Friday, May 29, 2009

Depression is a Weird Animal

As I write this the feeling of empty numbness lays heavy on my heart and I can't really say why. Depression is a weird animal. For some it comes in waves, knocking them down to where they sleep for days, or cry for hours and hours over nothing in particular. For others it comes after some type of trauma, and takes them by surprise, almost like a thief in the night coming to steal their joy. But for me, it sticks to me like white on rice, quite subtley, for as long as I remember, and has no beginning and no end. A doctor once told me I have 'dysthymia', which is a low grade depression over time, and then I understood a bit about myself, and hated it all at the same time.

Now for those of you who know me, this might come as a surprise, or it might not. When I meet most people they tend to always tell me how joyful and happy I seem. I'm not surprised by it, because I know God gave me a gift of optimism, but there are times that I feel like screaming out, "Do you not have any idea how miserable I feel, do you not see it?" But I know they don't, and I am grateful that the spirit they see in me is not one of the enemy, but one of God. And I wish that were enough, to know that God's spirit is in me, beaming forth with positive light, but for me it just isn't, and I carry a great deal of guilt around because of it. The thought of 'snap out of it', or 'get off your pity pot and flush' comes dancing through my head, taunting me, and I honestly feel helpless to fight against that. There are times I talk to God about it, and experience real joy, and then very quietly it comes creeping back in, like a wet blanket of dew covering each morning. What I would give to find the solution to once and for all be rid of this quiet sadness in my heart.

I have spent a lifetime of dealing with it, this depression, and there have been times it was worse than it is now, but there has not been a time that I can remember that it hasn't in some way been with me. So I started thinking about ways depression is dealt with, to try and get some sense of where I was going wrong. I know the danger and damage that substance abuse brings, the false sense of security it gives you each time you give in and try to quiet the voices in your head. I know the cruel harm it brings when you try desperately to stuff the wounds and hurt that your heart feels only to have it fester and rare its ugly head later down the road. And, I know the fear and trepidation it brings when sitting in a therapist's office and it makes you feel like crawling in your own skin because of the raw emotion it brings up that you have tried to deny your entire life. At best it's exhausting. At worse it takes your life.

In more ways than one it takes your life. It actually can bring you on your knees to the point where you are so blind to hope that you finally cave and end your life. I have experienced this with friends, and the loss never heals. What I also find horrific is that due to my own chronic pain issues, the meds I take are like depression fairy dust, their side effects act as novocain for the heart, where you feel nothing, see nothing, experience nothing, just go through the motions. Life is taken away by that, and then the reality of the benefit of the medicine to treat the pain must be weighed against the toll it takes on the loss of your spirit. One might as well throw craps to see which option is better.

I wish I had some magical answer here, like I found the cure so I could share it with everyone and help some of you with your own pain, but for today I have no answers. For today, I am merely sharing this struggle with you so some of you don't feel alone in this walk, or embarrassed, or hate yourself for living a beautiful life but not being able to embrace its beauty. If I had a wish I would so wish for everyone to be given the keys to unlocking the true joy they are meant to experience as they walk this Earth, it would save families, stop wars, make pain bearable, and mostly bring us closer to God. And what I know, at least for me, is that God must be the key here. The times in my life that I have felt the lowest, he has always found some way to gently reach out, pick my face up, and show me that he loves me. Ahhhh, just the thought brings me some peace, and then, like a brilliant idea that flashes quickly in the mind, I see it, HOPE. For without it, there would be no reason to press on, no reason to love, or laugh, or live really. And in the brief instant that I could wrap my fingers around it God says to me, stay in the moment, talk with him, walk with him, share this pain with him, for he understands it all too well. And I remember the song that was playing as I pulled in the driveway today, "Always", here is the most beautiful lyric I could leave you with:

I believe always, always
our savior never fails.
Even when all hope is gone
God knows our pain
and his promise remains,
He will be with you always
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10
The drawing above was one I did the year I went on disability. It's not one of my favorites, but it is one that shows my brutally honest mood at the time, how fitting.
If you deal with the same issues I would love to know I am not alone in this. Drop me a line so we can pull each other up by the bootstraps, (as most people say in 12 step programs). Love you peeps, with God's love wrapped all between us.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Where did our childhood go?

