.posthidden {display:none} .postshown {display:inline} By His Own Hand. . .

9/04/2021

What we practice

Practice is a word that has come up a lot for me in the past few weeks.  Now, it's certainly not a new thing, being a musician and all, but the contexts of practice have so much greater application than we might imagine.  I feel like the pendulum swing in this (from strictly a personal perspective- expectations on other people is a whole different can of worms) is either that we don't do the hard work of practice and expect to slide by OR we give ourselves no room for error and expect perfection immediately.  Both fail to recognize that we need to practice.

So, perhaps the questions we ask ourselves are-

"How come I have to keep doing this?" or "Why can't I do this yet?"

Both lead to frustration.  And in reflecting on this question in several areas of my life, I have observed the pendulum swing dangerously close to the edges.

How come I have to keep reinventing the wheel with my life/schedule/job? 

Why can't I trust people who have proven themselves to be trusted?  

How come I have to prove myself?

Why can't I stop the circus mirrors?  

And as I ask these questions, they certainly are all related.  Life isn't just separate drawers in the chest, after all- it IS the chest.

But there's been a positive shift through the summer, and especially in the past few weeks.  Because I have been practicing.  Really since May, once I got a new therapist who was able to give me some specific things to practice daily.  I've been practicing not listening to the dark voices that feed lies about my worth, my relationships, my connection to God and to others.  I've been practicing trust, affirming what I know in my head to the deep places of my heart and recognizing that the world is not out to get me.  I've been practicing talking to myself with the same grace and patience that I would talk to a dear friend (or at least attempt to).  I've been practicing the awareness of my identity in Christ, not in the things I do or have done.  Am I perfect?  Nope.  Do I mess up or get distracted?  Yep.  But the shift in my life has been significant, enough that several of the people who know me best have mentioned it.

And yes, it might sound like a yogi leading a meditation.  And hey, guess what?  That's actually Biblical language (Judaism and Christianity are Eastern religions, after all).  Another day I'll take up the term "meditation," but for "practice" look at Philippians 4:4-13:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.  Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

I was half-joking with a friend that this has been the best week of 2021.  It's not that it was a horrible week, it truly has been a great week, but certainly not because of the circumstances.  Between the busy schedule that I brought onto myself and having to fight hard to face some uncomfortable things about myself, I got to cap the week off by having two teeth removed. Yay!

But here's the thing.  As I sat in that chair, face numb, waiting between teeth pulls, I leaned back and said to myself, "This is actually a nice little vacation from the grind.  No phone, no agenda.  I know I'll have to get back to work once I get this over with, but for right now, this moment, I can just breathe and relax."  Now, obviously it's helpful that your face is numbed so that you aren't feeling the true pain of the experience, but hey! God is good in that we have developed medicines that can be delivered in order to make those procedures essentially pain-free (and also good in providing friends that you can trust to put a pair of pliers into your mouth).

I share all this to give recognition that God has done a great work in me, really since the pandemic started but especially in the past few months as I have worked things out through practicing this momentary recognition of reality and the way in which God has His hand in every part of it.  I've been learning a lot of important lessons.  

Practicing dependence instead of worry.

Practicing thankfulness instead of complaining.

Practicing reasonableness instead of reacting.

And I would say, yes, I have had the peace of God this week.  Not in every moment.  But more than I have in a long time.  And if we want to expand out the calendar, this has been the best month, and it started with me getting Covid... so, truly, this is a great reminder to me and hopefully an encouragement to you who read this-

Circumstances do not lead to joy.  

The Philippians passage above starts with "Rejoice!"  At the front of it all, it has to do with the bent of our heart toward being content or not, regardless of what has happened and what is happening. And at the end of the passage, I love how the Message puts those last verses together- 

"Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am." 

It helps give the context in which Philippians 4:13 is always taken out of. "I CAN DO ALL THINGS LIKE RUN THIS MARATHON BECAUSE IN JESUS NAME HE GIVES ME STRENGTH!" Yeah, on some level, sure, but it's not a magic phrase that means that whatever we set our mind to, God will accomplish for us or through us.  It means that we can face any circumstances and remain content in Christ.

