Wednesday, December 23, 2015

My Story, Part 11

To start at the beginning, click here.
For Part 10, click here.

Perhaps it is due to hindsight and all but I do look back at this next period in my life (December 1989 to December 1992) as one of the best in my life.

For one, we lived with Matt's parents for 8 months, which turned out to be a wonderful experience. And even when we moved, we were only about 10 minutes away. It was so nice to be able to establish a strong relationship with them.

Susannah was born in February 1990 in the Hospital From Hell the same week that Matt got a job at a graphic design studio in Center City Philadelphia. We lived with Matt's parents for another 6 months and bought our first home in the Olney, a section in the north part of Philadelphia north of North Philadelphia (a part of the city known for the worst of urban decay, horrific crime, and abject poverty).

Olney was a working class neighborhood, originally settled in the 1920s by Germans and Irish but by 1990 home to 26 languages. It was a wonderful place for me to be. After my upper middle class upbringing, rubbing shoulders with the upper crust of southern aristocracy, I could not have been more thrilled to be living in a place and among people who did not give one iota of a thought to what I looked like or how I was dressed or who my father was or how thin or tan I was or where I went to school or anything like that. For many of these people, survival was the the goal and I found that I thrived when out from under the social pressure of my childhood.

Our church was the center of our life and such a wonderful picture to me of what the Body of Christ should look like. It was located in Olney as well and the vast majority of those who attended lived in the neighborhood. There was a lack of pretense here that I had never experienced anywhere else. And it seemed like half the congregation was in counseling. I went from being considered a freak of nature by most church standards to being considered actually quite normal. The support was incredible. For the first time, I experience community.

Not that all my struggles vanished. They didn't. I had a decent amount of postpartum depression after Susannah was born. Then, a few months later, my anxiety began to rear its ugly head and a phobia was born that would plague me for the next several years, "What if I die and leave my baby crying for me?" At the time, no MD would prescribe Prozac or any other antidepressant for breastfeeding mothers, so I was on my own, with a prescription for Ativan to take in the event of a major panic episode.

But motherhood, oh how I loved motherhood. It was like God created me to mother babies. I could love and snuggle and nurse my baby til the cows came home. And God was gracious and gave me another one to love, and snuggle and nurse. Elizabeth was born in October 1991, an entirely different, and incredibly wonderful birth experience.

Still, life had its challenges. It was during this time that the Culture War began to rear its ugly head in earnest. We were on the Focus on the Family mailing list and so we could get regular letters telling us just how awful things would be should Bill Clinton be elected president. Some of these mailings were downright propaganda and would conjure up images of social workers showing up at your door, whisking away the babies of Christians. Not exactly the thing a high-anxiety mother of little babies needed to be reading.

Also, things were not going well with Matt's work. By the fall of 1992 it became obvious that he needed to be looking elsewhere for employment. The very day he made his decision that he had to find another job he just happened (in that wonderful way that God orchestrates such happenings) to get a call from an old friend in Asheville who was looking for somebody like Matt, or Matt himself, to come work with him.

With much weeping and gnashing of teeth, we loaded up all our earthly possessions and made the trek south again.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

My Story, Part 10

To start at the beginning, click here.
For Part 9, click here.

Writing this story is getting more and more difficult, not just because this is the literary equivalent of the showing up at school without your clothes (we've all had that dream, haven't we?) but because there is just so much that I could include. There is no compartmentalization in my life. Each area affects the next. And I do love context. And I want to give you context. But that would take a book. And I digress.

So I will remain where I started, giving you a story about my life with times being up close and personal with mental health issues.

Part 9 left off with Matt and I getting married and living happily ever after. Right? Well, about 3 months after we got married I was diagnosed with clinical depression. I had gotten more and more and more depressed and had trouble getting out of bed. The psychiatrist that I saw for diagnosis and meds suspected that my brief stint on oral contraceptives was to blame. As he said to me, "Oral contraceptives will trigger a clinical depression in 30% of women who are biochemically prone to depression." It was obvious to him that I was one of the biochemically prone of which he spoke and suggested that I never touch them again.

This was 1988 and Prozac was fresh out of the gate. It did wonders for my depression, without all of the side effects of the old tricyclics I had been on in the past. It wasn't perfect, however, and did nothing for my anxiety. In fact, my anxiety was actually worse on Prozac. But at least I got out of bed.

And for all you who might be yelling that I can't just expect a drug to fix me, I wasn't. Don't worry. I was working with someone who helped me understand and address some of the other factors in my life. It actually took me a while to find somebody who I worked well with. The first woman I saw told me that because my father's particular sin was adultery, then that would be mine as well. Nothing like being a newlywed and feeling like you are carrying the curse of your ancestors around in your body and a sign around your neck that shouts, "I'm married. Screw me!" . Our friend who pushed Matt off the fence to propose helped me immensely as well and eventually I found a woman who I felt safe with to work through all my past crap.

After 8 months on Prozac I tapered off and within a month I was pregnant. I was thrilled.  And then I puked. And puked and on and on for three solid months while Matt was in design school. And my baby grew and he worked and pulled all nighters and I wrote a letter to my mom and tried to become my own person and it was all kinda crazy and then in December 1989 Matt graduated from design school and we loaded up a Budget Rental Truck and Matt and I and my 7 month pregnant belly drove to Philadelphia and moved in with his parents.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

It Does Take a Village

I am taking a break from writing My Story because, quite frankly, it is exhausting and trying to figure out what to say and how to say it requires more brain power than December is affording. But my gears still turn.

A couple of years ago I first learned about the ACE (Adverse Childhood Events) study. This was a huge study that correlated childhood abuse, neglect and trauma with health and well being later in life. The results were staggering. Not just for mental health but for a host of physical health issues as well.

It would be easy to get really discouraged by all of this.

But connected to the ACE score is a resiliency score. It turns out that certain factors can increase a child's resiliency in the face of these Adverse Childhood Events. And this is what I find so hopeful and inspiring and convicting.

Here is the link to both sets of questions that determine both the ACE score and the Resiliency score.

A horrifying reality of parenthood is that we cannot always control the Adverse Childhood Events experienced by our own children. Some of those just end up being out of our control. And we cannot control the Adverse Childhood Events going on all around us.

But resiliency? There we can have a role. Parents can certainly play a huge part in giving their children what they need to be resilient. But it isn't only parents. Look at the list.