Exactly one day and seven hours ago my son James was walking across the stage receiving his diploma from high school. It was a bittersweet moment for me, because on one hand I am so proud of him, but on the other hand it is a red letter day marking the end of his childhood which makes me really sad. I don't have anymore little ones following behind him, he is my one and only, besides my six wonderful step children who all went before him. So, in this moment, I am taking some time to reflect on just what it means to lose our childhood.

I remember it like it was yesterday growing up in Puerto Rico on a military base where my father was stationed. It was one of those places that seemed magical to a child, filled with whimsical playgrounds, matinee movies, and with every holiday a reason to have a parade. I remember vividly the mango trees that lined the sidewalks and as we played and loss track of time, our hunger would be satiated simply by grabbing a big one of the tree and pigging out. I can't imagine any better place to grow up, except for the 42 acres around my grandparents house where I did most of my growing.

I often daydreamed a lot when I was a kid and actually had a teacher write on one of my report cards, 'daydreams a lot'. Isn't that what being a child is all about? Gazing off into our imaginations, the ones God created, and soaring into another world of beautiful watercolor ponies or rainbow colored trees dripping with sugared tulips you could eat? Oh, how I miss those moments when being a child was our only concern, our 'work' per say, where we were free to simply be and play, create and build, dream and wonder about the world we live in and the worlds we wished we did.
I'm not sure why God created us to realize the beauty of childhood only when it has slipped through our fingers, it is a conversation I hope to have with him. Quite possibly he knew that if we understood just how precious childhood is, we may never have been willing to grow up, into adulthood, and honestly many of us haven't, for the most part. (At least I hope I haven't.)

Part of getting ready for James's big day was creating a DVD slideshow of his journey to graduation. I pulled the bags of pictures I had sorted and labeled last summer and painstakingly began pulling out the pics I thought would fit him best. It was a beautiful reminder of how precious his life has been to me, and how precious he is as my son. From the moment he came into this world we took pictures. Gazing into his beautiful face we saw how much potential he had and began praying that his life would be blessed. Throughout his early years there were those pictures of him with wild hair, messy faces, chubby cheeks, and those oh so candid shots of his wild spirit refusing to mold to the status quo. It is those pictures I love the most, the ones that captured his true self through the lens. These pictures took me back to moments I had long forgotten. Ones that were truly what life was meant to be like, surrounded by family and friends, but most of all love.

And in that I realize just what childhood was supposed to be to all of us, a time for unconditional love. God places children in our lives to be treasured, to be enjoyed, and most of all to be loved. I fear that so many of us hurry through the pace of our lives with so much stress that we miss the very moments God places in our paths to be enjoyed. I can't tell you what I would give to turn back the clock and be able to hold my son in my lap and read him another bed time story of Curious George, or let him take his shoes off and play in the mud despite being in clothes that would stain. Those moments for me are gone, like chasing the coattails of priceless memories, but never really catching up to them. And although I keep a childlike spirit within me, as does James, I can never get those precious moments back can I? So what to do with this realization? Tell those of you who still have children in your lives to stop what you are doing, pick your child up and find some reason to laugh with them, play with them, get the play-doh out or by all means, PAINT with them or turn Facebook off and go blow bubbles with them. Actively LOVE them so they will never spend a moment doubting if they were loved or not. But most of all, hug them and tell them how much you love them. Never underestimate the power of a hug and the words "I Love You" in your child's life. You simply will never get those moments back and the more of them you can build with your children, the more of them you will have to look back on and know they were loved, that you did your job well with them.

I believe God has a special place in his heart for children. Those times I feel closest to him I picture myself as a child in his lap, not as an adult, and there is great comfort in that. James is now on his way into adulthood and I am proud of the young man he has become. He will always be my squirt, my sweet little fellow who loved to pinch my cheeks and make the Chubbis laugh and I will always see him as that. But as he grows into adulthood I pray he takes with him the wonder and imagination he had as a child, the one God created in him, because it is in that, that makes our adult lives worth living, and allows us to once again, find our childhood. And in finding our childhood, it just might help some of us find a pathway to be closer to God.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Wrestling with our Insignificance

I've been feeling insignificant lately. When I say that to people they looked kind of stunned, like I've lost my mind, but honestly that's exactly how I feel at times. See, for me, I completely get that God is significant, but wrapping my little fingers around the thought that I am is a whole other ball of wax. So, today, after therapy, (yes I go to therapy and highly suggest you consider it) I realized I had to deal with this issue, because it's been like a monkey on my back that drives me to distraction.

