Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Joy at Advent

On Sunday I had the privilege of speaking at church on the them of Joy. It was terrifying. But the process of writing what to say and thinking it all through was so good for me. I hope you find it gives you some joy or comfort in this silly and sometimes painful season.

Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Luke 2:10-12

People don't tend to use the word “JOY” in normal conversation. We talk about happiness more often. There is even a growing field of happiness research. It seems that being “happy” is something we struggle with and it seems to be something that is a growing problem of the first world. We buy things, travel to places, take all manner of substances, give up gluten, take up yoga, get married, get divorced, downsize, and upsize, all in the hope of finding happiness. But it doesn't seem to stay around for long. And in the end it seems that we are all heading to the same place but flailing around quite a bit as we go there. From a less extreme stand point, happiness seems to mean the daily small things that make life easier or more pleasurable. A delicious meal, a day that went smoothly, listening to a song you like, finally achieving a goal. All good things and all make life more satisfying and fun. I had a pedicure yesterday. That was definitely an experience that made me happy. But did it make me joyful?

It doesn't seem a coincidence that happiness researchers have found that people who practise gratitude, prayer, meditation and serving others, report greater happiness than those who don't. Maybe because that is the way we were designed to live?

When Tim sent me the list of topics I could choose to speak about I chose Joy. Some that no me well will recognise the irony in this. It is something that seems to be a struggle for me. I have struggled with depression most of my adult life and severely since having children. For me, life can feel like being in a t.v show. I follow the script and laugh at all the right times, but inside I am not experiencing it. Inside I am tortured by feelings of self-doubt, perfectionism and self loathing. I feel overwhelmed by all that needs doing and feel stretched too thin. Not very joyful really. And as a Christian, something I have wrestled with a great deal. How can I be so sad when I apparently have such hope? How can I struggle to love myself while knowing how much Jesus loves me? How can having children, something I have longed for and hoped for - also bring such pain and struggle?

So I have thought long and hard about happiness. And have decided that though it is nice to feel happy, there is very little in the Bible that indicates that we can expect happiness as a normal state of being while here on earth. That is not to say we will not experience happiness, but it just isn't the point, I don't think. But there is quite a lot about joy.

Joy is deeper. Joy seems to come to the fore when things are not going so well. It is a deeper river that keeps flowing, even in suffering and pain. It allows us to touch the eternal and divine. It is experienced in death of a loved one, as we celebrate knowing and loving the person who is lost while also being torn apart by it. It is felt as we welcome a new child, despite knowing that we will now forever feel responsible for another person and possibly experience a great deal of pain along the journey. Joy is the relief of admitting we cannot do it alone and we need help, and someone taking our hand and saying you are not alone and we will do it together. Joy is sharing my pain and struggle, and instead of advice or a look of shock, the person says “me too”.

To me Joy, rather than the temporary status of “happy”, is all about the eternal. I experience Joy when I wake early in the morning, go outside and hear the birds waking, smell the fresh newness of the day and see all that God has created. There is a sense of the divine and the eternal. There is Joy.

I experience Joy when I see a student suddenly become curious and thirsty for knowledge or finally seeing how precious they are after being judged or put down by others. My joy is in seeing that they are glimpsing their God given and eternal value.

Joy for me is talking with someone and having a meeting of mind and heart. Hearing each other deeply and sharing a love and care that I know comes from God. This is a joy that goes beyond the conversation to something deeper. It reminds me that God is love and he himself is the example of community and true relationship.

Joy is new spring growth on an apparently dead tree.

It seemed appropriate to show this picture after Jesse's stump was introduced as a symbol to meditate on during advent. Some of you may remember when I led communion in the depths of winter in July. I talked about a plum tree which I was sure had died. It looked like a stick. No green to be seen. Nick and I had agreed to disagree about it. He was certain that come spring I would be proved wrong. With my typical knowing smile I said “Well, come spring I guess we will find out”. The knowing smile is me knowing I am right...

But I was wrong. Here is a picture of the tree.

Now that is a picture of joy. Despite all visible evidence to the contrary, that plum tree was alive.

We are so used to hearing the Christmas story and knowing it is a story about Joy. But if you didn't know the whole story. If you were living it as it happened, the evidence, and the way the situation unfolds around the birth of Jesus, isn't one that immediately points to JOY. And it definitely doesn't include too much happiness.

