Category Archives: overcoming

The Thief

I was asleep when my thoughts rudely awakened me.  In my sleep I had remembered that yesterday morning, cancer stole another life.  Our little, quaint town lost its mayor.  I did not know him well personally.  I knew him more by reputation and through the loving words of his wife.  Through those things, I know he was a man who loved his family and God fiercely.

My sleepy, barely lucid thoughts wandered from thoughts of his passing on to the level of emotional grief his wife and daughters must be experiencing.  My heart ached for them. In half a second I was thinking of him not getting to see his youngest daughter graduate high school.  Then, I remembered.  I remembered my own personal emotional scars from losing my father to cancer. I was now fully awake.  I remembered the things my father was not getting to experience because cancer stole them from him.  I began to think of how much my oldest daughters have changed in the past seven years, how they have grown up to become such amazing women.  I began to weep.  I wept for the things my father is not getting to experience, the milestones he is not here to witness.  I wept for the absence of him in our lives.  I wept for my mom.  Dad would be so proud of her, how strong she is. I wept for the parents who have lost a child to cancer.  I wept for the McCullough family who now has to walk this path. I looked over at the clock.  It read somewhere in the 4 o’clock hour of the night.  I couldn’t really make out the last numbers.  My tears were falling in hot drops of grief by this point.  I tried to keep my breathing steady as to not wake my husband.  I was unsuccessful.  Out of the darkness I heard him ask, “What’s wrong?”

I could not answer for a moment.  Then I replied, “I hate cancer.”  He placed his hand across me.  I thought of the things he and I are getting to experience together: the tough things, the beautiful things, the ordinary things we take for granted.  I thought of how we often do not see the preciousness of the moments we live because we are just trying to get through life and do it somewhat well.  We try to do this together with four daughters. We muddle through, somehow. I am grateful that I get to do this life-thing with him.  I am grateful to be the mother of each one of my daughters.  I think they have beautiful souls. Life can sometimes try me to my wit’s end, but I am glad I get to have experiences with these people.

Seeing the Positive Space

As 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?”

Asking for Help

 

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.

Fear of Giving

It 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

Two 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.

Diamond in the Rough

“Riffraff, street rat

I don’t buy that

If only they’d look closer

Would they see a poor boy?

No, siree

They’d find out

There’s so much more to me.”

These words are spoken by Aladdin during the reprise of “One Jump Ahead” (Disney).   I wonder about those words he spoke.  How much did he believe that he was more than a street rat.  Aladdin believed that he was so much more than his circumstances.  Somehow, Aladdin was able to wash off any of the labels that had been placed upon him by society.  He did not believe he was Riffraff.  As it turns out, Aladdin was a true “Diamond in the Rough.”

Contrast that to me.  I seem to absorb every negative label that floats my way.  Just last night my husband was fussing about the dishes not being done.  Granted I had already run one load through the dishwasher that day, but there are always more.  I immediately felt I wasn’t doing a good enough job.  As a mom of pre-schoolers, sometimes I feel that all I do is run around and catch things before they fall.  Literally.  It had been one of those days.

The dishes not being done translated to me not doing a good enough job which translated to me not being good enough.  Logically, I know my husband was just ranting in general, and that he is quite capable of doing the dishes himself.  But somehow that translates in my mind to me not being enough.  Somehow I can’t seem to separate what I do from what I am.  Ahh, perhaps there is more to that statement than I can process at the moment.

I have always wondered what made me worthy of receiving anything of being anything noteworthy.  The truth is that I am nothing without God’s grace.  God is the master at using the most unlikely people and the most unlikely circumstances to make something wonderful.  Moses was a murderer, David an adulterer.  Birthrights and blessings are repeatedly transposed from elder brother to younger brother.  Yet, all these men accomplished great things in Biblical history.  They were all the “diamond in the rough.”

So, I wonder about myself.  Am I a diamond in the rough?  What will it take to shine me up?  Is it simply the belief in what you are that makes you who you are?

Then I remember the premise of what my who book is about:  It is about allowing the Beauty of His Light to shine through you.  It is not my own qualities that make me beautiful, but the ability to be the prism through which the light shines.  When the light shines through a prism, it shines in the colors of a rainbow.  It sparkles, it shines.  Our job is to make rainbows happen.  Be the diamond through which His light shines!

Acquainted with the Night

“I’m irritable.”  I typed these words out to my psychiatrist in an email last week.  It had been a few days of feeling like I was going to start throwing plates across the room at any moment.  The intensity of the desire raises red flags within me.  It was an email that followed days of feeling like I was going to loose control with my children.  I have been on edge, irritable and easily angered.

The truth is that I am very frusterated with who I am.  I know that in Psalm 139:13 David says, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.”   I have to wonder about the meaning of that verse.  I wonder because my body is flawed; my mind is flawed.  I have bipolar mood disorder, and trying to keep a good head on your shoulders is sometimes very difficult.  Tweaking your meds is a constant.  I am very blessed.  I have been very stable for the past six or seven years. Some people go their whole life without that type of stability.  But this constant tweaking. . .I want to scream, “Why did You make me this way!  Why, if you are the one who wove me together, did you make me this way!”