My life has not been dull, if anything that is an understatement. I have had my share of horrific life experiences, physical issues have been unrelenting, and the emotional skeletons in my closet have had a hay day anytime I open the door. Despite all of that I have somehow managed to live a pretty decent life and have been thankful for all that God has blessed me with. So why the issue of insignificance here? For starters, I keep saying to myself, "Why would anyone care what thoughts or words I have, and why would they matter?" and then I would follow with " I must have lost my mind to think anything I have lived through would mean a hill of beans to anyone else" ( see the pattern here?) Oh, the self-doubt and talk are quiet telling. What's even more telling is that my conversations with God have been like, "Ardith, you are too hard on yourself, I love you, come get a hug, I created you unique like no other, hello, you do matter." Yet, for all of what I hear him say I still at times give into the notion that I am totally insignificant. Hmph! What gives?
So, I gave this more thought and asked God to show me what I need to get here and this is what he said. "It's time to read the book of Job, Ardith." Eeeeekkk! I have avoided that book like the plague. I read it a long time ago, and know all about his story, but it wasn't one I wanted to dive in to because I was hoping and praying God wasn't saying to me that I had to walk down Job's path to get his point across. I'm standing here going "Hello, OK, I get this, can we call a truce, I give it all to you and I go on to live a happy life?" Oh if it were that easy.
As I began to read I quickly realized that there was more to this than Job just losing everything, putting total faith in God, and then getting it all back. Job had to understand that he actually was "insignificant" in relation to God's significance.

Job 40:4 (Job says) "Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to thee? I lay my hand on my mouth, Once I have spoken, and I will not answer, Even twice and I will add no more.

Job wasn't saying here, Oh God, I'm a mess, even though I have lived a good life, I really don't matter much do I?" What he is saying here is that you, the almighty God are the significant one and in you I am significant as well. Do you think he thought for a minute, while he was walking through pure hell, that his story would be important and God would use it for his glory? I doubt that. I have a feeling Job was stunned, not quite understanding why he was being afflicted and made to suffer, and trying his best to make some sense of it. In the end, what he did was remarkable. He truly placed his total faith in God and gave him the glory. Look at what his story has done thousands of years later. Look at how God made the story of Job SO significant!

This was quite a revelation for me. I had been feeling insignificant, which in reality I alone am, but in the eyes of God, I am just as important as my neighbor to him and my story, like yours, is significant as well. And how can I apply this to my five minute walk in this world? It gets interesting here. With every breathe I take, despite my mood, my feelings, my circumstances, if I honestly walk with God in those minutes, he will use them for a significant purpose. His significance makes me significant. How about that! And then I look back at Job and realize what he lost, what he lived through, and what he learned. He lost his family, his wealth, his health, and on and on. Looking back at my life, and I am in no way saying I have suffered like Job, I have dealt with being a crime victim, a victim of sexual assault, a victim of auto mobile accidents, a victim of poor health, a victim of substance abuse,a victim of divorce, a victim of depression, a victim, victim, victim. I have lost a lot, but it all doesn't matter if I am not willing to say that despite it all my faith is in God and he alone is worthy of my praise. It also won't help me one bit if I get on my pitty pot about being a victim and pitch a royal fit. Will it change one thing? Not... so then I begin seeing the lesson God wants me to learn in this, that in him I am significant. He wants me to see that my circle of influence goes way past what I actually see and comprehend, so being willing to first understand that and second trust that he knows way more than me is why putting total faith in him is vital.
I wish I could say that this ends the lesson but it doesn't. As I drove home today I realized how far back the insignificant feelings go for me, all the way back to age five, and I realize there will be work to do on this subject. What I at least know for today is that the gifts God has given me are all significant in him, he will use them if I choose to give them to him, and he will move mountains if I am willing to simply kick the first rock down the hill. We all have our gifts don't we? We all are really good at some things. So my question to you is this? Are you willing to cave into the idea that you are insignificant and don't matter, or are you willing to consider that in God, your gifts, or acts, or kind words, may be the very ones that could totally change the life of another person, and bring them closer to God? Something to think about isn't it?

Friday, May 1, 2009

My Angel of Light

These are a few of the steps I took in painting this angel. If you are on Facebook you can see all ten.

