Thursday, November 20, 2014

Everyone likes eggs, right?

When I was little, I thought that if you didn't go to my church, you weren't a Christian. I don't just mean people who didn't go to church at all; I literally thought that if you went to a different church you weren't going to heaven. I had no concept of denomination or global church or worship style preferences. My entire view of religion was starkly black and white. If I ever have kids, I'm going to explain denominational differences like eggs. Lots of people love eggs. They're so delicious and good for you. But people prefer their eggs cooked in different ways. Scrambled, hard boiled, sunny-side up, omelet. So it is with Christians. They all love Jesus, but he is so much bigger than we are, and people understand him in different ways. Some people love loud music and dancing, some people love silence and stillness. And just like eggs can be harmful if they're not cooked properly (no matter the preparation style), different churches can have harmful theology. It doesn't mean that they don't love Jesus. I follow lots of Christian bloggers online, and I see so much division and bickering. I do understand that people have strong opinions about how Christians are supposed to live their lives, but instead of judging someone else who is sincere in their faith, how about we start being more intentional about loving others and speaking kindness to one another? If all people see is bickering, judgment, and hurtful words , why would they want anything to do with God? It's so much more beneficial to focus on what we have in common instead of blowing up our differences.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Inundated with Depression

I have spent pretty much all of today immersed in depression. I felt it in my heart, my head, read it with my eyes, listened to a talk about depression, cried tears related to depression, craved (and ate) sugar because of depression. It's been rolling over and through me in wave after wave.

I felt raw all day. Last night I cried and stayed up too late trying to sort out how I felt. Today I read blog after blog about depression. When a beloved actor commits suicide, people share all their thoughts about mental illness, even the ones that are ignorant and hurtful. People who should have just listened spoke and caused harm instead of healing.

I've been listening to Jason Gray's latest album for the last few days. He doesn't really have a unique sound. He fits right in with the typical Christian pop music melody-wise. It's his lyrics that make him stand out from the crowd. His songs are the most honest songs I've ever heard.

I keep holding on to the lyrics from the end of this song: "You don't even have to speak/Just sit with me in the ashes here/And together we can pray for peace/To the one acquainted with our grief." It's just the worst when I risk being vulnerable, take off my mask, and let someone know how I've really been doing, how much depression has really been hurting me, and they try to fix it or they brush it off. Sometimes more than anything I just want a friend to bring me some ice cream and sit with me while we watch a couple episodes of Friends. I just want someone to be there, to sit with me in the pain, to walk beside me as I try to make it long enough for it to get better.

I've been feeling incredibly lonely over the past few months. I've been fighting depression mostly by myself. I've had long-distance support from my best friend who lives on the West Coast, and of course my therapist helps. But I'm still left alone most of the time. I was thinking tonight that fighting depression is like training for sports competition. I should disclose that my only experience with playing sports outside of gym class in high school was when I played flag football in college, so the analogy probably isn't perfect. But it's fourth and goal and I'm going for it (I'm so full of sports knowledge!).

I spend all day every day training (fighting depression). I know that I need help to know how to train better, more efficiently, so I hired a coach (counselor/therapist). He gives advice, educates, cheers me on. It's a special kind of relationship, but it's professional. I need more help than just one person can give me, more support, so I've sought out some teammates, as it were (other people who are walking their own journey of mental health). I've attended a depression support group a few times, and it is so encouraging to know I'm not the only one going through this. So now I feel like there are other people on the field who are working towards the same goal I am, and if we help each other we can all get closer to the goal (making it through each day, getting to a place where we feel more in control of our mental illness). What's missing are fans (friends). Fans just show up and cheer on the athletes. They're supportive even though they can't hop on the field and play the game for me. This is a game where critics are not welcome, but fans are deeply appreciated. I keep looking up at the stands hoping for someone to smile and wave at me, cheering me on, but the stands are empty. My family loves me, and I love them dearly, but they don't live near me. It's like they're watching on TV; they're cheering me on, but it's not the same as watching the game live. The thing about fans that is so great is that they're there only if they want to be. I pay my coach. He's totally on my team, helping me, cheering me on, but it's different. I want people to choose to root for me just because they care about me and believe in me. People who are actively in my life because they live here and they like me.