Whatever.  Wherever.  Our circumstances don't control our reactions.  We, in our free-will, have the opportunity in every moment to make choices.  Sometimes it means we have to learn how to adapt to our good bad brains in order to make the best choice.  And it also helps us see why self-control is a fruit of the Spirit.  But ultimately, we don't get better at it without practice.

So, practice.  The things that you aren't good at? Practice.  You want to be more patient with your kids?  Practice.  You want to be better at being on time?  Practice.  You tired of beating yourself up? Practice. And give yourself the room to make mistakes, to learn, to grow, not giving up when it gets hard, and not over-expecting that change happens instantly.  It takes time.  And remember that for those who believe, God works in us as we work out our salvation.

And also, I'm saying this to myself, too.

Practice.

8/27/2021

Gotta start somewhere

 I desperately need to write to get myself back into processing mode, but I also know that if I continue to wait for having "enough time" then this won't happen until after Halloween.  Or maybe the new year.

So, I'm going to give a tl;dr for a post that only exists in my head.

PTSD.  Quite the journey.  I've learned a lot, I've made a lot of progress, I still have a long way to go.

Employment.  I am currently working from home, teaching English to Chinese students (until the Chinese Ministry of Education totally shuts it all down) and doing video CC transcription/editing (more editing than transcription).  I'm really enjoying it, and it's much less stress than Amazon was (which I enjoyed outside of the 12 hour shifts and also being on night shift).

Church.  We signed a lease for our own space at the beginning of summer.  And eventually we will have it ready to move in. . . but really, the possibilities it will open up are incredible.

Theater.  I overcommitted a bit, not knowing what the fall was going to look like. . . but all three shows that I started rehearsal processes this past week are starting strong.  I just wonder if I will ever not be in feast or famine mode.  And part of that comes from being in a place where I can say "no" to things that I don't want to do because I'm no longer gig-dependent.

And so the tl;dr of the tl;dr is that things are going well.  I'm busy, no surprise, but busy in a new way.  The emotional word I have come to is "overwhelmed" but I know that that's not completely right because there's a negative sense to that which is not accurate to my current feelings on the past few weeks.  And this is why I need to take the time to write.  I'm hoping that maybe at some point this weekend, I will be able to write and get at least one ring closer to actually naming the feeling I'm experiencing.

However, the fact that I'm doing this random post is an indication that I likely will not get to it.

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I heard this earlier this week and this is what I will end this with.  Lamentations 3:37-40  (MSG)-

Who do you think “spoke and it happened”?  It’s the Master who gives such orders.  Doesn’t the High God speak everything, good things and hard things alike, into being?  And why would anyone gifted with life complain when punished for sin?  Let’s take a good look at the way we’re living and reorder our lives under God.

1/31/2021

The post that I can't publish

Imagine the worst moment of your life, whatever that might be, however long it might have (or be) lasting.  Imagine now being forced to relive various aspects of it seemingly at random for months without end.

That is my corona/2020 experience.

And so on the edge of 6 years since Cam died, this is what has defined my life for the most part of recent history.

Constant cleaning.

Isolation.

Abandonment.

Flashbacks/nightmares.


One of the problems is that PTSD has created a circus mirror that is particularly bendy the more I am by myself.  And so when I notice it start to bend I try and make sure I don't have too much alone time.  But sometimes things come up for people and so even with well intent I end up alone.  And also unbending the mirror is exhausting.  On top of the inevitable march of time towards anniversaries, it's just too much right now.


Camz would not be happy with how I have been dealing with things the past couple weeks. . . she would be realistic about it and give me some benefit of the doubt but also she would sit me down and tell me when and where I'm being a crazy person.  But I don't have her here to do that for me.  Or to lay my head on her lap and just not worry about words or talking but just focus on being.  Or to listen to her problems and celebrations so that I'm not just wrapped up in my own head.  Or to get away and just be together and enjoy the experiences of life.


Six years.  It's an eternity and it's yesterday.  Whether I want to or not I am in that hospital bed next to her, listening to her breathing slow more and more until the final rattle.  I'm a couple days before she got to see everybody and give her assignments, wailing and hating that I'm wailing in front of her while she's contemplating death and her comforting me instead.  I'm several months out, making phone calls and texts to people who have apparently gotten to a point where my grief is too great for them to bear anymore, but instead of telling me that, they just. . . disappear.



I'm tired.


