Tuesday, November 21, 2017

With great power comes great responsibility

It's difficult to find someone nowadays who has not heard "With great power comes great responsibility." My first memory of it is in the original Spiderman movie with Toby McGuire many moons ago. We actually have this quote on the wall just down from my office suite at school, so I see it every single day. We tend to attribute the meaning to superheroes, but it is a reality that it applies to everyday people.

We all have a certain individual power within us--a God-given gift (power) that we are to use for His glory. That power, that gift, scares the enemy something fierce because he knows that when we use our gift, we make a difference in the lives of those around us. Some even come to know Christ as their Savior as a result of us using our gifts.

If you have been reading my blog for any length of time, you know
that I have received the anointing oil of JOY more than anyone else (Psalm 45:7 & Hebrews 1:9). How do I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt that this anointing has been bestowed upon me? Because in spite of losing 3 babies, almost dying (literally), and dealing with depression, anxiety, and other mental health & health issues, I am still having to CHOOSE JOY--to FIND JOY--to BE JOY.

I want you to know that it is NOT easy carrying such a great power. I do not take it lightly. I have days where finding the JOY within me is more difficult than my ever eating peas (that will NEVER happen). I truly have to reach down deep and beg God to fill me with His JOY because I sure can't do it on my own. I may have an anointing oil of JOY more than anyone else, but that does not mean, by any stretch of the imagination, that being JOYFUL is easy. It is a responsibility I do not take lightly, I can promise you that.

Like Spiderman (Peter Parker), I have days when I am successful at being JOYFUL (fighting bad guys in Spiderman's case). Like him, I also have days when the weight of my responsibility bears down on me such that I wonder if it is all worth it; I wonder if I might be better off taking off this cloak of anointing--as Spiderman takes off his costume (for a time). 

But the truth is that when we have a great power (gift) that has been bestowed upon us by God Himself, we must continue wearing the cloak of responsibility regardless of the circumstances and regardless of how we may feel about it. 

Most days, I love that God has anointed me with the oil of JOY more than anyone else. I am a woman of JOY and I am very proud of that fact. JOY truly is my jam. I easily see JOY where others don't. I can pick out the word itself from a mile away! If my body could demonstrate this power, it would look like whatever JOY might look like to each person who sees me.

I love that. I thank God for this incredible gift He has bestowed upon me. I am wonderstruck by His love for me that He finds me special enough to anoint me with His oil of joy more than anyone else.

But the days when L.I.F.E. happens, I wish God would "take this cup from me." When it gets difficult to CHOOSE JOY, I have to dig down deep and pray that His will be done. 

So when you see me in what you might interpret as an overly enthusiastic state, I hope you know that such a state is a gift from God that I know is a great responsibility. 

PS: As I head into the possibility of being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, I realize that a lot of my over-enthusiastic moments may be a part of such a mental disorder. Sometimes my exuberance scares me, too. I believe that God wants me to be JOYFUL--to spread JOY--and to BE JOY, but when my being such makes those around me back away uncomfortably, that is not the JOY He wants of me. I am to be a JOY that draws people to God instead of turning them away from Him. 

I always tell my students that we have to be careful that we don't overdo anything in our writings--that overdoing can be just as bad as underdoing. The same applies to the Gifts God has given each of us. What I write is meant to draw my reader in and make my reader WANT to read what I have written. What I do in JOY is meant to draw in those around me and make them WANT to be JOYFUL, too.

I desire with every fiber of my being to use my power (my gift of JOY) for God's glory which is why I am getting help and doing whatever is necessary to figure out how to be JOYFUL--how to use this power--responsibly. I am truly devastated when I use it irresponsibly. 

May I use my great power of JOY with great responsibility.


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Varying Expectations

A thousand years ago when I was a senior in high school, I was raked over the coals by a well-respected teacher because my boyfriend and I shared a quick peck (kiss on the lips) before separating to go to our respective classes after lunch.

I was shocked that she reprimanded me as she did. I mean, come on! The kiss barely lasted a whole second and it was just lips! To top it off, my best friend at the time had been playing tonsil-hockey with every boyfriend she'd had since I had met her in 7th grade! In all those years, I had never once heard anyone reprimand her. Why in the world was I being chastised when it had only happened once and the kiss hadn't involved tongues or body-touching in any way, shape, form, or fashion?!

My amazing teacher, Mrs. Strickland, pointed out that as a vocal Believer, I had a responsibility to keep a good reputation. And kissing my boyfriend in the hallway for the whole world to see was not going to do anything for my integrity.

I was upset with Mrs. Strickland. I could not believe that she had reprimanded me for kissing when she had never once spoken to my friend.

But I respected Mrs. Strickland greatly, so in spite of being upset with her, Ricky and I did not kiss one another in school again. 

He and I broke up after just under a year of dating and we each moved on and married other people. 


