Month: March 2013

The Loneliest Day of the Year

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Holy Saturday,

the loneliest day.

It is finished.

The carcass has been gutted.

There is nothing left.

Where did he go?

He was just there.

The morning after trauma.
The morning after violence.
The morning after horror.

We live in a Holy Saturday world.

Those who experienced the

first loneliest day

did not know that Sunday was coming.

Do we?

Good Friday

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Days like Good Friday can only be inhaled with the help of poetry.
Peace to you today.

Gethsemane
BY RUDYARD KIPLING
1914-1918

The Garden called Gethsemane
In Picardy it was,
And there the people came to see
The English soldiers pass.
We used to pass—we used to pass
Or halt, as it might be,
And ship our masks in case of gas
Beyond Gethsemane.

The Garden called Gethsemane,
It held a pretty lass,
But all the time she talked to me
I prayed my cup might pass.
The officer sat on the chair,
The men lay on the grass,
And all the time we halted there
I prayed my cup might pass.

It didn’t pass—it didn’t pass-
It didn’t pass from me.
I drank it when we met the gas
Beyond Gethsemane!

Source: A Choice of Kipling’s Verse (1943)

Gethsemane
Mary Oliver

The grass never sleeps.
Or the roses.
Nor does the lily have a secret eye that shuts until morning.

Jesus said, wait with me. But the disciples slept.

The cricket has such splendid fringe on its feet,
and it sings, have you noticed, with its whole body,
and heaven knows if it ever sleeps.

Jesus said, wait with me. And maybe the stars did, maybe
the wind wound itself into a silver tree, and didn’t move,
Maybe
the lake far away, where once he walked as on a
blue pavement,
lay still and waited, wild awake.

Oh the dear bodies, slumped and eye-shut, that could not
keep vigil, how they must have wept,
so utterly human, knowing this too
must be a part of the story.

~Thirst, 2006

“Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go.

Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.”
― Wendell Berry

Talking to your spouse about depression

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I have many friends who have a spouse who struggles with depression. We share that story. I asked my husband, if I could interview him, with the hope that we could be of some support to those couples who are in the midst of “the black dog.”

Depression

How old were you when you first remember having depression?

For many people vulnerable to depression, a stressful incident called a “trigger” causes what is referred to as an “episode.” The terms “trigger” and “episode” are used by mental health professionals and they’re also user-friendly to the public.

I was 20 and in college when I had my first episode. The university that I attended had an active student government, and I was serving in one of the top five positions elected by the student body. Back then, I was pretty cocksure—I thought of myself as just being very confident, but I’m sure others saw me coming across as being too ambitious and arrogant. Figuratively speaking, others who thought they knew best decided to bring out the “long knives.” I was cast aside. I was humiliated—as if I had been publicly kicked to the curb and left there. I felt betrayed. I was shattered by the behavior of those who I thought were my friends.

What were your symptoms?

I was very lethargic and I slept a lot. Things that usually engaged my interest—a favorite TV show, movie, or book, for example—didn’t appeal to me. I became withdrawn and didn’t want to socialize. My attention span also waned.

How long did they last?

They lasted two to three months.

How did you get through it?

I had the good fortune of having a girlfriend who kept trying cheer me up or just make me laugh. We had started dating a year before the episode and were already building a loving relationship.

Eventually, I was able to focus on other things in my life…other interests. It helped that I had a wonderful circle of friends throughout campus who were great at checking in on me and just hanging out together. Going for long walks also helped to clear my head, and combined with the other things that I just mentioned, I was able to put things in perspective. I also prayed. I had been raised in the church, but during college I had attended worship services only when I went home for a visit, and my visits had become infrequent, as had my prayers. This episode sparked a renewal in my relationship with God.

But, I should have sought professional counseling. Looking back, the only excuse that I can offer for not doing so is that I was afraid. Here I was on a modern college campus that accorded scores of opportunities to seek counseling, and I ignored them! That was a mistake. A lot of future emotional pain could have been avoided if I had shown more courage in dealing with my depression early.

When did it come back?

Eight years later. Experts point out that a change in career pattern is often a trigger for depression. I was building a promising career in state government, but then suddenly all of my avenues for further advancement were blocked. Politics and government can be a nasty business, and I had been very careful in walking the tricky maze of bureaucracy. But, I saw my career going down the drain. I felt worthless and ignored.

Were your symptoms the same?

This episode can be described as “functional depression”—another term used by mental health professionals that makes a lot of sense. While I experienced some lethargy, I remained productive in my day-to-day routine. I did my job, but was very unhappy and felt stuck in a rut. I brooded at home. I felt cut off from my old friends, who were living in different parts of the country.

