Joy Changes Chaos

The call was incomplete. The perfectly executed pass spiraled into the hands of the receiver and then tumbled to the ground. It was a beautiful play, but the receiver couldn’t manage to pull the ball in tight enough before being pummeled by the defense. That’s how I feel about last weekGood News of Great Joy to ALL People’s post, Scary Angels and Un-Stable Christmas Cheer.

The emotional roller coaster happening in the lives of everyone involved in the Christmas story did occur. I have no doubt. One small element needs to be developed  however, for it to be the play of a lifetime. We must understand that joy changes chaos.

The fear, anxiety, worry, depression, and grief that waxed and waned throughout the nativity narrative was regularly interrupted by good news of great joy. Not once did the pronouncement of joy alter the reality of chaos, but it did change the experience of every troublesome emotion.

Bored shepherds suddenly terrified by angelic greetings were offered good news of great joy and their chaos became worship. Joseph, confused and broken by what seemed like marital infidelity, experienced life change when offered good news of great joy. Mary’s questions weren’t answered, but each day, affected by joy, her chaos included more bouts with wonder and delight than fear and confusion.

Anyone in the midst of chaos right now? All of us can affirm this is true as we live in the aftermath of Eden. How can we find support in the noise our minds create? It begins in the greatest news of extravagant joy that came with the birth of Christ. 

God came as a human not to hate us, label us, or even judge us. He came to save us; to reestablish the possibility of relationship with God. That’s good news of great joy that was announced for all people. 

So now, let’s surrender to that joy. Let’s see anxiety lessen knowing Christ is in control, and His desire is for our good. Let’s feel depression lift a little because Someone does know the depth of our heartache and loves us without question. And our grief, it can heal a bit more as the One Who bore our Sorrows takes on the load of our loss.

The roller coaster of chaos that we ride is one supported and guided by good news of great joy. And He is Christ the Lord. Yes, the pass is complete now. Good game!

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Scary Angels and Un-Stable Christmas Cheer

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How cool it would be to have a button that placed grief, depression, and anxiety on hold for the holiday season. The trouble with that thinking is that it assumes the original Christmas story was all good news and great joy, and that we are somehow supposed to experience two weeks of consistent happiness as a measure of mental success. Good news and joy were aspects of the first Christmas but not the overall normative mood. Given the circumstances, I don’t think a stable mood state (pardon the pun) would have been possible. 

The Christmas account found in the biblical book of Luke tells us that an angel of God appeared to the virgin Mary who was engaged to be married to Joseph. Engagement probably equaled joy. In a flash however, the angel comes, and joy becomes subordinate to fear. 

Luke tells us that Mary was afraid and immediately began thinking. He doesn’t say what she was thinking, but if God sent me his top angelic emissary I would be thinking, What have I done wrong? God must have heard that thought, that dream, those words. Every cognitive distortion in the book would become a part of my mental checklist. My life is over. I didn’t pray yesterday so God is here to punish me. I bet Joseph is up to no good. I’ll never get married. Enter anxiety, and the roller coaster of moods require us to buckle the seat belt and hold on. Prepare to be jostled in spirit and mind.

Mary is then told she would be pregnant. Baby equals joy, correct? Baby in days still calculated in terms of B.C. without a husband equals terror, loss of reputation, and most likely loss of groom. How in the world can I care for a baby? What will everyone think? I’m doomed. Aww, a baby. How sweet, I’m going to be a Mama. Oh my stars, I’m going to be a Mama! Can you hear the swirl of obsessive thinking?

But it’s Christmas, right? Things begin to work out. Joseph gets on board when an angel helps him understand his role in the drama, and joy creeps into this story of good news. All is well in heart and soul.

Then a government decree is issued, and everyone must return to their home of origin to be taxed. Good news and great joy? Hardly. The mood crashes again. Now add frustration over travel plans, anger over the oppression of taxes, and the shame of poverty. The family must find a donkey and gather supplies for a several day trip that includes a very pregnant young lady. 

The ups and downs continue even until now. As I experience a gamut of emotions this Christmas, I can smile as each change in mood reflects an aspect of the truest telling of the Christmas story. When the world tries to force the season into tinsel and mistletoe. . . . RELAX! 

