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Archive for the ‘Religion/Faith’ Category

Thanksgiving this year is seeming very depressing. My daughter–who’s celebrating her 12th birthday on Thanksgiving Day–will spending the day with her Daddy; and my sister and her family decided not to come to dinner because there’s been a break between her family and the rest of our extended family. This year, there will be only four us dining together. I’d just assume to go to a restaurant and pretend the day doesn’t even exist, but I think my Mom feels strongly about celebrating despite the circumstances.

I thought I would be kind by letting my ex-husband have our daughter for the day. I figured that she would be happier with him and his extended family since she’d have other kids to play with. I’m glad to help make her day better, but the thought of being away from her leaves me feeling really sad. My brother, knowing how difficult it is for me to be alone these days, graciously invited me to spend the night at his place so I have some company. For that, I’m very thankful.

Here’s the story surrounding my sister and our families: When I went in the hospital in September, I asked my Mom and brothers not to tell my sister. I did so because she has frequently said that if I only called out to Jesus, I wouldn’t have the mental problems that I have. She once even tried to convince me to go to an exorcist. He was arrested for tying up a woman in his home, but that didn’t seem to bother her. Needless to say, I didn’t want the stress of having my faith called into question while I was in the hospital. After about five days, my family told my sister about my hospitalization, and she came to visit me. That was a mistake. My Mom kept trying to get me to set some boundaries with my sister, but I wasn’t strong enough. So my sister proceeded to trample all over me. I didn’t invite her to come again. After I got out of the hospital, she sent me a letter saying her silence wasn’t indicative that she was angry, because she wasn’t. I thought everything was going to be okay.

However, a few weeks later, my sister-in-law, my Mom, and me met my sister for a “therapy” session at a church in Goshen. This was another disaster. My sister told me she didn’t want me to be with her children because I chose to talk to them about things she was opposed to whenever we were away from her. Her example: At a football game we went to in September, “all you talked about was boys.” I was shocked. I mean, don’t most teenagers like to talk about boys? After this meeting, I uninvited her youngest daughter from my daughter’s birthday party because I didn’t want to risk my daughter’s friends talking about things my sister would find inappropriate. Some people thought I should have given her the option of letting her daughter go, but I couldn’t bear to be subjected to her criticism. I just couldn’t take it from her anymore. Apparently, I really hurt my sister. Her husband called my Mom and ranted about how angry he was with me. Is my family screwed up, or what? Now, in order to see my daughter–even though she won’t let me see hers–my sister has arranged with my ex-husband to spend the day with her on his time. I guess I shouldn’t have expected him to support me by not permitting that. Don’t get me wrong–I want my daughter to interact with her cousins. But I resent her going around me to get to my daughter. I am very sad.

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For the first time in many weeks, I’ve experienced clarity. After weeks battling severe depression, I reached a place of thanksgiving for the life I have, for my family, for my friends, and for honesty.

As a patient in a local mental hospital, I’ve listened to countless stories of suffering and despair. My fellow patients recounted years of abuse at the hands of their parents and spouses, the sting of betrayal by best friends, the agony of addiction to alcohol and drugs, and the oddity of relying on the pain of “cutting” to bring comfort and healing. Time and time again, I was reminded by staff of how brave we all were simply because we were there. At first, this admonition seemed ill-founded, even silly. I mean, we were in-patients (and later out-patients) in a psych ward. We were crying out loud in pain, visibly shaking with anxiety. But after conversations with family and close friends, I know that what the social workers and doctors said was true. We are brave.

I am thankful for my life just as it is today because of this bravery. While there are life circumstances that I long to be different with all of my heart, I am thankful that I can express my deepest feelings to my family and friends without fear of reprisal. Based on some of the comments I’ve received on this blog over the years, I know my candor has enabled others to work through their suffering, and my forthright words have touched readers in ways I couldn’t have predicted. What’s more, I wrote a comment on another blog about some of the challenges I feel in following God’s will in my life. Apparently, my comments inspired my fellow blogger’s family to look at their own faith journey with new eyes. Clearly, my bravery is healing for me and for others.

Since September 21, I’ve realized how fortunate I am to have the family God gave me. My mother never left my bedside at the emergency room, and she visited me nearly every night of my 18-day hospital stay. My oldest brother flew in from California to support my mother and me during that critical first week, and then he and his wife talked to me at least once a day for the duration of my stay. My “birthday brother” (the one with whom I share a birthday) visited me regularly and implored me to tell him something–anything–he could bring to me that would bring me comfort. Each of these people reminded me daily that they loved me and couldn’t imagine life without me. Their kindness baffled me, but it kept me going.

