Thursday, April 19, 2018

10 THINGS I AM THANKFUL FOR TODAY (04/19/18)

Ten things I am thankful for today, in no particular order:

  1. Morning light creeping across the hay field. (Never gets old...beautiful every morning.)
  2. My walking buddy, Carol.
  3. My prayer sisters. They are warrior princesses.
  4. Bible Study Fellowship. (Even though I did not make it to class today; I hope be back in class next week, ladies!)
  5. My children. My children's spouses/significant others. My children's children.
  6. Helen's chocolate chip cookies. Yum! And coffee. I am thankful for coffee.
  7. Helen playing the piano.
  8. Old friends. (Old, as in "we've been friends a long time," not as is in, you know, old.)
  9. Addie at Global Counseling Network.
  10. My wonderful next-door neighbors.
  11. The smell of fresh-turned earth.
  12. Fuzzy black calves romping across green grass in the pasture.
  13. Songbirds outside my window.
  14. My parents and my grandparents, and the rich heritage of faith, courage, strength, kindness, and hope each of them gave me.
  15. Sunshine!

Your turn: what are YOU thankful for today?

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

SO MUCH JOY!

This morning, I was looking through family photos on my computer. I'd been sitting here browsing pictures for several minutes when I realized: I had the biggest, goofiest smile on my face!

My kids do that to me.

Yeah, yeah, I know...everyone thinks their own kids are the most special. You know what? I think we are all right.

Every single one of my seven children has taught me new things, expanded my horizon, challenged me to think in new ways and to see with new eyes. Every one has made my heart exponentially bigger, then filled it full to overflowing. When I thought my heart couldn't stretch any bigger, my kids brought home friends and sweethearts, classmates and wanderers, then stretched my heart a little more and tucked these precious people inside my heart, too.

I used to think as a parent: "It is my job to teach my children." But my children have taught and continue to teach me far more than I ever taught them.

I thought as a parent: "I want to love and encourage my children." But my children reciprocate with a tsunami of love, grace, and encouragement so great that it astounds me.

When I think of my children, my countenance and my mood brighten. I can't help it. They give me so much joy!

So, I was sitting at the computer this morning, looking at pictures of the kids and grinning like a 'possum, and I got to thinking: God delights in his children, too. He calls us his beloved, his chosen ones, the apple of his eye.

I think about my children this morning, and my heart feels so incredibly full. To think that God looks at me, his child, and smiles; to think that I give him delight, like my children do me...I think my heart just exploded.

LOVE YOU, MAN! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

Friday, April 13, 2018

LESSONS LEARNED IN DARKNESS

Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor or trained counselor. I am a middle-aged, stay-at-home mom with no college degree, no professional career. My resume' would fit on a 3-by-5 index card.

I cannot write about depression from the perspective of a physician or someone with an advanced degree in counseling. I can only write from the perspective of someone who has been into the valley and who, by God's grace, is making the journey out of darkness, back into the light. 

What have I learned that might be helpful to a person who is walking alongside a friend who is depressed?

IF YOU ARE THE FRIEND:

Pray, pray, pray. Pray and keep on praying - for your friend, for hope and for strength to persevere; for yourself, for wisdom to know how best to love and encourage your friend. Pray, pray, pray.

Checking in is helpful. Waiting for your downcast friend to initiate contact is not. "You can call me anytime!" No, I can't, not on days when simply breathing is a struggle. Call me. If I don't answer the phone, stop by the house. If I don't answer the door, send an email or text message or card. Find some way to make contact.

No, this won't make everything better, but it will do this: it will remind me that someone else in the world knows and cares that I am still here. It will remind ME: I am still here. And that is huge.

Listening - really listening - is helpful. Giving unsolicited advice is not. If I do answer the phone when you call, or open the door when you stop by, giving me a list of ten things you think I should do to solve all my problems is not helpful. Listening as I mentally work through things myself, identify problems, figure out possible solutions...that is helpful.

