Seeing the Positive Space

Unknown-2As an artist, you are taught to use contrasting colors to define your positive and negative space within a work.  Normally, you want to highlight the focus of the piece and shade the non-focal areas.  You want to draw attention to the positive.  I realize artwork is not always positive in the way of subject matter.  That is not exactly what I am talking about.  I am talking about the area to which your eye is drawn.  In the picture to the left, there are two images, one in negative space in one in the positive.  Do you naturally see one before the other?  Usually it is the positive space.  But the same is not true when I think of myself.

My husband and I were having a conversation while sitting on the couch yesterday morning.  I mentioned some things I was struggling with emotionally.  It seems I have had many struggles lately.  Nothing overwhelming, just many small things that make my mind whirl.  Specifically, I was talking about a hearing test I had recently that revealed I have low-frequency hearing loss.  I guess my husband had had enough of my whining because he said, “Holly, I want you to think about something.  You are letting all these negative things define you–whether it is your bipolar disorder or hearing loss or whatever else is wrong.  I want you to think of the good things about yourself and let them define you.”

I was suddenly fighting back tears.  The sad truth:  I couldn’t think of anything positive about myself that defined me.  I feel like I fall short on everything.  I feel like I am failing my children because I don’t spend enough constructive time with them.  I feel like I fail as a housekeeper because there is usually enough dust on my ceiling fans to plant corn.  I fail as an artist because I have no time to invest.  The same goes for being a writer.  Other than knowing I am God’s Child, Redeemed, I can think of nothing.

This is something I desperately need to work on.  I don’t have a resolution or a happy how-to ending for this blog post.  Rather, I want to ask you, “What positive things define you?”

Helping Others. . . Is It Really Help?

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I haven’t blogged in a long while.  But on this early morning, I am troubled.  I am troubled because I am someone who cares about others.  The troubling part is  telling the difference between helping someone and rescuing someone.  You see, if you help someone, then they should learn to do for themselves.  But when you rescue someone, they do not always understand the gravity of the rescue or how to change the behavior which landed them in trouble in the first place.  I am thinking in particular about a friend I have.  She is so emotionally broken right now and therefore not functioning very well in society.  I think back to the time when I was so very broken, and wanted someone to rescue me.  In the end, there were some things I had to learn and believe in.  It was an excruciating process.  I don’t think anyone could have sped that up for me.  

Let me be more specific.  One of my friends is homeless.  She has off and on for the past 6 years.  As Christians, or just someone who cares about humanity, we think, “Give her a place to live, get her back on her feet, some sort of job with an income and her life will start falling into place.”  I have learned that problems go so much deeper than the physical problems of homelessness.  The problem is being broken–downright shattered.  The problem is believing that you are not worthy of a home, love, or the happiness that this world offers.  How do you fix that?  

I am not sure that you can fix that.  Learning to accept love is a process that you must learn to believe on your own.  No one can gift you “learned to accept love.”  No one can make you accept love or make you believe you are worthy of love.  That is a journey one has to make by themselves.  They may even know intellectually that they should receive what life has to offer, but emotionally they just can not.  This is the position my friend finds herself– believing she is worthy of nothing.  That could not be farther than the truth.  

We can clothe her, give her food and shelter, but that does not fix the problem.  People have stepped up and really tried to mentor her and meet her needs.  And it looks good on paper for a few weeks.  But the cycle repeats itself because she has not learned to accept love.  Her emotional needs are more than I can fix.  It will take the Great Physician’s touch before she learns to accept love.  

So then, how do I help her and others like her?  For now, I can only meet a few of her needs: a few physical items and to walk along side of her whispering words of encouragement, truth and love.  She does not know it, but she has already touched so many lives with her story.  If she were to disappear (which I don’t want her to do), her legacy would live on because she has left a fingerprint on society–she is that important that God uses her, and by using her, is trying to get her to see He loves her.  Oh, sweet one, do you not realize you are radically loved  or believe in the words of Jer. 29?  God whispers love to you, yes you.  

 

 

Passing it on; Memories of my Father

I often forget.  I need a heavy piece of furniture moved, or have a question about a new rattle in my car.  And then I remember.  I can’t ask him.  He is no longer with us.  My father passed four years ago today after a long, hard battle with lung cancer.  Fresh tears flow as I begin this blog.  It is not the entry that I thought would be next, but when I got up early and grabbed the coffee cup with the nature scene with of a deer etched on the outside that was once his, I knew it was time to write about it.  It perplexes me how four years can go by and yet his presence seems just a phone call away, except, I can’t.

