Off In the Weeds No More

As promised, I said I'd address why I hadn't been posting much. Part of me wants to say I have nothing to write, but that is the writer's cop-out. In order to have something to write, one simply has to write.

No, my lack of writing has to do with what Winston Churchill called the Black Dog: depression. I suppose chronic illness plays into it as well, but it's depression that tells you that you have nothing to say. It's depression that tells you that you can't write anyway, even if you did have something to say. Depression kills that spark you get when you find a topic you want to write about, you start to formulate a sentence or two and then you remember: you can't write. And you're done.

Depression distorts and demeans. It tells you that you can't, you shouldn't. Even worse, if you're a person of faith, it attacks that. God doesn't care about you. Look at what a mess your life is - you think this is the result of a loving God? Over and over, that voice reminds you how worthless your ideas, your thoughts, your gifts are. And so you slowly just stop. Even writing in your journal seems to be pointless. You are no longer on a path that leads somewhere, anywhere. You're just off in the weeds, aimless, no place to go.

And you get pretty darn comfortable there.

Once you're off the path, it is really hard to get back on. It's easy to hide in the weeds. On the path, you're exposed. You have to converse with people. Depression keeps telling you to hide. Off in the weeds, it's a lot easier to nap, to drowse off. On the path, you have to be alert, to know what's going on around you. Nope, it's just easier to stay off in the weeds, hiding, being quiet, lonely, not answering anyone's questions.

Except that after awhile, you're off all by yourself - lonely. No one to talk to. Hidden. Depressed. Nothing to do or share with someone else. You realize this is no way to live.

Trying to claw your way back from the weeds is a lot harder that staying on the path in the first place. It's hard allowing yourself to be exposed again. It's hard putting your depression on display, especially when some people in your life have bailed on you because of it. It's hard speaking your truth when your voice is so soft and quivery, but it's the only way. You can't hide anymore. You have to stand in the truth, even if you're scared. 

That's why I wasn't writing much, and that's why I'm writing more now. It got hard and then it got harder and now here I am. Back on that path, a little shaky, a little scared but here. I'm here.

Healthy Bodies, Messed Up Minds?

A friend posted something from Antrim Counselling regarding the rather harsh mental health issues many of today's children face. For instance:

• 1 in 5 children have mental health problems
• A 43% increase in ADHD has been noted
• A 37% increase in adolescent depression has been noted
• A 200% increase in the suicide rate in children aged 10 to 14

These stats are for the UK, but I imagine they are about as bleak for kids here in the US.

I was reading the other day that it is likely that everyone will face one mental  health challenge in their life - grief, depression, a learning disability, coping with stress and anxiety. We all face physical challenges and when we do, we know exactly what to do, and we do not feel any shame in seeking help. We don't hide the fact that we went to see the doctor or went to the ER with alarming symptoms.

But when we can't sleep for the third night in a row or we cry every night when we get home from work and we aren't really sure why, we don't talk about it. In fact, we hide it. We brush off a spouse's suggestion that we talk to the doctor. We are FINE, just FINE. We soldier on. There is nothing wrong with us. Our body isn't hurting, so we must be FINE, right?

No wonder our kids are hurting. If we can't take good care of ourselves, how can we ever take care of them? And this lack of care is killing them - a 200% increase in youth suicides. 

What to do? I'm no expert, except when it comes to me. I know what has helped me. Talking about my mental health helps me. I see a therapist weekly. That is key. (No, I'm not saying everyone needs weekly therapy. But you might, for awhile.) But I also talk about it with others, just as I might my physical health. "My depression is better, but sleep is still a struggle" or "My anxiety has been getting better but I still have a hard time when...." It's the same as if someone might say, "My knee is still acting up" or "I twisted my ankle last week but the brace the doctor gave me helped." It's just matter-of-fact. 

Your kids are listening. They hear the words you use, the tone of voice. They hear shame if it's there. They hear progress or frustration. They hear priority or dismissal. They know whether or not it is safe to share their own concerns with you. They know that using a professional to talk to is an option in for your family.