1. I believe that my mother loved me when I was little.
2. I believe that my father loved me when I was little.
3. When I was little, other people helped my mother and father take care of me and they seemed to love me. 4. I’ve heard that when I was an infant someone in my family enjoyed playing with me, and I enjoyed it, too. 5. When I was a child, there were relatives in my family who made me feel better if I was sad or worried.
6. When I was a child, neighbors or my friends’ parents seemed to like me.
7. When I was a child, teachers, coaches, youth leaders or ministers were there to help me.
8. Someone in my family cared about how I was doing in school.
9. My family, neighbors and friends talked often about making our lives better.
10. We had rules in our house and were expected to keep them.
11. When I felt really bad, I could almost always find someone I trusted to talk to.
12. As a youth, people noticed that I was capable and could get things done.
13. I was independent and a go-getter.
14. I believed that life is what you make it.

I see at least five places where people other than family members can play a huge role.

The fact is. Sometimes families struggle. Sometimes events spin out of control. Sometimes there is horrible abuse. Sometimes there is gross neglect. Sometimes there is bizarre dysfunction. Sometimes there are broken relationships and difficult situations. Sometimes family members are so emotionally, mentally, physically and even spiritually exhausted that they have nothing left to give. Sometimes families just come up close and personal with their own limitations.

But God didn't put us on this planet alone. The nuclear family is not the be-all-and-end-all of existence. There is a role for extended family, friends, neighbors, teachers, youth leaders, coaches, mentors, pastors. These people are the safety net. The support system. The village.

It is easy to think that I am so powerless in the pain and suffering I see around me. Yet there are things I can do.

-I can help take care of a child with love.
-I can play with a child and enjoy it.
-I can make a child feel better if they are sad or worried.
-I can like a child.
-I can be there to help a child.
-I can care about how a child is doing in school.
-I can talk to a child about making life better.
-I can be a trusted person to talk to when a child feels bad.
-I can notice a child's skills and encourage him or her in them.

These things aren't rocket science but they can make the difference in how well a child responds to the torrent of life's difficult circumstances.

I know this may be easier said than done. There are many events that are not public knowledge. Family secrets compound the trauma by keeping all the pain in house, so to speak, and depriving the hurting of necessary support. Children, assuming that the trauma is their fault, may be hesitant to share with another person. Some may not even see their circumstances as being necessarily traumatic because that is all they have ever known. Offending parents won't want others invading the family circle. Controlling parents and insecure ones might view another's relationship with their child as a threat.

But sometimes there may be someone out there crying for help and dying to be heard. Sometimes we just need a nudge to get out of our comfort zones and move toward others, especially the little others. But the results are priceless.

Monday, November 23, 2015

My Story, Part 9

To start at the beginning, click here.
For Part 8, click here.

I will take a brief hiatus from the nitty gritty of pain and suffering and angst and struggle that sometimes seemed to be my life and tell a fun, fun story. I tell this story because this is really what came next. I also tell it because, next to my meeting Jesus, meeting this person was the most significant event of my life. And I tell this because, as God arranges things for fun some times, I met this person 29 years ago today, November 23, 1986.

I moved to Asheville, NC in June 1986, right out of college, to take my first job as a dietitian at the local hospital. It was my first time out on my own and I didn't know a soul in town. Asheville was not then the hopping hipsterville haven of young adults it is now. I was lonely.

I had attended a weekly meeting of Christian singles for a while but found it hard to connect. Perhaps due to my growing up in the private school community of Chattanooga, I was socially and culturally limited in experience. The people I met at the group seemed in awe that I had gone to, and actually finished, college The guys stared at me like I was a bug in a jar, excited for a new specimen to hit the market, and the girls...well...I was the new competition. I actually had a few dates with guys in their mid-30s. One of them invited me to dinner in his singlewide. I had never even known anybody who lived in a singlewide, so sheltered I was in my upper middle class upbringing. It was all a bit disorienting. Nowhere in sight was the handsome Christian Yuppie I hoped to marry.

One Saturday in November I met a neighbor who invited me to visit his church. They had just started a single adults Sunday School class. I had visited there once before and wanted to give it another shot.

So Sunday morning I walked into the room. My attire was part professional and part little old lady with my blue Pendleton wool suit, black pumps, and satin bow in my hair (looking, Matt says, like my mother had dressed me). There was a crowd of people milling around and a nice guy walked up to me and handed me a penny for one of those introduction games.

His name was Matt Barker and he and I had a lot in common. He had attended Covenant College, outside of Chattanooga, and had even spent many years of his childhood there, playing with kids I knew in high school.

After church a large group of us went out to lunch. Matt says I talked too much. I think I was just so thrilled to be around people that I connected with. As they were leaving the restaurant, Matt's roommate, Gregg, asked him what he thought of me. Matt replied that I seemed nice but talked too much. He asked Gregg what he thought of me and Gregg replied, "She's lovely. Marry her."

I cannot say that it was love at first sight, because it wasn't. I was lonely. He was a bit lonely himself. But I had my vision of who I was going to marry and Matt, well, he had a four figure income, drove a 1974 brown VW bus we called the Rolling Turd, and dressed in nothing but cross country race T-shirts and blue jeans. (For the record, I was not the artsy, fartsy girl of his dreams, either.) But we clung together and over the next few months played endless games of Trivial Pursuit while listening to the Weather Channel and soon discovered that we had become fast friends.

He moved to Atlanta for a job and two months later I followed him. Over the next several months we dated and broke up and dated and broke up and the only difference between whether we were dating or not was if we were dating, we kissed. If we weren't, we didn't. He became the only person, and perhaps the first person, that I truly trusted.

It wasn't all fun and games. It was easy at times for him to worry about my insecurities. It was easy for me to fear desertion. But one day a friend and wise counselor pushed him off the fence and he proposed. We were married May 7, 1988.

As I said before, there is nothing outside of my relationship with God that compares to the significance of this relationship. I say this not only as a wife but as a person who has struggled with mental illness all her life.

On so many occasions over the years has has said these most beautiful words to me:

"You might hurt. But at least you do not have to hurt alone."
Those words are worth more than gold.

Friday, November 20, 2015

My Story, Part 8

To start at the beginning, click here.
For Part 7, click here.

For years my story stopped right there. Girl meets Jesus and isn't that grand. It is true that that was the turning point in my life. But just as God rarely brings diabetes or thyroid disease to a halt when somebody comes to know him in a new way, neither does he wave his magic wand and send mental illness out the window.

There are an astonishingly large number of people out there who believe that mental illness is just a spiritual condition. I will refrain from using nasty words right now and just say that I disagree. I believe that humans are way too complex. That answers are rarely so simple.

The psychologists tend to have the nature vs. nurture debate. Is it genetic or is it environmental? Or both? But they often leave out a spiritual dimension. The churches (not all, but many at least within the church) have held that it is a spiritual issue. But they often ignore the contribution of biology and life experience, laying the burden of recovery on the patient "getting right with Jesus."

I believe that it is all of the above. You cannot ignore any dimension. Sure, my wiring, my biology predispose me to a variety of physical and mental health issues. Sure, my life experience affects how I perceive myself and life and respond to situations. Sure, my soul is not at peace unless connected the One who created it.

