Create Your Future

FMF – Create

Today’s word is Create:  This is another chance to write with the crowd at Five-Minute-Fridays over at Kate Motaung’s blog.  We write for five minutes and post.  We give each other feedback and just encourage that writing process!  Join…it’s fun!

Take a chance, accept a challenge and create your own future.

Take a chance, accept a challenge and create your own future.

For me it’s a summer of packing, sorting, cleaning and giving away.

Wrapping, throwing and saying goodbye.

It’s a summer of leaving what we know, selling what we had and signing

off on a life in the Midwest.

Committing, driving and saying thank you and so long to all we’ve created.

 

For me, it’s a summer of unpacking, finding what fits and adjusting to change.

Seeking, searching and saying hello.

It’s a new chance for building friendships, fresh possibilities and a life back on the west coast.

Committing, experiencing and deciding to create our future.

 

For me, none of this is easy: uprooting, replanting and hoping it grows

Changing, accepting, and saying I can.

It’s a new challenge in a new place with a new job.

Committing, accepting and choosing to rejoice in the creation of our future.

 

We GET to create our own future! #fmfparty Click To Tweet

Hype only Builds Hysteria

Hype only builds hysteria

Hysteria has been around for a long time, and the end results remain the same. It starts when fear raises its ugly head, looks around and tries to convince someone else to join a fight. It acts as a smokescreen to a person’s sense of inadequacy. It ends in someone getting hurt.

Hysteria acts as a smokescreen to a person's sense of inadequacy. Click To Tweet

Hysteria makes no pretenses—it never claims to be reasonable or logical. Take for example what happened in Detroit in the 1920s, when black professionals tried to break the color line and purchase houses in a ‘white’ section of town.

Whites, worried that their property values would drop (a collusion of the local bankers and Realtors® ensured that this would happen), formed community improvement societies to run any black homeowners out of town (you can read more in the book Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age by Kevin Boyle).

Because someone arbitrarily decided that property values depended on the color of the owner’s skin, normally reasonable folks joined the KKK and did all they could to drive out anyone who didn’t match their skin color.

I grew up mostly in the western part of the United States, and figured that prejudice had died with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Wrong. When we started shopping for our first house in the late 80s, the Realtor® steered us to another part of town when I inquired about less expensive options. “That part of town is a little dark,” she explained.

“I thought it had fewer shade trees than that other section,” I demurred. “It looked perfectly sunny to me.”

“No,” she coughed and sputtered a bit, “I can’t really say more.”

“I don’t get it,” I answered.

She muttered under her breath, clearly uncomfortable and wishing she hadn’t brought the topic up, “It’s mostly blacks and Hispanics on that side of town.”

I wish now that I would have responded with a pithy comeback such as, “We ought to fit right in—remember, our last name is Ojeda,” or, “Isn’t it illegal to discriminate in housing and isn’t that what you’re doing by calling that part of town ‘dark?’” but I didn’t. My brain doesn’t operate well under shock.

Only now, 27 years later, when hysteria seems to be choking the brains out of normal people, do I see that I should have reacted with kindness and gently spoken to the lady on her racism. In fearing to offend, I’ve contributed to the problem by my silence.

I don’t think we need to build hysteria or jump on any bandwagons. Right now the pointy fingers of outrage might be pointed at police officers. Tomorrow, it could be pointed at you. Those pointy fingers connect to shaking hands that desperately want to hide some inadequacy.

Face it, we are all terribly, terminally human. We all have much to learn and many roads to travel. We can travel through the adrenalin-pumping hype of hysteria, or we can thoughtfully, inquisitively build each other up as travel along.

 

I Want to be Like A Whale

want

Why Would Anyone WANT to be Like a Whale?

I quit dying my hair ten years ago, around the same time I quit wearing face powder, mascara (unless it’s a really special event) and eye shadow. I don’t have anything against hair dying and makeup, I just got tired of spending money on those things.

