AM I OLD? MAYBE NOT!

I asked my college English Composition classes recently to write definitions of abstract concepts, like “love, success, and home.” I got some interesting and insightful answers. Then I asked them to define “respect.” At least one-third of them mentioned how it applies to revering and honoring the elderly (like me). I asked them why they should respect their elders. A few replied that senior adults have experience and wisdom that can be valuable to a younger generation, but most of them replied that it was just the right thing to do. Respect your elders. It’s the right thing to do.

So what is “old”?

A former pastor of ours once said that age is relative to how close we are to the grave. If I die tomorrow, I’m ancient today. If I die thirty years from now, I’m a spring chicken. Since most of us don’t know the appointed day of our deaths, old age is not a fixed time. So how do we assess our purposes as the years go by? As we age, numerically and experientially, will our feelings of worth wane? As time ebbs away, so does our sense of value also? These are questions I ask myself quite often.

Life expectancy has doubled in the past 150 years, according to one source.[1] The same website reported that beginning with the Baby Boomers (like me) the population in the U.S. has been forced to live two lives rather than one, but that the second life sometimes means quantity and not quality of life. The aged have become devalued and stereotyped by the media and the younger population. Another source said that our present culture is “where youth is fetishized…aging can become a shameful experience.”[2]

Who will define our value based on age? The IRS? The workplace? The kids? Our own restrictions and abilities?

King David, who had passed his days of being a mighty warrior, wrote a song lyric that we now call Psalm 71 (CSB) in the Bible.

For you are my hope, Lord God,
my confidence from my youth.
I have leaned on you from birth;
you took me from my mother’s womb.
My praise is always about you.
I am like a miraculous sign to many,
and you are my strong refuge.
My mouth is full of praise
and honor to you all day long.

Don’t discard me in my old age.
As my strength fails, do not abandon me…

17 God, you have taught me from my youth,
and I still proclaim your wondrous works.
18 Even while I am old and gray,
God, do not abandon me,
while I proclaim your power
to another generation
,
your strength to all who are to come.
19 Your righteousness reaches the heights, God,
you who have done great things;
20 You caused me to experience
many troubles and misfortunes,
but you will revive me again.
You will bring me up again,
even from the depths of the earth.
21 You will increase my honor
and comfort me once again.
22 Therefore, I will praise you with a harp
for your faithfulness, my God;
I will sing to you with a lyre,
Holy One of Israel.
23 My lips will shout for joy
when I sing praise to you
because you have redeemed me.
24 Therefore, my tongue will proclaim
your righteousness all day long…”

I prefer to let this be my life’s song for who-knows-how-many years I have to live.

[1]http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science_of_longevity

[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/25/what-other-cultures-can-teach_n_4834228.html

 

I Feel Old

 

This is Barbie if she had aged normally.

 

 

 

 

Back in the 70s there was a Clairol hair dye commercial that said, “You’re Not Getting Older—You’re Getting Better,” and the ad went on to imply that even though I was getting older, I could look younger if I used their product. At that point in my life, I wasn’t really concerned with the effects of aging because I was in my 20s. Now, however, I not only see the signs of aging, I feel them, too. I have asked myself, “What can I do about getting older?” Of course, the answer is obviously “nothing,” so my questions have turned into, “How much do I really care?” and “What’s wrong with being and looking older anyway?”

“Old” has become a pejorative in our culture. It has come to mean useless, undesirable, and even burdensome to mankind. It implies that because we’ve lost our youth, we’ve also lost our purpose and influence. We have just become (or becoming) lumps of flesh held together by Spanx and Polygrip. As time grows older in me, I find that I have to consistently dismiss the lies that say I have lost my reason for living simply because I’m not 21 anymore. The fact is: I don’t want to be 21 again. Or 31—or 41… Though I want to look my best, I don’t even want to look “youthful” anymore, because that will start a whole new struggle that will keep me obsessed with plastic surgery or products that will “lift” me to my younger self. I don’t need anymore struggles.

Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who was not known for her physical beauty once said, “Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art.” Mrs. Roosevelt has been dead now for many years, but she is quoted often because of her wisdom and insights that speak, and will continue to speak, to men and women for centuries to come. Her beauty was inside and she knew it. That’s what made her beautiful.

There are others who have spoken to the process of aging—some with great wisdom for me these days.

