STRESSED OUT: The Gift of What Just Might Kill Us

clara-bow

Clara Bow — Silent Film and Talkies Star –1920s — She was the inspiration for Betty Boop.  She also suffered with mental health issues due to stress.

 

Stress. We all carry it. Like interest on a credit card, it compounds. Quickly.

We are living in extreme days.  Our country is polarized, and some of us, perhaps many of us feel like we are hanging on by a thread.

Our daily responsibilities exceed the available time to accomplish them. I’m talking only about the things on our “MUST DO” list. Forget totally about our “HOPE TO DO” and “WANT TO DO” list.

Then, predictably so, like a promise that arrives early, a CRISIS OF EPIC PROPORTIONS lands in your lap exactly as your energy levels drop below zero. Couple this with your due date for everything urgent was expected yesterday and before, and your list of what you have to post pone due to emergency, is stretched to indefinite, if not infinity and beyond.   Generally, this will happen when you don’t have the following to cope:

  • money to pay for it
  • time to absorb it
  • energy/resources to fix it

Everything from demanding jobs, to family crisis, to health crisis, to a death in the family, or news that feels like a “sentence” feel like they are going to pull us under the waves.  Up to now we were at least managing our overwhelm, however precariously, as we bobbed between the waves of life’s stormy seas.

Here’s the hardest truth of our lives: Sometimes it sucks. I mean that literally. The challenge of just getting to the next day seems near impossible, because TODAY feels like it is vacuuming every last ounce of our energy, time, and resources to simply deal.

We can’t take ONE. MORE. THING. And then…..

BOOM!

The unthinkable. The unimaginable. The unbearable.

Like it or not. It’s here. How now will you get through it?

I’m not a doctor or scientist or even theologian who claims to know. I’m just a girl who’s been around the block a few times. And each successive lap does get harder, but……

it’s true—that which does NOT kill us, really does make us stronger.

My Christian faith has comforted my heart, and my mind knows many of God’s promises. But that never negates the reality of what is, and the pain/frustration/fear one goes through when one is on overload. The feelings are real, even if our analysis of what’s happening doesn’t agree with others’ perspectives. The truth is: We feel what we feel.

So, how to deal?

Something I learned a long time ago at church. Our wise pastor told us:

You are going to suffer in life. That you don’t get to choose.

The only thing you get to choose is HOW YOU SUFFER.

Will you waste your suffering?

Or will it be redemptive?

I have never forgotten that lesson. I mean I have in terms of application sometimes:

  • I get negative ( I whine to others.)
  • I forget to pray. I forget to be still.  (I’m SO busy!)
  • I complain. (As if stating the problem a dozen different ways will somehow change it.)
  • I avoid reality, or at least dream of it. (I think I will hide under my blankets and pet the cats and just listen to music all day. Yeah right.  )

And then: I remember another profound truth:

IT IS WHAT IT IS

 Seriously, reality always wins.

 I pause.

 I remember.

I get to choose my suffering.   I. Me. No one else.   Other people or life situations—they may overwhelm, even slay me. But I CHOOSE how I deal. Or die. Or live. That is my power. And no one and nothing can take THAT away from me! No one can take the power that I believe God has already put in me, unless I give it to them.

There’s a lot of anger out there these days. The election comes to mind. I get the disappointment and anger. I really do. But seriously, how much power are YOU going to allow someone else to have over your lives?   What changes can you make?  More importantly, WHO will you CHOOSE to be?

We don’t get to change our circumstances much of the time. The only thing available for us to change is: OUR PERSPECTIVE

Stress can BE our friend.   We can “reframe” our situation.

These things I’ve learned for sure, especially in crisis mode:

We can only solve one problem at a time. Tackle your tasks and finish them one by one. It may mean going off-line, off-grid, turning your phone off. That’s okay.   People will live without you for a few days. But you won’t live without you.

If other people can’t understand your limitations sometimes, that is their problem, not yours. Is it good to care what other’s think of us?  Sure.  But our health, our life comes first.

“No” is a complete sentence. This is a biggie, especially for women. We want to give and help so much, we can give ourselves away sometimes. But say no sometimes. Even if it’s just to practice for a real emergency. It’s so freeing. The relief that comes from knowing you don’t have to be responsible for everything just because someone thought you were the most capable to do it.

