Sunday, October 30, 2011

My Real Life Mondays - The Episcopal Church

True story - My relationship with God is best described as a friend refers to it - Multiple Spirituality Disorder. I'll never believe God fits into a denominational box of any size and if you try to fit me into one I'll run away screaming. Probably not kidding.

I grew up as a minister's kid in a Baptist/Bible Church. I fell in love with the God of the Old Testament and Jesus in the New Testament sometimes on a flannel board. (And, yes, I cut the head off John the Baptist. It's still funny.) It's hard for me to remember a time where God wasn't. And although I so love a great conversion testimony story, I wouldn't have it any other way for me. I'm 31 years old and I've loved God for 23 of those years already.

Sort of by accident, I attended Asbury University, a Methodist College where I studied Psychology. I'll never regret an education in a Christian environment with professors who loved and feared God. I've always preferred to learn about faith by watching people live it and for four years I had a front row seat peering into lives well lived.

While in college I attended a Methodist church exactly twice. I attended a Christian church for a year and a charismatic church for 3 years. Neither of them sans divine providence. I can't imagine being in any of those churches today, but at that time they were perfect. For me.

I moved to Georgia and remained in a charismatic church for awhile. I also spent oodles of time over the course of a decade at The Abbey of Gethsemani and still visit there yearly. I began to spend time praying the daily office and fell in love with the rhythms of prayer. Drawn to ancient traditions, my soul connects with liturgy in ways I cannot describe. I returned to the Baptist church briefly and then began almost a year without a church home.

It's in the valley we discover our own heartbeat. It's in the alone times that we ache for true community. It's the dark hours of the night when good enough......isn't. I visited every church I could think of. I listened to my friends tell me why I should go here or there. And I tried. I tried to be involved with people I already knew and loved. It just wouldn't work. I was spiritually lonely and so frustrated.

Christmas Eve I sat in the back row of a Catholic Church begging God to show up. I bowed my head as tears ran down my face, "God. I'm trying here. I'm trying to be faithful. I'm trying to wait on you. I'm trying to be where you want me to be. I know you're enough for me." I surrendered my trying that night and for the first time in a year I found peace.

A week later I walked into the Episcopal Church at the suggestion of an out of town friend. I knew nothing. I knew absolutely no one. Although I don't believe in following feelings alone, I do tend to trust the gentle leading of the Holy Spirit.

Today you'll find me within the walls of Christ Episcopal Church. God, for me, in this season is found kneeling in those pews, at the alter, within the liturgy and with those people. God still jumps off the pages of the Old Testament into my heart. And I'm still finding Jesus on every page of the New Testament. The word of the Lord is still changing my life and conforming me into the image of Christ with every minute of my life I spend there.

I appreciate community in ways I wouldn't have before. I cherish the sacred moments of an ordinary service after spending a year without it. I receive the body and the blood into every cell of my being and ask God every time to live through me. Even me. And I stand amazed every time when he does.

My real life. On a Monday.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Praying it away. With Prozac.

I used to fight with people all the time about the Christian response to medication for depression and anxiety. Really, like I never got off that soapbox. I work in the field of mental health and have spent years unraveling the complicated maze of depression in my own world. So, if you asked me the right question, I'd answer you both personally AND professionally. And most likely with a little too much opinion thrown in.

These days, I've gathered enough Jesus to offer grace to both sides of the argument while considering the person individually. I don't have a boxed answer - "Everyone should be on meds!" or "Nobody should! Say your prayers!" It's not that simple.

Here are my tips for considering meds for depression and anxiety:

1. Pray and pray for peace in your decisions. I believe with all my heart that Jesus is the Great Physician and I also believe he runs a superb pharmacy.

2. Meet with someone qualified who will not push you in either direction. Let them explain your options, the side effects and alternate forms of therapy that may help without medications.

3. Inform yourself. It's 2011. Read and research with an open mind, but don't get lost in the mix.

4. Trust yourself. You know or you will soon what works, what doesn't, what helps, and what makes things worse.

5. Be flexible. Remember that you're not committing to anything for a lifetime. I evaluate my emotional and mental health twice a year and discuss my thoughts on changing things with people I trust. I integrate all kinds of non med things into my life that help me participate in managing depression.