 For the unlearned, old age is winter; for the learned, it is the season of the harvest. Hasidic saying

 “I will be refined by age, not defined by age.” unknown

“There’s always a lot to be thankful for if you take time to look for it. For example, I am sitting here thinking how nice it is that wrinkles don’t hurt.” unknown

“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” Abraham Lincoln

Aging is inevitable. 1 Peter 1:24 says, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall…” James 4:14 states, “…Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (NIV)

I can neither reverse time nor its effects. So, I refuse to let aging define me or to stop me from living my life to its fullest. Yes, my knees hurt, but my wrinkles don’t. I do feel as though these are days of harvest. Seeds that I have sown, especially the ones in good soil, are now just starting to come up and bloom and bear fruit. And I’m still here trying to convince myself that I’m getting older and getting better.

 

 

 

Tears to Joy

My friend, Dr. Natalie Flake Ford, a faculty member in the School of Psychology and Biblical Counseling here at Truett McConnell University, has experienced heartache in her life that has led to struggles with self-worth. I asked her to write about her experience with her husband’s suicide and she graciously agreed. Thanks, Natalie!

“Can you imagine what it must have been like to live with her?”

“I can’t imagine how bad things must have been at home to drive him to take his own life.”

“Poor girl. I can’t imagine the guilt she must carry.”

These are just a few of the reoccurring thoughts I had in the wake of my husband’s suicide. I felt like others blamed me for his death. If I had been a better wife then…well, suffice it to say, I definitely played the “if only” and “what if” game.

For months, I dreaded going out in public. I was constantly trying to interpret various glances from others. Did they know about Michael’s death? Was that pity or was that blame I saw in their faces? I’d look away and pray that they wouldn’t come over and speak to me.

Today I know that I am not to blame for my husband’s suicide, but those early years wreaked of guilt, shame, and blame (both self-blame and perceived blame). Whenever someone would hear of Michael’s death, the first question was inevitably, “How did he die?” Man, why do people ask that? Saying he died by suicide was just too painful to say out loud for a long time. I would tell people he struggled with depression and it ultimately killed him…that was true, right?

Stigma can be a beast. It often hinders healing. I had friends who didn’t call after Michael’s death, and I convinced myself that the reason for their silence was because they blamed me for his death. Why would they want to call me? Wasn’t I the reason he was gone?

The lies I believed threatened to consume me. I had a choice to either wallow in self-blame and guilt (even though there was no evidence whatsoever that I was to blame for the suicide) or I could determine to overcome this devastating loss and not let it steal anything else from me. I resolved to chart out a new life, one where my joy would not only be restored, but multiplied.

God heard my cries and answered my prayers. Healing did not occur overnight, but slowly my emotional wounds began to heal and I felt compelled to share my story with others. We don’t have to live as slaves to guilt and shame. Christ offers a life of freedom from these chains. The book of Psalms became a life line for me during this dark season of life. I could relate to the anguish of David, and yet a part of me longed for intimacy with the Father in the midst of my pain.

Psalm 42 became a balm to my dry soul. “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.” Three things I learned in my despair.

  1. God is a good God.
  2. God is still on the throne.
  3. I can trust Him.

Clinging to these truths gave me hope for tomorrow and helped me to release the stigma of being a widow from suicide and to exchange it for the title “Daughter of the King.” No matter what happens, no one can steal this from me!

Get Natalie’s book Tears to Joy.

Flake, Natalie. (2012). Tears to Joy. OK: Tate Publishing. ISBN: 1621473899, 9781621473893

Also visit her website: http://www.natalieflake.com for more insights on grief and suicide.

 

A Crying Baby on An Airplane = A Bad Mom

 

A toddler throwing a tantrum in the grocery store = a bad mom.

A teen who breaks the rules or the law = a bad mom.

An adult child who abandons the faith and your moral standards=bad mom.

Those of us who have been blessed with children have felt like failures when our kids don’t act perfectly. When I had a toddler who pitched a fit in a grocery store, I was devastated. I had taught my boys, or so I thought, to “use their words” to express a need, but that hardly ever worked out. It was weeping and wailing when something didn’t go their way. I remember once, in particular, when one of my boys (I’ll let you figure out which one) had a melt-down in the cereal aisle. Of course, it was at the most crowded time of the day. I was in a hurry, too, so a quiet confrontation and appeasement didn’t seem feasible. Just then, a woman from our church rounded the corner and I knew that judgment was coming. After all, my husband was the minister at the church where her husband was Chairman of the Deacons! I was expecting a stern look of judgment. Instead she just smiled at me and spoke sweetly to the wailing child and then patted me on the shoulder and said, “It gets better, shug.”

