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Everything Changes

The more messed up this world gets, the more God makes sense.

List Maker

Friday, August 21, 2015

I'm a list maker. At least I used to be. Well, that's not exactly true. I used to be obsessed with list making, but not so much anymore. Grocery list? Yes. I still require that. But general lists are not as important these days.

I wrote lists primarily to remember things. Then someone told me that I should just trust that "if it's important, you'll remember it." They encouraged me to "put aside" my lists and find peace in knowing that it's okay to forget some things.

Perhaps I also wrote lists due to the fear of forgetting. I made the mistake of borrowing the movie Still Alice from the public library. Yes, Julianne Moore won the Oscar for her role, and yes, Rotten Tomatoes gave it an 89% rating, but it was a hard film to watch. Why? Because Alice, the main character, starts to forget words. Watching this happen is painful. I get that the diagnosis of Early-Onset Alzheimer's Disease is a reality, but I simply don't ever want to forget things.

No, I don't have dementia. But my grandmother did, and my dad suffered from some moderate Parkinson's Dementia. But that's not why I make lists. I just don't want to forget certain things that seem important in my life.

According to research from the University of Illinois at Chicago, we wouldn't be able to learn new information if we didn't forget some things. What the what?! Ben Storm, one of the researchers, is quoted in the article Why Forgetting Is Good For Your Memory:
"Memory is difficult. Thinking is difficult. (Memories) could completely overrun our life and make it impossible to learn and retrieve new things if they were left alone, and could just overpower the rest of memory. In addition, people who are able to forget unnecessary information also seem to be good at problem solving and remembering important things (even when they're distracted)."

Forgetting unnecessary information. I think that might be my problem. In his research Ben goes on to say:
"Forgetting is a surprising and unintended consequence of remembering."

I realize that he is mostly talking about forgetting things behind us, from the past, and I totally get that. But what about that "thing" I'm supposed to do later with that "person" from "somewhere" that made "plans" to get together?

HuffPost blogger and clinical psychologist Cynthia R. Green, Ph.D. says:
"...if you get anxious about something you need to remember you are only getting in your own way. Relax!"

Easy for you to say. Think I'll go make a list.

Here I Go Again

Saturday, August 15, 2015
Yesterday I posted this on my Facebook account:
Well, this has been fun, but it's time to give up FB, once again. On March 21st I stepped away from FB and started posting again on July 18th. Although I "liked" a few things here and there I was pretty much off FB for 4 months. After coming back 4 weeks ago I'm back to spending way too much time on FB. I love you all, but FB is wasting too much of my time. Time I could be spending with real friends (no offense), in person. I'm still gonna post pics on Instagram if you want to keep in touch (@peej0e). Otherwise, if you need to contact me use Messenger or text. Godspeed Facebook.

The thing I DIDN'T mention in my post is that I have also been experiencing some moderate depression, which I contribute to my Facebook connection. Forbes.com posted an article earlier this year entitled New Study Links Facebook To Depression:
"...a new study in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology finds that not only do Facebook and depressive symptoms go hand-in-hand, but the mediating factor seems to be a well-established psychological phenomenon: Social comparison.”

Honestly, I'm not sure that's why I've been depressed, but it is definitely worth considering. The article goes on to say:
"It turned out that people who used Facebook more tended to have more depressive symptoms – but social comparison was a mediating factor only for men."

I would say that I have a healthy self-esteem and rarely compare myself to others. However, I have been feeling depressed as a result of a higher than normal use of Facebook. I might even say that I have made up for my 4 month hiatus by excessively posting over the last 4 weeks.

Another study from the University of Michigan psychologist Ethan Kross argues that Facebook makes us feel sad and lonely. In her article How Facebook Makes Us Unhappy, Maria Konnikova highlights the study's findings and says, "Kross found that the more people used Facebook... the less happy they felt."

I'm still not sure where that leaves me, but one thing I know, I have been experiencing symptoms of depression, loneliness and sadness since returning to Facebook. Perhaps I need to explore this personal (and virtual) phenomenon further, but in the meantime I will bid Facebook a fine farewell.

Church, Exit Stage Left

Wednesday, August 12, 2015
I've been thinking about leaving the church (again). Hear me out. Abandoning my faith is not even an option. I am a Christian who believes in God and trusts in His Word, the Holy Bible. And I am part of God's body, the church. It's the institution that concerns me.

I keep thinking we've confused things within the walls of the church system. Does God want us to build cathedrals to "house" His presence? Didn't Jesus demolish those confining walls when he tore down the temple veil on the cross? [Matthew 27:51] After all, the Bible does says that "God who made the world and all that is in it, being Lord of both Heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by human hands..." [Acts 17:24]

And what about what this guy has to say:
Men who want to sincerely follow Christ must wean themselves from worldly governments and churches. It is the height of absurdity for a Christian to attend and support the very institutions which are destroying his relationship with God. Those who voluntarily support man-made religious church systems, by believing and teaching that they are good in any way, or that they help us, or that we need them, are still living in a dream world of deception. The ecclesia system, with it's Theocratic government and individual responsibility, is capable of freeing us from the bodage of religion. True peace and liberty cannot be found outside of Christ. Christ's system is the ecclesia system. Freedom awaits all those who will break away from the religious slavery of church and become a humble bondslave of Jesus Christ. We must stop idolizing men in their religious hypocrisy and let Christ once and for all be our King! [THE CORRECT MEANING OF "CHURCH" AND "ECCLESIA"]

Yikes. Wrap your head around that!