Most people don't like to listen; they prefer to talk. They'd rather tell you how to "fix" your problem. ("Have you tried fill-in-the-blank?") They want to make the unpleasantness go away, not walk with you through it. Which leads to...

Learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Let's be honest: depressed people are not generally fun to be around. Me, I cried a lot. I had days when I lacked the emotional energy to talk to other people. Even simple questions - "Where do you want to eat?" - were too big to process. (Some days are still like that.)

When you live under a big black cloud, folks don't like being around you. They don't make eye contact at church. They avoid conversation. They always have plans elsewhere. Being around you makes them uncomfortable.

Then there are those rare, precious people who, in spite of the awkwardness and discomfort, see the dark cloud and step under it to stand beside you and hold your hand.

I remember one time when my friend Joyce Tolar called. Joyce was the kind of friend who initiated contact.
Joyce: "How ya doin', Baby Girl?" (Joyce called everybody Baby Girl.)
Me: "I'm fine." Then, a long pause on the phone line.
Joyce: "I'm on my way over right now."

When Joyce got to the house, we sat on the porch swing together, and I had a good, snot-nosed cry. We didn't talk. We just sat there together, Joyce holding my hand, rocking the swing, watching the birds over the hay field and the traffic out on the highway. Joyce knew how to be comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Do you want to be a good friend? Be like Joyce.

Do not minimize or dismiss your friend's emotions. Completely unhelpful things to say to someone who is depressed:
  • "You shouldn't feel that way."
  • "I don't know why you're not happy. Your life could be so much worse."
  • "I don't know why you're not happy. You have such a perfect marriage/family/life."
  • "Just get over it."
  • "You didn't hear all this talk about depression fifty years ago. We're all a bunch of softies now. You need to toughen up."
  • "You're just doing this for attention."
  • "Real Christians do not get depressed."

Don't. Just don't.

Be patient. It takes a long time to find the way out of a particularly deep, dark valley. Instead of focusing on how long the process takes your friend, focus on progress. Celebrate every step - even very small steps - toward the light. Encourage. And keep praying.

Don't do nothing.

What would YOU add to this list?

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

LOST GIRL

"I knew you when you were a girl. I knew you as a young adult. You were smart and kind and funny. You loved life. What happened to you? What happened to the girl you used to be?"

A lifelong friend spoke these words to me several years ago. I was physically exhausted and emotionally and spiritually depressed. I was past desperate...had reached a point of passive numbness. My life was not without an occasional glimmer of joy or light, but, for the most part, life was dark gray. The lively, engaged girl from my childhood had become an automaton.

Why the change? Who knows, but I think several factors contributed to this transformation: extreme physical exhaustion, emotional isolation, financial insecurity. Life was so hard, for so long, and there was absolutely nothing I could do to fix my situation. I tried, repeatedly, and failed, repeatedly, and finally I just gave up.

I lost track of the girl my childhood friend had known. But when my friend asked me that question, and when she described the person she had known all those years ago, something stirred deep in my memory. I began to remember that lost girl, too. I began to ask myself, "What happened to that girl? Where did she go?" The more I thought about that lost girl, the more I wanted to find her.

Fast forward several years...

I am not the same person today that I was when my friend asked those questions. I have found a bit of the lost girl - I hear her thoughts inside my head, and sometimes I hear her voice coming out of my mouth. She is older now, for sure...gray hair, thick waistline, gimpy knees...but she is still curious, still likes to have fun, still a little shy.

Why the change? I don't think I know all the factors that helped resurrect the lost girl, but I do know a few:

I am no longer severely exhausted. I don't think it is possible to overstate the harmful effects of prolonged sleep deprivation, on both physical health and mental health. There's a reason sleep-deprivation is used as a form of torture in places like prison camps. Prolonged exhaustion...a quiet, subtle, slow trauma.