Imagine the Christmas story as a series of headlines appearing in the NZ Herald. We all probably feel like the news is the last place to look for Joy. And the Christmas story is full of apparent bad news.

Unmarried and pregnant – condemned by Jewish leaders. Mary may have been a privileged woman chosen by God to bare His own son, but it wasn't a great situation to be in. This is why the angel may have told her not to be afraid.
Heavily pregnant woman forced to travel on donkey for census – I would not have been happy to travel on a donkey at 9 months pregnant, but I guess it was better than walking.
Accommodation shortage in Bethlehem – forced to sleep with animals – sleeping in the stable would have been similar to sleeping in a wool shed. Not pleasant.
Massacre of first born sons – Thousands flea to Egypt

So it is all about perspective. Knowing who Jesus is and what God's plan was for his life means we know that even though the evidence seems gloomy, it all works out in the end.

It is all about what you are looking for. Despite her fear, Mary welcomed the angel who brought her the news of her pregnancy and that she was to give birth to God's son. She agreed to be part of God's plan without knowing how it would all work out and at great risk to herself and her reputation. She was possibly risking Joseph abandoning his promise to marry her. Her faith and knowledge of God's goodness meant she chose to have a perspective of faith and hope, despite the struggles and challenges she would face. She had no idea what it would mean to be Jesus' mother. She would only have known the hope for a Messiah that all the Jewish people were holding onto while suffering the Roman occupation. She made a choice to believe in Her God, rather than the very real risks she faced.

Luke 2:13-19

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

 Mary was chosen by God because He knew she was the right woman to be the mother of Jesus. This passage I think reveals one of the reasons why. She has been through the most amazing experience. I think all births are. But she had the added knowledge that her son was the Messiah. She knew that everything that happened was ordained by God. The shepherds who were visited by angels and prompted to visit Jesus and the amazing visitations by angels that both she and Joseph had experienced. In her life the practical details of travelling by donkey, having nowhere to stay and a rather uncomfortable place for a birth, must have become small in scale, compared with the eternal perspective God had given her about her life. Mary's Joy came from having an eternal perspective of her own life and experience. I think Mary's approach can teach me a lot about Joy. When I let my mind believe that the evidence around me reveals truth and reality then I let my joy and hope disappear into despair. But when I remember that God has a plan and that the story is not finished I remember Joy and I look for His hand and His movement around me. I hear His voice and I commit myself afresh to follow His prompting.

As we approach Christmas again and prepare our hearts to celebrate the birth of Jesus the reason we sing carols that say “Joy to the World” is because there are so many reasons not to feel joyful. If the world was already filled with Joy we wouldn't need to sing it. But we are in need of Joy. The evidence around us can seem pretty grim. It can seem that evil is triumphing and that we are suffering and that sometimes it is all too hard. But unlike Mary, we have the gift of knowing how the story ended. Well, actually it didn't end. His birth was one beginning. But in Jesus's death we find the true beginning.

Our Joy at Christmas is that in that little baby there is hope and the promise of forgiveness, the end of all suffering, injustice, pain or death and the beginning of a new life. That life is about living now in relationship with the creator of the universe and with Jesus who truly knows the pain and struggle we experience, but also gives us the Holy Spirit to comfort us, guide us, encourage and embolden us so that we can experience and dwell in the Joy of knowing Him and making Him known. He gives us an eternal perspective of ourselves and our purpose here on this earth. Because our lives are just the beginning too.

And even as we know this truth, sometimes it can still be a struggle. And joy seems far off. But when all seems lost and the pain is too great I hold onto this. My favourite verse:

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Psalm 16:11

This is not a request. This is a statement of fact. It is not conditional on your efforts or a promise for the future. It is now. His presence now can bring us Joy. A Joy that is holy, healing and can quench a thirst that on He can satisfy.
I pray that for all of us this Christmas, we will know His presence, feel his hand upon us and know His deep and strong and healing love. And that by his Holy Spirit, we will know His joy.

As we go out may we also listen to his voice. He is Emmanuel, God with Us. And he goes with us as we share our Joy in Him, with those around us. Faith in Jesus is not a promise of happiness, but it is a promise that you will never be alone and that in a world that seems to have lost its way, that each person is loved and has meaning and purpose. He is moving and his promise of an end to suffering will come. Now that is something I can be joyful about.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Facts over feelings

Hi world.
This year really is proving to be hard work. No big reasons for that. Except my brain still threatens to slide back into depression. My struggles with the tension between what I want to be able to be and do and reality steal my peace and joy. I dream of some greater peace. I see glimpses of it and I keep being reminded that I am enough now. However, 35 years of feeling less than is hard to shake.