My sweet husband assured me that he loved my grey hair (of course, it took him nine years to acquire a few grey hairs of his own), didn’t mind wrinkles and preferred seeing my raw freckles.

After spending an hour last night off the coast of California on a whale-watching tour, I’ve decided that I want to be like a whale. According to Dale, the naturalist on the tour, each whale has a unique pattern on the underside of its tail that not only identifies it like a fingerprint, but it tells a tale of all it’s been through during its life. Most whales have chunks missing (thanks to hungry orcas) and scars that tell stories of fights for survival and close encounters with bigger, more dangerous things.

The crowd on the boat ooohed and awwwed each time the whale came to the surface near our boat. No one said, “Look at his scars and ugly parts.” Oh, if only we could all accept others, scars and missing pieces and all. But that accepting has to being with me accepting me. So, like a whale, I don’t want to hide my lumps and hard knocks and not so pretty parts and episodes. I want authenticity.

When I looked at my photos, I noticed something else—part of the pattern on the whale’s tail came from barnacles.

Barnacles live on whales. It’s called commensalism—the barnacles benefit from hanging on the whales, but they do no harm (or benefit) to the whale.

I always thought that barnacles caused problems—but I learned something new. I know some commensal people. They hang around and change my landscape a little, but they really do no harm. I want to have more patience with them.

I want to have more patience with the barnacles in my life. #fmfparty Click To Tweet

God might not have created me with the whale’s majesty and grace in the ocean, but he created me for a purpose. It’s my job to find that purpose and embrace it—barnacles, bumps and scars and all—and go out and make a difference for others.

Who’s in with me? We’ll have a whale of a time!

Finding Haven on Earth

havenI didn’t leave a letter out on this post’s title.  I really want to talk about finding haven on earth, not ‘heaven’.  Because, well, we won’t find heaven down here.  But we can find haven. Harbor. Port. Refuge. Favorable opportunities.

For me, a haven represents anything that brings peace to my soul.  Sometimes I find it in church when my voice raises with other congregants as we sing praises to our God and king. Other times, I find haven in the strangest places.

havenI laid on my stomach and drank in the dark blue of the Colorado River as it wandered slowly around Horseshoe Bend.  I inhaled the scent of dew-kissed desert rock in the cool morning air and adjusted my grip on the tripod.  As the sun rose behind me it lit the tops of the high canyon walls and sharpened their reflection in the water below.  I dared not shift too much, after all, I lay on the edge of a precipice that dropped 1000 feet down to the river below.  Haven.  A place to rest in safety and retreat to capture the beauty that God created.

haven at horseshoe bend

Later that afternoon, we lined up with a small tour group and followed Lennard, our tour guide, into the narrow confines of Upper Antelope Canyon.  I have seen photos of this magical place, but with the hundreds of tourists and their guides all visiting the same narrow slot canyon at the same time, I doubted I’d find any haven.haven

But I did.  I also discovered that in order record the stunning shafts of light shining in from above, tour guides kick of throw sand into the air.  The drafts of wind in the canyon pull the lighter debris upwards, and the light stands out like pillars.  Without the junk, we wouldn’t see the light.  Which reminds me of life.  Without the junk, we wouldn’t see the Light.

Without the junk, we wouldn't see the Light. Finding haven on earth. Click To Tweet

What about you?  What does ‘haven’ mean to you and where do you find it?

What I Wish Christians Understood about Cheer

cheerAre Kind Words Enough to Cheer Up an Anxious Person?

It says it right there in Proverbs 12:25, “Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.” Unfortunately, some Christians believe kind words can serve as the only antidote to anxiety. They can’t. Kind words provide a corollary, but we should never assume that they provide the only or best answer to anxiety.