Well, she was right. Wise words. The conniption fits in public did get better and eventually ceased altogether. Sometimes, however, there was pouting when one didn’t get his way, but at least pouting didn’t make much noise or draw unwanted attention.

A few years went by and my little rebels found another cause. Homework. Grades. Misbehaving in class. The question was, “Where did I go wrong?” when my boys brought home less than stellar grades or got “written up.” It was my fault, I told myself.

We all got through those school hurdles and into college, even though I had threatened them that their grades would determine their abilities to get into college. I was wrong. They both got in great colleges and even with scholarships. But when they went away to school, the real fun began. They had their freedom and truly started calling their own shots. (Oh, to go back to a screaming toddler in the grocery store!) At different times and in different ways both sons “challenged” our parenting. So…we had failed. No, I had failed. I was the mom. I was the stay-at-home parent for all those years, so I had warped my kids so horribly that they found it necessary to go their own ways. I remember the words of another mother whose child was acting out say to me, in tears, “I left my regular job to the full-time job of raising these children and now look at them. I should be fired!” And sometimes it felt that way to me, and sometimes I kind of wished someone would fire me. But no, I pressed on although I still felt like a failure at times like these.

Through these experiences, I learned a lot. When a child rebels it’s not necessarily personal. Some rebellion is natural even where children are raised in a “good Christian home.” Our internal selves are at war sometimes with what our minds say is right. Sometimes we stay the course and sometimes not. Even good ol’ Paul, the Apostle rebelled.

“For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.” Romans 7:19 (The Message)

Of course, the Bible is full of stories of rebellious and sinful deeds committed by some of the greatest people who ever lived. So, calm down when rebellion happens; it’s Eden’s curse, remember.

However…when a child gets in trouble at school, with the law, or with another person…it’s easy to be embarrassed and even go into denial. Sometimes the behavior is the indication of a bigger problem that needs our total attention. Sometimes it’s not. Maybe it’s just an isolated incident. Knowing the difference is the catch. Do I punish? Do I ignore? Do I seek help? Do I “fire” myself and move to Bimini?

One mom’s blog says,

“The only way to fail at being a mother is to not be available when your child needs you.

I’m not telling you to always rush to your child’s aid or to hover over their activities. I’m talking about the moments when your child feels lost inside a mountain of a problem, or feels like [he or she] is being swallowed up by emotion…This is the only way to fail.”[1]

Though I agree with this statement, it’s easier said than done. Usually it’s not until bad behavior makes a hurting child’s needs come to the surface that you realize you need to take action. Here’s what worked for us.

  • Don’t start blaming yourself for your child’s every rebellious act. Take into account that this might be an isolated occurrence.
  • Don’t make it more than it is, but don’t minimize destructive behavior either. How do you know the difference? That’s when you pray for wisdom. James 1: 5-6 in The Message says, “If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought.” How many times did I pray that prayer?
  • Also, take yourself out of the picture. Reacting with anger or shame to this child I’ve carried in my body and given everything to only puts the focus on you. It’s the child who needs help at the moment, so focusing on him or her takes priority over your outrage at the rebellion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] http://www.chaoticlifeoflauren.com/2017/05/04/defeating-mom-guilt-failure/

The Mommy Factor

When I began this blog For All She’s Worth, I mentioned that the inspiration for the content came from my reading 1 Peter 3:6. We are Sarah’s daughters, it says. (Sarah of biblical fame, of course.) Like many people, I wanted to know a little bit about my ancestry, so, if I’m Sarah’s daughter, then I wanted to know what she was like. Much to my amazement, Sarah (formerly Sarai) wife of Abraham (formerly Abram) was a lot like me and other women I know, even though our existences are separated by centuries. I have struggles and feelings of inadequacy just as she did. I feel devalued for many reasons just like Sarah. One of the main areas where Sarah struggled was in her ability to be a mother. She was considered infertile (which was considered a curse in those days) and remained so until a miracle happened and she conceived one child in her old age. Read the whole narrative in Genesis 12-17.

