My Beloved (albeit Broken) Community…

I’ve mentioned in a Music Mondays post that I am unapologetically Christian. Writing this truth again makes me pause. It’s not because I am ashamed of MY beliefs or have a need to downplay my faith. I am a theologically trained, bonafide church nerd who works as a chaplain and lives out my faith daily though my vocation and my relationships. I have gone to church my whole life. I love the church so much that I answered God’s call to ministry in the church.

Personally, I have struggled with doubt and the meaning of life and the nature of suffering. I seek God daily and ask for guidance to make decisions that are not selfish in nature but follow God’s will for my life. I fall short, am a good Lutheran (simultaneously saint and sinner), am honest, and live a life that reflects my understanding that the main point of this Christian life is to LOVE – love God, love self, love others. My faith informs how I view justice, equality and the dignity of all persons, regardless of gender, race, religion, sexuality or any other designation that is used to divide rather than unite people. So you see, it’s not that I am unable to articulate my belief. What makes me pause in my proclamation that I am unapologetically Christian is the fact that my religion, the one that I hold so near and dear to my heart, has a bad reputation. I told my readers that I would revisit the issue of faith and religion at a later date and today, I was inspired to do so….

I follow the lovely @addyeB on Twitter and am an avid fan of her blog Butterfly Confessions. She is one of the first women of color that I came across who blogs about her mental health journey AND is a person of faith. Today, she responded to a tweet by @writingjoy, a writer whose blog is entitled Joy in this Journey. (On a totally separate note, Twitter is an AMAZING community that has allowed me to network and given me so much support, encouragement and direction. Seriously love it.) Since I value @addyB’s opinion, I checked out @writingjoy’s blog. I loved what I read, but more importantly, I came across her posts about Finding Church and read each one in the series. What I found broke my heart…

The post that @addyB responded to is entitled We’ve Forgotten What Church Really Is. The writer chronicles her journey with looking for a new church. Her series gives background information on how she started this journey, but this post in particular struck a chord with me because I struggle with this reality all the time – what does it mean to BE the church? Much like the writer, I realize that we have come a long way from what I believe Christ wanted this community of faith to be. We fall short of being the beloved community that we are called to be and actually do harm to people. For this and for all the sins that have been committed by Christian folk, I apologize.

For the judgement, for the elitism, for the intolerance, for the “holier than thou” attitude, for the misuse of the biblical texts, for the perception that one has to have it all together in order to belong, for the way that we ignore our neighbors in need, for our love of ritual and tradition over community and meeting actual needs, for our need to be in power over instead of being in relationship with, for our tendency to speak and not listen, for our arrogance, for the abuse, for our silence about the things that matter, for the misuse of money, for the lies and promises of prosperity, for the leaders who misrepresent the faith, for all of those things, sayings, people and practices that hurt the soul of a person, I am so very sorry…

You might be wondering why I still consider myself Christian, or better yet, why I am still connected to the church. The first answer is that I am a Christian mainly because of the thought of God choosing to become human and be in relationship with me blows my mind. This thing we call the Incarnation, God becoming human in the form of Jesus, is where my faith begins. For many Christians, the crucifixion is the starting point. For me, it’s all about the incarnation. And here’s the thing, there are some days I wonder if any of it’s true. But I have moved beyond trying to understand that which I may never understand and focus on the meaning. What it comes down to is love. It’s all about the love that is expressed by forging relationships with humanity and teaching a different way to be in these relationships. My second answer is pretty simple – I am still connected to the church because I believe that it has the capacity to be the single greatest proponent of love, authenticity and community and I will not see it overrun or misrepresented. I believe that the best way I can see the beloved community come to pass is to be in the community.

This may seem very simplistic, and I am sure that I could write more about what I believe and why I believe it. I also don’t want to downplay the harm that’s been done to so many, the hurt that you may have experienced or do experience by the church. All I can say to this is that we are broken, sinful people. As much as I’d like to believe that church folks are the most forgiving, loving and honest people, the opposite tends to be true…

I just want to let anyone know who has been hurt, cast aside or disenfranchised by the church that we need you. We need the whole body and me and my colleagues who are like me and who serve as pastors so desperately want a new reality for our church. It’s lonely out here when you think like I think and believe like I believe.