That's the place to start. Talk. Watch your words but be honest. And it doesn't need to be your own kids, you know. Any kid you love needs this. Any kid in your life needs the adults in their life to show them that mental health is just as important as physical health. Talk and keep talking. 

Adopted By Grace

I was reminded in prayer this morning that we are all adopted, by grace and baptism, by God into His family. Christ's Sacrifice makes us all brothers and sisters in Christ. St. Paul is very clear: we are not slaves to an angry god; we are God's very children:

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba, Father!" The Spirit itself bears witness without spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ... Romans 8:15-17

Now, most people would read that and think: "How wonderful! Adopted by God! Adoption is so  wonderful; now I won't be an orphan, out in the world alone." And that is true. But it's not completely true.

Here's the inside scoop on adoption: it's built on loss. It's built on relationships that crashed and burned. It's built on heartbreak, heartache and heart-wrenching choices. Please let me be clear: God's adoption is perfect, but we are not. When humans get added to the mix, we muck things up.

And that's exactly what we did when we first came into relationship with God. At first, things were perfect. We lived in perfect harmony with God and His creation. It was, as they say, all good.

Until it wasn't. We rebelled. We thought we knew best. We struck out on our own, knowing in our heart of hearts that the rules God had given us were not REALLY meant for us. (If all of this sounds like a parent and teen relationship, you are right on the money!) We broke our trust, our relationship with God. 

(I don't want to stretch the comparison too far, but you can see the similarities between our choices and how they affect our life in God, and how a rebellious teen's choices might wear on a parent, can stand in comparison to our relationship with God our Father.)

But because God is all-loving, all-good, all-perfect, He not only gave us a way to be in relationship with Him again, but a way to salvation. He sent us His Son, who by His Life, Death and Resurrection gave us new life, and also brought us back into the family fold.

In adoption, there is joy. There is also tremendous heartache: a family must "give up" a child. Another couple struggles with the loss of fertility. An adult child searches for his biological family. A mother mourns a child she relinquished decades ago. Adoption isn't "good" or "bad." It is so good, so much of the time and does what it is supposed to do: give a child in need a home. But in order to make it work, we have to be real: adoption isn't without trial and heartache and loss.

In adoption, there is joy. There is also heartache. Family might not understand why we choose to be Catholic. We mourn years spent in sin and waste. There is trial and heartache and loss. We recognize we are helpless to sin and need salvation. We need a Father and a Brother and a Mother. We need God and Christ and the Church. And they are all right there, waiting for us with open arms, in a spirit of grace and adoption.

Does God Use Sketch Writers?

A scene from "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"
On TV's wildly funny and often naughty Whose Line Is It Anyway?," one of the popular improvisational skits is "people props," whereby two cast members become props in the skit and two audience members have to move them appropriately. And I'm using "appropriately" very advisedly. Very.

(I'm sure when all the folks standing in line for the audience are chatting pre-show, they assure each other that they're not only up for being chosen, they're gonna be hilARious. Neither of those things is true.)

The audience members are briefly given their instructions: the "props" can only more their arms and legs one at a time and only when the audience member taps them on the limb they want move. As you might imagine, this ends up with some very interesting walks. For the purpose of the skit, it's a humorous method of movement.

Yesterday, I mentioned that I'd stumbled off into the spiritual weeds as I said my morning prayers. I wasn't too worried about getting lost. After all, A) I've been lost before and survived B) God is with me and He is never lost. I am, however, curious.

What's next?

I haven't worked in two years, and I'm not sure I'll ever have a paying job again. My chronic pain makes my life, my availability pretty unpredictable at times. It makes planning hard. So, what is next? How will God use me?

Then I remember the guys on Whose Line, getting slapped on the legs, haltingly walking in circles. I'm expecting God to slap me on the leg, moving me in a certain direction, while making me abundantly clear what direction I'm moving in.