When my husband and I were first dating, we were admonished by my parents and our pastor to be careful of things like sitting in his truck alone after church. Since I was in college an hour away, it was often the only time we had together all week. So, needless to say, we were beyond frustrated that we couldn't even sit in his truck and TALK without feeling as if we were being accused of fooling around.

Personally, I was frustrated and angry at being reprimanded for something so innocent. I couldn't believe that these people did not trust me--or my then-boyfriend.

Fast forward to the past year: earlier this year, I was lectured on being over-friendly with a man who was visiting our campus. While nothing untoward had happened between the man and me, because we had joked around all day with one another and made fast friends (ok, acquaintances), some people thought that when this man and I hugged at the end of the day that something inappropriate had happened. In spite of the fact that we were in a very public place with not only my boss standing just a few feet away, but so was his girlfriend. 

I couldn't believe that I was being accused being inappropriate with so many witnesses to prove that this man and I had shared an innocent hug. Yes, I think the man is very attractive, but that doesn't mean that I would ever jeopardize my marriage or my reputation--on purpose.

It didn't matter that there were so many witnesses or that the man agreed that it was just a hug. I was chastised.

Again.

Over the course of the past few months, I have, once again, been accused of being inappropriate even though I believe that the evidence refutes it. As do many of my friends and family who know about the situation.

But once again, it's all about APPEARANCES. Many years ago, someone told me that "I may be the only Bible others see." I know that my daily walk--my behavior, actions, words, etc.--is my most important, valuable witness. It determines my reputation and my integrity. If I want the people around me to believe that I am a woman who has been anointed by God with the oil of Joy more than anyone else, then I can't just talk the talk; I also have to walk the walk.

1 Corinthians 8:9: "But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble."

I may believe and know that I am not doing anything "wrong"--against what God wants of me, but if someone--anyone--believes that I am, that is enough for chastisement to be necessary. My job is to be a living witness for my Lord and Savior to the very best of my ability. When I do or say something that makes anyone question my faith, then I must accept the reprimand--whether I agree with it or not.

I don't like it. Not one tiny little bit. In fact, it tears me to pieces. In recent years, I have dealt with depression and anxiety and I am currently looking at an even more serious diagnosis which means that when the chastisement comes, I do not handle it well. I am not blaming my mental illness, mind you. I am simply saying that when we look at the whole package of what makes Polly Anna the Polly Anna she currently is, I am struggling with depression, anxiety, other mental health issues, as well as a variety of health issues. The whole work together to make any [false] accusations against me that much more challenging to accept, deal with, and, ultimately, to overcome.

But my God is reminding me that it is not about me and how I feel or even my own intentions. It is about the APPEARANCE of what I have said or done that has caused at least one person to devalue my faith--my integrity--my reputation. Thus, it is important that I understand that while my words and actions were completely unintentional in regards to being inappropriate, they were received as inappropriate. I must accept my chastisement, learn from it, apologize as necessary, and change accordingly.




“If one individual commits an unintentional sin, the guilty person must bring a one-year-old female goat for a sin offering."

I am not sure what substitutes as a "one-year-old female goat for a sin offering" in the 21st Century beyond asking God for forgiveness, but I do want to say that I have asked God for forgiveness and I am willing to whatever else it takes to demonstrate that I am truly, deeply, humbly sorry for my "unintentional sin." 

I pray that God shows me what to do and/or say to demonstrate that I do regret my actions and I will use this new chastisement as more of a learning experience than ever before. I also pray that those involved will forgive me as well.

"For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights."

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Desperate for Encouragement

I am going to use this post to be vulnerable and share with you that I am desperate for encouragement. 

My anxiety is through the roof. 

Since God sealed my cave almost 2 years ago (see previous entries), I have found a whole new cave that I have RUN into. The darkness has surrounded me again and I am not so sure that I want to come out ever again. I know my Jesus is at the entrance to my cave calling my name in love as He watches over and protects me. I just cannot bring myself to listen and respond. 

At this moment in time, with my anxiety level so high, it FEELS that there is more comfort to be found in the darkness than in my Savior's Light.

It's just TOO hard to go on CHOOSING JOY every day, every hour of every day, every second of every day. 

I am reading scripture; I am in the Word. I am speaking the Word. I am listening to and singing worship songs. I am reading and doing Bible Studies. But I am struggling.

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month and I am 1 in 4.

Friday, September 1, 2017

You. ARE. S-E-E-N.

"Doesn't he see everything I do and every step I take?" Job 31:4, NLT

I am beginning to truly understand the truth that we all have an innate, deep-seated need to be SEEN. God makes it clear throughout His Word that HE sees us--each and every single one of us. He says that He has counted the very hairs on my head, even! 
Matthew 10:29-31, NLT: "29 What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. 30 And the very hairs on your head are all numbered.31 So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows."


God SEES me in such a way that He even catches my tears and keeps them in a bottle: Psalm 56:8, NLT, "You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book."