Get enough rest. No matter what. No good decision is ever decided when running on fumes.   Which brings me to: Delay big decisions until you have had at least one good night’s sleep.

Ask for help. And then don’t be ashamed. Be it tasks or an understanding ear, reach out to others. Please. Other friends don’t always know when we struggle. They are stressed too.

Daily Quiet Time. (DQT) Prayer. Meditation.   Simple solitude where you simply empty your mind of all thoughts, if only for ten minutes. This is absolutely essential if you are on overload. Practice this now. Make this your habit, so you won’t forget in emergencies.

Breathe. Just breathe. Slowly. Take it all in, understanding you don’t have all the answers. Remember? You can’t control it all.

Consciously choose to accept with grace, to the extent that you are able, what is happening now. I recently read a wonderful quote by Corrie Ten Boom:

Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow
It only empties today of it’s strength.

For those of you suffering severe stress right now, I encourage you to watch this amazing TED talk by Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend. I found just taking the time, all precious 15 minutes or so, recharged me. It reminded me why we are gifted with our present. We have this beautiful opportunity to be brave as we rise to the occasion of our challenges.

You WILL suffer.

You WILL have to make a choice (even not choosing is still a choice).

Be brave.  And may you choose well.

 

 

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Close your eyes. Just listen to some pop pscyhology. There. Did your demons float away if only for a few minutes?

The Crave and The Fix

One of my dearest friends in the world sent me King and Country’s  CD recently called “The Crave.”  If every other song wasn’t spectacularly amazing, this one brought it home—

It broke me

        If you’ve ever struggled with addiction or loved someone who has, then listen to this I beg you.  You’ll get it.

See I’m a strong girl.   These are the things I used to CRAVE:

  • Control
  • Stability
  • A Plan (see Control)
  • Having “it” together (family, work, my house, appearance, finances….the list goes on)

And then The Beast came to our home.  To my heart—an uninvited stranger who moved in without warning or permission—and foreclosed on my heart, and mercilessly tried to wreck my life, and that of my family.

We’re still processing and mending.  But above all I’m still believing and I’m still loving.  I’m living through something that nearly took away someone I love so much more than my own life and who all I wanted to do was :

FIX

      Surely, if I craved fixing my addict just a bit more than this person craved a fix, I’d be able to:

  • Convince them
  • Change them
  • Fix them
  • Make it all better

But I failed.  Or at least I thought I did.  Because sometimes human love isn’t enough I was so busy taking on the roles of detective, nurse, lawyer, and defensive lineman often simultaneously,   that it took me a while for me to learn it isn’t all my fault.  And it isn’t all theirs.

Addiction is two things:  A genetic predisposition and a choice.  The choice is the first time.  The addiction is all the times that come after.

I know now it won’t be me that can fix this.  Because THE FIX may be my goal, but it’s not my role.  This is something only God can do as my loved one decides to get extremely intellectually honest or in street lingo: Keepin’ it real y’all! 

“The others”–the ones what have walked this journey of one day at a time for some time now,  through shared experience, accountability, and unconditional love, will have to help my loved one pick up the pieces that I could not.

      This is what it’s like for the addict and the family:  Excruciatingly painful.  Isolating.  Really scary.  Exhausting.  Sometimes you feel judged or are misunderstood by those who haven’t ever been exposed to this.

But the suffering is also something more.  It’s redemptive.  Beauty shines brighter thru wet tears.  Appreciation for now comes when you lose so much and almost lose—well, everything.   Every other problem becomes so small.

And now I know people, too many, that have lost this battle.  People that suffer silently.  And I won’t be doing that any more.  My battlefield is becoming my mission field.

For I am not ashamed of the one I love who is getting the help they need.  I will forever be their:

  • Advocate, but not their enabler.  I will speak the truth, but in love.
  • Cheerleader, because encouragement is the seed that can blossom into confidence.
  • Prayer warrior, because the biggest battles are won on our knees, and the biggest war is fought for our hearts and mind.  If you think you don’t have an enemy bent to destroy both or either, you deceive yourself.