Since I haven’t personally struggled with infertility, I asked my daughter-in-law, Kelly to write about her frustrations in this area. She graciously agreed. She and our son, Mark, have always wanted to be parents, but after 16 years of marriage, they have been unable to conceive a child. Here are her wise words:

“Today I had blood drawn. I sat in a familiar gray chair and rested my arm on the familiar flat armrest. I felt the familiar snap of a rubber strap tied in clamp to my bicep and heard the familiar instructions, ‘Make a fist.’ But the nurse could not find a vein in my arm. Perplexed she moved to my other arm. No vein. She then moved to examine my hands. No veins. She called a colleague, who examined me and was equally perplexed until I finally offered up, ‘I had fertility treatments for 6 years which included daily blood work, and I think my veins have gone into hiding.’

“There is an old school-yard rhyme that goes ‘First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage.’ When Mark and I were married, I assumed life would unfold for us the way it was told in rhyme. It was May 21st, 2008 that my husband and I first learned that we were infertile for “unknown causes”, and it was the day our lives moved from what should be to an unmarked path. As months stretched into years, I have felt the loneliness of watching others my age (and now much younger than I) move forward in life as their families grow and children are added. I have known the humiliation of Mother’s Day Sunday when women are asked to stand and be honored as mothers, and I remain seated. I have had the awkward encounters of being asked if I have children, only to respond with, ‘Not yet…’

“Things are not as they should be.

“Barrenness has caused a wrestle in my soul to find worth and purpose; how, as a woman without children, do I fit in and do I matter? In scripture, Naomi knew life not as it should be. Famine made her a foreigner in a strange land. She became a widow. Her daughters-in-law remained childless. Her sons died. The first five verses of the first chapter of Ruth screams Naomi’s life is not as it should be. (Ruth 1:1-5) She wrestled to find God’s goodness and faithfulness in all of it. Her response is familiar to me:

It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me! (Ruth 1:13b)

‘Don’t call me Naomi,’ she told them. ‘Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.’ (Ruth 1:20-21)

“I have felt these things. Abandoned and afflicted. Empty and bitter. I believe this wrestle happens to all of us when what should be is not, and we let our circumstances challenge God. The situation may be different, but the wrestle is the same: If God is good … why is this happening? If God is faithful … why am I facing this? If God is with me … why am I abandoned? If God has a plan … why am I forgotten? Over the years as I’ve wrestled out these questions, the end of Naomi’s story has given me tremendous comfort and courage.

So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. The women said to Naomi: ‘Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel!  He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.’

Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. The women living there said, ‘Naomi has a son!’ And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. (Ruth 4:13-16)

“There are several things I have learned from this passage. As Naomi holds Obed, we read that he will be the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David … and we know David was the lineage to Christ. Through Naomi’s season of sorrow, her life not as it should be, God was working out His redemptive plan for the entire world. And it’s not just a universal plan God was at work in, I also see how God meets Naomi in a personal way by giving her a guardian-redeemer. God had not forgotten her. He had not abandoned her.

I do not know how the rest of my story goes. I do not know if we will be given children in our older age. I do not know if the adoption we are pursuing will end well or with more sorrow. But what I do know, and cling to with all I’ve got, is that God never changes. The same God who was at work in Naomi’s life, and at work in the fuller redemptive story, is still at work in me … for His glory and for His namesake. So, if His work in my barrenness is what makes His name to become famous, then things truly are as they should be.”

I love you, Kelly. Thank you for being vulnerable.

“Take a Pill and Call Me in the Morning”

In my last post, I admitted to battling clinical depression for the last few years, and that my exhaustive search for answers led me to a certain medication and to a deeper prayer life. I have gotten a lot of positive feedback on the subject, but I know that there have to be some negative responses that are still unexpressed. Am I suggesting that taking a pill will make everything in life okay? How can a believer be so shallow as to even entertain such thoughts? Can’t you just “get over it”?

I can’t answer any of those questions from my own experience because mine is…mine. So, hear from some prominent Christian women who have their own battles with depression and how it played out in their lives.

Grammy award-winning singer, Mandisa, fell into a deep state of depression after the death of her best friend. Mandisa seriously contemplated suicide to rid herself of her hopeless feelings. She also gained over 100 pounds from an eating disorder that accompanied her depression. In an interview on Good Morning, America she said, “It got pretty bad — to the point where if I had not gotten off that road I would not be sitting here today…[I] was this close to listening to that voice that told me, ‘You can be with Jesus right now, Mandisa. All you have to do is take your life.’ “It almost happened,” she continued. “But God … saved my life quite literally.”[1] An intervention, orchestrated by some of her friends, helped Mandisa decide to seek professional help.