It can take years and years of work and experience to tease out what is being which part of which struggle in your life. It did for me. And often they were so inextricably linked teasing them out was impossible. They all need to be acknowledged and addressed.

That said, life did pick up for me after I gave my life to God in August 1981. There were still plenty of struggles at home, but God provided the excellent psychiatrist and a wonderful registered dietitian to help with my fear of eating. In fact, I was so impressed I chose to major in nutrition in college in hopes of one day doing the same.

But none of this was the end of my struggles. I had plenty of bouts of anxiety and depression (along with years of learning not to be afraid of food) throughout college. Some years were harder. Some years were good.

My Story, Part 7

To start at the beginning, click here.
For Part 6, click here.

Some time in late July, 1981, I was admitted into the local hospital. It was from my hospital bed that I watched the Royal Wedding between Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. A welcome diversion.
But I had lost hope.

Through all of this I felt that, at some point, I would have to hit rock bottom. That time came. And God was there at the bottom waiting for me.

I had grown up in the church. I believed in God but I had not clue of him working in my life in any way. I wanted him to fix me but didn't know how to connect with him, this distant and mysterious Being. One day, in desperation, I opened a Bible I had brought with me. I looked down. I read. (This technique is commonly called Bible Bingo and is not a recommended means for biblical understanding but, in my case, God used it anyway.) It practically screamed at me.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28
For the first time I actually had hope. If God could use all this hell I had been through...all the crap...all the heartache for good....I was blown away. I kept reading. Somewhere along the line, over the next few days, I began to more clearly understand the gospel. My need. God's provision. The wonderful gift of grace. That I didn't have to jump through hoops and earn God's love or care or direction. It all made sense now.
Anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. Romans 10:13
Next to that verse, I wrote the date. August 13, 1981.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

My Story, Part 6

To start at the beginning, click here.
For Part 5, click here.

From there things pretty much went to hell in a handbasket. I  missed most of the last 2 months of my junior year in high school. At this point I was considered a freak, or so it seemed, and I felt like one.

My mother, having struggled with anxiety and depression much of her own life, had never recovered emotionally from my parents' divorce and the stress of my situation brought everything crashing down. Those close to my mother began blaming me for everything wrong. I was responsible for her breakdowns. Her hysteria. Her depression. Amazingly enough, one person suggested it was my fault that she had an abscess tooth. And I must be doing it all on purpose.

The one saving grace during this period was my psychiatrist. After the trip through the nuthouse I had switched to a different one. He met with me. He met with my mother. And then he did something he said he had never done before. He gave me his home phone number in case I needed him. Being the good girl that I was I never violated that boundary and called him at home. But I had never encountered somebody who cared about me like that.

By July of that year, in spite of the work with my new psychiatrist, I was in a bad place again. Even though I had perhaps gained 4-5 lbs. since my exit from the nuthouse, I was losing it again and losing hope. There comes a time when, due to lack of adequate nourishment, no amount of mental health care will make sense any more. My Internal Medicine doctor said hospitalization was the next step. I was too close to the edge.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

My Story, Part 5

To start at the beginning, click here.
For Part 4, click here.

I don't know exactly what I expected of my experience at a psychiatric hospital, but whatever it was, it was not what I got. Of course, the people there had no idea what to do with me. Eating disorders had just come over the horizon, understanding was limited, and there was almost no successful track record for treatment.

The first few days were spent settling in, talking to lots of different people, and participating in yet more psychological testing. Because I was 17 I was eventually put on the adolescent program, which was me and about half a dozen juvenile delinquents. We were put on a rewards system for good behavior and I racked up points like gangbusters. This was all well and good but I wasn't improving. If anything, I was continuing to lose weight. Enter: Behavior Modification.

Here was the idea. They would put me in a room by myself at the end of the hall with a view of a brick wall. They would take away everything I had, except clothing and my toothbrush. And then every time I gained half a pound, they would give me something back. Half a pound and I get back my hairdryer. Half a pound and I get back my brush. Half a pound and I get to eat in the dining room. But I couldn't do it. I was so far gone mentally, emotionally, physically, that the program offered no hope. I couldn't see how I would ever get out. It was prison.

After 3 weeks in the psychiatric hospital, I was worse off than before, my weight bottoming out at 82 lbs. Why, oh, why, oh, why couldn't I figure out why I was such a mess? Why was I so broken that not even the experts could fix me?

My mother decided that it was not working either and withdrew me, against medical advice. I was thrilled and convinced that now everything would get better.

Monday, November 9, 2015

My Story, Part 4

To start at the beginning, click here.
For Part 3, click here.

My plan was working. Finally, I was doing something right. I did quit drinking. That right there allowed me to shave 5-7 lbs. off of my pudgy-to-me figure. And I did start studying. Well, at least I opened the books. And then I started to lose weight in earnest. And I got good at it. For the very first time in my life I was actually good at something. But no matter what I weighed, I wanted to weigh just a little bit less, just to have that buffer. Just to be safe.

By the fall of my junior year in high school I was down to about 95 lbs. I knew I had a problem. And so in October of 1980, exactly 5 years from my first visit to the psychologist, I went back.

This was 1980, however. The understanding of eating disorders was severely limited. This time I saw a psychiatrist. To be honest I cannot remember a single thing about it my appointments with him.

 I can hardly remember a single thing about that entire year, which is a bummer because I made the best grades of my life. I had isolated myself socially and, considering I never ate, really didn't have the energy to do much anyway. It was the year that I learned all that Spanish vocabulary that I will never be able to recall. All that work for nothing, it seems.

One thing I do remember is how terribly I wanted to not be what I was. I didn't want to have Anorexia Nervosa. I didn't want to spend my days and hours and minutes worried about food and calories and pounds. I didn't want to be so alone and isolated and hollow. I didn't want the terror that I felt inside all the damn time.

One day, in English class, we watched a slide show of Dante's Inferno. There was a slide of a woodcut illustration. It was skeletons drowning in a lake of fire. And I saw those skeletons. And I saw me. But still, I couldn't stop.

Then came the day that Ronald Reagan was shot. I won't forget it. I walked in the door from school. There was all the hubbub on TV while my mother told me that I wouldn't be going to school the next day. I would be going to a psychiatric hospital.

My Story, Part 3

For Part 1, click here
For Part 2, click here.

The rest of my 8th grade year in school is a bit of a blur. Lots of dieting and trying to fit in. Lots of eating more than I wanted. Lots of longing to be beautiful and therefore loved.

By 9th grade I was ready to come out of my good girl shell. I hated life and found that if I drank, it felt good for a while. My grades plummeted but I didn't care. Guys liked "dumb" girls, so I thought. Drinking became an every weekend activity. 