12/19/2020

The first signpost

Two things before I dive in: first, this will likely be lengthy and honestly might be too much for me to try and sort through in one chunk; second, I am an expert only in my experience, and so what I am saying with regards to certain topics might be not completely correct/not fully understood (and there will be statements that I'll put in italics that I don't have sources for and that may or may not actually be clinically true, but they have been relevant and/or helpful).

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I started therapy through BetterHelp on October 29th, 2020.  I'm starting here because my brain really wants to just make a timeline but I think for ease of understanding I need to go through things as I have been discovering them, and the timeline fits in where it will.

I started therapy because I observed my relationships crumbling, because I was waking up with the thought of "I can't do this anymore" in all its various iterations, and that thought stuck with me the entire morning, day, and night, because I felt isolated but also realized that I was isolating myself.

And so in early December, I started to learn about PTSD, and that unlocked a new world of understanding for me.

PTSD has four parts to it: re-experience (of trauma), arousal (of fear and/or anxiety), avoidance, and withdrawal (both escape tactics).  Often we think of it with regards to war experiences, and those triggers of loud noises or large crowds or tight spaces or whatever might trigger a person back to the feeling of something that happened in war.  But PTSD can stem from any traumatic event, where physical or psychological harm occurred, and not every traumatic event causes PTSD.  (And as an extra nugget to remember, there's a Complex PTSD that adds in a dissociative aspect where there is disturbance of self-organization that leads to affective dysregulation, disturbance in relationships, and negative self-concept) 

Arousal looks like a flight or fight response, and a few of the possible feelings include feeling keyed up/on edge, having trouble sleeping, becoming suddenly angry or irritable, and rouble concentrating.  Anger is sadness that had nowhere to go for a very long time.  Reexperience can be caused by a trigger (a visual, a sound, a smell even), a memory, a nightmare, a flashback.  Avoidance may start as avoiding situations, conversations, anything closely related to the trauma, but eventually is turns into avoiding all people and things that make you anxious, and is considered PTSD when the avoidance coping becomes a lifestyle.  Numbing is a disconnection from people and activities that used to be enjoyable.  It also comes with increased sensitivity to feeling negative emotions like guilt, fear, anger, or shame.  These can cycle into overworking, isolation, pushing people away, high risk behaviors, substance overuse.  Numbing tells you that you can't get hurt by something that you aren't connected to or feeling about to begin with. 

Numbing tells you that you can't get hurt by something that you aren't connected to or feeling about to begin with. 

That sentence was the first clear bell in this journey for me.  I wrote back in August a post that I deleted soon after posting.  I won't post it all here but two excerpts are revealing:

"I have reached capacity in rejection. . . now there's a yo-yo that is distractingly hard to keep up with, and the next step is to move to the side, put both the negative and positive experience into the same box that is labeled "there things don't matter" so that they won't affect you strongly.

But really the problem basically is that I'd rather live with my problems than deal with another rejection.  Because seriously, who I am and what I deal with in a given moment is not more important than what I can do for someone in both short and long term, and I am not in a place to open up without a grand fear of continued rejection because who knows what happens next."

The really interesting part is back at the end of August I said something about the PTSD of shutdown being like bone marrow transplant land, but I didn't know how close to the nail I was hitting because we use mental health terms so flippantly in our culture.

So going back to diagnosing what happens with PTSD, the chronic avoidance deprives you of opportunities to process the event, to relearn that triggers may not be as dangerous as they were during the trauma, and eventually leads to depression and poor quality of life as you begin to cut things/people out of your life.  There are several different "personalities" in how these things happen- for me this is what stuck out:
Displacer: Takes expression emotion and displaces the feeling in other people or areas of their life. (stresses out at work, chronically agitated, upset at minor events.) 
Minimizer: Person who is aware of their emotions, but when felt, works to dull the emotions and avoid them at all cost.
Somaticizer: Converts emotion into physical symptoms as a way to express and channel emotion.

And trauma impacts the places where we feel most vulnerable- again, this is what stuck out for me:
Esteem-I deserve to have bad things happen to me; if I don’t protect myself I am a weak person
Intimacy- I am unlovable because of my past; if I let other get close to me, I'll get hurt again. 