Frustrated about not getting ahead at work, I turned other interests such as community organizations and church activities. My energy was focused on them instead of constantly trying to climb the career ladder. A second difference between the episode in 1991 and this one was in my sleeping pattern. When I was depressed in 1991, I slept a lot. In 1999, I didn’t sleep very much. Insomnia had asserted itself into my life, and it still pays me a visit from time to time.

I had a similar episode again in 2003, and hit rock bottom in 2009.

What did you do in 2009 that was different from the past?

I sought counseling and was prescribed medication.

In 2006, we had moved from Illinois to Iowa. By 2009, I had been a stay-at-home dad. Being with my children was a blessing! I was also working part-time in a job that I enjoyed. But, I had aspirations to begin a new career that were not coming to pass, and we were facing financial difficulties. During this time, my wife and I had a lot of arguments—back then, when we were angry with each other, I would tailspin, crash, and burn.

What was it like going to counseling and taking medicine?

It was a huge step. First, I sought counseling from ministers that I knew. That kind of pastoral care was immensely helpful and it was a wonderful, safe outlet to express my frustrations and fears. Ministers are also good at building contacts with professional therapists, and I was referred to one.

Through counseling, I finally accepted that I had a recurring illness that required therapy and medication. I realized, at long last, that I couldn’t just keep pulling myself out of a hole every few years when depression threw me into one. That pattern would continue—or get worse.

My therapist recommended Citalopram, a mild medication used for treating depression. She said this was appropriate, given my history and symptoms of functional depression. My doctor agreed, and I was prescribed the lowest dosage—half of a small tablet each day. They were both impressed that I had managed to pull myself out of each of my episodes over the years, but were firm that the smart, healthy thing to do was to either prevent the episodes or significantly limit their impact.

What have you learned about yourself?

I learned that I was a jackass for not seeking professional help earlier than I eventually did!

I also finally realized something that had been staring at me full in the face for years, but I had ignored it, continuing on my merry way. You see, experts acknowledge that depression tends to run in families, and clinical studies have been conducted to provide some evidence. That doesn’t mean that because your aunt Gertrude was a raving lunatic, or had episodes where she was sad and withdrawn, that you will have depression. Instead, it means that there is an increased chance of a disposition toward it. Depression and its associates—namely obsessive compulsive disorder, known as OCD—has definitely run in both sides of my family. I’m one of the current beneficiaries of that legacy—three cheers for my ancestors, way to go! To my descendants, abandon hope, woe unto you! On a serious note, though, it’s possible that one, two, or all of my children will experience episodes of depression. It’s also possible that they won’t.

What do spouses need to know about being married to someone with depression?

I was fortunate to have a loving spouse who advocated therapy each time that I had an episode. It’s important that a spouse be able to detect the symptoms of depression. There were times that I didn’t notice them, but my wife did immediately. She brought them to my attention, saying “Black Dog is back” or “You seem to be retreating into yourself lately.”

A spouse shouldn’t be the depressed person’s therapist, but can be proactive in convincing the depressed person to seek help. He or she should not hesitate in expressing concerns and doing some gentle prodding. It can make all the difference in the world for your marriage and your family.

What advice would you give husbands who are dealing with depression?

For Pete’s sake, listen to your wife! She knows you better than anybody and loves you. She’ll be the first one who notices a change in your behavior and mood. Tell her if you feel tired, disappointed, frustrated, worried, and so on. After she listens, she might suggest that you also talk to a friend, another family member, your pastor, or, depending on the situation, to a mental health professional. We are very fortunate that in the 21st century there are plenty of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and therapists to whom we can turn for help.

How are you today?

I’m doing well. I experienced a trigger during the summer of 2012, but it was managed far better than my previous episodes and it ended within a significantly shorter amount of time. The things I learned in counseling after my 2009 episode, along with medication, made me better prepared to meet the challenge of depression when it reared its head. As I have done with each episode since 1991, I pray. When I felt myself beginning to slide into depression in 2012, I could feel God responding to my prayers: “You’re going to be fine. This time you’re stronger and wiser. This time you will bend like a reed in the wind, then swiftly stand upright again.”

Thank you for sharing your story.

You are welcome.

We hope this helps. You’re not alone. You can get through it. As the spouse, I think the best advice I can give is don’t over function. You aren’t doing him any favors. Take care of yourself. I ran the trails, had coffee with friends and practiced yoga. Speak the truth in love and be gentle with yourself and your loved one.

Peace.

Moments of Clarity

There are moments when I wonder why I am a pastor. I get frustrated with denominational dilly-dallying, Presbytery pandering and session snarkiness. Sometimes I wonder if ministry matters. The world tells us that the church matters less today, or it matters in a different way today than it has in the past. Sometimes I get tired of the process, the budget, the need to over communicate, and the politics. Sometimes I can worry if my profession will become obsolete.

And then God gives me moments of clarity.