New Year's Eve 1978, I fell in love. This guy told me he loved me, too. We would drink together and I would cry. After a month of my affections, he moved on to greener pastures. I was devestated. 

Anybody who has ever had a broken teen heart knows the drama. I cried for months on end and wrote lots of really bad teenage-esque poetry. I had become somebody I didn't want to be but had no idea who I really was. On top of that, I had gained weight. Not a ton of weight, but more than I wanted and more than was deemed culturally appropriate by the going standards. In my eyes I was fat, depressed, and dumb.

I was never as popular as my sisters. My oldest sister was a cheerleader and homecoming queen. My other sister was also a cheerleader and on the homecoming queen court. My dream was to become a cheerleader, too. That would mean I was of value. I failed. Two years in a row I tried out and failed. In fact, I failed at just about everything I tried for. I felt worthless.

Toward the end of my sophomore year in high school I was disgusted by my life and decided to make a change.  So I quit drinking, I started studying, and I decided to lose weight.

My Story, Part 2

For Part 1, click here.

I grew up in a culture obsessed with thinness. I cannot remember a time when being thin was not the goal of my mother and every other female I knew. Being thin was the very definition of beauty. My mother herself had so much shame surrounding her body. I would watch as she did her exercises, which included slapping furiously at the adipose tissue on her thighs, as if she could beat it away by shear disgust.

Life had gone relatively smoothly for me since I had gotten off of the antidepressant at the end of 6th grade. I had grown 6 inches taller and come out of my pathetically shy shell a bit. I even had a boyfriend for a few months. But the glory days didn't last long.

The fall of 1977 started the long downhill into the pathetic years of adolescence. In October, just before my 14th birthday, I got the Grill of Shame, AKA braces. If I didn't feel ugly before, this did the trick.

A couple of weeks later my mother informed me that she and my father were divorcing after 31 years of marriage. At the time it didn't really phase me. I knew he had been gone a lot. I knew he had been unfaithful. And I never had had a close relationship with him. He had always frightened me.

Over the next few weeks I noticed various pieces of furniture from the house being moved to the garage. On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving my sister and I drove into the driveway after school and the garage was empty. My father was gone.

There are times now that I cannot shake that awful sense of abandonment that I felt at that moment. Two days later, on Thanksgiving, my mother fell apart. She screamed and wept and fell to the floor as she realized that the life that she had with my father was over. He had left her for a much younger (and supposedly more beautiful) woman.  Being the youngest of the four children, I just stood there helpless. Watching my world crumble.

The next day I started my first diet.

My Story, Part 1

I was always an incredibly sensitive and anxious kid. I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t afraid and certain that something bad was going to happen. Images I saw on television were scorched into my mind. The quicksand on the Tarzan movie was waiting to suck me down when I hopped out of bed. The disease that took the girl in the song on the radio was just around the corner. I had all the symptoms. I didn’t know what they were, but I had them.

Then in the spring of 1975, I saw it. The last portion of a bad TV movie about a ship in the hands of the devil. Dead people came back to life possessed by Satan himself. I was terrified. Over the next few months I couldn’t get that out of my mind. Any sense of peace and safety that I had ever had (which was not much to begin with) was gone. It was up to me to keep myself safe and I really wasn’t up to the task.

I tried, though. I made up rules for my life. Rituals to protect me. Turn the light on and off 6 times and the devil would get me, but 7 times and I was safe. Certain numbers scared me to death. Every shadow meant I was toast.

I ceased to function and was finally sent to a psychologist. I never told anybody my fears. I didn’t know how to verbalize my horror. They did all sorts of testing and determined I was a mess because I was gifted but couldn’t function under stress and told the teacher to go easy on me. Then they put me on an antidepressant.

I suppose that I had a diagnosis. Depression? Anxiety? I have recently read that OCD was not even an official diagnosis back then and I doubt the professionals even knew of the mental gyrations and games I played to keep myself safe. (Interestingly enough, I have read that the average age of onset is 11 years old. I met with the psychologist the week before my 12th birthday.)

The antidepressant worked and, after about 6 months, it seemed like I had grown out of my “problems.” If only…..

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Alone in the Middle

My husband's family has had property up on a lake in Northwestern Wisconsin for 70 years. And for the past couple of decades, every year or two, Matt and I have packed up the kids and driven 18 hours to spend a week or two in heaven. The lake is 1800 acres of clean, cold water and I love, more than anything, to be on or in that water.

A few years ago I took up the family challenge of swimming across the lake. It is about a mile across and just doesn't look that far. Now I love swimming and plugging along breast-stroke is about like walking to me, so swimming a mile across the lake really isn't that big of a deal. 

The first time I swam across I apparently broke the family record. I am very active, but not terribly athletic (possessing the energy but not the coordination), and have always hated competitive sports. (The last thing a guilt magnet like myself needs is to be the reason her team lost.)

I truly believe that my record breaking swims across the lake have less to do with my athletic prowess than with my hyperactive and excessively vivid imagination. Left to my own devices, with upwards of 60 feet of water beneath my feet, my mind conjures up an amazing number and assortment of things that could be in the water with me. Giant muskies eye me with hungry eyes and hungrier stomachs and unnamed beasts, part octopus, part squid, part jellyfish, and part blob, reach up with their dangly tentacles to drag me down by my toes, never to be seen again. So I swim. I swim fast as fast as I can.

But I have noticed something in the swimming. When I first start out I seem to make incredible headway. With each stroke the shore disappears behind me at something barely short of a breakneck speed. But the closer I get to the middle, I can watch the shore and watch the shore and watch the shore and plug along til my limbs fall off and I don't seem to get anywhere. At all. 

The first time I noticed this I started counting my strokes. Twenty strokes and then I can open my eyes. Check my place. Twenty more strokes. And twenty more. The only thing that told me that I just had to be moving a little was the fact that I could count my strokes. And eventually, a seemingly long eventually, the shore came close and each stroke made a huge difference and it seemed I was finally back again to breakneck speed, headed for the finish.

I know that it is all about perspective. My efforts only seemed to be doing something when I was close enough to clock my position against a near landscape. Out in the middle, the mile markers, so to speak, were few and far between. Even while swimming it feels, it seems, that I am just treading water. That is what it is like out in the middle.

That is where I am right now. Out in the middle. Mid-life. No wonder there is such a thing as a mid-life crisis. You get to a point and, well, life just seems to be treading water with no headway. No purpose.

My kids are all out of high school, mostly grown, and making their own way through young adulthood. My purpose has changed. My role has changed. Gone are the mile markers of my life: birth and development, school with each year a new grade and advancement, jobs, marriage,  pregnancies and births and my children's own milestones,  and grades in school. Gone are so many of the rhythms of life that were my gauge for most of the past 51 years. I am far away from shore now. I am treading water, so it seems.

