Faith

UBC 4/20, Day 3: Enough

Yesterday, I ended the post stating that “Enough is enough. I am enough.” I want to share a little bit more about that and where I have been learning the truth of it, even if I haven’t fully internalized it, yet. Truthfully, due to the effects of “trauma brain” (not to be confused with Traumatic Brain Injury), I may never fully internalize this truth that I am enough. However, I can make choices and decisions about my life according to it. After all, feelings aren’t facts and facts aren’t changed by what we feel.

This past Sunday, the speaker at our Zoom church gathering shared her experience of visiting Rwanda for the first time and seeing one of the churches where the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 took place. It was a place of great betrayal, profound fear, deep sorrow, and mass murder. She spoke of the sights and smells and the horror and grief she felt walking through the church and seeing light streaming through all the bullet holes, as well as when she visited the mass grave behind the church. Then, she told us of the signs of new life in the literal life of young children from a school, not far from the church, and their laughter and joy of life.

Where is God in this?

Here’s what I believe: God doesn’t forget, push away, or hide from horror and sorrow, but, he gives it purpose and always brings renewal and new life, even if it doesn’t change or fix what has already happened.

He doesn’t cause the horror, but is in it with us. He doesn’t cause pain and suffering to demonstrate a truth about him, but he does reveal himself in it, through it, and after it.

Why is this an important belief of mine and how do I make decisions in my life with this belief in mind?

Six and a half years ago, just a month or so before the events that completely upended and changed the trajectory of my life, my pastor taught on the Five Declarations of Gratitude. Through this teaching, I really began believing that God is enough, therefore, I am enough…even in the midst of the bad things, the hard things, the painfully unimaginable things.

Here’s my interpretation of those Five Declarations of Gratitude:

The people around me are enough. I’m not only going through the painful and difficult times with God, I’m also going through it with others, and that is enough. I’m grateful for that.

The time I have is enough. I have this moment, with breath, consciousness, all my senses, and all I need to move through this moment. The next moment takes care of itself whether I’m worrying about too much or too little time. I’m grateful for this moment.

The same is true for what I have… scarcity and the fear of it comes from past experience and the potential of it in the future. Discomfort, perhaps pain, may happen, but, in this moment, I have what I need to get to the next one. This may not always be true, but, for now it is and I can be grateful for that.

I made it to this point. I have experiences, good and bad, which I’ve learned and grown through, skills I’ve gained, gifts I’ve been given, and the abilities to do what I can for myself and others. Regardless of the old tapes that tell me otherwise, I can get through this moment because I am enough. I can be grateful for myself and who I am today.

Above everything, God is enough because he’s in it and going through it with me. He was there in my past, I can count on him to be there in my future. Without him, NONE of those other things could ever be enough. For this, I am grateful.

So, knowing through scripture and experience how God takes what was to inform and redeem and get me through what is now, and knowing that on the other side He brings renewal and restores life, gives me the hope and will to take one more breath and one more step. Even in the midst of these times of uncertainty and fear throughout our world.

It’s that time again! April 2020 Ultimate Blog Challenge

First, let me start by saying, “This is NOT another pandemic blogging projecct.” When I first signed up for this month’s challenge, I was asked what my goal was. My response was to state that I want to write 30 posts that have nothing directly to do with the pandemic. I may refer to it, but, I won’t be discussing the politics of it, the projections, or a daily accounting of my time spent “sheltering in.” What I write about may not wind up being as interesting or light-hearted as it could be in this time of stress and fear. But, it is intended to be a different thing altogether.

Now that we have that out of the way, you may be wondering, “Lillian, what ARE your 30 blog posts going to be about, then?” The answer is, “I don’t know for sure.” Sounds strange, I know. However, I’m not a planner. Never have been. I’ve tried. Lord knows I’ve tried. I just don’t have it in me. Every time I create a plan, it falls through. You know the old adage, right? “How do you make God laugh? Tell him your plans.” Let’s just say that I tickle his funny bone whenever I attempt to make a plan.

What I do know is that there could be poetry or short stories. You might run into something like a devotional, refering to biblical scripture. However, it will likely be a combination of me processing my mental health stuff or discussing mental health stuff. It also might be a record, of sorts, about my search for employment and, hopefully, me adjusting to a job. For the moment, though, let me introduce myself, for those who don’t know me or who need a quick catch up.

