Faith – Hope – Love

My bipolar collided with my OCD and caused the psychosis to take flight. It’s been a rough few days.

I had set myself the deadline to always post on Monday and Thursday. Because of who I am, (or is it better to say what I am?), I don’t ever miss deadlines.

Since I am never sure what each day will bring, I have tried to write a few blogs ahead and have them ready for the appointed day to publish. But last week we had a doctor appointment in Salt Lake, a family visit, another trip to Provo, and my self-imposed list of work around the house to validate my existence.

I worked ahead and was ready for Thursday. Whew, made it. All is well.

 

Now to get ready for Monday.

Nothing.

I crashed.

Continue reading Faith – Hope – Love

Why ask why?

It feels like the last few weeks have had an extra helping of heart breaking news stories reported. So much pain and suffering at the hands of others. It feels senseless.

I have been struck, however, on several of the stories at the difference between the reaction of the news reporters covering the story and of the actual people hurt the most by the horrific acts.

From the outside, looking in, we don’t have the same vantage point as those encircled by the fires of heartache.

Again and again, as has been the habit for millennia, the question is asked “Why?”

“Why did he shoot those people, people he had never met?”

“Why did she kill all of her babies and hide them in the garage?”

“Why did the fire start and get out of control so quickly, before they could get out?”

“Why did they leave a bomb to hurt so many strangers?”

“Why did the tornado come so quickly and destroy so much?”

And in the pain and grief that turns to anger so it doesn’t consume the sufferer, the question invariably turns to one final query:

“Why would God allow this to happen? Why would he let this happen to me?”

For many years I have had the thought process that it isn’t very productive or helpful to ask why in these circumstances. It just happened. It was horrible. Now, what do we need to do to move forward? How do we help each other to heal?

But, not surprisingly, I think I may have been a little shortsighted.

I always associated asking why with the need to find someone to blame. Somehow, if we knew who was really responsible then we could express righteous anger. Somehow it allowed the asker to make sure that he/she was in the right and in no way responsible for the tragedy.

There may be something to that. Certainly there are cases when those hurt by these situations were partly or fully responsible; just as there are cases when those hurt had nothing to do with it and are completely innocent.

Either way, I struggled to see how that helped people to move on and do what needed to be done.

I guess it matters why we are asking why and what we do with the answer we receive.

I go back to the news reports seen earlier this week and the differences noted between the interviewers and the interviewees.

The reporters were shocked and sickened at what they were reporting. They should be. We all should be.

But one report has stuck with me. It didn’t end with everyone feeling helpless and hopeless and angry and frustrated.

It actually left me feeling hopeful, like there was something I could do.

When closing up the interview, the reporter said “Please know that our hearts and prayers go out to you during this very difficult time.”

And the woman who had lost both her father and her son responded “Thank you for your prayers. We feel them and they are what are getting us through. Please keep praying.”

Instead of being angry with the God who had allowed this random act of insanity and evil to completely change her life forever, never to be the same again, she was clinging to the support she felt was coming in her greatest time of need. She asked the rest of us to soften our hearts as well and quietly kneel and petition for help, for healing, for love to fill the pain ravaged hearts.

And in this case I found myself asking “why.”

“Why does this woman demonstrate such composure?”

Why is she not filled with anger and venom at the man who took the lives of her family?”

“Why does she know that God is with her, and not against her?”

It’s the answers to these questions that ring true to me and bring peace to my soul in the middle of what could only be described as hell. I certainly understand the frustration of the crowd looking in, not understanding the senselessness.

But when I close my eyes and ask for help for them, for healing, for love, something within me changes. For a moment, I am invited inside the circle of fire and I get to see a close and personal view of her suffering. I expect her to be looking back out, desperate for help. But she is not. I change my view to match hers.

I look not outwardly at those looking in, but up.

I now see what she sees.

And I understand why.

When we ask “why” in the spirit of desperation, frustration, and anger, we generally keep asking until we find the answer we are looking for. But it can be a fruitless search because often there really is no “why.” Well, not a “why” that would satisfy our need to understand. No explanation would be enough.

When we ask “why” in the spirit of compassion, humility, and with a quietly broken heart, we inevitably look up. We may not understand any more than we did before we asked, but we remember that we are not alone.