Future oriented thinking and recovery feel vulnerable as it pushes us to the unknowns of our lives.
Fear of the future, life after trauma, causes guilt ("I made a mistake, I feel bad")/shame ("I am a mistake, I am bad")/self-sabotage (you subconsciously make sure you don’t get it; you push people away to hurt yourself; or accept only the love you feel you deserve) to be triggered when we are most afraid of repeating the past, and leads you to believe you’re undeserving of love.

Undeserving of love.



Now.  That's a lot of information, and I feel like I'm only scratching the surface, but all I can say is that all of those things above have resonated in ways I can't being to describe with regards to the past few months.  So this is the tl;dr- all of it boils down to this fear of abandonment.
PTSD from being isolated and alone because of what having a bone marrow transplant means.
PTSD from losing close friendships in the first few months/couple years after Cam died.
PTSD from losing Cam.  It's weird to think of that as abandonment because it's not like there was a choice.  But the emotional response is still feeling abandoned.


I've done things the past few months that I can't explain, and others that I don't even remember.  "Your feelings are valid" does not necessarily mean "your reaction is an appropriate response to what just happened."  But having a name of what's been going on in my brain has been very helpful in trying to stop doing it.  


There's still some missing parts of the structure, as much as I want to have it figured out and be in a new normal.  Treatment is a marathon, not a sprint.  And there's so much more that I want to say but my brain is turning in to mush at the moment.

But this is a signpost for me, and maybe for someone else who is struggling.  Whether it's PTSD or depression or anxiety or whatever, you don't have to live with it.  And the American Christian world is good about shoving off mental illness as just a sin problem.  There is some truth, but it's not a complete picture.  And the flip side of therapy is that anything that does not align with what's in the Bible is worth throwing away.  And that's what I really want to get in to, but it will have to be a different day.  Maybe tomorrow afternoon.  But the past few weeks I've been working really hard and have been having better days and better relationships than I was the several months leading up to making these discoveries.

So if you take anything away from reading this- don't feel like you have to live with your problems and your pain.

11/17/2020

Human again

 I need to put a memorial stone down, even if what I do is ramble for a little bit and force accountability by putting this out on social media.  

Which I haven't been on at all in three weeks, which has been lovely.  But now I am able to handle being on it again.

But.

The pandemic has been hard on me.  The past few months have been especially hard.  Taking a job that I didn't realize was going to weigh so heavily and pay so poorly.  Struggling to connect with people that I know love me and are struggling just as hard as I am.  Trying to break back into an industry that is forever changed (and there is nothing worse than singing in a mask).  Losing complete sense of what really matters and what is temporary.  Fighting and trying harder than ever, losing harder than ever, wanting so desperately to be done with everything and at the same time not wanting to give up and yet not sure how to keep moving forward.  

One helpful thing that I probably should have done long ago has been going to therapy.  I've been using BetterHelp, and it's been very helpful the past few weeks (and if you are on the fence about doing something like it, please reach out to me, no matter where you are or what you believe, because really it's an incredible service that is crafted exactly to what you want or think you need).  

I've also held on to this:

Psalm 77 (MSG)

I yell out to my God, I yell with all my might,

    I yell at the top of my lungs. He listens.

2-6 I found myself in trouble and went looking for my Lord;

    my life was an open wound that wouldn’t heal.

When friends said, “Everything will turn out all right,”

    I didn’t believe a word they said.

I remember God—and shake my head.

    I bow my head—then wring my hands.

I’m awake all night—not a wink of sleep;

    I can’t even say what’s bothering me.

I go over the days one by one,

    I ponder the years gone by.

I strum my lute all through the night,

    wondering how to get my life together.

7-10 Will the Lord walk off and leave us for good?

    Will he never smile again?

Is his love worn threadbare?

    Has his salvation promise burned out?

Has God forgotten his manners?

    Has he angrily stalked off and left us?

“Just my luck,” I said. “The High God goes out of business

    just the moment I need him.”

11-12 Once again I’ll go over what God has done,

    lay out on the table the ancient wonders;

I’ll ponder all the things you’ve accomplished,

    and give a long, loving look at your acts.

13-15 O God! Your way is holy!

    No god is great like God!

You’re the God who makes things happen;

    you showed everyone what you can do—

You pulled your people out of the worst kind of trouble,

    rescued the children of Jacob and Joseph.