One of the questions I ask myself in an attempt to stop my negative thinking is "Is what I am telling myself, the facts, or the feelings?"
Often my feelings take me off what is really happening into a reality I am creating out of the emotions thay arise.

Yesterday os a good example. I was just exhausted. As it was Sunday, hubby was home. So after lunch I said I just couldn't keep going without a nap. As I lay in bed starting to doze off, the feelings were failure and letting everyone down. I felt that me not being up and involved meant I was a bad mother.

Was any of that true? No. But my unrealistic expectations of myself create those feelings when I have to admit I am actually human and need rest.

The facts helped to check if the feelings really reflected reality. And those facts were that I was really tired and needed a nap. Everyone needs a rest and asking for one is wise.

And checking the facts helped. I enjoyed my nap and woke up feeling much better.

I hope that in time I can have more realistic expectations and that the feelings and thoughts I have would become more gentle and self compassionate.  But in the throws of being overwhelmed by self destructive self talk, remembering to check my facts definitely helps.

Friday, 15 August 2014


The suspense must be killing you! Unlikely, but after my post about struggling again with depression and increasing my dose of medication I haven't updated on how it is going. And it seems as if there has been too much happening both in the mundane of my daily life and in the massive of world events, to make space for my situation.

But busy with mundane is actually a good sign. The new dose has made a huge difference. After two weeks I was waking up looking forward to the day and with energy to actually do it. I feel like I am no longer bumping along the bottom but have resurfaced and can see the world in colour again. That first glimpse is such joy cause I forget that it really is so good, life and living and being. And so for about two weeks life felt just so awesome! I was revelling in being myself again. The real me that is often muffled and numb and so tired by it all.

But now the thrill has worn off a bit. Cause it does. Sometimes it wears off so much that it doesn't last and I start sinking. But I don't think that is what is happening. I think it is just the reality that a pill is not the whole fix. I have to keep take responsibility for the thoughts in my head. And the medication has definitely helped create a pause between a thought and my reality. It is like each thought or at least the negative and deceptive and damaging ones, has to pass through a toll booth, or a traffic light, and I can stop and ask "Is that true?" And then I can choose to replace it with something that is more real and productive. Hear is an example from my A rotation of untrue thinking.

"I cannot cope with this" (This is common at about 7:30am when feeling still tired, I am navigating the feeding, clothing and general chaos of the morning with the whole day ahead of me)

Stop light on.

"Mmm. I am coping with this. This is a normal morning with kids.  I have made Ella's lunch and I know what we will have for dinner. I am tired from being woken in the night. That is understandable. I need to eat my breakfast and have a shower. Turn on Peppa Pig so you can do that. Get dressed. Leave the mess till later." (I can remind myself of what is going well and make a plan of what to do next. I can be kind to myself)

I have such a huge collection of A Rotation lies and negative thoughts. And I also know how to address them and replace them. But without that pause, I am at their mercy and I am drowned by them.

So now that I am feeling better there is a risk that I will take the pause for granted, rely on those two little pills to keep me going, and carry on in my perfectionist patterns. But I know what eventually will happen. My energy will run down, my stress and anxiety will increase and eventually the pause will disappear again.

To maintain the pause, and the self-awareness and peace that comes with that, I actually have to do some tough stuff. It is tough because I have to have some self-discipline and some ways of doing life to keep me well. Any time I try to do that I can end up turning them into rules to beat myself with and instead of freeing me, they become a way to judge myself. So it is no small thing.

I have always been in awe of people who just decide that they are going to take up running. They decide they will run three times a week. And they do. Or sometime they don't. And their sense of self and self worth is not affected by their running status. Amazing!

For me remaining well includes getting good sleep, boundaries with my phone and being on facebook, doing exercise and eating regularly with no sugar added. Spending time alone but also with friends and spending time in prayer and reading my Bible. These are not things I should do, they are necessary for me to be ok. When I neglect these things I feel worse.