And it is enough.

For now.

Years later, when we can look back without all the pain, more often than not we see the person we used to be.

It surprises us a little how different that person is from the one we have become.

And while we would never wish our experience or experiences on our worst enemy, we find that we need to swallow once or twice and may brush at the tear in the corner of our eye as we recognize what has happened to us since.

Why can we be made into better, stronger, happier people after going through unimaginable difficulty?

Because He can take senseless, random, hurtful acts and create a path out, a path that saves us from getting stuck there. Our faith is stronger than our fear. Our love is stronger than our anger. From the ashes we emerge as fine steel.

And we are a little more ready the next time the storms come.

O death, where is thy sting?

Ann and I just returned from attending the funeral of a wonderful, wonderful lady whom I have known for at least 35 years.

From the first encounter, it was obvious that this person was extraordinary. She didn’t just speak, she effused energy and enthusiasm.

I remember the story she shared with us at church about an experience she had walking through a cemetery. As she shared, I could tell that many people were feeling uncomfortable and raising their eyebrows. It was obvious by the look on their faces that they weren’t sure that this was appropriate.

But I was only about 10, so I wasn’t so concerned with what was and what wasn’t appropriate. I was able to just listen to her as she poured out her feelings.

I learned that she would go to the cemetery when she was discouraged and quietly walk among the headstones, stopping to read each one as she passed it. Soon she would find herself thinking about each individual person. She imagined that they must have been kind and loving because of the phrases that had been etched in stone about them.

After years of this, she had come to feel that she knew them. They became friends and examples. She could feel love and gratitude for the contribution they had made to their families, to their communities, and by extension, to the world.

And buoyed up, she could clear her mind of discouragement and was ready to again stand tall, choosing to continue with the same type of life, one that would make a difference.

And she did.

This wonderful, bright, happy, optimistic spirit was housed in a body that was stricken with multiple sclerosis. She had it for more than 40 years, so I never knew her without it. It was revelatory to me to look at pictures of her today in a cheerleading uniform, full of free movement and all the invincibility of youth.

But I realized that it was a perfect picture of her, for she had been cheering on those around her, everyone she met, her entire life. When I looked at her outstretched arms and immediately recognized the selfless expression on her face – she was just experiencing the joy of what the others were doing – I felt that was the Nancy I had always known.

Will always know.

Easter morning comes each year to quietly remind us of exactly that fact. It is not “Nancy was…”; it’s “Nancy is.”

This wonderful, sacred time is not so much a remembrance of the reality of death, as it is a bright, energetic, optimistic celebration of life.

It takes away the worry and panic about the day when others may reflect that “I was…” and gives me permission to find joy that “I am.”

“I am”, right now.

So are you.

Regardless of what any of us may profess from a pulpit or share passionately through expressed word, the truth is that we give every day of our lives for what we actually and honestly believe.

Our actions boldly declare where our thoughts and hearts lie.

What will I do today that will show what I truly believe?

What will you?

Will we slow down enough to really hear what someone says? To clearly see the hope in their eyes as they dare to express, dare to dream, dare to do? Will we cheer them on?

Nancy did.

No.

Nancy does.

Life is eternal and precious. After our experiences here we will go on. I’m sure that there are many different and wonderful things that we can go on to, but the real point is that we will go on.

We will continue.

So it’s time to start now to do the things that we would like to be in a position to keep doing.

The final speaker at the funeral today painted a wonderful scene that each of us immediately saw as clear and true. He helped us to see the bright, energetic, optimistic Nancy continuing on. I closed my eyes and saw her in her cheerleading uniform. Her jumps were high and her movements were strong as she glowed, awash in the joy of life.

The love that was at times contained by the confines of her bedridden body is now shining free and pure, lifting all around her. Perhaps in this lifetime she was slowed down by physical limitations; but in that housing her spirit soared and grew and she learned to fly.

I hope that the next generation will take the time to walk through the cemetery and stop to read Nancy’s headstone. I hope they will take the time to think, and listen, and feel, and get to know her as a friend and an example.

And I hope that each of us will find the way to not only move haltingly forward, but in our own way to learn how to fly.