So devil take warning:

  • I am unmoved by you.
  • I am undeterred.
  • Above all I am not defeated—not now, not ever.

Because I have the King of kings on my side.  You have already lost.  For I have tasted The Cure .  His name is Jesus.  He is not just our Saviour, He is also our Saver and Redeemer.  He really does save the lost.  He really does comfort those who mourn and are crushed in spirit.   He does this not only because we first believed, but more importantly because He first loved us. 

Without faith, it’s not only impossible to understand this; I think it’s impossible to see the everyday miracles that God decides to bless us with.  Life is a mystery. It’s full of both joy and suffering, sometimes simultaneously.  Deserving neither, we experience both as a gift of opportunity to question everything until finally we reach the end of our limited human understanding.  That’s where we end, and God can finally begin.

       And to the families touched by addiction?  You are not alone.  You do not have to walk this journey alone.   May you find the courage to find a support group and attend meetings, find a supportive and empathetic church, and/or a close circle of true friends who get it, and may you come to believe and trust in a loving God who already has the power to heal all that ails you.    After all, we could all stand to take a hit of a drop of grace. 

Hope.  Love.   Believe.  And you shall live.

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.  Philippians 4:13

Support possibilities for you or a loved one who suffers from addiction:

http://www.celebraterecovery.com/

http://al-anon.alateen.org/?gclid=CImZo7jw5LsCFa9lOgod2kcAkw

http://www.aa.org/

http://www.narconon.org/

http://www.helpguide.org/harvard/addiction_hijacks_brain.htm

 

       

Barks at Choppers

soldier-and-dog-580x323Photo Credit:  Globalanimal.org

 

      I can’t help it.  I still miss Josh.  I loved that man like no other.  Josh was more than my master; he was my best friend. 

I must have flown more than a hundred missions with him.  I remember the first time he put me on a Chinook.  I was scared on the inside.  I was trembling.  Even though my training taught me not to fear the chook, chook, chook, of the blades, I still felt fear.  What would happen next?  Did Josh ever feel this inside?

Outside I am a pure eighty pounds of tan and beige hard fighting American glory.  With my titanium teeth and wicked sense of smell I can actually differentiate smells between a battery or the chemicals used as a charge in an IED.  Sometimes it’s more though.  Intuitively, I just know.  Josh is in trouble.  It’s what I don’t smell sometimes that I just know is lurking around the corner, behind a door or a wall.  That’s when I want to bark.  But I can’t.  It would get us both killed.  So I look at him and press against his thigh ever so slightly, in case it’s the last second on earth we ever spend together.  And then he knows.   I know the sound by heart what happens next.  Shelling.  Gunfire.  A spray of sound.  People fall.  Blood splatters.  We made it.  We’re safe again.  This time.

We completed mission after mission together.  I was tied to him by leash, but though he doesn’t even know it, it wasn’t really necessary.  See, he commanded my heart.  “Max, over here!” he’d order.   Josh and I fed off each other when it came to courage.  I’d set out before him, nose to the dusty barren ground,  looking for those damnable PIES (power supply, initiator, explosive, switch) sometimes made with the cheapest of materials, all meant to take us down.   We’d alternate saving each other like the rhythms of the ocean we once visited when he took me home to the States–a place the he and the soldiers always reminisced about.  Me, sniffing out IEDS, putting a paw in front of his foot, being careful not to bark, in case even a sound wave would set off the bomb, Josh pulling down his M16 and eliminating our common enemy.

Why were we here?  How did I get here?  I don’t remember my mother.  I don’t know if I had brothers or sisters.  All I ever remember is Josh.  At night with his ruck sack packed, ready for the next day and parked by his cot, I remember sleeping just a breath away from his canvas cot, his hand draped over and on my head.   We both would fall asleep exhausted like this night after night.  But still, my eyes may have been closed, but my brain didn’t sleep until I heard the quiet rumble of snore that tumbled out of Josh’s throat when he was finally deep in his gift of rest.

That’s when I would dream.  They say dogs only see in black and white, but in my dreams, oh man, was it living color.  I still remember when we went to the ocean together in the States.  He threw tennis balls into the water and I brought them back to him about a million times.  Good dog!  He’d say.  He was freer then.  We both were.  So much more than here.  