Mary Beth Chapman, wife of Christian musical artist Steven Curtis Chapman talks of her bouts with depression. “Ten months had passed since Maria, our five-year-old daughter, had died in a tragic accident at our home,” Mary Beth said. “Slowly my grief had turned to anger, then to a hopelessness that refused to lift no matter how I struggled against it. I fought with all my strength, to no avail. I recognized it for what it was: depression, an illness I’d battled most of my life.”[2]

Christian comedian Chonda Pierce has also battled depression for some time. She speaks and even jokes about her struggle. In her book Laughing in the Dark she writes about seeking help by numerous trips to doctors, beginning with her gynecologist. She writes, “I entered the exam room, slipped into one of those gowns they give you … climbed onto the, uh, recliner, (and by the way, the “cup holders” are still in a very awkward position), and then stared at the new ceiling tiles and light fixtures while I waited.”[3] Only she could look at such a trying experience with humor, but she does not diminish the seriousness of her illness. She is coping now using medicine and stress management.

Three women with different experiences—all believers willing to talk about their weaknesses—hoping that their encounters with depression can help others to cope with mood disorders.

Obviously, this problem (and its solution) is an inexact science.

In  these three women, however, there was an event that brought their conditions to light—the first two in the loss of loved ones. Chonda’s problems began in childhood. In an article in the magazine Psychology Today Dr. Michael Miller, editor of the Harvard Mental Health Letter and assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, says that grief and depression aren’t necessarily the same, but that circumstances can trigger or at least bring clinical depression to the foreground. [4] Sadness and anger are natural forms of the grief process, but going through those difficult times and staying in a state of despair for an extended period of time could mean that you need to seek professional help. Each person and situation is unique, so don’t give up and don’t expect a quick fix.

Besides depression and grief, an oppressive environment can make us feel worthless. Thank God my husband and family are such positive influences in my life (in that they believe in me and tell me so often) so I don’t live with negative vibes in my home. However, I have felt worthless in other arenas regarding my job, my education, and my age in places other than in my home. Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” I have often reminded myself of this quote whenever my environment (and Satan’s lies) seemed to work against my sense of value. In my work environment, like in the music industry, feelings of relevance can ebb and flow quickly as younger, more talented, more dedicated, and more influential people come up through the ranks. I can’t tell you how many times I have stood in a group of “industry” folks and felt invisible because I didn’t have a cut on a big country record, or have a killer voice, or known by famous people. But moving away from the Nashville scene didn’t change my sense of value entirely. In fact, those same feelings of inadequacy followed me here as I went back to school and then became a university professor. I don’t come from academia, I don’t have a PHD, and I have never taught at the college level before so I was jumping out of the proverbial frying pan into the fire. Let me hasten to say that most of those fears were dispelled by the embrace of this incredible community. Though I came into this environment with so many insecurities, my colleagues and students have helped me to see that I have a place to work and serve that needs me. So, there it is. Being needed is an important part of our sense of worth and we’ll deal more with that later as we see how the natural life cycle can deal pretty heavy blows to a woman’s sense of value.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/mandisa-reveals-deep-depression-led-suicide/story?id=47025988

[2] https://www.guideposts.org/better-living/positive-living/emotional-and-mental-health/fighting-depression-with-hope-and-faith

[3] Pierce, Chonda. Laughing in the Dark: a Comedian’s Journey through Depression. Howard Books, 2015, p. 98.

[4] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-new-grief/201203/when-does-grief-become-depression

Pardon My French…

 

…but I always called it “The Whiny-Butt Disease.”

To me, people who suffered from depression were just chronic complainers, especially the women. They were spoiled “delicate flowers” whose basic constitution was fueled by neediness. They were just demanding attention. They were crippled by their own insecurities. They had “daddy” issues or whatever.

It was maybe fifteen years ago when my view of clinical depression changed. It was when I went through it myself.

I had probably always had problems with coping mechanisms; that is, when external or internal stresses came up, I wouldn’t know how to manage them, or how to adapt. And instead of becoming irate or inconsolable, I would internalize the stress which just made me feel worse and unworthy. Through my earlier years, however, these were infrequent, intermittent episodes that I eventually worked through.