I am thankful for my meds and I would be okay with them  if it weren’t for the side effects.  In recent years, they have gotten to where they make me so sleepy.  I try tweaking my meds only to find myself sleeping half the day away and in a mind-fog the other part of the day.  No options seem to be acceptable.  I can’t be this irritable as my life-style.  I laugh at the funny quips from Facebook that say things like, “I say, you are about to exceed the limitations of my medication” or “I don’t need more medicine, I need people to stop pissing me off.”  I can relate to both.

I wonder if a more accurate way to say God wove me together has more to do with my creation of spirit and less with my body and mind.  God created my spirit in His image.  I am not so sure about my body.  I try to be at peace and find a light to light connection between my dim light source and the one who is light, pure light, without a trace of darkness.

Even in my frustration, I remember how far I have come, the days of being unstable, the days of intense emotional pain and agony.  I remember the soaring highs of chasing the sun and the darkness of the crashing lows.  I remember how utterly worthless I felt I was.  I remember being acquainted with the night in a most intimate way.

I am grateful that it has been years since I was intimately acquainted with the night.  I praise God that someone was able to make a medicine that keeps me stable.  Yet, it is not perfect and I still struggle.

I don’t claim to understand why, if God created me, was I created with bi-polar disorder.  I suppose the same reason why people are born without an arm, deaf, or with Down’s Syndrome.  I could blame it on genetics.  But we live in a fallen world where things are not perfect.  Humanity is not perfect and we have imperfect bodies.  But the soul, our light source, our made in the image of God, — I am not even sure that is perfect, but I know that my light desires the perfection of God.

I once said that I wonder if we are judged on how well we fight the demons of our lives.  I still wonder that.  It is easy to be good if you have no struggles in your life, but when put under pressure, we find out who we really are.  Maybe it is who we are at core that is judged.

If that is so, then being acquainted with the night has served purpose of which I have been made the humble servant of. Whatever path or obstacles you overcome, do it for God’s Glory.

Divine Intervention

I was driving home from a friend’s house at 1 a.m.  The streets were dark and quiet.  My stomach hurt in a way that was familiar to me, yet not welcomed.  I got off the interstate, yielding right through a stop sign.  A wave of hot sweats came over me.   “Gotta make it home. Just another mile.”  I thought.  Then my ears started ringing and began to get uncontrollably sleepy.

“Not now!”  I yelled within my thoughts. Yet, the urge was so great within me, I could not resist.  I was fainting at the wheel of my car, while driving, and I couldn’t stop it.  My sight began to go.  I didn’t have time to even put the car in a parked position.  I pressed the brake and fought to stay conscious enough to keep pressure on the brake petal.  I awoke to a car going around me and honking its horn.  I was in the middle of the street.  I hadn’t rolled very far.  I wasn’t out but probably a minute or so, but I was drenched in sweat from the episode.  It had hit me hard.

Later a thought hit me equally as hard.  “I had just gotten off the interstate.  What if that had happened 30 seconds prior to when it did?” The thought was more than unsettling.  I couldn’t shake the possibility of that scenario.  I had the best possible outcome.  I fainted at the wheel at a time when I was going slowly, and was able to easily come to a stop.

I wanted so badly to believe God’s hand was in this.  That He had saved me and orchestrated the whole thing.  The timing was perfect.  I was safe.  Rattled, but safe.  But at the time, I couldn’t believe anything more than I was safe.  I didn’t understand why.   I didn’t understand anything beyond the science of it.

I wanted to believe that God knew who I was and that I was in trouble.  I wanted to believe that it was a God moment.  But who was I that God would know me at such a moment?

But how else can I explain such a thing?  When I looked in my Bible I could see God bringing a nation to himself through events.  God’s hand was on that of King David’s life, but me?  No, I wasn’t like that.  I couldn’t put myself in the same ranks as God’s chosen ones.

The truth is that God loves each and every one of us to the extent that He anointed Jesus to come to be the Savior of the world.  Each of us.  Each soul is precious to God.  “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.”  Jer. 1:4.  God knows each of us individually.  He knew us before we were born;  He knows us after we are born.  God is involved in the details of your life.  It is not just a y’all mentality or that you are one of the herd.  He knows each intricate thing about you.

When you knit something, you know each loop, each stitch.  You know where the stitches are loose and where they are tight.  Even if you try to replicate the same thing, it will not be exactly alike.  God knit you together by hand.  He knows each detail about you.

God is involved in the details of your life, not just those of humanity in general.  To not believe that is to dismiss the omnipotent power of God.  To believe that you are unknown is to dismiss God’s love.

God was there with me that day in the car.  I didn’t believe it at the time.  I was one who was unknown at the time.  I haven’t done anything since then to change my status with God except accept the relationship He offers me.  There have been other divine coincidences in my life that I can’t go into in this post.  I can choose to believe that they are God’s hand involved in my life or not.  The choice is mine.  I can chalk it up to mere coincidence, or Divine intervention.  I choose Divine intervention.