Six years ago I left a part time position at a local church after I was told to "f*** off" by someone in leadership. Yeah. They actually used the "f" word. It was not easy to leave and I probably didn't exit in the best way. I defended myself to the remaining church leadership and challenged the leader's state of mind - not to mention how inappropriate their actions were. In turn, I was accused of all sorts of things, mainly insubordination: "defiance of authority; refusal to obey orders". When I look back at that situation I think that perhaps I WAS insubordinate! And for good reason! I don't want to follow man's ways and rules and legalistic systems. I want to follow God!

I think we have twisted God's Word to mean what we want to hear. I believe in spiritual authority, but won't stand for its abuse; I believe in church, but that means ME, not a building!

At that time I discovered Wayne Jacobsen and Dave Coleman's book, So You Don't Want To Go To Church Anymore. Interestingly enough, the book is not about leaving your church. Although you might want to find a new one after you read it! It is more about discovering the principles of God's Word and "leaving" the principles of the institutional church system in order to experience true sacred community, fellowship and relationship.

I am re-reading the book this summer and finding it more compelling than ever. Perhaps because of the journey I've been on over the last six years that has included a short sabbatical from church ministry. The more time I spend away from the church, the closer I become to God and my friends who are believers. Seems ironic that the very institution that proclaims fellowship and communion with God is the very place that often hinders my relationship with the Lord. Not to mention the way it continues to hurt people. Another paradox. The institutional church is hurting the very people they think they are saving.
Cue the song Ironic by Alanis Morissette.

"The institution provides something more important than simply loving one another in the same way we've been loved. Once you build an institution together, you have to protect it and its assets to be good stewards. It confuses everything. Even 'love' gets redefined as that which protects the institution and 'unloving' as that which does not. It will turn some of the nicest people in the world into raging maniacs and they never stop to think that all the name-calling and accusations are the opposite of love." [p. 60 | So You Don't Want To Go To Church Anymore]

Honestly, I don't know what to do. I currently attend an amazing church filled with genuine believers that love God. Yet I still want to leave the institutional church. Or at minimum, I want my church to take the necessary measures to avoid the principles of the church system. So far we're doing pretty good, as we are a fellowship that is six years young.

And no, it wasn't started as a result of the church trauma I experienced, I simply found it on my way out.

Church Trauma, PTCD & Compassion Fatigue

Saturday, July 18, 2015
When I wrote Post Traumatic Church Disorder - Part One in April 2007 no one was really talking about this issue. At least not online. In November 2009 I combined my four part series into one post which still receives views and comments.

Today if you do a search on church trauma or PTCD you will find a myriad of blogs and articles - even support groups:

Do you have Post Traumatic Church Syndrome?

It’s Called Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome, and Yes It’s Real

Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS)

post-traumatic church syndrome is Real (and worthy of a capital letter)

My Take: 5 ways to survive 'post-traumatic church syndrome'

Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome Facebook Group

During my personal journey with PTCD I have come to understand other issues that have accompanied my struggle - primarily compassion fatigue, sometimes referred to as vicarious trauma. Last month Relevant Magazine wrote an interesting article on this topic called 4 Ways to Overcome Compassion Fatigue:
Psychology Today describes compassion fatigue as a type of Secondary Post Traumatic Stress. Compassion fatigue is a somewhat common phenomenon that affects medical workers, social workers and even pastors. It stems from witnessing or hearing about traumatic experiences in the lives of other people, and feeling helpless because you can only do so much to help.

Although my journey will be different than yours, there is hope. And it begins by becoming aware of the root issues causing your stress and fatigue so you can heal and find rest.

I want to encourage you today to seek help through counseling and support. While online groups are great, there is no substitute for one-on-one counseling with a registered therapist who has been trained to understand these issues. And while some people do not have insurance to cover the expense of a counselor, some communities now have health centers that offer free walk-in counseling. Definitely something I would encourage you to explore.