Some #Christians beleive that kind words provide the antidote to #anxiety. They don't. Click To Tweet

I have a generally upbeat, happy-go-lucky sort of attitude, so it took me awhile to understand our daughter’s bouts of paralyzing anxiety. She would call me in the middle of the night, crying and scarcely unable to verbalize her symptoms. I would kneel by her bed and murmur soothing things to her and pray with her and help her breathe. Eventually, she would fall asleep and I would return to bed and toss and turn for the rest of the night, wondering what we had done wrong in raising her to produce such deep anxiety.

Our routine seemed to work. In hindsight, I should have taken her to a therapist. I come from a background and era where we avoided coffee, tea, alcohol, loud music and psychiatrists. At this point in my life (after coming alongside a daughter with panic attacks and experiencing life with a daughter with bipolar disorder) I understand how my ignorance and attitudes prevented them from finding help sooner.

A quick search on the Internet shows that therapy (and possibly medication) can alleviate panic attacks, anxiety, and panic disorders. Sometimes, the symptoms can have a physiological basis (heart problems, thyroid problems or hypoglycemia, caffeine or illegal stimulant use). Other times, stressful events can bring on periods of intense anxiety (those who suffer often experience the same symptoms of someone having a heart attack).

If you or someone you love suffers from anxiety or panic attacks, take action.

1. Offer kind words such as “Have you ever considered seeing a therapist to help you with your panic attacks? I’d be happy to go along with you if you need mortal support.”
2. Commit to praying for them and with them (scientists are currently studying whether or not intercessory prayer provides healing results).
3. Avoid phrases such as, “What’s wrong with you? You have a nice home and a great family” or, “So and so has it worse than you do, and he or she never seems anxious.” Only God knows how people are knit together. Guilting someone does not bring cheer.
4. Personal faith in God does not provide immunity from anxiety or panic—it CAN make it easier to overcome the symptoms with the help of therapy and medicine.
5. Never assume that anxiety or panic prove that a person’s faith is weak.

Does the Bible lie or contradict itself? No. That verse in Proverbs simply says that anxiety weighs down a heart, and kind words can cheer someone up. Sometimes, those kind words need to come from a professional who knows how to guide a person through the emotional minefields that comprise the knots of heavy anxiety that produce panic attacks.

So be kind. Get help if you need it without shame or self-recrimination or help someone you know get help.

Suspect Someone Has a Mental Health Issue? Read This

expect

People Never Expect to Have a Mental Health Problem

I didn’t expect to hear that my twenty-year-old daughter had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder in a text message from my sister-in-law—who heard it from someone who came along with the person who came to the emergency department to evaluate Sarah before the hospital released her in the wee hours of the morning (that’s the garbled version I understood of the events that transpired).

It strikes me as a casually callous way to hear the news that Sarah’s life would forever change. One part of me felt immense relief that someone else could finally see that something had gone terribly wrong in Sarah’s mind. The other part of me reeled at the thought that I had missed what now seemed so glaringly obvious.

Admittedly, friends, former teachers, and church members who knew Sarah from high school had reached out to me in the weeks leading up to her diagnosis.

“What’s wrong with Sarah?” they would ask in Facebook messages and text messages. “Is there anything we could do to help?”

I loved them for their concern, and I sent suggestions of calling her, texting her or even sending cards to her. In retrospect, my suggestions seem analogous to fighting a forest fire with buckets of water. Of course, I asked my closest friends to pray for her—and those mighty prayers played a part in saving her life on at least one occasion.

How I wish that someone, anyone, would have looked at her behavior and asked me, “Have you considered that maybe Sarah has a mental illness?” I would have been angry at first—the shock of the suggestion snapping my emotions to full defensive position—but I would have pursued it.

Last October Sarah and I shared our journey on the blog, as part of the #write31days challenge. About two-thirds of the way through the series and before the post explaining about Sarah’s diagnosis went up, one of my roommates from college emailed me.

She had started reading the series midway through the month, and before even going back and starting from the beginning she wrote and asked if Sarah had seen someone to rule out bipolar disorder. My friend had no idea if Sarah and I were writing in ‘real time’ or describing something that had happened in the past, but she cared enough and knew enough about bipolar disorder to reach out and ask the hard questions.

