Bearing Each Other’s Burdens

I was honored, and a little (okay a lot!) nervous to be invited as the featured speaker at Atascadero United Methodist Church as part of their annual Mental Health Awareness Sunday. The key word to me in that sentence is “annual”…..every year for the past few years they have set aside one Sunday in the month of May to shine a light on fact that mental illness is widespread and that we all need to do out part to break down the stigma that continues to persist. In a world where most people are still to frightened by the thought of mental illness to really begin to understand mental illness, this congregation is actively searching for understanding and for ways to turn that understanding into action.

I am not an expert. I am a mother with a story to tell. A story that I tell because I know there is great power in giving names to the things that feel frightening. A story that I hope helps to break down the stigma surrounding childhood and adolescent mental illness. A story that I know touched the hearts and minds of the people at Atascadero UMC this past weekend.

Take a look, and see if perhaps that story touches you as well…Bearing Each Other’s Burdens – Atascadero UMC; May 7, 2017

Love, Faith, and Anxiety

Maundy Thursday is the day that Christians commemorate the gathering of Jesus and his disciples for the Last Supper. Maundy comes from the Latin word mandatum, meaning commandment, in reference to Jesus’ teachings about a new commandment. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John. 13:34-35, NRSV). That piece of scripture, and it’s message,  has been woven into my life for as long as I can remember, but last night I felt those words in a way I had never experienced them before.

I’ve written before about the internal struggle my son wages between his love for God and church, and his inability to be in large groups of people. After a year on medication to ease his anxiety, he is generally good on Sunday mornings – he knows what to expect, can position himself in the sanctuary in a way that offers an unobstructed escape route, and has figured out how to entirely avoid the over-peopled parts of church. He has found a balance that allows him to participate in worship and fellowship, without being too overwhelming.

But every now and then, he finds himself in a situation at church that is outside of his comfort zone.  With the decrease in predictability comes an increase in the potential for anxiety or a panic attack. Such was the case last night as we observed Maundy Thursday.

He was trying so hard to stay in control. I could see it and I could feel it in his tense body seated next to me. But shortly after we were seated – in a sanctuary that was darker than he is accustomed to, in a seating arrangement completely different from on a Sunday morning, in a worship service filled with heart wrenching words and haunting music – he realized he was not in control. And his chosen means of attempting to hold off the panic attack was to bury his head in my lap and squeeze his eyes tightly shut.

So it was that I found my sweet boy – who is almost as big as me – curled into my lap as the words of this Taize chant washed over us both…”Nothing can trouble. Nothing can frighten. Those who seek God shall never go wanting. God alone fills us.” Over and over I heard and sang those words which were simultaneously heart breaking and soul filling. My heart broke for Jesus, for the world at large and for my son – as I sat holding my son, I felt my heart-break wide open.

The message of Maundy Thursday is love. Love in its purest form. Love for one another. Love in action. And while I am still reeling from the pain of last night, in the light of this day I know that above all else it is our collective love and faith that will see my son through this world.

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I Believe in Santa Claus

I adore Christmas. To me, Christmas has the ability to bring out the best in people. Christmas  is equal parts magic, wonder, joy and love – all things this world could use more of on regular basis. The stories of both the birth of Jesus and of Santa Claus fill my heart and my soul.  I love the decorations, the special traditions at church and home, the choosing, wrapping and giving of gifts, the tastes and the smells. But most of all, I love the music of Advent and Christmas – the church carols, the traditional secular songs, the modern versions of traditional songs, the corny and sappy songs made famous in Christmas cartoons. I love all of it.

Growing up, my mom had a “rule” about when it was acceptable to  pull out and start listening to the family collection of Christmas music. The record albums and tapes (first 8-tracks and then cassettes!) were off limits until the day after Thanksgiving. But once we reached that magical day after Thanksgiving, it was pretty much all Christmas music all the time. This “rule” has stuck with me through life, and for the most part I still follow it today. I adore Christmas music, but it loses it’s magic when you listen to it too far ahead of the season!