The real experience of Christmas, both then and now, include:

  • face time with God, 
  • connection with others regardless of the mood state, and
  • faith that this long expected Jesus will one day say, “Peace, be still,” and our emotional pain, mood swings, grief, and over-reactions will respond without question. 

So, Merry Christmas! And may you know that the Babe Who came into a swirl of mental turmoil will one day return to create a stable place of peace, both external and internal.

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A Flash of Christmas Panic

Our daughter called with serious Christmas questions. When is everyone coming? What are we going to eat? Where will we all sleep? Where are all the stockings? Anxiety began to increase as I tried to calm what felt like Christmas panic. “Mom,” she said. “I’m not anxious. I just can’t wait!” In four words, Christmas arrived. 

IMG_2248.jpgIn a moment I remembered her 4-yr-old self, along with her sister and brother, as they danced through the house on Christmas morning to wake up the sleepy parents. They couldn’t wait then and they still can’t wait. Somewhere along the way, I fell into that role of sleepy parent and have too often remained there—until now. 

I remember the giddy joy of anticipation that used to bubble up in my own heart as Christmas neared. Flashes of disheveled hair, warm jammies, and enormous glowing tree lights dash through my mind, and I’m frozen in my stocking feet. Tomorrow I get to see our daughters. Saturday the rest of the family arrives. Sunday we celebrate Christmas and spend the afternoon hiking up Crowders Mountain. I’m so excited I can hardly breathe! 

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Of Life and Loss, Part Two

Loss demands attention. Just yesterday I was busy making fajitas in the kitchen and listening to Christmas music when the strong arm of loss pinned me to the wall. Tears came unbidden, mixed with anger over what was. What had been whimsical holiday carols turned IMG_3336.JPGto mourning. The faces wouldn’t leave—little ones harmed, older ones trafficked, and all of us broken in this outside of Eden world in which we live. But a door appeared. A doorway of remembrance.

I remembered Rahel, Harag, and Meskerem. These glorious women, once prostituted in a foreign country, now dance with their Creator. Loss? Yes. Life? Also, yes. Rahel taught our children the rhythms of African drumbeats on a paint can in our back yard. Harag’s smile and passion for other women suffering abuses of the sex trade filled me with humility and fond memories. I then remembered speaking to a group gathered at Meskerem’s house before I left Africa. Rain tapped its song on the aluminum roof, and by candlelight I spoke of my heart for our Savior-the Light of the World. What a night.

Although I left Africa-a loss indeed, that place of community, spice, and warm embrace never left me. I boarded an airplane bound for Tennessee because I was pregnant with twins. Suddenly, loss is filled with newness and life. 

Things are never the same after a loss. Don’t let anyone convince you that one day you will “get over it” and settle back into whatever status quo existed before. Loss, simply labeled, is the death of normal. How grateful I am that there can, however, be a new normal filled with light and hope.

The new normal might also be hard to maneuver. When we abandon ourselves to beauty  and lose all thought of loss, the slightest scent, sound, or word, can send us spiraling into the valley of the shadow of death. Thus, we find ourselves holding back. To live with abandon is to risk the doorway to loss. The two are partners in this world. Loss will find us. Let’s live anyway.

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Of Life and Loss, Part One

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Life and loss are inseparable partners. The holidays now are without our mother who started planning for them each year in June. Our kids live in another state, so Christmas decorating was lifeless this season. A massive winter storm is moving around us. Snow is expected to fall everywhere, except the very wet Tennessee valley. I love snow, but live in a little pocket of winter loss.

Our losses are profound. When we rise each day, we might realize there is no significant other to do life with; or find we are still facing the loss of health that plagued us yesterday; maybe there are no children with whom we can dance and play, and we find the light of hope is missing. 

For some, we rise to silence where once there was joy; a parent, spouse, or child is no longer with us. And we grieve. How can we ever begin to imagine again, much less imagine life?