Statistically speaking, with over 5.7 million persons over the age of 18 afflicted by bipolar disorder, more than one of our friends had to have known something about bipolar disorder and seen patterns in Sarah’s behavior that raised red flags.

But in today’s society, where we hesitate to tell someone they have toilet paper trailing from their heel after a visit to the bathroom because we fear offending them, maybe Christians feel it would prove too invasive to question a fellow church member’s mental hygiene.

I suggest that as Christians, we should all strive to speak to each other in love—even about the hard things like mental illness. Whilst Sarah struggled with depression and subsequent mania, I suffered from self-doubt. Perhaps her behavior was normal. Maybe this was just a bid for autonomy—normal behavior for an almost twenty-year-old.

A person in the midst of mania does uncharacteristic things—things that church members gossip about, cluck over and see as a sign that the afflicted person has denied his or her relationship with God. But let’s face it—Christianity doesn’t provide immunity from bipolar disorder or any other mental health issue.

#Christianity doesn't provide immunity from #bipolardisorder. #StoptheStigma Click To Tweet

I suggest that if a young adult you know starts to exhibit girl (or boy) gone wild behavior, you can do the following things.

1. Pray. Before diving in the turbid waters of discussing a possible mental health issue with someone else, ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It’s his job to convict. Not yours.
2. Educate yourself. Find out the basic signs or indicators of different mental illnesses. The NAMI website is a great place to start.
3. Pick your moment. Don’t bring up your concerns in public.
4. Don’t diagnose. Leave that to the professionals.
5. Start the conversation right. “I’ve noticed that ________ seems to be really struggling right now. Is there anything I can do to help?”
6. Remember that drug and alcohol use or addictions often mask mental health issues.
7. Use nonjudgmental phrases such as, “Have you ever considered that ______ might suffer from bipolar disorder?” If you have personal experience with someone who suffers, you might add additional details. “I know my daughter did a lot of crazy and hurtful things before she was diagnosed, and ________’s behavior reminds me a little of my daughter.”
8. Expect a reaction—most of us live comfortably in denial, so make sure you follow step number one. Don’t be offended if the person reacts with anger or hurt. I often wonder if any of my friends and acquaintances on Facebook saw what was happening and secretly diagnosed Sarah but failed to bring the subject up with me because they feared a negative reaction.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—there’s a difference between spiritual oppression and mental illness. God created us smart enough to find medicines and therapies for what ails our bodies—like tuberculosis, whooping cough and cancer. He also created us smart enough to find medicines and develop therapies for what ails our minds.

God expects us to find healing and health for whatever afflicts us—whether it’s physical or mental. #mentalhealthmonth Click To Tweet

What Grows Within Her

growsI sit in the counselor’s office and try to think of light conversation gambits to fill the silence before the other ladies arrive.

“Would you like some tea?” I ask.

“No, it’s sorta hot in here already.”

“You’re right,” I agree, “but there’s some lavender tea and I’ve never tried that before.”

Conversation sags like an old sofa. The water starts to boil and I busy myself preparing tea. Awkwardness creeps into the corner of the room and stares me down.

“Would you like some chocolate?” I ask as I nod to the tray of snacks across the room.

“Sure.” I jump up and unwrap the giant bar of dark chocolate. I wish I could unwrap my feelings as easily. We both know why we are here, but the conversation cannot grow unless she starts it. I don’t know her well, she has only been in my class for a few months. She studies hard, keeps to herself and rarely smiles.

Now I know why. Inside her grows new life and it terrifies her. I don’t know the details. I only know that we will gather this night to tell our birth stories to alleviate some of her fear of the unknown.

By the time the other ladies arrive, I am eager to share the burden of conversation. We talk, we laugh about the embarrassing things that happen (but we don’t care because we want to see the baby) in labor and delivery.

