Friday, February 18, 2011

1000 gifts: getting through depression

Like last year, my "seasonal affective disorder" kicked in during February. I've lost energy and motivation. I come home and crawl straight into bed instead of making dinner. My head feels like it's full of thick, heavy, useless stuffing. But still, God is faithful to give me His gifts each day. They still bring me joy; it's just that I quickly forget the joy. The useless stuffing pushes it out of the way, to make more room for it's selfish, clogged up muck.

Days go by before I remember to look at my calendar, and then I struggle to remember the gifts to write them down. But, again, God is faithful. He's slowly filling up my calendar for me. I know that taking time to thank Him for these blessings disperses the muck in my head, at least for a while!

191. Friends remembering what you love
Remember that beautiful blue and green plate I posted a picture of in January, and how I tried to find something similar to purchase on the Internet? Well, the $50 shipping fee deterred me, but my wonderful friend Nicole found this beautiful blue bowl at a downtown shop and gave it to me for my birthday. I was absolutely thrilled!

192. Surprise parties.
My husband made my birthday especially wonderful this year. He arranged for a babysitter and took me out to dinner at my favorite Italian restaurant (well, Laramie only has one Italian restaurant, but it's still pretty good). Then when we got home and I walked into the dark house wondering where the kids were, someone flipped on the lights and a bunch of voices yelled "surprise!" And boy was I surprised! B. arranged it all, including ordering me this beautiful cake.

193. Spanish endearments
"Te Queiro" is the new endearment in our household - "I love you" in Spanish

194. Giving good books.
My friend Heather couldn't make it to my surprise birthday party, but she took me out to lunch at another favorite restaurant (Sweet Melissa's - I love their falafel pita!) and gave me two books, Pegasus by Robin McKinley, and Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. The introduction to Jesus Calling really intrigued me... I'll have to share more at some point.

195. Superbowl commericals.
The SuperBowl came the day after my birthday, and some friends of ours invited us over to their elaborate bigscreen TV/DVR set up, where we could watch our favorite commercials over again, and replay those great athletic feats to our heart's content without missing any of the game. My favorite commercial was the young Darth Vader being confoundedby the automatic starter on the Volkswagen.

196. Ask what's wrong instead taking offense.
Blaze and Dreamer made me adorable birthday cards. Also, I'll never forget the letter Blaze wrote me after I got upset with her for talking back to me, and made her write an apology. It was honest and truly apologetic. And it was illustrated. I love my creative girl! The letter reminded me how important communication is - remembering to ask what's wrong instead of taking offense.

197. Paper fortune tellers.
Dreamer learns how to fold paper to make a fortune teller. These are so much fun! I remember making one to give to B. for valentine's day early on in our relationship. I think I still have it somewhere.

198. Teaching yourself origami.
The fortune teller reminded Blaze of how she taught herself to make a paper origami crane - so she folded up a bunch more of these. You can make them "flap" their wings. It was few months ago that she learned about origami in art, at school. One day she asked me if she could get on on the computer. She looked up instructions for the paper crane (and several other projects) and taught herself!

199. The first real book your child reads all by herself.
Dreamer read "Small Pig" (by Arnold Lobel) all by herself. A huge jump in her reading progress. I was delighted when she started reading this book, because it was one of Blaze's favorites too.

200. Painted parrots
Blaze painted me this picture of a parrot. I loved it for all the little flourishes she added to it!

201. Little girls excited to get haircuts
I took Serious and Starlet to get their haircut, and they were sooooo excited! While waiting their turn, they could hardly contain themselves. After they got their bobs, they kept posing and preening.

202. Soaking up winter sun.
After a week of subzero temperatures, last Saturday we finally got some sun and warmth again. I couldn't get up enough motivation to go out for a walk, but I did pull my chair over by the big south-facing picture windows, and soaked up the sun - if I pretended not to notice the snow in the yard, it could have almost been a summer day.

203. Map valentines.
B. and I didn't do anything special for valentine day, but after such an extravagant birthday, I didn't expect anything. However, one of my blogging friends on my writer's blog noticed that it says I love maps on my profile, so she sent me a virtual valentine - made out of maps!

204. Reading the Word together.
B. actually gave me the best "valentine" ever - he asked if we could start reading the Bible together each evening. Quality time together in the Word. Right when I need it most. Thank you Lord.

205. Slow progress still bring results.
My writing progress has slowed down since the February blues hit, but I'm still slowly accumulating words each week. I'm at 65,000 words, which is within sight of my goal of 75,000 words by the end of February.

206. It's never too late to remember to praise the Lord.
I had also set a goal of an average of 4.5 for my "seven days" in January (based on Psalm 119:164). I made an average of 4.3 - pretty darn close! February is not doing so well. I would've liked to raise the bar to 5 in February, but I'm probably averaging 2.5 right now. But there is still time! There is always time to praise the Lord, starting now!

207. When God gives you verses.
I have memorized Psalm 119:35-37 and Romans 12:1-2 so far for Beth Moore's 2011. Scripture Memory challenge. What verse do you want me to hide in my heart next, Lord?

208. Elf ears.
B. made his "elf ears" for me last night (pulled the tips of his ears up to make them "pointy"). I mentioned to him once that I thought the elves in Lord of the Rings were, um, you know, s*xy, and ever since then... well, once in a while he makes elf-ears for me. Cracks me up every time. Sometimes he'll also sing me the "She's my elf" song from Veggie Tale's "Lord of the Beans."