What's that you say? God doesn't use that same techniques as Hollywood sketch writers and performers? Frankly, it might explain a lot.

Actually, He just might.

God doesn't usually hand out a well-plotted map, highlighting great features along the way but with a destiny marked out in red-pen circles. God seems to be more subtle (if you can call 40 years in the desert subtle.) 

Here's the thing: I think He's just not ready to slap me in the leg yet to have me move in a certain direction. I think that when God believes me to be ready (and not a moment before, because that would cause me harm, and God could not - it goes against His very nature - cause me harm), he will tap my leg. He will make it abundantly clear what direction I should go in, because He knows I often don't get a clear signal, and off we'll go.

The Bewildered Drummer Boy

[Before we get started today, I am fully aware that I have been away for months. I'll address that in the days to come. But not today.]

My prayer life over the past months has been spotty. Okay, it's been non-existent, unless you count desperate "Oh, Gods" muttered in pain in the emergency department. Which I don't. 

I have been trying to pray more. Thankfully, Mother Church, in her wisdom, gives us formal prayers throughout the day so that we are not left to our own devices.  Today, I began my day with morning prayer, but I quickly derailed, which is a common problem when you're trying to make prayer a habit. This morning, the very first thing I prayed was: To Christ our newborn King let us sing a song of rejoicing, alleluia!

And that did it. I was off in the weeds.

Rejoicing? I thought. Were all the visitors to the manger rejoicing? I bet they weren't. It's not like they all knew exactly what was happening and could see with perfectly clarity how Christ's birth would not only affect current events but historical and future events as well.

I'm betting the shepherds did not whip out a flute made expressly for this purpose, start playing "The Sound Of Music" and join up with the Little Drummer Boy for a perfectly played piece. Nope, I'm betting that, even with the angel's explanations, they were all a bit overwhelmed. Bewildered, even.

The Wise Men weren't even Jewish. They left everything they knew to FOLLOW A STAR. That's a little nutty. And they finished their trip under what was tantamount to a death threat. Rejoicing? Maybe they were rejoicing, but they were doing it very, very quietly. 

And then there is me. It's been a tough year to rejoice. I haven't been able to go to Mass for a few weeks due to health reasons. Trust me, it is tough to rejoice at home, in your living room when you really, really want to be at Mass. And those health reasons keep getting more and more severe, making rejoicing more and more difficult. 

This year, I'm gonna hang out in the corner of the manger, next to the sheep who seem a bit out of sorts having so many people in their barn. I'll talk to the Drummer Boy, who is happy to be here, even if he isn't exactly sure why - he knows that Baby isn't an ordinary Baby. And the Shepherds - all they can talk about is the Messiah. Could it be possible that the Promised One could be an infant? 

It's been a bewildering year, a bewildering Christmas. I'm still off here in the weeds, trying to find my way back home. The thing to do is to follow the song of rejoicing, even if it seems a bit bewildering. Just follow the sounds of rejoicing.

What To Do When There Is Nothing Left To Do

Being a human is ...  messy. Our relationships with loved ones get strained, we get angry or upset, we say stuff we shouldn't .... We are a sinful bunch, we humans.

I see a lot of strained relationships around me right now. Some of them are mine. It's difficult trying to sort out what my responsibility is in each of these relationships with family. (Another good reason to have a sound spiritual counselor; they will tell you what is yours and what isn't!)

In all these situations, I know there are deep wounds that really don't have much to do - on the surface - with the current issues at hand. However, if I've learned one thing in these past months in counseling it is this: If you don't fix your stuff, it won't get fixed and you'll just have to keep dealing with it. Issues like these do not fix themselves, and no one can fix our stuff for us. We have to do it.

Cold comfort, I know. That means we can't just sit around and whine (or wine, as the case may be.) Whatever is our responsibility in these messy situations, we can work on that AND ONLY THAT. Continually going over other's faults won't get us anywhere (except, perhaps, in a deeper hole.)