My God loves me so much that he has counted the very hairs on my head and He keeps track of all my sorrows, collecting my very tears in His bottle. And just in case we still wonder whether or not God SEES and loves us, He also sings over us with JOY: Zephaniah 3:17New Living Translation (NLT),
17 "For the Lord your God is living among you.
    He is a mighty savior.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
    With his love, he will calm all your fears.[a]
    He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”
Wow. Knowing how much God loves and SEES me is truly powerful. A game-changer. Comforting.

But. . . .

I still want to know that the people I am in contact with on a daily basis SEE me. Lord, please forgive me, but in spite of the fact that I KNOW YOU SEE me, I still need to know that others SEE me, too. I want to be noticed. I want to be affirmed. I want those around me to LOOK at ME--to SEE and KNOW the real ME. While I am truly scared for it to happen, I would love it if just one person would SEE my mask and know it for what it is. I need for someone--an earthly being--to stand with me and SEE me for who I really am--with and without the mask I wear, pretending to be someone I'm not, pretending to be "Peachie" when I'm not. . .Pretending.

If just one person would slow down long enough to LOOK at me, he/she would SEE the pain and sorrow that I struggle with on a daily, hour-by-hour basis. If just one person would slow down long enough to LOOK at me, he/she would SEE that I am silently screaming for attention, to be noticed. 

One of my favorite tv shows is the original CSI [Las Vegas]. Early in the show's career, they did an episode where a guy is killed on an airplane which means that someone on the plane killed him. They discovered that several of the passengers had beaten up on the guy because he had gone crazy and was trying to open the door while in mid-flight. What they discovered, though, was that the reason the guy had gone so wacko was because he was sick. He was suffering. But no one noticed that he was sick. Not one person noticed that he was sweating bullets in spite of the air blowing right on him. No one noticed that he was shaky and incoherent--without having had anything alcoholic to drink. The CSI team deduced that if just ONE PERSON had LOOKED at this guy, really and truly LOOKED at him and had SEEN him, his life could have been saved.

I think of that episode a lot. It comes to my mind more often than I can even explain. If just ONE person had SEEN....

There is a poem by Stevie Smith called "Not Waving but Drowning." The poem is about a guy who has died because when everyone thought he was waving, he was, in truth, drowning, so no one helped him. Everyone is too far out or just not paying enough attention to notice that he was in trouble. If just ONE person had noticed, had looked, had SEEN....

When I see someone acting out--making a scene, my heart breaks because that person simply wants to be SEEN.

Remember when we were kids--or if you have kids, do you remember them....shouting, "Mom! Look! Look, Mom! Watch me! Mom! Look at me! Watch what I can do!" And there was nothing for it but to watch. To look. To SEE. 

As we grow older and enter school, we are SEEN less and less. Our teachers have a classroom full of students--typically no fewer than 20 in any given classroom. When I was growing up, I remember there being no fewer than 30 in some of my classes. In college, the number was multiplied by at least 3 in many of my classes--especially my freshman classes. As students, we get lost in the sea of other students--all of us wanting to be SEEN.

As a teacher myself--I have been for just under 20 years, I can tell you that it is more than a challenge to ensure that each student is truly SEEN. No matter how hard I try, some students demand to be SEEN so much so that, in spite of my best efforts, the others are not. I want it to be different. I want each and every single student who sits in my class to be SEEN and to feel SEEN by me. 

I have such a desperate need to be SEEN. I know I cannot be--that I am not--the only one who feels this way. I would like to throw out the crazy idea that even the shyest among us just want to be SEEN. The shy might not want to be pointed out, spoken to, or made to speak in class, but they do still want to be SEEN--and to be allowed to be SHY without being made to feel as if they are doing something wrong or that there is something wrong with them because they are shy.

When I am honest with myself, I have to admit that sometimes I do certain things just because I am so very desperate to be SEEN. I know that it is impossible to give equal attention to all. That is a simple, but difficult, truth of the reality of life. It is the way it is. But even knowing that truth, it still hurts when others within my sphere get more attention, are SEEN, more than I am. When our boss acknowledges his/her good work on a project...when the higher ups give kudos to the guy down the hall because he gave a presentation at a conference...when students in my class tell me how much they love another professor....when....and the list goes on and on.

In my deepest place of knowing, I realize that I am not "overlooked"--at least, not on purpose. Sometimes it is perception rather than truth that I am overlooked. I may have received accolades the week before and now it's someone else's turn. Or maybe the other person is given kudos because it is the first time that he/she has ever done anything above and beyond the norm. When I take a step back and look at the big picture, I can acknowledge that no one person is being shown favoritism. It is just my perception because in that moment, I am not being SEEN.