My “favorites” have changed over the years. While I still appreciate and enjoy almost any version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town or The First Noel and , my favorite albums tend to change from year to year and are somewhat reflective of how life has shaped me over the course of a given year. Right now I have an eclectic mix of Christmas albums that I’m listening to in heavy rotation – Vince Guaraldi Trio, Rend Collective, Jewel, Francesca Battistelli , Straight No Chaser, Lady Antebellum, and Pentatonix have been playing on my phone in the car and in my office pretty much nonstop. There’s some really amazing stuff on these albums – some that is soul stirring and some that is just joyful and fun to belt out in the car.

While those have been my go to albums this season, there were a couple of times this past week when I got in the car, tuned to one of the Christmas stations on the XM radio, and was greeted by an oldie but goodie from my childhood. It is a song I hadn’t thought about in years, but was one in my mom’s frequent rotation for a good part of the ’80s & ’90s.

That song is “I Believe in Santa Claus” written by Kenny Rogers, and recorded by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton in 1984.

The first time I heard it on the radio this week, it brought back a flood of childhood Christmas memories. It was warm and fuzzy and lovely. The second time I heard it on the radio this week, I really listened to the lyrics and was blown away by the fact that the lyrics speak to not just what I love about Christmas, but also about what I fundamentally believe in as a person.

I am particularly struck by the last verse of the song:

I believe in viewing life
As a journey that we’re on
And looking at our troubles
As another stepping stone.

And I believe that everything
That it is what it’s meant to be
I believe there is a God somewhere
Although he’s hard to see.

I believe I am so therefore
I should do all that I can
To be a better piece
In the puzzle of God’s plan.

And I believe in Santa Claus
I believe in Santa Claus
I believe there’s always hope
When all seems lost.
I believe in Santa Claus.

So very much YES! These lyrics capture what I love about Christmas. The words inspire  magic, wonder, joy and love. But they go deeper than that. The lyrics also capture the essence of how I view the world, how I try to live in the world and how I hope to inspire my kids to live in the world as well.

I do believe that we can reap the most good out of the bumpiest parts of our life journey. I do believe that everything happens for a reason. I do believe that God is everywhere and in everyone (although I don’t agree with the premise in the lyrics that God is hard to see – He really is everywhere if you just look for Him). I do believe that we all have an obligation to go out and do all the good we possibly can in our own way each and every day. I do believe there’s always hope. Kenny Rogers was spot on with these lyrics.

I do believe in Santa Claus!

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Standing at the “Gates of Hope”

“Hope.” By Victoria Safford.

Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope—
Not the prudent gates of Optimism,
Which are somewhat narrower.
Not the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense;
Nor the strident gates of Self-Righteousness,
Which creak on shrill and angry hinges
Nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of
“Everything is gonna’ be all right.”
But a different, sometimes lonely place,
The place of truth-telling,
About your own soul first of all and its condition.
The place of resistance and defiance,
The piece of ground from which you see the world
Both as it is and as it could be
As it will be;
The place from which you glimpse not only struggle,
But the joy of the struggle.
And we stand there, all of us, beckoning and calling,
Telling people what we are seeing
Asking people what they see.

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Once Upon A Time…

growing_upOnce upon a time, there was a 10 month old baby boy who took his first assisted steps up and down the aisle of a church during Vacation Bible School week. The hands he held were those of a sweet little girl who would grow up to be one of his favorite baby sitters, as his mother was busy teaching music to the other children.

Once upon a time, there was a not quite 3 year old boy, who splashed in the water left over from VBS games along side the other toddlers of the church and left a permanent dent in his forehead when he collided with a pew.

Once upon a time there was a not quite 4 year old boy who finally got to be with the “big kids” during VBS. He decided he was “too hot” during a music performance for family, and started to strip naked in front of everybody. All while his mother looked on helplessly since she was in the midst of directing the musical efforts of all the other children.

Once upon a time, there was a preschooler, who grew to become a young elementary aged boy. This was a boy who loved VBS and looked forward to the week every year. This was a boy who excitedly waited for the day his parents would add the latest round of VBS music to his iPod.

Once upon a time there was a 9 year old boy, who still loved VBS, but no longer loved being around people. He spent all day every day begging his mother to let him leave, but his mother was in charge and so he was “stuck”.

And now there is no more once upon a time.

Now we are in the here and now. Now there is an almost 11 year old, teetering between childhood and adolescence. Now we are in our current reality, where so many safe places, and loved activities have been stolen and buried under the weight of anxiety, panic & depression. Now we are halfway through a summer where that boy has only been able to attend one week of day camp, because the world is still more than the can handle most days. And now we are halfway through VBS week.