I would probably label myself a daddy’s girl.  I grew up with him toting me across fields and pitching me across the creeks as he took me along on his hunting trip.  We never caught much on those trips.  Mainly because I was too noisy and had too many questions.  We would often be in the forrest early.  The sun would rise over the Harpeth river and bring in an early morning fog as the sun’s rays hit the water.

We shared a love of fishing and he taught me how to watch the swirl of the water for where the best chances of catching something were.  He taught me how to look at the dirt for signs of worms.  My job as a child was to break open the big clods of dirt and find the worms as he would chunk up big clods with one swing from a grubbing hoe.

For a birthday one year, he bought me a .22 rifle.  I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but I was still playing with “My Little Ponies” so I must have been around 11 or so.  He taught me to aim, hold my breath and pull the trigger.  I practiced on a thick cedar fence post until the post fell over.  At that point, he thought I was ready to hunt.  I am probably only one of a handful of women who can field-dress and butcher a deer.  I don’t, but I know how if I had to.

When Gillian and Katherine were little he ingrained in them a respect for the circle of life by accidentally having ducks at the same time he was hatching out salamander eggs.  Those were some well fed ducks.

Although I weep for time with him I no longer have, I am grateful for the love of nature I am now hopefully passing on to my own children.

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Asking for Help

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A few weeks ago my husband and I were sitting in couples’ therapy when I confessed how hard it is for me to ask for help.  “Why is it that you can’t ask for help?  What do you think would happen?” our therapist inquired of me.

She was hitting a deeply sensitive spot and my face twisted up.  I felt my face getting hot as I fought back the response, “Because if I have to ask for help, then I am failing,”  the response tumbled out.

The truth is I hate asking for help.  I am a mom of four with a pile of Mt. Saint Laundry that actually has its own altitude and climate changes.   I often feel like I suffer from the “Little Red Hen” syndrome, except, unlike the little red hen, I never ask.  I just brood over the fact that everything seems to get placed on my plate to take care of.  Dishes are in the sink and I am angry that no one has taken the initiative to load them into the dishwasher, there is actually dust in the grooves of the kitchen cabinets that no one seems to see except me and let’s not talk about the pile of crumbs under the table that my preschooler leaves behind.  But if I can’t ask, then I really don’t have justification for being upset over something no one knew would even bother me in the first place.  I have to learn to ask.  I have to give myself permission to ask with the understanding that it does not mean I am failing because I can’t handle everything.

I have thought frequently over the last couple of weeks regarding the conversation with the therapist.  And I have thought about my prayer life and my relationship to God.  The truth is, I don’t lean on God the way I should.  Like everything else, I feel as if everything is my responsibility and I only ask for Him to intercede after I am beyond desperate.  In fact, I may just harbor a bit of secret pride in the fact that my prayer life does not read like a Christmas wish list of wants and desires.  (Something else I need to work on).

Matt. 7:7 (NLT) says, “Keep on asking, and you will be given what you ask for.  Keep on looking, and you will find.  Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened.”

My daughters have taught me this concept more than anyone else in my life.  It is watching and hearing the tiniest of prayers–praying for the bees, for safety in the storm and thanking God for “my pink blankey.”  They know they are not self-reliant, so they have no problem asking for their needs to be met.  It is only through the wounds of humanity that we stop asking.  I forget that God is not like the rest of humanity.  It is the nature of being human that we eventually emotionally hurt someone.  God, however, will not let me down.  He is constant and He is omni-everything.  Only He can fulfill my deepest desires that I am unable to even whisper.  But I need to ask.

My last post was on “Becoming” the vision of yourself you want to be.  And then I took a step back.  And looked.  And reevaluated.  I did not intend for it to be that way.  It started with my children being home from school for summer.  I know some people do it, some moms even work from home while they homeschool their four kids.  How, I do not know.  Because once my children were out for summer, our schedule became a hectic, hot, mess.

Then summer turned into fall.  It just kinda happened really.  But it gave me a time to reevaluate what my goals are and why.  To put it into writing, “I want women, both those who grew up within the church and on the outside, to know they are radically loved by the Father who created them.”  I had become caught up in the how to get it done craziness and lost sight of the main reason I am pursuing writing and authorship.

It is good to take a step back every now and again.  Now that I am refocused, hopefully the rest, like regular blogging, will fall into place.

Becoming

Before a painter put brush to canvas, he sees his picture mentally … If you think of .: in terms of a painting, what do you see? Is the picture you think worth painting? … You create yourself in the image you hold in your mind. – Thomas Dreier.