In so many ways I feel all washed up. My body seems to hate me now. I look in the mirror and ask "who the hell is that?" Any attempt to improve intellectually would just be calling on brain cells that went AWOL years ago. I get distracted. Flustered. Forgetful. I look up the symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer's just in case.

This is the time of life where peers begin dying of natural causes. Last fall my high school class of 67 lost our first classmate. A heart attack took her in her sleep. Four months ago my high school boyfriend dropped dead. It just seems that in so many ways, this is the beginning of the end and there is little left ahead.

Yet, both grandmothers lived into their 90s and my own mother was 85 when she died. Given those genes, I have possibly 4 decades...40 years...left. It baffles and confuses me. I could be barely past the halfway point yet there seems no clear way forward. I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up.

I just thought things would be so different by now. I thought I would be more confident. More competent. More sure of my future. More secure in my identity. I thought I would be smarter. Wiser. Better able to roll with the punches. I never dreamed I would reach this age and still get lonely on a Friday night.

Maybe everybody goes through this. Maybe this is what causes women to get face lifts and boob jobs and men to go running after young hotties with healthy libidos.

To be honest, I need to know if I am still of value. That my thoughts and words and work matter. I need to know that this stage of life matters. That the life God has brought me through matters. That I am not lost out here in the middle. And I am not alone.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Quilting Bees, Flat Tires, and the Presence of God

Long ago but not so far away I was invited to a quilting bee. Yeah, laugh. I did. I am not the most crafty of people on the planet and I did not grow up with those pioneering skills so popular among my corner of humanity. As I sat there among the women, most of whom were younger than me, I was shocked to find that I was the only person there who did not know what I was doing. There they sat, these competent women, chatting away with their nimble fingers, zipping needles through fabric as my stubs made feeble attempts to do a stitch here or there, with miserable results. I was baffled. How did they know how to do this? I asked.

"If you want to know how to do something you just learn, Ginny." There was impatience and exasperation and condescension in her voice. I wasn't trying to be whiny or complaining or pathetic. I was just curious. Did these women all grow up with quilting grandmas or something? I felt chastised and ashamed. It was up to me to make sure that I had the competence that was up to snuff.

For the record, a few months later I did teach myself how to quilt. Sort of. Of course the thing fell apart after I washed it but BY GOLLY, I had made a quilt with my own two hands, thank you very much. This time my bootstraps worked. I had (sort of) made it a few steps up the competence ladder.

Not so long ago and even less far away, I had a flat tire. I was alone and pulled into the gas station about 3 miles from home. I called my husband. I wanted so desperately to be competent. To know what to do. How to do it. But I wasn't so sure. He came to me. He stood there and patiently talked me through the entire process. I am sure that it didn't look so good to see a man just standing there, hands in pockets, while this 120 pound woman rolled (yes, literally, rolled) around on the pavement, wrestling a tire into place (it is harder than it looks) and we laughed at what the passers by must have thought.

But I wanted to learn. And he wanted me to learn. So he stood there. Protecting me from other cars. Patiently giving me instructions. So I could learn. So I could do. He did not leave my side until we were sure that the tire was securely in place. And I had learned a new skill.

Long. long ago and far, far away there was a man named Moses. God called him to go to Pharaoh. To talk to Pharaoh. Moses thought he couldn't do it. He didn't have the skill. But God went with him.

Paul Tripp, in his book New Morning Mercies, says it this way:
This life-changing fact is that the God of glory and grace, who calls his people to do his will on earth, always goes with them as they obey his calling. He never sends them without going too. When he sends you, he doesn't give you a bunch of stuff to help you along the way. He always gives you himself because he is what you need and he alone can give you what is required. 
Life is hard. It is scary. We all face things that we are so totally unprepared for. But God does not tell us to just do it. To just pull ourselves up and dig up our own resources and figure it out for ourselves. Like my husband as I changed the tire, God is there with us. Standing over us. Protecting us. Giving us not only the instruction, but the very gift of his presence.  In his economy, companionship trumps competence. And for that I am thankful.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Doing the Loving Thing

I don't think I have ever seen so many images of the Confederate flag paraded before my very eyes before and I grew up here. By "here" I mean in the American South. South with a capital "S." I grew up around plenty of people who were really proud of the South. Of their Southern heritage. Even my mother grew suspicious of anyone without a southern accent and referred to them as "Yankees."

My mother married one of those Yankees, ensuring that I have ancestors who fought on both sides in what I always knew as the Civil War or the War Between the States (though some people I know still refer to it as the War of Northern Aggression). My father was from Massachusetts and preferred Clam Chowder to fried chicken and Welsh Rabbit to blackeyed peas, so our household was tempered a bit, I suppose, when it came to just how truly southern in culture we were.

I married a Missouri man (my mother even called him a Yankee) and while we spent our first year of marriage in Atlanta, we lived in Philadelphia for 3 years before settling for good in North Carolina. So, other than those 3 Philadelphia years, I have spent all of my life here in the South.

I know a lot of people that are pro-South. I mean...rah...rah...let's go. Let's fight the Civil War all over again. These people usually talk up the ideals of State's Rights and the heroism of Stonewall Jackson and such. They usually know a whole lot more history than I do. I would never begin to get into a debate with them on such things. So for years, I just avoided the who "Southern Heritage" shootin' match and politely bowed out of those conversations.

Then a few years ago, the issue of "Heritage Not Hate," a popular bumper sticker displaying the Confederate flag, was brought home, quite literally.

My teenage daughter, all in to horses and trucks and sweet tea and all things "country," asked me what I thought about her wearing a pair of Confederate flag earrings a friend had given her. Wow! I didn't see that one coming.

Now, we live in Western North Carolina. The population of our county is only 6% African-American, and it is even lower in surrounding counties. And even though she had lived the first 9 years of her life with African-American next door neighbors, my daughter had rather limited experience with racial issues. To her reasoning, and what she heard from her friends, this flag was all about being southern. It was about heritage.

There was no sense arguing on that standpoint. Not with her. Not with my Civil War scholar friends. But this is how I see it and this is what I told her and this is what I am still telling people when the topic comes up:

Jesus calls us to love our neighbor. Even if the flag means something perfectly innocent and good to you, it does not mean that to other people. To a lot of other people, one look at that flag brings back a wave of horror for all the atrocities visited on an entire race of people strictly because of the color of their skin. To clamor to have a right to wave whatever flag you jolly well please is looking out first for your own interest, not the other person's.

Christians are called to lay down their life and take up their cross. Sometimes that means letting go of something we may hold dear because that something is hurting somebody else.

I am all for it. I am all for taking down the flag. It won't do anything to make right all the wrongs. But neither will it continue to offend and break hearts.