Also I keep a few people really informed which in turn gives them permission to say things like, "Um, do you think your meds are working?" Seriously five years ago I would never have written this post and been horrified if someone asked if I took meds. Now I could care less. Honestly. And I answer those questions with, "obviously NOT!" And we laugh because life is messy and so, so funny sometimes.

And, to get on my soapbox just for a moment, I don't think depression or anxiety or much else can be prayed away. They are symptoms......not sins. I live as close to the Almighty as I possibly can. I've quit taking meds more than once to be more spiritual and trust God more. There was nothing spiritually healthy about the downfall from that. Trust me.

Even today as I took the meds that keep my own darkness at bay, I prayed, "Grant me compassion for those who struggle with all things today. Surround this life with grace. Teach me in the darkness as I embrace Your light. Amen."

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Answer my prayers! No, not that way.

I went to Starbucks this morning to get a ton of reading done. Armed with a steaming mug of Pike's Place Roast and a pile of brand new books, I sat in the farthest corner relieved there were only two other people there and neither were talking.

I part time play an extrovert, but I'm really not. If I don't dose myself regularly with contemplation, meditation and quiet I'll die spiritually. . . .quickly. I had just settled contentedly into my introverted self when I woman walked in carrying an office. On the phone, computer, cords, briefcase, book - a mess. I rolled my eyes. Obviously she didn't get the memo - this is quiet Thursday.

She got her vanilla latte and, even though there were 75 open spaces, sat down right next to me. Seriously? I tried not to look as she unloaded her stuff, but when she reached over me for the third time to plug something in I half smiled, "Here. Let me." She did not thank me. I did not care.

"Having a good day? she asked cheerfully."

Lady, it's 7 a.m. How could I possibly know that already?


I settled back into my book about learning to love God more and act more like Jesus. Obviously just a refresher since I've so mastered that.

My new friend was noisy and she slurped coffee. She sighed. A lot. And she was all up in my space. I considered moving, but the south has rubbed off on me enough to not be rude on purpose - very often.

Back to my reading. About Jesus. The next sentence was, "Jesus was content because he was not angered by being interrupted."

Closed Jesus book. Opened yoga novel.

As I was driving to work an hour later I knew God wasn't going to miss that opportunity to make a point. Just last night I was telling Him that life has been tilted awfully far to the lonely side lately.

The lady didn't require anything from me. She wasn't trying to bother me. She just sat next to me. She was (relatively quiet) company. Two people minding their own business at Starbucks, but not alone. How many other times are people around to curb the loneliness and I see them as an annoyance? Hmmmmm.

God is slowly teaching me that He longs to hear me pray, to know my heart and to accept my requests as I make them known to Him. But, by being his, I don't get to decide how or when or why those prayers get answered. And, if I don't pay attention, I'll miss the answer all together.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Then you fall on your head

I'm doing a lot of yoga on my own these days, but I keep a teacher in the loop and have scheduled several intensives in the next year to keep myself accountable. Last night I was finishing up a 2 hour session and we were discussing all manner of things.

She asked, "What are your honest thoughts about yoga right this minute?"
Me: "That I'm still too big to be good at it."

(A few years ago a long round of steroids made my life a battle with weight. It is frustrating and it is on going).

She agreed that some poses would be easier if I were smaller, taller, etc. But, then very gently said, "I don't care what you weigh. You are good at this. You are crazy strong and I'm not just talking about yoga."

Interesting because I don't feel very strong right now. I feel weak. And fragile. I feel uncertain and uncomfortable. I'm in a spiritual place where I start to pray and hope God can fill in the blanks because I sure can't. Confusion is swirling and frustration is high. And I find myself whispering more often than not to the Almighty, "I. Just. Need. You."

My yoga teacher resumed our conversation with, "What pose would you do if you were the perfect weight and 10 years into a yoga practice?"

Me: "A back bend from standing/Wheel pose." (I don't know why. I just have a hard time with back bends and I really want to be good at them.)

We were sitting on the mat and she said, "Do it."

Me: "Now? No! I can't! What if I fall on my head?"

"Then you fall on your head."

Mainly because I'm stubborn, I said, "Ok, fine."