We all have goals in life.  Some goals are material, others are spiritual.  Honestly, I concentrate more on my physical world than my spiritual ones.  I am in the middle of raising my family, I would like a bigger house, I need to bring in a regular income to our family.  There are so many other things that my mind obsesses about.  But when I boil down who I really want to be, it all comes down to being Godly.  My goals consist of writing a book for women based on my own spiritual experiences, I want to minister to those who believe that they are not “good enough.”  I believe this is the calling God has placed upon me.  I know things will happen all in His time.  Honestly though, I am not doing a whole lot to make that happen.

I believe the scripture in Phil. 1 that states, “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”  I know God will finish what He began in me.  But I am not doing a whole lot to help that along.  In my defense, it is hard to find 3 hours of solitude a day when raising four daughters, two of whom are still at home.  And now summer is here and all four of them are with me.  And did I mention my little ones wake up as soon as the first bird sings and the first light breaks?  (Case in point:  It is not even six and I hear small footsteps coming down the hallway).

It seems my life is going so fast that I barely have time to breathe.  I give of myself until I crash with exhaustion.  But I believe that God has began a good work within me.  In my time with Him, I get a little vision of what that person should look like.  She would be an author and speaker giving testimony without fear and with fire.  She has much more energy than I currently do.

Many times I get so wrapped up in pursing my goals, I forget who I supposed to become.  I get wrapped up in:   Must blog, must go to conferences, must build my following, must write the rest of my book, –that I loose track of who I want to become.

So I took so time the other day a doodled about goals, who I am, who I am to become.  I took a step back and instead of being in the middle of the race, I looked at what type of person the racer is, what they need in order to be nourished, and what they would look like on the inside and out.  I took a mental look at what my final painting would look like.  I took a look at all the stages in between.  I discovered I am too wrapped up in the “got to” of life.  When I boil it down to who I want to be and what that will look like, I want to pursue holiness and live in a way that radiates that.  It is that simple.

Fear of Giving

images-2It is so easy to write that check to the church and feel like I have done my part.  It is easy to allow the ministry staff at the church to use that money to fund their ministries and feel satisfied.  They are the experts, they will know what to do and how to handle things.  But we are called to more than that.  We are called to give of ourselves.

I hold back.  Why?  I am afraid.  I am afraid of what others will think.  I am afraid I am not equipped.  I think, “who am I?”  I am afraid of someone thinking negatively of me because I did not perform well.  I can easily say that these statements flow from a place of low self esteem and insecurities.  But when I read them, they all start with, “I”.  The thing I need to remember is it is not about me.  I am just the vessel.  The fear of giving of ourselves becomes about our own ego.  I am guilty.  Nevertheless, I am racked with fear.

For the past week or so I have been really struggling with if I can make a difference.  Does this blog matter?  On one hand I feel like I have a calling, and on the other, I feel like I am underqualified and someone else can fill those shoes much better than me.  Many of these thoughts probably come from the fact that I am in the middle of changing some of my mood stabilizing medication and it really affects the way I view myself.  That is why I have not blogged in over a week.  Then God answers those questions for me very boldly.  I had not one, but four people ask me at church why I have not blogged recently, one of whom I do not really even know.  Okay God, I get it.

But I am still racked with fear.  So I have to ask myself:  “How would I live if I were not afraid?”

 1.  I would be more transparent.  I would allow people to see who I really am and the struggles of my imperfections.

 2.  I would be more willing to give of myself.  I would not be afraid of what other people thought if I spoke up and fumbled my way through explaining things.  

3.  I would offer myself more, and when not needed, not to take it personally.  

4.  I would minister without hesitation.  I think of a man named Alan who stopped me in Michael’s craft store a few months back.  He asked me to pray for him.  I told him I would do that, but what I should have done was pray over him right then and there.  But I was afraid.  Afraid of stares, afraid of being awkward.

I need to remember that God equips the called; not calls the equipped.  I need to remember that it is not about about me; that I am just the vessel.  Even Beth Moore has horrid criticism.  Jesus faced horrid criticism.  I will not be immune.  I need to plant my feet firmly in who defines me.  May I not be afraid to serve; may I not be afraid to give of myself. 

How would you live if you were fearless?  

Mental Illness and Church

images-1Two days ago via Twitter I heard the news that Rick and Kay Warren’s youngest son had taken his own life.  Rick Warren is the pastor of the Saddleback Valley Community Church and author of The Purpose Driven Life.  His book made a huge impact on me during some of my darkest days when I was holding strong to the belief that I was nothing.  His book influenced me to think that maybe, just maybe I was created for a purpose and was worth something–that I mattered and could make a difference.