The other ladies, decades younger than me, decide that I gave birth in the dark ages (no pain meds but strong doses of Pitocin, and an episiotomy with no pain meds or numbing).

I turn to her and ask, “So, do you feel better now, or are you a little freaked out?”

“A little freaked out,” she says with a weak grimace.

The conversation flows down different channels—maybe she didn’t need birth stories, she needed stories of strength. The other ladies talk about birth plans and making decisions beforehand so that the medical personnel respect her.

“You don’t want them to give you the cafeteria experience,” I explain. “You need to look over the menu and order what you want.” Life may have happened to her, rocketing out of control from the time of her birth to the point where she sits in this office, a scared 15-year-old growing a new life within her. But she can choose to stop the cycle.

“You are never alone,” one lady tells her. “Never. God knows your story and loves your baby. He will take away your fear and give you the strength that you need.”

We end our session with prayer, and as we walk out together, she gives me a hug and says, “Thank you.”

I assure her that she can talk to me about anything at any time (all embarrassment has disappeared—that happens quickly when one shares the intimate details of labor and delivery). “I’ll pray for you every day,” I tell her.

And I will. I try not to let anger at the situation grow within me. After all, God controls her future and he has put me in her life for a reason.

I wonder if I can adopt her.

Don’t Miss the Obvious

Knowing the Difference Between Defiance and Bipolar Disorder

missIn retrospect, I wonder how I could miss the obvious. In fact, looking back at my adult life, I think I’ve missed the obvious on more than one occasion.

For example, a student gets caught smoking weed in the dormitory and spends three hours going berserk and ends up in a police car headed to the hospital. Another young woman goes from model student one month to raging alcoholic the next and drops out two weeks from graduation.

A young man drags himself to class day after day, close to catatonic—does he really hate English class that much? Maybe he uses drugs and no one realizes it. Or maybe he’s just depressed. But the depression goes on and on and on.

A young lady living with us seems to change overnight from a friendly and engaged family member to a sullen and accusatory adolescent. Eventually, her behavior returns to normal for awhile, but I hear stories of her life after graduation, and they make me sad: drug abuse, brushes with the law, jail time.

I confess I used to think that each of these incidents reflected on the parenting skills of the families of origin. Until something similar happened to us—an everyday average Christian family who had a daughter dive into deep depression and shoot out the other side a frenzied, angry, unreachable adolescent.

What did I miss? Because I never educated myself about mental health issues, I confused desperate behavior for defiant behavior. My students and my daughter all acted out of character (given, I understood this much better when it involved my daughter’s out-of-character behavior), but no one seemed to understand that defiance and drug or alcohol abuse weren’t part of their normal make up.

Those things signaled a deeper issue—a breakdown in mental health. May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Don’t be like me. Educate yourselves before it is too late. It’s no coincidence that the onset of bipolar disorder happens in adolescence and that adolescents are the most likely to commit suicide.

There's no PET scan for #mentalhealth issues. Educate yourself. It's a matter of life and death. #mentalhealthawarenessmonth Click To Tweet

Find out about different mental health issues that can face young adults and anyone, for that matter. Learn to ask, “Is this reaction beyond normal?” If the answer is yes, it’s time to start keeping track of behavior that you observe. Don’t be afraid to have an open conversation with an adolescent that you love and worry about.

And if the behavior turns out to be nothing more than a bad day or a bid for autonomy—that’s great. At least you didn’t miss something that could make the difference between life and death in a young person’s life.

It takes a village to help those with a #mentalillness. Learn how you can help. #DoNoHarm Click To Tweet

warning signs

Please share the infographic or the blog post or both!  Let’s get the word out about mental health issues–they are treatable, but, but first they need to be identified!

Maybe You Should Pass

passMy Grandma B was a self-proclaimed Rook champion. She loved the game and made sure that each of her grandchildren knew how to play. When we were very young, she would put on her visor and call us to the Formica topped table in the kitchen where we would perch on the dinette chairs and watch in fascination as she carefully shuffled the cards with her arthritic fingers and dealt them out, starting with the person on her left.