There is no predetermined, professionally-sanctioned way to grieve. Many techniques help us get emotionally unstuck, but grief is unique to every individual. We may express our loss by thinking and analyzing, feeling and crying, or even laughing. Some of us may want to talk and tell stories over and over again. I tend toward humor or move into silence. Still others work to find meaning. If we have known something or someone for 20+ years, why are we expected to move on one week after the loss? Maybe we’ve known them for a very short time but our experience together was deep. What then?

When losses are amplified, there is a doorway into life. At just the right time it will appear. The little doorway that cracks open is one of remembrance. As we feel loss, we remember. What do we remember? Life.

We recall the fun or the beauty that filled our days when we held our beloved warm and close. Each second of mindfulness becomes precious. As we grieve this holiday season, my prayer is that we can become intentional and present with our memories, and begin to see the life that remains around us. Life never really leaves. It moves in the darkness with us, in memories, meaning, and in hope. We must not be afraid to grieve. And we must not be afraid to live.

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Who’s Your Tribe?

I didn’t know I needed a tribe. Somewhere inside I guess I did. It’s a core desire for humans. When God placed His image in us, and particularly, placed eternity in our hearts, He instilled an irrefutable desire to be part of a tribe. We need each other. 

Part of my journey through this next stage of life included meeting with a registered dietician (RD). So earlier this week, I enjoyed a silent drive to Chattanooga to an eclectic sort of neighborhood. It was a cross between indie-culture, coffee-shop folk, southern family, and the ghetto. Five minutes into our appointment, the RD made me cry. Those who know me, know that I don’t cry much or well. Those who know me best, know that I’m a crier to the core of my being. This professional’s concluding recommendations included finding a tribe. She crossed a line. 

For most of my life, I have staunchly held a belief that I don’t need others. I don’t need a tribe. Labels I have long owned seem to have allowed me to pull away and wallow in my oddities, my brokenness. My tribe, I surmised, would have to include people:

-who are hopelessly unable to participate in small talk

-who can handle intense, long conversations

-who can drink a boat load of coffee

-who can bounce from one idea to the next covering at least a million different topics

-who can, who can.

Wait. I’ve labeled even the definition and function of tribe. Let’s peel that label up a bit. A tribe, simply labeled, is a human social group. We are human. We are social in one way or another. My tribe grows deep as I allow others to experience me as is, no warranty, no thirty day money back guarantee. I’ve had a tribe all along, I just don’t engage with it.

My tribe is you. With no expectations or judgments, if we meet, you are my tribe. Christian or not, married or not, straight or not, like me or not, we’re in this together, and the labels need to drop so we can experience and explore the creative diversity of compassion, of authentic life in the tribe.

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A Residue That Remains

Every Thanksgiving for many years we have played Taboo. This is a high-energy game where the volume gets turned up and only the relationally closest partners win, usually siblings in our family. The more you know about your game partner the better. This year I looked over the shoulder of my daughter as she began to describe her designated word. “Our whole family has this!”  she shouted. That was her clue. Her word was depression. We are still laughing about that one, sort of.

Labels get tossed around so much. This one in particular feels accurate. It seems to come in a one-size-fits-many variety. The trouble with labels is that they stick. Ever try to get one off your hardwood floor? The residue that remains collects dirt and actually becomes a new label, most often dirtier than the one before. 

As we look at the courageous task of examining our labels and beginning to peel them up a bit, even remove them, we must be aware of the residue. Depression can cover some pretty nasty secrets: trauma, failure, and shame. Peeling one label alone is not enough. Patience and compassion directed toward ourselves is needed as we look at each label and honor its place in our story.

Depression is far more than a label. Please don’t hear me further stigmatize what is already a disorder forced to lurk too long in private closets. What I am saying is that we tend to refer to depression as mine, my depression. That is when labels are affixed. We may struggle with the depression, but it is not who we are. 

Several years ago I learned that olive oil removes adhesive residue from floors. And it works. I find it interesting that gently anointing the residue with oil creates a clean surface. A healing oil of compassion, kindness, prayer, mindfulness, and attention causes the dirtiest parts of our sticky, label-gathering tendencies to dissolve and allow us to come to life again. So labels might help us win a Thanksgiving game, but they don’t have to be what defines who we are and what we are meant to become. 

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