Why I Needed My Journal

Aside from the fact that I’m very vulnerable in my journal, the hardest thing for me when I thought it was gone was that I thought I lost the words the Holy Spirit gave to me in times when I was called to write.

I don’t journal often, I’d like to do it more, but every time I pick up the pen and put it to paper, I start to feel God speaking to me – my body flows with the energy of the Holy Spirit and I realize not only how much I am loved, but how much I have to give. Sometimes it’s a conviction that something needs to change, sometimes I’m afraid to write because I’m afraid that the conviction will come and it will be something I don’t want to give up.

A year ago I wrote and emailed a Letter from The Psych Ward to friends and family who were praying for me. I was struggling with wanting to disappear, escape – and had plans for how to make that happen, and almost did. But people who loved me stepped up and sat by me and took me to the hospital.

Last spring I was still really struggling with anxiety and depression while they were still trying to figure out what medications I should be taking. Ken connected with a “friend” and got us a free stay at Tinhorn Creek Winery’s guest suite. Three nights. A weekend without responsibility or expectation.

We built fires in the fireplace, sipped amazing wine and listened to The Count of Monte Cristo by someone with amazing French. On the Saturday morning, sipping on steaming mug of French pressed coffee, looking out over the winery, I worked on some homework from my mentoring class.

These are the words (verbatim) from my journal. The question is from the homework in my second year course of mentoring with At The Table, Barb Borthistle and the words are words I need to read more often than I do. One of the thoughts that came to me when I lost my journal (and that have come frequently over the last two years) is that if I shared my vulnerability and celebration on Scattered Graces, then they wouldn’t be lost AND I’d be held accountable. So that these words of promise aren’t lost again, I’m posting them here for the world to see – to hold me accountable, yes, but mostly to remember again how deeply I am loved.

Really close friends share their secrets, struggles and joys with each other. Describe your communication in your friendship with God. Ask the Holy Spirit every day, ‘Where are you going today, Spirit?’

“Enjoy your children – that is your job. Be with them. Let the house concerns fall said, they will be cared for in love and excitement once you love on your children.

“When it becomes overwhelming and you desire escape – cast your cares on me and I, the Holy Spirit, will encourage you to do what I am calling you to do. Be in love with your life – don’t try to love the thought of what could be. Love what is and embrace it.

“Don’t escape me today. Embrace what I’m telling you. This weekend is not about escape, it’s about restoration and revival.

“Enter into my presence and enjoy the yoke of my easy burden.

“Don’t worry about how you’ve been wronged, I am making something beautiful and worthwhile because of these wrongs. Because of your unique experiences, you are my prized daughter who has not let go of faith. you will be rewarded. And you are useful as you are. you don’t need to get over anything. you need to enter into it and let me show you how to be transformed. I love you. So much. Just the way you are. you are a delight to me and I want you to delight in the gifts I have given you. Don’t worry that you are not enough. You are exactly the way I made you for a very special reason.

“And love your kids. Be with them. Enjoy them. They are your most precious gift.

“And be not afraid of Ken. Of disappointing your beloved. He loves you and worries over you. He also loves you just as you are. He longs to see you free of the burdens you carry. They are a part of you – you are to rise above them. Be free. Be free. Be free. And you can enter in fully without condemnation. You are forgiven and loved and because of this you can be free. Let go of the fear and love. Love. Love.

“Worry not about the shape of your body or the state of your house. Those are not important. Your life is to love. To love. To love.

“to be merciful and hospitable
create a serene environment that meets the needs of active children
to share your faith by loving
Love. love.”

OH ABBA! PLEASE TEACH ME HOW TO LOVE!

Letter from A Psych Ward

The following is from an email I sent out about a year ago. It’s very humbling to post – but I know I’m not the only one struggling during this dark season. WE are not alone…

“How long, O Lord?
Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and everyday have sorrow in my heart?
How long will [the enemy] triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, O Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes,
Or I will sleep in death.
[The enemy] will say,
“I have overcome [her],”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
for he has been good to me.
Psalm 13

This last week has been one of the most rest full and humbling weeks of my life.

I would say it started on Monday, when I was in the ER in The Hospital, certified under the Mental Health Act. But really, the journey to being a psychiatric patient started with long-ago trauma that has just decided that I’ve pushed it down with busy-ness long enough.