    A beautiful woman he called Claire was by his side on a blanket.  Oh, how I loved Claire and she loved me.  She would kiss my neck, and always had cold hot dogs wrapped in foil in a picnic basket for everyone, but she had a dedicated bag of them just for me.

Claire and Josh had three of the cutest kids I ever saw.  I’d lay down my life for those precious babies.   They’d roll all over me and I’d run and halt and fetch and chase and jump and cuddle with them.  That was the best love I’d ever known.  It’s all I think about when my eyes grow heavy at night.  I always thought we’d go back there together.

When were at this magical place known only as home, I rested like I’d never known.   I saw fire contained in a fire place, not being hurled back and forth between people.    I didn’t have to keep a bug in my ear to receive orders the enemy couldn’t hear from Master Josh.  And best of all, I didn’t have to wear that damnable pack on my midsection that kept my insides alive if the enemy fired at us.  And Josh wore something I never saw before too:  White t-shirts , plaid shorts, and flip flops!  No boots on this beach!   And the smells?  Pure heaven.  Salt and surf.  Hot dogs.  The smell of Claire.   I saw him kiss her once and then he saw me watching.  He stopped.  To pet me!  Can you believe that?   Here was the most beautiful woman we’d both ever seen and loved, but he picked me!

I spent three years by Josh’s side.  That’s a fourth of my entire life.  Sometimes I saw him cry.  It was when we went to those things called memorials where they hang a helmet on a rifle.  I figured it out over time.  It meant that friend wouldn’t be petting me anymore at dinner.  He wouldn’t be covering Josh’s and my back in a firefight.   One by one, sometimes our friends would simply vanish.

     And then it happened.  I wish I knew what the other soldiers were saying.  I had just woken up.  Why was my stomach bandaged?  Why were their small patches of fur on my face missing?  Why do I still smell something burning? 

My blood felt cold.  Where’s Josh It was my only thought.   So many hands patting me.  Their faces were all crying.  Why?  Where’s Josh?!?! 

But life’s not fair I learned.   I went through a series of men over the next few weeks.  I didn’t  go out in any more battles.  I heard words like “retirement” and “wouldn’t respond as well to another handler” and “it’s time.”  And finally the word of my dreams—home.   

It wasn’t long after that.  I was on a C-130 Hercules headed back to the States.  I sat bravely with all the other cargo.  Men in gear, ruck sacks, helmets, guns, water bottles, aviator glasses.  They were strong.  Brave.  Like me.

That’s when I knew.  I smelled him first.  There was a long box.  A box draped with a flag of red and white stripes and white stars embedded in dark blue.   Josh and I used to sit under the stars at night.  He’d say, “Max, when we get home, we’re going to have the best life ever!  You have no idea!”

       Since the first time I first accompanied him in that Chinook, I felt true fear.  I didn’t know what would happen next.  I put my head on my paws and whimpered.  Why don’t dogs have tears?  At this moment I just really needed to cry.

So many hours went by.  And then I saw her.  Claire!   Beautiful, kind, and tiny Claire. She was smaller now than I remembered her.  She was wearing black and hard a firm grasp on Josh Jr.  He was a mess.  All the kids were;  they were crying so hard.   But she smiled when she saw me.   She stooped down.  My intuition started acting up again.  It felt like I do when I had a flea I couldn’t eliminate simply by scratching.   Though I never had the gift of predicting the future entirely, I sensed  together we were going to mend our broken hearts together.  I bolted towards her like my life depended on it.  Because it did. 

I live with the Owens family now.  Josh Jr., Caitlyn and Madeline are my handlers.  My life is good.  But we all have a hole in our heart and not from a bullet hole.  Sometimes when I hear the familiar chook, chook, chook in the sky when a Chinook or a Black Hawk or an Apache hovers overhead, I bark uncontrollably.  I can’t help it.  I just want to see Josh again.  I hope and pray and bark that this is the chopper that’s finally going to bring him back to me, this flying metal savior who will finally bring my Master home. 