I am not alone in being heavily influenced by this book and I grieve that their son Mathew did not believe there was more purpose to his life and chose to end it short.  I am angry that the illness won.

Depression is a master of lies about one’s self.  Just goes to prove how someone who is suffering can not seem to believe beyond the silent whispers, “you are worthless,” that depression breathes into your head.  It is a relentless onslaught to your mental faculties.

I speak from experience.  This hits home with me on a most personal level. Even though I do not know the Warren family, I grieve with them.  I grieve for all of us who suffer from mental illness that brings us to the point of suicide.  I am one of the lucky ones.  I survived my attempt.  But I have both physical and mental scars which remain.  God spoke to me that day.  For this first time I understood He knew my name.  It was a turning point.  But there were still days, months, maybe even a year of a desire to exit from this reality.  It was an every day struggle of survival.  The meds were not working.  Med after med failed me.  It took close on a year before I found the correct combination.  Every day that I was still here went down as a success at survival.

Saddleback Valley Community Church is a mega-church in Southern CA.  Despite being surrounded by thousands of people who knew and admired the Warren family, Rick said, “But only those closest knew that he [his son] struggled from birth with mental illness, dark holes of depression, and even suicidal thoughts. In spite of America’s best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided.”

I grieve that only those closest to the Warrens knew of their son’s struggle.  I am in no way slamming their decision, I am grieving with them.  At the same time, I want to be an advocate for change.  In a society where it is okay to accept and sympathize with others’ differences, there is still a stigma regarding mental illness.  I think this is true especially in the church, where we are all supposed to be striving toward ultimate fulfillment and full of praise for the one who gave us life.  But the truth is that we are a bunch of broken people trying to find grace and peace.

My own experience with being bipolar and in the church has been similar.  I can recall quite a few sermons where those who went on meds to treat their symptoms of mental illness were called “having weak faith”  or “to think about what Jesus had to suffer.”  We were shamed for our illness and the desire to treat it.  So we tried to fake it and we kept silent.  And we suffered needlessly for years because of ignorance.

This is not true for the church I attend currently.  They have never shamed me.  Although, when I was at my worst, I don’t believe they were equipped to handle me.  They simply did not have the resources, and I was a full five gallon bucket of crazy with a splash of psychosis.  I was more than a handful. — And no one knew what to do with me.

With as prominent as mental illness is, and considering how debilitating or fatal it can be, I would like to challenge churches to begin a resource program for those who may come to you in need.  We need to know GOOD Christian therapist and psychiatrist for our area.  We need a list of treatment facilities for different things.  We need a way to know about the drugs we are taking to treat our symptoms.  We need someone who will hold us accountable:  similar to a sponsor in an A.A. program. Speaking of A.A. programs, churches should have a list of those, because those of us who are suffering often try to self-medicate in order to subdue the extreme symptoms of the illness.  It is time to step up and help those who need it–before it kills them.

Letting go of Last Year’s Growth

I don’t know if it has been the gloomy skys or what lately, but I am struggling with feeling icky and fatigued.  Kinda tired, kinda blue, yet still very content with life.  Just feeling funky and fatigued.  I thought going for a walk would help, but not just any walk, I wanted one where I could enjoy God’s creation around me.  Trying to get time away for myself is quickly becoming a priority on my list.  I would have loved to have gone to the farm that I grew up on and walked there, but yesterday, a trip to local nature park would have to suffice.

It was the first time the sun had showed intself in days, maybe even weeks.  When the sun doesn’t shine for days at a time it seriously complicates my mood.  I decided to go to the local nature park while one of my oldest daughters was in band rehearsal.  A walk to shake off the winter blahs I thought.  It was my first real walk in months.  Lately the weather has been a series of grey days with little to no respit in between.  Even Easter was a soggy mess.

I start hiking up the hill of the main trail of the park.  (I live in TN, hills are a requirement of real hikes). I make a conscious effort to take in all of creation that is around me.  I am amazed at how the sun’s soft, afternoon light is so beautiful through the trees.  Trillium is starting to come out.  There is a patch of flowers among the trees– their white buds drooping; soft rays of light shining directly on them for their moment in the sun.  I continue along the path and notice how green the underbrush is getting.  Color is coming back into a world of grays and browns.  Trees that have been naked all winter have small buds that will birth themselves in the coming weeks making the canopy lush.  But for now the canopy above me is bare.