Her already hunched shoulders would hunch over even more as she dealt and instructed us. “Remember, the one is worth 15 points and can take any other card.” or “Be careful not to bid too high if you only have 14s. You’d make a better partner.” If one of us should start to bid wildly high to take possession of the kitty, she would gently remind us, “Maybe you should pass, you’re not guaranteed good cards in that kitty!” It seemed like she always won.

As we grew older, our game skills increased to the point that we became worthy partners and actually got to play for points with the rest of the adults. We’d practice with each other when Grandma B went south for the winters, and play against her when she came to spend the summers with us.

Our deck of Rook cards grew old and worn—and my brother and sisters and I memorized the markings on the back of the cards. The birdie had an eraser mark in the raven’s eye. The one of yellow had a crease in the corner. Someone had stepped on the 14 of red and left faint sneaker marks.

By the time we started college, we knew the backs of those cards like we knew the backs of our hands. Only Grandma B didn’t know what we knew. “Who wants to play a game of Rook?” she would question on a Saturday night. My mom would make popcorn and fruit milkshakes and we’d gather around the kitchen table and play hand after hand. “I don’t see how you kids always win,” she would mutter in frustration mixed with pride.

We’d always play call partners (whoever won the bidding got to call for a partner who held whatever card the winner would decide on), and I confess that I would sometimes deliberatly call Grandma B as my partner if I had a rotten hand and knew I would lose the round, just to take her down with me.

We used our insider information to bilk Grandma B of win after win, crowing quietly at our success. Occasionally, we’d let her win. We felt invincible in our Rook skills. Of course, with somebody else’s deck, we played like mere mortals. Winning and losing on the merits of our decisions and ability to keep track of trump cards.

That old deck of Rook cards reminds me of what God offers us. Only when he calls us to partner with him, he’s in it for the win. He offers a relationship with us that will make us seem invincible.

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; (Isaiah 43:1b-3a NIV)

God doesn’t promise to keep us from water and fire and trials—but he does promise to be with us as we pass through those things. People will shake their heads and wonder how we keep on going in the face of adversity. But we know the secret. When we answer the call to relationship with the king of the universe and spend time getting to know him, we enter into a whole new level of living.

God doesn't promise to prevent trials, he promises to pass through them WITH us. #fmfparty Click To Tweet

We can quietly get on with the business of passing through the trials that life throws up in our path—whether it’s an unexpected caregiver journey, our out illness or physical limitation, job loss, uncertainty about our future, or worries about our children. We can play life with confidence because God promises to always pass through it with us.

FMF: Untie or Unite? What’s it going to be?

Join the Five-Minute-Friday group as Kate Motaung gives us a prompt and we write for 5 minutes and post.  But the best part about it is that you get to read other’s posting on the same subject…or are they?  Check it out!

Today’s word is:  Unite.

Two little letters make a huge difference in our lives.

Two little letters make a huge difference in our lives.

Change the place of just two, yes, only TWO letters and you have a whole new meaning.  Opposing meanings.  A whole new word.  A whole different focus.

Shoes untied:  tripping and falling

Bow untied:  embarrassment or maybe wardrobe malfunction

Boat cleat rope untied:  ships drifting out of the safe harbor

Marriage bond untied:  two people drifting apart, much like the boat mentioned above

Untied from God:  lost and wandering souls, pain and loneliness

But unite?

Uniting wires:  let there be light

Reuniting with old friends:  laughing and reminiscing for hours

United in holy matrimony:  the joy of that old-fashioned phrase pronouncing a life-time best friend and partner

A united church: a family striving to hold each other up in support and love

Uniting with God: choosing each day to walk in trust with Him no matter how things look to us.

Untie.

Unite.

Two letters changing places can make a whole lot of difference in our lives.

Untie or Unite? Two little letters make a huge difference! #fmfparty #fmf Click To Tweet