Park At Your Own Risk

Change is our only constant that we are called to navigate by – Liz Gray

      Sometimes you just have to risk it!  That’s what happened the other day when I got a craving for a Four Cheese Soufflé and a Black Cherry Low Cal Smoothie from Panera Bread.  I could walk the 15 yards or so from the parking lot, if there happened to be a space, or I could park on the side of the building where your car is mere inches from the entrance to the shopping center, but at risk for being demolished by cars entering shopping center.   In third world countries, it would be deemed a thoroughfare, but in my hometown, it’s just called a parking lot.

Yes, this forty-something mom took the dare!  She parked on the dangerous side.    After all, my car already has a few dings, what’s the harm if my car gets one more?

Not only did I park, I completely geekified myself by stopping long enough to take a picture of what was surely a divine sign of prophetic wisdom:

PARK AT YOUR OWN RISK

     Businessmen late for their Skype conference calls passed me by.  So did moms with toddlers, kids, and baby-on-board bellies.    Go ahead; get your latte and your bear claw.  I’m going to take a moment and pontificate this profound wisdom.

There are a few universal truths I have come to understand lately.  They are:

  • There are no coincidences
  • You make your own luck
  • You are not in control
  • Park at your own risk

Wait, don’t two of these contradict?  How can you be out of control and make your own luck?  What does that have to do with parking and risking?  I’ll tell you.  You make your own luck every time you wake up and say to yourself I’m going to keep going.  I’m going to try and do the hard thing I’m not sure I can do.  It could be a more challenging job, a new fitness routine, or a habit or addiction you decide today is the day you break it.  It could be the broken relationship you decide today is the day you to pick up the phone and try and repair it.

There is no guarantee of outcome, only possibility.  There are factors beyond our control.    We wake up, make our beds, step into reality and make our choices.  But much of what happens is circumstances.  At that point, our control resides only in our perspective.  How do we see what is happening?  Each circumstance can be seen as a tool for good.  For me, faith in God (a higher power) gives me continuous opportunity to trust in something bigger than me and a continuous learning opportunity to accept all that I can’t control.

This brings me to my final point.  Whatever happens in life, by all means, keep going.  Rejected?  Move on!  Or else, park at your own risk.  Got fired?  Fire up your resume and try again, or else park at your own risk.  Got fat?  (Fingers are pointing accusingly at self-belly here!)  Fix it.  Work out more, eat less, go to bed on time and get enough rest.

The thing is, in most of circumstances, we already know what we need to do.  We just have to step over the “fear hurdle”.  Sometimes we’ll pause and not decide.  We’ll try and wait out the hard thing that is unavoidable anyway.  We’ll avoid the person we most need to confront.

JUST STOP!

Stop taking the easy way out.  Commit to doing one thing today that you’ve been procrastinating about or avoiding.  Doing this on a daily basis is good practice.   Then you’ll be prepared when the really hard moments come.  By learning to face the moments and people that we’d prefer to avoid, you’ll toughen your mettle until one day you’ll have a fairly firm understanding that other people and circumstances were never what or who defined you anyway.  You do!

There are no coincidences.  Each moment really can be a divine appointment if we choose to see it as so.  The people we encounter and the challenges we face, may indeed be part of a “bigger picture” then we can see right now.  The key is to keep going, not quit, and find meaning in each moment so you can enjoy the journey.

It’s fine to park yourself now and then—everyone needs rest and relaxation.   The key is to not get a sign with your name on it.  Take risks in life, but don’t take the one that comes by staying in PARK.  Now go!

Waves of Heat, Waves of Water

If you saw a heat wave, would you wave back?  Stephen Wright

It’s been a really hot week!  For three straight days, we local Raleigh folks have had the unfortunate experience of dealing with wicked heat, with temperatures ranging from 105° to 107° F.    It’s strange how life can exist uncomfortably, but is still bearable in the 90° range, even high 90°s, but cross the 100° thresh hold and it feels like the flames of hell itself are lapping at your heels!

The pavement starts melting your flip flops.  When you stand outside, you feel the heaviness of your heart as it works extra hard to pump the blood that suddenly pools inside of it.  The journey north to the brain is a steep climb indeed.   Upon stepping outside from any indoor facility, you are immediately aware of the intense hot air.  It truly feels like you are standing behind the backdraft of a fire.