We’re halfway through VBS week, and my son has been there as a helper every day. Three days in and he’s doing great. He’s not the best helper ever, but he’s doing the best he can and the adult he is helping understands his situation and is doing everything she can to help him have a successful week. He is doing such a good job of avoiding the large crowds of kids and adults at the opening and closing times, that one adult I spoke to today didn’t even realize he’d been there all week. But he’s there, and he’s enjoying being there.

I am confident that as recently as two weeks ago, he would not have been managing as well as he is this week. With every day that passes, I am beginning to see that the current combination of medications may actually be doing the job they are supposed to be doing. The hard edges are softer and the things that trigger him are fewer. I have seen glimpses of joy, and laughter, and peace in my boy this week. I have seen glimpses of that that boy who once loved VBS more than any kid I have ever met.

Once upon a time there was a boy who grew up in a church, and loved everything and everybody inside that building. Once upon another time, the darkness of anxiety, panic, and depression made that church and it’s people feel unsafe to that boy. Once upon another time, with the help of his family, that boy fought back and reclaimed the joy the church once gave him. I know we’re not anywhere close to a happily ever after, but seeing my son smile again as I work through VBS has been an amazing blessing.

The Story Behind We’re All A Little Broken

Why is the name of my blog We’re All A Little Broken?

Until recently, I was crediting the title to something my husband said to me in the middle of a particularly emotional conversation about our son’s struggles. “We’re all broken.” I remember thinking at the time how wise and true that statement was. We are all broken, each of us in our own way. And the thought stuck, and eventually it became the title of the blog.

As wise as those words are, and as wise as my husband is, I realized recently that he actually borrowed the words from the equally wise Jon Bon Jovi. There is a song on Bon Jovi’s Lost Highway album called Everybody’s Broken. The chorus goes like this:

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It’s okay to be a little broken
Everybody’s broken in this life
It’s okay to feel a little broken
Everybody’s broken, you’re alright
It’s just life

 

That’s JBJ’s take. This is mine:

We’re all a little broken – and we have love and faith and stubborn streaks that get us through when the days get hard.design-5

We’re all a little broken – and we can still laugh.

We’re all a little broken – and we will get through together.

We’re all a little broken…

Somehow life gets just a little bit easier when you embrace your broken-ness. So acknowledge it! Embrace it! Name it! And enjoy a little Bon Jovi on your journey…Everybody’s Broken

It Might Be Time for a Dream Catcher

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When I was 11, my grandfather had a brain aneurysm rupture. He was hospitalized for days before he died. The entire time he was in the hospital, I had a horrible dream each night that a masked man with a gun was threatening to shoot every person in my extended family. That dream was my adolescent brain’s way of dealing with the intense emotions surrounding the loss of a loved one. Eventually there was a night where I did not dream that dream.

When I was 26, I was stopped at a stop sign in a shopping center parking lot and a man on a bike rode right into the front of my car. Then he picked up that bike and threw it through the windshield of my car, came around to the driver’s side and began threatening me. Bystanders had to physically pull him away from me. Following that incident, I had intense, dark and really frightening dreams that were a byproduct of PTSD. Eventually there was a night where those dreams did not come.

Recently, I have been having dreams where my son is somehow not safe and as hard as I try I am not able to protect him from a threat (sometimes he has been taken away and I don’t know where he is, sometimes there is somebody trying to hurt him and I can’t get him to safety). These dreams are clearly a result of the fear I feel when I send him out into the world each day. Every morning, I take a deep breath, put on my brave face, send him out into the world, and then spend the rest of the day praying he makes it through without a panic attack or an anxiety fueled angry outburst. Some days are fine, some days are awful. There is no way of really knowing which way any day will go. So every night, I lay in bed and pray that the next day will be one of the good days, that the next dosage increase to his anxiety medication will be the one that works, that the next psychologist appointment will be the one where my son finally decides to talk about what he is feeling, that, that, that….

And eventually I sleep.

I know that eventually there will be a night when those dreams will not come. Eventually.

In the meantime, it may be time to hang a dream catcher in our room to help me hang onto the good dreams.