Let's do the loving thing. It is time to love our neighbor.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

We Want to Matter

Much is regularly posted about the role of women in the church, in society, in family life. There are the egalitarians and the complementarians, the patriarchy people and the militant feminists. People have their views that they can back up with wagon loads of scripture (well, maybe not the militant feminists) with, at times, a side serving of attitude.

A while back I wrote an blog post touching on this. It was a plea to the male powers that be to take women seriously. To listen to, respect, and protect the female members within their midst. Based on the stories coming in from all over....from news, blog posts, personal friends, and my own experience, that is easier said than done.

A while back I read these words regarding women:

"But their hearts, minds, opinions, experiences, feelings, and everything else that makes them self-consciously who they are is completely irrelevant."

I was blown away. Blown away because these words were spoken in connection with pornography, yes pornography (read full article here), yet it described perfectly my, and others', experience within the church.

Sometimes conservatives get all bent out of shape. We check boxes to make sure we are within the appropriate confines of Doing It Right. Any concern or complaint about the place of women is met with a retort of male leadership and "I didn't make these rules, God did."

Funny thing is, I don't know women who are dying to preach or divvy up the bread and the wine or run the show. I think, more than anything, women just want to matter.


We have so, so, SO much more to give than culinary or childcare skills (not that there is anything wrong with food or babies, I am fond of both). Our thoughts, our experiences, our wisdom and even our FEELINGS (gasp!) needs to count for something.

We are half of the church. In fact, based on my observation, we are MORE than half the church. Find out who we are. Where we've been. What we've seen. What we've learned. What gifts we have. Please, please, seek us out. Listen to us. Believe us. Value us. We want to matter.

Father's Day

Every year it comes and every year it is hard and every year I wonder if I should be open and honest about it and write a post and every year I am afraid. I don't want to be told I am ungrateful. I don't want to be called a complainer. A whiner. This year I didn't write about it either. Not on the day, at least. But I am writing about it now because I know that I am not alone. And sometimes the hurt hurts less when you know you aren't the only one doing the hurting.

Father's Day. Ugh! Why do we have these holidays? It seems to me that there isn't a holiday out there that divides up the Haves and the Have Nots like Father's Day. Every year the posts are there. I scroll down my Facebook news feed and there they are. Tributes and photos of beaming fathers and smiling daughters. Accolades. Special memories. He was, to them, a source of wisdom and strength, a friend, a rock.

With each post, I wince. My heart cries out. Not only for my own pain but also for the pain of so many who will never know that kind of love and care and support and security.

There seem to be so many of us who hurt. Death, divorce, desertion, dysfunction. The entire country is buying cards and giving presents and having cookouts to celebrate a relationship that is beyond the comprehension of so many. A Hallmark spotlight on a gaping hole.

The fix for us, supposedly, is to just think of God as our father. If I had heard this once I have heard it a thousand times. As if it is that simple.

Part of the problem comes in the word itself. Father. Just the word means so many different things to people. What does father mean? What is a father like? What does a father do? It is like vocabulary class. Learning a definition. And if we learn the wrong definition of what a father is, then we will view God in that very same way. This "think of God as your father" just doesn't help very much after all.

For some people the very word "father" stirs up confusion or frustration, sadness or terror. Depending on their experience, they view God as a cosmic form of their earthly father. God as cruel taskmaster. God as demanding perfectionist. God as detached workaholic. God as groping rapist. God as disinterested. God as powerless. God as gone.

It has taken me years, and will take me many more, to get around this and to learn that the very definition of "father" that is etched in my soul is wrong. I have started on the path of learning anew what a father really is.

In the 1986 movie Crocodile Dundee (watch clip here), the main character and his girl are held up by a gang of thugs. One pulls out a switchblade and demands his wallet. The girl says "Give him your wallet. He's got a knife." And, in the most famous line of the movie, Crocodile Dundee pulls out a huge machete and says, "That's not a knife. THAT'S a knife!"

So to all my dear friends who struggle with God because of the pain associated with an earthly father, I say to you "that's not a father." And after examining the character of God...God as merciful. God as compassionate. God as wise. God as creator. God as protector. God as ever present. God as completely and utterly safe...I proclaim, "THAT'S a father!"

Broken Bootstraps and the Spirit of Despair

I went through a period earlier this year when I was scared to read the Bible. I know that sounds silly, but I was. I was so afraid that I would open the Bible and not find God to be what I so desperately need him to be. I was terrified that the condemnation and rules and shoulds and musts and the demands and finger pointing and posturing that I experience out there, in the world at large and, unfortunately, in the Christian community in particular, was in the Bible. I was convinced that I would be met face to face with the fact that God is disappointed in my performance and lack of theological prowess and really wishing he hadn't wasted his time on me.

One night, in complete despair, I flung open the Bible (a la Bible bingo, I suppose) and started reading and found this:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives
 and release from darkness for the prisoners,to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor   and the day of vengeance of our God,to comfort all who mourn,

 I didn't get any farther than verse 3.

   and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty   instead of ashes,
the oil of joy instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

When I got to the word despair I stopped dead in my tracks. I am no stranger to despair. No stranger at all. It seems to be my common mode of operation. So I backed up. Something about a garment of praise. Yeah, yeah. I hear that. You must praise God. You must thank him. You must, must rejoice. I could hear their words. Their commands. You must. You MUST. You must DO this.

But that isn't what it said. I backed up further. To bestow. This is talking about Jesus, the Messiah. He is the one doing this. What is he doing? He will comfort all who mourn. He will bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes. He will bestow on them the oil of joy instead of mourning. And he, HE will bestow on them a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

This is something HE will do.

What I found in Isaiah wasn't an army general commanding me to discipline myself, get with the program, and pull myself out of the pit with my own bootstraps. I found a God of good news. And compassion. And strength. I found a God who knows that the pit is deep, the gravity is strong, and my bootstraps are broken. I found a God who knows I cannot perform my way out of despair on my own. So he provides. He provides healing and freedom and vengeance and beauty and joy and praise.

He is, after all, exactly who I need him to be.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Dud Mom at the Finish Line

Last Saturday I had the joy of standing at the Finish Line as my daughter completed her very first half marathon. She only started running a year ago and her first race was last month. She rocked this race. It was awesome. I was amazed. Yet all that joy was tempered. Well, more than tempered. It was smashed.

There I was. Standing on the sidewalk with grandtoddler on my hip and my bum knee throbbing a "you'll never do that" throb,  as cute, fit woman after cute, fit woman (some of them apparently MY age) crossed the Finish Line. Every pointing, condemning, accusing finger on the planet was pointed at me. THEY were doing it right. THEY had discipline, toughness, perseverance. I, on the other hand, was lazy. An old, flabby, out-of-shape, lazy dud.

I know this sounds crazy to some. But it is what it is. I regularly battle to retrieve my sense of value from the grips of beauty or competence or fitness or toughness. Anything...ANYTHING other than who I am in my heart, in my being, in my soul, tends to define who I am.