I’m a 50 year old mom and grandma. My children are currently 11, 26, and 33. My grandchildren (by the 26 year old) are currently 6, 5, 2, and due in two weeks. The 11 year old experiences the world through the higher functioning end of the Autism Spectrum. Due to her behavioral issues and my mental health issues, I recently had her go live with her father. I have all kinds of feels about that and some of that subject may show up this month. My 26 year old daughter is pregnant with baby #4. Her family of five, soon to be six, are living in my tiny 2 bedroom apartment, along with a dog and a cat. Anecdotes and feels about things related to that may also appear here. As for my 33 year old, he’s married and living with his wife, doing his own thing. There will proably be little reference to him, unless it relates to our history.

I also live with a bipolar brain that has been shaped by trauma. So, I have diagnoses of Bipolar II Disorder, PTSD, Depression, and Binge Eating Disorder. I just started weekly therapy with a trauma therapist. I was blessed with a gift of 6 – 12 months of this therapy by my faith community, otherwise known as “church.” So, there could be a LOT of me processing through my mental health challenges this month.

I haven’t been employed for a little over seven and half years, except for a recent, very brief stint with H & R Block. I took their income tax preparation course last fall, and barely survived it. I also took a three month Peer Support Specialist class, followed by a 10 week Peer Wellness Specialist class, which I completed on Friday, March 13th. The last day I worked at H & R Block was March 16th. I have to obtain my Peer Wellness Specialist Certification through the OHA – Oregon Health Authority before I can actually get a job doing that work. Right now the OHA is pretty occupied and they already took 3 – 6 months to process those applications before the current health crisis. In the meantime, I need an income. So, I applied for a grocery store position, thinking it would be a good bridge job while I go through the hurry up and wait process. But they decided to “pursue other applicants.”

On Monday I applied for a Direct Care position in a mental health group home situation with the community behavioral health organization I took my Peer training through and have been receiving services with for almost a year. The next day, yesterday, they did a phone interview with me. I have a video interview with them today. Wish me luck.

This month promises to be quite the journey, or at least the first chapter of this new book in my life. I’m happy to have the company while it gets written. Thank you for joining me.

Blocked

I feel like my brain went on vacation and forgot to take me with it. There’s just a hodgepodge of feelings, thoughts, and experiences from the past several weeks, swirling in my psyche. I didn’t really know what or how to write about it. So, I started where I was and followed where it led.


When my mind is blank
and my vision dim;
my heart is heavy
and my soul is grim.

When my words are lost
and my mouth silent;
my lungs are empty
and feelings are violent.

Avoid and evade
the sorrow and pain.
Numb the body
Disconnect the brain.

This half life
I do not want.
Yet, in this moment
my will is daunt.

The tank is empty.
The drive is gone.
It’s time to rest
and wait the dawn.

Open the heart
and clear the mind;
heal the soul
and mend the blind.

Love lives in me,
a spiritual well
I forget to drink,
my thirst to quell.

Reach deep within
Touch the eternal
Connect with love
Fraternal

Grasp the vine
In him abide
Mind, heart, soul
Full life betide.

What if…?

Yesterday’s guest speaker spoke about sabbath, rest. She and I had talked earlier in the week about the subject, since I was the one leading last night’s discussion. Our conversation has been on my mind ever since.

After our conversation, I went to my R.E.S.T. group therapy class. I don’t actually know what that acronym stands for. I just know it’s a class about Dialectical Behavior Therapy. I find it coincidentally interesting that immediately after a discussion of “rest” as part of faith practice I would attend a class titled “REST.”

In class we talked about seeking happiness inducing experiences as part of managing our mental health issues. I think the two go hand in hand: rest and pleasure.

Rest means different things to different people and things which bring pleasure to one person are not the same as what brings pleasure to another.

What we, as Christians do know is that the Sabbath is made for people, not people for the Sabbath, at least according to Mark 2:27.

Another name for The Most High, The Almighty, The Lord, God is Abba or Father.