It's been a long week, a long month, a long six months if I really stop and think about it. So much has happened that it would take me pages to write about all of it, so I am going to pluck out a small snippet to share here. In the meantime, I have been thinking about matters of the heart lately and talking to God about this. We have some more chatting to do, but my next post will be discussing that, "How alive are we?" I want to make sure I'm getting the big picture before I rattle off here, so come back next week if you are interested.

In the meantime I have finished a new painting, the first one in over a year. What is significant about this painting is how I got the idea, and how I was able to actually paint her. For the last few months I have been dealing with a lot of crazy as nut medical issues, most that can't be explained, and with a spine that is deteriorating at record pace. Last October I had my spine fused, and now, it appears, there are problems with it again. Ugh, I find myself thinking, "Will it ever end?" One night, a few weeks ago I was in horrific pain. It was worse than normal, and I had no idea how I would make it through the night. I knew I had plenty of morphine and other meds, but I am trying so hard not to take any medicine that fogs my brain or my emotions. Pain meds are a big problem there. So, I lay there and began talking to God about this and asking him how on Earth I would make it through the night without coming unglued. The next thing I knew a picture of this angel was placed in front of me, with a light shining from her brighter than anything I had ever seen. At first I thought I was dreaming, then I thought, did I take my meds? too many meds? No, it was just a picture placed in my mind. God said to me, give me your pain and take this angel as a comfort, her light will help you in times of pain. Hmph! How strange, but I've learned lately that strange things having to do with God lately are really good things, so I embraced the image and believe it or not made it through the night.

The next few days she stayed with me though, and I knew I had to paint her. What I didn't know is how I would do it. I can't sit for longer than five minutes without being in horrific pain. I can't stand longer than that before my right leg goes completely numb. If I push it and do any of these things, I regret it and have to take meds to function. Not a happy place for me. So, I asked God to help me do this, because I knew she was important. For the past week or so I worked on her. Some days I could only paint in five minute blocks, because between that I would lay on the bed and ache. Other days, I would work and then be sick as a dog because I had a stomach virus. I questioned if I had lost my mind or not, but then knew to turn right back to God and let him help me through this. He is good at that, when we really let go and let him help us. And, after about a week I had my angel painted. It is not my best work, but it's my most important work to date, because this image came from God, not me. As I was studying the next morning he lead me to the bible verse of:

Isaiah 60:`1 Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord is upon you.

Ahhhh, what a revelation that was. Not only did this angel have a light that came directly from God's love and healing power, but I realized we each carry that same light in us, in different degrees. I can't explain why he chose to share this angel with me, but I am learning not to seek explanations in this walk, but to seek his grace instead. That's a totally new way of life, walking in his grace, with him, not his ideas or principles. So, the angel of light was created in this painting and at this point I'm not sure what to do with her. What I have gotten is that she may not be mine to keep. I was told by a cousin that she is a portal, that will bring others closer to God. That's an interesting concept for sure. All Iknow is she was given to me to help get me through a night of awful pain, and I think of all those of you out there that deal with pain on a daily basis. My heart aches for you, I wish I could do something to ease that pain for you, but I can't make it go away. What I can do is share this angel with you and promise you that God wants to walk with you through any journey that finds you, even if it is one riddled with pain. I am finding that it is in those journeys that God seeks us most often. I will be making prints of this one, she is meant to be shared I think. God's Peace friends, A

How Alive are We?

I've been thinking about the heart, our hearts, lately. This past March I was sent to the ER because I had sent a screwy signal in on my heart monitor. I had just gotten out of the hospital in Jan. with a really bad pneumonia, came off of a ton of medications, and now had to deal with a heart issue. After the doctor told me to go to the ER and have an EKG done I was fed up, didn't want to go, and actually debated it for about an hour. I told Bill, "Don't come down here, I am sure they will do this test and send me straight home, because all the other signals had turned out to be nothing." He reluctantly agreed and I walked into the ER alone. Within 2 minutes of them doing an EKG I had defibulator pads on and nurses and doctors everywhere. I asked one, "Should I call my family?" and of course she said yes. Ugh, I felt stupid. The next thing I knew they had to completely stop my heart and restart it. What an experience to not only humble you but get your attention. The details of the why aren't really important, the health of my heart was. Everything turned out ok, but it left me a bit shook up. I took it for granted that things were fine, that this was just another one of the weird body things I deal with at times. How foolish of me. Then I really got to talking with God about the whole thing and a few things came to mind. The health of my heart is important, but not just physically, spiritually as well.