I no longer feel emotionally isolated. Through the magic of the internet, I am able to communicate with friends from my past, and I can stay in conversation with friends who live far away. (Moving frequently, leaving behind friends and having to start over again from scratch in a new location...it often takes years to build emotional intimacy. Having to rebuild so many times, another subtle form of trauma.) I am thankful for my prayer sisters, who pray with me and for me. I am thankful for Global Counseling Network, thankful someone recognized the need for affordable, biblical counseling services in remote places like the hills of Northwest Tennessee.

I don't know that I am any less financially insecure than I was ten years ago, but I'm not the one juggling the numbers. They say ignorance is bliss; it's not, really, but ignorance does involve less stress, or at least a different kind of stress. I have an ATM receipt from a couple years ago taped on my wall: "Ledger balance: $2.44." Groceries for the week ahead, gas for the van (Please, Jesus, don't let the van break down this week!)...how on earth were we going to make it?! I don't know how we survived. But I do know that today, although there may still not be money in the bank, we do have groceries in the pantry and a full tank of gas in the van.

Why am I sharing all of this?

My youngest and I were talking last night, and she was sad because she felt like people she loves misunderstood and misrepresented me, her mom. "They don't know you like I do," she protested.

But here's the deal...

I am not the same person today that I was five years ago, ten years ago, thirty years ago. If you, like my friend at the beginning of this post, had known me as a child and as a young adult, you would say, "Oh, I know Camille. She is like such-&-such." And you would be right. But, if you had known me during the long slow collapse of severe exhaustion, you would say, "Oh, I know Camille. She is like (something very different)." And again, you would be correct.

My youngest is more familiar with Camille-in-the-light, so she does not understand the perspective of those who are better acquainted with Camille-in-the-darkness. But the truth is, their perspective and their experiences are real, too, just as real as hers. The truth is, I am not one or the other, either/or; I am both. Light and darkness, swirled together like ink in sunlit water.

I think one of the deepest longings of the human heart is to be both fully known AND fully loved. People - even those closest to me - are incapable of knowing me fully, completely, because time and place limit their knowledge of me. We relate to one another in still shots, outtakes, film clips. Only God sees and knows and understands the full-length drama of our lives, of who we are.

"They don't know you like I do." No, no, they don't.

But God knows me as I am, all of me, completely, and He loves me! I am content.


Thursday, April 5, 2018

SHARP KNIVES, DULL HEART

Last time my son Benjamin was home for a visit, he sharpened the kitchen knives. The blades are so sharp now they slice through soft bread or the skin of a tomato as easily as through warm butter. I thought my knives were sharp before; now, they cut like razors. I did not understand before how fine a knife edge could be.

My knives were perfectly useful before Ben sharpened them, but I usually opted for a serrated blade to slice bread because a regular blade would smush a soft, warm loaf and even my sharpest knife mangled tomatoes. My dull blades worked more like pointy-edged bludgeons than like proper knives.

I have been learning anew the past several months how razor-fine an edge there is between the Gospel and the Almost Gospel. The true Gospel is, like God's Word, "sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12). The Almost Gospel, on the other hand, is little more than a pointy-edged bludgeon.

A couple of observations:

I am one of those people who is prone to cut myself when I work in the kitchen. I can testify that cutting yourself with a dull knife is very painful. A cut from a razor-sharp blade - you hardly even feel it; in fact, you may not realize there's a cut until you see blood. The first is traumatic and damages surrounding tissue; the other, surgical, precise, clean. A cut from a dull blade takes a long time to heal; the cut from a sharp blade heals much more quickly.

Sort of like the difference between the Almost Gospel and the true Gospel.

I thought my knives were plenty sharp before Ben's visit. I was so wrong! Now that I've used a finely sharpened knife, I realize how atrociously dull they were before.

Which makes me wonder...

Where do I unwittingly reach for the dull blade of the Almost Gospel today, thinking it's plenty good enough to meet my needs, instead of reaching for the razor-sharp blade of the true Gospel?