Even with the best of intentions, we sometimes hurt others and we get hurt. We try to fix things, and we make it worse. We try to talk to the other person and we get nowhere. We've done everything we can.

The Gospel yesterday had something to say about this. (Really.) Jesus, speaking to his disciples, promised us a Spirit of truth. If we are listening, we will hear the truth, sent to us by God. (Of course, if we are too busy picking someone else apart, we aren't listening and we will likely miss it.) This Spirit of truth, Christ says, will give us everything that is Christ's and give it to us. Wow.

How does that help fix a messy or broken relationship? Here is what to do: Shut up. Listen, prayerfully, to what God is telling you. Work on your stuff. Pray some more. 

That's it. It would be nice if there were a magic formula that instantly heals all wounds and makes us forget why we were ever upset in the first place. But that is not God's design for us. His design is that He sends us the Spirit of truth, and that everything that is Christ's is also ours. That is surely a better plan than anything we could come up with.

Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?

It is no surprise to anyone that the Catholic Church is still roiling in the clergy sex abuse scandal. And a scandal it is: I do not know one Catholic who is not deeply disgusted by both the abuse by clergy or the way the hierarchy has handled it. We are damn sick of it.

That being said, we really need to understand what is going on here. USA Today has published a piece saying more Catholics than ever are thinking about leaving the Church. What I say to that is: if your faith is in man, you should leave. But if your faith is in Christ (which is where it should be), don't let the sins of man drive you out. The Church has survived scandals before, and it will survive this one. (That part of the Gospel where Jesus tells us that He builds His Church on a rock, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it is relevant here.)

Also (and this is where things get really unpopular), many of the victims are adolescent boys, as opposed to true pedophilia. This has led many to understand that a large portion of the abuse is related to homosexuality. Others say this is not true: it's just that boys are more "readily accessible," if you will, to clergy. Boys, they say, are the ones who are altar servers, for instance, or that a priest showing interest in a boy is welcome to many parents.

That's utterly wrong. Go to any parish in the US and you will see at least as many girls serving Mass as boys. And I don't know a single parent who would allow a priest to take their son out without supervision at this point. We all know that this is a huge red flag. It is prudent, therefore, to examine the role of homosexuality in this area. We must be willing to discuss this issue. By simply saying, "Nope, homosexuality has got nothing to do with it," we may be putting children and adolescents at risk. We cannot trade one sacred cow (the priesthood) for another (homosexuality.)

The other topic that must be open for discussion is that this abuse is not solely a problem for the Catholic Church. It is an issue for our Protestant brothers and sisters as well. In fact, the issue of clergy abuse is even harder for Protestants to deal with: there is no hierarchy in place for many of them, making it easier for abusers to move, hide and continue to offend. All Christians must be willing to frankly and openly address this issue in their own parishes and churches, and not leave it for Church officials and governing bodies to deal with.

We must also be willing to acknowledge that what happens in the Church is a reflection of our society at large. For decades, we've been told that "anything goes" as far as our sexual appetites are concerned. What was unthinkable just a few years ago is now mainstream.

Good Lord, we have drag queens reading to kindergarten classes and we kill tens of thousands of babies out of "convenience." We've got parents okaying hormone treatment on children under the age of ten because they think their kid was "born in the wrong body." We cannot sexualize our children on one hand, and then be shocked when predators come for them on the other. Our culture is sick, and it's no surprise that our faith communities reflect that. Is it not time to - again, at the VERY LEAST - be willing to discuss how these issues affect us, our kids, our faith?

And to anyone who is thinking of leaving the Church because of these scandals: please stay. Help be part of the solution. Make sure our kids are safe. But most of all: put your faith in Christ, not the priest, not the bishops, not the cardinals. They are sinners all; only Christ will be our salvation.

Off In the Weeds No More

As promised, I said I'd address why I hadn't been posting much. Part of me wants to say I have nothing to write, but that is the ...