How many of us are walking around with sick hearts? Sick from too much stress, too little love, from our hearts being beat to death by society or a skewed world view, or just simply from the bad habits we take on every day. This heart sickness is a problem, and one we can't ignore anymore. So when I realized this, I spent a good bit of time thinking about what makes my own heart sick, and that was a revelation.

My earliest memory that I can grasp my fingers around was when I was five. My brother walked into the kitchen and asked for a bowl of water, which my mom gave him without question, and a few seconds later we smelled smoke. I remember running into her bedroom and seeing the entire wall on fire. The next thing I knew my neighbor was holding me out front, my mom I'm sure was trying her best to put the fire out, and I was freaked out because I couldn't find my cat. The fire was bad enough, but my cat was the bigger issue. I loved this cat, her name was Fluffy, and when I was five she was my entire world. All I could think about was whether or not my cat was burning in the house. Eventually my neighbor found her and my world, though still shook up, was better.

Although our house was saved, the experience was difficult, but not nearly as upsetting as what happened next. I came home one day from school to find that my mom had given Fluffy away, without telling me. We had to fly to the states and couldn't bring the cat. Simply put, my heart was broken. That brokenness affected me deeply and I carried it with me for a long time. My little five year old brain just couldn't comprehend how this could happen and I developed a deep sadness that stuck within me like a tiny piece of glass that the eye missed each time. The wound was made and began to slowly, over a long period of time, begin to grow. That wound would be the foundation for lots more wounds, and lots more broken hearts in my life, but I wouldn't know that until just this year.

You see, my heart is broken again and again because life simply isn't fair. When I grew up believing it was, life set me up to be deeply wounded. The point to what I had realized is that those wounds I suffered as a child never healed, until I was willing to go back there and bring God with me. Only then, would I be able to heal that little heart, which set my adult heart up for healing too, because the two are always connected. I have lived through horrific life experiences, some that are shocking to understand how I am even walking the planet, but I am, and walking quite peacefully. For the longest time I went through the motions of life, going through a divorce, surviving it, wrestling with my understanding of God, and then having to deal with a ton of medical issues. The opportunity for my heart to get sick from this was quite real, and it took me hitting rock bottom for God to show me my heart was not only sick, but sick all the way back to when I was five. So the time span for my heart needing healing was wide, and long overdue.

I spent quite a lot of time working with a therapist to come to terms with this "heart sickness" and thank God he was willing to nudge me safely into bringing God into those dark places. It didn't occur quickly, and there are still some issues I am working through, but my heart healing is in progress, and my life will never be the same. And as I realized this I began to see the pain and broken hearts in the lives of my friends and family and strangers, and my heart breaks for them, but in a different way. As I write this a family just learned that their child has been sexually abused by someone they trusted, a military family has just received the news that their beloved son has been killed fighting for our country, and somewhere, alone in the dark, a young mother is sitting contemplating ending her life because she feels like a complete failure and the drug culture she lives in has turned her world upside down. Their hearts are broken aren't they? I wonder how many people out there are suffering lifelong wounds in their hearts but not understanding that God is the only way their hearts will heal completely. I wonder how many of us are angry, or depressed, or unwilling to love, because their hearts were wounded many years ago and those wounds are still alive and silently growing.

How is it that we are called by God to help heal the hearts of others, when our own hearts feel raw and torn up themselves? It's a puzzling issue at times, but I truly believe that those of us who manage to survive a life of challenging heart wounds, and God heals us, is given a great duty to share the healing with others, to give hope to the hopeless in this place. One way I am figuring out how to do this is through my art. The painting of my angel has lead many people to explain to me how their hearts are broken, and how the angel has given them hope. I had not one thing to do with that outcome, but God did. He used a gift he gave me, that I chose to use, and in turn reached out and helped heal the wounded hearts of others. I am truly humbled by this. So to my artist friends out there I challenge you to ask God what you might need to paint next, and then share your story of why you painted it with others. You might be blown away too, by the outcome. And to my friends and family who are walking around with deep wounds from a life of damage, I encourage you to ask God to go back there with you, take him into that place, and let him begin to heal that part of your heart. For without a healthy heart, we are not free to live, or love, or truly experience the love of God as it was intended.

“I guess when your heart gets broken you sort of start to see cracks in everything. I'm convinced that tragedy wants to harden us and our mission is never to let it.” anonymous