I told my friends the truth about what brought me to the hospital, and they didn’t gasp in horror at my frailty or shun me because of my inability to “deal.” Rather, they prayed for me, comforted me, reassured me. I am so lucky to have such friends.

Honesty has been my friend through this difficult time. For several months, I had encased myself in a wall of deception, pushing my feelings down so far that I couldn’t even identify them. I needed the 63-face feeling chart the nurse in the out-patient program gave me in order to find a name for the emotions stirring within me. While at first I was afraid to share my story, I found that when I did, lots of people were helpful; others were thankful for my insight. I realized that by sharing my storing, I was healing myself and others.

I am still afraid in many ways: I’m afraid about moving back home; I’m afraid about going back to a job that I find unfulfilling; I’m afraid I won’t find love again. But another part of me feels beautiful for the first time in my life and is confident of who I am and what I have to offer.

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My father is suffering from dementia, but he doesn’t know it yet. He’s discussed his declining memory with his doctor, and he’s certainly demonstrated it with all of his children. Some people begin to get beligerant in their old age, effectively shunning those who may have been able to help them. My father isn’t like that. He’s been beligerant his whole life, so we’re used to it. None of us wants to take care of him, but we all recognize that we must. And so we do.

After suffering a childhood of emotional and borderline-sexual abuse by my father, I have never been alone with him. Never. And yet somehow, apparently without thinking, I offered to take him to a psychiatrist to see about getting him on an antidepressant or mood stabilizer, depending on what the doctor says. I’m the logical person to take on this job, since I have manic-depression and have experience dealing with the psychiatric healthcare system. So I suggested that he go, and I volunteered to be the person to take him. It wasn’t until my brother told me how shocked my sister was at my offer that it occurred to me: I have to be alone with him–and in a car at that.

A couple of things have run through my mind when I’ve thought about how I’ll handle the car ride. Shamefully, I admit that I thought about bringing my daughter with me, thinking just maybe she’d inhibit him from yelling at me, patting my thigh, trying to kiss me on the lips, and, well, you get the picture. A friend suggested I load up the front seat with junk, and tell him to just hitch a ride in the back. Neither of these options is acceptable to me. One isn’t fair to my daughter–she doesn’t need to be a buffer between my father and me; the other isn’t fair to my father–he isn’t a cab passenger.

Why the heck I even care about what is fair to my father is this: I am modeling caring behavior for my daughter. She’ll see that despite my feelings about my father (it’s obvious to her we’re not close), I can still reach out to him and help protect him from himself and, ultimately, the nursing staff who will one day care for him.  Going on a psychotropic drug may help him find some joy in his life. It may also take the edge off his beligerance and, therefore, make him a better patient–which translates to a better-cared-for patient.

Sappy, but it reminds me of Jesus telling his followers to “turn the other cheek” when someone wrongs them. I just hope my father doesn’t slap the other one as well.

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I saw the title and was immediately… scared to view the movie. “Jesus Camp,” it’s called, and I’m sure many of you know all about it. I had heard of this film about an evangelical body of children who are being “taught” to be warriors for Jesus, but I hadn’t gotten around to seeing it yet. I saw it tonight through tear-filled eyes and worry-torn face.

Early on in the movie, a woman stabs me right in the gut. “God didn’t give me children to send them out to be raised in the public schools,” she says. “Why–if I can teach my kids as well as the public schools can–why would I send my children to public school?” (more…)

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In a recent post, Tiffany wrote about her discomfort at a funeral she attended. A self-described atheist, Tiffany said in a comment that “the way I view death is very simple: You die. Your bodily and brain functions cease. That’s it — there is nothing more.” That comment really got me thinking about . . . life.

Specifically, I wonder, if there’s nothing more when you die, what is there when you’re alive? Are we truly nothing but water and muscle and bones and skin, with brain waves? What about the mind? Although I know that my brain sends messages throughout my body to do everything it needs to do to stay alive, my thoughts aren’t tangible. My brain activity can be measured, but my thoughts can’t. So do the thoughts really exist?

When you get a “gut feeling,” from where does it originate? For me, God speaks to me through gut feelings, through heart-wrenching and heart-singing feelings. I can’t fathom believing that those feelings are solely the result of brain functions, of synapses shooting messages around randomly (or methodically, for that matter).

If when you die there’s nothing more, then there is no soul. Regardless of what that means in terms of an existence after mortal life ends, what does it mean when you’re still alive? The soul and personality seem intertwined to me, so if there is no soul, what is personality? As someone who must deal with a brain chemical disorder (manic depression), you would think I’d believe that my personality is largely chemically based. But I don’t believe that. I believe I was born with an already-formed personality and that despite environmental influences and changes in brain chemicals, that personality remains. Same goes with a soul. I believe God formed my soul when He formed me, and nothing environmental or chemical can alter that soul.