When I talk to children about Jesus dying on the cross and we draw pictures of heaven, and one little boy’s depiction looks like the set from “Dance Fever” and he tells me that heaven has a dance floor.

When an elderly woman walks out of the sanctuary, clutching her cane, with tears down her face because she is in such pain, and we stop right there and pray for healing.

When a small group gets together and there is absolute trust in the room and we talk about issues such as power and sexuality and death and the things that Jesus valued.

When we have a Bible study and we talk about Jesus giving us our daily bread, and there is an awareness that we all need to be fed with daily bread, and the question is asked, “how do I get fed?”

When children sing in front of the sanctuary and wave palm branches and a four-year old little girl spots her daddy and is so excited to see him she can’t help but blow him kisses.

When I visit the retirement home on Sunday afternoons and after worship we talk about receiving and giving help in a time and place when the body and mind are feeling are more helpless. And grace and listening happens.

These are my moments of clarity. It’s why ministry matters. It’s why the church exists. It’s a sacred community. A vow. A living experience. An invitation.

I’m pretty lucky to do what I do.

Body Image

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When I was nine years old, my dream was to be a ballerina. I practiced all of the time. I read every book on ballet I could get my hands on and worshipped older dancers. I was in love with Micheal Baryshnikov and I know he was in love with me. I knew some day I would glide into his arms and be lifted into the lights of the New York City ballet. I danced until my toes bled, and then kept dancing. I was nine years old. One day was at the barre, working on a tandu, my teacher came up to me, hit me in the butt and said,”this is a problem. You need to lose weight.” I started my first diet when I was nine years old.

By the time I was 14 I had tried every diet under the sun. I had posters of “beautiful women” in my closet. I was playing tennis, not very well, and my coach told me if I wanted to be faster I could stand to lose a few pounds. Defeated, I went home and decided to deny myself food, until I was so hungry that I ate everything out of defiance.

When I was 16, I wanted to be an actress. I loved the stage. I trained my voice and my body to work on the stage. I was already filled with emotion and drama. One summer evening I was walking across the football field to our summer theatre. Some guys were hanging out in the back of the school and shouted, “check her out, no — and a big—“. Use your imagination. I thought I was going to die of humiliation. I got to the theatre with my body parts and wanted to disappear.

The stories of negative self talk and insecurities are plenty, but you get the point. Today at 41, I finished a ten week training at Farrell’s Etreme Body work out. It has taken 32 years to feel good about this vessel that carries my heart and soul. That’s too much time trying to contort into an image of perfection that is unreasonable. Today I am strong, healthy, and maybe even beautiful.

As the mother of daughters, my hope and prayer is that they have a different story than I. I want them to feel strong and beautiful and confident every day of their life. I don’t want them to spend 32 years of their life looking in the mirror wondering how they can shrink some things and make other things bigger. I want them to run over to anyone who makes comments about their bodies and kick the….

Ok you get my point.

Here’s to beautiful, strong, nine-year girls who love to dance. Dance sweetheart and know that you are beautiful.

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O God, make me …

O God,
make me discontented with things the way they are in the world,
and in my own life.
Make me notice the stains when people get spilled on.
Make me care about the slum child downtown, the misfit at work,
the people crammed into the mental hospital,
the men, women and youth behind bars.
Jar my complacency, expose my excuses,
get me involved in the life of my city and world.
Give me integrity once more, O God,
as we seek to be changed and transformed,
with a new understanding and awareness of our common humanity.

– Robert Raines (adapted)

Thirst

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Thirst
Mary Oliver

Another morning and I wake with thirst for the goodness I do not have. I walk out to the pond and all the way God has given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord, I was never a quick scholar but sulked and hunched over my books past the hour and the bell; grant me, in your mercy, a little more time. Love for the earth and love for you are having such a long conversation in my heart. Who knows what will finally happen or where I will be sent, yet already I have given a great many things away, expecting to be told to pack nothing, except the prayers which, with this thirst, I am slowly learning.

As I slid my way to work out this morning, 16 degrees outside, windchill of God knows what, I sighed thirsting for spring.

The news reports that 10 years ago bombs blew over Baghdad. Ten years. I wonder what heroic stories of death and grief are known only by God. I sighed thirsting for peace.

This Sunday begins a seven day journey. It begins with parade of ironic joy. It tells of a people thirsting for peace under an oppressed regime. Will the crowd ever learn? Will the story be different this year? Will they see who they have in front of them? Will we ever learn?

I fear the only way we will learn, is that he will go to the cross again. I always wish the story were different. That somehow he could be protected. But that is not the case. We in the crowd still cannot see him for who He is. We are slow learning. It is only through our thirst for peace and our acknowledgement of death that the resurrection can come and the love we so desperately need can be poured out for us.