Most of us have heard or even quoted the saying that we should be kind to all because we never know what the other person is going through. Almost every single person I have ever met in my 46 years is dealing with some issue that is making life difficult. If you have been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that I have experienced child loss 3 separate times and that I have dealt with severe health issues for many years. Not to mention the lack of self-esteem, the depression, anxiety, marriage problems, and just plain wondering if life was even worth living. I have my good days. I have my bad days. And on my good days, they can become bad days in the blink of an eye when I am not SEEN--when someone says or does something insensitive. My heart can break and I can go from "Peachie" to "Help me, Lord! I'm slipping!" (Psalm 94:18, NLT) in 0.0 seconds flat.

There are two lessons that we can learn here:

1. truly SEE the people around you--LOOK at them--PAY ATTENTION to your loved ones and SEE beyond the masks, SEE beyond the pretence that all is just "fine";

and

2. accept that those around you are not perfect and that they are NOT your enemy--you are NOT being ignored or forgotten--others are so busy trying to be SEEN that they are not aware of the fact that you want to be SEEN, too. So give others the benefit of the doubt and treat them the way you want to be treated: 

SEE them.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Words of Affirmation

Before I get into this, I just want to remind you that words of affirmation and words of encouragement are, essentially, the same thing. Affirming words/statements provide encouragement and encouraging words/statements are encouraging. It's virtually impossible to have one without the other, so when I say "words of affirmation," I'm using the phrase as a synonym to "words of encouragement."

The other day, I had a bad day. I know that everyone has a bad day every once a while. My bad days are probably no worse than anyone else's--except for the fact that I deal with depression. While God is in the very active process of completely removing my depression (healing me), it is a process for me. So on my bad days, like so many others who deal with severe depression, I think "those" thoughts--not just thoughts of how I'm useless and worthless I am and how no one respects or likes me and how I'm so pathetic that there's no way anyone could love me or even want to love me, but yes, also "those" thoughts.

I've even decided how I'd do it. The most painless way I can possibly think of. One time, on a bad day, I started driving towards a light pole, speeding faster and faster. I'm here, so obviously I slowed down and parked my car.

Now, don't panic or feel as if I need an intervention. I'm fine. But I will honestly tell you that my bad days are really bad. Everyone asks how someone like Robin Williams (and so many others) could kill himself. I KNOW how.

I share such a horrible secret with you because I want to get to this part: I am learning more and more with each and every bad day how to get through them with positivity and JOY. Of course, there are other methods I use to get through my bad days, but the one that helped me through my bad day the other day was words of affirmation.

Bless his heart, my poor husband was super-overwhelmed when I laid out everything I was thinking and feeling on him. He listened and he offered what words of comfort he could, but considering how intense I was, there really and truly, honestly was nothing he could say--or do--that would get me out of my funk. Just him listening did make a huge difference, but it simply wasn't enough.

After he went to bed, I was still struggling, so I found myself whispering words of affirmation from the Holy Spirit to myself over and over. When that failed, I grabbed a gorgeous metallic-pink Sharpie and wrote the words of affirmation on my arms: "I love you. You are Awesome" (left arm) & "You are my JOY Song" (right arm).
I didn't need to sign them or write that they were from the Holy Spirit in order to feel as if He was speaking them to me--to my heart--to my very deepest soul--every time I read those words over the course of the next two or three days. But that's exactly what they did: they spoke to my very inner being and helped me remember that my bad day was just that--ONE bad day.

And the thoughts I was thinking about being unloved and so on were not at all true; they were lies from the enemy who knew that I was having a bad day and he was having a field day with my heart.

Sometimes reading the Bible isn't enough. Sometimes praying isn't enough--whether it's prayer alone or with a personal prayer warrior. Sometimes talking to someone isn't enough--even when the someone is supportive and encouraging to the best of his/her ability. Sometimes worship isn't enough--even when it's a favorite worship song. Sometimes laughter isn't enough--not even when it's a Robin Williams movie. :(  

Sometimes....just sometimes, we need not only to hear or read the words of affirmation, but we need to see and feel them in our very being. Writing them on my body where I could see and read them ALL THE TIME helped. It just did. Maybe next time writing the words of affirmation on my arms won't help. 

The important thing for me and for everyone else dealing with bad days--whether we're struggling with depression or not--to remember is that we must FIND the words of affirmation we need and read them, write them, hear them, speak them, color them....whatever we need to do in order to feel the affirmations deep in our very souls so that we can allow the Holy Spirit to minister to the very deepest part of us.

The Bible tells us that "we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and the authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against the wicked spirits in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:12, NLT). These are the forces that triumph, that feel victorious on our bad days, especially when we give in to the thoughts and feelings that are tearing us apart.

The wonderful good, amazing, extraordinary, super-fantastic news is that God Himself goes to battle for us! We don't have to battle the enemy who is putting "those" thoughts in our heads! We don't have to fight him. We don't have to fight the thoughts! The Bible tells us over and over and over and over again that God will fight for us. Our job is to put on our armor and STAND: "Be strong with the Lord's mighty power. Put on all of God's armor so that you will be able to STAND FIRM [emphasis mine] against all strategies and tricks of the devil" (Ephesians 6:10-11, NLT).

