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Tag Archives: holidays

Gratitude

Over the past few weeks I have been praying for a way to take in what I love about Christmas. Singing Christmas songs.  The lights and decorations.  The food.  Having my entire family together. And reflecting on the significance of having our Savior born in the most humble beginnings.

I looked at the news headlines about the homily Pope Francis gave last night, and true to my prediction, it was a message of acceptance and forgiveness.  The quote that stood out to me was the reminder that Jesus was all-powerful but he made himself vulnerable for us.  There is great strength in vulnerability; it is His vulnerability that redeems us.

In this blog I have made myself vulnerable by sharing all of the thoughts and feelings that I usually keep to myself.  After writing my post on forgiveness and reading people’s responses, that was the most vulnerable I have felt thus far.

People who have never been depressed do not realize what a dark place it is to be in.  For example, “normal” people can make themselves happier by practicing gratitude, by reflecting on people who are less fortunate than themselves, by counting their blessings.  The assumption is that sadness and gratitude are mutually exclusive.

When you are depressed, your demons turn this well-meaning advice into further evidence that you are a bad person for being depressed because you are not able to snap out of it, despite all the things you have to be thankful for.  So it is especially difficult to practice gratitude when you are depressed because it often makes you feel worse.

However, my spiritual guru is the Franciscan Priest Richard Rohr, and one of the most helpful things that he emphasizes is that spirituality is not either/or, as we tend to think in Western religions. It is not good or bad, right or wrong.  Spirituality is both/and.  So I can practice gratitude and still be depressed.  They can both be true, and that’s OK.

Today I am already thankful for many things.  I am thankful that the party wasn’t as overwhelming as I feared it would be.  That the homily last night had a message that was meaningful to me.  That I’ve had meaningful conversations with two of my brothers, and in a few hours my other brother and his family will be here.  I am thankful for the friends who have already sent me texts to wish me Merry Christmas.

And I am thankful for this blog.  I think God gave me this blog because He knew that these next few months would be difficult.  So He gave me a way to share my pain, to reach out to others, and to ask for help.  It really is true that making ourselves vulnerable may be the most powerful thing we can do to experience love and connect with other people.  I think that this is what Jesus would want us to experience most of all on His birthday.

So I am thankful to all of you who have taken the time to read my blog on Christmas Day.  And I thank my friend Sharon for giving me the cartoon below.

 

Angels

I’ve been thinking about writing a post on angels, but since I’ve been feeling down it didn’t really fit my state of mind.  But then “It’s a Wonderful Life” happened to be on last night, so I took that as a sign that I should go ahead and write the post.

For a long time I wasn’t sure what to believe about God.  I was raised Catholic, but a lot of the beliefs of the Catholic church were not consist with my idea of God.  Although Pope Francis is changing this, to some degree.

I read lots of different books to try to find God.  As I mentioned in a previous post, the books on Near Death Experiences (NDE) were the ones that were the most helpful.  For one thing, they are poorly written.  The authors have clearly never aspired to be writers, and often they didn’t want to write the book at all.  So writing a book about their near death experience didn’t seem like a ploy to get published.

The most convincing of these books was “My Descent into Death,” by Howard Storm, because he went to hell before he went to heaven.  Who would admit to that?  Plus, throughout the book he continued to argue and complain to God and never seemed particularly pious, which made his account seem even more genuine.

Storm dedicates an entire chapter to angels at the end of his book.  I have always liked the idea of angels but did not realize they were so numerous and so involved in our lives.  I thought we might have a guardian angel and that there were a bunch in heaven, singing and rejoicing when we arrived, but that’s about it.

Storm says that angels always want to intervene and help us but aren’t allowed to do so unless God gives them permission.  And when people with NDE’s come back to earth and are depressed about it, usually because they have sustained horrible injuries from their accident that take years to recover from, angels appear to them to give them encouragement.

Even research shows that praying for other people helps.  My theory is that when we pray for someone else, God allows angels to intervene.  So now most of my prayers include angels.  If I’m having a really hard time, I ask God to temporarily send me a few extra angels to get me through. Or if someone I know is suffering, I tell God to send that person one of my angels so they can have extra.