There are also many books that can challenge you on your path to healing. One that I plan to re-read this summer was very significant to me back in 2009: So You Don't Want To Go To Church Anymore by Jake Colsen. This book is free to read online through the book's website and also includes free PDF or PDA downloads.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
~ Jesus [Matthew 11:28-30 | The Message]
"...He leads me beside the still and restful waters. He refreshes and restores my life (my self)..."
[Psalm 23:2b-3a | Amplified]
"Let be and be still..."
[Psalm 46:10a | Amplified]

The Divine Moment

Thursday, March 26, 2015
"For [Saint Catherine of Siena], the divine moment was the present moment. And when such a present moment was considered as a whole and in its details, when the duty included in it had been done, there was nothing more to do, according to her, than to let it go as if it had never been, so that it could make room for the reality and the duties of the following moment".William James

Yesterday, March 25, 2015. John Baillie refers to a thought by Saint Catherine of Siena (whom I've never heard of) in his devotional A Diary of Private Prayer.

Today, I research the Saint Catherine's "divine moment" reference and discover that, in fact, William James penned it while speaking of "Saint Catharine of Genoa" (same saint?) and her mystical experiences.
"...it is said that 'she took cognizance of things, only as they were presented to her in succession, moment by moment.'"

Digging deeper I discover James' lectures on "Saintliness" in his book The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature. In one lecture he states:
The transition from tenseness, self-responsibility, and worry, to equanimity, receptivity, and peace, is the most wonderful of all those shiftings of inner equilibrium, those changes of personal centre of energy, which I have analyzed so often; and the chief wonder of it is that it so often comes about, not by doing, but by simply relaxing and throwing the burden down.

I look up the word equanimity.
(Latin: æquanimitas having an even mind; aequus even animus mind/soul) is a state of psychological stability and composure which is undisturbed by experience of or exposure to emotions, pain, or other phenomena that may cause others to lose the balance of their mind. The virtue and value of equanimity is extolled and advocated by a number of major religions and ancient philosophies.

The English writer Samuel Johnson, a.k.a. Dr Johnson, defined equanimity as "evenness of mind, neither elated nor depressed." In Christian philosophy, equanimity is considered essential for carrying out the theological virtues of gentleness, contentment, temperance, and charity. [Twenty essays on the practical improvement of God's providential dispensations]
"If you don't search for more, you'll never find it." ~ Galen G. Weston

Quiet Strength

Saturday, March 21, 2015
Wow, Facebook is an addiction. [Sigh.] Today, again, I have decided to deliberately break ties with the social media guru. There is so much more to life than scanning my news feed on Facebook. And if there is one thing I learned during my recent sabbatical, its that there are many things in life that just do not matter. Facebook being one of those things.

Recently I have been reflecting on Colossians 3:12. The Message version says,
So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline.

In alternate translations quiet strength is expressed as meekness or gentleness, although I appreciate The Message's interpretation. Finding quiet strength has been my experience over the last 8 months.

When I was a kid I had a poster on my wall of a lion and lamb sitting together that read:
...in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength...
Isaiah 30:15 | King James Version

I have become so aware of the importance of quiet time in my life - retreating to pray, like Jesus did [Mark 1:35] or simply sitting in silence to quiet my mind. My strength is renewed and I discover new insights related to my identity that gives a fresh, hopeful perspective on life, living and relationships.

I also find peace in the quiet - peace that guards my heart and keeps me mindful [Philippians 4:7].

And, today, that is where I find my strength.

Christmas Restoration

Thursday, December 25, 2014
"...he restores my soul." ~ Psalm 23:3

Something has changed in me this Christmas. Believe it or not it's been 12 years since I decorated my house for Christmas. Well, actually 11 years, because I spent Christmas in Brazil 12 years ago. And Brazil changed me. It refocused me. Through the wonderful people I met there I discovered what was important and what wasn't. When I asked them if they put up Christmas trees they looked at me funny and said, "Why would we do that?  That is how the world celebrates Christmas!" And it changed me. So for the last 11 Christmases I have been celebrating Christ's birth very differently. But something changed this year. I had one of the worst personal years of my life that included me on the brink of burnout culminating with the passing of my dad.

For the last 8 months I have been on a journey of grief and healing that has included counselling and a 16 week "self-care" course. And the healing has been slow, but steady. Effortless, even. While I have embraced my fatigue and grief, allowing myself to mourn, I have become aware of who I am and what matters most in my life. Similar to my experience in Brazil, I have once again been confronted by what is important and what is not.

And this has changed everything.
At the end of November I went to visit my sister and her family for American Thanksgiving. I felt strongly that I should go as a step in my grief journey - it would be the first time I would be with my sister since my dad passed away. While I was there we began to talk about Christmas and traditions. It sparked something in me as I had recently attended a seminar on grief that encouraged us to take advantage of ceremony and traditions as a way of remembering our loved ones.

So my sister took me down to her Christmas stash in the basement. And she had lots! She sorted through ornaments and figurines and wreaths she had made by hand. And then she began to ask if I wanted this or that. And I did, interestingly enough. I wanted to have Christmas decorations again as a way to remember all of the special holidays I spent with my parents.
This morning as I opened up a few gifts that were given to me, alone in my house, I felt like my soul was being restored. God's presence and love was so obvious and "present" that I had to stop and give thanks. I can't explain exactly how I got here today, but I am thankful that God has never left me along the way - and he never will.