So all these thoughts and feelings have been rolling around in my head. I'm trying to sort out my faith in the midst of feeling like church is harming more than helping. I started trying to connect with God in different ways and discovered that I love going to mass at the catholic cathedral a mile from my apartment. It brings peace to my soul. It feels a little weird to share all this, to talk about how much depression hurts, to talk about how I'm trying new things which is scary but helpful. Tonight I was at a talk on depression, and after the speaker shared his own story of dealing with depression and anxiety, he shared some scripture. He talked about how the Bible is testimony, and there is tension between the testimonies it contains. The primary testimony is how God relates to the people with whom he chooses to be in relationship, how he sees them, rescues them, loves them. And there are testimonies that are in direct opposition to that primary testimony, people who acknowledge how God has shown up for their ancestors, but they also cry out asking why God has forsaken them. Thinking about how the Bible is a collection of people sharing how they have or haven't encountered God made me want to testify the truth of my life right now. I felt compelled to share more about what depression is like for me, what trying to find God and faith in the midst of the pain is like. For years now I've hoped that somehow my experiences, my story, my testimony could somehow help someone else. They can't do that if I keep everything to myself and hide behind a mask of "I'm fine," so for now this blog feels like a safe way to experiment with sharing.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Sometimes I'm Angry at Depression, but Mostly I Don't Have the Energy

There's a really great pastor at my church who is kind and clearly loves serving people. Just about every time he sees me, he asks how I'm doing. "I'm OK," I reply. And I'd say about 75% of the time he follows up with, "Just OK?" If he doesn't say it, the sentiment at least flashes across his face for a moment. I never really know what to do in that moment. Usually "I'm OK" means one of three things for me:
1. I'm having an average, normal day. Nothing especially fantastic has happened, but it's not horrible. It's fine. It's OK.
2. I don't think you want a truthful answer, so I'm just moving the conversation along.
3. I'm feeling really awful and have no idea how to be truthful when it's not the time and place to have a serious discussion.

I don't think people really know what to do when their friends or family members are depressed. I don't even know sometimes. It's not something tangible you can fix. And mental illness can cycle around, so it seems like the same thing over and over again. Sometimes I think my brain is just damaged, that there's nothing that can be done to make my life better, more hopeful, more meaningful.

Depression is not fair. I hate that I find both relief and unspeakable loneliness in isolation. I hate that I struggle to connect with people, to find deep friendships. I hate that asking for help sometimes feels like putting a burden onto people I love, so sometimes I don't ask.

For a majority of the past month, I haven't really felt like myself. Everything just seems like too much. I'm so lonely, but I can't stand to be around people. I spend hours upon hours at home alone, wishing things were different, that I had the energy to be a different, better person. I spend so much time trying to hold myself together that I don't have much room for anything fun. It's not that I'm always miserable, but it's hard work to have fun sometimes. Even as I was writing this I got a text from a friend about Connect Group, but I told her I wasn't going. It's too hard. I feel like a failure when I can't connect with people, when I can't care about other people.

Yesterday I was so jittery it was like I'd been drinking caffeine all day, even though all I'd had was water, but most of the time I am so low in energy it feels like a Herculean task just to get the basics done. Often I use up all my social energy at work and have little or none left at the end of the day. So most nights I go home and watch Netflix or read or even just go to bed because I'm so tired I don't even care.

One of the worst things, the thing that is most unspeakable for me, is how angry I get at God for all of this. I get so angry that I just have to suffer when he could take it away. I get so angry that he is mostly just silent, leaving me feeling unbearably isolated and unwanted. I watch worship at church unable to participate because I just can't, and it makes me feel sad and alienated. I pray and read my Bible most days, but so often it brings little or no comfort. Sometimes I feel a peace that I know isn't coming from me, but mostly I just feel lonely and sad. I watch as friends devote their lives to serving Jesus and sharing him with others while I don't even know what the point is of anything anymore. It's really hard to deal with existential angst when you're supposed to be a Christian. I sometimes fear that all my anger and doubt excludes me from God's love, because who could love someone so broken and fickle? I get really angry at myself for not being able to believe, for being selfish, for being prideful, for knowing that it's probably my fault that God feels far away.

I don't know how to fix any of it. I do my best to get through each day and fulfill my duties at work, at church. Sometimes I text my friends asking for prayer. Sometimes I just lie in bed and cry, my tears a silent prayer for relief. There are days when I feel like myself, when I have fun, when I revel in an ice cream cone and laughing with people I love. I hope I have more of those days, that those days will start to outnumber the bad ones. They will, eventually. My depression cycles always end at some point. That gives me great hope, or at least enough oomph to carry on.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Rubber Ducks and Anchors

I was thinking about my rubber duck today and had an epiphany.

One of my greatest flaws is my tendency to get swept away by my emotions. I don't mean that in some sort of romantic, happy way. I get swept away in a way that makes it seem like when I feel something, that feeling trumps everything else. When I feel alone, that feeling tends to trump the truth that God is always with me. When I feel worthless, it trumps the truth that Jesus paid the highest price for my salvation.

I have been working hard to improve in this area, and I think especially in the last few months I've started to see some maturity there. I'd describe my life in 2014 as spiritually turbulent. I've been asking really hard questions and finding no satisfactory answer. I've been reading scripture that I can't make sense of and that makes me feel angry and sad. I've cried during sermons and stood silent during worship, unable to utter words that I don't know if I mean. And through all this I've been faithfully praying and reading my Bible, serving in church regularly, having deep conversations with friends, pushing through this chaotic storm just trying to hang on until the waters calm.