When I give in to the negative thoughts, feelings, and actions of my bad days, I'm allowing the enemy to win. And he and his minions are dancing with great glee because I am taking my eyes off God and putting them on self.

I have no desire to let the enemy win over my soul. There is NO WAY I am going to spend eternity in the fiery pits of hell. I can't stand the heat here on earth!!! ;)

I intend to go to heaven for eternity and spend it with my Lord and Savior in my gorgeously wonderful glorified body: "...we long for the day when we will put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing" (2 Corinthians 5: 2, NLT)!!! That means that one day, this chubby girl is going to have a body that will no longer be chubby or in pain! It means that this body will never again have to deal with depression or "those" thoughts or even bad days! 

I refuse to give up the HOPE of my eternal salvation just because I'm having a bad day! So when I have another bad day, I will remind myself of the words of affirmation from my Lord: "I love you. You are Awesome. You are MY JOY Song." I will read His Word. I will sing His praises. I will worship. I will bow down. I will pray. I will hear the words of Affirmation from His Holy Spirit deep within my very soul. And I WILL STAND FIRM in Him.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Smile

Do you smile? A lot?
Never?
When you see someone looking at you? Even a stranger?
All the time?
Only when you're in public? 
Only when there is something worth smiling about?

Growing up, my mom was always telling me to Smile. I'd get up to do a performance of some sort (piano recitals, VBS presentations of what we'd learned throughout the week, church choir, church plays, various school activities, the list is endless) and mom would be in the audience smiling her huge smile. If I wasn't smiling, she'd make a smile motion with her finger to her mouth and I'd automatically smile.

Whether I want to smile or not, smiling is officially a huge part of who I am. I smile ALL the time. I almost got in a fight once when I was in high school because I was smiling. We were practicing for our band competition and the band director had us lined up across from one another. I was smiling at everyone on the opposite side of me when this one girl who I didn't know angrily asked me, "What are you smiling at?!" I grinned even wider and told her that I was just smiling! She took a step out of line towards me, but a friend standing close to me told the girl that I always smiled [like a goofball--I can't remember if he added that part or if I've added it to my memory ;)]. Needless to say, I'm pretty sure he saved my life. I have NO fighting skills, so she'd have beaten me to a pulp if she had decided to follow through!!

That experience didn't stop me from smiling one bit. It was too deeply ingrained in me by then. 

I might have smiled early on because my mom "made" me, but as the years went by, I smiled because I wanted to. I loved to smile and I certainly loved to laugh....a lot.

There have even been times when I've walked into my classroom and my students have said, "Toldja!" When I've asked what was up, I was told that they had bet one another on whether or not I would walk in with a smile on my face. I had no idea at the time that others noticed my smile--whether I smiled or not or even how often I smiled--or not. It was reassuring, I admit, to learn that when I was in public, I was always smiling.

Smiling has been one of my greatest blessings; I am truly thankful to my wonderful mom for making it so much a vital part of who I am.

I am sad to say, though, that smiling has also been my greatest curse. Since the first onset of my depression while my husband and I were living in Missouri, I have used my smile to hide behind--as a mask to cover up my sadness and deepest sorrows and anxieties. I have pretended that all is well when in reality I was not only battling depression, but I was also battling a desire to just die. I had come to hate my life in such a huge way. I had NO real friends while we lived in Missouri and I was simply miserable. I was so excited when we finally moved home; I just knew that my depression would end and I could quit pretending that all was well. I was out of "Misery" (my mom and I had started calling Missouri that) and I was back home with family and friends.

Then we learned that I was going to have a baby and my smile grew bigger, wider, and much more pronounced. I had thought that I smiled huge before that, but being pregnant was the greatest desire of my life and I was more JOYFUL than I'd ever thought it was possible to be. You couldn't wipe the smile off my face even while I was throwing up! And I threw up every single day of that pregnancy--until it was abruptly over.

James Isaac was stillborn on March 17, 1999. That is the day my smile died, as well. 

It is the day when the mask came back up and was permanently glued to my face. My smile was for the benefit of others. They grieved for me and hurt for me and I wanted to reassure them that I was ok--or that I would be ok--even though I wanted to be in the ground with my baby. 

I smiled because I didn't know what else to do. I smiled to reassure others. I smiled because it was too deeply a part of me not to. I smiled because I wanted to prove that I was strong--not only in body, but especially in my faith. I smiled. But I smiled only with my mouth. I have no idea if others noticed that I didn't smile with my whole being as I had done before. I've never asked because I hoped with every fiber of my being that my smile was good enough to make them feel better so they wouldn't worry about me...even though they should have been worried.

Over the next ten years, at least, my smile was plastered on, but it was fake--a mask--hiding severe depression, anxiety, and grief. I have recently learned that PTSD doesn't apply just to those in the military. I clearly was suffering from PTSD, but I pretended that I was the PollyAnna everyone expected me to be. I smiled because I was determined to be happy in spite of my pain and suffering, in spite of my grief. I smiled because I had read somewhere that some things we must do as a way of "faking it 'til we make it." Deep down, I hoped that if I kept smiling even though I didn't feel the smile that one day the mask would come unglued and my smile would be genuine--it would be the real me.