I stood there for a few minutes. I put my hands out in front of me and as I leaned back everything fell into place. I was flexible enough. I was strong enough. I could feel every vertebrae cooperate and before I knew it my hands were perfectly flat on the mat. It was a great victory.

Last night I prayed, "God what if nothing works out the way I dream? What if I get to the end of life and I've done nothing for You. What if these days don't matter when all is said and done? What if, what if, what if.......what if I fall on my head?"

"Then I'll catch you."

Monday, October 24, 2011

My Real Life Mondays - Iphone Photo Dump

Here's what I've been up to lately - the iPhone photo dump edition.

Making this awesome sugar free chemical free apple cranberry pie that will be making an appearance at Thanksgiving.
Rescuing this sweetie from the dryer. Her new favorite place to hide during thunderstorms. Bless her.
Remembering I've been drinking way too much coffee again.
Only drank 3 cups this weekend - getting back on track.
Cleaned up this room. Planning to spend LOTS of quiet time there in the evenings this week. Yoga, prayer, reading, etc. My soul has been SCREAMING for rest. More on that later.
I've been missing these friends so I'm drinking a lot of tea out of this mug lately.
And I've been getting much better at this yoga pose!
And making some great discoveries and spiritual connections in yoga. More on that later, too.

Happy Monday!!

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Magic of an Ordinary Day

Yesterday I was walking through the outpatient part of a hospital racing to a benefits meeting. I was bemoaning in my head that I had to run there on my lunch break and hoping I could get everything done that I needed to in the 45 minutes I had.

Hospitals are good places for perspective and, as it turns out, I've been praying for more.

I forced myself to slow down. The world wouldn't end if I was gone 46 minutes. I could feel the Spirit whisper, "don't rush. Don't miss this moment."

I still had to be responsible with my day. I couldn't stop and smell the roses or wander along on my happy way. But, I could notice.

Immediately my eyes fell on a younger man in a wheel chair with a balding head and a broken heart. He was very thin and apparently very ill. I wondered if he wouldn't rather have my life today.

I walked by the waiting room where a woman was rocking with her head in hands. Worry seeped from her pores while awaiting word from a loved one's procedure. I wondered if she would rather be running late for a meeting instead.

A man walked by me very slowly on crutches in a seemingly large amount of pain. I wondered if he would trade being busy at lunch for the ability to move freely.

An older woman on oxygen, and still struggling to breathe, was in the lobby. She was fragile and weak. Her bony fingers grasped the chair for dear life with every inhale. I wondered if she wouldn't gladly take the cold I'd been frustrated about just to be able to take a deeper breath.

I went to my meeting signing the forms for benefits I hope I never need. Cancer policies and accident coverage. Disability. Medical coverage and preventative measures. Sign here, here and here and you'll be covered if the unthinkable surfaces. Allegedly.

I tucked the forms into my purse and walked back down the hallways. Those I had seen before were on their way elsewhere and new people occupied the chairs. I prayed that peace would envelop that place and that I would never miss or take for granted the magic of an ordinary day.

Monday, October 17, 2011

My Real Life Mondays - Philosophy

People always ask me my favorite products. I have no idea why. I've never, ever had anywhere near perfect skin and at this point doubt I ever will. But, I gather inspiration where it can be found, and for me that's on the bottles of all things Philosophy.

My favorite company in all the world is Philosophy. Any cabinet in my bathroom is filled to the brim with their wonderful products with divine inspiration stamped on every bottle. A friend stayed in my guest room recently and spent at least an hour in the shower. "Sorry friend. I was reading all your cool bottles. I love that company!" Me too.
Perfect titles and an oil free make up remover that WORKS. What a concept.
This is what I'm scraping off my face before church these days. My all time favorite lip gloss.
When hope is not enough - enough said. I just love having this on my bathroom counter.
My favorite eye cream. Ever.
And this, I own the whole collection.
Inner Grace.
I don't just want to smell like it - I want to live it.

My real life-on a Monday.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Roaches, Snakes and Silver Linings

When I first moved to the south, I had no idea that bugs had evolved at a faster rate here. I settled into a cute, little (old) duplex with a roommate from work who was already from Georgia. One Friday night I was home alone moving in my things, minding my own business when a roach the size of a mouse came waltzing across the kitchen tile. (Side note: you do not have to be nasty to have roaches here, you just have to, well, be here).

