the sucking vortex on the bottom – over my head! – only to enjoy the brand-new landscape that couldn’t have been formed any other way? So often I ask God to change my circumstances and he changes me instead. I welcome that, God. HELP me welcome it fully.

Until the landscape changes, He gives me a thousand little crests of joy: Warm baths, my husband’s smiles, Nutella straight from the jar, Van Morrison music, friendships, romance, and funny pictures of cats on the internet. (Never underestimate the power of a cleverly captioned picture of a cat on the internet.)

Or a personal God for whom “deficit” is not an option….a God who isn’t mathematical – and who is always ‘greater than.’

Surf’s up.

Before His Miracle Arrived: Robin Williams and the specter depression

williams

These days, I feel I could re-wire my entire blog to write about celebrities ensnared in deadly addiction and depression (after writing about Phillip Seymour Hoffman in “Skewer the Stigma” in February…) and that makes me really sad.

For every well-known person who takes his or her life – or dies from an overdose – there are mothers, fathers, siblings, and friends of “real” people who lose the battle every single day. And that makes me more sad.  They are your Hollywood icons and musical geniuses – yes…but they are also your family, community, coworkers and clergy.

God bless the brokenhearted, and let the awareness spread.

It could save a life.

The news of Robin Williams passing hit me hard. I was checking my texts while walking out of a 12-step meeting when my daughter messaged me. The tears were immediate.

It was only weeks ago that I offhandedly posted on Facebook about his latest stay in rehabilitation in June. “Go, Robin!” I think I wrote. “Go, Robin – get well!”
After all, I felt like I knew him. Didn’t you?

Didn’t he make you believe in interplanetary rapport, as an alien in “Mork and Mindy”?

Didn’t he inspire you as the wartime DJ in “Good Morning, Vietnam” who brought smiles to soldiers in the midst of misery?

Didn’t he make you secretly wish he was your father-slash-nanny, as Mrs. Doubtfire?

Didn’t you just swoon at his prose-loving, word-weaving portrayal of John Keating, in “Dead Poet’s Society”? (Okay, maybe that was just me…)

Even as he made flawless comedy, there was a sadness behind his laughing eyes. It was palpable. In the mind from which flowed such beautiful, authentic art,  he no doubt felt hopeless. The news sources say that “rehabilitation came too late for him.” And this breaks my heart anew. I am not sure I believe that.  It is never too late for hope to take hold, and I wish Mr. Williams  had been in a place to realize that.

Didn’t he know that things always, ALWAYS get better? It is a law of nature – things get bad. And then they get better. But his spirit just ran out of the patience for the better to come.

He was – by all accounts – a good person. Being a good person has precious little to do with suffering depression and addiction. If anything, sufferers of both struggle mightily, since they are generally sensitive to those around them, attuned to sadness and anger and joy – all of the empathetic humors. Addicts and alcoholics self-medicate with booze and/or drugs in a futile attempt to stop feeling hopeless. Of course, more hopelessness ensues as the addiction surges like dragon, breathing more fire on the already-scorched earth of your spirit.

I’ve never attempted to take my own life, but I have battled depression a few times deeply enough to consider it. At one point, I remember thinking – very nonchalantly – that I just didn’t want to exist anymore…that I would honestly be doing my family a favor if I just ceased existing. And the most terrifying thing about that thought was the aplomb with which these thoughts presented.

I was all cried out, all screamed out, all worn out. And really tired of being disappointed. I could not imagine ever being in a non-exhausted state and living with an ability to get up in the morning and dress myself without resentment for having to do so. It is a dark, lonely place.

I hated living in this flawed body, with chronic pain – both physically and emotionally. And Neverland is only a place where reality has been plundered and ravaged. The flat, casual tone of my suicidal thoughts alarmed me enough to seek help.

I cannot tell you what would/should/could have worked for Robin Williams. Or you.

I can only tell you what works for me. (Notice I didn’t say ‘worked’ – mental illness is often not a one-trick pony – depression can and does recur.)

When the demon of severe depression rears its fiery head, I work hard to employ the same 12 steps that saved my life when I got sober…particularly those that focus on faith, surrender, soul-searching, acceptance, and a willingness to get well – a willingness to press on for One More Day. Even though things seem pretty shitty in the moment. (I attend Celebrate Recovery. If you would like to see the 12 Steps and their Biblical comparisons, click here.)

Take one single day at a time, because the law of nature is that things do get better. You just have to ride out one more day and rely on the God who says he loves you even in those times (especially in those times.) No matter who you are, He has a plan for your life that would just blow you away. The old “don’t give up before your miracle arrives” platitude? It seems there is truth to it. I have lived it firsthand.