In a way, that was true. I smiled until my cheeks and my neck hurt. And one day, I realized that in order for my mask to be removed--for my smile to be real again, I would have to make A CHOICE to change. I would not become happy again just because I smiled until it happened. I would only become happy again when I CHOSE to make it happen. 

It was during that time that I discovered that I didn't want to just be happy, I wanted to be JOYFUL, full of the JOY of the Lord. That was when the Lord gave me the verse, "You love justice and hate
evil. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you, pouring out the oil of joy on you more than on anyone else" (Psalm 45:7 & Hebrews 1:9, NLT). I wept as I understood that God wanted to restore my JOY. But not only did He want to restore my Joy, but He wanted to anoint me with the oil of joy--more than anyone else.

I began studying everything I could about JOY, starting with every single verse in the Bible that mentions JOY--in every translation and in every definition of JOY. I began memorizing JOY verses and looking for JOY in everything around me.

My mask--my fake smile--did not come off quickly or easily. As I said, it was glued on. It came off in small pieces--slowly--one at a time. I would argue that there are still small pieces that refuse to come unstuck, but the wonderfulness of God is that my smile is real again--genuine. When I smile now, it's because I have the JOY of the Lord deep down in my heart and soul. He truly has anointed me with the oil of joy more than anyone else I know.

I do not take His gift lightly. So when I smile at you, know that I smile from a place of JOY. My smile is just one way I have of demonstrating that God has removed my depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and the painful mask I wore for so long.

And all I can do now is Praise Him with my Smile!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Fears after Child Loss

From the moment of hearing that our precious James Isaac no longer had a heartbeat, I have had two fears: 

1. that he would be forgotten
2. that he would be remembered

Let me explain the second fear first since I'm sure that seems strange to you. After the loss of a loved one, especially a child, hearing the loved one's name brings a feeling that is super difficult to explain. Those who have experienced it will know what I'm talking about. It's kind of like having butterflies in your stomach when you're nervous before a test or recital or the like, but yet it's MORE. 

My heart flutters, my stomach drops down into my toes, the butterflies fly en masse, my heart stops beating, my face goes red, my face blanches, I feel faint, I feel like running [away]. The feeling is even worse when someone I don't know or who never knew my James Isaac (or Panya Ruth or Anna Rose) says his name. Or when someone I'm not too terribly fond of says his (their) name.

It is difficult to hear the name of my beloved son and those of his sisters spoken out loud. In my grieving, I have found it super difficult to say their names myself. I went a long time not being able to write their names even. I still hesitate and have to remind myself to breathe when I say their names. 

Why? You may ask and it is a valid question--especially if you haven't experienced such loss. Because their names bring the memories to the forefront--again--flooding back to the surface like a tsunami, ready to drown me in sorrow once again. The pain of my losses is ALWAYS just below the surface as it is; it's always ready to explode at the slightest provocation, especially when someone speaks their name. Most of the time, I can smile and laugh and LIVE and function in as normal a manner as possible--living in the full JOY of the Lord. But it only takes one tiny thing, saying his name, to open the floodgates.

But I NEED to hear his name--their names. I NEED to know that they are remembered. I mean, come on. I carried James Isaac to term. I was at 38 weeks when we discovered his heart was no longer beating. And while Panya Ruth and Anna Rose were both gone by my 11th week, my heart had already fallen in love with them the same way it had for the one I carried full term. My babies LIVED. Just because the state of North Carolina never gave me a birth certificate doesn't mean that they didn't live. My heart, my body, and my very soul know that each one was just as alive and whole as the one son I have here with me, Samuel. (Samuel is my rainbow baby is just recently turned 16!)

So when I received the following note just a few weeks ago, the emotions that ran through me are next to impossible to describe:

My heart.

Ben's mom, Leslie, and I worked together at the same school and we were both pregnant at the same time. I was about two months further along than she was, but we were close enough that we developed and quick, easy, and strong relationship in our shared joy of pregnancy. We are close in age and have many similar interests and personality traits. It was a JOY to be pregnant together. (This picture is of us at Miami Beach when we took our Seniors on their Senior trip. That's Ben in her very pregnant belly.)

We often talked about the play dates our boys would have and how they would grow up together as the closest of friends, just like their moms. It is a treasured time in my life.

But then James Isaac was stillborn.

Leslie was there to hold my hand, to comfort, to pray with me, and to just BE with me. She was a true FRIEND in my hour of need and I will NEVER forget that she felt as if she had lost her child, too. It meant so much to me that she loved my Precious so very much. I was able to visit and hold and love on Ben soon after he was born and Leslie came to see us two years later when my Samuel was born.