I love ALL the things I do. I love the recognition I get. I love going the extra mile. I love the feeling when someone tells me “You are amazing.” I live by my lists, most of them growing in my head, waiting for my next cycle of journalling or brain dumping to be put into my schedule (that is interrupted by actual physical needs, like eating and sleeping). I live for the feeling of being needed.

I don’t believe it when they tell me that and I haven’t done anything. I don’t believe they really find me worthy of friendship unless I’m in constant care of taking care of them. I honestly think, quite often, that people just put up with me, so I am constantly trying to prove that I am worthy of love.

“Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
The troubles of my heart have multiplied;
free me from my anguish.
Guard my life and rescue me;
let me not be put to shame,
for I take refuge in you.”
Psalm 25:16-17, 20

While I’ve been “resting” in the psychiatric ward of The Hospital, I’ve read Ann Voskamp’s new book The Broken Way. What grace that this book came out and was in my possession before this journey of breaking down my heart-wall began. Thus far, the greatest lesson I am learning, spiritually, is that Christ WANTS to enter into my brokenness. That I don’t have to FIX or FORGIVE first. That right where the anger (disappointment, frustration, devastation) is brewing is EXACTLY where God is asking me to allow Him in. Not to fix it, but to feel it. To, in a way, enter into it and let it BE BROKEN.

Ann tells a story of her small daughter making a paper heart and taping it to her chest, so she always knows that God’s love is with her, and how this paper heart is torn. The sweet daughter wasn’t devastated by the torn symbol, instead she saw the tear, the brokenness, as a way for the love to get in more easily. I have been so busy guarding my heart, trying to prove my worthiness of love, I haven’t let myself feel. I may be open about my wounds, but not about how they make me feel – because I haven’t felt them. I’ve been too scared, too scarred, too rational, too retaliatory.

My body is raw with emotion. And I won’t feel it. It’s too scary, so I have been distracting it with busy. Lots of busy. Too much busy. I don’t cry. Well, lately I have been, but generally, even when something really moves me, wounds me, touches me, I physically cannot cry because I have built up such a wall around my heart to protect me from the feelings associated with memory. So instead I take on another task, pour another glass of wine, watch another show on Netflix.

When the breaking in of the Spirit happens, it’s IN those points of weakness. So my memory has been bringing things to the surface a lot lately. I’m not looking for them (I’m not sitting here making a list of all the wrongs done to me, and all the wrongs I’ve done others). Instead, my dreams have been perpetrating my days. Maybe it’s because of the medication, maybe it’s because it’s time again to deal with a new developmental aspect of the feelings associated with the memory. I’m being introduced to skills in order to recognize and validate the feelings, and how to care for myself when the hyperventilating begins, the racing thoughts, the racing heart, the clenched fists and the clenched jaw.

I have yet to learn how to say no or to set boundaries. I love what I do too much. But for now I’m working on figuring out how to find balance in it. To create a sanctuary in my car (since I am in the car sometimes up to 5 hours a day), to rejuvenate in nature, to cuddle my children. To eat. To drink water. To create. To smell and hear, taste and see, feel and hold the goodness in life.

Over these weeks, please pray for not only my ability to enter into the brokenness and learn skills to keep them from overtaking me, but pray for my family and community, that they would not be disheartened, but encouraged. That my “being out of the picture” for a little while is not an overwhelming burden for anyone.

And thank you for your loving care of my family while I cannot be there. Both in emotional stability and physical needs (drives to dance and meals in the refrigerator).

Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.
Psalm 51:12 & 17

Your humbled Sister-In-Christ,
Jennifer

Lost Journal

Now that I’ve become a “church” employee, I’ve been busy and Sundays aren’t my day of rest, but of go-go-go (6000 steps in 2-1/2″ heels before 11am? Anyone?) answering questions, and making lots of quick decisions. I start Saturday afternoon, making sure all the Sunday School curriculum is ready to go, making one or two last minute trips to the local dollar stores and running into the grocery to get fresh cream for the coffee on Sunday morning. Preparing slides (and more often forgetting to email them to whoever is on slides) and on. and on. and on…

So, typically, I take Sunday afternoon off. While Dearest Husband takes the kids to Gramma’s and Grampa’s house to play with cousins (and eat two meals – yeah!) I plan a nap, a walk and journalling time. I was really looking forward to journalling because I actually got to sit in the sermon yesterday and I needed to do some processing.