Then I approached the age of 50, and the minor episodes turned into a lifestyle. My feelings of worth hit bottom and stayed there for quite a while.

With hormonal changes of menopause, with the development of chronic back pain, and some work circumstances beyond my control, I became…well, impossible to live with. My poor husband! He knew I was struggling, but he didn’t know how to help. Basically, he would often just shake his head and leave me alone. In a sense, that is what helped. I started seeking solutions on my own which began with my seeing a long list of doctors. It was a start anyway.

I was first having episodes when I couldn’t breathe and my heart seemed to beat out of my chest. The first doctor ruled out heart problems with a plethora of tests. Another doctor prescribed hormone replacement which helped with some of the symptoms. That doctor also put me on anti-anxiety pills which made me too sleepy to function, so I took them at night leaving me with intolerable days. It did help with the insomnia. Another doctor said that my back pain was causing me to be depressed, so for a year I chased that theory going to every kind of physician (reputable doctors and quacks). Nothing worked. I was pumped full of steroids through injection not knowing that this was not only making my condition worse, but it was having adverse systemic effects as well. Finally, I found an “angel” in the form of a neurosurgeon at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville. Surgery was successful and I’ve been back pain free for a decade!

But the depression was still there, even after I fully recovered from surgery. Clinical depression affects people differently, but for me it felt like there was an itch somewhere deep inside of me that I couldn’t scratch. It was horrible. I was either extremely agitated or completely depleted of energy. I didn’t dare, however, think or say the word “depression” because I had always reserved that for whiners. It was definitely a sign of weakness, I thought, and I never wanted to admit to that!

However, that was the breakthrough for me—realizing that I needed help. One day, I just collapsed on the sofa with a cry, “God, you’ve gotta do something!” The next day I got back to the circuit of doctors and went to see my family physician—a laid-back older gentleman who was notorious for minimizing general complaints. I expected him to dismiss my feelings and imply that I was just a high maintenance female and I should just get over it. Instead, the doctor asked me what I thought was the matter with me. (I realized that he was used to his patients becoming experts on the human body by staying on sites like WEBMD and others.) It was then that I broached the subject and used the “d” word: depression.

The doctor sat back in his chair. “Yeah? So?” He asked and waited for a response.

“Well, I hate to come in here whining, asking for help with something like that.”

“Why?” the man of few words asked again while writing something on my chart.

“I feel like there’s a stigma attached to depression that I’m afraid to admit to—even the possibility of it.” Then I think I started to cry.

“Well, what do you want to do about it?” He asked rather matter-of-factly.

“I guess maybe try an antidepressant?” I asked in a whisper.

“Which one?”

That’s when I said, “You’re the doctor! You tell me!”

He didn’t even look up. He just said, “Tests have ruled out other causes for your condition and I figure you’ve already researched this, so what do you want me to prescribe for you?”

Then he did look up and added, “There’s nothing wrong with trying to feel better, you know. You’re doing the right thing.” He briefly described the side effects of certain medications and the do’s and don’ts of the different kinds of remedies and without fanfare, he wrote me a prescription for a low dose of Zoloft.

“However, don’t expect it to work immediately,” he warned. I had wanted a quick fix, but I was willing to wait a day or two for it to kick in.

“How long do I wait for it to work?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Everybody is different. Try this for, oh, a month, two months, or six months and then come back to see me. If you don’t feel better then we’ll try something else,” he said and he walked out of the exam room.

I walked out, too, feeling just as confused as when I walked in. I didn’t, however, mention this to anybody, except my husband, of course. If it was clinical depression, I would just take my pill and keep this heinous disease to myself, and I have kept that promise to myself—until now. I choose now to be transparent and say that I suffer from clinical depression which is controlled with medication.

When I think back to those days of agony that I didn’t understand and then compare my mental and physical state to now, I am amazed. Though the medication has helped tremendously, I know that it is by God’s hand that healing has taken place. I asked Him to help me and He did. Just like He used spit and clay to heal a blind man, and the hem of His robe to deliver a woman from her bleeding disorder, God used a medication (accompanied by prayer and the power of His word) to make my life and the lives of those around me not only bearable, but joyful and triumphant. (Maybe there’s a song there?)