Hopelessness is an illusion. There is always hope.

The world needs me, and it needs you. It needs your message and your energy, the fingerprint of your love influence on the lives of those who love you. God knows we could have used more of Robin Williams on this earth.

Rest in peace, Mr. Williams. I feel like I knew you.

Rest in peace, knowing you brought joy to millions of people…knowing you endeared yourself to countless people in your 63 swashbuckling years here on earth. The world needed more of you – even so, rest now.

God be with you and give you shalom everlasting.

Go, Robin – and be well.

Be whole.

 

Agape for Amateurs: a love letter from God

 

Only love to lose

Oh Dear Created One,
I am only Love….only ever good.
By avoiding me, you have only love to lose. And love is everything.
I am not angry with you. In Jesus, I gave myself to you, for you – redemption in one fail swoop.
When you have a misstep, I am saddened because you are hurting.I am with you in your hurting places.
When you deny me, curse me, hide from me – I am still with you in the hiding places. I am courting you all along.
Where there is love, I am.
In this fallen world, hope seems in deficit; do not put your hope in this world.
All the things you’ve been foolish for have torn you down, yet you are so afraid to be a “fool” for me?
Enough of the fallen. Enough of the foolish self-dependency. Walk with me – I long to raise you up!
That small, still voice? It’s me nudging you.
That roaring storm of emotion that pulls at you? Called by 1,000 different names, the emotion is my urging , too. You were created to feel.
Without relationship with me, you have only love to lose. But love is everything.
I delight in you – created to love, created for love.
Your quirks and your passions make you one of a kind, in a world of billions. I see you.
I see you!
And you matter to me.
“It’s hard,” you say – and I know that’s true. You see, I have been a person, too. The friend I left to you – the Holy Spirit – is available to you, in you.
Cut through what others have told you about me. Throw away the ritualistic, legalistic, egotistic religion. Cut through the culture of shame. Have your own relationship with me – I dare you to seek me for who I truly am…
Not a figment of imagination in stories from dusty texts, but a force of creation, life, and love to be reckoned with.
Nothing is happenstance. Believe in me, and you have all the love to gain!
In your hurting places.
In your hiding places.
There is no deficit of hope, Dear One. Only a deficit of relationship with me.
When you seek me, I am there waiting – with wild, reckless love.
I delight in you.
-

God

“Hallelujah! Sing to God a brand-new song, praise him in the company of all who love him. Let all Israel celebrate their Sovereign Creator, Zion’s children exult in their King. Let them praise his name in dance; strike up the band and make great music! And why? Because God delights in his people, festoons plain folk with salvation garlands!” – Psalm149:1-4 (The Message)

Go Boldly, and Forgiven – Guest Blog by Chris Canuel

Hi, readers…long time no “see.”

Since life is a bit crazy for me right now (which almost guarantees a manic spree of future post writing – stay tuned!) I am delighted to welcome my friend and fellow author Chris Canuel as Guest Blogger for today. I’ve never hosted a guest blogger before, but his work always speaks to my heart. He writes about what matters, with a lot less freaking out and spillage of raw emotion. His writing is, shall we say, “refined” and I love it. I really enjoyed this one – because I feel guilty about feeling guilty – or not guilty enough – on the daily.

If you enjoy this post, check out his blog at http://www.StrivingWithGod.com, or any of his books available on Amazon.

Author Chris Canuel

Author Chris Canuel.