Now, if you’ve experienced the trauma of religious abuse or an abusive or neglectful relationship with your own father, this will be difficult, painful, or impossible to relate to, which is totally understandable and reasonable. I’m not trying to force feed my beliefs or faith on anyone. I’m simply saying what it means to me. You have free will and get to decide for yourself. No judgment. All are welcome here.

I never had a relationship with my own father. Nor has my life ever afforded me much of a sense of safety, an ability to rest, or experiences of delight. I didn’t grow up attending church, and I have had religion used against me and to manipulate me. It’s taken me a long time and a LOT of mental health healing to get here.

So, I find myself contemplating what it means to be a child of God, resting in his arms, and taking delight in him.

What if our hearts’ true desires are to be known completely and loved unconditionally? What if being fully known and wholly loved is our refuge and our shelter? What if what allows us to rest and let go of the tension, worry, and fear is a sense of safety? What if being rested opens our senses to be able to experience delight? What if this is what it means to become “as a little child?”

What if we could believe that God lives in us? What if we believed God is love? What if we believed God encompasses time and eternity?

Would all of this mean that we have constant access to God, who can fill us with love, offer safety, shelter, and rest, who can enable us to experience delight in the eternity of each moment in time…even in the midst of all the trials and pain?

What if…?

Not Alone

I seem to be straying from my original intent to focus on my job readiness journey this month. But, perhaps not. Today, I’m talking about mental health.

Here’s why: If you’re struggling with mental illness or emotional instability OR you have a loved one who is OR you have experienced trauma OR any combination of the aforementioned, you need to know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

I want you to know that, despite however weak, fragile, overwhelmed, and incapable you may feel right now, you are one of the strongest, most courageous people you know.

Feeling the way you feel, experiencing anxiety, depression, hyper-reactivity, mania, having compulsive self-harming behaviors, experiencing suicidal thoughts, or any other “wrong” thing does not mean you are “less than,” unworthy, insignificant, or “damaged beyond repair.”

You see, I’ve been there. Some days I’m still there. I have friends and family who have been or are there. I’ve known those who didn’t make it and know those who make it one day at a time, if not moment by moment.

Last night I had the privilege to speak with another mom, who is facing and navigating challenges similar to those I have experienced – some of which I’ve come out on the other side of and some that will ever be with me. A history of physical and mental trauma, mental illness, and parenting a child with mental health and behavioral challenges through childhood and into adulthood.

Feelings of loneliness, isolation, despair, and thoughts of permanently packing it in are all things I’m more than familiar with and gave me the empathy she needed. I was able to listen with understanding. I had knowledge of resources and professionals better equipped to help her than I am to offer her. I was able to share some of my stories, giving her hope and shoring up her faith.

By the end of the call, we had established a rapport and a bond borne of shared experience and the knowledge that neither of us is alone in our struggle. She seemed genuinely hopeful, a 180 degree turnaround from where she was when we first began talking.

My lived experience of surviving trauma and mental illness has equipped me to be of service to others who are living through similar things. Even though I still have my struggles and even though I’ll never be “fully” healed and recovered, I’m far enough along that I have something good to offer.

I have a friend who says, “God doesn’t waste a wound.”

While I am not of the belief that God punishes and wounds us by causing trauma and devastation in our lives, I do believe he is present in and with us throughout these things. Furthermore, I believe that, if we are able to participate in the healing process, he redeems our personal tragedies in ways that can bring good.

This is what I want to do with my life. I want to walk alongside others on this healing and recovery journey, bolstering them up when they’re walk is shaky and help them stand back up, dust off, and get going again.

That’s what it’s about, right?

We all stumble. We all fall. We all get exhausted, worn down, and overwhelmed. We all need a little help getting by.

Now, due to several factors, prior student debt to a private institution being chief among them, going back to college isn’t a feasible option. Especially if I want to start working ASAP.

What I CAN do is get a certification to be a Mental Health Peer Support Specialist.

I didn’t get into the certification training I wanted to, this go around. But, I’m only getting started and there are other things I can do while I figure out how to access the training I need.

Today I start a Peer to Peer class put on by NAMI – the National Alliance on Mental Illness. It will help me be less isolated on my own journey and add to my toolbox of coping skills.

Wish me luck!

Untitled

In the land of the free
And the home of the brave,
Fear and greed
Create the mind slave.