What about you? What do you think?

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Let’s get this straight from the outset: I love Jesus and am grateful for everything He’s done for me. He forgives me of my sins (of which I have many); He listens to me when I call on Him for support; He speaks to me when I need to mend my ways; and, of course, He atoned for my sins when He died on the cross. All of that is very important to me. Yet for a reason that is abundantly clear to me, I feel I have to justify why I believe what follows despite believing all of the aforementioned.

Let me explain.

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Well, I went to the wedding I blogged about in August (“What Would You Do?”). Am I glad I did? Yes and no. It made my friend feel good that I showed up. There were only about 30 people there, so my presence was noticeable. Wendy looked beautiful and happy, the bridesmaids and flower girls were lovely, and the music was nice. Also, I saw an old friend who gave me some real estate advice, which I really appreciated. (Kind of goofy that I’m glad I went to a wedding because of getting advice on buying a condo, but what the heck!  🙂  )

Was it easy? No. I sat in the back of the church in case I wanted to bolt, but I didn’t do so. I listened as the minister reminded Wendy and Jim again and again how they needed to keep their vows no matter what, and my heart sank. I was happy for them, but, of course, I was thinking about my marriage not working out that way.

What else can I say?

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I filed for divorce today, and I am feeling so many things… I feel

  •  sad about dashed hopes of having a happy family with my husband and daughter… but satisfaction in finding happiness in my new family of two,
  • disappointed in myself for stopping trying to make things right… but comfort in knowing God is with me and will help me forgive myself,
  • dismay that I was never satisfied with my husband… but hope that I will grow comfortable with me and, possibly, another someone,
  • remorse that I didn’t listen to my gut when I considered calling off the wedding in the first place… but forgiveness toward myself because I deserve to be forgiven,
  • frustrated that I waited so long to make this decision… but resolved that I tried and tried and tried to make it work,
  • angry that my husband was an unwilling participant in compromise… but relieved that in divorce we’re able to do so for the sake of our daughter and our own sanity,
  • embarrassed that I’m divorced… but proud that I am proving to be competent as a single mother, and
  • relieved that I have a God in whom I find solace when confronting these emotions.

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Recently, I ran into a friend of mine online at another WordPress blog site. Although I worked with her for several years, reading her blog introduced me to a side of her I hadn’t known before. We got in touch and I recently had dinner with her at her house. It was a fabulous evening all the way around… and that somewhat surprised me. Despite being at opposite ends of the spectrum politically and, perhaps, spiritually, I thoroughly enjoyed the entire evening–from listening as my hostess sang to the jazz on the radio, to the ice-breaker game of “highs and lows” (where you share high points and low points from recent days) at the dinner table, to the game “Apples to Apples” after the meal. Of course, I mustn’t forget the meal itself: grilled Cajun pork chops, creamy cheese grits, and more… and for dessert: luscious triple chocolate brownies, whose recipe is online here.

The reason this evening surprised me has to do with my religious background and Tiffany’s atheism (as professed on her blog site). After spending nearly ten years attending a fundamentalist Christian church, I learned that Christianity was the only way to live happily, and I learned to not be accepting of other people’s belief systems. However, on this evening, I learned all at once that these things are not true. My friend is a Unitarian Universalist and attends a church where each parishioner believes what makes the most sense to him, which in her case means atheism. Yet Tiffany and her family are obviously very happy.

Most interestingly, her family reminded me of my staunch fundamentalist Christian sister’s family. While playing Apples to Apples after dinner, I leaned to my daughter and said, “Don’t they remind you of Auntie’s family?” Both families proudly display their political opinions on their vehicles, my sister with her ichthys and Tiffany with her Darwin fish and countless bumper stickers. Both women play passionate music and belt out the tunes along with the singer, my sister with her uplifting Christian praise tunes and Tiffany with her soothing jazz. Both women love to cook for others, my sister by providing meals for convalescing parishioners and Tiffany by cooking for 50 every Wednesday evening at her church. And both families seem to thoroughly enjoy each other’s company. Both families are inspiring.

Thanks for a lovely evening, Tiffany… and for the surprise!

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My faith journey began when I was three years old, walking up the aisle in church to see “Baby Jesus.” Mom had purchased gifts for us to give to Baby Jesus on Christmas, and I was going to see Him in the manger at the alter. I vividly remember tugging at Mom’s sleeve and asking, “Where’s Baby Jesus? Where’s Baby Jesus?” Of course, when I got to the alter with my gifts in tow it wasn’t Baby Jesus after all, and Mom had to explain that we had gifts for other babies but that we were giving them in Jesus’ name. Needless to say, I was disappointed that Jesus wasn’t there.

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