Hiding the monster within: Who turns on the night light?

Today is one of those days when I am just trying to get through.

I feel like I should be able to take a deep breath and get going and get the things done on my list for the day. But the harder I try, the more I have to hold back the tears.

No, not tears.

Sobbing.

I feel like I am on the edge and it’s a pretty long fall. For some reason, hitting my head hard comes up as the most logical solution to the problem.

But of course, it doesn’t really help much. It just adds guilt that I’m not in better control.

Control. It’s all about control.

I can’t think clearly. My thoughts are like a water color painting that has liquid spilled on it – everything softly runs together and I can’t really tell one thought from another. This is unusual for me; I can usually run with many, many thoughts at the same time and I understand each one.

Or, at least I clearly distinguish each one.

But not now. Now they are far away. They are someone else’s thoughts. I find that faintly interesting.

My head is going to explode and I can’t really keep pushing, so I lie down on the bed and stare up at the light fixture.

I know the mental exercises to go through. What am I feeling right now? Are they real feelings or imagined? Listen to the real Greg to differentiate. Separate fact from fiction and hold on to reality.

I close my eyes and start the analysis.

I realize that I’m really not afraid anymore. I’ve gone through that list so many times and internalized the solutions in place for potential problems that I find it hard to listen to the fear message when it gets sent.

Even though the emotion for sadness is there, I don’t feel sad. No, it’s almost more of a slightly amused detachment. I’m on the outside looking in. It almost seems silly that this person would just be lying on the bed in the middle of the day when there is so much to do.

My usual friend, anxiety, isn’t there either. I don’t feel anxious about not getting the things done that I need to. That’s a bit unusual. I must be making progress. It is good not to be worried about something. Well, about anything really.

And there it is.

I realize that I just don’t care if I ever get up off the bed again. Everything is far away. I am far away. But I don’t know where, because my thoughts have now been hit with a burst of rain and all the muted colors are becoming one; yet separating into millions more at the same time.

Just close my eyes, and slip away. Sleep. I don’t even care if I ever wake up.

Should there be alarm bells going off at this point?

If you ask me, not really. What could be so wrong?

And that may be the reason that after bad things happen and mental illness is discovered, we so often hear: “I didn’t see any warning signs. They seemed to be doing all right to me.”

You see, mental illness has been such a part of us for so long that we stop being surprised by it, or scared by it, or even able to keep feeling as we work our way through it.

And if no one is really watching…

Then there is another tragedy to report on the evening news.

But I am determined that I will never be one of those stories. In my case, someone is watching. In fact, there are several someones.

I don’t really enjoy it, but each night when Ann comes home she gets out a little calendar book and we talk about how I felt during the day.

And she keeps track.

So when I hit the euphoric points when EVERYTHING is AMAZING and I can’t really remember things being tough, we know that, in fact, just yesterday things were actually hard for me.

And when, in my mind, I don’t see the point of the medication, especially because I don’t like the way that it feels and I ache to just be “me” again, Ann quietly opens the book and I can see for myself.

And I close my eyes and I work again at separating the fact from the fiction, and I hold on to reality.

Isn’t that what we all need? An anchor to secure our line to so that when we each begin to drift a little, we don’t get lost in the tide and find ourselves somewhere completely different than where we set out to be?

What are your anchors?

Just as important, what are the anchors your family and close friends are using? Do you know they have them? Do they?

Part of what keeps me focusing so hard on reality and working to keep feeling is my understanding that my anchors need anchors. And I have the great privilege of being one.

So I open my eyes and focus on the light fixture. I analyze if the best course is a short nap to refresh my body or if I need to get up now and fight a little harder. I roll myself off the bed and hit the floor on all fours and begin my prayer of gratitude for all I have and all I am a part of.

I stand up.

I make the bed and I move on.

I’m ready when Ann comes home to have our conversation about how my day went. Because, you see, we will also talk about how her day went.

And she knows that I’m watching her right back.

Everyone needs an anchor; and everyone needs to be an anchor. Together we stay secure through the storms.

Confident Humility: An oxymoron or the recipe for strength?