I thank God for my church House of the Rock. I thank God for prophetic leaders like Nadia Bolz Weber, Andrena Ingram and Marlon Hall. I thank God for communities like The Simple Way, the Eat Gallery, Grace Lutheran Church and Awaken Detroit. I thank God for the band Starboarders and others who use their gifts to bring about positive change in the world and show an alternative way to believe and live the Christian story.

I was baptized as a baby. In the church. I was confirmed as a teenager. In the church. I was nurtured and allowed to lead as a young adult. In the church. I was encouraged as a woman in ministry. In the church. I was married. In the church.

I went through my divorce and the church loved me.

I battle depression and the church surrounds me.

I think differently and the church accepts me.

This has been my experience and this is why I continue to stay in my beloved albeit broken community.

My prayer is that you are able to find a community that loves you.

My prayer is that we can be the community that loves you.

My prayer is that we can be gracious towards one another, know that we are not perfect and recognize that things won’t change if we don’t take the steps to change them.

Love,

Me

 

You is Smart. You is Kind. You is Important.

One of the things I’ve learned through therapy and meditation is the importance of affirmations. It may seem kind of corny, but I am now a woman who has taken to writing positive words and phrases in lipstick on my mirror. It helps. Seriously.

One of my therapists used to challenge me to confront my negative thoughts and question their validity. I was then instructed to replace them with positive thoughts, ones that spoke to my goodness, my giftedness and my worthiness. There are still days when I struggle to do this and I am thankful for the people in my life who remind me to be kind to myself. Hence the mirror writing – it speaks to me when I don’t have the words or thoughts to speak to myself.

One friend brought me to tears when she quoted an affirmation from the movie The Help. In a poignant scene, the main character shares with the child that she cares for how important the little girl is and implores her to remember her words, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” In a very dark moment this friend repeated these words to me. They made me smile, but more importantly, they reminded me of something my mind was trying to destroy.

Affirmations have been a significant part of my healing and I am an advocate for them and the practice of repeating positive phrases. I believe that there are so many negative messages in the world and if we are not speaking positivity and light into our lives, we perpetuate those things and attitudes that threaten to destroy us.

I am smart. I am kind. I am important. I am loved. I am gifted. I am caring. I am good just the way I am. What are some words and phrases that you can use to remind you that you are amazing?

My prayer for you is that you can begin to see the goodness within.

My prayer is that you affirm others and remind them of their goodness.

My prayer is that the power of affirmations takes over the darkness and negativity in the world.

Love,

Me

Affirmations

It’s not looking like Christmas…

I drove home in a fog tonight – literally. I left church and drove home through a fog so thick that I missed a turn and ended up on the other side of my neighborhood. It probably didn’t help that I was crying as well as driving through this fog. Today sucked and I hate that it did because I feel like I’ve been doing so well. That’s probably my problem – thinking that a few weeks of positive thinking somehow cures me of the reality that is my depression. I know better but it hit me hard tonight.

I spent the day by myself, trying to tell myself that all was ok. I was aware of my feelings – missing my family and wishing I was home. But being alone during the holidays triggered other thoughts. I sat with the fact that I am now divorced. No more extended family and friends Christmas parties. No more trading off the holidays, deciding which family we would be with for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years.

I spent the day watching movies and hanging out online, trying valiantly to get in the Christmas spirit. Seriously, thank God for social media. It helped me not feel so alone. I don’t know what I’d do without the virtual connection to my friends and family. I was determined to go to church tonight instead of burrowing under my covers and I am glad that I went. But as everyone bundled up to head home the feelings of loneliness and isolation overwhelmed me. I was going home to nothing, to no one. And I hate that it bothers me so much.

Christmas used to be my favorite time of year. Family, faith, fun and all sorts of traditions were a part of my reality. The past few years, Christmas has been the loneliest time of the year for me and I feel so bad that I seem to be overly focused on the negative. My brother tried to talk me out of my head tonight, but it didn’t work. Just for tonight, I feel sorry for myself. I mourn the loss of a life that I thought I had.