And honestly out of that whole list, I am doing none of them. Well probably sleeping pretty well, except for when little people need tending to. So it is a bit of a list and quite a bit of change to make. But it needs to happen because I do not want to go down again. And I am really to accept that I have limits and need to take care of myself.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Believing I can write

I was very flattered a few weeks ago when I was asked to write a piece for the Kiwi Families website. I have wanted to do more writing for a long time but have struggled with self confidence and time to actually do it. I have had so much positive feedback from people about my blog and my writing and I also love doing it. But it always falls the bottom of the list and there never seems to be enough space for it.

But writing this piece has made me really think about the fact that if I love this so much then I actually have to make space in my life for it. There are always reasons not to do something. I can think of a list a mile long. But even before and chaos and craziness of have kids, I still didn't make the time.

I read a lot of blogs. Mummy bloggers I guess. But many of these Mums who write see themselves as "writers". Their writing is not a hobby. It is there vocation. They aim to make a difference in the world through their words. I see their lives through the filter of what they choose to reveal and it is easy to idolise or assume they inhabit some alternate universe where the normal limits and obstacles do not apply. But these writing women also tend to be pretty vulnerable and honest and you can also see that writing for them is a choice and a discipline. A sacrifice of other things to make space for their hearts and passion for writing. And it is a battle to overcome self doubt and pride and ego to write things worthy of the pixels and paper they take up. You cannot deny the practical realities of life, such as the fact that I have to work, that I still have one preschooler who I need and want to spend quality time with. But there are no rules of how often or how much. There are no strict deadlines or goals to achieve. I just need to make space to do what I love.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Bumping along the bottom

I am sure you have heard the phrase "a bottom feeder". It is a metaphor for someone who feeds off the lowest and seediest parts of life. I am not that. But I am recognising that it is possible to be stuck at the bottom in life. Imagine a bottom feeding fish, swimming around in the almost dark and murky waters. All this fish sees is the mud a few centimeters in front of it's face. It is oblivious to the amazing wonders just a few metres above, where the sun's light reveals more and encourages life to thrive and grow.

In this sense I have been a bottom feeder. And the worst thing about it is you don't really know you are. You actually start to believe that all there is is mud. You lose faith that there could be anything else. Mud becomes normal.

For the last 6 months I have been on a new medication.  It is an SNRI and works to make my brain more sensitive to both seratonin and noradrenaline.   Gradually I have been increasing my dose, with the support of my very caring doctor. I didn't want to be on more medication than I needed. This new medication goes up in very small increments but the maximum dose is very high in pure grams than my previous medication. But what I am learning is you cannot compare dosages between medications. It would be like comparing 500g of beef mince with 500g of ground black pepper.  One is a good family meal, the other could be used as a form of torture.  Anyway, after multiple increases between January and March, I was feeling better.

I wasn't in that horrible blackness and having the awful self hatred or thoughts of self harm, ( the shame of sharing that I struggle with that level of depression and those thoughts is so huge). And since it had been that bad, things seemed so much better. Unfortunately with this type of medication, a positive response to an increased dose just confirms it was necessary.  But if the dosage is still inadequate, the positive side effects will gradually wear off. Slowly the water gets murkier and you sink millimeter by millimeter down into the mud.

I would think to myself as I woke up with dread in the morning, that is was just tired. As I became more and more overwhelmed I told myself that my kids weren't sleeping well and my hours at work had changed. It was understandable. And then I started thinking it was probably my fault. That right there is the powerful deception of depression. The mud and murkiness is my fault. If I just exercised more, or was stronger or calmer or like those mums over there...until I forgot that maybe it was just that my brain was broken. And not my fault at all.

I am so grateful for more objective measures of my mental wellbeing such as the Edinburgh scale. I can go it online and it gives me an indication of whether I am ok. If I am aware enough I can catch a slide downhill before it gets to crisis point. And this time I did. And two weeks after another dosage increase , the sun is out and I am swimming to the surface again. I ask myself "why did I let myself suffer for so long?" The sad answer is that if you are used to suffering from the very lonely pain of depression it is easy to put up with things being not ok for a very long time before thinking "I deserve better and I remember the light".

So now I am hoping and praying that if this increase is not enough, that I will realise and not drift down to the bottom again.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Everything is awful

I have very strong feelings. I also tend to have all or nothing thought patterns and add to that a sense that i am responsible for the well being and success of humanity, i am rather vulnerable to thinking "everything is awful and it's all my fault".