I was at work the other day (and not having a particularly good day) when I found myself being rude to a customer. Not overtly rude, mind you…but still rude enough to get the point across that I was not happy with this particular customer. I’m not sure why though, just as the transaction with this customer was completed, I looked at her and wondered what was going on with her day.
I asked myself why this customer might be annoying me so. Why did the customer seem so distracted? Why did I care so much? Was it really going to kill me if this transaction took two minutes – as opposed to a minute and a half?
I actually found myself feeling rather guilty. I found myself thinking this is a person created in the image of God. This is a person Jesus cares about. How would Jesus have treated her?
Yes…all of this happened in span of no more than two minutes.
As I caught myself thinking these thoughts – and realized how rude I was being – and how contrary it was to the way of Christ, I tried to correct myself and be overly nice to this person. I’m sure she thought I was the Jekyll and Hyde cashier. She eventually went on her merry way, completely unaware of the mental and spiritual dialogue that had taken place in my mind.
I thought about this moment for the next several hours … feeling guilty and was beating myself up. I asked myself, “Did Jesus go to the cross so that you could act this way? Is this how you are supposed to live your life in light of the cross? Jesus didn’t die so you could treat people, created in his image in this way. Is this the way I am supposed to live in light of the cross?” I think began to ponder all of the ways in which I am supposed to live in light of the cross. And then it hit me.
Stop beating yourself up. Jesus did in fact go to the cross, and your sins are covered. You are forgiven. The weight of my sin on this particular day was lifted from my shoulders. I started contemplating the beauty of the cross and the riches we have in Christ. I was humbled and amazed by the many facets of what it means to live my life in light of the cross. I was stunned by the grace of God poured out through Christ.
So what does it mean, “…to live your life in light of the cross?” Why is it so stunning?
First of all, the cross of Jesus is a picture of amazing love. As we ponder the love of God displayed by Jesus, we should be moved to love like Jesus. If in our sinfulness God still loved and loves us, how can we not choose to show love to our fellow sinners? Not out of obligation, but so that we can also show them how Jesus loves. Our lives as Christians should be lives defined by love. Our desire should be to make everyone aware of this amazing love that we’ve been shown. This happens as we put this love on display. Jesus loves us in spite of all of our faults and failures. This being true, we must love others in the same way.
This leads to the next point. Even when we mess up, Jesus still loves us. Even when I was treating this customer poorly, Jesus loved me. Jesus died for my rudeness. My sins are ALL covered by the cross. I’m forgiven. Because of this fact, I don’t need to dwell on this sin. I’m free to move on. Does this mean I don’t think about my sin? I don’t think so. I think we should mourn over sin…because I believe God does. God desires holiness from His people…yet, we have this holiness in Christ. Therefore, even though we acknowledge our sin, we don’t stay there mired and wallowing in guilt. We can go boldly, proclaiming that we are forgiven.
We could continue to analyze this from all angles (the many facets of the cross are far more than what can be put forth in any blog post) but I can sum up this point like this:
Because of the cross, we have the responsibility AND the freedom to love others, in spite of all of their sins and failures. Also, because of the cross, we can know that even when we aren’t doing this perfectly, God still loves us in spite of all of our sins and failures.
For those of us who have experienced and known the unbelievable love and mercy of God, we don’t have to live defeated lives of guilt defined by our failure and sin. We can live lives of perpetual joy knowing that we are always loved and always accepted by God. What can be better than that?
This truth is what defines us as believers. Because we are loved much, we love much. Because we are forgiven much, we forgive much. And even when we don’t, we are no less loved or forgiven.
How freeing is that?
How wonderful is that?
Now, let’s go and enjoy the rest of our day, the rest of our lives even, resting in these marvelous truths and resting in this unbelievable love and mercy of God.

EDGWISE for Kindle Free through June 28

Okay, folks….I am running a promotion for EDGEWISE: Plunging off the Brink of Drink and into the Love of God.

It is a FREE Kindle download, via Amazon for the next few days. I pray my story will bless someone out there!

Just click on the link below, and choose “Read it for free.”

God bless us, everyone.

FREE KINDLE COPY

EDGEWISE: Plunging off the Brink of Drink and into the Love of God

EDGEWISE: Plunging off the Brink of Drink and into the Love of God

Breathe Joy into Me – a poem, a prayer, and a plea

POEM

God,
I’ve been feeling so discouraged,
Two steps forward, one step back,
Feeling like my soul is tired,
Over extended, under attack.

Oh to have my joy back!
I know it is mine for the asking.
To gain it I must first surrender to you
The pain that my sadness is masking.
The tiredness, the sickness,
The constant striving,
On my own human power
It keeps me from thriving.
Oh, God, please be infused in me.
They way Holy Spirit desires to be.

I want to have my joy back –
That birthright you left in the empty tomb.
I want the peace – the good shalom –
You left me in that Upper Room.
The weary dark replaced instead with
Your open, welcoming arms,
The chronic illness bested by
Your protection from all harm.

Oh God, please inhabit me, my
Source of peace so close to me
That Holy Spirit breathes in me,
Breathe joy into me.

Remind me that two steps forward -
In spite of the one step back -
Still means that I am traveling
On the forward-moving track.

Oh to have my joy back!
I know it is mine for the asking.
Oh, God, please be infused in me.
The way Holy Spirit desires to be.

And all the days of my life I will be,

Yours.

Prayer Vegas-style, Baby

VEGAS

This piece originally ran as a guest blog for my friend and fellow writer, Chris Canuel. I felt like maybe someone needs to read it today…someone who might be currently praying in the desert.