16-19 Ocean saw you in action, God,

    saw you and trembled with fear;

    Deep Ocean was scared to death.

Clouds belched buckets of rain,

    Sky exploded with thunder,

    your arrows flashing this way and that.

From Whirlwind came your thundering voice,

    Lightning exposed the world,

    Earth reeled and rocked.

You strode right through Ocean,

    walked straight through roaring Ocean,

    but nobody saw you come or go.

20 Hidden in the hands of Moses and Aaron,

You led your people like a flock of sheep.


I have been trying the past couple weeks, but specifically for many days in a row now I am finally human. There's a lot to work through.  I am still screwing up in many ways.  I am still screwed up in many ways.  But this is a signpost and a reminder that God is faithful and is holding on to me even if I lose my grip.

11/02/2020

Thankfulness list

1- I’m thankful for time change.

2- I’m thankful for cooler weather (finally).

3- I’m thankful I already voted.

4- I’m thankful for CFA breakfast.

5- I’m thankful for crying.

6- I’m thankful for rain.

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8/21/2020

Provision and faith

The past week these two verses have stuck out to me (they have parallels in Matthew but I have the feeling this entry will get too long so I'm going to stick with the Luke ones for now).

Luke 12:25-26
And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? 

Luke 17:6
And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

As far as provision- Jesus says that adding an hour to our life is a small thing.  If someone said "if you drink this mixture you will guaranteed live for an extra hour" and it were proven to be true somehow, people would go crazy.  In some ways we try to add time to our lives through medicine, eating habits, working out, etc, although actively I don't think we think of it with quite that mortal of a view.  But just the concept of adding time to life is not something we really have any control over.  Having that kind of power would be HUGE.  Yet Jesus says this is a small thing for Him.  And so in the context of not worrying, Jesus is showing just how powerful He really is and how well He can provide all the things we need for life.

As far as faith- I did a little research about growing mustard, apparently it grows pretty easily with basic needs met (tilled soil, some sunlight, etc) and also grows pretty quickly.  It's common in the middle East and there are wild mustard plants that grow quite large (there's more talk of mustard seed and other seeds)
along the Jordan river.  Some translations make a size comparison (faith as small as a mustard seed) but I think that cheats a little of the original language.  There's more to compare than just size, even in the context of the disciples trying to figure out why they didn't have "enough faith" to expel demons.  But either way,  it's not the size of faith that "makes it work"- it's where the faith is placed.  If you don't put a seed in the ground, it won't grow.  And while the farmer may plant the seed, water it, care for it, but he is not actively growing the plant through any power within himself.  So the challenge for us is to actually put our faith in God's power.  And that means giving up control, letting go, and actively planting that seed of faith.

And what is faith?

Hebrews 11:1, 6
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek him.

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It's been rough.  Really since March, but also the past 10-12 weeks spiraled into darker places.  But this past week there have been some Spirit-led discoveries through some trainings I've had to do for a new job I've taken.  I've been dealing with a lot of feelings of rejection through this pandemic; being alone for an extended period of time is never a good thing, but then when I have managed to reach out, I found myself being ignored, forgotten, or brushed aside. . . and so the past few months I've found myself beyond the ability to cope with that.  It seems easier to live with the problems than to risk another rejection.  So between that and the PTSD of the pandemic response being like bone marrow transplant land, I'm a mess.  But some of that rejection I think I have misinterpreted; instead of rejection, what I was getting was sympathy.  One training module described the difference between empathy and sympathy:
Sympathy is looking down into the dark hole; empathy is coming down into the dark hole.
Sympathy says "well at least _______," empathy says "I've felt that and you're not alone."
Sympathy moves on quickly; empathy stays and listens.  
Sympathy tries to give a response to try and "make it better", a band-aid for a gaping wound; empathy makes a connection, a compassionate listening to let the other person just empty their heart. 

It's the connection that helps the healing process.  There's no "answer" to be found, that was never the goal- but people need to be heard and feel loved.

So yesterday I did probably the healthiest thing in a while and actually initiated, granted to no feedback which was not unexpected, but I know two things to process through: I need an empathetic listener, and I need to reevaluate some of my perspective on what was rejection and what was well-intentioned but ill-received sympathy.