After some thought, I have come to the conclusion that I am holding onto the Almost Gospel whenever:
  • I feel like I have to justify myself to others.
  • I insist that others must justify themselves to me.
  • I make excuses for or minimize my own sin.
  • I talk about and exaggerate the sins of others; I become preoccupied with how others have offended me.
  • When confronted about sin in my life, I try to redirect the conversation to how the person confronting me does not measure up to God's standards, either.
  • I am slow to repent and ask forgiveness when I wrong another person.
  • I demand that another must repent and ask forgiveness from me.
  • I am reluctant to examine my past, to deal with past sins for which I have not repented and asked forgiveness.
  • I resent the God-appointed consequences of my sin; I insist that those consequences either should not exist or are contrary to the Gospel.
  • I am hyper-critical of myself and/or others.
  • I feel good about myself only when I am confident I am doing everything right (or at least, doing most things mostly right!)
  • I feel negatively towards others when I think they are not doing things right.
  • I question another person's salvation when they do not do what I think they should.
  • I believe the lie that my personal happiness revolves around another person, instead of Christ.
  • .......
Aaaaugh! This list could go on forever! God, have mercy on a sinner like me!

What's to be done with a drawer full of dull kitchen knives? Hand them over to Benjamin, and he will give them back to you sharper than when they were brand new.

What's to be done with a heart full of Almost Gospel? Hand it over to Jesus to file away the dullness that is anything less than the true Gospel: Christ, Christ, Christ alone; Christ in me, the hope of Glory!

What if today I discover that, yet again, I have embraced the Almost Gospel? God tells me that today "is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2). This is as true for me, his child, as it is for the person who is hearing the Gospel for the very first time.

Today, Lord, sharpen my heart. Today, Lord, give me Jesus.
* * *
But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said, "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion." Hebrews 3:13-15

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

STORM WATCH


As I sit here writing, I listen for the storm sirens: high chance of tornadoes in the forecast today. This morning's clear, sunny sky has transformed into something dark and ominous. Wind whips the trees, scatters papers across campus, steals caps.

I hope the youngest and I make it home before the storm breaks. I don't like driving in severe weather...

...but I love storms.

I grew up in a beautiful 100+-year-old farmhouse. We didn't have internet, because the internet hadn't been invented yet. We didn't have TV, either. Yes, TV had been invented; but when our old cabinet TV quit working, Dad hauled it out to his workshop and let us kids "fix" it, and that was the end of that. We didn't have cellphones. Cellphones were imaginary tools in the minds of scriptwriters for StarTrek and James Bond films.

So, when we woke up on a misty, moisty, gray kind of morning, we didn't worry about sinister weather reports forecasting hail and tornadoes. Instead, Dad fed and milked the cow. Mom fried bacon and eggs and started the laundry. We kids got dressed for school or, if it was the weekend or summer break, we tackled chores or sneaked back to bed with a library book.

And if the sky grew dark as Mordor and the wind picked up, if lightning sizzled and thunder crashed nearby and rain pelted the roof like bullets, then...

...we did not log onto weather.com, or turn on the TV, or check our cellphones.

Instead, when the weather grew particularly hurly-burly, Mom would say, "Let's go sit on the porch and watch the storm!"

Sitting on the porch swing with Mom, our skin prickling and the hair on our arms standing on end, the wind whipping the trees into a dervish, covering our ears and counting the seconds between FLASH! and CRASH!, damp from the rain that blasted around the edge of the roof...

...watching the storm, not the storm report...

I don't know if I have ever felt more alive than I did sitting on the porch swing as a child, wide-eyed and hair on end, watching the storm. It was terrifying, electrifying, invigorating, magical.