But over the years, we both moved on to other jobs and we simply have not been able to hang out and do things together. We have managed to stay connected via Facebook, which has been wonderful!! We haven't actually seen each other in 16 years.

 And then Ben's note arrived in the mail. Distance doesn't matter in the slightest when a friend is real and true. Time doesn't matter in the slightest when a friend is real and true. Leslie is both. And to learn that she remembered my James Isaac to such a degree that she told her son Ben all about him and about our dreams for our boys made my heart do all kinds of crazy wonderful things. My heart was truly full to bursting. It messaged Leslie and told her that I would be at Ben's graduation--as would my husband James and my Samuel.

There are not words for the JOYFUL SORROW I have experienced over the past several weeks and especially as we watched Ben cross the stage last night at his high school graduation. All I can do is tell my precious friend, Leslie, and her wonderful son, Ben--THANK YOU. Thank you. Thank you.

I love you dearly and I always will.

 








And I can't help including a picture of Leslie and me with our students at their Senior Formal.


Friday, March 24, 2017

The Wonder Woman

She grew up in an era when Wonder Woman was the hero of the
day. The show was a hit. Every little girl wanted to be Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman. A truly wonderful woman who was beautiful, strong, smart, powerful, but every inch a woman--beloved by all.


Whenever she and her friends played pretend, she was Wonder Woman, turning in the Wonder-Woman twirl, going from Diana Prince to Wonder Woman in a brilliant flash of light.


She even had Wonder Woman Underoos that she wore until she could no longer wear them. Her little sister had Wonder Woman boots that she wore everywhere with every outfit. Yes, her sister even wore her Wonder Woman boots on Easter Sunday with her pretty, new Easter dress--no matter how much she and her brother begged their mom to make her sister take them off. Her younger sister would throw a tantrum until their mom simply had to give in out of sheer exhaustion. Like herself with her Wonder Woman Underoos, her sister wore those Wonder Woman boots until they fell off her feet.


As the years passed, she forgot about Wonder Woman. Not in such a way that she completely forgot, just forgot in such a way that life went on. The show was eventually cancelled. She grew up. Graduated from high school. Went to college. Got her graduate degree. Fell in love and got married.


And eventually she learned that she was going to have a baby. If the baby was going to be a girl, she would have her own Wonder Woman underoos!


But the baby didn’t make it.


Wasn’t Wonder Woman able to fix anything? Didn’t Diana always twirl around into Wonder Woman and use her magical lasso or her headband or bracelets to save the day? How come she couldn’t use that magic lasso of her deep love this time to make her baby breathe the same way she could get villains to tell the truth?


Wonder Woman NEVER failed.


Ever.


She ALWAYS got her man. She ALWAYS won the day. She ALWAYS saved those she cared about from certain death.


Always.


But this time she was a failure. Even the flash of light when she twirled didn’t change her from plain, ordinary, practically useless Diana Prince into the amazingly wonderful, powerful, strong, practically perfect in every way Wonder Woman. No matter how magical her lasso was, it was powerless this time. Her headband and bracelets couldn’t deflect the enemy’s bullets from taking the life of her Precious. Her invisible plane couldn’t whisk them away to her Amazonian home where magic abounded in a vain attempt to save him.


Wonder Woman NEVER fails.


Never.


She ALWAYS wins.


ALWAYS.


But not this time….


….not this time.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Achieving goals

As part of my recovery and choosing JOY regardless of what I've been through, I made a conscious decision to live my life with intentionality. So in January of 2014, I completed a dreamboard using dreamitalive.com. My dreams as noted on that dream board were--and still are: 

1. Marriage restoration--complete marriage restoration
2. Take a group of students to England (and see a play performed in the "new" Globe theater)
3. Be "Teacher of the Year"--or at least nominated for it
4. Go back to Disney and stay at a Disney resort for no less than 7 days
5. Get healthy--not really to lose weight, but to be healthy
6. "I am holding a copy of my new book in my hand. It's beautiful. It's the cover God showed me in a vision 15 years ago. Others are reading it and being blessed as a direct result of my story. God is being honored. - See more at: http://www.dreamitalive.com/pandapaw48/dreamboard#sthash.1xQPXTIC.dpuf"

I have had that dreamboard image tacked to my corkboard bulletin board on the door to my pantry in my kitchen ever since I created it. I see it every single day. I have prayed over it. Not much has changed about it--except that some of my dreams have come true....