I froze as my heart stopped. Racing through my mind came whattodowhattodowhattodo? I followed it around for a good 10 minutes. Having just left a charismatic church, I willed it to die. In Jesus' name. It didn't work. I reached for my phone, but didn't know many people yet. Finally I called my new roommate borderline hysterical who came to my rescue.

She found me in the living room following (at a safe distance) this somewhat smaller than a mouse now roach. "I don't know what to do!"

She walked toward it confidently and in one motion - stepped on it. Crunch. As she went to get one tissue to clean up the remains (ewwww!) she said, "Huh. That's interesting."

I was afraid to ask. "What's interesting?"

"Oh, nothing. It's just the ones that look like that usually fly."


I died on the spot.

And thought I would never recover or adjust to this treacherous new landscape.

But, 9 years and roughly 65,321,528,211 larger than life bugs later - I'm a semi pro. Just a few weeks ago I had to put a snake out of my misery when he threatened to get close to one of my dogs.

And, as I was tossing his remains into the woods behind my house I thought, "Huh. Too bad I don't have time or proper tools. He would make the coolest high heels!!"

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Yes, but, is it helping?

It's been about a year now since I've made a more concentrated effort to bring calm to my life. Stress was just about to kill me and my body was showing signs of fighting back. My doctor wisely said, "You're not at the breaking point yet, but you're dangerously close."

Knowing I had to do something, I fell headlong into a yoga practice more out of desperation than anything else. I returned to the basics of faith and embraced prayer and meditation like it was my job. I hired a private yoga teacher, began chiropractic care and massage therapy. I replaced much of the caffeine I consume with decaf tea. And I learned to breathe again.

I simplified my home and my life.

I said "no". . . . . a lot.

I cancelled my gym membership and returned to the joy of walking and jogging and breathing fresh air.

And even though I felt better, it's hard to measure things like that.

The yoga, the quiet, the prayer, the Scripture, the meditation, the candles, the simplifying. . . . . was it helping?

Twice lately, once last week and once this morning, I've gotten some unsettling news. Nothing to worry about yet, but that never stopped me before. Situational things that are out of my control, but that's also never stopped me. The first thing I noticed both times was, involuntarily, I took a deep breath and immediately felt centered. I prayed. I trusted. I did not freak out.

I surprise myself sometimes.

Have I mastered the art of balance? Not hardly.

Have I learned to trust the Lord to the extent that my actions and reactions are exactly his? Uh, no. For sure not.

But, as one who lives for progress I can say, yes, it's helping.

And I'm thankful for that.

Monday, October 10, 2011

My Real Life Mondays-Soup

So, if my refrigerator picture yesterday is any indication, I don't cook. Except that I do. I just don't do every day cooking. I love recipes that have 100 ingredients and take hours to make. I find the preparation of complicated food very therapeutic. So, while you're more likely to see me eating take out salads, I also love to cook. And here's the proof!

Rule #1 - I only cook with pretty food.
Rule #2: Cracked mustard seeds in olive oil make all recipes better
Rule #3: The anemic among us put spinach in everything. No, really.
Like comfort in a boiling pot of perfectly seasoned water! It's almost spiritual.

My real life. . . . on a Monday.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Introducing My Real Life Mondays

I was having this discussion with one of my friends over dinner the other night.

J: I like your blog, but it's not personal enough.

Me: Are you kidding?

J: No, I mean it IS, it just isn't. (Gotta love these conversations!)

Me: Okay, not personal enough, how?

J: Like, you don't post enough pictures of your real life.

Me: Okay, I don't post a lot of pictures. You're right. What would you like pictures of?

J: Fun stuff. You're fun. Like, what's in your refrigerator.

Me: Seriously? Who cares about that?

J: No! It's Fun! Be more fun!

Me: Okay!

So, thanks to my lovely friend J, you are warmly invited to a weekly blog post called My Real Life Mondays. Starting this Monday I'll pick a part of my *real* life to tell you about, show you, and introduce you to some of my favorite things along the way.

And, in case now curiosity has gotten the best of you. . . . .