Except I couldn’t find my journal.

I looked on my desk (which is quite the feat most of the time) and I looked in my bedside table drawers. I looked in the living room, throughout the office, through the piles on the counter the kids use when they clear the dinner table. I searched. I even looked through the car. Through all the bags I could think of using.

My fear was multiplying. Not only am I extremely vulnerable in my journal, this particular one I bared my soul and processed the desire to escape this world on more than one occasion. I processed TWO psychiatric hospital visits through this journal. I don’t write in it a lot (it requires a lot of effort to be vulnerable for me, even with just a piece of paper) but my worst fear came to fruition. That those private thoughts that I put on paper, to get out of my body, to own and to give up… they were no longer in my control.

I started fighting tears as I searched the kids’ rooms, terrified that they’d find a frustrated moment and hold on to it, even though every time I go through the process of writing out a frustration – God is good and helps me to see with His eyes. With his Merciful, Gracious, Unconditional Love. But the fear gripped me.

The last time I’d remembered seeing it was at the Gather Rise conference the week before, and I decided it must have slipped out of my bag in one of the many times I stood up. I called Dearest Husband and he encouraged me to be brave and when I would go for counselling on Monday (which happens to be at the church where Gather Rise was held) I’d just ask if anyone had turned in a journal. Dearest Husband was sure no one would really read the journal…

And I couldn’t wait. I had planned all morning on writing, so I moseyed off to the nearest bookstore with a large journal selection (and connected to a Starbucks) and fighting tears, biting my lip, I picked up a couple dozen different books. They can’t be spiral bound because then I can’t write comfortably on both sides of the page. They have to lay flat. They can’t have stupid writing on the front. They can’t be too expensive….

Eventually I bought a Leuchtturm (which I have used as a bullet journal in the past) and decided that it would work with my experimenting with lettering in my journals (copying Bible passages or poetry) and I could add habit trackers and gratitude trackers more easily in the back…

So with tears in my eyes I ordered a special coffee and started writing. And as I wrote I realized it wasn’t just the vulnerability that I lost hold of in my missing journal. It was the process. It was the promises that had been given to me as I wrote when overcome by the Holy Spirit. So many promises that I had held so tightly onto.

And then the sorrow really started to drip. In the Starbucks. With the super long line up facing me. Oh. Biting lip. The promises that had gotten me through such hard times, that I have bookmarked and highlighted and read over and over. Gone.

After a couple pages of tears I packed myself up and came home, where I fully intended to crawl into bed and cry. But the process of writing out my fears and sadness left me less empty than I had expected and I started some laundry.

Then the kids came home.

And it was on the dining room table, underneath “Where the Sidewalk Ends.”

So now I face my demons with a year of my past at my left hand, full of processing major depression and promises of hope for the future – with a brand new journal to explore the cultivation of this heavy soul.

I am grateful that my vulnerability and promises weren’t lost that easily. That they are written in my heart – and they are still here. I’m grateful for the promise of empty pages and I’ve been released from “finishing” last year’s journal. I would pick it up and always remember where I was when I bought it (in the psych ward) and I don’t need to have that constant reminder every time I make my confessions how fragile this soul of mine is. Because I have strength, I have faith and I actually have hope. I know that there is freedom, but it’s not something I’ve grasped yet. Something I’m working through…

Renewal of Your Mind

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:2 ESV

I’ve spent a good part of my life being too busy to be mindful. Making long lists so that I can check them off and not think at all or brooding on a thought until I can’t think of anything else. Right now I’m on the too-busy end of things. To the point that I’m overwhelmed and even my lists can’t be managed anymore. Being busy is a “good thing” in this world. When someone asks “How are you?” We reply “Busy” and they nod in agreement.

Is that really who we are? Busy? It’s like the faux pas of asking what someone does for work and that defining who they are. I’m scared to ask someone what they do lest I am regarded as judgmental because what their job is obviously defines who they are if I am asking such a question. So there are people I have “known” for 10 years and I have no idea what they do for work.

I do know they are busy, and they know I am busy and we nod our heads and say nothing more.