As time progressed that morning, my dissatisfaction with who I am physically progressed to who I am emotionally, mentally, spiritually. What  pathetic, self-centered being I must be to cloud the joy of my daughter's first half marathon with my own pathetic insecurities. Oh! The guilt!

Fast forward a few hours later. I was at home, eating lunch on the deck and trying desperately to keep the hounds from lapping up my yogurt and berries (it is an actual skill, this Doggie Interference Jig is) and I decided to dig deep.

I had just forked over the bucks for Paul Tripp's new book, New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional. The first sentence for June 6 was this: "Every human being places his hope in something, and every human being asks that hope to deliver something. Where have you placed your hope?"


I am not kidding. Like an iron skillet up the side of the head or a dip in Lake Supeior in May. BAM! Where is my hope?

Am I really hoping in my physical toughness to give me of value? What am I thinking? Be it physical toughness, brains, beauty, competence, a way with words, excellent parenting skills....whatever. From an eternal perspective, that is freakin' ridiculous.

Just to drive the point home, God ended this particular daily reading with these convicting, haunting words:

If your hope disappoints you, it's because it's the wrong hope. 
And my hope has disappointed me so much these past years.

This all necessitates a complete paradigm change. One that transfers my hope from WHO I AM to WHO HE IS. From the CREATED to the CREATOR.

It may take a while for this old dog, this old, graying, tired, slightly flabby, doofus-esque, emotionally tender dog to learn some new tricks but I pray that God will continue to focus my mind and my heart on the source of real hope. A hope that that will never disappoint.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

So Much Silence

I wonder how many people have never told. Have chosen to forget. Have fought to forget.

Sometimes you succeed at forgetting until the evil rises up through your skin like oil on the surface of the water. And people scoff at the oil. And call you dirty.

Maybe they call you weak. Or weird.

And wonder why you haven't cleaned yourself up.

In Christian circles they say you  "just need to trust Jesus."  They think that enough theological knowledge will fill the gaping, bottomless void that is the damaged soul.

The damaged goods become suspect within the community that should be the safest place in the world. Obedience becomes the key. Emotions become the enemy.

There are no victims, they say.
Take responsibility for your own sin, they say.
Sort your own junk, they say.
Get over it, they say.

How? Just how?
When you have been rendered voiceless, personless, powerless.

How do you grab onto bootstraps that are broken with hands that were severed?

Statistics say that at least one in four women have been sexually abused in some way by the time they are 18. At least.

And one in six men.

And yet the silence. So much silence.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

On Grapefruits, Disillusionment, and Seeking the One Thing

Sometimes my purse gets overloaded with stuff. My husband and I have an ongoing joke about it, which started with a funny misunderstanding years and years ago.

I asked my husband to hand me my grapefruit. He asked where it was and I said, "I can't find it. I think it is in my purse." What he heard was, "I think it is in my purse but I can't find it." The image, of course, being that my purse was so full of junk that I couldn't even find a grapefruit in there. To this day, no matter what he needs to dig out of my purse, he will always (and I mean always) say that it was somewhere in there under the grapefruit.

I no longer carry a purse large enough to house a grapefruit (though an orange or apple has been seen bulging out the sides), but my bag can still get chock full of stuff and it gets heavy and burdensome and I can't find anything I need. At that point I really just have to dump it out, sort out the junk, and put back the important stuff. I don't really need the 27 grocery receipts or 9 pens. Nor do I need the half-rotten apple, the baggie of graham cracker pieces, or the melted Hershey's Kiss stuck to a penny. But I do need my wallet. My lockbox key. My allergy and migraine meds. (And perhaps an unmelted Hershey's Kiss, still in its wrapper.)

Sometimes you just need to sort things out. To get down to the basic necessities. That sorting is especially essential when the junk is getting in the way.

That is what I think disillusionment is. Junk getting in the way.

I know many people who are disillusioned right now. And by that I mean disillusioned with the church and with the current expression of Christianity as we know it in our culture. And to be honest, I am one of them.

My disillusionment has been building for years but has now hit critical mass. It is more obvious to me when I am in environments that seem to heap more and more stuff into my already overstuffed bag. The ways we should be and the things we should do. The words we should say, the gifts we should have, the hoops we should all jump through. The ways we should vote. The causes that should garner our attention. The ways we should relate to our children, our friends, our coworkers, our enemies. And just the right doctrine. Always the right doctrine.

I am worn out. I can't carry this bag any more. It is so full of so much stuff that I have lost the ability to find the things I need. So I am dumping. I am dumping it all out and looking through everything and putting back the good stuff. The necessary stuff.

A long, long time ago, way before the grapefruit/purse incident, there were a couple of ladies. They had an important guest in their home and one of the ladies was busy doing all the right things. I am sure she would be praised for her industry and her conscientiousness and her servant's heart. She might even be applauded for her organizational skills and her hospitality and her appreciation of beauty. She might even have killer cooking skills. She was getting things done and grew irritated with her sister, who was not helping at all.

Instead, her sister was sitting with the guest. Soaking up his wisdom. Basking in his presence.

"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." Luke 10-41-42

"Only one thing is needed."

When my relationship with God, when the life he has called me to live, becomes too burdensome, it might be because I have too much in my bag. It is time to dump things out, sort out what is needed. Lighten the load.

"Only one thing is needed."

Mary sat at Jesus' feet. She was not chastised by Jesus for not jumping through all the right hoops.

"Only one thing is needed."

May God give me wisdom to stick with that one thing.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Unfamiliar Paths

When we lived in town we had a neighbor a few streets away who was legally blind. He could see fuzzy shades of light and dark, but nothing else. He walked by our house every day. A known path.

I would imagine that the familiarity brought comfort and certainty in a world where he would otherwise be quite lost. Those bumps in the road and cracks in the sidewalk were his friends, telling him how far he had gone and how far he had to go. He knew what to expect when he got to the top of the hill or when he got closer to the dull roar of traffic on the main road. The familiar path was his lifeline to a safe and secure existence.

I cannot imagine how completely disorienting and even terrifying it would have been for him to be plunked down in a place he that he did not know and told to take a path he had never walked. How every step would be uncertain. How every turn would bring the unknown. How he would have no way of knowing how much longer before he reached his destination or even if he were going the right way at all.

It is hard to lose your beaten path, your known way in the world. It is disorienting. Uncertain.

Sometimes that comes with the loss of a job, a career, a home, a friendship, a marriage, a life.

How do you move forward? Where are you even going?

There were times in this past year that I said that I felt like the Israelites in the desert, but with no pillar of smoke by day or fire by night to guide me. And no parting waters before me.

Yet God says this:

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, 
  along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; 
I will turn the darkness into light before them 
  and make the rough places smooth. 
These are the things I will do; 
  I will not forsake them.     -     Isaiah 42:16

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known.