Here's my refrigerator.

My ongoing obsession with IZZE, V8 Juice, other juice, Water, carbonated water, Almond Milk, mandarin oranges and cheese. I would always LOVE for that guy to come to my house who thinks he can make a meal out of any refrigerator. Good luck with that!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Not Today

As a chronic over-thinker, I'll wear myself out, all by myself, if I'll let me. I'm hoping the next translation of the Bible eliminates all verses about worry and anxiety. It makes me feel unspiritual to be drowning and then quickly recover enough to say nonchalantly (think Steel Magnolias), "Oh, me? I'm just a tiny bit concerned about that." PLEASE.

I heard a pastor the other day say, "Jesus never worried." Now, I can't say for sure because I wasn't there, but I'm thinking sweating drops of BLOOD may rank kinda high on the concerned scale! I'm just sayin.


Occasionally, I just have to give myself a break by giving my brain permission to slow down.

The mirror in my bathroom is 12 feet wide by 6 feet high. When I built my home I picked it out thinking it would be a great place to write notes. And I do. All the time.

So, this morning, in Merle Norman Sweet Marmalade lip pencil plus, I wrote in big letters NOT TODAY. I stood back and thought, Good!

Things I can't fix? Not today!

Things I can't change? Not today!

Things I wish would happen. Things I pray never will. Things I can't get over. And the things I probably shouldn't have yet. Worries about tomorrow, yesterday, and today. Anxiety about what has been, what is, and what maybe will be.

All of it will still be there for me to be concerned about another time.

But, not today.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Window on Depression

I don't write extensively on here about depression. It's something I deal with and occasionally overcome, but it doesn't define my existence. And it certainly isn't my intention to be some self appointed poster child for a disease I'm constantly trying to unravel.

But, lately I've had some great, although heart wrenching, back channel conversations with people. It's complicated and I'm not pretending I know what everyone goes through, but these are the things I find helpful to remember.

1. It's harder than it looks to act happy. A lot of the time - much harder.

2. No matter how much support you have, you always feel somewhat alone.

3. It's exhausting chasing the light.

4. Tidal waves can't always be predicted.

5. Any chronic disease is discouraging a lot of the time.

6. If you do, great, but you probably don't have the solution.

7. God IS the answer. Not necessarily helpful when people mention it as a cure.

8. Depression is NOT a sin. It's a symptom.

9. There are absolutely things people can do/not do to help with depression. And there's a lot to it that feels like being blindsided. Balancing both realistically is important.

10. The opposite of depression is not constant joy. Sometimes it's just being okay. And that's okay.

And not just regarding depression:

Be willing to give grace to those in your life who may be dealing with more than you realize. Sometimes actions and reactions surface from a place of just trying to survive. The greatest gift you can give someone else is to be there unconditionally. Hope is always there. It's just sometimes hard to find.

Books I Love

Leaving Church by Barbara Taylor Brown is easily one of my favorite books of the year, and quite possibly of all time. I always appreciate an honest memoir of genuine faith. I especially appreciated it at this time in my life. Beautifully written. I found God alive and well on every page. A great read.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

That's not incense

Christmas Eve will be the anniversary of my somewhat unintentional transition to the liturgical church tradition. I was thinking I could pull off the whole "I'm new so I don't know" act at least til then. Apparently not.

Last Wednesday a brand new person came in and, although there were at least 100 open spaces, sat down right next to me. Considering myself now a part of that church, I thought it might be rude to not welcome her along with the huge banner in the foyer. This church welcomes you+I'm in this church=I have to welcome you. So I did.

Smile. "Hey." (I live in South Georgia. Hey is a perfectly acceptable greeting in church or elsewhere).

She took this as an invitation and said, "ThisismyfirsttimehereI'veneverbeentoachurchlikethisandI'mnotsurewhattodomindifIsithere?" No breath. No kidding.

"No, of course not. Please, sit." I handed her my bulletin and bookmarked the readings for her.

When the service was over I expected her to have lots of questions or be completely overwhelmed. All she said was, "I love these kinds of churches! Where do they hide the incense? I didn't even see it but it smells so good! It's heavenly!"

I hated to have to tell her, but I did.

That's not incense.

That's furniture polish.