In what was believed
A land of abundance,
Writhes hate unrelieved
And lost moral compass.

Not the lost you may think,
Facade’s fake appearance;
Words and deed don’t sync,
Cognitive dissonance.

Against humanity
A legal crime
Political insanity
Time after time

Right is illegal.
Wrong wears the crown.
No longer an eagle.
Now an orange clown,

Playing the people
With words of false faith.
We’re called sheeple
Considered weak wraith.

We must together,
Stop vanity’s fight
From God’s aether
Let truth take flight.

Let compassion rule.
Let empathy drive.
Make justice true.
The spirit will thrive.

Take a stand.
Walk the talk.
Be peace in our land.
Make love the bedrock.

©️ 2019 lem

Social Justice and Being Christian

Forgive this interruption in the regularly scheduled programming about my job search journey. This is just too important to me to not talk about.

This past week I was in a discussion with several others regarding social justice issues like homelessness, stereotypes, what we believe about them, and how we act on them as followers of Jesus.

A significant part of the conversation was regarding those who experience homelessness, with much of that centering on those in chronic homelessness, who often deal with substance abuse and dependence issues.

There were the usual questions about the whys and wherefores of “those” people’s choices and lifestyles. We also touched on the changes and so-called solutions in our society which foster the problem of homelessness and its impact on society.

When we got around to what to do about it, that’s when we got down to the nitty gritty of our role as Christians and individuals. How do you love people who may be unsafe, living in unsafe circumstances, who reject the social services they may have access to? How do you determine if someone will or can benefit from your involvement? What does relationship look like in this context?

One person stated that we can’t know what to do unless we follow the Holy Spirit’s leading. But, what if you’re like me and have difficulty accessing and discerning what the Holy Spirit may be saying?

Look to Jesus. Not to be trite, but, what would Jesus do?

• Make eye contact.
• Listen without judgment.
• Offer a willingness to understand.
• Treat with dignity.

It’s not our job to solve homelessness or poverty, as individuals. Those are goals to be worked toward, for sure. However, what we do know that it’s our job as individuals to love our neighbor, including our neighbors without four walls and a roof.

How to do that? Take time to get to know one of “those” people, even if it’s just to share a cheap fast food meal, a conversation on the corner, or offering a garbage bag so they can pick up their debris. These acts are acts of relationship and relationships are what Jesus is about.

I’ve experienced homelessness more than once in my life. The longest period was as a teen in relationship with a much older man who was, essentially, a professional, low-level con artist. Other times occurred when my mental health crashed and I couldn’t hold a job at the same time as my relationship’s toxicity clashed with my anxiety and mania…only I didn’t understand that’s what was happening.

I didn’t have substance abuse issues, but, my mental health issues, which weren’t recognized or understood by me or others around me, created an inability to toe the line of organizational and societal demands and expectations. Encountering someone willing to actually see ME and not just my circumstances or my history was priceless. It afforded me a sense of dignity that can only come from being seen and treated as if I was worthwhile and that I mattered, whether or not I could conform or meet the expectations of others.

I have neighbors who are unsheltered. Many experience alcoholism and dependency on other substances. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they panhandle. Sometimes they collect cans and bottles. Sometimes they do none of the above. They often do what they can to keep the areas they occupy free of debris. However, sometimes they don’t have a way to gather and dispose of garbage. Just like they don’t have consistent or frequent access to laundry or bathing facilities.

I’ve witnessed them helping and looking out for each other. They’ve helped me carry things too heavy for me to carry up a flight of stairs…without expecting or asking for anything in return.

Of course not everyone in these circumstances is friendly, open, or safe. There’s a lot of history of personal trauma for most people living on the streets. Substance abuse and addiction is very common for trauma survivors and those experiencing mental illness.

It’s easy to look at someone on a corner with a sign and make assumptions based on what you think you would do, given the set of circumstances you believe they are in. But, you don’t know them or their story. You can’t, unless you take the time and make the effort.

Donating money is easy – whether it’s to an organization or directly to an individual. Choosing any degree of relationship with an uncomfortable other is less easy for most of us and it’s not possible with all people at all times…but, it makes more of a difference and more impact than you may believe.