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As if to retort my thinking, a single beech leaf falls and brushes against my face.  I look around.  The beech trees have held onto their leaves throughout the winter months.  Holding on to the old.  It will take this year’s new spring growth to push out last year’s withered, dry leaves.  But the tree holds on.  The leaves crunch with their dryness, their lack of life.  And the tree still hold on. Unlike other trees whose branches are open and ready to accept new growth, the new growth of the beech tree will have to push last year’s growth out before it can continue and mature.

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I am struck by the irony of how, as humans we do the same thing as the beech tree.  We hold on to the old, the familiar.  We do not let go of the old and make way for new growth.  We hold on tightly and may even put up a fight to keep the old stuff in place.  Stuff that will keep us from growing.  People often prefer a known evil to what is unknown.  It is time in my life for some changes to be made.  I hope and pray that I don’t hold onto last years growth and have little resistance to this year’s new growth.  The unknown scares me.  I know this upcoming year is going to be full of unknowns for me and my family.  Elizabeth is to start kindergarden this fall, which probably means the end of my days as a stay at home mom.  On the other hand, my working could be a good thing and we could buy a bigger house–another change.

Today as you pray, pray not to hold onto last years stuff.  Let go of anything that could hinder this year’s growth.  Sometimes that is a hard prayer to pray because this year’s growth may not all be full of pleasantries.  Some of it may be hard.  That is scary.  We want all good things to happen to us, but sometimes our best personal growth comes from the hardest paths we have walked.  Pray for the willingness to walk whatever path will bring new growth.

Rocking the Boat: Standing up for what is Right

I have struggled with writing this post for a week.  Bear with me.

imagesMy husband was watching television the other night and I came in to join him for a few minutes.  The show that was airing was on The History Channel and was about Viking men who were about to sail off.  The first scene that I sat through was of the men using a community water bowl to wash their face.  Then as they would finish washing their face, they each blew snot into the community bowl.  UGGG.  I thought about how far we had come as a society and cleanliness and hygiene.  There was only one woman, who was a slave, in the scene.  The second scene one of the men grab the slave girl and rape her before sailing off.  Again, I thought about how far we have come in our society that no one is viewed as property.  —-   And then, I read about Steubenville gang rape case.  And I am appalled.  I take back everything I thought about us maturing as a society.

What is even more appalling to me than raping a drunk, unconscious girl, is that the boys who were found guilty were empathized with.  What?  Excuse me?  CNN headlines lamented, ” ‘ Promising Future’ of the Stuebenville rapist, who are ‘Very Good Students.’ ” There is now a petition against CNN who’s coverage focused more on the verdict ruining the lives of the rapist than sympathy for the female victim.

What is wrong with our society that the news laments the fate of the rapist more than the destroyed life of the victim?

We have no value for origin of the soul and the holy container that it resides in.  The fact that each life and person is precious because it has been deemed life by the Great Creator has been lost by the majority of society: the value of a person based on the value of their soul.

We value our own agenda, while not taking the time to understand or empathize with someone else’s.  We value ourselves.  “Love One Another” is the whole summation of what Jesus taught.  Show Love.  Somehow, it is easier to be oblivious, to be hardened, to turn away.  It is easier to justify that someone deserves their station in life than it is to help them out of it.  I am guilty of that, especially when I can see the sequence of events that led someone to a despairing place.  “It’s their own fault they wound up where they are,” I think to myself.

But that doesn’t mean I turn away when someone needs help.  It may mean I have boundaries, but if someone is in serious trouble, I would hope I wouldn’t turn them away.  There were tweets being sent out as this poor girl was being raped.  Instead of someone standing up and doing the right thing by helping this girl, a blind eye was turned while a chuckle was suppressed.

I have learned through my own struggles that when people don’t know what to do they turn away.  They don’t search for the correct resources to help, they simply turn a blind eye hoping someone else will know better and do better.  But there are times when rocking the boat is called for.  Helping someone when they can not help themselves is one of those times.

We have to value people for who they are.  If we can’t value them for the gifts they have, then we have to at least value them as a creation of God who was given the breath of life.  Ann Voskamp in a blog on this same subject said, “In the culture of boys will be boys — means girls will be garbage.”  But my dear friends and daughters, I want you to know:

You are of value. 

God is omni, but we live in a fallen world.  

God can redeem you.  

He will rejoice over you.  

He sings over you.  

You are a most precious thing God created and He longs to bring you to Himself.

God Loves you Radically.  You are His Beloved.   

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