Yes, there were times when Mom and Dad, on some mysterious cue, rushed us all to the basement. But even when we gallomped hurriedly down the stairs into the cool mustiness of down below - Dad carried a kerosene lantern to light our steps, when the power went out - even then, I don't remember feeling afraid, only a thrill of excitement and anticipation.

William Cowper, in one of my very favorite hymns, writes these words: "God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform; he plants his footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm."

Is that what I was looking for, waiting for, as I sat wet and charged with excitement on the front porch swing or huddled with baited breath in the damp shadows of the basement? Perhaps the spine-tingling thrill that drew me outside into the blasting storm was not the storm after all, but the Someone behind the storm.

His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. - Nahum 1:3b

Friday, March 30, 2018

STAINED GLASS

STAINED GLASS
- originally posted March 30, 2011

Last weekend, I was blessed to attend a women's retreat at Riveroaks Reformed Presbyterian Church. This was a wonderful, fast-paced time of fellowship and study with my sisters from Grace and ladies from other churches in our presbytery. While waiting for one of our sessions to begin, I enjoyed studying the beautiful stained glass window above the pulpit area at the front of the sanctuary. The colors and the detail were gorgeous, a song of worship set in glass, illuminated even on a gray day by the light of the cloud-shrouded sun.

On the sleepy drive back to Obion County Saturday afternoon, I considered that my life - our lives as believers - are not unlike that stained glass window. Bits and pieces of color and light, carefully fitted together into a God-glorifying work of art.

I had recently been thinking about how life is full of unexpected, unimaginable joys and disappointments. Thirty years ago, I could have in no way predicted the path my life would take. As a young high-school graduate, my course was set: I was going to college, first for an undergraduate degree and then for a degree in veterinary medicine. I was going to establish a practice as a vet, specializing in large animal care. At some point, I would marry, and then maybe have two or three kids. La, la, la, la....

Anyone who knows me knows that none of the above actually happened. My life took a very different course. Along that new path - the one I hadn't planned for - God brought me incredible blessings and joys that I could not have even imagined for myself.

He also brought - and brought me through - tremendous heartache. It's as if, on a handful of occasions, He completely shattered my heart. Allowed it to be splintered into a thousand pieces. But, those heartbreaks are being redeemed. I was thinking Saturday, that it's like He's slowly taking the broken pieces and fitting them together into a living portrait of His grace, something even more glorious than that brilliant window in the sanctuary at Riveroaks.

Back home, I thought it would be interesting to do a little research on how stained glass windows are made. And this is where it really gets good...

The glass used in these magnificent windows is not made of bits and pieces of "accidents," broken chips swept up to be recycled. No, the glass is created specifically for each window. First, an artist designs the window. Then, glass blowers painstakingly create the varieties of glass needed, in exactly the colors and weights specified by the artist. The window-maker carefully cuts each piece of glass according to his pattern, and then grinds it to fit precisely into his design. When each piece - created, shaped, and fitted together with incredible care and precision, from beginning to end - is finally in place, the window maker "sets" the glass so that it is strong and structurally sound. Not only are these windows beautiful, they are extremely heavy - but, by the wisdom of their creator, they are designed to support tremendous weight.

God is not about the business of having accidents and then scrambling to clean them up into something that looks intentional. It's not as if He goes, Oooops! I made a mistake. I'm so sorry you're disappointed. - or - I'm so sorry your heart is broken. I didn't mean for that to happen. I will try to find a way to make it better somehow. No, God is not in the business of gluing together broken pieces of the ball He dropped, the fragile pieces of my heart.

Because God never drops the ball.

Rather, God has a plan and a design from the very beginning, from before the foundation of the earth.  And every single thing that comes into my life - from the joy of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7! children, to the grief of shattered relationships - every single thing is a carefully planned and orchestrated part of His design and purpose to create in me a work of art that displays His glory and beauty to the world around me.

The fire of the glass-maker's oven is not an inconvenient consequence of the art of stained glass - it's the deliberate, carefully heated, closely monitored birthplace of something glorious.