I recently spent a couple of weeks as a patient in a psychiatric ward of the local hospital. It all became too much, running from one thing to another, trying to make the right impressions with the right people ALL THE TIME. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I just knew that I was failing miserably at the person I thought I wanted everyone to think I was.

And escape became my plan. Too close for comfort, and it was decided by others that it was time for me to rest.

I spent my first three nights and four days in the emergency ward hallway waiting for a spot to free up for me upstairs. I wasn’t allowed to wear my own clothes, I couldn’t have my phone or any electronic devices. I didn’t have access to a television set or music. I used the bathroom in the hallway and the furthest I could walk was the 14 steps to the water machine. Once I stopped midway just to see if I could catch a glimpse of the outside and I was reprimanded because I wasn’t in my bed.

Rest is about all you can do (because you certainly can’t sleep in the emergency room!). I was able to have a pen and encouraged to journal. I had my Bible and The Broken Way (timely reading). At some point Ken brought me a book of sudoku and a deck of cards, but having time to think probably made the most difference. And knowing that I was safe, and I was, in a way, able to escape the mindlessness of my daily existence.

At some point last summer I came across a printable on someone’s website that stirred something within me (probably guilt) and I signed up for whatever email or newsletter so I could get the free printable. I can’t find it since, but have found a few hundred others of this quote (from Jim Elliott)

That is quite something to tell someone who is in a car up to 5 hours a day driving children to sports or therapies or tutors or school. Who wants to “be all there” in a stinky minivan with french fries under the seats? I spent my time driving thinking about who I needed to text or call or email when I got to my next destination. I spent my time driving yelling at the kids who were fighting over music or seats or whatever the issue of the moment might be that required me to raise my voice to silence it.

It’s quite something to tell someone who wants to do everything, but the one thing that is needed.

So I spent two weeks away from the mad-dash of busy. People chipped in and made dinner for my family for three weeks and people volunteered to help with all the driving back and forth. I’m still waiting for someone to volunteer to come wash my toilets, fold my laundry and homeschool my kids btw…

I spent hours and hours with the resident occupational therapist. Those hours were each worth a year worth of talk therapy. Because her focus was on skill-building. Instead of waiting for me to come up with a way to tackle the next issue – she was able to say you don’t have this skill and you need to develop it and so lets practice it now. And we did.

Mindfulness.

That was the skill I needed to learn.

Mind-full-ness.

“Wherever you are be all there.”

There is a lot to be said about mindfulness, and there are many practices that incorporate mindfulness as part of a meditative practice or a brief moment of just checking in with what is going on.

But what I’m learning, all around, is this bit about how I’ve conformed to the norm of BUSY in this world and allowed that to be acceptable, but I’ve never been mindful about what I am doing or where I am serving, or who I am with. Always racing to the next thing – I’ve not been able to be refreshed, restored, renewed.

And without that renewal of my mind, I cannot be transformed. I won’t be able to see what is good, acceptable and perfect – because I’ll be blinded by what the world values, instead of what God values. The worldview turned me into an anxious and depressed mess of a mother, an unreliable friend, a reluctant spouse.

So what is being mindful? Well, I’m still trying to figure it all out. But my first exercise was taking a bath. I put essential oils in the tub, lit candles all over the counter and sipped peppermint tea. Instead of thinking about what I “should be doing” I zeroed in on my senses:

I felt the weight of the water against my legs, and the coolness of the air against my knees when they popped out of the water. I heard the rain on the skylight, the gentle movement of the water against the edge of the tub. I smelt the lavender and lemongrass essential oils, the vanilla candles, the peppermint tea. I tasted the tea, the pooling water on my lip from the steam, the piece of chocolate I smuggled in from the bedroom. I spent a good 5-10 minutes just feeling, sensing the experience of being in the bathtub. It sounds luxurious, maybe a little silly, but it was essential and it was grounding.

The therapist gave me a long list of “feelings” some uncomfortable, some ambivalent and some enjoyable ones. During set moments throughout the day I was to read through the list and try to notice not only what feelings I was experiencing, but also their intensity. The goal, even when experiencing intense uncomfortable feelings, there may still be less intense comfortable feelings that needed to be recognized. The idea is that naming the feelings gives me control over them – and allowing myself to feel them (this was a new skill for me) did not mean that I was always going to feel it. That naming the uncomfortable feeling may be all I needed to do to let it go, it isn’t ALWAYS a requirement that I brood on that feeling until I know where it came from and make a plan to never feel it again. Feelings aren’t wrong, they are feelings. They can be powerful, but they can also be a still small voice reminding us that we are beloved.