The sweat process starts immediately.  After more than a few moments, your clothes are wet and sticking uncomfortably to you.  Loading up a car with supplies, or working seems intense.  The words, “I feel like I might pass out” lie in wait, just under the surface of your parched tongue.    In less than 48 hours, whatever green was in your yard has quickly faded to a dull dessert sand color.   You don’t go anywhere without a water bottle.

Heat waves start as high pressure forms in the middle layers of the atmosphere.  The air grows heavy as the high pressure has a sinking effect and it stays and hovers above you.  You can literally feel the denseness of the air, as if you were a bug trapped in a jar, and someone just put the lid on it.

The extreme heat also can make a person feel disoriented, dizzy, nauseous, fatigued, and like their heart is racing.    They are at risk for heat exhaustion and heat stroke if the body is not cooled quickly, rehydrated, and electrolyte balances restored.  Gatorade is essential for anyone who has been physically active in these temperatures.

I find in this heat, I lose all ambition; I suddenly feel like a lazy person.  I truly don’t want to do anything.  I find it disturbing that I seem to fester in this state of suspended motivation as this totally contradicts the normal routine of being busy from sunup to sundown.

I alternate pacing upstairs with pacing downstairs, as both our air conditioner units struggle to adequately cool our home, and frying the brains of we who live here.  Multiple times during the day, they seize up and have to be turned off, as the condensers that are frozen up have to slowly unfreeze in order to slowly come back online.  Do not ask me how an electrical part freezes over 100 degrees, I don’t know.  All I can say is it must be an evil form of magic.

Our lives mirror the weather too.  The heat gets turned up; multiple crises always happen at once and demand attention now.  Up go the degrees, and down comes the pressure.   The atmospheric pressure weighs heavy above us.  Down, down, down it comes, threatening to suck up the last of our oxygen.  I can’t breathe you think when it all becomes too much.  Is it anxiety or am I dying?  Am I clear enough to know the difference?

Our mental and spiritual electrolytes are depleted.  We’re confused, disoriented, and it’s hard to know what the right decision at this moment in time is.  Crisis by crisis, the choices are too vast to contemplate, much less choose correctly.    It can feel as if one is drowning in a sea of conflict:  relationships, financial concerns, health issues, aging parents, aging bodies, children who worry us.

Yes, the proverbial storms of life.  We are the ships called to navigate these stormy seas without being given a say so as to whether we wish to embark upon this dangerous journey.  Ready or not, you’ve already set sail.   In the pit of your soul, you already know, it’s just not enough to survive.  For you hear that quiet voice, the weight above, that says, you must be more; you are to be a beacon for others in distress.

I can’t you think.  I’m not prepared.  Shouldn’t I save myself first, in order to save others?  This wave of heat is too much for me; it’s either going to drown me or consume me.

Ah, but it won’t, my child.  Though you left the home port of comfortable long ago, and were forced to set sail without benefit of a life jacket, or even access to a compass, you have strength within you.  It is not of your making; but it is there.   You are almost temporarily paralyzed when you see all the waves converge until finally the Big Kahuna towers over you.  Then you remember:

I am not alone.

     Your captain is and always was with you.  You remember now.  You quit flinching and look through the storm, straight into the eye itself.  Your hands grip the wheel tighter.   You’ve journeyed this far.  You know what to do.  Decision by decision, the answer is already within you.  Your destination may seem a little hazy, and the boat may not arrive totally intact, but you will.

I was born in a storm.  I’ve experienced firsthand the fury and damage of both a hurricane and a tornado.  I’ve been forced to seek shelter when tubing on a river and the lightening sizzled so close; you could see and feel the hairs on your arms rise.  I’ve witnessed beauty and miracles in storms that others may not believe, but I do—I was there.

Our lives are indeed the Perfect Storm:  There are the fires of our passions that either propel or destroy us, as well as the air we breathe—these thoughts we carry and words we speak.  Oh and the water—all the water we spill in tears of gentle rain or epic floods that are always lurking just below the surface of our days of sunshine and tranquility.   Most of all, is the wind called change, our only constant; it carries us forward in our limited universe, until we finally go home.

Travel safely; God speed.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.  Isaiah 43:2