There are times when I am too blind to see the pillar of smoke by day and fire by night. This is taking utter dependence to an entirely different level.

Along unfamiliar paths I will guide them. 

My blind friend would know the terror of being on that unfamiliar path. Yet I know that terror, too. Many of us do.

How do you move forward when everything in your life has changed, sometimes gradually, sometimes in the blink of an eye?

How do you move forward when you have no idea where your next paycheck is coming from? Or when you have no idea what God wants you to do with your life? How do you move forward when all you worked for is gone? When dreams are crushed and hopes dashed? How do you move forward when your trust has been betrayed? How do you move forward when you have seen your husband snatched from this life before your very eyes?

I would imagine that you must take the hand of one who knows where they are going. Someone that you trust.

Absolute, utter, complete dependence.

Terrifying? Yes.

But he will not forsake you. He says so.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Fat As a Bad Witness?

When I was in college I knew a student through one of the campus ministries. This woman was kind and compassionate, with an extensive knowledge of the Bible. She led a weekly Bible study and was diligent in discipling other young women. She seemed to have a real heart for reaching out and loving others. She was everything a fine, upstanding, Christian college student should be. But she was overweight.

When she graduated from college she wanted to go on staff with this particular ministry. Now, I wasn't there in the interview. I didn't hear all that was said. But I remember hearing the upshot. They would accept her as a staff member only if she lost weight because "being overweight is a bad witness."

I still reel when I think about this.

Let's unpack this. "Being overweight is a bad witness." Says who?

Those who have no problem with this statement will usually come up with, "well, gluttony, after all, is a sin." But who says she is a glutton? Unless you get ahold of her medical charts and her personal history and a map of her DNA and a long term calorie count, there is no way for you to truly know the source of her weight problem. And unless you can see to the depths of her heart, there is no way that you can know that she is a glutton. Gluttony, after all, encompasses a heck of a lot more than a passion for Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

People are overweight for all sorts of reasons and sometimes these are reasons beyond their control. Some people are overweight for medical reasons. Some people are overweight due to side effects from a medication they take. Some people are overweight because their body just doesn't burn fuel like thinner people. Some are overweight because their appetite control mechanism seems to have gone wonky. Some people are overweight because they have totally screwed up their metabolism through diet after diet after stinkin' diet, in pursuit of some sort of cultural approval, only to find themselves fatter than ever.

And some people ARE overweight because they eat too much. But we don't always know why. Some, having grown up with deprivation, are terrified of going hungry. Some, having been violated by the opposite sex, are terrified of having an attractive body. Some are using food to fill a hole, a deep longing. And some are eating too much because it just plain tastes good. Perhaps this was the problem the Powers That Be at the campus ministry assumed. That my friend was overweight because she ate too much and that was a bad witness.

Tell me, why can't you be fat and be a good witness? After all, a witness is somebody who shares their side of the story.

If you are called in to court as a witness to a crime,you are not called in to recount the laws of the land, you are called in to tell what you experienced and what you saw. That is it. This is what you know.

Unless this woman was specifically committing the sin of gluttony (and that is a Pandora's Box if there ever was one), why should she be kept from ministry just because she is overweight?

As I see it, she would be just as, if not better, equipped to minister to others as anyone out there. Not only does her weight in no way hinder God working in her life, she could have a much deeper view into what it means to cling to God when you are scorned by the beauty standards of our world.

I cannot imagine being a college student struggling with my weight or my lack of physical beauty and finding that only thin, fit, pretty, perky people representing Christ on campus. What does that say? That God doesn't care about you if you are fat or homely. I would want to have someone to turn to who knows rejection and shame and heartbreak. Being a fat person in today's world pretty much guarantees you all of those.

I see nowhere in the Bible where we are told that somebody's BMI will limit the working of God in their life or through their life.

Might there be issues in her life that needed to be dealt with? Sure! Might it be good for her to develop, if she already hadn't, a healthy lifestyle? Of course! Could she be a witness, even a GOOD witness, for Christ, even if she was fat? Absolutely!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Dear Young Pastor

Lately I have seen a number of articles where highly respected pastors and Christian leaders give their advice to young pastors. What advice would I give young pastors? Well, it didn't take me long to figure that out. So here goes:

Dear Young Pastor-

I am sure you are on advice overload by now. I am not seminary educated. I am not a pastor myself. I am not a high profile believer of any stripe. I am just a person.

I see a lot of advice to young pastors about knowing theology and about knowing the Word of God. That is good and fine. Theology is important. You don't need to be preaching heresy. The Word of God is important. You have to know the foundation of what you believe.

But who are you preaching the Word of God to? People.

For all the advice to make yourself a student of God's Word, along with that, I would highly recommend you make yourself a student of people.

Because ministry is not just a bunch of impressive sounding words and lofty theologies.
Ministry is people.

Because ministry is not just about checking all the boxes as a good Christian.
Ministry is people.

Because ministry is not just a spiritual stepping stone to a successful career.
Ministry is people.

Knowing people is essential. There is so much variation in how God made us. In our temperament, gifts. Our life experiences. Learn. Learn from people.

It takes humility to learn from others. That may be hard. From what I hear, it is easy to come out of seminary convinced that you have all the answers to life's questions wrapped up in a tidy package. The truth is, we all have more questions than answers.

Ask questions. Listen to people. Listen to their stories. Refrain from wanting to fix them or give quick answers for their questions.

Learn about people. About how God made people. It warmed my heart to see a young pastor friend of mine post an article on Facebook about introverts with the comment, "I am beginning to understand."

Seek out information on things you don't understand. What happens to a woman's heart when her husband is unfaithful? What happens to children whose father walks out the door? Or dies before their eyes? Or spends years in prison? What happens to someone who is physically or emotionally or sexually abused by those he trusts? What happens to a man's sense of worth when he loses his job and can no longer provide for his family? What makes some people seek to lose themselves in a world of drugs or alcohol? What pain do they flee? What is it like to be in rehab? To be at war? To come home from war more wounded inside than out? What do young women go through when faced with an unplanned pregnancy? What does that kind of panic and helplessness really feel like? What is it like to give up the child you grew inside or walk past the protesters and have an abortion? What is it like to keep that baby and raise it on your own? What makes a man abuse the woman he vowed to honor and cherish? What is it like to learn differently from everybody else and to feel like the odd one out...all your life? What is it like to be the last one left when every friend of yours has died? What is it like to be the only single person in your entire group of friends? To always be the last one picked for the team? What is it like to struggle with mental illness? To face racial prejudice? To be beaten while you are down?

Every time you listen, you learn. And every time you learn, you are expanding your ability to care for others.

And people know if you care.

Thank you for listening.
Ginny, A Person