I’m in desperate need of a mind renewal. This year, the year of “Breathe” is also an attempt to slow down and just BE. No doing allowed.

Pastor Roger seemed to be speaking especially to me on January 1st (even though I was teaching Sunday School and didn’t have a chance to hear the sermon until the 4th) when he was preaching about Romans 12:1-2 on transformation and the renewal of your mind. What I absolutely LOVE from this sermon is how we go about renewing our mind and being transformed.


Roger’s January 1st Sermon on Renewing Your Mind

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be give you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.”

John 15:1-9 NIV

I love this so much. Remain is, well, rather passive. I don’t have to do anything but stay.

and finally:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be mad. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.

Luke 10:38-42 NIV

This is what I’m working on now with my mindfulness, remaining, resting and abiding in Christ. Part of this blogging experience focused on “Breathe” is to document my process of living with major depression and anxiety. I’m hoping to embrace new practices that help me to slow down and Remain In His Love. I mentioned journalling, blogging comes from that experience. What else comes, I’m not sure. I know I’ll flail and fail along the way, but accepting that some pruning has to happen is surely a good start.

Twenty Seventeen: Breathe

“Breathe easy into the questions. The name of God. Yahweh – inhale, exhale – is the sound of your breathing. There is your miraculous answer. As long as you are breathing, He is always your miraculous answer.” – Ann Voskamp

2016 was an exciting, wonderful and really hard year for me. After practicing entering fully into the life that I believe God has prepared for me, saying YES to new challenges and opportunities, something happened, and I started to strive to PROVE my worth instead of believing that I had worth.

So the word BREATHE has been whispered to me, prayed into me, prayed for me. People send me quotes all focused on the word “Breathe.”

So I didn’t choose my word of the year, it chose me. Breathe.

What does breathe mean to me? Well, it was chosen 2 years ago as one of my five “big rocks” in the At The Table course by Barb Borthistle. Breathe, at that time, was taking care of myself:

2015 Personal Declaration BREATHE

At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place. Luke 4:42 NIV

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. Luke 5:16 NIV

One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. Luke 6:12 NIV

Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them and knelt down and prayed.” Luke 22:39-41 NIV

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Psalm 23:1-3 ESV

My goal this year, in my year of breathing, is to take that quiet time every day. I’m doing the Hello Mornings Challenge for that quick and easy God Plan Move (read Psalm 143:8, look over the list of things to do today, drink a glass of water). I am not one of those people who wake up happy and ready to conquer the day. My beloved brings me a cup of coffee and eases me into the day. I’m not ready to be all Crystal Paine-y and give up my coffee (ever) yet.

So this is how I will continue to work through my day…

I will do the 3-minute challenge and continue to write out the scripture from my devotional reading (currently I’m reading one of the Love God Greatly plans on YouVersion). That will be my morning focus time. I started Bullet Journalling (BuJo) in November and it’s a perfect way for me to hit the God & Plan part of the day.

I will continue to read and reread inspirational books to stretch my current practices. Currently I am listening to an audio book that I’m not super into as it feels health and wealth gospel-y to me, I am giving it a chance though, because it is stretching me. I’m also working through a book: Journaling as a Spiritual Practice by Helen Cepero. Journaling daily is something that is essential to my mental health and I’ve gotten out of the habit during the Christmas holidays!

I took a Sacred Pathways Survey a couple of times during different times when I felt close to God and when I felt distant – and discovered that Contemplative Prayer is one of the ways I prefer to connect and worship God. So this year I am going to explore prayer through various authors (contemporary and classic) and spend time in solitude so that I can listen (without all the tiny voices, or loud bickering voices – five kids and all). I am hoping to have 2 personal retreats and am currently researching where to go (Bowen Island and maybe A Rocha Brooksdale or Galiano Island) as well as a couple retreats with just my beloved and I (one is scheduled in March!!!).

There are two other parts to Breathe – a physical one and one of NOT DOING. I’ll talk more about those in a later post.

I’m curious to know if you have picked a “word of the year” for 2017? What is it? What does it mean to you and how will you know you have accomplished it?