And of course, when UVA is losing, I occasionally resort to prayer and ask God to send an angel to help them win.

The winter is always a hard time for me, because most forms of depression are affected by lack of sunlight.  Plus I am still getting used to being alone and having to be proactive if I want to see anyone, and I don’t have much energy to do so.  And this holiday I don’t have a lot planned to look forward to. Ordinarily, even if I’m feeling depressed, I can still get into Christmas.  But not this year.  I haven’t even bought my gifts yet, and usually I am compulsively early about everything.

But there’s still time, and I’m hopeful that at some point something will kick in and I will be able to embrace the holidays with the enthusiasm that I apply to all of the things I love.  At least that’s what I pray for.

And if you believe in angels, feel free to ask God to send a couple of extras my way.

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Harvey Frye

Grief

Tonight I went to the memorial for the student who was killed in the car accident a week ago.  I didn’t know the student and wanted to have a better sense of who she was and to feel more of the grief that the community is experiencing. 

Handling crises is my least favorite part of my job. I don’t do well with things like grief.  My emotions are naturally very intense even at baseline, so when there’s a crisis, I shut down.  I guess this is my brain’s way of protecting me from being overwhelmed by my feelings.  In a way it’s helpful, since I need to be there for the students, but sometimes I’m afraid I’m so emotionally removed that it’s affecting how much support I can provide.

I do feel bad for the parents.  I don’t have children but I can imagine how hard it would be to lose a child, how unnatural and unfair that is.  I wonder if they will celebrate Christmas this year, and if Christmas will ever be a happy time for them again. 

And I feel bad for the driver.  He may go to jail for drunk driving, and for the rest of his life he will have to live with the burden of her death.  I hope that he finds a way to forgive himself for what happened and find peace.

Often my friends on FB will post something on the birthday of a loved one who has died and say how the sadness never goes away.  It’s daunting to imagine living with never-ending pain–a hole in your heart that never gets filled.  That’s why death scares me so much.

For awhile I was really into books about near-death experiences.  I think I read them as a way to be OK with the idea of death.  I found comfort in reading that all of the people who went to heaven and came back to earth thought heaven was so great that they were depressed when they didn’t get to stay. 

My favorite part of these books is where they describe how entering heaven is like a pep rally where all of these people, including your loved ones, are there cheering you on and welcoming you.  I don’t know if you get to pick your job when you’re in heaven, but I think I would be an awesome greeter.  That makes the idea of dying a little easier, too.

The biggest loss I’ve experienced so far is losing my first husband.  He didn’t die but we are not in contact and he does not wish to have a relationship with me, so it’s been like a death to me.  

I know I’m probably taking this too literally, but sometimes I wonder, if it’s really true that your loved ones greet you when you get to heaven, would he be there to greet me, since we’re no longer married?  Or would he just be there for his second wife when she dies?  I imagine that when you are in heaven you can be in two places at once and you don’t have to choose which loved ones you will be with like you have to do on earth.

Even though it’s been almost 10 years since we’ve been apart, I still miss him.  We shared so much together that every day I encounter something that triggers a memory of him.  But at the same time, I am happy with my life and feel fortunate that I will get to know more people than I would have if we had stayed married.  So it’s possible to be happy and sad at the same.  It’s possible to miss someone but still go on with your life.

I guess since we all experience losses throughout our lives, these losses just become a part of who we are.  I have always felt that if I had to do my life all over again, I wouldn’t change anything, because every mistake and every loss has played a role in the person I have become.

Plus I believe that our task in this lifetime is to experience what it means to be human, and suffering and death are a part of the package.  Often in therapy clients want me to take away their pain, and I have to tell them that I can’t, but I am willing to sit with them while they are hurting.  I guess that is the best gift we can give to anyone who is grieving.  So at least I’m getting that part right.

This is my favorite doodle because it looks like a magical land, like Oz, minus the yellow brick road.