209. Enchanting cards.
Oh, I forgot one more wonderful thing from my birthday - Nicole's card. She bought it at the same shop as the blue bowl - the Chocolate Shop always carries the most beautiful selection of cards. Nicole and I both love old-fashioned-type cards, and fantasy-type cards - this one is the perfect blend. (I don't have a scanner, so I took a picture of it, not the best picture-taker, either)

210. Christmas lights in kids' rooms.
I am sitting on my sofa writing this, with my laptop (Liz) on a pillow on my lap, and I'm sitting in direction such that I can see up the stairs to the open door of my daughters' bedroom. Blaze strung an extra strand of Christmas lights in her room, and I let her keep them up, though she can only turn them on weekend nights. It is so nice sitting here seeing her cheery lights, knowing my four girls are up there in their beds, and I can go tiptoe into their rooms and kiss them in their sweet sleep.

211. Learning something new every week.
I have found a new blog to love. I linked to one of Saumya's posts in January, too. I love ALL of her posts. But here is another one in particular: This Week I Learned.... . I would also like to add things I'm learning, among these gifts I've listed. Teach me Lord what I need to learn this week. You are teaching me something through this depression; I'm just not sure what it is, yet.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Grief Observed

This post is part of the C.S. Lewis book club hosted at the Quiet Quill - stop by there to read other discussions on this book. Next month we'll be discussing Out of the Silent Planet.

C.S. Lewis poured out his grief in his journals after the death of his wife, which became this, his last published book (he died three years after his wife). 

Lewis' most popular book (after the Chronicles of Narnia series) is the great defense of the Christian faith, Mere Christianity. But when faced with devastating loss and suffering, Lewis starts to question many of the statements of his own faith.

Here is just a short list of some of the effects of grief Lewis experienced:
  • There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says
  • Then comes a red-hot jab of memory and all this "commonsense" vanishes like an ant in the mouth of a furnace
  • An odd by-product of my loss is that I'm aware of being an embarrassment to everyone I meet
  • Part of the misery is... the misery's shadow... the fact that you don't merely suffer, but you have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer
  • Grief still feels like fear. Perhaps, more strictly, like suspense. Or like gives life a permanently provisional feeling. It doesn't seem worth starting anything...
  • Up till this I always had too little time Now there is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness.
  • At present I am learning to get about on crutches. Perhaps I shall eventually be given a wooden leg. But I shall never be a biped again.
  • Reality, looked at steadily, is unbearable
  • Meanwhile, where is God? ...go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what to do you find? A door slammed in your face.
  • Time after time, when He seemed most gracious, He was really preparing the next torture
  • Aren't all these notes the senseless writings of a man who won't accept the fact that there is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it?
I have to admit, I have no direct experience with grief. I have not yet lost a close loved one. But after reading this and seeing others struggle through it, I would almost rather be the one to die, than the loved one left behind. But that is a selfish statement, and one of poor faith. Just as no path to salvation is the same, no path to love is same, nor path through love is the same, so I am sure no single path through grief is the same, either. My pastor and his wife, who lost a son, describe grace upon grace that carried them through their grief as if in the very arms of God.

Another hard statement that Lewis made:
Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I'll listen submissively. But don't come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don't understand.
I can understand where he's coming from here. Though I have not struggled with grief, I have suffered with depression, (a much more selfish relative of grief). It does no good when people try to comfort or encourage me in this state. There is no consolation in religion when facing grief or other forms of suffering, except the fact that God is in control and he sees the bigger picture we cannot yet see. And that is a hard fact to cling to. Sometimes you grasp it; other times the best you can do is cry, "I believe - help my unbelief." In the worst of times, like Lewis, you loathe God as a sadist, or in my case, berate myself for ever believing in Him and his very out-of-date Word in the first place.

Lewis refers to the notion of the hope of future family reunions on "the furthest shore" as foolishness:
There's not a word of it in the Bible. We know it rings false. We know it couldn't be like that. Reality never repeats. The exact same thing is never taken away and given back.
On the other hand, there is Biblical assurance that there will be no more tears when God creates the new heaven and earth. But Lewis is right on one thing: it won't be the same. We know, for instance, that there is no marriage in heaven, as there is on earth.  I am now curious to read what Lewis writes in his book "The Business of Heaven." I find it interesting, and a bit odd, that Lewis never mentions any of his previous work, either to defend it or refute it.  He says simply this:
Heaven will solve our problems, but not, I think, by showing us subtle reconciliations between all our apparently contradictory notions. The notions will all be knocked down from under our feet. We shall see that there never was any problem.
I also struggled to understand what Lewis meant by this statement:
I begin to see. My love for H. was of much the same quality as my faith in God... But neither was the thing I thought it was.
 Then a whole chapter later, almost near the end, this:
My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence? The Incarnation is the supreme example; it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins... All reality is iconoclastic. The earthly beloved, even in this life, incessantly triumphs over your mere idea of her.
(I had to look up the meaning of iconoclast: a breaker or destroyer of images, esp. those set up for religious veneration; a person who attacks cherished beliefs, traditional institutions).

This idea of God using various means - suffering, including death - to shatter our conceptions of Him in order to know Him better (and likewise with our loved ones) is also expressed here:

Bereavement is a universal and integral part of our experience of love. It follows marriage as normally as marriage follows courtship or as autumn follows summer. It is not  a truncation of the process but one of its phases; not the interruption of the dance, but the next figure. We are "taken out of ourselves" by the loved one while she is here. Then comes the tragic figure of the dance in which we must learn to be still taken out of ourselves, though the bodily presence is withdrawn, to love the very her, and not fall back to loving our past, or our memory, or our sorrow, or relief from sorrow, or our own love.
In other words, I think, we don't know how full, how deep our faith in God can go, or the same for our love for a beloved, until we reach the point where we have to go on without their presence. Even Jesus knew a moment where he cried, "My God, why have you forsaken me?"

God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I that didn't.