The thought that’s been recurring in my mind has been that I want to go home. All of my life, I’ve been running from home, wanting to put as much space between me and my family as humanly possible. But I can’t do this thing called life without them. When I try, it’s a much more difficult journey, one that is littered with periods of darkness and loneliness and sadness. I think it may be time for me to go home…

I know that this day is really about Jesus and I thank God that he saw fit to come be with us. Lord knows if I ever needed Emmanuel, it is right now…. I’m sorry to be so depressing on this Christmas Eve, but alas, I am depressed. To anyone out there struggling tonight, tomorrow, over the next few weeks, everyday, etc…, please know that you are not alone. Even as the tears fall from my eyes on this evening, I know that I am not the only one who is struggling.

It may not be a merry Christmas, but I pray for peace, comfort, healing and hope for us all…

Love,

Me

Music Mondays: I Didn’t Know My Own Strength by Whitney Houston

Whitney-Houston-I-Didnt-Know-My-O-503938Have you ever experienced a moment when you realize that you are so much stronger than you ever thought you could be? It’s not just enough for others to tell you that you are strong. Something has to happen to make you believe it. I’m finding that the past couple of years have placed me face-to-face with the reality that I am stronger than I ever thought I could be….

This is my first Christmas post divorce. My ex-husband and I separated on August 19, 2011. Our divorce was finalized on July 12, 2012. I’ve written about how my separation was one of many things that led to my most recent depressive episode, but I haven’t really written about how it affected my identity and my perception of myself. Making the decision to get a divorce was the hardest decision of my life. I felt like a failure. I was embarrassed. I felt like I didn’t have what it took to be a wife. I felt like a disappointment to my family and friends, especially to those who stood and witnessed my wedding.

I Didn’t Know My Own Strength performed by Whitney Houston has been such an inspiration for me. The words, written by Diane Warren, speak to the strength that exist within and comes to the surface in times of suffering.

Lost touch with my soul
I had nowhere to turn, I had nowhere to go
Lost sight of my dream
Thought it would be the end of me

I thought I’d never make it through
I had no hope to hold on to
I thought I would break

I didn’t know my own strength
And I crashed down and I tumbled, but I did not crumble
I got through all the pain
I didn’t know my own strength

Survived my darkest hour, my faith kept me alive
I picked myself back up, hold my head up high
I was not built to break
I didn’t know my own strength

I always wanted to be one of those women who wasn’t defined by a relationship or lack thereof. I always wanted to be a woman who bounced back from hardships with incredible grace. I wanted my identity to be steeped in something much greater than my current circumstance. As hard as it’s been, my divorce has taught me that I am this type of woman. Most of all, it taught me that I didn’t know my own strength…

My prayer is that you are able to believe that you have incredible strength within.

Love,

Me

Ruminations and Recriminations

It goes a little something like this…

I don’t feel good.I think I may be sick.I should stay home from work.

Who wants to be around me anyway?I’m pathetic.I’m a failure.I’m divorced.I’m crazy.I run men off.Who would want me?No one can love me.I don’t even love me.

I could have done better.I should have done this/that differently.I feel so guilty/ashamed because…I will never be forgiven.

If people really knew what I was thinking, they wouldn’t love me.If people knew the real me, they would never want to be around me.If I were a better friend/employee/lover/sister/daughter I wouldn’t be alone/depressed/anxious/afraid.

What if I never have children?Does that make me a failure?Isn’t that the one thing I’m supposed to do as a woman?Who am I kidding? I couldn’t take care of another human being if I wanted to.

I’m going to be fired.My work isn’t good enough.Did I make the right choice?What should I have done differently?Why is this so hard?

I’m not good enough.I’m not worth it.I’m inherently bad.I’m irrevocably broken. There’s no hope…

What was God thinking?Is there anything good here?What’s the point?What if I ended it all?Would anyone care?Then people would know that I am really a coward.

God help me.

These are actual thoughts that have plagued me. They start off slow, without warning. They’re amorphous and at times, unidentifiable. Truth be told, if you aren’t paying attention, they can creep up on you. One minute you’re fine. The next minute, you are so sad, or even worse, you are so numb. Before you know it, you are literally paralyzed by your thoughts and incapable of emerging from the darkest of places.