Seriously, I want to apologize to everyone, especially my family, who had to bear my sullenness, my wrath, my withdrawal, my general orneriness through those bad years. I still have some down days, but I’m grateful that any time I get down, I don’t stay there and spiral into an abyss so deep I can’t dig out like before.

This is just my story…so don’t think that yours will be like mine. There are many versions of depression that are not chemical imbalances. Some are natural and circumstantial and manageable without medication. Often, time is the best healer for those episodes.

However, some of my readers have had similar experiences with the chemical imbalance kind of depression that you’d like to share. If so, I invite you to respond. If you’re not sure what’s wrong, I encourage you to keep searching for ways to try and feel better.  And pray.

I also plan to explore this topic some more in other posts before I move on to another topic in the series.

 

 

Half…and Half

As I was preparing to sing at a friend’s funeral this week, I was reminded that the loss of a spouse to death is something I’ve never experienced (thank God!). Neither have I been divorced nor lived an adult life without a spouse. (Again, thank God!) So, I can only imagine the despair that losing one half of oneself can cause. Half? Yes, I know it’s not PC to say it anymore, that in marriage two shall become one, but that doesn’t negate the scripture that says in a couple of places, but first in Genesis 2:24 “…a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” Some believe this refers only to sexual consummation that God sanctioned for marriage, while others take it more literally (yet spiritually): two human beings completing each other–morphing from individuals into a singular creature. The second interpretation is where I stand.

Two lives into one.

Of course, if this is true, does death cut a happily married couple in half leaving the remaining half barely alive? That’s where my friend, Cindy, probably is right now. After 30+ years of her “doing life” with her husband, Bill, will she have to now be half of a complete person for the rest of her life? Maybe for a while it will feel that way. Though I don’t think she’ll ever replace that missing piece of herself that was also Bill, I do believe that she will experience the kind of healing that only God can provide.

I believe that the same Christ who “completed” lame and blind and deaf people to fully functioning humans…who raised lifeless bodies to walk and talk and eat again…can do that even today with broken people, even those who have lost a part of themselves no matter the circumstances. I believe in not only restoration, but re-creation of a person after losing a part of who they have become. And why not?

“I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27).

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

When the Glass Slipper Falls Off

Several years ago, two of my friends, Karla and Claire, wrote a great book entitled When the Glass Slipper Doesn’t Fit or When the Silver Spoon is in Someone Else’s Mouth. These were real life experiences that explored the notion that life doesn’t always turn out the way we plan. I love the book and still read from it occasionally. However, like me, these ladies have been married to the same guy all of their adult lives and don’t know what it’s like to have a husband walk out on them. I haven’t had that experience myself, either, so I can’t speak to that issue with authority. But I can imagine that being single again sends severe blows to a woman’s self-esteem no matter the situation that caused the divorce.  I have many friends who have had husbands abandon them and so I thought I’d let you know their thoughts of a couple of them, with their permission and cooperation of course, on this image busting event.

Nikki’s husband, just after their fourth child was born, left her for another woman. Here’s what Nikki writes:

“When my husband left me for another woman, I was completely devastated.  For so many years, my identity was completely wrapped up in the fact that I was someone’s wife.  Being someone’s wife meant that at some point someone had chosen me.  It comprised a huge part of who I was.  The fact that the person with whom I had chosen to do life had decided to ‘unchoose’ me, sent me spiraling down a deep abyss.  I felt like trash that had been thrown away.  I felt completely unloved and unworthy.  I now had the overwhelming task of trying to figure out who I was since my husband didn’t want me to be his wife.  I spent many days comparing myself to this other woman…”

Becky was married many years with almost grown children when her husband “unchose” her. Even though her abandonment happened several years ago, she’s still reeling from the stigma attached to this tragedy and the loneliness that has ensued. Here’s what she said about her life now:

“Rejection is an ongoing problem for the divorced woman who is a believer. Gone is that circle of friends that you ‘did life’ with because it’s mostly couples. You no longer live in their world.

“The hardest place to fit in is the local church. ‘God Hates Divorce’!!  It’s true!  And, therefore, there is a certain place where the divorced reside. I already feel less holy and it’s obvious that others feel the same. My small group doesn’t fit. I’m immediately an outsider.”

I happen to know that both of these women are attractive, brilliant women, and yet their self- worth meters dropped considerably after their husbands left them. They both have struggled with worthlessness as a result of this betrayal. That, of course, is understandable and no one would fault them for feeling that way. So how do the “unchosen” cope with such humiliation and isolation? Nikki still has her children with her and that gives her a sense of duty and purpose for now. Becky, however, is a grandmother with her brood living their own independent lives—not needing her for their everyday needs.