Maybe that someone who needs to (re)read it is ME.

How do you get out of the spiritual desert? You build a huge, blinking distraction to it.

Or, you can just walk through it, and fully expect God to bring you to the other side.

About eight years ago, I went to Las Vegas on a business trip. The long and short of it was that I had a mini-nervous breakdown.

My colleagues and I stayed in the Luxor – a magnificent pyramid structure on the Vegas strip, smack dab (as we say in the South) in the heart of Sin City. Although there were seminars by day, there were too many hours of free time after the nine-to-five activities.

I don’t always do that well with too much free time.

Vegas is not so much fun for a person in alcohol – or any other, so far as I can tell – recovery. Moment after moment, fleshly appetizers are placed before you. In-your-face, 24/7 sex, drugs, drink, gambling, smoking. Even things that had never tempted me before – such as the gambling – became this enormous tease.

I knew that Vegas was not for me before the plane even touched down. If you’ve ever flown over Las Vegas, you will know what I mean. Here is a visual synopsis of the view from the plane.

Hours of flight over sandy canyons, gorges, and deserts. Everything is some shade of brown– nothing, nothing, nothing, hours of nothing– barren brown, tan and beige. Nothing.

BAM! Super incredibly bright neon, see-it-from-outer space, larger-than life and twice as gaudy, Technicolor VEGAS, Baby! The strip is, quite literally, just a strip that – from the air – looks as though the heavens barfed forth a city-sized strip of neon, glitter, and a strange, Disney-like conglomeration of architectural/cultural mess. Pastel medieval castles, next door to Greco-Roman-columned casinos, next door to the great pyramids, next door to a shrunken New York City entwined by a roller coaster, punctuated by liquor and nudie bars.

It is the anti-nature, if you will.

Before even the first rah-rah corporate event, I was burned out. Too much to see. Everything in sight vying for my attention – and so, none of it really getting my attention. The first night, I stayed in the hotel room and cried while everyone else went out and had Vegas adventures. And I couldn’t stop crying.

Every morning, for privacy, I wandered down to a café in the Luxor, and call my (then) fiancé, a grown woman crying in an enormous, cartoonish pyramid, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people and utterly alone.

“I can’t be here,” I told him. “It’s too noisy. Too much temptation. Too many drunk and high people…so much gambling, porn everywhere…. too much empty, scattered, shallow glitz. I have to come home.”

It didn’t upset me because I believed I would never do such things, but because I know good and damn well that I could – given the right circumstances and a weak moment – and, in fact, have. I try to respect the parameters – the slippery slopes. And Vegas is a very slippery slope.

Each day, I became more and more depressed, the thin veneer of sanity cracking under the weight of trying to appear all the things I was not: Professional, immune to the temptations, and able to cope.

Where I live at home, the Ocean is a scant 10 minutes away, and the Cape Fear River 10 minutes in the other direction. Water, water everywhere. And people I love.

Of course, I survived it – and as a bonus, with my sobriety intact. When I finally, got home, it didn’t seem like such an ordeal. But during the experience, I was miserable.

For the last month or so, I have really been struggling with prayer. Not just having a desert-like prayer life, but a Vegas-like prayer life. Unwittingly, I’ve filled up a dry-spell with diversions to distract my spirit. Sensory overload is not the same as spirit satiation. What happens in my prayer life lately…..it goes nowhere. Or so it seems.

Praying…. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

BAM! Diversion!

But anything but Holy Spirit in a hurting soul is not an oasis….only a mirage.

Sometimes, my spiritual walk becomes about too much empty, scattered, shallow glitz. A grown woman crying in church, surrounded by dozens of happy worshippers. Everyone else seemingly bloated with happiness. Don’t they see the barren dryness?

Aridness…brown, tan and beige. So I build great, giant cities – big, awkward pastel and neon structures of distraction, instead of just walking through the desert – exhausted from trying to pretend to be what I am not: A “professional Christian.” Immune to the temptations. Able to cope.

I don’t always do that well when I have too much time, but I know the God of the Universe always makes time for me. I have to come home, and the only route is through the desert.

It’s hard to encounter God, what with the gaudy, neon monuments to my worries and anxieties blinking. Why don’t I remember that in the “uninhabitable” – He inhabits? He dwells in me always, vying for my attention.

And if I am simply willing to just walk through the desert?

BAM! God. Living water, water everywhere. Deserts can’t go on forever.

But the love of my Father does.