What about you?  Where do you stand on this?  Do you believe there was a time where God orchestrated divine intervention on your behalf?  

Hope of a Future

Christianity is not about perfect people.  It is about broken people who have a hope in being restored.  A few years ago, a former Islamic woman turned Christian, spoke to our church about her conversion.   I remember how animated she became when she spoke of the hope that Jesus brought her.  It is a hope she had never had before she was Christian.  She spoke of trying to be “good enough” yet, never being able to obtain the level of perfection to which she was held.  Whether that sense of perfection was from her family of origin or something to do with the religion in which she was raised is something I can not attest to.

In John 3:18 Jesus says, “There is no judgement awaiting those who trust Him [the son of God].  Paul, in Col 1:22, states, “As a result [of what Jesus did], He has brought you into the very presence of God, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.”

There is no spiritual judgement for those who believe in the sacrifice of Jesus.  We have been made blameless and pure through Jesus.  That is our hope and our salvation and the thing we should stand on as Christians.  Sadly, even in Christian circles, this point is overlooked.  Somehow, it is lost between confessing and repenting.

A few years back, before I understood this truth, I was trying so hard to be perfect.  And I was failing miserably.  I was emotionally punishing myself, thinking if I could just flog myself a little harder, then my plight would be noticed and God would receive my offering.  I thought I could be made pure and atoned for through my self inflicted emotional pain.  I felt like I was unworthy, and should be punished as such.

One evening after classes I tried to explain my brokenness to another woman.  I was hoping for comfort and insight.  But as I explained my theology she simply asked, “So, what you are saying is what Jesus did wasn’t good enough? ”  The words were not spoken harshly, but they had an edge to them.  That edge cut into me.  How could I not think that what Jesus did was good enough?  It was me, I tried to explain, that was not good enough.  Those words cut me, but they were so true.

What I had missed out on is that Jesus had already made me pure.  No judgments could ever be held against me because I claim salvation in the name of Jesus.  I claim that I am one of His.  I didn’t need to punish myself.  He had already taken the punishment for me so that I can have hope to see the beauty of heaven.  It is more than a hope, it is a security.  Spiritually, I am blameless and pure.

It is not our striving toward perfection or goodness that makes us good.  It is not the commandments that make us behave ethically.  It is the love that the Father has shown to us.  It is the light which radiates from us because we have an understanding of what has been done for us.

Truth vs. the Lies that Infect Us

In her book So Long Insecurity Beth Moore states, “We’re going to have to let truth scream louder to our souls than the lies that have infected us.”

Sounds like a good theory in concept.  The problem is, is that sometimes, we do not know what truth is in regards to who we are.  A few years back my belief was that I was a most heinous individual.  I hated myself with such a great intensity that it was physically nauseating.  The song I listened to over and over again was “Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been.”  I wanted to be beautiful, for there to be a grace about me that radiated, alas, it didn’t.  I believed that no one could really want to even talk to me.  I had nothing of value to offer.   I was too much of a disappointment to everyone in my life.  I felt I was a detriment to those around me.

So I holed myself up.  I could not look up at anyone, afraid I would see disappointment in their eyes.  I wanted to have an emotional beauty about me, to minister, to be an artist and a writer.  Could I dare define myself by such things?  The fear of failure during these years kept me in a silent jail.  I was only one who was unworthy of anything.  I allowed every negative action to affirm my beliefs.

Worse yet, during this time I had a woman who I thought was going to mentor me separate herself from me.  I was devastated and her actions confirmed every negative thought I had ever had about myself.  It was my ultimate confirmation.

Even now, years later, it is hard to believe and write anything to the contrary.  I believed the lies so long, they are ingrained into my very core.

How is it that I had every believed such things to begin with?  Who knows why I have such worthiness issues, but they plague me.

At some point during those years I decided I had to determine what truth was.  People are fallible.  Always remember that.  The things that come out of someone’s mouth are often flawed because of their own perceptions.  The only place to turn was to scripture and I had to believe it as if scripture were speaking directly to me.

So what is the truth?

1.  I am worth rescuing.  (My theme Psalm is chapter 18)

2.  I am a reflection of the Creator.  (Gen. 1: 27)

3.  God has plans for me. (Jer. 29:11)

4.  He rejoices over me.  (Zeph. 3:17)

5.  I am holy and without fault in His eyes. (Eph. 1: 4, Col. 1:22)

6.  My story can be used for His Glory.  (Eph. 5:14)

I can only allow God to define me.  It is His truth that sets me free.  If I start defining myself based on what others think of me, then I become paranoid and lost in the insanity of it all.  I have my doubts and setbacks.  My last blog entry can attest to that.  But I know that God knows my name, and regardless of who I am in relationship with humanity, I am precious to Him.

What truths do you base your life on?  What lies have you believed?  How do you allow those things to define you?