If you know anything about the Myers Briggs personality types, based on the work of Carl Jung, I am an ENFJ. So I am all about how I feel and this can be a problem.  It can be hard to know if the way I feel is because of certain circumstances or whether my feelings are actually driving my perception of my circumstances.  Probably both are happening in a kind of self-fulfilling feedback loop. Whether the feedback loop is positive or negative depends on all sorts of factors.

Here is a list of contributions to the mix organised into loose categories. These are the negative influences on how I feel about life snd myself. If I can tick too many on the list then it will only be s matter of time before everything feels awful.

- poor or interrupted sleep
- hormones (I can guarantee a bad week due to pmt
- missing meals, too much junk or sugar.
- lack of fresh air, sunshine and exercise.
- having any illness or pain.

- mess or lack of visual order
- jobs around the house that need doing
- no connection with nature
- a negative vibe such as conflict or anger

- feeling that I am not 'coping'. This usually means I am struggling to meet the practical demands and expectations I have of myself as a mum.
- tough stage of development for kids such as needing lots of supervision or hitting etc. Or clingy so lots of crying and high needs.

- lack of quality time and connection with hubby
- conflict or hurt in friendships
- not keeping healthy boundaries with others.

- social, either not enough or stressful
- stress at work
- over committed and dont have enough time to do it all.
- lack of selfcare such as brushing teeth before bed
- not making time to read, pray, write.

- did I take my antidepressant and is the current dose and type working?

Random stuff
- bad traffic
-running late
- unforseen happenings ...

All the above and any combination can trigger negative thought patterns which then turn into...

"Everything is awful
I am awful."

And the feeling of that becomes my reality. The darkness comes down and if I am not careful, it can overwhelm me.

Last night I found myself seriously thinking about going back to work full time, despite knowing only 24 hours earlier that not only was that unwise, it was not what I truly wanted.

But that's the problem with extreme thinking and big feelings. You get lost so fast.

After a good talk with hubby and the process of recognising what contributed to it, I seem to be seeing things more clearly. I am able to take some steps back and start to question the thoughts that lead me down that dark hole. But that's a whole other post...

I guess I am realising that if I dont learn to see the signs that I am not ok then I am at the mercy of this horrible roller-coaster.  It has already had such a devastating impact on me and if I let the feelings keep dragging me down it threatens to keep me down and I might not know how to get up again. They are feelings, not facts. They are based in fact but if I give them too much power they can stop me from actually being ablevto function.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

I miss this

So I gave up... including writing. Not that it has been a regular thing for the last year or so but almost every, single day I think about something I want to write. But I don't. Cause I don't want my thoughts to be for the purpose of publishing first and me later.

I am a natural teacher. Before a revelation about life has even revealed itself to me I am already thinking about how I could share this new found clarity. There is a large amount of ego in there I think. Something to do with proving that I am somehow wise about this world and how to live in it. But there is also this inbuilt reflex in me to be a teacher or guide. Not someone ahead showing the way but maybe someone who doesn't mind being honest about their own journey so that you can know you are not alone. Or so that you can see things in a new or different way. Or receive some sort of comfort or hope or something.

But as part of my "Year of No", as 2014 has been affectionately dubbed, this has included a no to writing this blog. I wanted to check in on the motivations and just what I wanted to achieve. I also wrestle with the vulnerability of how honest I want to be and also the privacy and respect I want to give my husband and family. I am not a secret keeper. I am probably an oversharer. So I am still working out how I can be authentic and real here but also guard myself. I am not an island and the ripples from what I write have surprised me at times.

But I miss this.
I miss writing my thoughts and journaling just doesn't seem to do it for me in the same way. I know that out there or here, on the inter-web, thousands, probably millions of people, are blogging about some aspect of their experience here on this planet. And it is easy to say it is not worth the pixels it is written in. But by what are we measuring its worth? The example of the continual popularity of cat memes and videos shows that worthiness is not something easily quantified.

So I want to write again. As I feel restless and struggle to keep saying No this year and try to stay strong in the face of my addiction to trying new things that are too much for me to manage, writing here is a little yes that doesn't require too much from me and is something that reminds me that I am more than the daily repetition and sameness I feel right now. It is a little piece of creativity and creation just for me.

Oh and you.