I received a wonderful and kind message from someone I haven’t heard from or known anything about for 25 years. I find it inconceivable to be able to say that I am old enough to have not seen someone for that long. Aren’t I still about 25? Well, maybe 30 at most.

John was the force of energy and enthusiasm behind a performing group I had the chance to be a part of in college. It was electrifying for me. I had always wanted to sing and dance and perform, but was too shy and afraid. For the first time in my life I was stepping forward and working with others who knew so much more than I did and doing something that I loved. It scared me to death and for the first few weeks I was physically sick before going in to the early, early morning rehearsals.

But everyone kind of took me in and taught me what they knew and soon we were learning together. I felt like we would be more than friends, we would be family all our lives. They had had such a significant impact on me and my vision of myself.

Of course, things change. People graduate, get married, go to post graduate studies, and move on with their lives. I wouldn’t have wanted it to be any other way for any of them. They deserve every opportunity and possibility that life has to offer.

I noticed though, that not only had my situation changed, but I had changed. I now had the courage to do difficult things in front of other people. This was an important part of my college education because it went with me into my career. I could now travel to different parts of the country and learn, teach, train, and create.

While doing this I crossed paths with some pretty incredible people. Again, I thought that we would be more than friends, we would be family all our lives. My vision of myself continued to take shape and I dared to dream.

But as the dream got bigger, my ability to keep the symptoms of mental illness in check diminished. The confident Greg who learned that he could do scary things and make big decisions was there some days; others, however, the young and inexperienced Greg seemed to come back. Things were scary again.

The dream, of necessity, had to get smaller.

And smaller.

And smaller.

This journey through mental illness has changed me, changed who I used to be. For a while I thought that it was robbing me of who I was meant to be. You see, I felt I was headed to be quite a mover and a shaker, someone who was doing big things for a big salary.

I was going to make a difference.

It was a pretty hard blow to accept when Ann and I made the decision that it was time to leave the workforce before I did something pretty terrible and got fired, or hurt someone, or just gave up and ended it all.

I think it was safe to say that the Greg who could get up on stage and sing and dance and perform and absolutely love the thrill of it all wasn’t there anymore.

The confidence was gone.

Being the question asker that I am, I wondered, where does confidence come from?

Had I based it in a series of accolades and positive reinforcement from others? I think those things always help build someone up and lets them know that they indeed can do something hard.

But if you can’t do those things anymore, then what?

As we approach the Easter season, our minds are drawn to the One who lived a life of complete success. He never failed at anything. If anyone deserves to be raised up on a pedestal and revered, it is He.

To have that kind of confidence, that surety of direction, that ability to conquer fear would make one powerful beyond description. Certainly, we have witnessed many who have attempted to duplicate that kind of record of never getting it wrong.

But in the process, haven’t they ended up getting the things that matter the most, terribly, terribly wrong?

Maybe the secret isn’t in being bigger and bigger and better and better. Those who are larger than life don’t really have any advantage over the one who quietly supports and makes sure that things are cleaned up and taken care of after the lights are turned off.

“I have come to do the will of the Father.”

“Not my will, Lord, but Thine be done.”

Even the person who only attends a worship service on a yearly basis knows these verses.

We know the verses, but do we know what they mean?

I think they mean that the secret isn’t really a secret.

Yes, my life is completely different than it was planned to be. I would bet that yours is too. It happens to most of us.

And in the end, aren’t we grateful that it is?

Some days it is still too hard to dare to dream. I’m learning how to get through those.

But some days, I begin again. I feel like that young college student driving through the cold early mornings to rehearsal , a little sick, a little afraid, but heading toward it nonetheless.

Because this time through, I get to take all my learned experiences and memories with me. Who I am is a wonderful mosaic made of countless interactions, inspirations, successes and failures.

hold-my-hand

And knowing that I failed and succeeded and will most likely fail again, I reach out and take the offered Hand, the Hand that was always there but I somehow missed before in my excitement and enthusiasm.

We have become more than friends, I know that we will be family all our lives. My vision of myself is clearer now than it has ever been.

This is who I am meant to be. I want my will to match His. I want to do the things that He would have me do.

Now I am quietly confident in the new and better dream, and I am humbly grateful for it.