This brings me to the rubber duck. A few years ago a friend of mine was being supportive through a similar time of spiritual turbulence. She encouraged me to just keep floating on the water and ride out the storm. She then spent the next week or two looking for just the right rubber ducks before she gifted me one duck with a pirate hat, eye patch, and striped shirt and one duck that was blue so I would have a tangible reminder to ride out the storm.

So I was gazing at my pirate duck (the one I keep on my work desk) and thinking about storms and water when the lyrics "and this hope is an anchor for my soul" floated through my mind. When I think of anchors, I tend to think of sinking and drowning, but today I was thinking about how they are stabilizing. When you're in a storm, you want to stay afloat, but you also don't want to find out that you've blown off course when the waters finally calm and you can see where you are. An anchor keeps you where you need to be regardless of what the water is trying to do.

Somehow this idea of an anchor gave me a new perspective on hope. For a long time I've sort of resented the idea of hope because I had several years where my life was very dark and hope seemed nowhere to be found. Hope seemed so emotionally unstable, so fickle. Now I think maybe hope is more like something that's there subconsciously, waiting for the storm to die down so you can see it was there all along. Remember the story of when Jesus and the disciples were on the water and a storm came up? Jesus was sleeping. The disciples were freaking out. I want to be more like Jesus, calm in the midst of my emotional storms, instead of like the disciples, sure I'm going to die. The great thing is, though, that whether or not I'm able to keep my cool, the anchor is there. My faith is there, anchoring me. Faith is bigger than just how I feel on any given day towards God. It's something that tethers my identity to something bigger than my circumstances. I don't need the right answers, I don't have to try to be a better person or earn more righteousness. I just have to cling to the hope of my anchor to keep me where I need to be so I can emerge from the storm victorious.

It's hard to put into words exactly how I'm feeling right now, but I think the best way to sum this whole post up is to say that this: my whole life it's seemed like there's a disconnect between my head and my heart. I always had all the "right" answers intellectually, but I couldn't make my feelings match what I knew in my head. Somehow this revelation of hope being an anchor has bridged the gap, at least a little. I feel such a confident peace that I will be OK, even knowing that there will still be times I will cry myself to sleep out of fear or despair or feeling utterly alone. I will make it through the storm and keep sailing forward because I am anchored to Jesus. What a beautiful revelation to ponder during Holy Week.

Friday, February 28, 2014

A Midsummer Night's Dream at University of Northwestern St. Paul: A Review

A Midsummer Night's Dream is my favorite of Shakespeare's comedies. I played Hippolyta in high school, and I've seen two different productions of this show at American Player's Theatre (Spring Green, WI). Tonight I saw Midsummer at University of Northwestern St. Paul, and I found the entire show to be delightful. It exceeded the very high bar I set for this play despite my initial uncertainties about the choice of era.

This production of A Midsummer Night's Dream was set in the 1960s. It actually worked very well with the story. The proper Athens was characterized by formal black and white wear, the forest had all the color and flow of hippies, and the mechanicals were wonderful in their colorful but simple fare. The only costumes I felt didn't fit were those of Oberon and his gang, which felt much more 80s than 60s. The Pyramis armor costume was genius and my favorite of the show. The sets were lovely without being overly complicated, and the set's many levels and playing spaces worked well throughout the show. I enjoyed the short news broadcast transitions that somehow seamlessly blended technology and Shakespeare, reminding me of similar shots from Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet.

I was so impressed by the entire cast's comfortableness with the Elizabethan language. It wasn't jarring in the least to have a modern setting with the older language. The actors delivered their lines with ease and nuance. Everyone was so expressive in their body language and facial expressions. Humor can be hard to deliver well, but I felt this cast really played with the humor without pushing it too far over-the-top. I laughed so hard at the mechanicals' play that I was crying. That scene was the crowing jewel of the show and was a great example of how the entire cast was in tune with each other. Even actors in the background contributed beautifully to the scene, with the "off-stage" mechanicals peering out from behind their set to observe. Starveling was even mouthing the words along with her co-actors as Philostrate cringed at their antics.

A few stand-out actors were Lydia Wildes as Helena, Dr. Keith Jones as Philostrate, and Mitch Geiken as Bottom, who stole the show. Oberon and Puck had fun chemistry, Titania's fairies were wonderfully spritely, the lovers were romantic and fun, the royals presided over the goings-on with stateliness, and the mechanicals were endearing and hilarious. I can't say enough how much I thoroughly enjoyed this production. Hats off to a job phenomenally done by the cast and crew!