When you can actually feel something, the worst feelings take over – despair, hopelessness, guilt, shame. When you’re incapable of feeling, you just know you’re bad, worthless, forgotten, abandoned. The feelings and numbness take you to dark places, make you feel like your life isn’t worth living.

They don’t seem that bad. I mean, they’re just….thoughts, right?

WRONG.

gandhi_thoughts_postcard

Rumination is the act of focusing on the things that are distressing. Recrimination is a retaliatory accusation, in this case against yourself. Ruminating and recriminating have been my downfall and are signature markers of when my depression is at its worst.

Our thoughts have the power to be life-giving or life-taking. For those of us who struggle with depression, our thoughts are things we must pay attention to and fight on a daily basis. Guilt, shame and inadequacy can literally kill us by causing us to believe that we are worthless. Many people end their lives. While I’ve had suicidal thoughts, I’ve never taken steps to kill myself. I’m not sure why…

For me, the best things in combating these thoughts are medication, therapy, exercise, and spirituality. I’ll write more about each of these later but suffice it to say, without medication (Prozac and Xanax), therapy (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy on a REGULAR basis to be exact), exercise (participating in a variety of dance styles including Pole dancing – more on the benefits of this later) and spirituality (deepening my faith life through my Christian tradition and embracing Buddhism as a way of life) I would NOT be where I am today.

My prayer is that your thoughts breathe life into you rather than take life from you.

My prayer is that if you struggle with ruminating and recriminating, that you seek help and support.

My prayer is that you are able to reclaim the goodness within and never doubt who you are, what you can do or your value ever again.

If you or someone you know are contemplating suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

For more information about treatment options, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Visit Monday’s blog posting, which may provide some support through some very powerful lyrics – Music Mondays: Shine the Light by Sugarland.

When your thoughts threaten to take you under, please remember this one thing: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

Love,

Me

Music Mondays: Shine the Light by Sugarland

One of the hardest things I’ve had to face as I have gotten older is the reality that some roads must be walked alone…

You might think this is a contradictory statement since I talk so much about community support and accompaniment. But let me clarify – even when you are surrounded by people who care for you and want to shoulder your burdens with you, only one person can walk in your shoes at a time. My journey has taught me that there are some things I have to do by myself…

HOWEVER……..

Shine the Light by Sugarland provides imagery for how people who are on the outside of my journey have helped me and how you can possibly help someone who is struggling. The lyrics are so profound that I’ve listed them below. In an interview, Jennifer Nettles, one half of Sugarland, expressed that she wrote this song for her band mate, Kristian Bush, when he was going through a particularly difficult time. When I hear this song, I can imagine my friends and family on the edge of my darkness, shining the light of hope and healing.

So even though they can’t walk in my shoes, I know that they are there, carrying the light so that I might find my way.

I pray that you have someone in your life to carry the light of hope…

I pray that you carry the the light of love for someone else…

I pray that together we walk into the light of life…

Love,

Me

Shine the Light by Sugarland

Lyrics from http://www.sugarlandmusic.com/releases/the_incredible_machine_deluxe_editio n

When you walk into the edge of those
Dark and lonely woods
And when I ask how was your day
And you answer, "Not so good"

And when nothing seems to be working out
Quite the way it should, I will shine the light

And when the skies up above you fill
With gray and stormy clouds
And there's not a single face you know
In the maddening crowd

When you know that you don't make your way
But you just can't see how, I will shine the light

I will shine the light, I will shine the light
I will hold you in my arms
Until everything's alright, I will shine the light

And when your worries, they won't let you sleep
And rob you of your days
And you've looked in all directions
But you still you can't find your way

Oh, when you just need someone to remind you
That it's all gonna be okay, I will shine the light

I will shine the light, I will shine the light
When you're staring down your demons
Weighing in your darkest night, I will shine the light

Sometimes we jump into the great unknown
Sorrows, we all will have to walk alone
But waiting there in the end is a heart that calls you a friend
That's me, clapping the loudest, welcoming you home

So when your heart is heavy like a stone
From carrying its load
And you look into the mirror
And see someone you don't know

Oh, when the shadows are closing in on you
Like a hand around your throat
I will shine the light, I will shine the light

When you've given into your fears
When you've lost your will to fight
Let me know what I can do
Let me try to make it right

And I will shine the light, I will shine the light