A Tree is a Tree is a Tree

A few weeks back, we heard Jesus' parable about what makes a good tree. A good tree bears good fruit.

I've heard this before, many times. We lived for years surrounded by orchards. I've pruned apple trees, and picked their fruit. Farmers have to deal with fickle weather, but they also do everything they can to ensure good trees: they care for soil, test different types of trees, prune the trees.

The trees don't actually do much. They just ... are trees.

When I heard this very familiar parable this time, I heard it new. I thought: "I'm a tree. I just have to stand here. God - the farmer - will do the work. I just have to be a tree."

My life has not been easy these past few years. We lost our house, moved into two different apartments. I've lost 5 jobs. I've been so ill and in pain that getting out of bed has been a feat of strength. And I've been plenty mad at God.

What I missed is that God has been asking me to be dormant while He does His work. What I mistook for abandonment has actually been a time of pruning by God. And as painful as it's been, I see now that God has actually been carefully preparing me to bear good fruit.

Now, I don't have a clue what God is preparing me for. And that's ok. For now, I'm resting in God - laying dormant if you will. I'm not dead, although it was a close call not too long ago. No, I'm just being carefully and lovingly prepared by a Farmer who knows what He is about.

A good tree does not bear rotten fruit,
nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit.
For every tree is known by its own fruit.
For people do not pick figs from thornbushes,
nor do they gather grapes from brambles.
A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good,
but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil;
for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.

10 Lessons From the Psych Hospital

I recently spent a week in the hospital. Two of those days, I was in the regular ol' hospital because my blood pressure was out of whack. Five days were spent in the psych hospital.

I don't know if you have any preconceived notions about a psych hospital, but consider you might be wrong. If you think things are all "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," - not so much. There are (for the most part) no straightjackets, no Nurse Cratchets.

In fact, if you're open to it, the psych hospital might just be a place of growth, learning and yes, grace.

1.  Nurses are the best humans ever. They will hang out with you at 3 a.m. when you're in pain. They'll do everything in their power to  help you get better: an ice pack filled, a drinkable brand of tea found, a laugh over the same crazy stuff that might be happening. Nurses are the best.

2. People will help, if you ask. A lot of times, we sit comfortably miserable in our own...stuff. It can be quite isolating, and a huge burden. But most of the people around us - our friends, families, coworkers - will help us. They just aren't sure what to do. Tell them. Tell them what you need. 99% of the time, they are happy to help.

3.  You're not crazy. When we are feeling so isolated, we think NO ONE IN THE WORLD can understand. But being in a healing space, surrounded by others in the same head space, you are in the midst of people who can honestly say, "I know just what you mean." And that's your lifeline.

4.  God is here.  It seems unlikely, for folks who think the psych hospital is still all screaming inmates and thuggish techs. But it's not. It's a place of grace. Grace when the teen who prepares your plate of food says, "Enjoy your meal." Grace when that one guy who was making you a bit uncomfortable says, "I love reading psalms," and suddenly you have something in common. Grace when the psychiatrist really listens to you.

5.  Even at your lowest point, you can help someone else. You may think you're nothing, but you're not. You may think you have nothing good left, but you do. That one little thing you say, a smile, a conversation, and suddenly, you see that the other person has been boosted just a bit. And that is good.

6.  Music is salve for the soul. I'm pretty sure the balm in Gilead is music. And the nurses remind you that you can have a radio in your room, or an iPod to borrow.  Just ask.

7.  Being depressed is scary.  One of my fellow patients had recently been in prison. He told us that being depressed and suicidal was scarier than waking up in a cell day after day. If you're a survivor of depression, YOU ARE ONE TOUGH COOKIE! Bravery is necessary for getting out of this darkness.

8. You may not like eating like a grown up, but you should. Yeah, eating fruit for dessert may seem a bit like torture (really, that's how some people react!) but eating well makes you feel better. Drink water, eat salmon and enjoy the apple crisp.

9.  You can't afford to be unhealthy by choice.  Sure, you can skip the gym (again!), drink your body weight in diet cola all day, and feast on potato chips but you'll feel like crap. And those of us who battle depression and anxiety and PTSD cannot afford to slip. It's too important.

10.  Suicide is simply not an option.  Those of us on the other side of a suicide attempt or have fought through a bout of crippling depression know that suicide is no solution to what ails us. And it creates a tidal wave effect in our families. I don't want the young people in my life to ever think that suicide is an option. By being here, by beating back the darkness every day, I take the choice of suicide off the table.

No one wants to be on the psych ward. But it's a good place, a place of lessons (albeit hard ones!), a place of healing, a place of grace. I'm glad to be home, but I'm thankful for my time in the psych hospital.

Wise up!

Today is the feast of Ss. Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen - men both known for their wisdom.

"Wisdom" can be a tricky thing to pin down; we know it when we see it, but we don't see it much. So, let's explore a bit.

Merriam-Webster says "wisdom" is the ability to discern inner qualities and relationships or good sense. Um....okay. "Discerning inner qualities" makes me think of those folks who say they speak to the dead or can read your mind. And while I'm all for "good sense," I don't believe that is what "wisdom" is all about.

The Church puts much emphasis on "wisdom." There is an entire book of the Bible about wisdom. And it's not about "good sense;" otherwise, we'd be reading things like "put all your loose change in a jar and save for a rainy day!" or "Before going on a long car trip, make sure your spare tire is inflated." All very helpful, but not the characteristics that made Basil and Gregory saints.

The Church teaches us that wisdom is a gift of the Holy Spirit (as opposed to knowledge gained from experience.) That also means that if you're baptized, confirmed and in a state of grace, you are walking around engulfed and immersed in wisdom. Of course, it is your choice as to whether you use it or not, but it's right there for you. Further, [t]he theological virtues dispose Christians to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity. They have God for their origin, their motive, and their object - God known by faith, God hoped in and loved for his own sake.

It's tough for us to "get" the role of wisdom in our lives. Watching a bunch of 8th graders getting confirmed and thinking, "Well, now they are all wise!" would likely not be the first thought that pops into one's mind. Wisdom, like all the virtues are indeed gifts for all of us, but we have to cultivate them, grow in them, seek God in each of them.

How do grow in wisdom then? If it's not something "out there," but rather something in me, a something God has placed there, how do I become more and more wise?

Thankfully, God provides pretty detailed instructions. In the Book of Sirach, for instance, wisdom is an oasis in the desert, a place of refreshment so beautiful, we want to stay:

Happy those who meditate on Wisdom, 
and fix their gaze on knowledge; 
Who ponder her ways in their heart, 
 and understand her paths; 
Who pursue her like a scout 
and watch at her entry way; 
Who peep through her windows, 
and listen at her doors; 
Who encamp near her house 
and fasten their tent pegs next to her walls; 
Who pitch their tent beside her, 
and dwell in a good place...

I love that line: "Pursue her like a scout." It makes me think of Hawkeye from The Last of the Mohicans. He tells the woman he loves, Alice, that despite his having to leave her, he will find her again, in the thick, nearly-impregnable land of the New World: You stay alive, no matter what occurs! I will find you. No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you . . . 

Can you imagine what saints we would be if we pursued God and His wisdom with such single-mindedness? What changes would we see in ourselves, our homes, our world, if we pursued wisdom like a scout, dwelt in her, absorbing wisdom into our very being?

Let us begin then: today, pursue wisdom. Look for wisdom and dwell there for a bit. Listen for it. Gaze upon wisdom.

A Tree is a Tree is a Tree

A few weeks back, we heard Jesus' parable about what makes a good tree . A good tree bears good fruit. I've heard this before, m...