1. Marriage restoration--complete marriage restoration--within a year of creating this dreamboard, my husband and I attended a "Weekend to Remember" event with FamilyLife Today. During that weekend, we re-committed ourselves to one another and renewed our vows. I'd call that a marriage restoration!
2. Take a group of students to England (and see a play performed in the "new" Globe theater)--I'm still trying for this one. I recently requested from the powers that be the opportunity to take a group of students to England, but because of recent travel restrictions, it's a no-go. I'll try again in a few months--once things have settled down as far as traveling is concerned. I'm not giving up!!!
3. Be "Teacher of the Year"--or at least nominated for it--as of today, March 21, 2017, I have been nominated for the "Excellence in Teaching" award for this year. (It means the same thing as "Teacher of the year.") I am truly humbled and honored for this nomination and I honestly mean it when I say that it is an honor just being nominated. It is a dream come true; one I put on my dreamboard as a "secret" dream that I didn't tell anyone about...until now. Now for the work of putting together all the necessary paperwork needed to fulfill my nomination requirements!
4. Go back to Disney and stay at a Disney resort for no less than 7 days--it'll happen....one day!
5. Get healthy--not really to lose weight, but to be healthy--So this one has been very difficult. I did start going to the pool; I even got a membership at a local gym with a pool. I was going at least 4 times a week. But then I got busy and had to pull back and I haven't had a chance to go now in more than a year. I want to go.....
6. "I am holding a copy of my new book in my hand. It's beautiful. It's the cover God showed me in a vision 15 years ago. Others are reading it and being blessed as a direct result of my story. God is being honored. - See more at: http://www.dreamitalive.com/pandapaw48/dreamboard#sthash.1xQPXTIC.dpuf"--the reality of publishing a book I've written is becoming more and more real. I still have a lot of work to do, but I'm being very proactive. I know that this dream will come to pass SOON!!!

I know that there are those who will read this blog entry and roll their eyes in reaction to what they perceive as me bragging or rubbing my successes in their faces. I can't help how some people respond. I'm truly sorry if you are one of these; I am not sharing because I want to brag or rub it in anyone's face. I am sharing because I want to Praise my God for what He has done and is doing in my life! 
Psalm 71:15, NLT: "I will tell everyone about your righteousness. All day long I will proclaim your saving power, for I am overwhelmed by how much you have done for me."


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

When the Music Begins

"Why are you so eager to die?"--writing prompt (following is what came from this prompt)**Revised**


When the Music Begins
        Frustrated, she screamed and swiped the papers, pens, pencils, knick-knacks, snacks, and drinks off the top of the piano. She repeatedly banged her head on the piano top, screaming incoherently through each pounding. The tears flowed freely. She was powerless to stop her temper tantrum, as she called it; others might have called it an anxiety attack or something more meaningful. She hated herself for her lack of control and inability to change anything, for her weakness.
        As if from out of a tunnel, soft moans of “Mom,” “Mo-o-om,” called her back to consciousness. Taking a quick moment to straighten her clothes and then rushing into the bathroom to splash some cold water on her face, she plastered on her biggest mommy-is-just-fine smile and went in to her son’s room. She fought the catch in her spirit as she looked once again on his too-tiny-for-his-age body. Choking back the sobs, she sat on the edge of the bed and pulled her Precious into her arms.
        He sighed contentedly as he relaxed into her, his head on her breast, feeling the solid beating of her heart telling him that it beat for him. “Mom?” he coughed.
        She couldn’t stop the tears, but she could control her voice, “Yes, Sugar-Bear?” She ran her fingers through his hair, snuggling him closer and murmuring soft words of comfort.
        “Why were you screaming?”
        “What?” she was horrified that he had heard her. She had been so wrapped up in her own emotions, she had forgotten how thin the walls were.
        “You have to finish it, Mom,” he croaked.
        “No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. . . .”
She wondered “Why are you so eager to die?”
She knew, deep in her very soul, that finishing the song meant his death. There was something un-namable, something un-identifiable about the connection between her writing this song and her son’s life.
        As long as she didn’t finish the song. . . she refused to finish the thought as she rocked her baby back and forth and her arms, still repeating, “No. No. No. No. No. . . .”
        He hugged her back, whispering, “It’s ok, Mom. It’s ok. Yes. It’s ok. It’s ok.”
         She soon felt his little body go slack in her arms. As she tucked him back in for the night, her tears continued flowing steadily. She leaned over to kiss his adorable, somehow-still-plump cheek and noticed a piece of paper clutched in his hand. She gently unfurled his fingers and smoothed out the wrinkles the best she could.
        Her hand flew to her mouth to stifle her cries even as her mind registered the words written in her son’s baby scribble, “Lord, please tell Mommy that You’ve got this. Jesus, please hold Mommy tight in Your arms as You are already holding me. Tell her it’s ok, Jesus. It’s ok. . . .”
        She crumpled to the floor, grabbed the extra blanket on the bottom of her son’s bed, stifling her sobs. She rocked back and forth, staring at the words on the paper until she could no longer see through her tears.
        After a long time, she gently sat on the edge of the bed and took his slight hand in hers. She kissed each miniscule finger and then held his hand against her cheek as she memorized every inch of her pint-sized Precious.
        Resolved, she quietly stole out of the room and went straight to her piano. She didn’t bother with all the paper and pens. Her heart knew the notes.
        As the angelic music filled the tiny apartment, he smiled in his sleep and dreamed of arms opening wide to welcome him home. . . .