In both lives, there is little or no hope of reconciling with their husbands. That’s off the table. How do they deal with the loneliness and the feelings of being marital misfits?

Nikki’s words of wisdom continue:

“… I had to realize that long before my husband chose me, the Creator of the universe had chosen me to be His own.  I didn’t have to be someone’s wife.  I didn’t have to be someone’s mother.  I was His and unlike my husband, God would never send someone to knock at my door and send me papers saying that He didn’t want me anymore…”

I’m not into simplistic answers. I’m also not a stranger to the pain of betrayal, but I agree with Nikki that marital status—never married or single again—doesn’t define who we are. Like any other earthly pain, this struggle needs daily attention and surrender to survive it. Address the pain with daily dialogue with God.  Psalm 147:3 promises,

“He heals the heartbroken
and bandages their wounds.” (The Message)

 

White Picket Fence Syndrome

At the dinner table one night I, as a young teen, was sharing news that a girl at school had excelled academically to the point that she could skip a grade. The response? “Yeah, but she’s ugly and she’ll never get married.” What? This message screamed at me. In fact, it was ingrained in me to the point of driving me to two goals: be pretty—get married.

Once when I asked why I wasn’t given a middle name. The response? “You won’t need it. When you get married, you’ll drop it anyway and use your maiden name in the middle.” When. Not if. When.

When my mother was trying to identify a woman she might have known as a teenager or young adult, she would ask, “Who was she before she married?” I always knew what she meant. She wanted to know a married woman’s maiden name. Once I decided to respond with a snippy retort, “She was the same person before she married as she was after.” I now regret the decision to sass my mother. However, the idea that marriage is strongly attached to a woman’s identity was another message that shaped my own sense of value. I needed a husband to protect and provide for me. That was the dream that my parents had for me. I willingly adopted that dream by going to college, not for a good education or training for the workplace, but for an “MRS” degree. It was okay with my parents, then, that I went to college because that was where a smart, successful husband could be found. Imagine my surprise at how many males I met who were neither smart nor headed for success.

But, I did get married and I did take my maiden name as my middle, and let me say I have never regretted that decision. Ever. But I wonder sometimes if the expectations for me to be a wife and mother hadn’t been so ingrained would I have raced the clock to get hitched? I was barely 21 on my wedding day after all. Didn’t want to be an old maid!

According to statistics compiled by pewresearch.org, in 1960 72% of U.S. adults were married. In 2014, less than half of Americans were married. In 1960, the median age at first marriage for both men and women was in the early 20s. In 2011, the median age at first marriage is an estimated 28.7 for men and 26.5 for women.[1] The reasons behind these changes in these 50+ years are varied, but I imagine that, for women, the change is due to more women receiving higher levels of education and more women in the workplace. Women are now more independent and don’t have to rely on a man to support her.

Another factor, of course, is that the present millennial generation couples are cohabiting rather than marrying. The day and place in which I was reared, living together without marrying was hardly ever an option. And being unmarried, never married that is, stigmatized women. Though nowadays the humiliation of being single is less attached, the strong desire to be married is still out there. For a woman who wants to be married, but isn’t yet,  this might shape her sense of worth.

I found a blog entitled The Briefing written by Australian native Emma Thornett and it includes an entry called “Satan’s Lies About Singleness.” The untruths that she recognized, as a never-married woman, include: 1) you’re single because you’re undesirable 2) God is not powerful enough to find you a husband 3) you’re single because God doesn’t love you 4) getting married will fix all of your problems. One of the lies, however, speaks especially to the idea of personal worth. The lie is that since no one has married you, you have no value. Emma writes, “Someone marrying you will not make you valuable. Doing things for other people will not make you valuable. You cannot be made valuable, because you already are valuable.  You are valuable because God Almighty himself tenderly created you—in his own image, no less! You were valuable the minute God wrote your days in his book and nothing that happens to you in this life can change that.”[2]

Next up: Divorced women discuss how their marital status greatly affected their sense of value.

[1] http://www.pewresearch.org/data-trend/society-and-demographics/marriage/

[2] http://matthiasmedia.com/briefing/2013/08/satans-lies-about-singleness/